Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass – Habitat – Identification & Tips

New York State offers amazing bass fishing options. Smallmouth and largemouth bass are two of the most popular gamefish species in New York State. They can be found in most rivers and lakes throughout the state. 

Difference Between Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass

How To Identify Smallmouth Bass

smallmouth bass caught while fishing in ideal bass habitat

Smallmouth bass can be easily identified by their distinctive characteristics.

  • Best know for having small mouths, their jaws stop short of their eye as you move from head to tail
  • Bronze or olive (to brownish) green coloration on the back
  • Gold and yellow tints along the sides and belly
  • Vertical stripes which sometimes appear patchy or smudged
  • Dorsal fin has a deep notch
  • NYS record is 8.6 pounds. 

How to Identify Largemouth Bass

largemouth bass caught by an angler in largemouth bass habitat

Largemouth bass are also easily identified.

  • Jaw extends back past the eye
  • Deep green or brown back
  • Greenish yellow sides
  • Dark horizontal band along the sides of their body
  • Dorsal fin has a deep notch
  • NYS record weight is 11 pounds 4 ounces and length is 25.5 inches.

Smallmouth Bass Habitat

Young angler posing with a smallmouth bass

Smallmouth bass are found in a variety of habitats throughout New York State. Smallmouths inhabit streams, rivers, and lakes with cobble or sandy substrate, rocky areas with aquatic vegetation, and submerged logs.

They prefer cooler, clear, water with temperatures colder than largemouth bass. Ideal smallmouth bass habitat will have a water temperature between 67-71 degrees Fahrenheit although they will adapt to their environment. They like deeper water with moderate flow and can be found around submerged structures like logs, rocks, and stumps where they can hide from predators and ambush prey.

Smallmouths can be found along shorelines in natural lakes and rivers, where they will feed on insects and small baitfish.

Largemouth Bass Habitat

Largemouth bass are a popular freshwater game fish in New York State. Common largemouth bass habitats include many types of waters from lakes to streams, small ponds and large rivers. Largemouth bass are highly adaptable to different environment. In New York State, largemouth bass can be found in most areas associated with submerged aquatic vegetation as well as the Great Lakes drainage, Allegheny watersheds, and Champlain watersheds.

Largemouth prefer warmer water than smallmouth bass. The ideal largemouth bass water temperature is slightly warmer than smallmouth bass. Some sources say that 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. In addition to submerged aquatic vegetation, largemouth bass will make use of fallen trees or other large structures that provide cover in the warmer waters commonly found in shallow areas along shorelines.

As they require oxygen from the water, largemouth bass habitat must have good aeration. This can come in the form of natural rapids or currents, or man-made mechanisms such as waterfall boxes or other aeration devices.

Best Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass Fishing Lakes in NY 

Largemouth and smallmouth bass are found all over NYS; however these five lakes are among the most productive.  

  1. Lake Champlain – Located on the border of New York and Vermont, Lake Champlain is known for its largemouth bass and smallmouth bass populations. With over 500 miles of shoreline, anglers can enjoy a variety of fishing opportunities both in deep water or shallow water areas. The lake’s large size and diverse bass habitats make it the perfect place to catch bass.
  1. Otsego Lake – Located in Cooperstown, NY, this lake is a popular destination for largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing. The lake offers a variety of habitat types to explore including deep-water areas and shallow-water areas. Anglers can also find largemouth bass and smallmouth bass in the lake’s largemouth bass spawning areas.
  1. Sodus Bay, Lake Ontario – Sodus Bay in Wayne County, NY is a popular destination for largemouth and smallmouth fishing in New York. The bay extends north to Sodus Point and the entrance of Lake Ontario. It has an abundance of vegetation, structure, and deep water habitat which largemouth and smallmouth bass are known to inhabit.
  1. Keuka Lake – Located in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, Keuka Lake is a great destination for bass fishing. With over 50 miles of shoreline, anglers can catch largemouth bass and smallmouth bass alike in deep water areas as well as shallow water areas.
  1. Seneca Lake – Located in the Finger Lakes region of central New York State, Seneca Lake is known for its bass populations. The lake offers both smallmouth and largemouth bass habitat including deep-water and shallow-water areas.

Some other notable bass fishing locations in central and Upstate New York include Oneida Lake, Cayuga Lake, the St. Lawrence River, Chautauqua Lake, Conesus Lake, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

Many of NY State’s lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and reservoirs offer the idea largemouth and smallmouth bass habitat. Even novice anglers are sure to have a successful day bass fishing in NY.

Best Bass Fishing Bait, Lures and Flies

  1. Mayflies
  2. Dragonflies
  3. Stoneflies
  4. Crayfish
  5. Frogs
  6. Minnows
  7. Crickets
  8. Aquatic insects
  9. Mollusks
  10. Fish eggs and larvae

Bass Spawning

Smallmouth Bass Spawning

Smallmouth bass typically spawn in the springtime when water temperatures warm up to between 55 and 65F. The pre-spawn period is an especially productive time for smallmouth bass fishing, as water temperatures can be in the upper 40s and lower 50s. Anglers often target smallmouth fish during this period, as it provides an opportunity for some great fishing.

As smallmouth bass spawn, they tend to group up in large schools which makes them easier to target for anglers. This is also a great opportunity for anglers to witness a remarkable natural event as these fish prepare and protect their eggs. With some basic knowledge and preparation, anglers can take advantage of these prime conditions to target larger smallmouth bass.

Largemouth Bass Spawning

Largemouth bass spawning season begins in the spring when water temperatures reach between 60 and 65 degrees. During this time, female largemouth bass lay eggs in nests guarded by males.

After two to three days, the eggs hatch and release up to 12,000 fry (newborn largemouth bass are known as fry) into the surrounding waters. Out of these thousands, only 5-10 will reach 10 inches in length as they mature. 

During this vulnerable stage of life, they must avoid predation while also gaining enough nutrition to survive and grow into full-sized adults. Largemouth bass spawning is an incredible natural event that helps maintain healthy populations of this popular fish species in local waters.

Bass Fishing Tips

  1. Largemouth bass: Use lures that imitate the prey they feed on, such as minnows, crayfish, flies and frogs. Look for areas with the ideal largemouth bass habitat – places with deeper water, plenty of vegetation, and weed beds where these fish will gather to hide and ambush their prey. 
  1. Smallmouth bass: Fish in areas with rocky or gravel bottoms and use lures that imitate crayfish, minnows, frogs or flies. Target current breaks, eddies, and drop-offs for the best success.
  1. All bass: Make sure to keep lures and baits low in the water column as bass feed near the bottom of the lake or river. Try to locate active fish populations instead of blindly casting into the water.

DEC regulations for Bass Fishing

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has regulations in place to protect the health and population of bass. Bass regulations in NYS vary depending on the waters in question.

In general, the open harvest season for largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing runs from June 15 through November 30. During this time, anglers can keep up to 5 black bass (largemouths and/or smallmouths) with a minimum total length of 12 inches.

Outside of the open season, anglers must practice catch and release while bass fishing. It is important to check regulations specific to the location you’re planning to fish.

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