BIG RIVER SMALLMOUTH FISHING
The Big River seems like an unlikely smallmouth stream. This stream at one time was a polluted mining dump, hardly worth the time of any serious fisherman. It still has the reputation of an impaired stream, but that's mostly unfounded now. While the stream hasn't entirely recovered from past environmental woes, you can now find smallmouth bass throughout the entire river, and in some areas the fishing is very good. In a way, its poor reputation can be a good thing for serious bass fisherman, because it keeps most of the crowds away.
The Big River is a classic Ozark border stream, much like it's fellow Meramec tributary, the Bourbeuse. It is slow moving, slightly turbid, and the riffles are short and somewhat infrequent. Despite the unlikely habitat, smallmouth flourish here in many areas. The river has plenty of cover in the form of downed trees, boulders, and weed beds, and smallmouth bass relate to this. There is also an excellent food supply. Consequently, the Big River is a better trophy smallmouth stream than most in the Ozarks.
The upper portion of the river, from the outlet of Council Bluff Lake downstream to Leadwood, is a healthy smallmouth stream with good numbers of smallmouth. This portion of the river hasn't suffered the same environmental damage that downstream portions have, and the fishery is much the same as it always been. Also, this portion of river doesn't receive a great deal of fishing pressure, so the bass are not as difficult to catch as in other portions of the river.
The area that was affected by lead mining runs from the Leadwood Access downstream to St. Francis State Park. This portion of stream used to be all but a dead zone, but that's no longer the case. While the habitat is not what it used to be (lead mine tailing from a mine accident made the stream shallower and hurt spawning areas), it has been cleaned up sufficiently to produce an adequate population of smallmouth. The smallmouth cling to the deeper areas, since the overwhelming majority of the water is slow in this portion. Honestly though, most of the bass in this section are largemouth and spotted bass, which can better withstand the habitat degradation.
The portion of river from St. Francis State Park to Washington State Park furnishes much better smallmouth bass fishing. Mine tailings have hurt this portion of stream less than than in the portion above St. Francis. There is more deep water, and the spawning habitat is much better. This part of the river is a good bet for the trophy angler, but there are also plenty of smaller fish for the average fisherman. The fishing has been hurt by non-native spotted bass, but it is still quite good.
Below Washington State Park 60 miles downstream to the river's junction with the Meramec, the smallmouth bass fishing is fair to good. Spotted bass have really done a number on the smallmouth in this stretch of river. The non-native fish have taken up much of the prime habitat, and are crowding out spawning areas traditionally used by smallmouth. The limit for spotted bass on the Big River is twelve of any size (assuming you haven't kept any smallmouth or largemouth), and we encourage you to keep your limit. Despite these negative aspects, there are some very large smallmouth in the lower portion of the river. Faster, gravelly portions of the river are most likely to hold smallmouth. The daily limit (as of June 2010) for smallmouth bass along most of the Big River is 1 fish over 15", although we encourage catch and release. The smallmouth of the Big River have faced enough environmental threats over the years, so we don't need to pile on.
Fishing methods on the Big River are pretty standard. Small crankbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic worms, and tubes are all known to be extremely effective. Topwaters, however, work better on the Big River than most other streams. Small Zara Spooks, Jitterbugs, and Poppers work very well. Fly fishing also works well, especially in the upper river. Crayfish patterns, woolly buggers, and topwater bugs all work well.
While the Big River has been abused by man many ways over the years, it continues to be a viable smallmouth fishery. While it doesn't have the best reputation, it is a hidden gem that should not be overlooked by serious smallmouth fisherman.
Lures for Smallmouth on the Big River
Rebel Crawdad, deep diving
Spinnerbaits, 3/8 ounce to 1/8 ounce
Marabou Jigs (olive, White, and Black), 1/32 ounce to 1/8 ounce
3 inch green tube baits, texas rigged
Rooster Tail Spinner 1/24 ounce through 1/8 ounce
5" Zoom Curly Tail Worms (Green Pumpkin), Texas Rigged
Minnows and Crayfish (they work well, but you'll have to catch them yourself using a minnow trap)
Flies for Smallmouth on the Big River
Don's Crawdad #4-#10
Woolly Bugger (Olive, Black, or White) #4-#10
Clouser Minnow #2- #8
Deer Hair Bass bugs #2-#8
Muddler Minnow #4-#10