Smallmouth bass may not garner the same following as their largemouth counterparts but that doesn’t mean they aren’t deserving of a well stocked tackle box.
If you already have your largemouth bass arsenal bulked up, then you’re halfway there. With a few tweaks, you can hone your lure selection and presentation to excite even the wariest bronzebacks.
While smallmouth and largemouth bass often inhabit the same waters, their behaviors and structure preferences sometimes demand uniquely different tactics. Therefore, tailoring your lure selection to appeal to lunker smallies should be a priority.
Not sure where to start? Well, we’ve got you covered! Smallmouth fall victim to many baits and lures, yet not all rank among the greats. But these 9 unbeatable smallmouth bass lures won’t let you down.
1. Yamamoto Senko
2. Kalin’s Sizmic Shad
3. Plastic Grub
4. Tube Bait
5. Blade Baits
6. Spinner Bait
7. Rapala Jerkbait
8. Heddon Zara Spook
9. Rebel Crawfish Crank
Keep reading to see when, where and how to use each lure to maximize your success on the water.
The soft plastic line up
Saying soft plastics are “effective baits” is a massive understatement. Whether it be a worm, grub, creature bait or a swimsuit, soft plastics are absolutely essential. And that’s why they take up almost half the list. They are all amazing at catching smallmouth and together they create a well rounded arsenal of baits. Armed with our pick of soft plastics, you can handle an enormous array of challenging conditions in your pursuit of smallmouth bass.
First on the list is a no brainer. The Senko is legend among largemouth fanatics and should hold equal status among smallmouth addicts too. Created by Gary Yamamoto, it has been a bass fishing staple for years. Its characteristic profile is simple yet tantalizing to even the wariest smallmouth. An unusually dense formulation gives it subtle movements in the water while being heavy enough to fish weightless. Couple that with a wickedly seductive salt infusion and the Senko quickly became our go-to bait.
When and where to use a Senko
I can honestly say there isn’t a bad time to cast out a Senko for smallmouth. Whether it’s pre-spawn, post spawn or the dead of winter, a Senko rigged up right is going to mimic any natural forage and catch fish. On top of that, it is equally effective at any depth and around any structure. For stained waters, opt for darker colors like black, purples or blues. For chasing smallies in clear water, grab natural colors like green pumpkin or watermelon.
How to fish a Senko
Senkos are super versatile and can be fished with an array of riggings that help anglers adapt to different depth and structure. Targeting smallmouth on deeper rocky points, reefs or drop-offs? Then use a Senko on a drop-shot rig (our personal favorite), Texas rig or drag it along deep transitions with a weighted Neko rig.
For fishing pre-spawn smallmouth around their shallow water spawning beds, rig up wacky style for a slow falling presentation that gets aggressive bass fired up. Along rip-rap banks or around weed beds, we go for a weightless Texas rig that looks as close to natural as it gets.
Kalin’s baits has garnered a loyal following and for good reason. These soft plastics are some of the best baits in the game. And the Sizmic Shad arguably represents the pinnacle of swimbait design. The Sizmic Shad tickles every sense a smallmouth posses and they go nuts for it. Everything from the baitfish profile, to the vibration inducing ribs and the wide kicking tail create a hyper realistic presentation that won’t fail to interest smallmouth looking to feast on minnows.
When and where to use a Sizmic Shad
Swimbaits excel in waters where smallmouth bass feed heavily on large baitfish populations. All through spring, and again in fall, is an ideal time to throw swimbaits. It’s also an great option to toss during windy conditions when there is some chop in the water. Cloud cover and rainy weather also encourage hungry bass to chase down a large meal like swimbaits. Use the Sizmic Shad along rocky transitions, vegetation or near structure that draws in baitfish, which is where football sized smallmouth look to feed.
How to fish a Sizmic Shad
Swimbaits like the Sizmic Shad are incredibly easy to fish and it’s no wonder they are so popular. For shallow water situations, rig it up on a weightless Texas rig. It’s weedless, slow moving and subtle which is key when fishing pressured water. For slightly deeper water, go with a belly weighted rig. This is an ideal rig for those post-spawn transition smallmouth that are just starting to feed again before making a b-line for deeper water. As temperatures rise and clearwater smallies push deep, fish the Sizmic Shad on a jighead. You’ll be able to push into that 30-40 foot zone on mid-lake reefs or deeper points where smallmouth hang out during the day.
3. Plastic Grub
We couldn’t possibly make this list without including the classic plastic grub. Some anglers consider it an old dog in a tackle box filled with new tricks. As a result, the lowly grub often takes a backseat to a newer generation of soft plastics. However, the grub is anything but outdated and the proof is in the creel. Just as plastic grubs like the curly-tail caught smallmouth decades ago, they still fool today’s lure-wary bass with ease. Berkley, Strike King and Kalin’s all make phenomenal grubs that should be included in your smallmouth arsenal.
