Big smallmouth bass lurk in Ozark streams. Powerful fighters, they leave an indelible mark on the hearts of fishermen.
By: Bill Cooper
Smallmouth fishermen are a dedicated lot.
Proposing to name the best smallmouth streams in the Ozarks is a surefire way to start a heated conversation.
Regardless, you can’t go wrong fishing these streams.
Gasconade River – The Gasconade River is the longest river in Missouri. It meanders for over 300 miles within a linear distance of about 100 miles.
It twists, turns and doubles back on itself. And, it creates tons of smallmouth habitat, according to guide Tommy Bench.
“I love the Gasconade,” Bench said. “I grew up on it, and have fished it my entire life. It’s the top producer of big smallmouth among rivers in the state.”
Bench covers his words with steady proof as he makes regular posts on Facebook of client’s catches. He fishes far up on the Gasconade where jet-boats can’t go. His 16-foot johnboat carries people into the wilder parts of the Gasconade. “Most days we don’t see another person,” he said.
A glance into Bench’s tackle box is a smallmouth fisherman’s dream come true. “I don’t hide what I use,” he said. “Fishermen still have to know how to fish any bait.”
The fairly new Tackle HD Craw is one of Bench’s top baits.
“It is the most life like and durable crawfish bait I’ve ever used,” he said. “ I fish these baits on the head provided. I let it settle and barely raise my rod tip to get the bait to move just a little. The fish does the rest.”
Big Piney – The Big Piney River is a tributary of the Gasconade.
It is much smaller, but sports some of the highest bluffs in the state, and corresponding deep holes that are home to trophy size smallmouth bass.
Nick Girondo, a Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries resource scientist, says that the Big Piney is among the best of smallmouth fisheries.
“The Special Smallmouth Management Area, from the Slabtown Access down to Ross Bridge, provides excellent fishing,” he said.
A portion of the Big Piney flows through Ft. Leonard Wood and offers great fishing. Special permission is required to float this section.
Be sure to get it, because the area lies within an artillery range impact area.
Summer float fishing trips are special here. Big smallies attack pearl colored Flukes with total abandon.
Other soft plastics, such as HD Craws, and Chompers work wonders for the deeper pools.
Meramec River – Most Ozark rivers run north to south, but the Meramec runs west to east and empties into the Mississippi.
The Meramec produces whopper smallmouths every season, particularly below Stanton.
“The river picks up a lot of spring flow in this area, which increases its size considerably,” said JR Isom, a well-known bass fishermen in the area.
Meramec River fans argue that it is as good a fishery as the Gasconade, particularly if you include the Bourbeuse River tributary. “I caught four smallmouth over 5-pounds form the Bourbeuse last year, said Nick Miller of Bourbon. “And, the Meramec holds a bunch of big bass, too.”
Miller suggests throwing stick-baits when water temperatures reach the forty-degree mark. He prefers Smithwick Rogues.
Buffalo River – The lower 24 miles of the Buffalo River in Arkansas is considered one of the best smallmouth rivers in the nation.
This stretch falls within a Blue Ribbon smallmouth area and is protected. Access is limited.
Fish the fast-moving water and rocky banks. Crayfish hang out there and happen to be a smallmouth’s favorite meal.
Any article bait that resembles a crayfish will work.
Green pumpkin tube baits are a good bait to toss, particularly when fish are holding tight to the bottom.
In warm weather, try Flukes and buzzbaits for some spectacular top water action.
If you have not fished these Ozark smallmouth streams, add them to your bucket list.
Once you put the notches in your belt, you, too, can argue which stream is best.