Smallmouth Bass

Micropterus dolomieu


Image of smallmouth bass
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.

Centrarchidae (sunfishes) in the order Perciformes (perch-like fishes)


Large, elongated fish with a moderately large mouth. Cheek scales much smaller than rest of body scales. Back and sides are greenish-brown with faint dark mottling and bars; the belly whitish overlain with dusky pigment.  No dark horizontal stripe. Without rows of dark spots. Upper jaw reaches to about the rear margin of the eye in adults. Tongue usually has rough patch. Dorsal fins connected. Most closely related to largemouth and spotted bass.


Total length: 10 to 20 inches; weight 1/2 to 4 pounds; maximum about 22 inches long and 6 pounds.

Habitat and conservation

Found predominantly in cool, clear Ozark streams and large reservoirs in the Ozarks. Found sparingly in the upper Mississippi River and its principal prairie tributaries that have clear water and permanent flow. Thrives in clear streams, with silt-free rock or gravel bottoms, near riffles but not in the main current. Although mostly found in streams in Missouri, it can be found in natural lakes and ponds in the northern parts of its North American range. Most active at dawn and dusk.


Carnivorous, feeding on fish, crayfish, and large aquatic insects.

image of Smallmouth Bass distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Predominantly in cool, clear Ozark streams and large reservoirs in the Ozarks. Sparingly in upper Mississippi River and most of its principal prairie tributaries.


This is the most sought-after sport fish in the clear, cool streams of the central Ozarks. In recent years it has become increasingly abundant and important in the sport fishery of Table Rock Reservoir and Stockton Lake.

Life cycle

Individuals can live up to about 10 to 12 years. Populations have declined in the Moreau River drainage partly because of hybridization with an introduced population of the closely related spotted bass.

Human connections

A popular sport fish of the Ozarks. The most effective live baits include minnows, crayfish and hellgrammites. Spinning and casting with the same types of lures used for taking largemouth bass also work. Some people consider fly fishing to be the ultimate sporting method for catching "brownies."

Ecosystem connections

In the Ozarks, the smallmouth bass is the dominant species of large, predatory fish in most streams. It is the ecological replacement, or counterpart, for the spotted bass and the largemouth bass in the clear, cool, permanent-flowing streams of the Ozarks.