Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Smallmouth Bass - Micropterus dolomieu

(This page was last updated - 06/21/2007)

Scientific name: Micropterus dolomieu (Micropterus = "torn fin ", dolomieu = name of a French naturalist)

Common names: smallmouth bass, bronzeback, smallie

smallmouth bass
A typical smallmouth bass from the French Broad River - photo by Jim Negus

Species Overview

Smallmouth bass is one of the most well known and sought after of the four species of black bass found in Tennessee. They prefer cool, clear water and are common in central and east Tennessee rivers, streams, and reservoirs. They are not native to, nor are they found, in the Mississippi River drainages of west Tennessee.

The Tennessee state angling record, which is also the world record, was taken from Dale Hollow Reservoir in 1955 and weighed almost 12 pounds.


Smallmouth have small jaws that do not extend past the eye and a high bridge between the spiny and soft dorsal fins, two characters also common to spotted and redeye bass. They have vertical bands of pigmentation on the sides, not the dark mid-lateral band of pigmentation seen with largemouth and spotted bass. Smallmouth do not have the characteristic white margin on their soft dorsal, tail, and anal fins typical of redeye bass. See the bass identification page for reference.


smallmouth bass
A Tellico Reservoir smallie - photo by Jim Negus


Young smallmouth feed on aquatic insect larvae, but quickly switch over to larval fish. Adults feed heavily on fish, insects, and crayfish. Tennessee is nearly the southern extreme of the smallmouth's range and they grow quickly in our relatively warm habitats.

They may live up to 18 years, but rarely reach 10-13 years of age in Tennessee.

Life Cycle

Spawning occurs in April and May. Males usually build nests in gravel substrate in less than three feet of water. More than one female may spawn in the nest of a single male. The males guard the eggs and fry until they disperse.



smallmouth bass
A Norris Reservoir smallmouth bass - photo by Jim Negus


Along with the help of fishing regulations, smallmouth are usually able to maintain healthy populations through natural reproduction. There has been a limited amount of supplemental stocking performed in the state. See this PDF for details.


world record smallmouth bass
Tennessee's world record smallmouth - unknown source


Etnier, D. and W. Starnes. 1993. The Fishes of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee Press.