If you want to find the best lures for smallmouth bass, you have to think about what makes them different from their large-mouthed brethren. It’s not always much, and in some cases, they may intermingle or act the same way. You can use the same lures for each of them, with a few variations. First of all, smallies are primarily sight feeders, so you’re looking for clear water staples. Oddly enough, while ultra-natural patterns may get the call in some circumstances, it occasionally pays to go to the opposite extreme and use gaudy palettes of chartreuse and bubble gum.
Their diets may be different, too. Of course, this varies, because the prey eaten by smallmouths in fast-flowing creeks might be different from what they eat in impounded reservoirs, which in turn can differ from their staples in the Great Lakes. In the latter example, they have gobies, while in the south, shad may be prevalent. Whenever they can find crawfish, those protein-packed crustaceans are their absolute favorite.
Yes, there are differences between bronzebacks and largemouths, and there are differences among different populations of smallmouths—but if you start off with the following lures, you’ll be pretty set to start in just about any scenario.
Best Smallmouth Bass Lures: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Strike King Coffee Tube
- Sizes: 2.75 inch, 3 ½ inch, 4 ½ inch
- Great for imitating crawfish and gobies
- Neatly cut tube tails
- Coffee scent
- Key colors: Green Pumpkin Purple, Watermelon Gold/Copper, Goby Lishish
Why It Made the Cut
Poured in an appropriate shade of brown, green, or melon, the tube can represent a crawfish, a goby, a hellgrammite, or even a death-spiraling baitfish. Stick a jig head up inside it, and you can do the Great Lakes drag across the lake bottom, whether in a foot of water or more than 30, and it’s remarkably snagless. Rig it Texas style and you can pitch it into thick cover for smallmouths and largemouths alike, and it’s one of the best fishing lures for bed fishing ever made, too.
- Wide range of colors
- Easy to fish
- Not good for covering water
Strike King took a relatively featureless proven winner and upped the ante with the Coffee Tube. It provides a caffeinated scent that entices fish to bite and leads them to hold on, with precision cut tails for a compact presentation with lots of action. Some anglers stick Alka-Seltzer tablets up inside of the tubes to snap, crackle, and pop their way to more bites, but in most cases that’s overkill. Less can be more, and this simple tool catches smallmouths anywhere they swim.
Best for Dropshotting: Berkley Powerbait Maxscent Flat Worm
- Sizes: 3.6 inch, 4.25 inch
- Distinguishing characteristics: Flat bottom and segmented top
- Key colors: Black, Green Pumpkin Party, Smelt
Why It Made the Cut
Dropshotting revolutionized the vertical fishing game, allowing anglers to keep a lure active without leaving a key target zone. The addition of Maxscent to the mix took this one step further, adding irresistible smells to lure dubious smallmouths. During the supply chain disruptions related to COVID, desperate anglers were so convinced that the Flat Worm outfished the competition that they were paying upwards of $50 a pack on auction sites to get them, and then gluing the ripped ones back together. Fortunately, they’re now readily available so stock up.
- Scientifically-proven scent
- Finesse package yet attracts big fish
- Remains soft and pliable
- Previously hard to obtain
- Not available in jumbo sizes
As with the tube, this lure can represent a variety of forage, making it valuable from coast to coast. And because it’s super pliable, it does heavy work on a dropshot at whatever depth you peg it. It’s slender enough that it won’t turn off any fish, but the ribs generate maximum water movement. If that draws them in, the scent seals the deal.
Best Topwater Lure: Heddon Super Spook Jr.
- Sizes: 3 ½ inches (1/2 oz), 5 inches (7/8 oz)
- Distinguishing characteristics: Cigar-shaped body with loud rattles
- Key colors: Bone, Black Shore Shad, Okie Shad
Why It Made the Cut
There may be more modern and more natural-looking “walk the dog” topwaters, but this upgraded version of the original from Heddon is the best topwater smallmouth candy. It walks easily and calls big brown bass from a distance, or from the depths. They strike it extra hard, too, which means you’ll also need to invest in a quality pair of pliers to remove the premium Excalibur Rotating Treble Hooks.
