We are not going to claim that Missouri has the BEST smallmouth fishing in the United States. We will stake the claim that it deserves consideration for this honor.
At any rate, Missouri has some great streams and rivers for bronzebacks. If you are interested in fishing for this game fish, read on. You will soon find yourself (pun intended) hooked on this exciting fish and the awesome beauty of the Ozarks that surround nearly all these streams.
Missouri has some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the country. This fact cannot be debated. Countless rivers, streams, creeks, and reservoirs hold excellent populations of bronzebacks, so finding a place to fish shouldn't be difficult at all. While the best smallmouth bass fishing is usually found south of the Missouri River, smallmouth bass can be found across the state.
As stated above, smallmouth bass can be found across the state, but your best opportunities will be found in the Ozark Mountains in the southern half of the state. Any water that holds a modest permanent flow will probably hold a least a few smallmouth, but generally the bigger the water, the bigger the bass. Streams that are at least moderately spring-fed are usually best, as they tend to have a more stable water flow and the water tends to be cooler. Some excellent smallmouth bass streams in Missouri include the Big Piney River, the James River, Current River, Jacks Fork River, Meramec River, Bourbeuse River, Big River, Gasconade River, and the upper Black River. Excellent smallmouth bass lakes include Bull Shoals, Norfork, Stockton, and Table Rock Lake.
In Missouri streams, fishing methods don't vary a lot. Small tube baits, rubber worms, crankbaits, and spinnerbaits tend to be the most popular artificials. Nightcrawlers, crayfish, and minnows work and are excellent live baits. Cast upstream, and drift (or retrieve) your lure downstream. If you are using live bait, bounce it along the bottom, but don't weight it down so much that it doesn't move with the current. If you are using minnows, you should use a bobber. Fly fishing is also productive for stream smallmouth. Woolly Buggers, Clouser Minnows, Muddler Minnows, and various nymphs all work quite well. When spin fishing, use a light action rod and four to eight pound test. When fly fishing, a rod weight of five to eight, with a leader size of 3x or smaller.
Smallmouth Bass have a lot of things working against them here in Missouri. The most threatening is the spotted bass. This species of black bass is native to streams in Southeastern Missouri, but was introduced into the Meramec River some time ago. Since then, they have ruthlessly invaded historically excellent smallmouth bass habitat throughout the Meramec basin. The Meramec River below St. Clair, and the entire Bourbeuse and Big River have been hit the hardest. Spotted bass have almost completely taken over these areas. As a response, the Missouri Department of Conservation has increased the daily limit, and removed the length limit on spotted bass throughout the Meramec Basin. Fisherman are encouraged to keep all the spotted bass they catch until they reach their daily limit. (Note: These special regulations which encourage the harvest of spotted bass only apply in the Meramec Basin, and nowhere else in Missouri.) Another threat to the smallmouth bass in Missouri is over harvest. Some streams just can't handle fisherman regularly taking the legal limit of smallmouth out of the stream, and poachers only make the situation worse. You can help by releasing most or all of the smallmouth bass you catch.
If you have never fished for smallmouth bass here in Missouri, you need to try it. They fight, pound for pound, as much as any fish you will encounter, and they are abundant throughout the Ozarks.