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How to Fish for Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass is one of the premier game fish in Minnesota and North America at large. They range from the warm waters of the south to the chiller rivers and lakes of northern Minnesota. In the North Star State, they’re considered by many to be one of the top four fish in the state, along with walleye, northern pike, and trout.

If you’re new to fishing and wondering how to fish for smallmouth bass, you’ve come to the right place. This article will cover everything from the right baits and lures to use, to the right places to try out. Let’s get started!

Close-up of a Smallmouth Bass with a lake in the background

What Bait to Use for Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass are on the greenish-gray to brown color spectrum and are usually smaller than largemouth bass. Despite their name, smallmouth bass can grow up to thirty inches long and weigh upwards of five pounds. If you want to learn how to fish for smallmouth bass like a pro, using the right bait is step one.

How to Fish for Smallmouth Bass with Live Baits

For the most success in fishing for smallmouth bass, you should opt for live baits. Smallmouth bass are predatory fish on the hunt for food, and live bait gives off specific attributes that you can’t fake with artificial bait.

That said, smallmouth bass or quite fierce and greedy in terms of their appetite and aggressive manner. As such, you don’t need to be a genius angler to catch a few.

However, using the right live bait will significantly enhance your chances. Here are some of the best live baits to deploy when smallmouth bass are your target.


Minnows are a great bait to use with smallmouth bass because bass are one of their natural predators. Minnows are frequently found in almost every habitat where smallmouth bass roam, which means they’re used to eating them.


Crawfish are another excellent bait that’s slightly on the larger side for smallmouth bass, but they’re perfect for targeting bigger ones.

Leeches and Worms

Leeches and worms are other good options for live bait if you don’t have access to minnows. You should opt for bigger and juicier leeches and worms such as nightcrawlers, which are better for bass than small earthworms.

A large brown and bronze smallmouth

How to Fish for Smallmouth Bass With Artificial Baits

You have to be slightly more selective when using artificial baits and lures with smallmouth bass. You want the bait to resemble something that bass would target, but you also have to fish so that the bait seems lifelike. On the other hand, very little skill or technique is required with actual live bait.

If you want to know how to fish for smallmouth bass with artificial baits, here are some of the best options to use.

Anything That Imitates a Crawfish

Because crawfish is one of smallmouth basses’ favorite prey, it only makes sense that using an artificial bait resembling one is a good choice. For the most success, you should opt for spinnerbaits or crankbaits and focus your attention on a crawfish’s natural habitat, which is rocks and fallen trees. There are few things that smallmouth bass love more than a good crawfish.

You can also use anything from a football jig to grubs or tubes. As long as you use your crawfish imitator in the right way and fish in the right areas, you’re guaranteed to have success, even if you’re in the early stages of learning how to fish for smallmouth bass.

Anything That Imitates a Minnow

The second type of artificial bait that’s great with smallmouth bass is anything that imitates a minnow or small baitfish. Bass of all kinds are aggressive and have massive appetites, and they’re not scared of taking on smaller fish if they’re hungry enough. Minnows, especially, are pretty tempting to smallmouth bass.

As with crawfish imitators, baitfish and minnow imitators are very successful, as long as you use them in the right place and in the correct manner. You will have the best results when you use either a spinner bait or a crankbait and if you can make your lure seem as lifelike as possible.

This means casting your bait in different areas and reeling it back at different speeds. However, smallmouth bass aren’t dumb, and if you reel in too quickly or slowly, they’ll catch onto the fact that your bait is a fraud. Like I said before, a little more skill and technique is necessary when learning how to fish for smallmouth bass with artificial bait.

Fisherman holding a freshly caught smallmouth bass with a yellow lure in its mouth in his hand over river water

Best Time of Year for Smallmouth Bass Fishing

If you’re fishing for smallmouth bass in Minnesota, there’s no wrong time to fish for them. The catch-and-release season starts in the middle of May, around the same time as the northern pike and walleye season. If you’re fishing for food, however, the harvesting season for smallmouth bass begins two weeks after the catch-and-release season.

