Smallmouth bass are one of the most popular species with anglers across the United States and for good reason. These fish are aggressive, fight hard, and they take some work to catch, making the rewards even greater.
The best way to catch any species is to understand what they eat in their natural habitat. Now, smallmouth bass have tiny mouths compared to their body, so their diet is quite different from their cousins, the largemouth bass.
So, what do smallmouth bass eat?
Smallmouth bass are a carnivorous fish and do not eat any vegetation. They love to eat crayfish, small fish, tadpoles, worms, leeches, and insects.
But, their diet does vary based on their habitats, seasons, and size, so let’s look at what they eat in more detail.
Table of Contents
- What do Smallmouth Bass Eat?
- What Smallmouth Bass Eat by the Season
- What do Smallmouth Bass Like to Eat the Most?
- What are the Best Baits for Smallmouth Bass?
- What are the Best Lures for Smallmouth Bass?
- Winding Up
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What do Smallmouth Bass Eat?
Smallmouth bass are voracious carnivores and are therefore not fussy about what they eat. Before we get into the details, here is a list of their general prey items.
- Small frogs
- Flying insects
- Other juvenile fish species
As you can see, smallmouth bass are not fussy and they will pretty much eat anything that they can squeeze into their small mouths.
But, what they choose to eat changes depending on what is most readily available and the easiest prey to catch. What is readily available is also dependent on where you are fishing, so considering the habitat is also important.
What Smallmouth Bass Eat by the Season
One of the major things that affects smallmouth bass feeding habits is the changing of the seasons. Understanding these behavioral changes are key to being a successful smallmouth angler throughout the year.
Let’s take a deeper look at this.
What do Smallmouth Bass Eat in the Winter?
In the winter seasons, the water temperature in the rivers and lakes that smallmouth bass live in drops. When this happens, the fish move to deeper water, as it is warmer than being near the surface.
But, it is still cold down there and this causes the bass to slow their metabolism down. They become slow, less aggressive, and lethargic in order to conserve energy as they are expending a lot of it on just staying warm.
This doesn’t mean smallmouth bass stop eating in winter but they will only feed on easy meals at deeper depths. Their diet remains similar and will consist of small fish and mainly crayfish too along with nymphs.
When fishing for smallmouth bass in winter, fish deep and slow with a crayfish imitation and you should find a fish or two.
What do Smallmouth Bass Eat in the Spring?
In the spring, the water temperatures begin to rise and the smallmouth bass move from their deep winter dwellings into the shallows.
This increase in water temperature makes the bass feed more aggressively and they have some weight to put on after winter, so they are going to go for anything that moves.
Between April and May, smallmouth bass spawn and before they start spawning they are hungry. In order to spawn successfully, the bass need to put on a lot of weight and will be super aggressive making this one of the best times to target them.
In spring, they will eat everything from crayfish to small fish, leeches, worms, insects, tadpoles, frogs, and more. You name it, they will eat it.
When they spawn, they’ll slow down their feeding but will protect their nests with their lives. If you can find their spawning grounds, a lure swung past a nest will most certainly get attacked.
Post spawn, the smallmouth bass are hungry again and become super aggressive devouring everything in their path.
What do Smallmouth Bass Eat in the Summer?
When the water temperatures are not too warm in summer, smallmouth bass take advantage of the bounty of food that has become available in the rivers and lakes.
This means they will be focused on eating small minnows, small fish like bluegills and suckers, and of course, crayfish.
There will be a time in the summer when lots of tadpoles and frogs hatch. This is when the smallmouth bass will change their behavior and focus on eating all the frogs that they can fit in their mouths.
But, when the summer sun makes the water too hot, the smallmouth bass will move to the deep to find cooler waters. They will still feed down there but will focus on species that live at deeper depths like crayfish and small herrings.
What do Smallmouth Bass Eat in the Fall?
Fall is when smallmouth bass go a little crazy. The water temperatures have fallen back down to their optimal range, the lakes and rivers are brimming with bait, and the bass know winter is on the horizon, so they need to get fat to last through the cold months.
This means that in fall, smallmouth bass are going to eat everything from worms to leeches, small fish species, minnows, crayfish, insects, and more. Basically, anything that fits in their mouths, is going to get eaten.
The smallmouth bass will hunt in both the shallows and the deeper waters during this time, going wherever the easiest meal is.
How do Seasons Affect Smallmouth Bass Feeding Habits?
As you will have probably noticed, the seasons make a big difference to smallmouth bass feeding habits. The main things that affect how they feed are water temperature and spawning.
When the water is too warm or too cold, the bass go deep to find a more comfortable water temperature. They will also slow down in order to conserve energy and therefore feed less aggressively.
But, once the water temperature becomes optimal again, their aggression returns and they begin to hunt in the shallows again. This is the best time to be fishing for them!
Pre-spawning, smallmouth bass have to gain weight and become more aggressive. After spawning, they are depleted and again, need to strap on the feed bag! These can be some of the best times to fish for them!
What do Smallmouth Bass Like to Eat the Most?
