If you’re new to fishing or even a seasoned angler, a commonly debated topic that you should know about is the never ending debate about smallmouth bass vs largemouth bass. Both sides of the debate have fervent supporters who rarely give an inch.
But before you can join the debate and pick a side, I’d like to highlight the key differences between smallmouth and largemouth bass.
Due to possession limits it is also important to be able to distinguish between smallmouth and largemouth bass or you could get fined!
Smallmouth and largemouth both belong to the Centrarchidae (sunfish) family. These close cousins are so similar and yet are so different in the following ways;
Size difference between smallmouth and largemouth bass:
Largemouth bass typically grow larger than smallmouth.
Adult largemouth bass range from 13-20 inches in length and about 1-4.5 lbs in weight depending on water population. The current world record for the largest largemouth bass ever caught is 22 lbs 4 oz.
Smallmouth bass on the other hand are smaller with a more elongate body. Adult smallmouth bass have an average length range of 12-16 inches and a weight range of 1/2 to 4lbs. A 5lb smallmouth would be considered a trophy fish. The current world record for the largest smallmouth bass ever caught is 11 lbs 15 oz.
Both species can grow larger in quality populations.
Differential features (smallmouth bass vs largemouth bass):
The two species are quite similar in appearance but you can tell them apart by the following distinguishing features;
Largemouth - the largemouth bass aka black bass, green trout, bucket mouth, largie to name a few, is generally olive greenish in color with dark blotches on its side that form a horizontal stripe on both sides of the fish. The belly and lower sides are white.
Smallmouth - the smallmouth bass aka brown bass, smallie, brownie, bronze bass to name a few, on the other hand, is brownish green in color hence the name bronze bass. The smallmouth bass has dark blotches on its sides that form into dark vertical stripes rather than the horizontal band of the largemouth bass.
The easiest way to tell the difference between smallmouth and largemouth bass is by looking at the jawline in relation to the eyes.
Largemouth - the upper jaw extends beyond the rear margin of the eye.
Smallmouth - the upper jaw extends to the middle of the eye and never extends past it.
Their habitat preference differs in the following ways; Largemouth bass prefer cover, while smallmouth bass prefer structure.
Largemouth bass - largemouth prefer clear cool water with little to no current. They prefer soft bottoms such as sand and mud. Largemouth bass are usually found where there is plenty of cover such as weeds, lily pads, brush and overhanging trees.
Smallmouth bass - prefer clear and slightly cooler water when compared to largemouth bass. Smallmouth also prefer firm rock or gravel bottoms, and are seldom found in soft bottomed waters. They prefer structure such as rocky areas, submerged brush piles and sunken stumps. Smallmouth prefer fast current and steep drop-offs, which enable them to ambush their prey.
Largemouth bass are sympathetic with smallmouth bass and where they inhabit the same water, expect to find smallmouth bass in deeper water.
Comparison table smallmouth bass vs largemouth bass:
Females grow larger than males
Females grow larger than males
Brownish green (bronze)
Size & Lifespan
- Average length of 13-20 inches
- Average weight 1- 4.5 lbs
- Average life span of 10-16 years but can live longer
- Average length of 12-16 inches
- Average weight 1/2 - 4 lbs
- Average lifespan of 10-12 years
- Dim light feeders.
- Most active in low light conditions
- The same as largemouth
Variety of small fish, insects, frogs, larvae and crayfish. Can survive in most conditions because of their predatory nature and larger mouth
Principally eat crayfish but smallmouth also eat worms, insects, tadpoles and frogs
- prefer clear cool water with little to no current.
- prefer soft bottoms such as sand and mud.
- usually found where there is plenty of cover such as weeds, lily pads, brush and overhanging trees.
- prefer clear and slightly cooler water than largemout with a bit of current
- prefer hard bottoms such as firm rock or gravel bottoms,
-They prefer structure such as rocky areas, submerged brushpiles and sunken stumps.
Spawn in Spring when water warms to low to mid 60s female lays eggs then male guards eggs and young until they can fend for themselves.
- Spawn in cooler than largemouth. When water warms to the upper 50s to the low 60s.
-Spawn in the same way as largemouth
I hope you can now tell the difference between smallmouth and largemouth bass. Which fish do you enjoy pursuing? Comment below.