How to Catch Smallmouth Bass: A Complete Beginners Guide

If you have recently started getting into smallmouth bass fishing or simply want to catch more fish, then this is the guide for you.

Today I’m going to show you exactly how to catch smallmouth bass regardless of where you live or how much fishing experience you may have.

I remember when I first started learning about how to catch smallmouth bass. I would try different techniques and read everything I could to try and understand how I could catch these fish.

In this no-nonsense guide, I’ll cut out all the noise and show you exactly how to target and catch smallmouth bass. Read carefully through this guide and you’ll skip the tough learning curve that most anglers have to go through.

How to Catch Smallmouth Bass: 4 Easy Steps

Image describing the blog post about smallmouth bass fishing

If you are reading this article you are probably wondering how to catch smallmouth bass. If so, you are in the right place.

Fishing for smallmouth bass is pretty straight forward and can be both challenging and rewarding.

Here are 4 simple steps on how to catch smallmouth bass:

  • Get the right equipment
  • Select the best baits & lures
  • Understand when and where to fish
  • Use key smallmouth bass fishing techniques and strategies

Once you master these fundamental steps, you’ll be able to catch smallmouth bass anytime and anywhere. 

Let’s talk about each of these in more detail.

Choosing the Right Smallmouth Bass Fishing Setup

Much like any other type of fishing, having the proper setup and gear is extremely important, if you don’t have the right gear it’s going to be difficult to be successful.

Here are the basic tackle and gear you’ll need to get started:

Rod & Reel

When it comes to choosing the right rod & reel to use when fishing for smallmouth bass you have two main choices – a spinning or baitcasting setup.

(If you already have a rod & reel, you can skip to the next step. Just make sure you choose the right fishing line)

The best option for you is going to be dependent on the type and size of the lures and baits you plan on using.

For smallmouth bass both a spinning and baitcasting combo are great choices. However, keep in mind that a spinning rod & reel is ideal for lighter lures and finesse presentations, and a baitcaster is designed to use heavier line and throw larger baits. 

Here is a basic break down of the two different rod and reel combos:

Baitcasting vs Spinncasting

Spinning Reels

Ideal for: throwing lighter baits and lures in open water and for beginners just starting out

Spinning reels are easy to use and are perfect to introduce someone that is new to fishing. They are commonly used to catch smallmouth bass and excel at throwing light baits and finesse presentations.

Here are the pros and cons of a spinning reel setup


  • Ideal for lighter lures and baits
  • More affordable
  • Easier to use
  • No backlash
  • Easy to switch left and right-hand orientation


  • Less drag
  • Less line capacity
  • Not as accurate
  • Line tangles easily (line twists)
  • Have to use lighter line
  • Can’t throw large baits & lures
Baitcasting Reels

Ideal for: fishing heavier lures and baits or when fishing around thick cover

On the other side of the spectrum, baitcasting reels allow for casting heavier lures like jigs, spinner baits, and crankbaits with pinpoint accuracy. In general, you can make longer cast with baitcaster and they typically hold more line. However, baitcasters do take some time to learn and practice is needed to be comfortable.

Here are the pros and cons of a baitcasting reel setup:


  • Lightweight
  • Can hold heavier line
  • Holds more line
  • Stronger drag
  • Handles bigger baits & lures
  • Longer casts
  • Ideal for bigger fish


  • More expensive
  • Harder to learn
  • Backlashes
  • Harder to throw light lures

If you are just starting out and haven’t fished with a baitcaster before, I would recommend starting with a spinning combo.

After you get comfortable fishing for smallmouth bass with finesse presentations then you can move on and learn how to throw bigger lures with a baitcaster.

You can catch plenty of bass on a spinning rod and it’s best to keep things simple when you first getting started.

Fishing Line

Once you have the rod and reel ready to go, it’s time to make sure you are fishing with the right type of fishing line.

Choosing the right fishing line for your setup will depend on two main factors – The kind or size of baits/lures you are using and the type of reel.

If you are planning on catching smallmouth bass on a spinning rod, I would recommend you use 6 to 8lb test fluorocarbon.

Fluorocarbon is a little bit more expensive then monofilament, but it’s more sensitive allowing you to detect more bites and it’s less visible in the water. This combination makes it ideal when paired with a spinning rod for finesse smallmouth presentations.

