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There’s a reason former Field & Stream Fishing Editor, A.J. McClane called the river smallmouth “the greatest freshwater gamefish of all.” If you’ve come under this fish’s spell in its river environment, you know why. You may not be able to explain it. But you feel it. And you’ll need the best smallmouth bass lures to chase it.

Whether you fish the Snake, Potomac, John Day, New, Niagara, Susquehanna, Shenandoah, or lesser known streams that only locals visit, these seven lures will catch smallmouths from summer through fall. They’ll cover any situation from fish sulking on the bottom to aggressive topwater feeders chasing minnows and damselflies.

The Best Smallmouth Bass Lures: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall: Heddon Torpedo Topwater Plug

Key Features

  • Lengths: 1 ½”, 1 7/8”, 2 ½”
  • Weight: 1/8, ¼, 3/8 ounce
  • Hooks: Treble


  • Prop creates a ton of disturbance and noise
  • Can be fished using multiple retrieves
  • Triggers explosive strikes


  • Stock treble hooks could be improved

Largemouths are famous for their surface feeding, and river smallies will smash a prop lure with just as much crushing power. Models with either one or two propellers that spray water when you twitch the bait are perfect. The Heddon Tiny Torpedo is a terrific choice. We like the Torpedo over other topwaters simply because that prop creates a little extra surface churn and noise that smallmouths find hard to resist.

However, wobblers like the Jitterbug and small poppers like the Rebel Pop-R can also produce frenzied surface action given the right conditions.

Bronzebacks might chase down a damselfly one minute, grab a cricket, or nail a skittering shiner the next. They’re not very selective in their feeding. When they inhale these plugs they are simply viewing them as something that looks alive and tasty. Look for models that are two to three inches long in frog, silver, fire tiger, yellow, chartreuse, or black.

How to Fish Topwater Plugs for Smallmouth Bass

Poppers and prop lures can be fished the same way and they’re two of the best smallmouth bass lures. Deliver the bait to a likely spot and let the ripples settle. Twitch it once, pause, and repeat. After two or three twitches, bring the lure back at a faster pace, experimenting with smooth and erratic retrieves.

Wobblers, on the other hand, should be reeled in slowly and steadily so they gurgle and sputter across the surface. These are fabulous lures to use at night for probing deep, slow pools.

Best for River: Original Floating Rapala

Key Features

  • Lengths: 1 ½” – 7”
  • Weight: 1/16 – 11/-16 ounce
  • Hooks: Treble


  • Can be fished as topwater and subsurface
  • Tight action
  • Variety of sizes and colors


  • Expensive

The original floating Rapala is a great choice for smallmouth simply for the versatility. Fish it on the surface or work it down to mid-depths. Twitch or slow-crawl it on the surface as a topwater lure. Reel steadily to probe mid-levels, or work it erratically to fool fish through both levels of the water column.

The Original Floating Rapala is the classic thin-minnow plug. Two to 4½-inch models are best. But when large fish are present, a 5-inch version can score big. Gold, blue, chartreuse, and orange are also top colors. The only real downside to this lure is that the price has gotten more expensive in recent years.

How to Fish a Thin-Minnow Lure for Smallmouth Bass

Manipulate these lures as subtle topwater offerings first. Cast to prime smallmouth hangouts such as eddies, logs near shore, lone rocks, or limestone ledges. Twitch lightly, pause, and then reel back super-slowly so the lure creates a v-wake on the surface.

If there are no takers, try reeling the lure steadily so it dives 12 to 18 inches. It may sound boring, but some of the biggest river smallmouths fall for this simple, basic presentation because of the incredibly lifelike wiggle of this lure.

As a variation, reel steadily part way back, then pause and let the lure float up to the surface. Then start cranking again. That pause sometimes incites following fish to strike. These lures are terrific on big waters like the James and Susquehanna.

