Fly Fishing Winter Smallmouth in Missouri

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It seems like there is a cloud that hangs over smallmouth when the weather turns cold; now, I’m not talking about a literal fog, but a cloud of knowledge. Can you still catch smallmouth in the winter or do they become more or less….dormant? Frankly, I am not very sure of all the answers. I read, pay attention to about any type of info I can come across and….to some degree, still get some pretty wide ranging answers.

What I do know is that I love to catch smallmouth, more so than any other fish. I am still not sure why…but won’t question the passion that comes with hooking into a fish not afraid to fight like he is twice as large and a fish that for the most part will actively take several different food types…which translates into us fly-guys being able to chuck various flies and still have some success.

What I do know is that if there is a warm water source…and in most cases I am talking about a spring of some sorts…smallies will and do stay active all year long. Such is the case in many spots in Missouri as the state is dotted with large underground springs that flow forth with a ‘warm’ 56 degree ration of water. When it flows forth…it has to enter or become its own water source and there is the point at which you will find aggressive and hungry smallies.

Bennet Spring is just such a source. Daily about 100 to 110 million gallons of water bubbles up and meanders its way downward towards the Niangua River. After it passes through zones 1 and 2 the water is now open to the river…thus creating a spot whereby smallmouth bass can move up and down along this section and feed from its rich waters.

This past weekend my friends Frank Terkhorn and John Morgan (that’s Captain Morgan to us civilians) made our way through southern Illinois, across the might Miss and southwesterly to Lebanon, Missouri. 11 miles west you will find Bennet and all it has to offer. We pulled in a bit shy of 11am and it didn’t take long for me to put my duds together and hit the stream…a few trout for a warm up and I was off to zone 3 and further out along the Niangua in search of smallies.

One interesting note is the fact that as a public school teacher we are often in a ‘petri-dish’ of disgusting germs (along with some pretty poor behavior). I knew I was under the weather as I marched off about noon on Friday…but didn’t know the extent. An early Saturday rise and trip to the walk-in clinic in Lebanon would show that I had a full blown case of Strep and a temp of 102.

Back to Friday…as I hit zone 3 I immediately started picking up smallies and as I worked my way down I even managed to land a pair of big rainbows on a fairly large crayfish pattern tied to 14 pound test; I guess a meat-eater will indeed do just that, eat meat and not worry about tippet size. By the time I had hit the river I probably had landed 25 or so smallies and as you can see by watching the end of my attached video…the river was also producing. The warm water of the spring flows out into the river and tends to stay to the south side for the next few hundred yards…that is code for the location of a good number of smallies. In the video I am using my 7 weight bank robber rod with a type one sink tip line and a tan colored baitfish pattern tied onto 14 pound tippet (no break-offs today!).

Anyway…hope you can find yourself a mess of cold water smallmouth and figure out a pattern that will allow for some catch and release. If in the Missouri area, look up one of the four Missouri trout parks as they all have warm springs flowing into nearby rivers and offer up some great smallmouth fishing. If you have any questions you can contact me at flyfishingwithjeff@gmail.com.

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