Smallmouth Bass vs Largemouth Bass: What’s The Difference?

Smallmouth and largemouth have many similarities. For this reason many people ask about their differences. Let’s answer the question, what is the difference between smallmouth bass and largemouth bass?

Smallmouth bass (M. dolomite) and largemouth bass (M.salmoides) are different species. Smallmouth bass have a milder to sweet taste compared to the stronger, fishier largemouth’s flavor. Largemouth’s texture is more watery than smallmouths. Largemouth requires more seasoning to lessen the fishy smell and flavor.

This article will compare their tastes, textures, cooking methods, costs, mercury levels and whether one can substitute for the other in recipes. In addition, I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of their habitats, size, weight and discuss their nutritional benefits.

Smallmouth Bass vs Largemouth Bass: Habitats, Size, Weight, Appearance?

How can you tell the difference between the two fish?

The easiest way to tell the difference between smallmouth and largemouth bass is their markings. Smallmouth have dark brown vertical thick stripes on their sides. Largemouth have black blotches forming jagged horizontal lines on their sides. The smallmouth dorsal fins are separated by a small notch the largemouth doesn’t possess.

Largemouth bass have larger mouths than their smallmouth cousins due to their upper jaw extending past the eyes. Largemouth bass can grow much bigger. They are a little longer and weigh more.

Scientific Classifications, Families, Species

Smallmouth bass are from:

  • Family: Centrarchidae
  • Genus: Micropterus
  • Species: M. dolomieu
  • Common nicknames: Brown bass, brownie, small, bronze bass and bronze back.

Largemouth bass are from:

  • Family: Centrarchidae
  • Genus: Micropterus
  • Species: M. salmoides
  • Common nicknames: Green bass, bigmouth bass, largies, bucketmouth,

Habitats

  • Smallmouth bass is native to the upper and middle Mississippi River Basin, the Great Lakes, Saint Lawrence River and the Hudson Bay Basin in Canada. They have been introduced into many cool-water rivers and lakes in the United States and Canada.
    • They prefer colder waters.
  • Large bass habitat are native to the eastern and central United States, southeastern Canada and northern Mexico. They have been introduced into many other areas as well.
    • They prefer warmer waters.

Colors

  • Smallmouth have a golden olive to brownish body. They have brown vertical bars or thick stripes down the body. The head has dark brown horizontal bars.
  • Largemouth have a greenish gray body. They have dark, black blotches forming jagged horizontal lines down the body.

In open waters the smallmouth bass have a lighter color compared to a darker color when found in darker rivers.

Largemouth bass in their natural habitat.

Appearance

  • Smallmouth bass have two dorsal fins separated by a shallow notch. The front dorsal is shorter with spine rays, the second dorsal is taller with soft rays. The protruding jaw doesn’t extend past the red or brown eyes.
  • Largemouth bass have two dorsal fins with no separation. The front dorsal is shorter with spine rays. The second dorsal is taller with soft rays. The upper jaw extends past the eye socket.

Size and Weight

  • Smallmouth bass average 12-16 inches and grow to 10 pounds.
  • Largemouth bass average 15 inches and grow up to 20 pounds.

Age

  • Smallmouth bass oldest reported age is 26 years.
  • Largemouth bass average lifespans is 10-16 years.

Diet

Smallmouth bass consume the following:

  • Plankton
  • Insects
  • Crayfish
  • Other smaller fish

Largemouth bass consume the following:

  • Crayfish
  • Fish
  • Frogs
  • Insects
  • Crustaceans
Smallmouth bass in their habitat and fishing tips.

Bass Fishing

Bass Tips

Bass fishing requires dedication, perseverance and of course some luck. Largemouth are most anglers target when fishing.

River fishing for smallies can result in a good fishing day. Spotted bass are more aggressive. Spots are faster swimmers and fight a long time. For fishing tackle use the same size bass lures and plastics as largies.

In New York, you can go bass fishing June to November with a 12″ minimum and a daily limit of 5. From December to June, bass fishing is catch and release only. Check your local State for rules and regulations.

Smallmouth Bass and Largemouth Bass: Tastes and Textures

One of the most important things people takes into consideration when choosing a fish in the market or while fishing is its taste. When comparing the two fish, let’s take a close look at how they taste.

