Smallmouth and temperature

About the author

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick is better known to the bass fishing world as the Smallmouth Guru. He lives in Celina, Tenn., and is the owner of Punisher Lures.

Sometimes it helps to get technical. Smallmouth bass aren’t largemouth bass. They respond differently to temperature and so does their forage. It’s especially important to keep this in mind because of the smallmouth bass’ wide range. They live as far north as Canada and as far south as Texas.

Most of the information you’ll see will say that the preferred temperature of these fish is in the 65- to 75-degree range. That’s probably true. At least it follows my observations based on a lifetime of fishing for them. But, don’t think that means they can’t adapt to other temperature ranges.  It just means that’s what they like the best.

The thing is that smallmouth bass will live — or try to live — where they are. They can’t move so they have no choice. They’ll make it in the warmer waters of Texas and Alabama, or in the cooler waters of Canada and Michigan. At the same time, though, they’re still smallmouth bass. They like it best when the temperature is between 65 and 75 degrees. When they’re in their comfort zone, they’re more likely to be active and feed.

How that affects our decision making as anglers is obvious. In some parts of the country, the water is still much warmer than that. In others, it might be real close. You need to know what’s happening in your lake or river if you’re going to target them at the best times and take advantage of whatever time you have to go fishing.

My suggestion is that if you’re looking to have a good fall you should get a real accurate temperature gauge and then use it regularly. I’d go out at least two or three times a week and check things out. Watch to see how fast the water temperature is falling and try to fish when and where the water is in the best temperature range. And don’t just check the surface temperature.

The fish don’t live on top of the water. They live under it. Some of them are only down a few inches but others are at 30 feet or more. Make sure you know what’s happening all the way to the bottom in the lake you’re going to fish.

Another thing to watch is the weather forecast. It’s fall. The temperature can change overnight. Warming trends and cold spells are common at this time of the year. That’ll affect how fast the temperature changes.

While you’re doing this, you have to keep in mind where you are located geographically. A Texas cold snap isn’t a Wisconsin cold snap. They’re very different. Make sure you pay attention to the wind, too. A high wind will change the temperature much faster than still air.

Fishing may not be rocket science but it does have a science part to it. We all need to keep that in mind. Running to your favorite spot and tossing your favorite bait doesn’t always get it.

Next week we’ll talk about the preferred temperatures of the most common smallmouth bass forage and how that affects your fishing choices.

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