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Smallmouth VS Largemouth Bass: Not Just The Mouth Size

In the US, the Smallmouth vs Largemouth bass are two of the most popular sporting fish. From passionate amateur to professional sports fishermen, everyone loves to catch bass. It is also an industry that generates more than 60 billion dollars a year with countless tournaments and events. However, despite their popularity, not everyone knows the difference between smallmouth vs largemouth bass. 

Although you may not notice it at first glance, there are many differences between these two species. Smallmouth vs largemouth bass are two unique species with their own biology and effective fishing tactics. So how can you tell these two fish apart when they belong to the same species? Here's a handy guide to identifying smallmouth vs largemouth Bass and, more importantly, information to better understand them so you can become a more effective bass angler.

small vs large mouth bass

6 key differences: smallmouth vs largemouth bass

comparision table

Smallmouth vs Largemouth Bass: Size & Weight

A rather obvious difference between smallmouth vs largemouth bass lies in their size. Although these fish can grow to an average of almost 15 inches, smallmouth bass is always smaller than largemouth bass. Smallies typically weigh around 10 pounds, while Large can double that number. When observing these species together, you will find that largemouth bass will be longer. However, do not try to identify them based on size alone, as younger largemouth bass can be much smaller.

  • Mouth size/Jaw length

If you look closely at their mouths, you'll notice that large mouth fish are wider; bigger and deeper. The largemouth bass has its mouth wide open behind the eyes, towards the gills. On the other hand, the mouth of smallmouth bass usually does not extend past the fundus of the eye. It makes perfect sense considering the names of these two fishes.

One of the most effective metrics you can rely on is the size of your jawbone. When you close the mouth of bass, the length of the jaws will be different. Smallmouth will have a jaw that does not extend past the posterior point of the eyeball, and conversely, a large mouth will have a jaw that extends past the posterior point of the eyeball when fully closed. Remember that this only works when the fish's mouth is closed in its natural position.

largemouth bass


For the most part, smallmouth bass is olive-yellow to brown, and can sometimes be almost black. They usually have brown or dark red eyes and a head with dark brown horizontal stripes. Largemouth bass, on the other hand, is usually olive-green/gray-green complete with dark markings on the head and body, spots that can range from dark green to black. These spots often create jagged or broken lines running horizontally along the fish's body.

Smallmouth is commonly known as Brown Bass, and Largemouth is known as Green Bass. In open waters, smallmouth bass is lighter in color compared to the darker colors found in darker rivers. In fact, both smallmouth vs largemouth bass can vary in color depending on their age, location, and a variety of other factors.

Dorsal & Striped fins

The next big difference in appearance that you will see between the smallmouth vs largemouth bass is in the dorsal fin, the top fin on the back. Smallmouth bass has two dorsal fins separated by a shallow groove. Anterior dorsal fin shorter with spines, second dorsal fin taller with soft rays. This dorsal fin looks like a long and sturdy fin without any separation.

In general, the dorsal fins of smallmouth bass look like many small spines forming a continuous chain; while for the largemouth bass, the dorsal fins are more separate, thus creating a mountain-like shape. This is also one of the fastest signs to distinguish these two species. 

Another fairly reliable indicator is to look at the direction of the stripes on the body. A largemouth bass has wide horizontal stripes while a small mouth bass has longitudinal lines. Largemouth Bass almost always have a darker horizontal line that runs the length of their body in line with the middle of the tail.


Although smallmouth bass and largemouth bass may exist in the same location, they differ in specific preferences. They will usually not be in the same part of a lake/ river. Largemouth bass prefers warm lakes and rivers (Southern Lakes like Okeechobee) as well as shallower waters while smallmouth prefers colder freshwater and is more common in Northern waters such as Lake Erie.

When fishing for Smallmouth bass, the place to check is shallow rocky areas. This is mainly in freshwater lakes, where there are a lot of crayfish and insect pupae are their main food. Smallmouth prefers to hunt in difficult currents, especially deep, rocky structures. 

This fish is also famous for chasing baitfish in open water. It is therefore much easier to find Smallmouth in clear, fresh waters than in the murky shallows that Largemouth love. This means you'll have to hide so that smallmouth won't spot you. They have a very low tolerance to pollution and you are more likely to find them in clean and healthy waters.

bass fishing

The largemouth bass can live in a much wider range of environments than the smallmouth bass, and that is why the largemouth can be found almost anywhere in the United States. As long as there is enough water, they can be found in most parts of Canada and the United States. Smallmouth bass can be found in the Mississippi region, St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes Region. Also, they are in other select areas in Northern Canada and the Northern United States. 


Also, we can tell the difference between these two species smallmouth vs largemouth bass based on how they work on the line. Smallmouths are generally more active than largemouths, which is a key difference. They will fight hard to get off the hook by jumping, which means you'll need to be skilled at handling them to avoid falling. When caught, you'll find that smallies will fight as hard as they can, often performing acrobatic maneuvers to escape their prey.

