"What's your favorite stream to fish?"
It's time to reveal some insight from a lifetime of float fishing streams across the Ozarks! If I have a most frequent question from folks wanting to catch a Smallmouth of a lifetime it's, "what's your favorite stream to float fish?". Right behind it of course, is "what's your favorite fishing lure?" These are honest questions and I really don't mind sharing information about what I've learned from hundreds of hours on hundreds of streams. Truth is though, I'm NOT going to tell you all I know because it has taken too much work and effort to learn. There are very few short cuts to great Smallmouth fishing in the Ozarks and I'm afraid you'll have to put in the work, too. One true fact that I've learned in 60 years of float fishing Ozark streams is that here is one clear cut rule: "Spreading the word to everyone about a great Smallmouth fishing location automatically kills it, as such!" Let me say it more clearly, if you know of a great fishing spot, shut your mouth about it! The absolute worst harm that you can bring on a good fishery is not the assault of "too many otter", "too much gravel mining", "too many cattle in the river", "too much bank erosion" or a dozen other harms that can be named. The worst possible problem is simply, "too much publicity!" Conservation departments, outdoor writers, tourism departments and a host of others will vehemently disagree with me and I expect it. It's always been so, and there is no advantage for them to stop publicity..........there's no money in keeping your mouth shut. Newspaper editors, for example, like to have LOTS of specifics. "What river, what put-in, who's canoe rental, what motel, which restaurant for breakfast, which lure and behind what rock in what hole of water" are all to be included in any story written. All that detail is just fine if you are promoting a Pheasant hunting trip somewhere in Kansas where everyone is hunting farm-raised birds that cost 20 bucks a pop. But, here in the Ozarks, Smallmouth are wild and can not be "stocked" effectively. Not least, it takes a Smallmouth about ten years to reach "trophy" size on streams. The plain, simple truth is, most of the "promoters" simply don't know what I know. They've not had a "dog in the hunt" chasing Smallmouth like I've had over the past 50 years. If you can find an "expert" that has spent a hundred hours in their lifetime fishing on a stream you have found an anomaly of rare proportion. If they've actually spent that much time fishing on streams they might actually have a clue, so take what they've got to say and respect it. The thing is I've learned what I know by spending that much time fishing one stream, in one summer. Chances are, in that same summer I may have spent that much time on a couple of other streams, to boot. I can't remember when I last kept a Smallmouth for the stringer or the live well here in the Ozarks. It takes too much time and good fortune for this little stream-bred bass to reach trophy size for me to be taking them out of the gene pool. For my money, there is no better experience in the Ozark outdoors then to hook and land a 20 inch Smallmouth. I've been fortunate the last few years to land at least one of them at some point during the course of the year. It's a true bonus to catch one that size. To give you some perspective, I've no doubt that I've landed enough eighteen inch Smallmouth in my lifetime to fill a canoe...............a couple of times. So, what can I actually share with you that would be of help. Well, let's take Crooked Creek, for example. If you are a Smallmouth fisherman, you've heard of it. Very likely, it's the most "talked about" Smallmouth fishery in all of the Ozarks. I first read about it in the 60's because it was a favored float fishing stream of Jerry McKinnis. As you likely know, Jerry McKinnis is famous in bass fishing circles all over the world and he's loved Smallmouth fishing for a very long time. In the past 40 years I have fished Crooked Creek countless times. What it used to be, honestly, is beyond comparison. I've made float trips in years past when a hundred sixteen to eighteen inch Smallmouth, per person, in a day's float trip was the norm. I've got video tape of some of these float trips. I can show you video of an eighteen inch fish that I'm playing in clear water and behind it, trying to take my lure away, are twenty more Smallmouth just like the one I've got on. Catching two at time, one on each treble of my lure was a common occurrence. Crooked Creek is a perfect, Ozark fishery! I've witnessed kicking "clouds" of crawdads while walking through shoals. With that kind of food abundance, fish are going to thrive. I don't fish it any more! What happened? Go back to paragraph one and read the part about publicity. Chances are, you've heard of Arkansas' Kings River. I can tell you about every bluff, near every rock, from Kingston, Arkansas to the Romp Hole access near the head of the lake just upstream from the Missouri state line. It's another phenomenal Smallmouth fishery. In the mid 70's three friends and I in wooden John boats made a three day, two night float trip in May. We caught the conditions perfectly and I have no idea how many fish we caught. It was unreal. You could have put hooks on a beer can and a bass would hit it. I've been on a handful of fishing trips when I got tired of catching fish. That trip was one of them. I took a couple of guys from Oklahoma on a guided trip there last year because that's where they wanted to go. We caught fish, had a big time and if someone wants to go there and insists upon it, I'll likely take them if I can work it into my schedule. Personally, I'd like to see "keeping fish" stopped on the Kings for about five years. Then I might go back on my own. There is an exception or two. I'll mention them. Perhaps the best that I'm aware of is Missouri's Current River. Why, I'm not sure; but, I think it's in part do the river's size. If you get below the Carter county line on the lower Current and know what you are doing, you've got as good a chance as anywhere of catching a twenty inch Smallmouth. There is also a good chance that you will see a lot of other boats, canoes and folks fishing. Ironically, Arkansas' Buffalo River still has some good Smallmouth fishing. Like the Current River, it's a "National River" and publicized to beat the band. If you can figure out why the fishing is still great on these two rivers you may have the answer to the problem of too much publicity.