Which is better to eat smallmouth or largemouth bass?

Both smallmouth and largemouth bass are popular freshwater game fish that are frequently caught and eaten. However, there are some key differences between the two species that can impact their flavor and texture when cooked. This article will compare smallmouth vs. largemouth bass to help anglers and fish lovers determine which makes for better eating.


Smallmouth and largemouth bass have distinct physical differences that help set them apart.

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass are known for their bronze or brown coloration and the dark vertical bars on their sides. They have a silvery-white underside and their eyes are reddish-brown. Smallmouth have a smaller mouth than largemouth bass, with an upper jaw that does not extend past the eye.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth bass are greenish-brown in color with a broad black stripe running horizontally along their sides. Their underside is white or yellowish. Largemouth have a very large mouth with an upper jaw that extends past the eye. They also have a more rounded, thicker body shape compared to smallmouth bass.


On average, largemouth bass tend to grow bigger than smallmouth bass. Here is a comparison of their average adult sizes:

Species Average Length Average Weight
Smallmouth Bass 12 – 21 inches 1 – 6 lbs
Largemouth Bass 12 – 25 inches 2 – 10 lbs

Largemouth bass over 10 lbs are not uncommon, while smallmouth bass rarely surpass 6 lbs. The International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record for largemouth bass stands at an impressive 22 lbs 4 oz, nearly double the record for smallmouth bass at 11 lbs 15 oz.

Habitat and Range

Smallmouth and largemouth bass occupy slightly different habitats and have differing ranges across North America.

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass prefer cooler water temperatures than largemouth bass. They thrive in freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams in the upper Midwest, northeast, and southeastern Canada. Smallmouth bass can also be found in the Ozarks and Appalachian regions.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth bass tolerate warmer waters across most of the continental United States. They are prevalent farther south than smallmouth bass and are found in lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and sluggish rivers from northern Mexico up through the central U.S. and along the Atlantic seaboard.

Reproduction and Lifespan

Both species spawn in the spring when water temperatures reach around 60°F. There are a few differences when it comes to reproduction and lifespan:

Smallmouth Bass

  • Males build nests in gravel or sandy areas along shorelines or in shallow water.
  • Females lay 2,000 to 21,000 eggs which are fertilized by males.
  • Male guards the nest and fry after hatching.
  • Reproduce from age 3 to 12 years old.
  • Can live 15 years or more.

Largemouth Bass

  • Males hollow out a nest in vegetation or debris on the bottom.
  • Females lay 12,000 to 40,000 eggs which are fertilized by males.
  • Male guards the nest and fry after hatching.
  • Reproduce from age 2 to 6 years old.
  • Rarely live beyond 10 years.

Diet and Feeding

Both bass are opportunistic predators that ambush and consume a variety of prey.

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass feed on crayfish, insects, smaller fish, fish eggs, frogs, mice, snakes, and other small animals. They use structure like rocks and logs to ambush prey.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth bass eat similar prey but tend to consume larger fish like bluegill, crappie, shad, yellow perch, and smaller bass. They often hide near vegetation waiting to attack.

Fight Intensity

Pound for pound, smallmouth bass are more aggressive fighters on the line than largemouth bass. Here’s how they compare:

Smallmouth Bass

  • Hard chargers that make long, fast runs.
  • Frequently jump clear of the water when hooked.
  • Will make diving runs towards the bottom.
  • Known for putting up a vigorous fight when caught.

Largemouth Bass

  • Make short, lateral runs and head shakes when hooked.
  • Spend more time pulling and resisting rather than running.
  • Occasionally jump, but less frequently than smallmouth.
  • Put up a moderate fight proportional to their weight.

Taste and Texture

When it comes to eating quality, smallmouth and largemouth bass have noticeable differences in flavor and texture.

Smallmouth Bass

  • Fine, flaky white fillets.
  • Delicate, mild flavor compared to largemouth.
  • Low oiliness and absence of “fishy” taste.
  • Remain moist after cooking with firm, tender texture.
  • Easy to complement with a variety of seasonings.

Largemouth Bass

  • More coarse, dense fillets with some gray colored fat.
  • Strong, “fishy” flavor.
  • Often tastes muddy from bottom-feeding habits.
  • Prone to drying out and becoming tough when cooking.
  • Can taste muddy or sour, limiting seasoning options.

Common Cooking Methods

Bass fillets can be prepared using a variety of cooking methods. Here are some of the most popular ways to cook each species:

Smallmouth Bass

  • Pan frying or sautéing
  • Baking
  • Grilling
  • Broiling
  • Poaching
  • Smoking
  • Blackening

Largemouth Bass

  • Deep frying
  • Steaming
  • Poaching
  • Grilling
  • Adding to stews or chowders
  • Smoking
  • Pickling

Nutritional Value

Bass are a high protein, low fat fish that provide a range of nutrients. Here is a nutritional comparison of 3 oz cooked portions:

Nutrient Smallmouth Bass Largemouth Bass
Calories 93 82
Fat 1.3 g 1.4 g
Protein 20.4 g 18.1 g
Sodium 64 mg 60 mg
Omega-3 Fatty Acids 0.4 g 0.3 g

As the data shows, smallmouth and largemouth bass have very similar nutritional profiles. Both offer lean, low-fat protein with essential nutrients like niacin, selenium, vitamins B6 and B12, phosphorus, and potassium.

Cost and Availability

The cost and availability of smallmouth vs. largemouth bass depends heavily on location. Here are some key considerations:

Smallmouth Bass

  • Less common at fish markets and restaurants.
  • Sometimes available fresh in the Upper Midwest and Northeast.
  • Occasionally found frozen online or by special order.
  • Best sourced by catching yourself or from local anglers.
  • Moderate price, around $4-$7 per pound fresh.

Largemouth Bass

  • More widely available, especially in southern regions.
  • Often sold fresh at fish markets in the South.
  • Commonly found frozen in supermarkets across the country.
  • Can be sourced easily without catching yourself.
  • Low price, frequently $3-$5 per pound.

Regulations and Contaminants

There are some key regulations and contaminant issues to consider when sourcing and eating bass:

  • Size and harvest limits exist, so legal catches should be verified.
  • Some waters have consumption advisories due to mercury or PCBs.
  • Choose bass from clean, fast-moving waters when possible.
  • Larger, older fish tend to have higher contaminant levels.
  • Pregnant women and children have stricter consumption guidelines.
  • Know local fish advisories to make safe eating choices.


When it comes to table fare, smallmouth bass are generally considered superior in flavor, texture, and versatility compared to largemouth bass. The fine, flaky fillets of smallmouth have a delicate, mild flavor that adapts well to a variety of cooking methods and seasonings. Largemouth bass have a firmer texture and strong, fishy taste that some find unappealing. However, largemouth still offer good nutrition and are more accessible to most consumers.

Anglers seeking to keep bass for eating are best served targeting smallmouth bass where they can find them. The sweet, mild flavor of smallies makes them one of the best tasting freshwater fish. Largemouth bass, while not quite as highly regarded, still offer a lean, inexpensive option for those who can acquire them locally. Both provide quality protein and nutrients, so taste preferences and availability are the key factors driving which species ends up on the dinner table.

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