Fish for Bass: The Basic Differences Between Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass

Ok, you’re new to bass. Basically, you don’t know a fish from a Frisbee.

Both the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass are fish classified as Sunfish along with Crappie, Rock bass and Bluegill. All these fish are also widely known as panfish because, well, they fit perfectly in a pan. (No, we don’t call that sneaker you’ve caught a panshoe.)

The large-mouth bass is a favorite catch for many fishermen and are fished all over the work, from the Canada south to the Gulf of Mexico to the Rocky Mountains. These fish have been stocked everywhere including exotic locations like the pacific states and Europe, where we are told they even eat frogs (so a bass must be much better).

(If the French -- or a Californian -- can ID a largemouth bass so can you. Trust me. They don't know fish over there.)

Small-mouth bass fish prefer smaller lakes and streams and cooler water. You may have to scout them out inn that remote mountain stream and isolated lake. Some of this is because they haven’t been as widely stocked, but the small-mouth bass also doesn’t take as well to different climates and locates as well as its mother-in-law, erm, I mean big-mouth bass cousin.

Difference Between a Largemouth  Bass and Smallmouth -- Know Your Fish!

Telling the difference between a largemouth bass and smallmouth can be difficult for a novice. Many times this is because they are looking at the color of the fish and not its other distinctive features. Basically, if you want to fish for bass, and you want to go deeper than skin (scale) deep. This is because scales look differently depending on water conditions, light and how many beers you’ve drank.

Know your Bass By Its Mouth, You Don't Need to be a Pro Shop to Know Your Fish

The easiest way to tell the largemouth bass and smallmouth apart is just to count the number of rows of scales the fish has on its cheek. If it has 10 rows, you have yourself a mother-in-law – sorry – a largemouth bass. If it has 17 rows, you’ve caught a smallmouth bass. Check out how far back the fish’s mouth goes relative to its eye, too. A smallmouth bass’ mouth will generally extend only to the medium point of the eye while a largemouth’s will go far beyond it.

Largemouth bass also tend to have a broad stripe running lengthwise. The smallmouth has bars that run up and down its body. On a largemouth bass, the fish’s dorsal fin is also divided, but this isn’t the case with the smallmouth bass.

If you have any problems, just send a picture to me at ralphie@basicbassfgish and I’ll let you know.