Largemouth vs Smallmouth Bass in Late Spring (The Basics)
With the cold weather we’ve experienced the past few weeks, water temperatures have receded as much as 6 to 8 degrees. Bass and panfish that were nosing around potential nesting sites likely dropped slightly deeper, waiting for conditions to improve.
In many areas, spawning has been delayed for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Even where spawning was completed, postspawn dispersal has likely stalled. This Memorial Day weekend, bass throughout the region should still be lingering near spawning sites, rather than making major moves toward summer habitat.
In late spring, largemouths in natural lake environments are typically located in and around bays, shoreline cover and developing weed flats. Smallmouths, by comparison, are more creatures of the main-lake sand/rock flats, and tend to spawn relatively close to areas where they will move to in summer. To catch both, you must be versatile enough to fish both kinds of areas, and to match your tactics according to their depth, location and prevailing mood.
Warm, stable weather conditions cause largemouth bass to spread out across shallow bays and weed flats and relate to available cover like wood, weeds or boulders–a few fish here, a few there—yet typically within shallow back bays and near bay entrances to the main lake. Fancasting with spinnerbaits, crankbaits or topaters is a great way to locate and catch active bass.
When fish are clobbered by cold fronts, as has occurred recently, they typically desert the flats and collect in the first available deeper cover bordering the shallows. Nearby holes or deeper slots could attract retreating fish as well. By carefully working each piece of cover with a slow, vertical technique, you’re usually able to tempt an occasional bite from a reluctant bass, even under the worst of circumstances.
Largemouths zapped by spring cold fronts dramatically reduce their strike zones and aggressiveness. You often have to hit them right on the nose with a lure, and pause it long enough to entice a bite. Fish slowly and more vertically with big soft plastics like Texas-rigged 6-inch lizards, 4-inch tubes or jig & pig combos that you can let sit in place for an extended period. In stable weather, switch to more horizontal presentations like slow-rolled spinnerbaits or slowly-retrieved crankbaits. But when the bite is tough, move slowly, and fish prime cover that holds fish in specific spots, rather than covering water and hoping for bites.
Smallies, by comparison, typically are found in the sandier and rockier open areas rimming the main-lake basin. Look for large shoreline projections with scattered boulders atop 4- to 8-foot flats, with 30 feet of water nearby.
Despite the effects of late spring cold fronts, smallies tend to remain fairly active and willing to bite—certainly much more active than largemouths. You can fish for them with horizontal, somewhat aggressive tactics that both cover water and trigger strikes. X-Raps are among your best options, since they mix the ability to pause and suspend the lure with a wild, unpredictable action that drives smallmouths absolutely bananas. If smallies refuse to strike these extreme slashbaits, however, switch to slower teasing tactics fished closer to the bottom. Jigheads dressed with 4-inch tubes, and soft stickbaits rigged wacky style, are among your best subtle options—particularly as bass switch from aggressively feeding into a more conservative spawning mode.
Bass may be bass, but largemouths are definitely different critters than smallmouths. Remember these key differences: Largemouths tend to live in different portions of the lake than their bronzeback cousins, and are more severely affected by spring cold fronts. The better you cater to each species’ individual preferences, the more bass you’ll catch.