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Smallmouth Bass in Clear Water (Best Baits and Colors)

Smallmouth Bass in Clear Water (Best Baits and Colors)

Catching smallmouth bass in clear water can be quite the task, and many anglers shy away from fishing in such conditions. 

But with the right tactics, baits, and colors, you can actually have a lot of success!

When fishing for clear water smallmouths, always keep things natural! Use baits that look and move like the bass’ local forage, and stick to deeper, darker water and shallower areas with heavy cover.

Keep reading this article and get the best and most helpful fishing tips for clear water smallies! 

PRO TIP: Need to gear up for your next bass fishing adventure? Then check out this awesome rod and reel combo on Amazon.

It’s decently priced, very durable, and will catch you plenty of trophy smallmouths!

What Are the Best Baits for Smallmouth Bass in Clear Water?

a bass angler on a clear water lake holding a big smallmouth bass
Courtesy of Dan Spengler

Let’s not kid ourselves; fishing for clear water smallies can be quite challenging!

The fish can see and observe everything, and if you’re using the wrong baits and colors, they’ll often ignore what you have to offer entirely.

That’s why it’s crucial to match the hatch when fishing for smallies in clear water conditions! This cannot be stressed enough!

Your baits should resemble the bass’ natural forage in three major ways:

  1. Color
  2. Size
  3. Movement

If your artificial baits look and move like the real deal, then you’ll have a much better chance of catching smallmouths. That’s a fact!

And in order for you to make the right bait choices, you’ll have to figure out what the fish are eating in the lake or river you’re fishing on.

Typically, smallmouth bass eat the following:

  • Crayfish
  • Small baitfish (like minnows, shads, darts, or gobies)
  • Insects
  • Leeches

These types of prey give you plenty to work with regarding baits! Let’s take a closer look at some of the absolute best bait picks for clear water smallmouths:

Tube Jigs

Tubes must be the ultimate clear water bass killer! It’s the perfect bait for fish that hold up in deeper water.

You can fish tube rigs on a variety of rigs, including the drop shot, Texas rig, and Carolina rig.

You can also fish them weedless or with a conventional jig head, making this bass bait extremely versatile!

They resemble both small baitfish and crayfish, and the bass often go nuts for them!

There are many tube jig brands out there, but I prefer Strike King’s Coffee Tube for all my fishing. 

It’s made of the highest quality material, has a natural shape, and a hollow head. Perfect for clear water smallies!

You can take a look at Strike King’s amazing Coffee Tube on Amazon here

Craw Baits

Smallies love to eat crayfish, and no lure looks more like a good old crawdad than, well, a craw bait!

This is probably the number one bait to use for smallmouths in deep, clear water.

Just like the tubes, you can fish craw softbaits on all kinds of rigs, including the drop shot, Carolina, and Texas rig, on a jig head, or, my personal favorite, on the Ned rig.

Craw baits on the Ned are an absolute killer bait for clear water bass, as they’ll stand up and wave their claws, mimicking a crayfish defending itself.

They look and move extremely naturally, making them irresistible for the fish!

Whether you pitch or flip your craw bait or pause and lightly twitch it, those bass hits you’ll get will be unforgettable!

You can find my favorite craw bait on Amazon here


Cranks are a good option when the fish are more active or found higher up in the water column or near cover. 

As they hide in the cover, they’re usually less afraid and will hunt and feed more confidently. 

And so, fishing a fast-retrieve bait can be of great advantage!

Crankbaits typically mimic fleeing baitfish (like shads and minnows) or crayfish, and the more modern variations look and move amazingly realistically. 

All of the above are on the smallmouth’s menu, and if you fish them close to the cover, in which the fish hide in the clear water, it’s game on!

Once again, I can highly recommend Strike King! Their Square Bill series is the perfect crankbait for smallies in shallower water.

The Square Bill 2.5 has a diving depth of 3 to 5 feet, great action, and an ultra-realistic design. This crankbait works exceptionally well for pre-spawn smallmouths!

