Big Fish in Small Streams

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Published on: May. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

It's a well-known fact that many of the rivers that drain the Missouri Ozarks support trophy smallmouth bass. In big rivers, such as the Current, the Meramec and the Gasconade, you can, with time on the water and proper technique, regularly catch smallmouth over 15 inches long. Now and again you will catch smallmouth in excess of 20 inches - trophies by any standard.

But as you fish these rivers, you will be sharing space with legions of canoeists. To avoid the crowds you can rise before first light or fish through the night, or fish during fall and winter. But if you like daytime, warm-weather fishing, be ready to dodge lots of aluminum.

In contrast, if you like privacy coupled with the chance to catch big smallmouth, small Ozark streams are a resource to consider. Be forewarned: finding lunker smallmouth in creeks requires effort. You can't float fish because the creeks are too small. You must wade to fish.

Moreover, many of the creeks that you explore won't have trophy smallmouth. Yet in the Ozarks, tucked away here and there, are creeks that support smallmouth bass to challenge anglers.

Finding Creeks

Purchase county maps that cover the areas you plan to explore. The Conservation Department, for a modest price, offers a 264-page, large format atlas that includes maps of every county in the state. County maps are invaluable guides to all kinds of outdoor recreation and show creeks and their accesses.


Most anglers consider low water bridges public access to streams and fish accordingly. But some landowners don't. Be sure to contact the landowner before fishing. Often a telephone call or a short visit is all it takes to gain fishing access. To help you determine who owns the land, you can buy plat books for about $20 from most county courthouses.

Selecting a Creek

Creeks to pinpoint and explore are those that drain remote areas and flow into larger rivers known for big smallmouth. Fish in these rivers often migrate up small streams looking for more suitable habitat.

After exploring a few of Missouri's clear, permanently flowing Ozark creeks, you will realize most support healthy smallmouth bass populations. You won't have trouble catching lots of 8- to 10-inch smallmouth bass. You may catch a fair share between 12 and 14 inches. You may even bring a few 15- to 16-inchers to hand. But for smallmouth over 17 inches you will have to search. Here are a few tips.


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