Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a casual weekender - or you fall somewhere in between - versatility is a big part of a successful day on the water. Having a variety of lures on hand is important no matter what you might be fishing for, but with a smallmouth bass’ willingness to eat anything, and their ability to ignore seemingly everything, versatility can truly make or break your day.
Quick glance at the best lures for smallmouth bass:
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Best Smallmouth Bass Lures
Soft plastics are one of the most versatile lures on this list. Fishing them fast or slow, shallow or deep, will all depend on the way they are rigged, but whatever the situation calls for, smallmouth will gobble them up like they’re candy.
For finesse fishing smallmouth bass, it’s hard to beat a drop shot rig. A drop shot rig may seem intimidating at first, but at its core, it’s quite simple. Consisting of a hook tied above a weight, a drop shot rig allows soft plastics to move subtly and freely through the water while keeping it in the strike zone and away from nasty snags, requiring little to no action imparted from the angler. A slow, methodical technique that lets the lure do the work, enticing finicky smallmouth.
Here are some key points to keep in mind when considering fishing soft plastics for smallmouth:
- Soft plastics are very versatile and can be fished in just about any situation
- When finesse fishing, plastics that offer realistic movement are key
- Drop-shotting can be one of the most effective ways to present soft plastics when the bite is slow
- Not limited to finesse, a swimbait can be fished aggressively, ripping through cover
While it is possible to fish just about any soft plastic on a drop shot rig, there are some that simply outshine others.
The Strike King Dream Shot is a shad-style bait designed with drop-shotting in mind. Its super soft construction and hinged tail mean it moves freely in the water, dancing around at even the slightest movement. Ultra lifelike in both action and feel, smallmouth will latch on and not let go.
Another finesse plastic favorite is the Yamamato Senko. This worm-style plastic has been around for a long time and is a staple in many smallmouth anglers’ arsenals for good reason. Rigged wacky style, whether on a drop shot rig or a weightless hook, the Senko is another plastic whose free motion makes it hard for smallmouth to resist.
If you’re looking for a plastic that can be fished hard and cover a lot of water, then the Berkley PowerBait Power Swimmer is an excellent choice. Available in sizes ranging from 2 inches up to 4.3 inches, there are plenty of options to match a smallmouth's mood. Rigged on a weighted hook or a jighead, a simple cast and retrieve is all this bait needs. The ribbed body adds extra vibration to the already enticing paddle tail to create savage strikes from angry smallmouth.
You may be thinking, aren’t tubes soft plastics? Yes, they are, but tubes work so good that we think they deserve a category all to themselves. If your tackle bag is only going to see one of the lures on this list, make it a tube. Rarely are there times where a tube won’t catch smallmouth, whether you’re fishing a big river, a small stream, or a lake, tubes just work.
A tube can be rigged several ways, but there is none better than what they were designed for; sliding a weighted jig head in their hollow bodies. When fished slowly on or near the bottom, a tube jig rigged this way will imitate a crawfish, with the skirt slightly moving around when the jig is stationary. When fished fast, the erratic motion will trigger hard reaction strikes from cruising smallmouth.
The selection of tubes available can be overwhelming, and tackle shops often have sections dedicated to them and only them. With seemingly endless sizes and colors, the right choice may not seem like an easy one. The truth is, you can’t go wrong with any tube. When selecting the right tube, remember a few key things:
- Match the size and color of the tube with what smallmouth are feeding on.
- Bigger isn’t always better, and smaller tubes can often outproduce larger ones.
- Let the fish dictate how to present the tube; aggressive=fast, finicky=slow.
- Tubes can be used in any body of water under any condition.
- You can never go wrong with a white tube; smallmouth love them.
A favorite for us is the Strike King Coffee Tube. The infused coffee bean granules and coffee bean oil not only give the tubes a natural tone but also offer a scent that smallmouth can not resist. As an added bonus, coffee also helps to mask human scent. The tube is also salt impregnated, making it impossible to resist.
Crankbaits are another lure that every smallmouth angler will have at least a handful of. It’s no secret that they can produce big fish, and lots of them. Crankbaits are considered a power fishing lure, used to search out aggressive pods of fish and cover lots of water in a short amount of time. One of the better ways to fish deeper water (from 6ft down to 30ft), crankbaits shine when smallmouth are aggressive, and banging them off the rock bottom will elicit heart-stopping strikes.
- Considered a great search bait, crankbaits should be used to cover lots of water and search out pods of aggressive smallmouth.
- Resist the urge to simply cast and retrieve. The idea is to attract smallmouth and illicit reaction strikes. The more erratic the retrieve, the better. Using stop-and-go, varying retrieve speeds, and banging the lure off cover are all great ways to get that reaction strike.
- Always choose a crankbait that will run deeper than the water being fished. This will allow you to easily run it through a sandy bottom or bounce it off big boulders smallmouth may be relating to.
When fishing an area where smallmouth are actively feeding on crawfish, you can’t go wrong with a Rebel Crawfish. Its lifelike appearance and erratic, pulsating action do a great job of imitating what is often a Smallmouth’s favorite meal. There's a good reason why this lure has been a favorite for many smallmouth anglers over the years.
