Elk River

The Elk River is one of the finest smallmouth bass streams in our state. The Elk River is tucked away in the far southwest corner of the state, right by the Arkansas border to the south and the Oklahoma border to the west. This little corner of the Ozarks is often forgotten about, but it is home to several excellent smallmouth streams. The most famous, and arguably the best of these, is the Elk River. 


The Elk River is deep, clear Ozark stream that casually winds its way through a beautiful, pastoral valley, and rushes past tall, wooded hills. The stream begins at the junction of Big Sugar Creek and Little Sugar Creek, both of which are fine smallmouth bass streams in their own right. By the time these two streams come together to form the Elk River, it is already a sizable river, large enough for float fishing. The river flows for about twenty miles from its headwaters in Missouri before flowing into Oklahoma, and the smallmouth bass population is good all the way through. The river is an excellent bet for large fish, with unusually high numbers of bass over the 15 inch mark.Some trophy sized fish in the three to five pound range are present, making a wallhanger a constant possiblity on the river. Indeed, it could be argued that the Elk River is the best trophy smallmouth bass river in the southwestern part of the state. The deep, clear pools and churning riffles of the river combined with the bountiful baitfish allow bass to grow large quickly. The Missouri Department of Conservation recognizes this, and protects that bass with a special 15 inch minimum length limit and a daily limit of two fish.


There are several good floats on the river, the first being from Pineville to Shady Beach Campground. This float at the headwaters of the river provides some excellent fishing in beautiful Ozark country. The next good float is from the MDC Mount Shira access to the Cowskin Access. The float provides similar fishing conditions as the other float mentioned. There are several other available floats on the river, especially if you are willing to rent a canoe or contact a private landowner for permission, but this should get you started.


Fishing the Elk River is a lot like any other Ozark river. Deep, moving water will hold the most and biggest bass, and cover, whether it is rocks, fallen trees, or weeds helps a lot too. The Elk can be a good topwater river during the summer months, and many classic lures such as Rebel Craws, Beetle Spins, and Rapalas will take fish as well. Soft plastics such as tube baits and plastic worms can be very successful throughout the year. The Elk is a fine smallmouth stream in a beautiful, secluded part of the state. Any smallmouth fisherman in the western part of Missouri should give it a try.

Elk River Map
Elk River Water Levels