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Creek Fishing For Smallmouth in The Ozarks

Heath Wood

Many know the area in the beautiful Ozarks of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas for its long-held reputation of presenting an excellent hunting ground for deer and turkey. However, the Ozarks have kept off the radar when it comes to fishing. Most may not realize that the small rivers, creeks, and streams found in both states produce some of the best smallmouth bass fishing that one could ever experience.

smallmouth bass in small river

When fishermen picture smallmouth bass, their minds immediately drift to the Great Lakes in the northern United States and Canada or lakes such as Pickwick Lake in Tennessee. While much of the popularity of smallmouth bass fishing is focused on larger bodies of water, the quality of smallmouth fishing that can be found in the Ozarks can often be an afterthought.

I have lived my entire life in the small rural areas of southern Missouri. Here, I grew up hunting and fishing near some of the best small rivers and creeks for smallmouth fishing. Many people call me lucky for living in the area I do; I prefer to call it blessed. For example, I recently made plans with a good friend to travel 30 to 40 minutes after work to the beautiful Current River near our hometown for an evening of smallmouth bass fishing.

smallmouth bass fishing kayak

Boats, Kayaks, And Canoes

When fishing the Current River or many other small rivers and creeks, the preferred method of traveling on the water is by boat, kayak, or canoe. On our trip, we used a 17-foot aluminum flat bottomed boat that measures 52 inches across. As for the motor, we were powered by a 40-horse motor and a 24-volt trolling motor. We could travel up or down the river faster with the bigger motor. The trolling aid motor helps guide the boat from side to side of the river and helps fight against the strong current that would otherwise take the boat down the river quickly. A trolling motor also helps maneuver the boat to the best locations while fishing and allows the operator to determine how long to fish at each location.

Kayaks and canoes are a slower-paced style of fishing. With kayaks and canoes, the fisherman can paddle themselves to wherever they want to fish and paddle back upstream if they need to fish an area longer or more than once is needed. The trip often consists of traveling from one point to another instead of powering back to a dock or ramp as when running a motorized boat. 

Kayak Fishing Gear 101: Fish Finder, Net and 9 Other Necessities

smallmouth bass fishing sunset

How To Fish Small Water Smallmouth

On our trip the first week of June, the temperatures were mild. In fact, throughout the evening, my friend and I commented on how pleasant the weather was for that evening. 

As with most small rivers or creeks, the popularity of people floating with canoes, tubes, and kayaks enjoying the water increases dramatically on the weekends. Less activity on the water means better fishing possibilities. Thus, we elected to fish on a weeknight.

After launching the boat, we immediately started fishing. My friend was fishing with a plastic tube-style bait rigged with a 5/16 oz, weedless jig head. Most of the time, he used a green pumpkin color and a few other colors, mainly dark greens and browns, to represent a small crawfish, one of the primary food sources for smallmouth bass on that river. The current river is mostly clear flowing water. With the clearer colored water, it is vital to use a clear fluorocarbon line, such as Strike King’s Tour Grade Fluorocarbon fishing line. The clearer transparent line seems virtually invisible underwater, making fish bite the bait more often. For smallmouth bass, the preferred line choice is a 10 to 12-pound test, which we used throughout the evening. 

smallmouth river fishing bait

When fishing with a plastic tube and crankbaits, we focused on throwing near rocks and shoal heads, where the fast current runs from one deep water hole to the next. When fishing plastic tubes and crankbaits, we mainly fished upstream and let the lure sink one to three feet while reeling by structures such as logs, rocks, and even treetops beneath the water. The big smallmouth of the Current River loves to lay in the shade of logs and rocks, especially as the days get warmer. When they see the lure drift close by while lying hidden, they strike with a vengeance. 

Within the first 20 minutes of fishing, we had caught fish by slowly trolling down the river, fishing the currents, structures, and wherever it seemed that fish would be located. I began fishing with a Bill Lewis SB-57 Crankbait as we kept fishing. I used a Mark Daniels Jr. Signature Crankbait in a 3/8 oz, 2.25” long, 3’ to 6’ diving square billed crankbait. The color was Ozark Craw, which matched perfectly with our fishing location, and it matched the color of the crawfish found in the Current River. Because I was fishing in the back of the boat while my friend stood in the front of the boat running the trolling motor, I cast up the river and then slowly reeled back towards the boat. The first fish I caught hit the crankbait with force, and I quickly reeled him in before even knowing what happened. I love an action-packed evening filled with catching smallmouth bass. 

Smallmouth bass bait to match water

My friend and I fished for approximately two hours before the sun started falling beautifully over Current River. We caught 17 fish, with the best fish being an eighteen-and-a-half-inch long smallmouth that weighed shy of three pounds—a gorgeous fish for creek fishing in the Ozarks of southern Missouri. It’s a fact that when people envision the Ozarks, they typically picture prime land for deer and turkey hunting. Still, if one were to venture down to a creek in this area, they might be surprised that the trophies around here are not only in the fields and woods but also in the water.

smallmouth bass


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