The St. Francis in southern Missouri may be the most diverse in the state. The St. Francis starts high in the St. Francois Mountains, along the slopes of some of the Ozarks highest peaks. The mountain portion of the river is very fast, and rocky, and full of ledges and small waterfalls. But slowly, the St. Francis becomes more gentle. It transforms into a typical Ozark Foothills stream, and finally, into a large, turbid Mississippi Delta stream. Smallmouth bass call much of this unique river home.
The best fishing on the St. Francis River begins at the Highway H Bridge. Below the Highway H Bridge, the St. Francis quickly becomes a good sized, fast moving stream. The streams gradient continues to accelerate to a rocky run of class 2, 3, and 4 rapids. You will have to get out of the boat to succesffully fish this area, but if you take the time to do so, you will find an excellent popultion of smallmouth bass in the pools and pocket water. The river can be accessed at Mill Stream Gardens and Silvermine Access area. Both areas offer good wade fishing opportunities for those who are willing to tackle this rough water. This portion of the St. Francis can be boated by experienced kayakers, but it is not really fishable from a boat. In high water, it's a good place to ruin your boat and get beaten up, and in low water you will be dragging or lining through every rocky rapid. Neither scenario is particularly enjoyable.
The area of the St. Francis River from Silver Mines to the Highway 67 Bridge is much more gentle and easy to fish. This water is a mix of relatively easy rock-filled rapids and deep, slow pools. Largemouth and spotted bass reign supreme in the pools, while smallmouth prefer the faster moving water. This is good float fishing water provided you have some experience running Ozark rivers and are generally alert on the water. Good wade fishing can also be had at Sam A. Baker State Park (with good smallmouth fishing available along Big Creek as well as the St. Francis), and the Madison County Highway 9 Bridge. There is a canoe rental at Sam Baker State Park, the only on the river. They will be happy to service the float just above Sam Baker State Park, which is one of the best on the river.
Big Creek, a tributary that flows in at Sam Baker State Park, is also worthy of mention. This fast, boulder strewn creek offers a challenging but enjoyable float trip through deep Ozark country. It has a smallmouth population that equals, if not surpasses that of the St. Francis, and is very much worth the trip. The canoe rental in Sam Baker State Park also services the lower end of Big Creek.
The St. Francis below Lake Wappapello is of little interest to the smallmouth angler. The deep, turbid water below the lake fishes well for largemouth bass, catfish, and crappie, but smallmouth are few. The few smallmouth the can be found are located in the first few miles below the dam, and their numbers quickly deteriorate as you move downstream. Still, there are some trophy smallmouth below the lake, so it can be worth a look. After the first few miles below Wappapello, the river becomes channelized and suffers severe drawdowns for irrigation. Fishing is marginal for all species in this part of the river.
Many lures, baits, and flies work on the St. Francis. The St. Francis is rarely entirely clear (it usually has a greenish tint), so bright lures and flies work best. Spinnerbaits, Crankbaits, and jigs are all effective. The St. Francis is also a good fly fishing in it's upper reaches. Woolly Buggers, Hoppers, and bass bugs work well. Big Creek runs much clearer than the main stem of the St. Francis, and is probably a superior fishery for those looking to use a fly rod for that reason.
The St. Francis is truly the most diverse Ozark stream, and is worth a serious look from any angler. From it's rocky headwaters in the St. Francois Range of th Ozarks to Lake Wappapello, the St. Francis has an excellent smallmouth population. Also, Big Creek adds many miles onto the total. For these reasons, the St. Francis is a truly unique and productive smallmouth fishery.
Lures and Baits for Smallmouth Bass Fishing on the St. Francis River of Missouri
Rebel Crawdad, deep diving
Spinnerbaits, 3/8 ounce to 1/8 ounce
Marabou Jigs (olive, White, and Black), 1/32 ounce 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, Texas Rigged
Minnows and Crayfish* (they work well, but you'll have to catch them yourself using a minnow trap)
Flies for Smallmouth Bass Fishing on the St. Francis River of Missouri
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