Tackle & Gear

Best Lures for Smallmouth Bass in Clear Water: A Guide for Anglers

Fishing for bass in clear water can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it allows you to see the fish and their behavior more clearly, along with the cover/structure that they’re holding. One the other hand, in clear water, bass are a lot more spooky, and they have a much better idea of what they’re eating.

With smallmouth bass often locating themselves in offshore, clearer water, we need to adjust our lure selection and present our bait in a non-impeding and extremely natural manner. This article will cover four different lures that are proven catchers of smallmouth bass in clear water, and will no doubt entice those often tricky smallies to investigate what you’re presenting them.

Best Lures for Smallmouth Bass in Clear Water: A Guide for Anglers

How do Smallmouth Bass Differ from Largemouth Bass?

Understanding the differences between smallmouth and largemouth bass will go a long way in knowing how to target both species and what baits are your highest percentage plays. Let’s consider the core differences between these two fish.

One of the most noticeable differences is their appearance. Smallmouth bass have a thin and elongated body, while largemouth bass are stockier and have a wider body shape. Additionally, smallmouth bass are often referred to as "brown bass" due to their darker color, while largemouth bass have lighter sides resembling an olive green color, hence their nickname "green bass" or "black bass."

Another difference between the two species is their mouth size. Largemouth bass have bigger mouths, often known as ‘bucket mouths’ that extend past their eyes, while smallmouth bass have smaller mouths that are in line with their eyes and look more proportionate to their body size.

Smallmouth and largemouth bass also have different habitat preferences. Smallmouth bass are typically found in deeper, and more oxygenated (colder) water, while largemouth bass prefer warmer, shallower water, typically around vegetation and shore-based cover zones.

In terms of feeding activity, both species will feed on the same forage. However, because of the areas they hold, we as anglers need to adjust our lure selection and techniques to account for the conditions that these habitats hold. While largemouth often stick to warmer, murkier water, smallmouth are often holding deeper, cooler, and clearer water.

Understanding Why Smallmouth Bass are Often Associated with Clear Water

Targeting smallmouth bass offshore is a tough, but rewarding process, and understanding the type of zones these fish hold will greatly contribute to your efficiency on the water.

Smallmouth bass typically prefer more oxygenated water, resulting in them holding deeper, cooler water. The types of cover associated these water columns typically involve less vegetation, and rather rocky cover, or sand.

They also generally rely more on their vision when it comes to hunting prey and locating forage. This is another reason why clear water suits smallies better.

The type of cover smallmouth bass hold presents the opportunity to throw a different range of baits and techniques. Rather than turning to the traditional baits that we would throw for largemouth bass around shallow vegetation, we can consider throwing more finesse-style baits, as well as baits that aren’t necessarily ideal for fishing around vegetation. A few baits come to mind as I mention this, such as the ned rig, a Neko rig, or perhaps a swimbait.

Smallmouth Bass in Clear Water
Rocky cover offshore are high percentage zones for locating Smallmouth Bass

Best Lures for Catching Smallmouth Bass in Clear Water

When it comes to catching smallmouth bass in clear water, choosing the right lure is crucial. Based on research from professionals as well as personal experience, here are four of the best lures you can throw for smallmouth bass in clear water.

Some of the best lures and techniques for Smallmouth Bass in clear water are drop shot rigs, ned rigs, neko rigs, and jerkbaits. Always remember that a lifelike presentation is always your best bet when fishing clearer water.

Drop Shot Rig

The drop shot rig for smallmouth bass in clear water
The drop shot rig summed up

The drop shot rig has won more money than any other rig or technique on the professional circuit, and that’s a fact. It’s a technique that absolutely thrives in pressured fisheries, purely because of its subtle and lifelike action.

By having a weight act as an anchor for the soft plastic, this creates the opportunity for anglers to move their bait in a manner that has changed the sport of bass fishing, and smallmouth bass struggle to ignore it. Find your deep cover zones and let your drop shot do the work. A few subtle rod twitches while keeping your weight on the bottom is often the most effective way to fish the drop shot.