When and where to use a plastic grub
Grubs are an effective bait all throughout the season. Because they mimic a broad array of forage (crayfish, baitfish, etc.), they are well suited for a variety of conditions. We reach for the grub when topwater action has faded and bass are keyed in on bottom dwelling forage. Rocky structure is a particularly good place to really work a grub. Stick to natural colors.
How to fish a plastic grub
The most common way to rig a plastic grub is on a jig head and it’s almost exclusively how we fish it for smallmouth in rivers and lakes. It casts well, reaches deep water structure and still has an attractive action on the drop. Use 1/8 to 3/8 ounce jigs depending on the depths you’re targeting. As a stubbier option to the lanky plastic worm, you can also rig up a grub Texas style. Try belly weighted with a bullet sinker or weightless. Both ways are highly successful. For times when you want a faster presentation, grubs are a popular trailer to bulk up a spinnerbait for added appeal.
4. Tube baits
The final entry in the soft plastic category is not last because it lacks performance. In fact, if we had to pick only one bait to flip onto a rocky shoreline, it’s a tube jig every time. This bait has stood the test of time and still ranks as one of the best smallmouth lures money can buy. It’s versatility is unmatched and tube baits mimic the entire menu of food smallmouth love. Tube jigs easily imitate creeping crawfish, swimming minnows or sculpin and gobies hiding amongst rocks. Gitzit made the original tube bait but almost every bait manufacturer makes them. No serious bass angler should be without a stash of tube baits.
When and where to use a tube bait
Tube baits shine best when nothing else seems to be working. Even post spawn bass have to be on death’s door to ignore a tube bait slinking slowly along the bottom. Tube baits are also one of our favorite cold water baits since they can be fished slow without sacrificing any of that tantalizing wiggle that makes them so appetizing. Don’t skip over this bait other times of the year though. You can fish it in a variety of ways and speed up your presentation to cover water when fish are scattered, making tube jigs an excellent search bait.
How to fish a tube bait
Fishing a tube bait is one of the most foolproof tactics for reliable smallmouth action. Simply dragging it along the bottom or adding slight hops is enough to seal the deal and trigger a strike. Rigging is simple too. You can either use a jig specific for tube baits or use any jig head which is inserted into the body of the bait. Larger profile jigs give tube baits a characteristic goby profile while adding enough weight to drop fast and hug the bottom. For shallow water structure, make use of a Carolina or Texas style rig to creep it through vegetation, over rock or around wood.
The hard bait line up
Whether it’s a topwater spook or a deep diving crank, hard baits are a thrilling way to target voracious smallmouth bass anytime and anyplace. A small selection of the best performing hard baits adds nearly limitless adaptability to any bass angler’s tactical repertoire. We’re dedicating the rest of our list to hard baits that never fail to deliver blistering action in all conditions.
5. Blade baits
The magic of a blade bait lies in it’s combination of flash, vibration and a convincing minnow profile, making it a stellar reaction lure that all bass, including smallmouth, find hard to resist. In addition, the sheer variety of colors and sizes creates a truly customized approach for any body of water. You can fish blade baits fast or slow to match the mood of fish on any given day. That is not something all hard baits can achieve, which is why it would be downright silly to hit the water without blade baits.
When and where to use a blade bait
Blade baits catch bass all year long but no other time shows off their prowess better than late fall through early spring. When cold water pushes bass to deep structure and induces lethargic feeding habits, a blade bait is among the only reaction baits to consistently generate strikes. It’s heavy profile and inherent vertical action also make it a great option for ice fishing for smallmouth.
How to fish a blade bait
When targeting sluggish bass in deep water, a heavier blade bait is in order (1/2 to 3/4 ounce blades are our go-to). Cast it out and let it drop on bottom. Work it back with short hops that engage the rattles and gives the body of the lure a quick, flashy wobble. Let it flutter on a controlled line and watch for sudden slack since smallmouth often hit it on the drop. As the action heats up approaching spring, cast along rocky breaks and simply retrieve. Vary the speed and action as the situation demands to imitate shad or other small baitfish.
In a world where finesse tactics and the allure of topwater action hog all the attention, the humble spinner bait is frequently overlooked by anglers taking on big bronzebacks. Be it river eddies or big clearwater lakes, spinner baits have the potential to dominate all other baits. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they can cover lots of water and have loads of vibration and flash to attract fish from far and wide. While spinner baits have a well established track record for largemouth, don’t doubt their ability for boating plenty of smallmouth as well.
When and where to use a spinner bait
Spinner baits are versatile enough to work just about all year long. The only exception being the deepest part of winter when bass seek out deeper water. It’s during the pre-spawn transition, as water temperatures climb, that spinner baits are the winning ticket. Use spinner baits to fan cast shallow flats as smallmouth prepare to spawn. As summer heat kicks in, spinner baits will be most productive in early morning and late evening. Mid to late fall is another great time to break out the spinner bait and work rocky shorelines, current breaks and drop offs.