- Makes a lot of noise
- High-quality hooks
- Walks easily
- Broad range of colors
- Not the most natural body shape.
- Not necessarily the best choice on streams or the Great Lakes
There’s no more exciting way to catch a post-spawn bronzeback than with a topwater lure, and few surface tools have been getting the job done longer than Heddon’s Zara Spook. You can still use the original effectively, but this upgraded version, the Heddon Super Spook, has all of the extra bells and whistles to grab a few more bites and to keep them hooked up. The smaller “Junior” version is often smallie anglers’ first choice, but don’t hesitate to go to the five-incher, especially in wind and waves where you need to make a ruckus to grab their attention. It’s worth noting this isn’t just one of the best topwater lures for smallmouth bass, it’s also one of the best bass lures of all time.
Best Jerkbait: Rapala X-Rap Jerkbait
- Sizes: 3 1/8 inches (1/4 oz), 4 inches (7/16 oz), 4 ¾ inches (3/4 oz)
- The best prespawn lure
- Distinguishing characteristics: Natural baitfish shape and feathered treble hook
- Key colors: Clown, Slick, Perch
Why It Made the Cut
Rapala has been known in the United States for building high-quality minnow imitators for six decades, but this recent introduction makes smallmouths go gaga, particularly early in the year. It’s the best jerkbait for smallmouth because it can be fished fast or slow, with long pauses or short twitches, sometimes all of those in the same retrieve. Once you dial it in on a given day, expect to replicate your success all over the lake.
- Runs true out of the package
- Casts well
- Wide selection of colors lacks hyper-natural paint schemes
A jerkbait works anywhere bass are feeding on baitfish, so long as there’s adequate visibility, and sight-feeding smallmouths love them more as they get wilder. In the hands of a rank beginner, the X-Rap will walk and dart side to side, but in the hands of an experienced jerkbaiter it can dance. Some jerkbaits catch wind during the cast and miss their mark but this one casts like a bullet, and they’re all perfectly tuned so you won’t need to make any adjustments (except possibly changing the hooks after catching one too many fish). Bonus tip: While it excels prior to the spawn, don’t put the Rapala X-Rap away after the bedding ritual is done. Hungry and territorial smallmouths will react to this jerkbait’s sashay throughout the year.
Best Spinnerbait: Nichols Pulsator Depth Finder Spinnerbait
- Sizes: 1 ounces, 1 ½ ounces
- The best smallmouth bass lure for covering water
- Distinguishing characteristics: Heavy spinnerbait with massive willow leaf blades tracks true at high speeds
- Key colors: All Chartreuse, Blue Shad Nickel Blue, Bombshell Shad
Why It Made the Cut
Sometimes finesse isn’t the best way to tempt finicky smallmouths. Instead, you need to punch them in the face with a gaudy, obnoxious, fast-moving option that inspires a fight-or-flight reaction. A spinnerbait may have been replaced in some scenarios by a swim jig or chatterbait, but it still calls bass from a distance. Just be sure to add a trailer hook because many of them hit it with their mouth closed, apparently trying to kill the lure rather than swallow it.
- Great selection of painted blades
- Bait keeper barb to hold soft plastic trailers
- Highly durable heavy-duty wire
- Not ideal when finesse is required
Years ago, they called the all-chartreuse (blades/skirt/head) spinnerbait the “Winni Special” because it killed on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee—but burning a big blade is valuable any time smallmouths are sight-feeding in clear water. You may have to tone it down a little if they get shy, but they’ll still crush it. You need the heavy weight to keep it from blowing out of the water. Four-time Bassmaster Classic winner Kevin VanDam is a master at this form of power fishing for reactive and aggressive fish on venues like the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. When doing that style of power fishing, this is the best spinnerbait for smallmouth to throw.
Best Crankbait: Rebel Crawfish Crankbait
- Sizes: 1.5 inches (1/10 oz.), 1.7 inches (3/16 oz.), 2 inches (1/5 oz.), 2.6 inches (7/16 oz.)
