The Best Smallmouth Bass Lures
Knowing which lure to use based on current conditions is the best thing any angler can learn to catch more fish and be more successful at catching smallmouth bass consistently. Deciding on which good smallmouth bass lures to use depends directly on the current water temperature.
Finding the best spots for smallmouth fishing is only part of the equation which becomes second nature to recognize which sites look “fishy.” However, getting the fish hiding in those areas to eat is another essential skill to master.
A group of expert anglers and professional fishing guides put together this complete guide to give you the rundown of the best types of lures, their specific favorites, and when and how to use each one.
The Best Lures To Use Are:
- Topwater Lures – Heddon Spook and Rapala X Rap Pop
- Small Soft Plastics – Bass Pro Shops Tender Tube, Storm Wildeye Live Goby, and YUM Craw Papi
- Crankbaits – Cotton Cordell Big O Crankbait and Bomber Fat Free Shad
- Spinnerbaits – Booyah Blade
- Jigs – Strike King Bitsy Bug and Luck “E” Strike Smallmouth Hair
- Jerkbaits – The Flit 120
Smallmouth Bass Lure Breakdowns
When targeting smallmouth bass, the best topwater bait styles are walk the dog lures, such as the Heddon Spook and the Rapala X Rap Pop.
The Rapala’s thin, cupped mouth makes the kind of commotion that imitates shad activity splashing and walking on the surface, while its sleek body promotes long casts. Its tail-down posture also helps improve hookups.
The best time to fish topwater is when there isn’t a chop on the water or heavy cloud cover. So early morning and evening are usually best, but midday can work too on sunny calm days.
The classic side-to-side walking action with noisy rattles naturally taunts the smallmouth bass into vicious strikes, even from the fish that are surprisingly deep. Also, the sharp rotating treble hooks of the spook decrease the chance of shake-offs from the aggressive bass.
Fish a spook with long, slow pulls so it glides back and forth like a snake swimming on the surface. Even the slightest tugs will bring these topwater lures to life to land that trophy smallmouth. There is no better feeling for an angler than a hard topwater strike from an aggressive smallie. Any walk the dog lure will generally work since they all appear like a struggling baitfish, making for an easy meal.
The topwater bite seems to be best when the temperature of the water is about 65 degrees. However, any temperature between 55 and 72 can potentially lead to your next memorably topwater bite from an aggressive smallie.
Small Soft Plastics
Soft plastics generally fall into the finesse fishing lure category. The preferred soft plastics are tubes, kietech paddle tails, and ned rigs.
The Bass Pro Shops Tender Tube is a favorite. Its wiggling tentacles will entice even the pickiest of smallmouth bass into biting, and the tube’s soft body makes them hold on even longer.
The Storm Wildeye Live Goby is another excellent option. The non-native goby is an invasive fish found in the Great Lakes region, which the smallmouths love. However, even in the areas devoid of this bottom-hugging forage species, the Storm’s head-weighted Goby imitator will often entice a bite still.
The YUM Craw Papi is undoubtedly a lure worth mentioning since smallmouths will hardly ever turn down a crayfish meal. The limber, flapping motion of the large, thin claws on this bait creates a convincing display.
Typically anglers can fish all soft plastic finesse lures the same way by dragging and hopping the bait along the bottom. They are ideal for rock piles and sandy bottoms to find smallmouth bass cruising for gobies.
When fishing tube baits, anglers can use a 60-degree tube jig head to drag and drift it, so the tube kicks up the bottom while plowing forward. Another option is to rig with a 90 degree head for exaggerated cracking presentations when verticle jigging.
These soft plastics are usually best when fished from a boat, so anglers can easily retrieve them without getting caught between rocks. All soft plastics should be rigged with a jig head to keep them on the bottom. This setup also keeps the head down and tail end facing up, mimicking a Goby or crayfish. They can all be rigged weedless when situations call for it.
These lures are an excellent cold-water technique as well as in warmer water when dealing with lethargic fish. These baits are very hard to resist that even the most lethargic fish takes them in most cases. So any time you’re having a hard time getting a bite with other lures, whether it be in extremely cold water temps or warmer ones, the baits that sink to the level of the bass and hop off the bottom will often work.
The Cordell Big O is the original square-lip crankbait and is effective on all types of bass, especially largemouth bass and smallmouth bass, as well as other popular gamefish. The short, squared lip lures deflect off the cover, making them excellent options in most bass lakes that are full of vegetation and other cover.
