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Smallmouth Bass Original Range and Distribution by Byron Begley


Smallmouth Bass painting by Mary K Jenkins, "The Fish Lady"
Smallmouth Bass painting Copyright 2015, by Mary K Jenkins,
"The Fish Lady", Townsend, Tennessee


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Paula with smallmouuth bass she caught on a Knucklehead.

Paula holding a nice smallmouth bass she caught on a lake, using a top water fly. You can tell she loves smallie fishing as much as I do.





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Map of Smallmouth Bass native range in the United States.
Map created by Tom Barnes

If you live in the United States, you probably have smallmouth bass living in your state.  Smallmouth do not do well in warm water so you won’t find much suitable habitat in the deep South.  The original native range is more suitable for smallies.  There, you will find these fish in most rivers and lakes unless those waters were degraded by silt, warm water or pollutants.

The native range of the smallmouth is depicted on the map above which was created by Tom Barnes for us.  The range is often described as, the upper Mississippi River, Ohio River and tributaries to the Lower Missouri River basins.  The Great Lakes, or most of them are within the smallmouth bass native range.

After completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, the smallmouth bass moved out of its original range and into New York.  There, some anglers considered them a nuisance fish that competed with trout for food.  Smallies were often thrown onto the bank to die if they were caught in trout streams.

During the 1800’s smallmouth bass were transported to many states to the West and East by train.  The juvenile smallmouth were hardy and many endured the long trip to States far away. 

Stocking in the Eastern States proved to be very successful.  Some excellent fishing can be found in states that were not part of the native range, states such as Maine, New York, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina among others.

Many northwestern states have good populations of this sportfish. 

Man made impoundments have created smallmouth habitat where none was before. 

On the other hand, impoundments and the tailwaters directly below the dams actually degraded the habitat due to water that was too cold below the dams.  Some rivers were slowed to a crawl by dams used to create pools for barge traffic.  Silt and warm water also degraded the habitat.

However, cold tailwaters eventually warm downstream and create excellent habitat for smallies.  

Today, smallmouth bass live in all but two states in the Continental United States.  Those States are Florida and Louisiana.  Population density is still greater in the central eastern states which is the original native range.  Density is also high in the states East of the Appalachians where these fish were stocked.

These bass have also been introduced in other countries around the world.

Smallmouth bass have been stocked in former trout streams that became degraded to a point that brook trout could no longer exist.  Silt and pollutants are more tolerable to smallmouth bass to a point.  Rivers that were dammed and warmed are also more tolerable to smallies than to native brook trout.

Clear to lightly stained water, cool water temperatures and high levels of dissolved oxygen, lack of competing fish populations with rocky or gravel substrate are where you will find smallmouth bass.

Byron Begley



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