Click for more smallmouth bas information from the MN DNR.

Click for more smallmouth bass information from the MN DNR.

Introduced to the BWCA in the 1800s, these fish have made themselves at home in the area.  Known to be fierce fighters on the line, smallmouth bass are a lot of fun to catch!  Bronzebacks average size is anywhere between 1 and 2 pounds.  The state record is 8 pounds, but if you catch anything in the 5 pound range, consider your day a success!


Smallmouth caught on Cross Bay Lake in the BWCA.

Smallmouth caught on Cross Bay Lake in the BWCA.

When searching for suitable smallmouth lakes, choose those lakes with clear water and enough gravel and rubble for the fish to spawn in.  Suitable lakes should have a minimum depth of 30 feet.  Concentrate your time fishing lakes with rocky bottoms, particularly pea sized to 1 inch in diameter, with good aeration from inflows.  Smallmouth like their water temps on the warmer side so you won’t catch bass in the spring until the water temps warm up into the 50s.  In the spring start fishing where the water warms up first – sunny northern bays, eastern bays where the wind stockpiles warmer water and at the base of inflows where the faster warming creeks empty in to the lake.

Once water temperatures reach the low 60s in the spring (think June), bass begin to spawn.  Spawning grounds are in shallow, gravelly bays with sun warmed water.  Males make the nests on the gravelly lake bed which are typically 1 to 2 foot circles swept free of sand.  The males continue to guard the beds fiercely for two weeks or more.  At this time of year, bass will hit top water lures with a fury!  If you repeatedly catch the same fish in the same area, he is most likely guarding his nest so be sure to put him back!

After the spawning season is done, males and females go back to feeding.  Bass prefer to hunt in the shallows but as the summer progress, they move deeper and deeper.  Bass are not fond of water temperatures in the 80s so the warmer the water, the deeper and more sluggish the fish will be.  Start fishing in water 10 to 15 feet deep during the summer and work your way deeper.  Look for areas of the lake with clean, gravel bottoms with rocks about basketball size which provides good cover for crayfish.

In the fall, as water temps drop, smallmouth return to the shallower bays where they can be found in spring seeking warmer water.  As the lakes turn over, smallmouth drift down deep and become sluggish and vulnerable which is why Minnesota has a catch and release only rule in the fall.  If you are planning a fall trip, be sure to check when the fishing season changes to catch and release only.

Food Source

Smallmouth feed in the shallows looking for crayfish, minnows, tullibees (ciscoes), frogs, leeches, insects and sometimes even mice.  These opportunistic generalist feeders are not particularly picky about what lures they go after as long as they resemble their typical prey.  As their name implies, they do have smaller mouths then their cousin the largemouth bass, so size your lures appropriately in the 1 to 2 inch range.

During the spawning season (typically late May to early June) use your polarized sunglasses to find bass guarding the beds, then fish around those spots.  If you can’t locate any beds or if the fish are done spawning, start targeting rocky points, stream inflows, and gently sloping rocky bottoms where there are plenty of hiding places for their prey.  Keep an eye out for downed trees that have fallen into the lake creating cover for minnows.  When selecting your lure keep in mind light colored lures for bright days and darker colored lures on cloudy days.

Tackle Recommendations

  • Floating crank baits in a variety of colors (blue, white, fire tiger, orange) that are on the smaller size (1 to 2 inches)
  • Spinners with silver blades such as Mepps  #3 or #4, Beetle spins, or Rebel craw again on the smaller size.
  • Top water baits such as Skitterpops, buzzbaits, Heddon torpedoes, and Jitterbugs.
  • Jig and live bait such as leeches, night crawlers, crayfish or frogs.
  • Jig and artificial bait such as power grub or Mr. Twisters.
  • Hook and bobber with floating jigs with a bit of weight to get them down to the bottom.

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A double smallmouth day on Teepee lake in the BWCA.

A double smallmouth smile in the BWCA.