“Shhh! Don’t bang the paddle against the side of the johnboat,” my fishing guide, Alex Rutledge, whispered, as we eased into the first bluff hole of our float on the Jacks Fork River, between Rymer’s Access and Chalk Bluff . “Big smallmouth are super-wary,” he said. “Noise like that can spook ‘em.”
I understood, but was having a hard time avoiding bumping the paddle. It was 10 p.m. and pitch dark.
Behind me I heard the whiz of Alex’s buzzbait as it shot through the air, followed by the “blub-blub-blubblub” of the lure as he worked it across the water’s surface. I followed with my own buzzbait efforts. The bluff appeared as a dark shadow looming up from the river. Judging distance in the dark is difficult, so most of my casts fell short.
A slurping sound ended the rhythmic “blub-blubblub” of Alex’s buzzbait. He grunted as he set the hook.“A good one!” he exclaimed as he reeled in line.
I asked Alex whether he needed a light. He declined, saying it would scare the fish.
The bass splashed at boat’s edge as Alex lipped it from the water. He laid it on a ruler taped across the seat in front of him. I didn’t know how he could see to measure, but he whispered, “Fifteen-and-a-half inches.”
It was a nice smallmouth, but not good enough to stop fishing to take pictures. We were after bigger ones.
For close to three decades I’ve enjoyed fishing for smallmouth bass on Missouri’s Ozark streams. This trip represented my first attempt at a night float for smallmouth. Alex is a regular on the river at night, even guiding other anglers.
For me, the trip was a great introduction to night floating for smallmouth. It’s a wonderful approach to summertime fishing.
Avoid the Crowds
Floating one of Missouri’s clear Ozark streams on a summer day is lots of fun. The problem is that everyone knows it. From May through September, most of Missouri’s premier float streams are packed with canoes, jet boats and tubes, as well as anglers.
For example, one weekend last July, rental services in the Van Buren area put 5,000 tubes and canoes on a 20-mile stretch of the Current River.
That much traffic isn’t good for fishing. Clanging canoes, splashing tubers and roaring jet boats often send mature smallmouth bass deep into cover, where they are tough to reach with lures or baits. It’s pretty hard for someone to enjoy fishing under such