Characteristics - golden green sides and back with faint, wavy olive blotches along the sides, 5 olive-green bars radiate back from the red eye and 1 radiates forward; spiny and soft portions of dorsal fin broadly connected.

Distribution - clear rivers, streams and some lakes.

Foods - fish, crustaceans, larger insects.

Expert's Tip - light spinning gear using crayfish colored crankbaits can produce hot smallmouth action!

Other names -- brown bass, bronzeback, .

The smallmouth bass is primarily an inhabitant of swift flowing, less turbid waters in rivers and smaller streams. Smallmouth bass were not naturally abundant in the rivers and lakes of Manitoba.

However over the past 30-40 years through an aggressive stocking program many of the lakes and rivers of eastern Manitoba have a superb populations of smallmouth. I've even heard it said that some of the stocking programs were too successful, to the detriment of other species originally present in a few river systems. The Manigotogan river, for example, has been overun by a superb population of smallies while the Walleye population has remained stable at best. Nopoming provincial park in eastern Manitoba has a few fisheries that unbeknownst to many has smallie fisheries that are of world class. Leave it at that! Other vibrant fisheries have been established in the western and northwest section of the Province. Near the Pas, Bradley lake is very well known for its scrappy smallies and just north of Riding mountain National park Vermillion resevoir has a stable population of smallies. Slowly Manitobans are realizing the angling potential of the smallmouth. Who knows where they'll be stocked next.... William lake in the Turtle mountain region received 90 fish in 1999.....

The smallmouth bass is a slender, streamlined-shaped fish with a moderately large mouth, where the upper jaw reaches about to the rear margin of the eye in adults. Spiny and soft parts of the dorsal fin are broadly connected with only a shallow notch between the lobes. Body color is golden green on the sides and back with faint wavy olive blotches evenly spaced along the sides. There are five olive green bars radiating backward from the eye, and one forward to the end of the snout. The tail fin in young smallmouth is distinctly tri-colored with a black vertical bar separating the yellowish fin base. Pyloric caeca are not forked in contrast to forked pyloric caeca in the closely related largemouth bass.

Smallmouth bass are omnivorous in the food items that they consume. In the larger cool, clear interior streams/rivers of eastern Manitoba smallmouth bass has become a dominant predator, feeding mostly on fish, crustaceans and larger aquatic and terrestrial insects. Food habit studies have revealed that forage fish make up a large part of their diet while crayfish and insects seem to make up the rest of their diets.. Where crayfish are abundant, they frequently comprise over two-thirds of their food. Newly hatched smallmouth consume copepods and cladocerans but begin to forage on insects when about one-half inch long. By the time fingerling smallmouth bass are 1 1/2 inches in length, insects and small fish comprise the bulk of the diet.

Smallmouth bass spawn in Manitoba during the late part of May and early part of June as water temperatures approach or exceed 60' F. Preparatory to the spawning ritual, many parent spawners move up larger streams, eventually reaching obstructions or suitable areas where spawning occurs. Lake fish will choose areas which have gravel bottoms and are exposed to the sun for longer periods of time eg. the north shore. Male fish construct a saucer-shaped nest on the gravel, coarse sand or rock bottom by sweeping its tail over the substrate. The 14 to 25 inch diameter nest is located in quiet water near the shoreline downstream from a boulder or other natural structure that deflects and slows the current force.

The ripe male bass selects a female after nest construction and nudges her toward the nest in a series of aggressive body contacts and bites. If the female refuses the nest, the male becomes more aggressive until the female is finally physically driven over the depression. Both fish lie side by side, facing the same direction during egg emission as the female vibrates her body by muscle action. The male releases milt for fertilization as the eggs are deposited. The female leaves the nest territory after spawning but may return later to the same nest or another if she has latent egg development. Male fish usually ripen again after a short period of time. Male fish protect the nest from predation and fan the eggs free of silt until the sac fry emerge in 3 to 5 days, depending on water temperature. Re-nesting is quite common for smallmouth, particularly when early nests are destroyed by natural events such as a flood.

The number of eggs laid by a female smallmouth bass varies greatly depending on body size. Average fecundity is 7,000 to 8,000 eggs per pound of body weight. Newly hatched sac fry swim over the nest in a school for about 6 to 15 days, moving sluggishly until all the nourishment in the yolk sac is consumed. The young fry are about one-half inch long when the yolk sac is absorbed, and they leave the nest to feed on small crustaceans and copepods.