Best Jerkbait: Berkley Powerbait Minnow

Best Jerkbait

Key Features

  • Lengths: 2” – 4”
  • Weight: N/A
  • Hooks: None


  • Great action
  • Scented
  • Easy to rig


  • Limited color options

Berkley puts a lot of time and scientific research into their PowerBait formulas. We know, we’ve visited their factory and have seen their labs in person. Combine that proven fish-catching scent formula with a great action, and you’ve got a soft jerkbait that will help trigger a ton of strikes. Use these when the smallmouths are chasing baitfish for the best success.

The Lunker City Slug-Go was one of the first offerings of this type of bait. They’re basically a soft version of a thin-minnow plug. The Zoom Tiny Fluke is another good option. Compared to hard baits, they offer two advantages: soft, lifelike feel in the fish’s mouth, and more erratic action. Two- to 4-inch models can be effective, with pearl, shad, chartreuse, and smoke being the best colors.

These lures shine for surface and mid-level active bass. Dance and skitter them erratically on top first. If that doesn’t work, or only attracts small fish, let the lure sink from a few inches to a few feet, then begin a jerking retrieve.

Hesitate when the lure works up to a rock or log. A fish will likely hammer it as it slowly settles.

Best Spinnerbait: Johnson Rattlin’ Beetle Spinner

Best Spinnerbait

Key Features

  • Blade: Nickel
  • Weight: 1/4
  • Hooks: Single


  • Extra noise
  • Great flash and vibration  
  • Versatile to fish


  • More expensive than the original Beetle Spin

The classic Beetle Spin is a hard lure to beat for smallmouths. It provides a great combination of vibration, flash, and wobble that elicits strikes when other lures fail. The rattling version provides a little extra noise for stubborn fish who have seen it all before. It’s a little more expensive than a standard Beetle Spin, but it will get the job done.

When I first started smallmouth fishing, my “spinner” choice would have been a plain in-line model such as a Mepps or Panther Martin. You still can’t go wrong with those. A small spinnerbait, though, now gets the nod with its plastic grub on one arm and spinner on the other. The reasons: fewer hang-ups, more strikes, and it’s easier to unhook fish.

Black, brown, chartreuse, purple, smoke, and white are good colors in sizes from 1/32 to 1/8 ounce. The Beetle Spin is a classic, and scaled-down versions of those made primarily for largemouths will also score.

You can fish these lures from just below the surface down to the bottom. I use them mostly when fish are hanging out at mid-depth levels—active, but not frantically feeding. Try a slow, crawling retrieve first. Stopping occasionally also draws sharp takes as the lure tumbles down like a wounded minnow running out of gas. Use this sudden pause near rocks, logs, limestone ledges, and drop-offs. Be ready for a thumping strike as the lure flutters towards the bottom.

Best Crankbait: Bass Pro XTS Micro-Light Mini Crankbait

Best Crankbait

Key Features

  • Length: 1 ¼”
  • Weight: 1/11 ounce
  • Hooks: Treble


  • Affordable
  • Variety of colors
  • Eyes add a touch of realism


  • Only one size

The Bass Pro Micro Light Mini-Crankbait is a great option for cranking up smallies. This crankbait has an excellent wobble and flash that do a great job imitating a wounded baitfish at a price that’s highly affordable. In murky or muddy water, even lures up to 3 inches long may fool some hawgs. For color go with fire-tiger, silver with a black or blue back, natural crayfish, and shad.

Small versions of largemouth crankbaits and also crayfish-shaped models are terrific mid-level smallmouth lures. Stick with crankbaits measuring 1¼ to 2 inches for most situations. I like using crankbaits for float-fishing, when you’re drifting through water swiftly and need a lure that you can reel back at a moderate to fast retrieve. Stock some cranks that run at 3 to 5 feet deep and others that dig deeper and ricochet off rocks and logs to incite instinct strikes.