Another great crankbait option is Rapala’s DT Series. These crankbaits are some of the fastest diving on the market. Not only do they dive quickly, but the use of perfectly balanced internal weights also keeps the lure in the strike zone longer. DT stands for “dives to,” with each number in the series representing the depth that the lure is designed to dive to, making choosing the right one for the depth of water you are fishing simple.
Jerkbaits are a little more of a niche lure when it comes to fishing smallmouth and are typically used when fish are feeding near the surface and are keying in on bait fish like alewives, smelt, or ciscos. While the time may not always be right to fish a jerk bait, they are without a doubt one of the most exciting ways to catch smallmouth, as strikes can be savage.
- Avoid a steady cast and retrieve; instead, impart as much action as possible with quick jerks of the rod.
- Slow down. Most anglers assume that a jerkbait should be fished quickly, but that's not always the case. Give the lure a couple of hard jerks then stop and wait. When you think it’s time to move the lure again, wait a little longer.
- Always pause the lure during the retrieve. Whether using a floating or suspending jerkbait, smallmouth will often attack when the lure is stationary.
- Be aware of how smallmouth are feeding. Jerkbaits don’t work in all situations but instead are most effective when smallmouth are feeding on bait fish close to the surface.
- Hold on tight. Easily one of the most exciting ways to catch smallmouth, fish will strike with a savagery unseen with any other lure.
Rapala’s X-Rap is a hard lure to beat when it comes to jerkbaits. The action on these lures is aggressive and hard-hitting, but its ability to stop on a dime and suspend make it easy to work slowly and methodically, too - a key feature as smallmouth will often attack while the lure is stationary. The XR10 is a standard size when it comes to smallmouth, but that doesn’t mean that the larger XR12 and smaller XR8 don’t have their time and place.
An often overlooked jerkbait is the Smithwick Suspending Rattln’ Rogue. While not the most common jerkbait found in a smallmouth angler’s tackle bag, there is no denying its ability to boat big feisty smallmouth. The loud internal rattles call out to fish in all directions, and its neutral buoyancy suspends the lure perfectly in the water column allowing smallmouth to get a good long look before attacking.
With the exception of tubes, jigs are possibly the most popular lure when it comes to smallmouth bass. The lures on this list are all known for doing specific things in different situations, but the jigs’ claim to fame is a little different. Jigs are known to produce big fish. If it’s trophy smallmouth bass that you’re after, then jigs are a must.
With two main styles of jigs, the rubber skirted jig and the hair jig, there really is no time of year, or specific fishing situation where they can’t work. Rubber skirted jigs can be fished fast or slow, in any type of water, banging against rock or other structure smallmouth may be relating to, ringing the dinner bell and calling out an easy meal.
Hair jigs can not only be fished the same as their rubber skirted counterparts, but smaller, more finesse jigs can also be fished under a slip float for those days when suspended fish don’t feel like chasing down their meal.
- Skirted jigs can be deadly on their own, but for a little added attractiveness, try adding a trailer. Ribbon-tails, curly-tailed grubs, or soft plastic crawfish can be rigged on the hook of the jig to add some extra profile to the lure.
- Fish a jig and trailer quicker in warm or murky water. Downsize and slow that presentation down when the water you’re fishing is cold and clear.
- When fished correctly according to conditions, jigs are effective all year long in any type of water.
- Don’t sleep on hair jigs. Often overlooked, a bucktail jig can be fished in the same way as a skirted jig with movement of the hair in the water, adding that little extra appeal.
- When fish are finicky, it's hard to beat a marabou jig under a slip float. Marabou dances in the water naturally without any effort from the angler, often enticing fish that would otherwise be reluctant to strike.
Options can be seemingly limitless when it comes to jig fishing smallmouth, but if you’re just starting out and are looking for one that can cover all kinds of scenarios, then we suggest starting with a ‘flipping’ or ‘casting’ jig as they are commonly known. It’s hard to go wrong with a Booyah Boo Jig as your all-around Smallmouth jig. Available in a number of different sizes and colors, these jigs can cover just about any scenario. The jig’s magnum rattle and ultra-fluid rubber skirt make it the ultimate fish catcher any time of the year.
As far as hair jigs are concerned, one that shouldn’t be overlooked isn’t made from hair at all. Despite being in the same category, it’s actually constructed out of marabou turkey feather. The VMC Dominator Marabou Jig uses the perfect combination of marabou and flashabou to create lifelike movements that drive smallmouth bass crazy. The ¼-ounce version is perfect for casting or pitching into cover, while the smaller 1/16-ounce jig can be fished under a slip float on those days when smallmouth are a little harder to persuade.
It would be impossible to pick the “ultimate” lure for smallmouth bass. Each situation requires different approaches in order to be successful. Sure, there are other lures or bait to catch smallmouth, but most would agree that a well-prepared tackle bag should contain the lures we’ve discussed here.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been fishing smallmouth for a while, we hope this article has helped put a few new lures in your bag. Please leave a comment below and let us know if it has!