The Bomber Fat-Free Shad is another excellent crankbait with its realistic colors and eyes, and deep-diving abilities. Its flat-sided profile helps dig down in the deeper water reaching depths of 14-18 feet with No. 2 hooks. In addition, this shad has an enticing action that temps even the hard-to-reach smallmouth bass. Its rotating treble hook then helps keep the fish on once hooked.
A Blade Bait is simply a metal crankbait that features the two treble hooks on each end. They are very effective because of their vibrations that draw reaction strikes from smallmouth bass.
These lures have a buoyant body and the ability to deflect cover. So smallmouth anglers should crank them over rock, gravel, or vegetation where the smallmouth typically eat, depending on the fishery.
When fishing with a blade bait, anglers want to raise the rod tip then lower it to reel in the slack. This motion makes the bait vibrate and swim in an upward direction, then flutter down as it sinks, mimicking an injured baitfish. These are very popular smallmouth lures in the fall.
Smallmouth fishing with blade baits is a very effective cold water technique, but they can be used in the warmers months too.
Spinnerbaits are generally flashy and effective when it comes to smallmouth bass fishing. The Booyah Blade is an excellent choice for a spinnerbait with its bright red flaring gills and a head that offers a realistic target for the fish. Its made out of quality material and light, 0.35 gauge wire made for maximum vibration, and is easily retuned after each bite.
Target the windblown sides of the structure or cover with your spinning gear and spinner bait. Smallmouth anglers generally want to use a faster retrieve in clear water and a slower retrieve in murky water.
Fish a spinnerbait along rock piles and weed edges to entice a smallmouth that is feeding aggressively. These are good lures to use when fishing deeper water anywhere from six feet to over thirty feet.
Spinnerbaits and crankbaits are power fishing lures and are very popular during the times the smallmouths are active.
The favorite jig when targeting bass for our guides is the Strike King Bitsy Bug Jig, especially when targeting smallies playing hard to get. Downsizing to a finesse jig such as this one is often what it takes to get that bite finally.
The Luck “E” Strike Smallmouth Hair Jig is another favorite when fishing for smallmouths. This jig has a lifelike presence with glitter strands that accent its bucktail skirt. The bucktail skirt contracts and flares, creating a stop-and-go swimming motion or erratic hopping action.
Jigs are most effective when fishing in waters between 4 and 12 feet deep. Once you start using jigs 3/8 ounces or heavier, it’s best to use baitcasting gear. But for 1/4 ounce finesse jigs or lighter, it’s better to use spinning gear.
Jigs are also a great lure option to have in your tackle box on every trip, no matter the time of year. They are the most popular and effective smallmouth bass lure overall. They are very popular smallmouth lures because there is no wrong time of year to be using one when smallmouth fishing. They also have the reputation of being big bass producers, so the potential at landing your next trophy smallmouth bass is good when fishing a jig.
Suspending jerkbaits are the best lure choices when fishing Northern lakes after the fall turnover when the smallmouths are more scattered and suspended. These lures work so well because they have the ability to be fished really slow, especially a suspending jerkbait. One of the best jerkbaits is the Flit 120.
Suspending jerkbaits can be worked along rocky and sandy bottoms that drop dramatically from 5 feet to 20 feet. Natural colors are usually best, and working them slow is necessary when fishing in extremely cold water temps. In general, jerkbaits are excellent at getting a reaction strike.
Jerkbaits are great in cold water, making them excellent fall and early spring go tos.
Final Tips From The Pros
When smallmouth bass are actively feeding, they can make a largemouth bass look like a slug. When you are trying to target smallmouths specifically, remember to look for their preferred habitats. Usually, largemouths are found in weedy areas with heavy vegetation, while the smallmouth bass are typically found in areas with rocky and sandy bottoms. Smallmouths are also more likely to be found in better numbers in clear water rather than stained water.
If you need a go-to lure, then the experts suggest using a jig or a soft plastic lure with natural patterns. Smallmouths are almost always searching rocks for crawfish, which the jigs and soft plastics represent.
Generally, a smallmouth bass lure doesn’t have to be as weedless as largemouth lures since you will usually be on a rocky bottom. Also, smallmouth lures are generally smaller.
Good Smallmouth Bass Lures To Try:
- Heddon Spook and Rapala X Rap Pop Topwaters
- Bass Pro Shops Tender Tube, Storm Wildeye Live Goby, and YUM Craw Papi Soft Plastics
- Cotton Cordell Big O Crankbait and Bomber Fat Free Shad Crankbait
- Booyah Blade Spinnerbait
- Strike King Bitsy Bug Jig and Luck “E” Strike Smallmouth Hair Jig
- The Flit 120 Jerkbait
Experience Smallmouth Bass Fishing
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