A Few Tips for Mississippi River Smallmouth Bass

By Andy Whitcomb

Apr 30, 2024

Anglers may not think of fishing for smallmouth bass on the lower Mississippi River. However, the upper Mississippi river has a great smallmouth fishery. Here are a few tips to catch these hard fighting fish.

According to the National Park Service, there are about 260 species of fish in the giant Mississippi River. With my experience in the middle or lower reaches, when I think of spring fishing in the murky, wide, Mississippi river, catfish, white bass, and freshwater drum come to mind, rather than smallmouth bass. However, spring fishing for smallmouth bass on the Mississippi, that is, the cooler, upper Mississippi river such as near La Crosse, Wisconsin is a big deal, even drawing large bass fishing tournaments.

Unlike its largemouth bass cousin, smallmouth bass prefer not only cooler water, but areas with rocks and current. In fact, upper Mississippi River smallmouth bass structure often includes wing dams for fishing moving water and rocks. These common structures likely not only serve as ambush points, but the calm eddies also let the fish conserve energy between feeding times.

Spring bass fishing tips usually include lures with moderate action, and this especially applies to smallmouth bass lures. Spinnerbait fishing is usually a great place to start for spring fishing. Using heavier versions in current, a spinnerbait usually has only one hook so it can be worked slowly without much risk of snagging. Thanks to a flashing blade or two, even a leisurely retrieve provides vibration and flash that may appear like a couple of bait fish.

Despite multiple treble hooks, jerkbait and crankbait fishing have a surprisingly low rate of snagging around rocks and submerged wood too. Depending on how these smallmouth bass lures are weighted, a stop and go action may do the trick when upper Mississippi river bass fishing because the lure can remain at a certain depth even when not in motion.

Summer is traditionally when soft plastics for bass really come into play as actively feeding bass will even hit a rubber worm or crayfish resting on the bottom. However, soft plastics are diverse and versatile and become some of the best lures for spring bass when they are paired with other lures such as jigs, bladed jigs, and even spinnerbaits as a trailer. A dropshot rig with a small soft plastic grub, minnow, or worm imitation simply added to a hook or rigged weightless to drift in the current are also highly effective techniques for Mississippi River smallmouth bass, or smallmouth bass anywhere for that matter.

When dealing with a river, water level, clarity, and floating debris can change rapidly so anglers are continually adapting to fishing conditions. While a finesse soft plastic drift might have been working in clear water, one may need to switch to something with more vibration or flash like a spinnerbait when murky water arrives from upstream. Further, bass fishing sunrise and sunset bite windows often become more pronounced as the water continues to warm in spring.

Andy Whitcomb
Andy Whitcomb
Andy is an outdoor writer (http://www.justkeepreeling.com/) and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to takemefishing.org since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.