Welcome to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Black Bass Slam! This exciting challenge allows anglers to test their fishing abilities by catching all four species of black bass in South Carolina. Our state boasts four exciting bass: the largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, redeye bass, and spotted bass. Each species has unique characteristics that differentiate them from their fellow fish. In this series, we will be working through each species exploring how to identify them, prime habitats and locations, and angling tips to help you complete the slam. For more information concerning the rules of the Black Bass Slam, please visit our website at https://www.dnr.sc.gov/aquaticed/bassslam.
Identifying the Smallmouth Bass
The Smallmouth bass has a devout following in states where they are found. Nicknamed the Bronzeback or Smallie, this bass has a bronze to olive hue and never knows when to throw in the towel during a fight. The Smallmouth bass is a favorite target of river anglers in the South and one worthy of pursuit. This bass is not native to South Carolina but has been in our waters for more than 30 years. Average length ranges from 10-18 inches and average weight is 1-2 pounds with a 6 pound bass being exceptional.
Physical characteristics to note for the Smallmouth bass are its coloration. Most Smallmouth will be bronze to olive with dark brown to bronze specks which occasionally look like vertical barring. Three dark stripes extend outward from the eye. Most notably, the Smallmouth does not have a dark horizontal stripe along the lateral line like the Spotted or Largemouth bass. Temperature, stress, and habitat can vary these physical characteristics, but they are a great way to begin identifying your catch.
Locating the Smallmouth Bass
Location is the best way to ensure that you have caught a Smallmouth and not one of its fellow black bass members. Smallmouth do not occur everywhere in the state since they are an introduced species. Smallmouth are found in Lakes Jocassee and Keowee with the greatest riverine populations found in the Broad River from Gaffney to Columbia.
Smallmouth prefer cool moving waters and shoal complexes and thrive in rivers. Locating them in this habitat is simple. Look for pool sections adjacent to current seams and there will surely be a Smallmouth bass. These seams, where two different water speeds meet, act like an aquatic buffet line sending bugs, crayfish, and baitfish tumbling down the current. In bigger reservoirs, you’ll find Smallmouth cruising along rocky banks, dam riprap, and woody structure.
The Tackle Box
Once you have located the right habitat for Smallmouth, a wide array of tackle can be used to catch one for the Slam. Crankbaits and soft plastics are timeless classics for Smallmouth bass. One of main forage species is the crayfish, so patterns mimicking this species are a surefire way to fish. Baitfish such as shad and other aquatics insects like hellgrammites can be excellent choices on the right days. Smallmouth are aggressive, so a quick retrieve can liven up an otherwise slow day. Any lure or bait bounced off river rocks will grab the attention of a Smallmouth and hopefully earn a reaction strike.
If you would like to try completing the Slam using a fly rod, the Smallmouth bass is an exciting place to start. You will need a 5 weight to 8 weight fly rod, floating fly line, and a 3X to 1X leader. Successful fly patterns include subsurface streamers like the famous clouser minnow or wooly bugger. Sliding poppers are popular such as the sneaky pete or diver varieties. In terms of general colors, two sayings can be heard around groups of Smallmouth anglers: “if it isn’t chartreuse, its no use” and “if it isn’t black, put it back.” In most cases, a size 2 to size 4 fly will successfully catch Smallmouth.
Ranger Will’s Field Recommendations
“The popularity of Smallmouth speaks volumes to its value as a sport fish. In freshwater fly fishing, the Smallmouth is second only to the trout. It is a unique experience to have the ferocity of a Bronzeback on the other end of the line. One certainly worth the effort. To add this bass to your Slam list, I recommend fishing along the Broad River at public access points such as the numerous riverwalks in Columbia or further North like Neal Shoals Dam. If you have a boat, Lake Jocassee and Devils Fork State Park is your best bet for reservoir Smallmouth. Check out the links below for more public access points using SCDNR’s SC Public Fishing Access map.”
SCDNR SC Public Fishing Access Map
Devils Fork State Park
For more information on the Smallmouth Bass and other South Carolina fishes, please see our Guide to Freshwater Fishes located in PDF format. A hardcopy version is available by request by emailing email@example.com.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.