The fish is also known in other parts as a black bass, brown bass and bronzeback. The names come from its coloration. The fish is bronze or brownish in color on the upper part of the body, with brown and greenish sides, some vertical black bars and white or light yellow underside. It has a continuous dorsal fin, which looks like two separate fins. The upper jaw reaches up to a point level with the eyes, but never higher, and the mouth is ahead of the eyes. Its most distinguishing feature is its bright red or orange eyes.
Attempts to establish the smallmouth in Utah were made between 1912 and 1914. It wasn't until more recently, however, that the fish became recognized by Utah anglers, who were more in tune with fishing for trout. Originally the fish was found in the Great Lakes region and in the mid-South. Now it is found in most states, except for Alaska, Florida and Louisiana. Smallmouth are similar to trout in the conditions they prefer. They like cold, clear water and cannot tolerate water above 80 degrees. They do not require woody cover like the largemouth bass, but prefer rocky shorelines, which makes them an ideal fish for so many of Utah's rocky reservoirs like Starvation, Lake Powell and Flaming Gorge. Smallmouth like to stay close to shore, which makes them a good fit for these waters along with trout, which prefer to cruise in open water. Smallmouth are very aggressive fish and will outcompete most other fish. Smallmouth bass eat insects, crayfish, other fish and any careless reptile, bird or mammal that can fit into its mouth. The smallmouth bass is smaller than its cousin, the largemouth, but is noted for its fight. Most smallmouth range from one to two pounds. Fish up to four pounds are considered trophies. The world record is 10 pounds, 14 ounces. The Utah record is 7 pounds, 6 ounces and was caught in 1996 in Midview Reservoir. Like the largemouth, the smallmouth offers excellent table qualities.
Utah's most famous smallmouth fisheries are Lake Powell and Flaming Gorge. Both of these reservoirs were not originally smallmouth fisheries. Smallmouth were introduced later on to control chubs at Flaming Gorge and as the largemouth bass cover disappeared at Lake Powell. Introductions were very successful and angler acceptance was immediate. Smallmouth bass are now found in many of Utah's most popular Wasatch Front reservoirs, including Jordanelle, Deer Creek, Rockport, Echo, East Canyon, Pineview and Willard Bay. Most notable of these is Jordanelle, where smallmouth bass in excess of four pounds are common. Other outstanding smallmouth fisheries in Utah are Minersville, New Castle, Starvation, Otter Creek, Piute, Bullock and Midview reservoirs.
Smallmouth bass can be caught on baits, although few anglers fish for them using bait. Minnows, worms and crawfish all work and are more effective if suspended below a float and allowed to drift along the shore line. Smallmouth seem to like to chase their food and will viciously attack crank baits and spinners. Good crank baits include Lucky Craft LV-100 and Rapala Rattlin'Rap in a shad or crawfish color. Diving crank baits like Lucky Craft Flat CB, Rapala Shad Rap or Hot Lips in minnow or crawfish colors work when the fish have gone deep. Many anglers overlook spinners when fishing for smallmouth. Spinners can be fished shallow or deep and require less investment than crank baits. Mepps, Panther Martin or Rooster Tail spinners cast toward cover are always reliable. Use the dressed treble models in brass, copper or try some of the brightly painted blades. Soft plastic lures that imitate crawfish or minnows are synonymous with smallmouth bass. This type of lure can be rigged to be snagless and cast into the tangles and rock piles. Adjust the amount of weight used to match where you find the fish and work them from shallow to deep, watching for the subtle take. Smallmouth bass hit surface lures best in the early morning and late evening. Popper-type surface lures fished on rocky points and to structure are a fun way to catch smallies. Fly rod anglers find smallmouth easy to catch on flies such as Woolly Buggers that imitate crayfish, Glimmer Leeches that imitate minnows or on the surface with cork or Deer Hair poppers.
Note: Watch for a new state record this coming year. Conditions have been good and the smallies are big and fat.
Byron Gunderson, Fish Tech Outfitters contributed to this report.