Spotted Bass vs Smallmouth - The Differences Explained

Written by: Pete Danylewycz
Last Updated:
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In the world of freshwater fishing, two bass species often take center stage: the elusive Spotted Bass and the iconic Smallmouth Bass. But how do these aquatic stars truly differ? Dive in as we explore the unique traits and tales of these underwater rivals in 'Spotted Bass vs Smallmouth Bass'.

Related: Spotted Bass vs Largemouth

Spotted Bass Overview

spotted bass

Spotted bass belong to the same genus as large- and smallmouth bass, Micropterus. But they’re a separate species, punctulatus. Taxonomically, that makes them very close kin, and in terms of habitat, behavior, and appearance, they’re as hard to tell apart as fraternal twins.

Because spotted bass are sometimes, but not always, larger than smallies - and roughly the same size as largemouth - size alone isn’t going to help you out much at all. A steady diet of minnows, aquatic insects, and crawfish allow them to grow to a maximum of 25 inches and 11 pounds. 

In terms of habitat, spotted bass favor the same kinds of places you’ll find smallmouth bass: cold, clear streams with rocky or sandy bottoms. They tend to flourish in these environments but avoid the warmer, stiller ponds and lakes the largemouth call home.

But spotties aren’t strangers to slow-moving rivers like the Coosa in Georgia and Alabama, sharing space with largemouth.

That means that location can’t tell you which species you've landed, either.

Spotted Bass

Instead, you’ll need to take a really close look at the fish you’ve caught.

Spotted Bass vs. Smallmouth Bass: Positive Identification

If it wasn’t hard enough for you to tell the difference between a spotted bass and a largemouth, get ready for the real trouble.

Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) share the same habitat and diet with spotted bass and regularly hybridize with them, sometimes making positive ID impossible to anyone but a wildlife biologist.

Typically, both species have smaller mouths than largemouth bass, as well as sharing darker striped faces. And both spotties and smallies have an upper jaw bone that stops short of the rear of the eye, a clearly connected first and second dorsal fin.

Fortunately, while smallmouth bass will sometimes present with vertical bands on their sides, you’ll never see a long train of dark spots right down their lateral lines.

Spotted Bass vs Smallmouth Bass

In this case, look for those dark blotches that give the spotted bass its name.

Differences Between Spotted Bass and Smallmouth Bass

  1. Appearance:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Has a distinct row of dark spots below the lateral line.
      • The lower jaw does not extend beyond the back of the eye.
    • Smallmouth Bass:
      • Bronze to brownish in color, sometimes with a green hue.
      • The eye is typically reddish or orange in color.
      • The lower jaw does not extend beyond the back of the eye, similar to the spotted bass.
  2. Coloration:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Generally has a greenish color with a more pronounced spotting pattern.
    • Smallmouth Bass:
      • Dark vertical bands or stripes, often more prominent in younger fish.
  3. Dorsal Fin:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • The dorsal fins are almost separated or have a shallow notch between them.
    • Smallmouth Bass:
      • The dorsal fin is almost completely divided with a deeper notch than the spotted bass.
  4. Body Size and Shape:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Typically smaller and more streamlined than smallmouth bass.
    • Smallmouth Bass:
      • Generally bulkier and has a more robust body shape than spotted bass.
  5. Habitat:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Prefers clearer water and is often found in rocky areas, such as reservoirs with rocky outcroppings.
    • Smallmouth Bass:
      • Prefers cooler, clearer water with rocky or gravelly bottoms. Commonly found in streams, rivers, and large, clear lakes.
  6. Behavior:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • More likely to school and can be more aggressive than smallmouth bass.
    • Smallmouth Bass:
      • Known for its strong fighting ability when hooked and its tendency to leap out of the water.
  7. Range:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Native to the Mississippi River basin and is found in many of the southeastern U.S. states.
    • Smallmouth Bass:
      • Originally native to the eastern half of North America but has been widely introduced to other locations.
  8. Diet:
    • Spotted Bass:
      • Prefers smaller prey, including insects, crustaceans, and smaller fish.
    • Smallmouth Bass:
      • Has a varied diet which includes insects, crustaceans, and smaller fish, but can also prey on larger fish and even small aquatic mammals or birds in certain environments.

Final Thoughts

We hope that you learned something from this article today, and if we've helped you discern the differences between spotted bass and smallmouth bass, we’d love to hear from you.

With a little practice, it’s usually easy to ID a spotty, and if you know what to do, they can be an amazing fish to catch.

Please leave a comment below!

About The Author
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.
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