Every so often I’m asked about smallmouth bass. Guys want know what it is about them that attracts so much attention. I think I know what it is but I’ll admit that it’s hard to put into words. It’s much like telling someone what a pretty girl looks like.
I think it all started years and years ago. The early writers gave the smallmouth mystical properties. A lot of that had to do with habitat. In those days smallmouth anglers fished small, clear mountain streams. By definition that meant tiny lures, light tackle and stealth techniques.
Those bass weren’t very big. In truth, a stream smallmouth 12 inches long was a pretty good one. A 15-inch catch was considered a trophy. You didn’t catch smallies because you wanted something to eat. They just weren’t that big. (I’m talking about long before catch-and-release was all the rage.) You caught them because it was fun, and because only the very best anglers could do it.
In some ways the early smallmouth anglers were like trout guys. The image of a man alongside a stream all decked out in tan pants and vest wearing an outdoor version of a Fedora with a fly rod in his hand was what it was about. And, let’s not forget the white Land Rover and black Lab in the background. That was a part of the image, too.
We’d look at that picture and think that guy was us in a few years. We all wanted our trips to be like his. Of course, we weren’t like him and our trips weren’t like his. Crawling through blackberry briars in torn blue jeans, black and white Chuck Taylor tennis shoes and a stained tee shirt was our real reality, in most places anyway.
That’s how I got started and some of that culture is still a part of me. The thing is, though, we’ve learned a lot since those days. For openers, we now know that smallmouth bass will hit big baits. The idea that they wouldn’t was a product of their habitat and what they were used to eating. It had nothing to do with their traits as a species of fish.
We also know that they don’t have to live in small streams. They do quite well in major impoundments. That makes them accessible to a lot more anglers. Chasing smallmouth bass is no longer something that has to be done in the mountains. You can do it just about anywhere in the country.
There is one thing about them that’s turned out to be true, however, and that’s their ability to fight hard and long. I’ve fished all my life. I’ve caught a lot of largemouth and a lot of smallmouth. Smallmouth are stronger and tougher, no matter where they live.