Smallmouth bass, Micropterus dolomieu Lacepède, movement dynamics were investigated in a connected mainstem river‐tributary system. Smallmouth bass moved large distances annually (n = 84 fish, average = 24.6 ± 25.9 km, range = 0.03 to 118 km) and had three peak movement periods (pre‐spawn, post‐spawn and overwintering). Movement into and out of tributaries was common, but the movement between ... [Show full abstract] mainstem river and tributary habitats varied among tagging locations and season. In general, a large proportion of fish that were tagged in tributaries moved out of the tributaries after spawning (22/30 fish). Because of the importance of fish movement patterns on population dynamics, the observed individual variability in movement, quantified using a hierarchical model, and the potential for long‐distance movements are important considerations for smallmouth bass conservation and management. In addition, mainstem river‐tributary connectivity appears to play an important role for smallmouth bass during key life history events.