The Best Lures for Smallmouth Bass

by Larry Anderson
Smallmouth bass are one of the hardest fighting fish in fresh water.

Smallmouth bass are one of the hardest fighting fish in fresh water.

Anglers are hard-pressed to name a freshwater fish that, pound for pound, fights as hard as a smallmouth bass. The bass will dance on the surface or dive toward deep water, all the while posing a challenge for any fisherman who hooks one. A variety of lures are effective for catching smallmouth bass, but some perform particularly well.

In-Line Spinner

In-line spinners feature a spinning blade, weight and a hook. Some also have marabou skirts, while others do not. They are versatile lures that can be fished near the water's surface or near the bottom. Wherever they're fished, they catch smallmouth bass. Small in-line spinners will catch smallmouth bass of all sizes, while the largest ones work particularly well for big smallmouths.

But if you just want to catch a bunch of fish, use a #3 in-line spinner. Color typically is not important, though gold blades tend to perform best in clear water. Target rocky areas with in-line spinners and begin by retrieving the bait so it is just under the surface. The most aggressive smallmouths will hit an in-line spinner retrieved in this way, while fish that are more lethargic require a slower approach that results in the bait running near the bottom.

Jig and Grub

Like an in-line spinner, a jig and grub is also a versatile lure. Lead-head jigs between 1/8 oz. and 1/4 oz. are best. The grub should be 3 to 5 inches long, and threaded onto the shank of the jig. Try to retrieve the combination just under the surface, so the tail of the grub creates a wake on the surface. If you are fishing in deeper water--on the edges of points or humps, for example--work the jig and grub combination just off the bottom.

Sometimes, it's best to hop the lure off the bottom and then let it sink, while other times it's best to retrieve it slowly along the bottom, allowing the grub's gyrating tail to attract a bite. Translucent or smoke colors tend to work best in clear water, while dark, solid colors are best in stained or murky water.


Poppers are surface lures with a concave face that splashes water as it's retrieved toward the boat. These lures are especially effective over shallow rocks, though in clear water, smallmouth bass will come from depths of 20 feet or more to smash a popper on the surface.

Cast the lure out and let it sit until all the ripples in the water are gone. Then jerk your rod tip so the lure splashes water, and let the lure sit idle again. Aggressive fish may respond best to a sharp jerk and large splash, while less aggressive fish might bite best on a popper that splashes and then sits idle for a few seconds. Vary your retrieve styles until you learn what the smallmouth bass prefer on that day. Topwater baits often produce best under low-light conditions, though it's never a bad idea--especially on a calm, sunny day--to throw a popper from time to time.

About the Author

Larry Anderson has been a freelance writer since 2000. He has covered a wide variety of topics, from golf and baseball to hunting and fishing. His work has appeared in numerous print and online publications, including "Fargo Forum" newspaper. Anderson holds a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from Concordia College.

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