Rock Bass: Panfish Supreme

Ankle-deep in a clear, Ozark stream, a wading fisherman pauses and sits on a small boulder to empty his shoes of creek gravel. In response to the angler's presence, a small crayfish pokes its head from under a nearby rock. The fisherman reaches down and grabs the crustacean in one swift move. He then places it in his bait bucket, which holds others caught earlier.

Two hundred yards downstream, the angler finds a cluster of boulders in flowing water, 5-feet deep, with the roots of a flood-downed tree lodged among them. Wading out to the cover, the fisherman hooks a crayfish by the tail and allows it to swim into a crevice formed where the boulder meets the tree roots.

A thick-loined panfish darts out and sucks in the crayfish.

A quick snap of the fisherman's wrist puts a bend in the pole, and the angler brings to hand the first rock bass of the day. An hour later he leaves the cover and heads back upstream with 10 nice rock bass trailing behind him on a stringer.

Rock bass are common in the streams of the Missouri Ozarks. They are exciting to catch and, as table fare, are sweet and tender. Despite these attributes, relatively few stream anglers devote much attention to catching rock bass. Why? Because rock bass share quarters with smallmouth bass, whose spectacular fighting ability and larger size give it first billing.

Stream fishermen who concentrate solely on smallmouth are missing a lot of fun. Keeper-size smallmouth bass are difficult to catch, and most anglers end up releasing them to protect this popular game fish.

Not so with rock bass. You can creel this panfish with a clear conscience. Limits are liberal, and the fish aren't very spooky. Wade or float out to some good structure, offer bait or jig, and chances are good that a rock bass will take it.

Rock bass hit with incredible speed. They strike in a silt-stirring rush, then quickly turn and disappear back into cover. Watching this happen practically at your feet is pure fishing excitement! You'll also appreciate how hard a rock bass can pull against your fishing rod as they shoot from cover, swimming on their sides, shaking and tugging.

Brought to hand, rock bass are pleasing to the eye. They are the chameleons of the sunfish family. They usually sport a black hue with just a hint of