Let's talk about rods. Smallmouths aren't largemouths. You catch them different, and they fight different. That's why you need a different rod, and it's why I designed the All Pro Smallmouth Guru line.
In most good smallmouth lakes the water's pretty clear, so you'll be fishing deeper than you would if you were fishing for largemouths. You'll also need to make longer casts. That means you want a longer rod. All my Guru rods are between 6 feet, 9 inches and 7 feet, 3 inches. That length lets you make a long cast so that you don't scare the fish with your boat. It also lets you take up slack line when they're deep.
I don't care how straight you think your line is when you look at it; if you're fishing on the bottom in 20 feet of water, you'll have a bow in it. That makes setting the hook hard. The longer rod helps you pick up the slack and will get you a better hookset. You'll need that good hookset. Without it, the fish will win every time.
That's because the fight's just starting when a smallie gets to your boat. With a largemouth, it's mostly over by then but smallies make a serious, hard run the first time they see the boat. That's why you need a soft tip on your rod. I fish lakes with medium or medium-heavy action Smallmouth Guru rods but they all have the upper third designed with a lot of give. When he makes that run, you need help.
It's hard to back-reel fast enough to stay in control, and if you use your drag you'll have other problems (at least you will with spinning tackle). It'll twist your line into a mess in no time flat. Every time your spool spins around you put a twist in your line. Everything I've said about lakes is true for rivers and streams except that I like a lighter action and a shorter rod. Mostly — I know there are exceptions — rivers are darker than lakes, so you don't need as long a rod. You don't cast as far, and the fish aren't as deep.
I also like a lighter action because I'm usually using lighter line and the fish aren't as big. I don't need as much power. I can fight them with a medium or medium-light rod. All Pro doesn't have a short rod in our Smallmouth Guru series. They do have some rods in their other series that will work. To be honest, however, I like G. Loomis rods for rivers. (For small streams and creeks, you can get away with a less expensive rod.)