- Great for creeks and small water
- Distinguishing characteristics: Hyper-realistic paint jobs and body design
- Key colors: Stream Crawfish, Nest Robber, Chartreuse Brown Back
Why It Made the Cut
While lifelike crawfish-imitating crankbaits have flooded the market in recent years, this old school dandy continues to produce. It’s the best crankbait for smallmouth because it’s a bite-sized morsel, perfect for adolescent and jumbo smallmouths alike to pounce on it as an easy meal. It tracks true at a wide variety of speeds, roots through rock cover without getting hung up, and you’ll be surprised at how many additional “bycatch” species interrupt your quest for smallmouths.
- Super realistic
- Widely available
- Relatively snag-free for a crankbait
- Treble hooks may need to be upgraded.
The Rebel Crawfish Crankbait emerged a generation ago as naturalism took center stage and it’s held a place in every serious smallmouth angler’s tackle box ever since. The paint jobs represent a fleeing craw, and the scurrying, skittering action represents an effort to escape, which triggers a smallie’s need to feed. There’s even a deep-diving version for plying the slightly-deeper holes in your local “crick or stream;” it gets down close to 10 feet on light line. Turn over a rock and match the hatch with the perfect color.
Things to Consider When Choosing Smallmouth Lures
When choosing the best smallmouth lures, I considered the fact that at the extremes smallmouth bass can be both exceptionally finicky and relentlessly aggressive. They feed by sight, often in packs, and while their mouths are indeed smaller, in some fisheries they’ll dine on massive meals like Kokanee Salmon and big Gizzard Shad. Ultimately I chose proven winners—based on longevity, personal experience, and results from the major tournament trails, to settle on six lures that you could fish with confidence anywhere brown bass swim. Here are some tips on how to choose which of the best smallmouth lures to throw.
First and foremost, it pays to understand what sort of forage the smallmouth bass in your chosen waterway tend to feed on. It’s not necessarily a universal answer, and while a lure like a tube can represent a variety of prey, it pays to dial in the look as closely as possible.
Then consider the role of current. Smallmouth love it and rely upon it for their feeding efforts, so if you’re fishing a bait that won’t get down to the proper depth or track true given the flow you encounter, all may be lost.
Finally, consider the type of cover and/or structure you’re likely to encounter. A spinnerbait typically gets through various kinds of vegetation better than most crankbaits, but it’s tough to fish on the bottom of a sand flat that drops from 30 to 35 feet deep. Smallmouth are one of the hardest-fighting, meanest fish that swim in freshwater, and you don’t want to bring a knife to a gunfight.
Q: What colors are best for smallmouth bass?
Natural colors like watermelon and green pumpkin are always good bets for smallmouth. However, bold colors like red, pink, and chartreuse are also proven catchers in the right conditions.
Q: How do I choose a lure?
Choose a lure based on the current feeding pattern. You need a lure that can be presented at the depth the fish are holding and that represents their preferred forage. For example, if fish are on offshore structure, a drop shot would be a good option. If fish are feeding on shad around riprap, a jerkbait is a great option.
Q: What attracts smallmouth?
Smallmouth are primarily sight feeding fish. In clear water, natural looking baits are the go-to choice. But, they can also be enticed into reactive strikes with lures that dart, vibrate, and make noise.
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Final Thoughts the Best Smallmouth Bass Lures
Smallmouth bass live in a variety of climates and conditions, opportunistically feeding on whatever gets in front of them. Despite the inclusion of “small” in their name, these current-dwellers are typically nothing but attitude, harnessing a distinct feeling of inadequacy into the personality of a junkyard dog.
Still, if you were forced to choose a single lure, it would have to be a soft plastic, which can be fished from top to bottom, in current or slack water, 12 months out of the year. A tube would be our number one call because it’s so incredibly versatile, with infinite color variations, and tends to have a very high hookup percentage. You can drag it along the bottom as they do on the Great Lakes, fish it like a Texas Rigged worm, or flip it into heavy cover. You can even “stroke” them off the bottom like a flutter spoon. Soft plastic tubes are great for both legal-sized fish and giants alike.