Largemouth fish are equally strong but not as active. They only jump once and then try to swim to deeper water. If you catch a Largemouth bass, it will probably jump once or twice to try to get out. But the main way is to try to pull the rope into murky waters, where there is a chance of getting caught by underwater obstacles. Such behavior can help you know what species of sea bass you are dealing with while fishing.

Best time for fishing

The best time to fish (both smallmouth vs largemouth bass) will depend on where you fish. Each body of water has its own peak season based on vegetation, climate, depth as well as other factors. However, there are some general rules you should keep in mind wherever you are bass fishing. Smallmouth bass is best caught during the mild months, such as spring and autumn, while largemouth bass is ideally caught in the summer.

The recommended time to fish is in the early morning a few minutes after sunrise. This is when they tend to be best at ambushing and attacking their prey. Largemouth bass is aggressive predators and depends on light to see their prey. Therefore, you should make sure the moment you fish there is some visible light penetrating the water. When the sun is shining, they will sink into deep water that is difficult to fish. When it's cloudy like winter, you can also fish in the warm midday sun.

Many top anglers suggest that cloudy and drizzly days are best for Largemouth. And, bright days with calm waters are the best conditions for fishing Smallmouth Bass. They make it much easier to spot Smallies in the clear blue waters they prefer. Light winds are okay, but strong winds make outdoor fishing difficult.

Smallmouth is the best tactical bass and to get them you will have to be sure of your timing. Fishing time is in the morning anytime from dawn to 2 to 3 hours after sunrise. Unlike the Largemouth bass, they can hunt in low light. When fishing for smallmouth bass, notice some lures will work in the morning while others will work in the evening.

a man fish a largemouth bass

Smallmouth VS Largemouth Bass: Fishing Tip

Most of the same techniques are used to successfully catch both smallmouth vs largemouth bass. Largemouth are often adventurous in the upper part of the water, which means they are attracted to bait that is above the water. Smallmouth fish are the opposite because they prefer to be in deep water. Therefore, only bite those baits found below the surface of the water. The difference comes from the choice of equipment and the presentation of the bait. 

  • Largemouth Bass fishing tips

The most effective way to catch a Largemouth Bass is to flip and throw it into the grass where they hide. It needs to be turned upstream to attract their attention and this also allows the hook to get deep under the grass. Your device selection must also take this into consideration. Grills are better for capturing larger mouth bass than rotary sticks because they are better suited for plowing through underwater obstacles and give you better control. 

Using large bait is a remedy for all fishing conditions. Largemouth bass will ambush only if they sense or see an enemy. Therefore, using a large bait fish is more likely to be successful. The Largemouth can sometimes be lazy predators and ignore prey in the distance. At such times we should take advantage of injured prey (and try to place the bait near the bass). In this case, the use of torn worms creates an opportunity for them to attack.

  • Smallmouth Bass fishing tips

Crank toys, spinners, vibrating fixtures will attract smallmouth bass to bite them. The smallmouth has excellent vision in all light conditions much more than the largemouth so avoiding heavy lines will be effective in fishing smallies. 

Remember that fishing rods are in fast-moving water. This means your line should be strong enough to withstand the flow without looking so deep that it sinks lower than the smallmouth bass.

green bass fishing

Frequently asked question

Is the largemouth bass harder to catch than the smallmouth?

Smallmouth bass offers more fighting power, although big mouth bass is usually bigger, heavier and more powerful. This is due to their behavior on the line analyzed above. However, on average, they have similar difficulty levels.

Can Smallmouth Bass and Largemouth Bass be crossbred?

Although it is not very common, technically smallmouth bass and largemouth bass can be crossed. They can breed, and are often referred to as small-mouth and large-mouthed hybrids, or even normal-mouth bass.

Which taste is better: largemouth bass or smallmouth bass?

While both make for an appetizing meal, smallmouth bass tends to have a more savory and likable taste. The reason is that they prefer to live in a clean water environment. In contrast, largemouth tolerates pollution better.

Smallmouth vs Largemouth Bass: Which Fish Is Better?

The truth is that both species have their own good points. Largemouth Bass grows more widely and makes for a pleasure looking for them in hiding places like covers, weeds and rocks. Smallmouth bass, on the other hand, is more active and makes an excellent fight to challenge fishing skills.

Anglers love to argue which fish is better almost as much as they enjoy catching them. No matter which species you prefer, one thing is for sure: bass is always at the top of every angler's freshwater fishing list. While a lot of beginners have a hard time telling smallmouth vs largemouth bass apart, paying attention to the tips above will help you spot the clear difference between smallmouth vs largemouth and be better prepared for a memorable bass hunting adventure. Protection Status