Smallmouth bass taste better due to their more mild to sweet, cleaner flavor. Largemouth bass taste fishier making smallmouth more desirable for people who don’t like a fishy flavor.

Smallmouth is good to eat and only slightly fishy but not enough to turn people away who don’t prefer a fishy taste. The flesh is white and has a firm texture.

Largemouth has white flesh which can be watery but is firm and meaty.

I conducted original research on taste by polling my clients, members of food groups and readers. I asked them which one, smallmouth bass vs largemouth bass, tasted better?

  • 62% said they preferred smallmouth.
  • 38% said they preferred largemouth.

To conduct more original research I thought it would be fun to set up a blind taste test at home. I prepared and seasoned both fish the same way. Three out of four people chose the smallmouth.

How to cook largemouth bass.

Find out how they compared to trout in my recent article, Trout – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare.

Smallmouth Bass and Largemouth Bass Substitutions

When preparing recipes for dinner it’s not always possible to locate the type of fish in the market or while fishing. If you have only one bass species, you may be wondering if you can substitute one for the other.

Smallmouth bass can substitute for largemouth bass due to their similar firm textures although largemouth’s flavor is stronger. They both have a firm enough texture allowing similar cooking methods when substituting. Both of them can be grilled, baked, broiled, fried or sautéed. 

Largemouth bass substitutes include the following:

  • Salmon
  • Bluefish
  • Tuna
  • Black Sea bass
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Walleye

The best smallmouth bass substitutes are:

  • Halibut
  • Grouper
  • Snapper
  • Freshwater trout
  • Lake herring
  • Mackerel

When substituting always stick to the following:

  • Same size and weight.
  • Stick with similar fillets, whole fillet or cross section.
  • Stick with skinless or skin when the recipe calls for one.
  • Texture is more important for certain cooking methods. Like using a firmer texture when grilling 1.
Largemouth bass.
Largemouth bass

Smallmouth Bass and Largemouth Bass Nutrients

Both bass provide a wide variety of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Below is the nutrients contained in 4 ounces of freshwater bass.

NutrientFreshwater bass
(4 ounces, raw)
Calories129
Fat4.2 g
Saturated fat0.9 g
Cholesterol77 mg
Protein21 g
Omega-30.77 g
B-60.1 mg
B-122.2 mcg
Thiamin.08 mg
Riboflavin.08 mg
B-50.8 mg
Niacin1.4 mg
Folate17.0 mcg
Iron1.6 mg
Potassium403 mg
Magnesium34 mg
Phosphorus226 mg
Calcium90.7 mg
Zinc0.7 mg
Selenium14.2 mcg

Nutrient Resources 2 3

Both of them provide a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are beneficial for maintaining health which you can read about in the next section of this article.

It’s difficult to duplicate the nutritional value of most fish. I compared chicken breast, the healthiest part of the chicken, to cod and salmon in the following two articles. Check them out and find out who the winners were.

Cod vs Chicken – Which is Healthier? Let’s Compare 

Salmon vs Chicken: Which is Healthier?

Smallmouth and Largemouth Health Benefits

Both fish provide the same nutrients and therefore the same benefits. Since omega-3 fatty acids may be the most important nutrient, I started with them first.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Why does omega-3 fatty acids matter so much?

It’s because omega-3 fatty acids are heart healthy and help keep arteries healthy. The omega-3s may help with the following:

  • Keeping bad cholesterol low.
  • Keeping good cholesterol high.
  • Reducing inflammation.
  • Reducing plaque build-up.
  • Lowering triglycerides
  • Help keep the heart rhythms more normal.

DHA and EPA, two of the fatty acids, are associated with lowering blood pressure and improving the health of blood vessels 4.

Studies suggest omega-3s can help reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis. They may also boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Omega-3 sources.
Omega 3 sources

B Vitamins

The B vitamins in the table include B6, B12, B5, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin) and B9 (folate). B vitamins help support the following:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Red blood cells
  • Digestion
  • Energy levels
  • Brain function
  • Nerve function

Potassium

Potassium is beneficial for reducing sodium intake. It helps the body reduce fluids and rids excess sodium 5. This process helps to reduce blood pressure.

