Tactics For Smallmouth Bass in Ozark Creeks And Rivers

Tactics For Smallmouth Bass in Ozark Creeks And Rivers


Charlie Croom of Fayetteville, Arkansas, loves to fish for the smallmouth bass that abide in the streams and rivers that meander through the Ozarks.

Recently he has developed a fondness for wielding Midwest finesse tactics when he is a float on those waterways. 

On July 9, he filed a report on the Finesse News Network about his first endeavor at pursuing smallmouth bass with a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man Fishing Products' ZinkerZ, which is one of the staples in Midwest finesse anglers' repertoire.

In the months to come, he will contribute more information about how, when and where to inveigle smallmouth bass by employing Midwest finesse methods in the Ozarks' rivers and streams. 

Here's his first report:

I started using a Midwest finesse tactic for creek smallmouth bass a few weeks ago. The results were astounding.

This adventure occurred when my wife, Cindy,  and I journeyed to Elk River in southwest Missouri, which many anglers deem to be a smallmouth bass paradise.

The weather, however, was unseasonably cool. The high temperature reached into the upper 80, and the low temperature hovered in the upper 50s. We had clear skies and a stiff north wind. This kind of weather usually creates horrendous fishing in the Ozarks, but our Midwest finesse rigs shined brightly on this post-cold-front day.

What's more, when we arrived at the river, it was jammed with canoes, rafts, kayaks, swimmers, and party goers. You could virtually walk from raft to raft without touching water. There were so many floaters the river was muddy from their wallowing around on the gravel bars. Because of all this "negative" activity, we decided to float and fish a 2 ½-mile stretch of a creek that is a tributary of the Elk River, and it was not as congested as the main river.

We hopped into our canoe at 3:30p.m. The first half mile of this creek was full of swimmers. So we paddled past the swimmers and didn't fish. Eventually, we came to a sharp bend in the creek that swept against a bluff wall and formed a deep pool. Traditionally, it is the best spot along this stretch of creek. We opted to get out of the canoe and walk it around the pool instead of floating over the fish, which might have spooked them.

We began using a 2 ½-inch Z-Man's green-pumpkin-orange ZinkerZ affixed with super glue to a 1/16-ounce PJ's Finesse Baits' Weedless Grub and Worm Jig.

The first fish was caught at 4:05p.m., and it was caught by a cast-and-deadstick tactic. During the next 30 minutes, our catch rate became fast and furious. We landed 35 smallmouth bass and rock bass from that first deep pool. Most of the bass were only eight inches long, but there were a few over 12 inches. Around 4:35 p.m., we realized that we didn't have much of the creek left to fish, and therefore, we needed to fish nearly every square foot of water for the next 1 1/2 miles.

The cast-and-deadstick method was the dominant technique for the entire outing. Most of the smallmouth bass were positioned in the shade along shallow banks that were graced with moving water. The underwater terrain was primarily pea gravel mixed with some chunk rock and patches of bedrock. The majority of the smallmouth bass were abiding in two to four feet of water, and occasionally one was extracted from six feet of water at spots that were no bigger than our canoe. The bigger smallmouth bass abided along the edge of a dropoff or ledge in two to four feet of water, and they would engulf the ZinkerZ and jig as the current swept it across the pea gravel.

Towards the end of the outing, as the sun started to fall onto the western horizon, shade encompassed much of the stream, and the smallmouth bass began to attack the rig as it was being quickly retrieved in preparation for another cast. At that point, we switched to a 1/8-ounce PJ's Finesse Bait's Weedless Grub and Worm Jig that sported a 2 ½-inch Z-Man's green-pumpkin-red ZinkerZ. The 1/8-ounce jig allowed the ZinkerZ to swim alluringly at the lairs that were buffeted with a swift current. It also allowed the bait to be retrieved at a much higher rate of speed, which reduced the number of hang ups. It also allowed us to pitch the ZinkerZ and jig to the upstream side of a logjam. And as we allowed it to sink to the bottom on a slack line, we watched the braided line on the surface of the water as if it were fly line. As soon as the line stopped moving, we picked it up to check for tension, and then we let it fall again before reeling it in for another cast. This method kept the ZinkerZ rig from becoming snagged in the logjams, and the smallmouth bass would dart out of the logjam and engulf it as the ZinkerZ swam away. This swimming technique helped us to boost the number of smallmouth bass that we caught.

The 1/16-ounce jig and 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ is a great bait for plying riffles and runs. These areas are usually not fished by many anglers because the current is swift, and they are also shallow. These two overlooked areas are also fine spots for swimming this rig with a 1/8-ounce jig. To fish the runs and riffles, we allow the current to push the canoe along, and we execute quick and short casts to the edge of the water willows. When the slack is removed from the line, the ZinkerZ rig moves through what we call the strike zone, which is about half way between the bottom and surface. On this outing, we did not fish the runs and riffles from the canoe very often, but when we did, it always produced a couple extra fish.

Braided line with a fluorocarbon leader is the most effective way that we have found to employ this Midwest finesse technique. We work with 10-pound-test low-vis-green Sufix  832 Advanced Superline and 10-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. The leader is six feet long. And by the way a 110-yard spool of Berkley fluorocarbon is nice for canoe fishing, because it can fit easily into a shirt pocket, tackle bag or wading vest.

I would say that we had an 80 to 90 percent hook-up ratio with PJ's jig. This is a big relief because I've spent two months hunting for the perfect jig.

Setting the hook is a critical aspect of finesse fishing. We do it by using the reel, and we reel down on the fish before we lean gently into the fish with the rod. In other words, we are not popping them in the jaw by jerking the rod. Instead, we are placing pressure on them so the hook can do its job by piercing the flesh. I use a similar method for drop shots and crappie minnows. This method, however, has caused me to lose a handful of larger smallmouth bass in the three- to four-pound range. But most of those lost fish were caused by our drags being set too loose and perhaps our inexperience with using the ZinkerZ and PJ's jig.

We paddled and didn't fish the first and last half mile of the creek. So all of our fishing took place along a 1 ½-mile stretch of this creek. We were afloat from 3:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. My wife caught 85 smallmouth bass and rock bass, and I caught 58. Of those 143 fish, roughly 70 percent were smallmouth. She caught 21.25 per hour while I caught 14.5 per hour. She landed a bass every 2.82 minutes, while I landed a bass every 4.13 minutes. In sum, it was the most bass that we have ever caught in four hours in all our days of floating Ozark streams for smallmouth bass.

The majority of the smallmouth bass and rock bass were allured by the 2 1/2-inch Z-Man's green-pumpkin-orange ZinkerZ and PJ's 1/16-ounce jig.  Because this combo catches incredible numbers of smallmouth bass, it has totally transformed the way we fish.

Sometime in the future, I would like to establish a guiding service on our Ozark streams, where I could show anglers with rudimentary skills how, when and where they can catch vast numbers of smallmouthbass with this Midwest finesse rig.


(1) This is the link to PJ's Finesse Baits. Charlie Croom says their baits are designed for anglers who pursue smallmouh bass in various Ozark waterways.

(2) If and when Charlie Croom establishes a guide serivce, we will post information about it on a future blog.

(3) Croom works with a six-foot, nine-inchFalcon Cara  medium-action

drop-shot rod (No. CS-4-169M S-T7) that is fitted with a Shimano Stradic 2500 FI spinning reel.

(4)  Many of Croom's future creek and river endeavors will be featured in the monthly guides to Midwest finesse.

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