On the other hand, if you plan on throwing heavier lures like jigs, crankbaits, and spinner baits on a baitcaster, then I would recommend using 10 to 15lb monofilament or fluorocarbon line.

Here are the fishing lines I recommend using when fishing for smallmouth bass:

Knot tying is another important component of your fishing setup and shouldn’t be over looked. If you aren’t comfortable tying basic fishing knots, check out this article: Fishing Knots

Pliers & Snippers

Some other must have items to have while fishing for smallmouth bass is a nice set of pliers and some line snippers.

A quality set of pliers is something that every angler should have and will allow you to safely and easily remove hooks and lures from the bass you catch, protecting you and the fish from harm.

Line snippers are another tool that you should add to your tackle box. A good pair of snippers will make it easy to cut your fishing line when tying on your lures and baits.

Here are my favorite fishing snippers and pliers.

Now that we have covered the basic equipment and gear you’ll need to get started, let’s talk more about baits and lures you’ll need.

Best Baits and Lures for Smallmouth Bass

One of the great things about fishing for smallmouth bass is that there are so many different ways you can catch them. Part of the fun is figuring out the specific baits and lures they may be wanting on a particular day.

We could spend days going over the different bait and lures bass fishing anglers use to target and catch smallmouth bass.

Instead we will focus on the top 6 techniques and baits you can use to catch smallmouth anywhere in the country. These baits are all proven and easy ways you can catch smallmouth bass.

I would encourage you try out these lures and techniques and once you master them you can expand your arsenal and learn the others techniques. But when you are just starting out it’s best to keep things simple.

Here are the best baits and lures to use while fishing for smallmouth bass.

Ned Rig

The Ned Rig is just a small plastic stick bait threaded onto a light jig head. It might not seem like much but this bait flat out catches bass.

This rig excels in clear water conditions with light line paired with a spinning rod. Not only is this bait great for beginners, but few baits will catch as many fish as the Ned Rig.

It’s easy to throw and an inexpensive way to catch a lot of smallmouth bass. Here are the things you’ll need to throw this rig:

Tackle & Gear Needed

  • Spinning rod & reel
  • 4-10lb fluorocarbon line
  • Stick bait
  • Small jig head

If you are interested in throwing the Ned Rig for smallmouth bass make sure to check out our Ultimate Ned Rig Guide for more information and tips.

Drop Shot

Another smallmouth bass fishing staple is the drop shot. In my opinion, the drop shot is one of the best ways to target and catch smallmouth bass (Especially in clear water).

The drop shot is a finesse bass fishing technique that is super effective when fished vertically, but also works great when worked horizontally.

Here is the tackle you’ll need to throw and use the drop shot:

Tackle & Gear Needed

  • Spinning rod & reel
  • 4-10lb fluorocarbon line
  • Drop shot hook
  • Soft plastic bait
  • Drop shot weight (1/4 to 3/8 ounce)

For more information about what baits to use check out this article on the best drop shot baits for smallmouth bass

If you are fishing in clear water or areas where there is a lot of fishing pressure, there is perhaps no better way to catch smallmouth bass then the drop shot.

Make sure to learn to fish this technique, it will help you catch a ton of smallmouth bass for years to come.

If you haven’t fished a drop shot before or want some tips, check out the video below.


The Senko, also known as a stick bait, is another great way to catch smallmouth bass. It’s easy to use, versatile, and extremely effective at catching a bunch of fish.

One of the great things about fishing with a Senko is how versatile it is. You can fish in grass or around cover by Texas Rigging it, or if you are fishing in open water you can Wacky Rig it.

Tackle & Gear Needed

  • Spinning setup or bait casting setup
  • 8-15lb fluorocarbon or monofilament line
  • Weightless or EWG style hook
  • Soft plastic Senko or stick bait
  • Bullet weight

Whether you are fishing in ultra-clear water or in heavy cover, the simplicity, versatility, and overall effectiveness of the Senko is why it’s a great way to catch smallmouth bass.

Here are some tips and trick and everything you need to know about throwing and rigging Senko.


Another extremely productive way to catch smallmouth bass is with a tube. This classic bait works extremely well all over the country and will help you catch a ton of fish.