If you’re looking for the best time to fish for smallmouth bass within the parameters of each season, it depends on where you’re fishing. Smallies are active year-round from spring to fall and typically spawn in early and late May and into early June. Because smallmouth bass love cool waters, they tend to be more active in spring and fall, but you can also fish for them during summer.

What Time of Day to Fish for Smallmouth Bass

When it comes to smallmouth bass, “the early bird gets the worm” is a very accurate saying. You’ll have the most luck fishing for smallies before the sunrise and soon after, especially during summer when the water gets warm during the day. However, you’ll also enjoy success right around dusk, when smallmouth bass are wrapping up their hunting for the day.

In general, smallmouth bass are daytime feeders, which means there should be at least a little daylight when you’re fishing for them. While they might not be as numerous or aggressive in the middle of the day, you can still catch smallmouth bass if you’re fishing in the right places.

Where to Fish for Smallmouth Bass

In terms of where to fish for smallmouth bass geographically, pick any major fishing lake or river in Minnesota, and you’ll be fine. However, for the premier smallmouth bass fishing in the state, you should try your luck on Lake Vermillion, Lake Minnetonka, Mille Lacs Lake, the Mississippi River, or Leech Lake.

Smallmouth bass tend to gravitate towards cooler water where food is plentiful. For example, during early spring and fall, you can find smallies in shallow waters around rocks, logs, and near the shore. In fact, you can catch them in water as shallow as one foot if you go during the right time of year.

During the summer months, however, when the water is warmer, smallies gravitate towards deeper waters. If you go fishing in late June, July, or August, you’ll have more luck in waters that are between 10 and 20 feet deep. In some of the deeper lakes, smallmouth bass have even been caught at depths of thirty-plus feet.

Detail of a Small Mouth Bass in a Lake

How to Fish for Smallmouth Bass Like a Pro

While smallmouth bass are one of the easiest fish to catch when you know where they are, it can sometimes be tough to locate them. Smallmouth bass are constantly on the move, so you might have to be as well. If you want to learn how to fish for smallmouth bass like a pro, being flexible is one of the most important traits you can possess.

Here are a few other tips and tricks for how to fish for smallmouth bass.

  • If you’re using artificial lures, opt for crank baits, spinner baits, ned rigs, jerk baits, and top water baits. Mixing things up will give you the most success with smallmouth bass.
  • When using artificial baits, mix up your reeling speed. Switch from slow and lackadaisical to relatively speedy to imitate live bait as accurately as possible.
  • For the most success with smallmouth bass, use live baits, including minnows, nightcrawlers, and crawfish.
  • Smallies move around frequently, so don’t get too attached to any one location, but instead, be willing to move if you’re not having any luck.
  • Smallmouth bass are aggressive and greedy, so use bigger baits if you want to catch bigger smallies.
  • Fish the shallow, rocky areas during spring and fall, and move onto deeper waters during summer.
Young man fishing on a lake from the boat at sunset

Recommended Gear for Smallmouth Bass Fishing

Knowing how to fish for smallmouth bass means having the right gear aside from your baits and lures. Here’s what you’ll need.

  • A six to eight-foot fishing rod because smallies aren’t massive fish, but they put up a good fight.
  • A traditional bait-casting reel is best for smallies because it allows you to target specific areas and depths.
  • A wide variety of baits and lures so that you can find what works best.
  • Several different weights to reach your desired depth.
  • Needle-nose pliers to remove hooks from fish.
  • A net for assistance with bringing a fish on board or into shore.

Smallmouth Bass State Records

If you’re gunning for the world record for the biggest smallmouth bass ever caught, you might be out of luck in Minnesota. The current record stands at 11 lbs. and 15 ounces, and it was caught in Kentucky. The Minnesota state record stands at eight pounds, and it has stood since 1948.

Head Outdoors for Some Smallmouth Bass Fishing

Hopefully, this article has told you everything you need to know about how to fish for smallmouth bass like a pro. As with most forms of fishing, patience and flexibility are the keys, but choosing the right bait, location, and time is also essential. Smallmouth bass are one of the most prized fish in Minnesota, and you’ll discover why when you start to catch a few.

Want to learn more about fishing, discover more fishing spots, and or read up on the best fishing gear? Then continue your fishing adventure with our comprehensive guides, info posts, and more!