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Top Predators of Ozark Streams

Published on: Apr. 17, 2014

Photographs by David Stonner

When it comes to fishing in Ozark streams, smallmouth bass and goggle-eye are the species to catch. At the top of the food chain, they consume great quantities of prey and few other fish prey upon them as adults. They fight like the dickens on the end of a line, and they are a source of envy and legend for many anglers. Learning the details of these fishes’ lives helps biologists manage quality fisheries and improves anglers’ success.

Where to Find Them

Smallmouth bass and goggle-eye have similar distributions in the U.S., occurring mainly in the upper Midwest. In Missouri, they are typically found in greatest numbers in streams, but smallmouth bass also do well in reservoirs. The permanent flow, clear water, abundant cover, and silt-free bottoms of many Ozark streams and a few northeastern Missouri streams provide the needed habitat for these species to thrive. In addition to rocky or woody in-stream structures and clear water, cool temperatures are important for these species; smallmouth typically don’t do well in water higher than 85 degrees Fahrenheit, so shade and groundwater inputs (springs) are important in their conservation and management.

Access to Missouri streams is widely available through Conservation Department lands and accesses, other state agency and federal lands, road rights-of-way, and by securing permission from private streamside landowners. Many Ozark streams are accessible through commercial outfitters who rent canoes, kayaks, or rafts for floating and fishing. Anglers can fish from the bank, wade, or float. Floating is most often by canoe and kayak, but on larger streams, powered boats can be used. Respect for other stream users and streamside landowners is key to ensuring that Missouri’s streams remain available for all Missouri citizens to enjoy.

Best Baits Presentation

Catching smallmouth and goggle-eye on an Ozark stream can be simple. During the day you can find them in deep water near the bottom, usually near boulders and snags that lie in noticeable current. They are most active at night, when they will often strike noisy surface lures. Any small plug will catch them, but a deep-running crawdad imitator is one of the most consistent. Both species also seem to be particularly fond of soft plastic baits. A favorite of many anglers is a 3-inch curly-tailed grub or 4-inch worm, especially those that have been impregnated with salt. Almost any color will work, but darker colors seem more productive.

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