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.

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Disclaimer: The above link and others in this article are affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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

How can you tell the difference between a smallmouth bass and a largemouth bass?

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.

The largemouth bass has a larger mouth due to their upper jaw extending past the eyes. Largemouth bass are a little longer than smallmouth bass 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.
    • Smallmouth prefer colder waters.
  • Largemouth bass are native to the eastern and central United States, southeastern Canada and northern Mexico. They have been introduced into many other areas as well.
    • Largemouth bass 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.

picture of smallmouth and largemouth bass
Smallmouth bass and largemouth bass.

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 and Largemouth Bass: Tastes and Textures

One of the most important things people takes into consideration when choosing a fish is its taste. When comparing the two fish, does smallmouth bass taste better than largemouth bass?

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.

What does smallmouth bass taste like? Smallmouth bass has a mild to sweet taste. Smallmouth is 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.

What does largemouth bass taste like? Largemouth bass has a strong flavor and is a little fishy, more than smallmouth bass. Largemouth has white flesh which can be watery but is firm and meaty.

Find out how trout compared to bass in my recent article, Trout vs Bass – 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 called for. If you have some smallmouth, you may ask, can I substitute smallmouth for largemouth bass?

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. Smallmouth and largemouth 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 smallmouth or largemouth bass 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.

How To Cook Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass doesn’t have the same fishy flavor and smell that a largemouth contains. Smallmouth doesn’t have to be seasoned as much to cover up the fishiness.

Smallmouth can be grilled, pan fried, baked, broiled and sautéed.

Smallmouth flavor pairings:

  • Garlic
  • Lemon
  • Dill
  • Mustard
  • Black pepper
  • Parsley
  • Olive oil

How To Cook Largemouth Bass

Frying largemouth bass indoors can create a fishy smell which many people dislike. By adding many of the spices below can help lessen the fishy smell or taste. In addition, removing the skin and bloodline before cooking will help with the fishy taste.

Largemouth can be baked, broiled, deep fried, grilled and sautéed.

Largemouth flavor pairings:

  • Garlic
  • Paprika
  • Black pepper
  • Lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Dill
  • Mustard

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.

Nutrient Freshwater bass
(4 ounces, raw)
Calories 129
Fat 4.2 g
Saturated fat 0.9 g
Cholesterol 77 mg
Protein 21 g
Omega-3 0.77 g
B-6 0.1 mg
B-12 2.2 mcg
Thiamin .08 mg
Riboflavin .08 mg
B-5 0.8 mg
Niacin 1.4 mg
Folate 17.0 mcg
Iron 1.6 mg
Potassium 403 mg
Magnesium 34 mg
Phosphorus 226 mg
Calcium 90.7 mg
Zinc 0.7 mg
Selenium 14.2 mcg

Nutrient Resources 2 3

Largemouth and smallmouth bass 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 Bass and Largemouth Bass 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

Freshwater bass provides 0.77 grams of 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 in smallmouth and largemouth bass 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.

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

Freshwater bass contains 403 mg per four raw ounces. 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

Freshwater bass provides 34 mg per four ounces. 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 in bass 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.

Selenium

Freshwater bass contains 14.2 mcg of selenium per four ounces. 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

Freshwater bass provides 226 mg per four ounces. 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

Freshwater bass provides 90.7 mg of calcium per four ounces. 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 bass check out my article, White Bass vs Striped Bass: The Key Differences.

Smallmouth Bass and Largemouth Bass 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, does smallmouth or largemouth bass have more mercury?

Smallmouth and largemouth bass 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, 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 13 .

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 bass is brownish to greenish and contains mixed patterns of the two fish. The meanmouth bass 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.

Species Resources 14 15 16 17

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[]
  14. Wikipedia: Smallmouth bass[]
  15. Wikipedia: Largemouth bass[]
  16. Wikipedia: Bass (fish) []
  17. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Largemouth bass[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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