The more potassium you consume, the more sodium your body will lose. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 6.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure 7.

Magnesium

Adding magnesium to your diet could be instrumental in improving sleep related issues like insomnia. Magnesium relaxes and calms the whole body including the blood vessels 8.

More so, it helps keep blood pressure levels balanced and stable. A recent study researched 22 studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased diastolic and systolic blood pressure 9.

Magnesium helps control muscle and nerve function, blood sugar and blood pressure. In the muscles and heart, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting.

When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

smallmouth bass
Smallmouth bass

Selenium

Selenium is a nutrient which doesn’t receive much press. I’m unsure why many don’t write about it more because studies 10 show selenium may help to protect the following:

  • Heart disease
  • Thyroid
  • The immune system
  • Cognitive issues

Phosphorus

Phosphorus has been shown in studies to may help the following:

  • Muscle contraction.
  • Muscle recovery after exercise.
  • Promoting healthy nerve conduction.
  • Promote bone and teeth strength.
  • Aids the kidneys in waste removal.
  • Help the body manage and store energy.

Calcium

Calcium is important for blood pressure and the heart.

Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure because it helps to control the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 11. Calcium also helps the following:

  • Build and maintain strong bones.
  • Muscles need calcium to function properly.
  • Improve nerve function.

If you’re wondering how white bass compared to striped check out my article, White vs Striped: The Key Differences.

Smallmouth and Largemouth Mercury Levels

The EPA and The Food and Drug Administration have issued warnings and suggestions regarding mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed 12. This is especially important for young infants, developing children and pregnant women.

They established a list of best fish, good choices and ones to avoid based on their mercury levels. Therefore, let’s examine the levels of mercury for smallmouth vs largemouth bass.

Bass smallmouth and largemouth have similar levels of mercury. They have both been listed on some states advisory warnings in regards to high levels of mercury. Typically, the recommendation is to consume these fish only once per week total for all fish considered higher in mercury. 

If you’re pregnant, breast feeding or have a young child, or don’t, Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits.

These mercury warnings can change over time or affect only a particular area or state. Please check with your local EPA and FDA for the current recommendations especially while fishing 13 .

Kevin Garce checking prices of catfish and seafood in his local supermarket.
Checking prices of catfish bass and seafood in my local market

FAQs

Can smallmouth bass and largemouth bass breed?

Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass have bred with each other resulting in a hybrid species called the meanmouth bass. The cross breeding is more rare than common. The meanmouth is brownish to greenish and contains mixed patterns of the two fish. The meanmouth has a larger mouth than the smallmouth bass.

Will a largemouth bass eat a smallmouth bass?

A largemouth bass will eat a smallmouth bass if the smallmouth bass is still younger and small. Largemouth bass routinely consume other smaller fish, crayfish, frogs and whatever is small enough to fit into their mouths.

Can largemouth bass and smallmouth bass live together?

Largemouth and smallmouth bass do live together in the same waters but most of the time they live in separate habitats. Smallmouth bass prefer the colder waters while largemouth bass prefers warmer water.

As a Certified Health Coach, many of my clients inquire about seafood. In addition to coaching clients about bass largemouths and smallmouths, I’ve purchased, researched and consumed both fish for over 20 years.

If you have any questions about this article or other featured content, don’t hesitate to email and notify us. You can find an email on our contact page. We’ll do our best to reply as soon as possible.

Read Next – More Fish vs Fish Articles!

Sea Bass vs Cod – Is One Better? Let’s Compare

White Perch vs White Bass: Which Is Better?

Sea Bass vs Salmon: Which Is Better?

Farm Raised or Wild Caught Shrimp – Which Is Best?

Farm-Raised Vs Wild Caught Scallops: Which Seafood Is Best?

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. Sea Grant North Carolina: Fish Flavors and Substitutions[]
  2. Nutrition Value: Fish, raw, mixed species, fresh water, bass[]
  3. NutritionData: Fish, bass, fresh water, mixed species, raw[]
  4. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  5. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[]
  7. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[]
  8. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  10. National Institutes of Health: Selenium[]
  11. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]
  12. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  13. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake[]

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