Generally speaking, smallmouth bass will choose to eat whatever is the easiest thing for them to get their teeth on. Now, this is usually whatever is the most abundant prey item at any given time in the year.
For example, when lots of frogs hatch in the warmer months, the smallmouth bass will turn their attention to them.
But, studies have shown that some smallmouth bass populations eat crayfish 50% of the time and this is a strong suggestion that crayfish is their favorite food overall.
What are the Best Baits for Smallmouth Bass?
If you want to fish for smallmouth bass with live baits then the best bait you can use are crayfish. Smallmouth bass love crayfish and they tend to live around the rocky structures that smallmouth like to hunt around.
The reason they love crayfish is because they are packed full of protein, are quite a sizable meal, and are not hard to catch. Chasing and catching a crayfish is a lot easier than chasing and catching a fish.
That being said, minnows and smaller fish species like bluegill and suckers are also effective live baits for smallmouth bass. Smallmouth bass enjoy eating small fish and they won’t pass up an easy meal like this!
Nightcrawlers, aka big worms, are also great live bait for catching smallmouth bass. They can not resist a wriggling worm, like a lot of other species!
What are the Best Lures for Smallmouth Bass?
There are lots of lures that work for smallmouth bass, but some are much better than others, and at different times of the year.
Jigs are the best all around lure for catching smallmouth bass with. This is because they can be fished at any depth and any speed, meaning they work in every season too.
Use either plastic skirted or bucktail jigs in weights ranging from ¼ to ¾ ounces. You can then drop the jig down to your desired fishing depth and work them fast or slow.
It always pays to use the stop and go retrieve. When you stop, the jig sinks and when you go, it rises. This looks like an injured baitfish to smallmouth bass and they can not help but hit it.
Jerkbaits & Crankbaits
Jerkbaits and crankbaits are also a great all-around lure for smallmouth bass. You can fish them deep and slow, shallow and fast, plus their natural look and action is hard for smallmouth to say no to.
Blades are like a jerkbait and crankbait, but they are a thin metal blade painted like a fish. They are super effective for winter smallmouth as you can drop them to the bottom and work them extremely slowly.
Soft plastics are immensely effective all year round too. You can buy them in a range of shapes from fish to nightcrawlers and even crayfish too.
They are then attached to a jig style hook so you can then fish them like jigs, at multiple depths and speeds to match how the bass are behaving across the year.
How much do smallmouth bass eat?
Smallmouth bass can eat about five percent of their body weight per day. This means a 1 lb bass can eat about 0.05 lbs of food per day and by doing so will be healthy.
But, the amount a smallmouth bass can eat depends on its size and where it lives. Naturally, larger specimens can eat more than smaller ones.
Also, some habitats are full of food meaning a bass can eat a lot in a day, but others aren’t which restricts how much they can eat in a day.
How often do smallmouth bass eat?
The frequency with which a smallmouth bass feeds depends on a lot of things. If a bass eats 2 chunky crayfish in the morning, it might be full until the next day. However, if it is feeding on insects, then it might have to eat 50 of them to be full.
Also, the water temperature affects how often a bass feeds. In hot or cold temperatures, smallmouth bass may not even feed during the course of a day, as they are conserving their energy levels.
Do smallmouth bass eat bluegill?
Bluegill are one of the favorite foods of largemouth bass, but not so much for smallmouth bass.
Since smallmouth bass have such small mouths, they can only eat tiny bluegill and most of them are too big to fit in their mouths. They do eat small bluegill when they are rife, but not the big ones.
What do baby smallmouth bass eat?
When a baby smallmouth bass is born, it first feeds on its egg sack. Once that is done, it feeds on tiny zooplankton after which it moves on to insects and eventually tiny fish.
When they grow a bit, worms, larger fish, and larger insects are targeted.
Are smallmouth bass cannibalistic?
Smallmouth bass are cannibals. They will happily eat smallmouth bass fry that are swimming around post-spawning and do not differentiate from one fry to the next, it is all food in their heads!
How big of a fish can smallmouth bass eat?
As long as the fish fits in the mouth of a smallmouth bass, it will eat it. But since smallmouth bass have tiny mouths, the fish isn’t going to be very big.
Generally speaking, they can eat a fish that is around 35% of their body length. So a 10 inch bass can eat a 3.5 inch fish at the max.
How do smallmouth bass feed?
Generally speaking, smaller smallmouth bass up to 2-3 lbs will hunt in shoals terrorizing the bait that lives in their habitats. This can be in open water, the shallows, or around cover.
Larger bass around 4 lbs and above will travel as a pair and hold territory. This makes them more ambush predators as they lurk in their territory waiting for prey items to swim past.
We have now covered pretty much everything you need to know about what smallmouth bass eat, when, and why. This kind of information is invaluable and you can now use it to tailor your fishing tactics and catch more smallmouth bass than ever.
If you have any questions about the article, some info I missed, or some great stories about fishing for smallmouth bass, we would love to hear from you. Drop us a note in the comments section below!