A tube is most commonly fished on the bottom by either slowly dragging it or hopping it, but it can also be worked fast by “cracking it” as well.

It does a great job at imitating crayfish, gobies, as well as baitfish, and smallmouth bass have a hard time resisting this awesome bait.

Here is the basic setup you’ll need to throw this bait:

Tackle & Gear Needed

  • Spinning setup
  • 6-8lb fluorocarbon line
  • Jig head
  • Tube

One of my favorite all-time tubes to use for smallmouth is the Dry Creek 3 ½ inch in either the old ugly or butt ugly pattern. But any brown or green based tube with some flake to it works great.

Any angler that has been fishing for smallmouth bass for a long time understands how productive a tube can be and they always make sure they have one tied on.


If big smallmouth bass is what you are after, there is perhaps no better way to catch them then with a jig.

It’s no secret smallmouth love to eat crayfish, and a jig is one of the best ways to imitate one. Not only does it do a great job at imitating crayfish, but it can also look like small bait fish as well.

The jig is most effectively fished with heavier line on a bait casting rod and reel combination.

Although you can pretty much fish a jig anywhere, it is ideal for fishing around heavy cover such as rocks, trees, bushes, and other types of structure.

Here is the setup you’ll need to throw a jig:

Tackle & Gear Needed

  • Baitcasting rod & reel
  • 10-20lb fluorocarbon line
  • Jig (football or finesse)
  • Jig Trailer

For more information on how to fish a jig, as well as some tips and tricks, check out this video below by Tactical Bassin.


There are few lures and baits that will be as effective as a crankbait at triggering smallmouth bass into striking. They also allow you to cover a lot of water and put off an action that make it tough for any nearby smallmouth to resist.

Here the basic setup of what you’ll need to be able to throw crankbait effectively for smallies.

Tackle & Gear Needed

  • Baitcasting rod & reel
  • 10-20lb fluorocarbon or monofilament line
  • Crankbait (square-bills, deep diver, lipless)

Here are some of my favorite smallmouth bass crankbaits:

  • Spro Mike McClelland RkCrawler 55
  • Strike King KVD 1.5 Deep Diver Squarebill
  • Rapala DT Series
  • Bomber Flat Free Shad

For tips, tricks, and everything you need to know about fishing a crankbait, check out this article: Using Crankbaits for Smallmouth Bass.

Other Effective Smallmouth Bass Baits and Lures

  • Spinnerbaits
  • Swimbaits
  • Top water lures
  • Texas Rig soft plastics
  • Spybaits
  • Jerkbaits
  • Spoons
  • Underspins

Where to Find and Catch Smallmouth Bass

Now that we have the gear and tackle needed to effectively target smallmouth, let’s discuss exactly where you should look for and target these fish.

Smallmouth bass are a popular game fish sought after anglers all over the United States and can be found throughout the temperate zones of North America.

Popular smallmouth bass fishing destinations include the Great Lakes, Mississippi River, Lake Champlain, St. Lawrence River, Lake Erie, Pickwick Lake and many other cool water tributaries, rivers, lakes and reservoirs.

Here is a list of the some of the most popular smallmouth bass fisheries in the world:

Best Smallmouth Bass Fishing Destination

  • Sturgeon Bay
  • Lake Erie
  • Lake Saint Clair
  • Mille Lacs Lake
  • Lake Michigan
  • Pickwick Lake
  • Lake Champlain
  • Lake Ontario
  • Lake Superior
  • Lake Huron
  • Dale Hollow Reservoir
  • Mississippi River
  • Candlewood Lake
  • Wilson Lake
  • Rainy Lake
  • Mille Lacs Lake

Don’t live nearby one of these places? No worries, there are plenty of great smallmouth fishing fisheries all over North America. Just do a simple internet search where you live and you’ll be able to find some places to get you started.

Now that we have some fishing places in mind, it’s time to start thinking about specific areas and spots on a given lake where you can find and catch fish.

Smallmouth bass typically prefer clear, cool water and spend much of their time around moderately deep, rocky areas where crawfish can be found.

Here are some high percentage areas that are typically great fishing spots to catch smallmouth bass. If you can find these type of areas on your local lakes, you’ll have a lot of success.  

