Smallmouth bass have a mystical quality to them. They might be black bass in some general sense but they’re very different from largemouth and spots in the mind of most anglers.
Look at the tournament coverage on this site. If there’s a good smallmouth population in a lake or river that’s hosting a tournament there’s a kind of excitement in the air that isn’t present when the target is largemouth. (OK, there are a few exceptions like Falcon, Guntersville and Clear Lake, but they are the exceptions.)
I suppose that started long ago at a time when the smallmouth population was limited. The early writers made them seem like something other than a bass, maybe something other than a fish. They were given qualities that weren’t given to other species.
It was popular in those days to believe that smallmouth bass were somehow more cunning, more savvy and more cautious than other species of fish. We all believed that you needed light line and tiny lures to catch them. Fly tackle was all the rage back then. You had to be sneaky to catch one. Going after them was more like hunting deer than fishing.
Some of that was justified. Streams were the waters of choice for most “true” anglers — those that avoided heavy tackle and crude fishing techniques in favor of “more sportsmanlike tackle” to catch a fish, any kind of fish. After all it took a special kind of angler to land a stream smallie on two or four-pound-test line using a Number 8 hook.
Things have changed. Thanks largely to better conservation and management techniques the smallmouth’s range has expanded dramatically to include some of the largest freshwater lakes on the earth. And thanks largely to organizations like B.A.S.S. our angling skills have improved. We now know that smallies will bite big baits and that we can use 20-pound-test line without running them off.
Still, a part of the myth remains. There’s something special about seeing an angler holding up a 10 inch smallie that he or she caught in a stream in the Smoky Mountains or in Pennsylvania somewhere. It’s special because it’s brown.
Now I don’t have anything against largemouth bass. I’ve caught thousands of them and had a lot of fun doing it. But I’ll tell you that some of the fishing trips I remember the most are the ones where I hiked up a small stream and caught smallmouth that weren’t much bigger than some of the swimbaits that are now popular in trophy largemouth waters.
You see those trips weren’t about making money. I wasn’t fishing a tournament, selling fishing lures or guiding clients. I was fishing for fun. It was me against an adversary with a brain the size of a pea. On the few occasions when I defeated that adversary all I got out of it was the pride of success. No one witnessed my victory and no one cut me a check afterwards. But I did go home with a smile on my face. That was enough. That’s still enough. Smallmouth bass rule!