Best Plastic Worm: Yum Dinger

Key Features

  • Length: 3” – 6”
  • Weight: N/A
  • Colors: 42


  • Affordable
  • Great scent
  • Multiple ways to rig


  • Durability issues

We like the Yum Dingers because of the affordable price point combined with the soft body makes for an incredible amount of action smallmouths find hard to resist. These baits do have some durability issues for multiple fish, but these worms can be bought in affordable bulk packs that make them more cost effective.

For probing the deepest water levels, it’s hard to beat the classic plastic worm. Go with either Texas-rigging if hang-ups are a problem or Carolina-rigged versions, with either single or multiple hooks. Worms that are three to five inches long work best. Purple, black, brown, watermelon, motor oil, blue, and red are all good colors.

How to Fish a Plastic Worm for Smallmouth Bass

Use as little weight as you can with Carolina-rigged worms. At times simply a split shot or two will do. In deeper water or swifter current, a ⅛- to ¼-ounce egg sinker 18 to 36 inches ahead of a swivel or split shot is the rig of choice. Experiment with deliveries, ranging from a slow, steady crawl, to a short lift-and-drop, a crisp upward sweep, or a slow descent presentation.

Best Grub: Mister Twister Meeny Tail

Key Features

  • Length: 3”
  • Weight: N/A
  • Colors: 6


  • Cheap
  • Versatile as a jig, trailer, and more
  • Durable


  • We wish there were more color options

This is one of the simplest, cheapest lures ever invented—but also one of the best smallmouth lures. Grubs are great for bottom-bouncing and a good choice when worms don’t score.

Their compact size imitates many natural foods and they work particularly well if fish are in a sulking mood. They’re go-to lures when conditions are challenging such as after a cold front or when waters are super-clear from a lack of rain.

Stubby-tailed plastic dressings produce good results at times. Usually, though, grubs with fluttering twister-type tails are best. Stock them in lengths from 1 to 3 inches. Top colors are pumpkinseed, smoke, purple, black, motor oil, and chartreuse. Use jig heads from 1/32 to 3/8 ounce, depending on water depth and current.

How to Fish Grubs for Smallmouth Bass

Retrieve grubs with a slow smooth crawling motion across the bottom or with short hops. Most strikes will come as the lure falls back after the hop. At times simply swimming these lures back at a moderate pace will elicit slamming strikes when fish are feeding aggressively.

If bronzebacks are in a fussy mood, try this Carolina rig: Thread the last ⅛ inch of the grub head on a size 4 to 8 octopus or bait-style hook tied 18 to 24 inches below a large split shot or ⅛ to ¼ ounce egg sinker and swivel.

The grub flutters naturally when rigged this way and draws strikes from fish attracted by the sinker banging along on bottom rocks. When all else fails, this grub presentation will usually save the day, especially on clear or heavily-pounded waters.

Things to Consider With the Best Smallmouth Bass Lures

Just about any lure that is used for largemouths can also be utilized for the more aggressive smallmouths. However, there is no denying that the lures on this list, and others like them, do seem to produce a little better than others. It’s hard to go wrong matching natural forage, small minnows and crayfish, which smallies love.

We did want to talk a little bit more on river fishing specifically. Because some days you can cast just about anywhere and catch a bronzeback. But other days can be much more challenging. However, you’ll score on more fish and bigger ones by trying these types of cover and structure:

  • Undercut banks.
  • Points and ledges.
  • Natural structure like stumps, boulders, rock piles, and fallen trees.
  • Man-made structure like docks, riprap, and bridge pilings.
  • Weed bed edges.
  • Deep holes and pools below dams.
  • Eddies, riffles, and runs.

Also, keep an eye peeled for fish slashing at damselflies or minnows skipping across the surface. Get a cast to that surface swirl quickly and a strike is almost guaranteed.

Final Thoughts on Smallmouth Bass Lures

We know it might be controversial to put a topwater as our best overall, but in terms of sheer action and excitement, it’s hard to beat a bronzeback busting the surface on a Heddon Torpedo. Or any topwater for that matter. It’s always fun battling a smallmouth, but having an explosive strike just adds to the experience and makes it that much more memorable.

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For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.