Smallmouth bass growth varies with the amount of food eaten and water temperature. Most smallmouth bass in Manitoba reach 3 to 5 inches by the first autumn, 6 to 7 inches in the second year, and 9 to 10 inches the third year. Smallmouth sexually mature in the second or third year of life, but where food is scarce or water is relatively cool in all seasons, maturation may not occur until the third or fourth year. Maximum weights of 5 or 6 pounds have been reported in Manitoba, but fish over 3 to 4 pounds are trophy sized.

Small Fishing

Although smallmouth in Manitoba are found in both lakes and streams, they are, by far, more widespread and numerous in our flowing waters. Fishing for smallmouth by wading or floating a stream offers a pleasurable opportunity to escape from the crowds and immerse oneself in nature. It is a chance to encounter deer, beaver, hawks, owls, kingfishers, and other wildlife in their inner sanctum along undisturbed stream corridors. At times, one can almost imagine the meaning of "wilderness". One such river exists in Nopoming provincial park and is called "Moose river". This river albeit small has one of the province's best smallmouth populations. Angling for smallmouth in this river is appealing because catch rates are usually higher than in lake fishing.

Once an angler becomes able to identify the habitats normally used by the fish in different seasons of the year and during various water conditions, fish can often be located with ease. In the spring, prior to spawning, the water temperature is usually in the 40 degrees to 50 degrees F range. Water levels are normally high this time of year, allowing the bass to move freely and disperse from winter habitats. During high flows, fish are often found closely associated with large boulders, fallen tree snags, and undercut banks. Structures such as this divert strong currents and create loafing habitat for smallmouth. These areas are also populated by forage species making it convenient for the bass to feed without having to work against the strong current. In mid- to late April in eastern Manitoba, smallmouth begin to migrate toward traditional spawning sites where the males construct nests. On large streams, the fish usually move up small tributary feeder streams in search of rock or gravel substrates with moderate to low stream velocity. Smallmouth may utilize sandy substrates for spawning, but they prefer rock and gravel. In smaller streams, spawning often takes place in the mainstream itself. Immediately prior to spawning, both sexes readily take lures as their pre-spawn urge to forage often reduces caution. As the time for spawning approaches, the males establish nests and territories; they are at this time very susceptible to angling. Many smallmouth anglers catch and release fish during these periods, especially female bass.

After spawning, females move immediately into deeper water. Males stay on the nests as guardians of the fertilized eggs, but following the hatch they also move to deeper pools. In the case of fish spawning in tributaries, movement is toward the parent stream.

The typical habitat in which smallmouth relocate following spawning is largely dependent upon stream-water levels. High flows enable fish to utilize habitat often too shallow or dry in low flow periods. Smallmouths disperse and use all of the rocky and log-fall habitat containing two or more feet of water. Rocky habitat is usually selected over log jams.

As water levels recede through the summer, fish are forced into pockets of deeper water. These are associated with rock riffles, log snags and cut-banks. At this time the fish congregate into schools and become more vulnerable to angling. Again, rocky habitat is preferred. A deep hole above a riffle is sure to hold fish. Likewise a cut-bank is also selected, especially if it contains an assortment of boulders that are 2 to 3 feet in diameter and located in several feet of water.

As fall approaches, smallmouth bass remain close to the prime habitat structures. Most of these areas are similar to summer haunts. Due to lower sunlight intensity and cooler water temperature the fish will often be found in shallow water. The exception will be during the occasional wet fall when water levels are abnormally high. Bass will disperse more during these times.

Feeding Habits

As with any predator fish species, one of the most important assets to a successful fishing trip is the knowledge of forage preference. For many species, the preference changes, depending on the availability of the prey. Smallmouths are no exception. In spring, minnows and shiners are numerous and are the favorite food choices. As early summer approaches crayfish become abundant, especially in shallow rock riffle habitat. This is the number one food choice for smallmouth. As summer progresses and crawdad numbers decline, due mostly to predation by bass, smallmouth must again rely heavily on the more available minnows. Interspersed throughout this feeding pattern are periods of increased aquatic and terrestrial insect foraging, especially at peak insect hatches. One that is especially important is a hellgrammite, the larval form of the Dobson fly. This insect is abundant in some stream riffle habitat throughout summer and is aggressively sought by bass. They are easily collected for bait by simply turning over rocks.