There are wide array of soft plastics that absolutely thrive on the drop shot rig, with buoyancy and movement being prioritized.

Ned Rig

Ned rig for clear water smallmouth bass
The basics of the ned rig

Designed and tested by Ned Kehde, the ned rig continues to dominate when it comes to catching smallmouth bass in clear water scenarios. With a unique and ‘stubby’ profile, this presentation brings about a vulnerable, simple meal for a smallmouth bass, and for this reason has climbed the ranks as one of the most bite-getting techniques in bass fishing today.

With an exposed hook point, the ned rig typically isn’t the most pleasant technique to fish around vegetation and shallow cover. It really shines in more open water and this is where we love locating smallmouth bass.

The production line of ned rig soft plastics is growing dramatically, and we're beginning to see some pretty interesting baits. There are however several proven soft plastic weapons for the ned rig.

Neko Rig

Neko rig for clear water smallmouth bass
Getting started with the Neko rig

The beauty of the Neko rig is that is possesses the irresistible action of a wacky rig, but with the added benefit of the nail weight. The nail weight plays a crucial role in our bait getting to deeper water columns, where we often find smallmouth. Like the drop shot rig and ned rig, the Neko rig is a finesse weapon that all bass species just can't ignore. Mastering this technique, along with the wacky rig will ensure that you can nail bass in almost any system you fish.

The Neko rig is a proven smallie killer and it's the first finesse technique I'll throw when targeting smallmouth offshore. In terms of what soft plastics to use, look to use stick baits, as they get the best out of this rig, just like on the wacky rig.


Jerkbait for Smallmouth bass

I had to include one non-finesse technique, and it has to be a jerkabit. Jerkbaits are known to draw bass from far and wide to an aggressive reaction bite. With their erratic action that imitates the profile of a dying baitfish, smallmouth bass will recognize them as an easy meal.

Clear water will enable a greater field of view for the jerkbait, and smallmouth will travel far to come and nail it. Color selection is crucial for a jerkbait, especially in clear water. Matching the color of your resident baitfish is always your best bet, whether that’s shad, sunfish, or minnows.

Tips for Catching Smallmouth Bass in Clear Water

As an experienced angler, I have found that catching smallmouth bass in clearwater requires a different approach than in murky water. Here are some tips that have helped me successfully catch smallmouth bass in clearwater:

  • Use light Fluorocarbon: The lighter your line, the better action you’re going to get out of your bait. Thinner line will also be less visible in particularly clear water. 6-8lb fluorocarbon is a fantastic option for finesse techniques such as a drop shot rig or ned rig, while you may want to consider 10-12lb fluorocarbon for jerkbaits.
  • Zone in on high percentage Smallmouth areas: Smallmouth bass in clear water tend to congregate near rocky bottoms, sunken timber, and small vegetation. Look for these areas and work them properly. Sonar is a fantastic tool for targeting smallmouth offshore.
  • Pay Attention to Water Temperature: Water temperature plays a crucial role in smallmouth bass and their feeding behavior. When the water is below 60 degrees, look to slow down your presentation. Drop shot rigs and ned rigs will also be the most effective in non-favorable water temperatures.
  • Be Patient: Clear water smallmouth bass can be elusive, so it's important to be patient. Keep casting and experiment with different weights, soft plastic sizes, and methods of retrieval. Like mentioned above - always monitor water temperatures and adjust your fishing style according to this.


In my experience, fishing for smallmouth bass in clear water can be a challenging but rewarding experience. Using the right lures and baits can make all the difference in whether or not you have a successful day on the water. Targeting smallmouth offshore is very different to the more common method of targeting largemouth around shore-based cover, so always keep learning and understanding which technique suits you best. The four mentioned above are great starting points.

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