Stream Smallmouths For Beginners

Of America's freshwater game fish, the smallmouth bass is one of our toughest fighters. Hook one, and you'll probably agree that smallmouths are a moody mixture of muscle and rage, driven by an incurably bad attitude. Researchers observing smallmouth report that they often harass other fish, such as stripers, walleyes and hybrid striped bass, two and three times their size.

For all their wonderful fighting qualities, smallmouth bass are easy to catch, even for beginners. All you have to do is put the right lure in the right place.

Where to Find Them

In Missouri, our best smallmouth habitat is in the vast array of mountain streams that lace the southern half of the state. Rivers like the Niangua, Current, Jacks Fork, Big Piney and Gasconade, as well as many small streams and creeks, offer some of the nation's finest smallmouth fishing. Our major smallmouth streams are easily accessible to the public, as are many smaller waters.

When Should I Go?

The best fishing for smallmouths usually occurs in spring, summer and early fall. In spring, smallies are coming out of their winter torpor and are preparing to spawn, so they eat whatever they can catch. In the fall, they feed voraciously to fatten up for the winter. Excellent fishing also occurs in the molten heart of summer, but many anglers take a break during the Dog Days, cheating themselves out of some memorable experiences.

Get the Right Tackle!

For creeks and small rivers, I recommend an ultralight spinning rig with a rod between 5-6 feet long. In my opinion, the best length is 5 feet, 6 inches. This is long enough to provide the necessary leverage to handle big smallies, but short enough to allow precision casting in close quarters.

Basically, you want a rod with enough backbone to allow you to cast and control jigs up to 1/4 ounce, as well as small crankbaits, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. At the same time, it should be sensitive enough to feel subtle strikes, and limber enough to allow the fish to exert its own strength.

After you find the right rod, you'll need a suitable reel. I'd suggest staying away from tiny ultralight or microlight reels; they won't hold up under heavy use. Also, the spools on those reels are designed to hold line, not to cast and retrieve it, so they twist line unmercifully. Instead, get a beefier model designed to hold line between 4-pound and 8-pound test. Select one