To Heaven and Back on the Upper Jacks Fork

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Published on: Mar. 19, 2013

be caught on a fly rod. On average these fish weigh between 1 and 3 pounds and can exceed 5 pounds in the Jacks Fork. When a 15-inch smallmouth takes your crayfish pattern bouncing along the stream bottom, a memory is created. Initially you imagine there is a 10-pound monster on the end of your line. The struggle between line and fish gets anxious. Will the line hold this maniacal thrashing of fish flesh? Finally you bring the fish close to the surface and realize it isn’t 4 feet long. It’s 15 inches of power and fury.

Top water flies are an extremely exciting way to fish for smallmouth. The strikes are explosive. The excitement that comes from a top water strike will put your adrenal glands into high gear. Some of the best top water flies are trout flies like Humpies, grasshoppers, and small poppers in black and chartreuse. Many times a smallmouth will swim under a fly and wait for the first sight of movement and strike. Always be prepared for a take. You never know when the explosion will occur.

When fishing subsurface flies it is hard to beat a Clouser Minnow or Wooly Buggers in sizes 4 to 6 with a gold bead or cone head. A smallmouth favorite is a weighted crayfish pattern fished along the bottom.

Enjoy the environs of this bronze-backed tough guy and remember, a smallmouth bass is too fine of a fish to catch only once. Practice catch and release.

—by Mark Van Patten, Conservation Department streams coordination biologist

Float the Upper Jacks Fork

  • The upper Jacks Fork can be floated in either a long day, or as a leisurely two-day float.
  • Consider a weekday float to experience less congestion on the river.
  • Floating the upper Jacks Fork is rain-dependent, but the river is floatable from Alley Spring down year-round.
  • Numerous outfitters offer canoe rental and shuttle services that can greatly simplify your trip. Contact information and a Jacks Fork map can be found on the Missouri Canoe and Floaters Association website at
  • Learn more about the Jacks Fork Natural Area and download a map at
  • Check the Jacks Fork river level and local weather forecasts at Look for 2 feet or more on the local gage to float the upper Jacks Fork River.
  • The Ozark National Scenic Riverways provides trip-planning information at or call 573-323-4236.
  • Get involved with the Upper Jacks Fork River Rats, Stream Team 713, by calling 417-932-4363 or send an email to

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