Status: Native to Northeast S.D.,
Introduced Statewide

(Micropterus dolomiem)


Smallmouth bass are moderately large, robust fish, usually attaining a length of more than 12 inches (30.5 cm), and rarely
more than 20 inches (50.8 cm). In South Dakota, these fish can weigh up to about 5 pounds (2.3 kg), but the average weight is
probably around 1 pound. Their color ranges from dark, olive brown to pale, yellow green with dark vertical bars on the
sides. The belly is a mottled , dusky off-white, which gives it a salt and pepper look. On the head are 3 or 4 "tiger stripes"
that radiate from the eye rearward. The eye is usually red or orange. The upper jawbone does not extend behind the eye.
Thus, this fish has a small mouth when compared to the look-alike largemouth bass whose upper jawbone extends beyond the


Smallmouth bass were originally found in most freshwaters of East-central North America. In South Dakota, they were
limited to the upper Minnesota River drainage in the extreme northeastern corner of the state. Smallmouth bass were first
stocked in the tailrace below Ft. Randall Dam near Pickstown. They have since been introduced to the rest of the Missouri
River, reservoirs, lakes and other rivers across South Dakota.

Natural History

Smallmouth bass belong to the sunfish family, Centrarchidae. Other members of the family include largemouth bass, rock
bass, crappies, and the various sunfishes. All sunfish family members are nest builders. The male uses his tail to sweep
away decaying vegetation and debris to clear a nest on a sand or gravel shoreline. He then attracts one or more females to
the nest to lay eggs. After fertilizing the eggs, he guards the nest and resulting fry . A few days after hatching, the young fish
leave the nest and disperse to find their own food and living space.

In South Dakota, smallmouth bass exist in lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. They prefer rocky-gravelly areas in clean water. In
lakes and reservoirs, smallmouth bass frequent areas of moderately deep water that are devoid of vegetation . In rivers, they
are found in areas of moderate to slow current near the cover of rocks or tangled roots.

Smallmouth bass feed during spring, summer and fall when the water temperature is near or above 50 F. Almost no feeding
occurs during the winter. Adult fish feed on insects, crayfish, and small fishes, such as minnows, suckers, shad, and even
bullheads. Growth is moderate, with smallmouth bass reaching 4 to 6 inches (10.2-15.2 cm) their first year, and 8 to 13
inches (20.3-33 cm) in three years. The largest smallmouth bass recorded for South Dakota is a 5 pound, 5 ounce (2.4 kg)
fish caught in Pickerel Lake in 1991.

Smallmouth bass seldom roam far from their home territory. During one study, fish that were tagged and released in Lewis
and Clark Lake were usually recaptured at the original release site, although two fish were recaptured 25 miles upstream
from the release site.


Smallmouth bass are voracious predators in any habitat they occupy. By feeding on many types of aquatic life, they serve to
convert energy from many small forms to a larger one that is more suitable for use by larger predators, such as humans.
Young smallmouth bass may also serve as food for other fish.

The sporting quality of smallmouth bass is legendary. They have been the topic of many books and articles in sporting
magazines. In South Dakota, smallmouth bass have become a popular sport fish. They provide much angler excitement and
enjoyment wherever they are found.

Conservation Measures

Smallmouth bass populations in South Dakota are secure because of their presence in many waters. Game, Fish and Parks
fishery personnel monitor smallmouth bass populations to determine abundance and size. Studies are also conducted on
angler enjoyment, success, and harvest of the species to determine angling impacts. Information from studies is incorporated
into management plans and activities to ensure that the smallmouth bass populations remain healthy. This information is also
used to develop fishing regulations that restrict the number of fish an angler may take home for eating. When necessary, fish
hatcheries can readily raise fingerlings for stocking into waters where smallmouth bass populations need to be replenished
or augmented. Anglers are also helping conserve smallmouth bass by practicing catch and release fishing. Fish are released
to be caught again rather than being taken home for eating.


Debris - remains of broken down plants.
Drainage - area of land drained by a stream or river.
Fingerlings - small, young fish.
Freshwater - lakes and rivers where water is not salty; not oceans or salt water.
Fry - recently hatched fish, usually less than 3 inches long.
Habitat - type of site where something lives.
Mottled - having colored spots or blotches.
Predator - an animal that eats another animal.
Radiate - spread out from the center.
Tailrace - river immediately downstream from a dam.
Vegetation - plants.
Voracious - having a huge appetite.


Eddy, Samuel and James C. Underhill. 1974. Northern Fishes. U. of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN.
Scott, W.B. and E.J. Crossman. 1973. Freshwater Fishes of Canada. Fisheries Research Board of Canada. Bulletin 184.
Ottawa, Canada.
Tomelleri, Joseph R. and Mark E. Eberle. 1990. Fishes of the Central United States. U. Press of Kansas. Lawrence, KN
Wickstrom, Gerald. 1993. Discover the Smallmouth, South Dakota Conservation Digest, 60 May/June (6-7).


American Creek Fisheries Station. S.D. Dept. Game, Fish, and Parks, 1125 N. Josephine St., Chamberlain, SD 57325.
Phone: 734-6633.
Blue Dog Lake Fish Hatchery, RR 1, Box 22 A, Waubay, SD 57273. Phone: 947-4657.
Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, RR 1, Box 293, Yankton, SD 57078. Phone:

Written by:
Gerald Wickstrom, S.D. Dept. Game, Fish, and Parks, Chamberlain, SD 57325. 1994.

Reviewed by:
Dr. Charles Scalet, Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, SDSU, Brookings, SD 57007.

Publication of the Smallmouth Bass fact sheet was funded by the S.D. Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Division of
Wildlife, Pierre, SD.