Best Areas to Target Smallmouth Bass

  • Points
  • Rock piles
  • Rocky points
  • Rip rap
  • Wood
  • Brush piles
  • Coves
  • Current
  • Creeks
  • Any type of structure
  • Ledges
  • Humps
  • Flats
  • Drop Offs

Catching Smallmouth Bass by Season

One of the things that makes smallmouth bass fishing so challenging and rewarding is the fact that these fish are constantly on the move.

If you want to learn how to catch smallmouth bass, it’s important to understand their seasonal movements and behaviors.

Smallmouth will move from day to day, week to week, and season to season. This movement is typically dictated by water temperature and may vary from region to region.

One first things any new bass fishing angler must understand is how these factors drive bass migrations so you can know exactly where to search from them and how to catch them.  

To help you understand this behavior and movement here is a breakdown of smallmouth bass fishing in the different seasons.

Catching Smallmouth Bass in Spring

Spring is one of the best times of the year to be fishing for smallmouth bass. The fish are starting to wake up from the long winter and they are bulking up on food as they prepare for the spawn. Because of this, spring is one of the best times to catch your biggest smallmouth of the season.

The spring can really be broken down into three different stages: pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn.


The pre-spawn is the period of time where bass start to feed up in preparation for the spawn. This is prime time to catch a monster smallmouth. They start to move shallower and feed heavily.  


Smallmouth bass typically spawn in March-May, or when the water temperatures reach between 59 and 64 degrees. Males will build nest where the female will lay their eggs in anywhere from 4 to 20 feet deep.

Check out this video by the Flukemaster on How to Fish the Smallmouth Bass Spawn for more information.


After the spawn is over can be a challenging time to fish. Most of the bass are worn out, or if you are lucky, feeding up to get their strength back. During this period bass will start moving out of their spawning flats and heading out towards their summer homes.

Here is some more information about how to fish during this period: Tips for Catching Post Spawn Bass.

The spring is one of the best times to catch big smallmouth bass. Fish are feeding aggressively which can make for some fun days out on the water.

Having the right baits and lures during this season is critical, here are our top choices for spring smallmouth bass fishing.

Best Baits and Techniques for Spring Smallmouth Bass

  • Lipless Crankbait
  • Spinnerbaits
  • Jerkbaits
  • Tubes
  • Grubs
  • Ned Rig
  • Drop Shot
  • Jigs
  • Blade Baits

Catching Smallmouth Bass in Summer

Bass fishing in the summer can be a lot of fun. Whether you are fishing in creeks, river systems, lakes, or deep reservoirs, you can have a lot of success during the summer months.

After the spawn, smallmouth will begin migrating to where they will spend the summer and can typically be found on off shore points, humps and rock piles.

You can target them on the shallow banks during low light periods (dusk or dawn) and can have success fishing deeper as it gets warmer.

Current and water temperature is a key factor during the summer, if you can find areas that have current and or cooler water temperatures, you are likely to have a lot of success.

One of the great things about fishing for bass in the summer is you can pretty much have your choice of any bait and lure. Below are some of my favorite choices.

Best Baits and Techniques for Summer Smallmouth Bass

  • Poppers
  • Walking Baits
  • Ploppers
  • Crankbaits
  • Spinnerbaits
  • Ned Rig
  • Drop Shot
  • Tubes
  • Jigs
  • Chatterbait

Check out this video for more tips on summer smallmouth bass fishing: Finding Smallmouth in Summer (Proven Tactics) Bass Fishing.

Catching Smallmouth Bass in Fall

When the weather begins to change and it gets cooler, it’s time to start thinking about fall bass fishing. The fall presents anglers with some great fishing opportunities.

Much like in the spring, bass will feed heavily in the fall, but this time it’s in preparation for the winter. Due to the colder temperatures, smallmouth bass will follow the bait fish into the backs of creeks and coves where they will aggressively feed. This can make for some great fishing.

Bait fish is key in the fall – if you can fish where the bait fish are you’ll find a ton of bass nearby. Here are some of the top techniques you can use to target bass in the fall.

