Smallmouth aggression

With the Elite Series fishing smallmouth waters lately, we’re all hearing a lot about smallmouth aggression. It’s a concept that’s worth thinking about.

There’s no doubt that smallmouth bass are generally more aggressive than largemouth bass but that doesn’t mean they’re psychotic or that they just eat, kill and maim anything else that lives in the lake. And it certainly doesn’t mean that they’ll grab any lure anytime you put it in the water.

Nevertheless, they do seem to bite more than their relatives. The question is why. I have a theory about that. I’ll remind you again that I’m not a fisheries biologist. I’m just an angler with a fair amount of experience. That said, I think my years on the water have put me onto something.

Let’s think about water for a minute. Most largemouth live in water that has some color to it. That’s pretty much a given. Most smallmouth live in water that has almost no color to it. That, too, is pretty much a given. I think that makes for a big difference in how they feed and in how they react to our lures.

Maybe it isn’t so much that smallies are more aggressive. Instead, maybe they can see their prey better.

If a largemouth is under heavy cover along a murky shoreline, he or she can only see so far. If the bait isn’t put right in front of them, they can’t find it or it’s possible that they don’t even know it’s there. We say they’re not as aggressive but it might be that they are trapped into using a small feeding zone by environmental factors. They don’t chase our baits because they don’t know they’re there or because they can’t get to them.

Smallmouth, on the other hand, are typically holding offshore on a point, rockpile or channel break in clearer water. They can see much farther. So, when our bait is 5 or 6 feet away from them, they swim out and grab it. To us that looks like aggression. A better description of their activity might be opportunity.

I know there are exceptions to what I’m saying. Kentucky Lake is one that comes to mind. It has a wonderful smallmouth population and the water has some color to it. But even there the smallmouth tend to be in the clearer sections of the lake, and I don’t hear very much about guys flipping and pitching along the shore for them. At the same time, Kentucky Lake largemouth are legendary for holding out on the ledges that are a good distance from the shore.

So, I’m not saying that all the fish follow the pattern I’m describing. It’s a general idea with many exceptions. Still, thinking about it in this way has value. It’s helped me a lot, anyway.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, in general, smallouth are a different kind of bass. I agree with anyone who says that. The biggest difference, though, is where they live and the opportunities that are available to them. We need to think about that when we’re out fishing for them.

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