Lure Selection for Small Rivers

The smart angler will select a lure that closely resembles the preferred food item at that particular time of year. Prior to the spawn and later in post-spawn, when bass again resume active feeding, lures that resemble minnows are most effective. Single blade spinners work well, as do jigs and, occasionally, shallow running minnow shaped crank-baits. When using spinner-baits, or any other lure for that matter, one should think small. Size preference of a food item for smallmouth is smaller than for its relative, the largemouth bass. Use of No. 0 or 1 size spinners, one-eighth to one-fourth ounce crank-baits, or the same-sized jigs will provide best results.

During mid-June to mid-August, when crawfish are abundant, lures that mimic this crustacean are the top choice. Water levels are lower during this period and the fish are more concentrated, relying on the deeper holes around riffles and cut-banks. Crawfish colored crank-baits, especially those that resemble both the color and action will usually yield fast action. Crank-baits that hug the bottom, bouncing off rocks, or stir up a small cloud of silt can really trigger a response from a hungry smallmouth. jigs in crawfish colors also work well, especially fished in an erratic motion by raising and lowering the rod tip.

In late summer and early fall, after the crawfish population is depleted, minnow imitating lures are again the top producer. Jigs work very well, particularly the soft-bodied twister tail variety in white, yellow, or chartreuse. These lures allow the angler to work the bottoms of the deepest pools where smallmouth seek protection from sunlight.

A factor that appears to be less important, except when using surface lures, is the time of day. Smallmouths will readily pursue surface presentations, especially in the early morning and late evening hours. The cast must be made past the spot suspected of holding a fish and retrieved through that location. The best locations are behind large boulders or on the edge of a quiet pool adjacent to a riffle. Experimentation is necessary to determine whether a continuous retrieve or a crank-and-pause method will yield the best results.

Smallmouth appear to be more active surface feeders as mid-summer approaches and water levels recede. At this time there are many species of terrestrial insects common to the adjacent terrain that wind up struggling for freedom on the surface. Heavy hatches trigger increased surface activity as bass feed actively on these easily-caught prey.

Fishing Turbid Water

Generally smallmouth bass lakes and rivers in Manitoba are clear waters. However an angler must be prepared for the inevitable situation when turbidity limits clarity to 6-inches or less. In these cases, spinner-baits, especially those with sonic blades, are the better lures. Another option when faced with turbid water conditions is to use lures of colors most easily seen under low light conditions. Best colors include chartreuse, white, and yellow or lures with silver or gold reflecting flakes. The final option is to Carolina rig with baits such as "Power Bait worms" whose sent can be picked up on by bass (this latter suggestion is a winner when all else fails in turbid water).

Bait Selection for Smallies

So far little has been mentioned about the use of live bait. Natural baits, such as crawfish, minnows,leeches and nightcrawlers that are fished properly can trigger a response when all else fails. These baits, threaded on a No. 6 or 8 hook and weighted by a small split shot, can be cast or drifted into the deeper holes with little difficulty. When a smallmouth picks up a crawdad, the first impulse is immediately to set the hook. This action usually results in rebaiting for another try. Smallmouth normally carry the prey for a short distance in their jaws prior to ingestion. Patiently waiting for the fish to stop its run, then reeling up the slack and setting the hook yield much better results.

The patient method also applies when using nightcrawlers. The fish must be given time to suck the entire bait, hook and all, into its mouth. This is especially true when using a whole nightcrawler hooked only through the collar or just in the tail.

When one is using minnows, and leeches the opposite applies. An angler can usually set the hook immediately and have success.

Catch & Release

Proper handling of the fish when landing is extremely important, if fish are to survive and to maintain their numbers. The increased emphasis by many anglers on catch and release angling also adds to this number. Releasing a fish will do nothing to sustain the fishery if it is roughly treated and the fish dies later. Playing the fish for longer than is necessary to land it places an unnecessary physiological stress on it and lessens the odds for survival. Dragging the fish up on the stream bank instead of placing a thumb in the lower jaw and grasping firmly also causes undue injury. Scraping the protective mucus from the sides of a fish jeopardizes its resistance to bacterial infection and fungal growth. Mishandling of the fish while removing the lure or hook can also increase mortality. The lure must be carefully removed while firmly gripping the fish by the lower jaw. Deeply set hooks must be cut off to dissolve. Release of unharmed fish will help maintain the quality of one of our most exciting fisheries.

Whether one is fishing for smallmouth in small river or lake, the experience of attempting to land this trophy quickly makes a believer out of even a seasoned angler. Few fishermen, who have enjoyed this experience, fail to praise the smallmouth for its tenacity. Following such an experience, few anglers fail to plan a return trip to take on again this superb game fish.