How to fish a spinner bait
As a reaction lure, utilize spinner baits to cover water in search of roving smallmouth. Use single blade spinner baits to work drop offs and docks where you can let them flutter gradually down the water column with a slow retrieve. When working shallows, cast double blade or willow leaf spinners with a moderate retrieve to cover water. Solid colored blades seem to trigger consistent strikes more than non-painted spinner baits. Chartreuse, white and firetiger are hard to beat. Smallmouth tend to swipe at these lures so a trailer hook is often key to better hook ups. For a fuller profile, add a soft plastic grub or creature bait to the spinner.
When it comes to singling out whopper smallies, Rapala Jerkbaits are our weapon of choice. These minnow mimics perfectly replicate stunned or injured baitfish that no bass can pass up. With a slim, neutrally buoyant body and a bill for diving down the water column, jerkbaits are uniquely suited to imitate cold shocked shad that inhabit many prime smallmouth waters. With so many brands of jerkbaits out there, it’s hard to pick one for this list. Yet, year after year, Rapala jerkbaits rein supreme and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
When and where to use a Rapala Jerkbait
Jerkbaits are a reaction lure primed for cold water bass. Late fall to early spring when water temperatures are hovering around the 40 to 50 degree range is when jerkbaits will work their magic. These lure designs mimic cold shocked shad so break out the jerkbait after sudden cold snaps that drop water temperatures into the 40’s. Since shad struggle to acclimate, these cold season die-offs create a buffet for gorging smallmouth. Clear water is critical for jerk bait success. Work your lure near deeper drop-offs adjacent to shallow water that holds baitfish.
How to fish a Rapala Jerkbait
Fishing a jerk bait is all about imitating a struggling baitfish which calls for a slow, sporadic retrieve. Sluggish fish will strike but concentrate on slowing down. Most of the action comes on the pause. After your cast, capitalize on the diving bill to get it to your desired depth, then settle into a twitch-twitch-pause cadence. Countdown your pauses and experiment with pause length. Sometimes conditions call for a ten second pause but most of the time 3-7 second pauses seal the deal. During your pause, introduce a bit of slack in the line and watch for a strike.
Back in 1939 when the Heddon Zara Spook was introduced, it was a shoe-in for claiming a spot on the list of greats. It’s deceptively plain, cigar shaped profile revolutionized topwater bass fishing and we never looked back. With a slack-line retrieve, you can send a Zara Spook’s plump body into a back and forth “walk the dog” rhythm that results in explosive topwater action. It’s primarily thought of for largemouth bass but don’t rule it out for smallmouth. Smallmouth hit a spook with ferocity surpassing that of their bucket mouth cousins. Always pack along a spook when you want a topwater thrill in smallie waters.
When and where to use a Heddon Zara Spook
The window of opportunity for enticing smallmouth to hit topwater baits is narrow but not as limited as many think. Typically, topwater action peaks in late spring depending on your region and again in fall. However, don’t be afraid to break out your Zara Spook on summer mornings and evenings. Concentrate your efforts around vegetative cover near spawning beds or over rocky substrates that draw in smallmouth looking for a quick meal. Minnow imitation colors are solid choices.
How to fish a Heddon Zara Spook
Novice anglers tend to shy away from Spooks but using them effectively is easier than you think. Spooks should be fished with monofilament line for best results. To get the most convincing “walk-the-dog” action, use a slack-line retrieve. This entails using the rod tip to impart action without reeling up all the slack. Getting the desired side to side action may take some practice. Vary your retrieve to suit the feeding mood of bass. Sometimes tight walking with short hops is what triggers a bite. Other times, a gliding walk does the trick. In both cases, pausing between movement is important to give fish time to commit.
Last but not least is the classic Rebel Crawfish Crankbait. Clear, rocky lakes typically harbor a healthy population of crayfish that smallmouth consider a delicacy. While there are many ways to mimic crayfish, the Rebel Crawfish Crank combines the realism of a fleeing crayfish with a skittering action that invokes vicious strikes. This is a diving crank that fishes well in nearly all habitats smallmouth bass call home. Whether you chase smallies in streams and rivers or lakes, make sure you reserve a spot in your tackle box for a Rebel Craw.
When and where to use a Rebel Crawfish Crank
Crawfish are a main course for smallmouth from early spring clear until the final vestiges of fall give way to winter. Therefore, a Rebel Crawfish crank will prove it’s worth anytime. The key factor is utilizing this lure where crawfish are a primary food source. Rocky streams with gravel bars or along rip-rap banks in larger bodies of water are classic crayfish habitat. If you spot crayfish skittering along shallow rocky areas, it’s time to break out your Crawfish crankbait.
How to fish the Rebel Crawfish Crank
The goal is to mimic a fleeing crayfish, so cast or troll it around rock structure. Keep it pegged to the bottom where it will bounce against rocks to draw fish in from a distance. A steady retrieve with frequent short pauses works well. You can cover lots of water with a crank but adjust your retrieval speed if needed.
Every one of these 9 best lures has served us well over the years on our continuing passion for smallmouth fishing. Try them out yourself and without a doubt, you’ll be glad you did!