Best Baits and Techniques for Fall Smallmouth Bass

  • Swimbaits
  • Flukes
  • Topwater lures (Poppers, Walking Baits, Ploppers etc.)
  • Crankbaits
  • Spinnerbaits
  • Jigs
  • Ned Rig

For more in-depth information about fishing in the fall, check out this video: Fall Bass Fishing Complete Guide (Fall Transition to Late Fall)

How to Catch Smallmouth Bass in Winter

Most anglers that fish for smallmouth bass end up throwing in the towel when winter comes, but this is a big mistake. You can catch smallmouth bass all through winter through the ice, in rivers, and places with open water.

Here are some proven ways you can catch smallmouth bass during the winter months.

Best Baits & Techniques for Winter Smallmouth Bass

  • Jigs
  • Blade Baits
  • Ned Rig
  • Drop Shot
  • Tubes
  • Swimbaits

For more tips and information about fishing in the winter, check out this article: How to Catch Monster Winter Smallmouth.

Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips and Strategies  

Now that we have covered the equipment you’ll need, the best baits and lures as well as how and when to target smallmouth based on the season.

 It’s time to discuss the key tips and strategies that will help you catch more smallmouth bass

Here are 15 tips and strategies you can use to catch smallmouth bass.

Find Structure and You’ll Find the Bass – The most productive smallmouth fishing areas are going to be the places that have the most structure. Rocks, trees, humps, grass are high percentage fishing areas that will always hold fish.

Gear Up – Much like any other type of sport having the right gear and tools for the task is critical. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on tackle and equipment but it is important you get the right ones for this type of fishing.

Keep It Simple – We have covered a ton of different information in this article but if you are just starting out its important to keep things simple. Select a few baits we mentioned previously and learn how to rig and throw them properly.  Once you feel comfortable with one then you can move on an learn other techniques.

Focus On Shallow Water – If you are just starting out target the smallmouth bass that are up shallow (20 feet or less). The fish that are closer to the bank will be a lot easier to target and catch.

Wind & Current are Key – Wind and current are major factors that can determine your overall success. If can find a wind-blown bank or an area that has current, these are great places to fish.

Spend Time on the Water – Nothing will help you more on your journey of catching smallmouth bass then spending time on the water. Invite someone that has experience if you can you’ll end up learning a lot more.

Mix Up Your Retrieval – One of the most important things to keep in mind as you learn to throw different baits and lures is to mix up your retrieval speed. Whether you are dragging a jig or throwing a crankbait mixing up you work your bait can pay off big.

Make Long Casts – The longer you can keep your baits and lure in the strike zone (the area where the fish are at) the more success you’ll have. Making long cast is a great way to catch more fish.

Understand Seasonal Bass Behavior – Knowing the different seasonal patterns, we discussed in this article is extremely important and is something that every bass fishing angler needs to know. This knowledge will help you understand how and where to target these fish during the different seasons.

Cover Water – Many anglers make the mistake of fishing in unproductive areas for too long. If you haven’t gotten a bite and it’s been awhile don’t be afraid to move on and try new water. Then when you do catch a few you can slow down and pick a part that area.

Success Is in The Details – Pay close attention to the small details. Make sure you knots are solid, your baits are rigged properly and try and learn something at each fishing trip.

Don’t Go Too Big – Smallmouth bass have smaller mouths than largemouth and other fish species and they tend to prefer smaller profile lures. Keep this in mind as you are selecting what to throw.

Be Patient – Sure you can go out and catch a few smallmouth bass your first time out. But just like anything it takes time to become good at your craft. Be patient as you learn all the great things about bass fishing.

Master Your Casts – Being able to make accurate casts will help you tremendously when targeting smallmouth. A lot of times they will be hiding around structure and if you can make that key cast to where they are at you’ll catch a lot of fish.  

Have Fun – Fishing is all about spending quality time with others and enjoying the great outdoors. Remember to always have fun regardless of how many fish you catch.

For more great bass fishing tips and information check out our other resources:


Catching smallmouth bass doesn’t have to be hard, and after your first few fishing trips you’ll start to become more comfortable and gain confidence in your equipment and fishing techniques you learned in this article.

I’d encourage you to not take any shortcuts and learn all you can each time you go fishing. The good habits and techniques you learn at the beginning will pay huge dividends in the future and before you know it you’ll be fishing for smallmouth bass like a pro in no time. 

Aaron Warner

Aaron Warner is an avid angler with over 15 years of experience. He has participated and won fishing tournaments all over the country and enjoys fishing for bass, trout, walleye and other species.

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