You can take a closer look at the Strike King Square Bill on Amazon here

Best Colors for Smallmouth Bass in Clear Water

a happy angler on his boat with a really big clear water smallmouth bass
Courtesy of Dan Spengler

So what bait colors should you use when fishing for clear water smallmouths?

Once again, it’s vital to remember to match the hatch when fishing in such conditions. The more natural your bait looks, the better your chances of hooking up will become!

I wanted to dig deeper and published a poll in a very big smallmouth fishing Facebook group, asking for the best colors for smallies in clear water:


It’s always good to see that other anglers have had the same experiences as you have! This way, you can be sure about what works and what doesn’t and can hence fish more confidently.

The colors in the poll go hand in hand with what was mentioned above!

They all match the smallmouth’s prey and work excellently in clear water conditions.

Green, white, and silver match the colors of various baitfish such as minnows, shads, shiners, juvenile bluegill, walleye, bass, etc.

PRO TIP: The color green pumpin is especially popular among smallmouth bass anglers!

Brown is the color of most crayfish, which is one of the favorite foods of smallies!

And leeches and various bugs are mostly black.

And there you have it! Mimic nature, and you shall succeed. There is really not much else to it! This mantra is true almost always when it comes to fishing, by the way.

Match these colors with the before-mentioned types of lures and baits, and you’ll catch lots of clear water smallmouths!

Where Do You Find Smallmouth Bass in Clear Water?

a US bass angler fishing for clear water smallmouths in deep water
Courtesy of Dan Spengler

Fishing for any species in very clear water can be pretty tricky and intimidating, and smallmouth bass are no exception here.

You now know what baits to use, but where do you actually find the fish in clear water conditions?

I’ve got two hot tips for you: deep water and cover!

Clear water smallmouth bass need both cover from other predators and ambush points to be able to hunt efficiently. 

They also tend to stay away from direct sunlight and high water temperatures.

That’s why you either got to fish deep or near cover in high visibility conditions.

Deeper water is darker and cooler, allowing the bass to chill and hide from both predators and prey. 

In shallower water, heavy cover also provides some shade and, of course, excellent ambush points to dart out from.

What Line Should You Use for Clear Water Smallmouth Bass?

Most anglers will choose either a mono or fluorocarbon mainline of 8 to 12lb when fishing for smallmouth bas sin clear water.

Both choices are excellent, as they aren’t very visible underwater.

Of course, fluorocarbon, which basically is entirely invisible at such a pound test, wins the race here. But it’s not for everyone, as this type of line can be a little stiffer.

Beginners especially can have a hard time using fluorocarbon as their mainline, which is why it’s better to stick to monofilament, which is softer and has more stretch to it.

Instead, connect a fluorocarbon leader to your mono mainline if you want absolute invisibility near your bait!

Honestly, mono lines around a 10-pound test won’t be spotted by the bass, so I wouldn’t worry about that one bit!

Use a 10-pound test (both mono and fluorocarbon) in deeper water without any snags and cover.

When fishing near heavy cover in shallower water, you can up your pound test to 12 or even 14!

I avoid braided mainlines, as they are more visible in clear water. But that’s something you have to decide for yourself, of course.

Essential Gear Tips

If you’re looking for solid and reliable bass fishing gear, these tips might be useful for you.

This gear and tackle is of top quality and sells at a very decent price on Amazon:

Ugly Stik GX2 Spinning Rod

A solid and popular all-round spinning rod! This rod is lightweight, has great sensitivity, and phenomenal action. Fits both beginners and seasoned bass pros. A 6’6” or 7′ Medium rod is your best pick for smallies.

Pflueger President Spinning Reel

An affordable high-performance spinning reel that’s perfect for smallmouth bass. Pflueger spells high quality and awesome durability! Makes for a great bass combo together with Ugly Stick. A Size 30 or 35 is a solid pick for smallmouths!

Power Pro Braid

One of the best braids available today. Zero stretch, great feel, and immense strength make this line the perfect pick for bass in both open and snaggy waters. Put on a 15 to 20lb test, and you’re good to go!

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Featured image courtesy of Dan Spengler