A male smallmouth bass typically doesn’t eat for the month-long period in late spring when it builds nests, spawns and protects the eggs and fry. When a perch or crayfish attempts to steal its offspring, the bass will strike it with a glancing body blow, pick it up in its mouth, carry it away and drop it. Even though the bass may be famished, it won’t waste time eating—except if a wayward smelt, cisco or shiner swims by. In that case, you’ll see an explosion of silvery scales as the baitfish disappears down its throat. It seems smallmouth bass find the soft, oily forage fish so outrageously delicious that they simply can’t let one swim by.
With that in mind, why cast crayfish lookalikes when you’re bass fishing once the season opens? Quite simply, crayfish are typically the most common food item biologists find in the stomachs of bass when they examine what they’re eating. It’s not that bass prefer these hard-shelled lobsters that nip and cut their lips, however. It’s just that they’re the most abundant and easiest food item for them to catch. For smallmouth bass, crayfish are akin to our hamburgers, while ciscoes, smelt and shiners are the Waygu beef.