The 16 Best Smallmouth Bass Lakes & Rivers in Missouri: Expert Guide

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Missouri is well known for its diverse and abundant smallmouth bass fishing opportunities and offers anglers a collection of exceptional lakes and rivers that are full of smallmouth bass. These waterways not only offer scenic beauty from areas around the state but are also home to robust populations of this prized sport fish. 

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing Tips

When planning a smallmouth fishing trip to the land-locked state of Missouri, it’s important to start your journey with plenty of preparation. Begin by researching the various lakes in the state or area you will be visiting, focusing on those that are known for their thriving smallmouth bass populations.

Before setting off, familiarize yourself with the smallmouth fishing regulations from the Missouri Department of Conservation. These regulations determine smallmouth fishing seasons, size limits, and bag restrictions, ensuring that your angling activities adhere to sustainable practices set by the Missouri Department of Conservation, along with the Ozarks Smallmouth Alliance.

Bringing along a varied selection of fishing gear is important, and it should include a few suitable rods for spin fishing and fly fishing, reels, lines, and a range of lures such as jigs, crankbaits, and soft plastics that cater to the preferences of smallmouth bass in the area, or hatches of insects during the season you visit.

1. Table Rock Lake

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing Table Rock lake

A sprawling reservoir in the southwestern area of the Ozark mountains of Missouri, Table Rock Lake is known for its clear waters and diverse aquatic life. The lake covers more than 42,000 acres and has a large smallmouth bass population, largemouth bass, spotted bass, white bass, walleye, catfish, panfish, and more.

There are multiple boat ramps around the lake that can be used, as well as several fishing docks you can fish from. Additionally, you’ll find 745 miles of shoreline, with much of it being suited for shore fishing.

Smallmouth bass here respond well to jigs, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and soft plastics. Rig up a finesse presentation and focus on rocky points and bluff walls to get quick and aggressive strikes from these feisty fish.

2. Bull Shoals Lake

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing Bull Shoals lake

A vast reservoir shared with Arkansas, Bull Shoals Lake in Missouri offers a mix of clear and stained waters that smallmouth bass and several other species inhabit. With numerous boat ramps and public marinas around the lake, you’re sure to find the perfect spot to get yourself onto the water.

Tube baits, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits are extremely popular here, with tubes getting some very quick strikes from smallmouth bass during the spring, early summer, and fall months. Fish near rocky banks and submerged vegetation for the best results.

Fishing pressure is usually moderate thanks to the large 45,000 acres of water surface and more than 700 miles of shoreline.

3. Stockton Lake

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing Stockton lake

A scenic reservoir with clear water and an abundance of coves and points, Stockton Lake is located in southwest Missouri, not far from Springfield. It offers multiple boat ramps and fishing docks for you to choose from around the perimeter of the lake.

The lake is home to a variety of fish, including huge and healthy populations of smallmouth bass, walleye, bluegill, catfish, and more. Some of the best fishing here is from the shore, but there are more than 24,000 acres of water for boating as well. 

Ned rigs, drop shot rigs, jerkbaits, and swimbaits are some of the best presentations to use here, and smallmouth bass will strike them with speed and aggression, as will several other fish species. Concentrate on rocky banks and deeper water points to find the hotspot for various fish.

4. Gasconade River

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing Gasconade River

A picturesque waterway in central Missouri with varying depths and flows, offering a natural setting for anglers to relax in while fishing for some very aggressive and ready-to-bite smallmouth bass. There are various public access points along the river for you to launch small boats or set up along the shore for fishing. Wading into the river for fishing is very popular, as is canoeing and kayaking.

Small jigs, soft plastic worms, minnows, topwater lures, live bait, and most finesse presentations do well along the river, especially for smallmouth bass. Focus on pools and riffles where the water is moving slower and toss your lure into that area. Bass are normally hiding in these spots throughout the year instead of fighting the rivers current.

5. Meramec River

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing Meramec River

A very popular river in eastern Missouri for float trips and providing diverse smallmouth bass habitat, the Meramec River is home to large populations of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, black bass, channel catfish, and other species. Many anglers consider this to be the best smallmouth bass fishing location in the eastern part of the state.

You’ll find plenty of access points along Meramec River for smallmouth wade fishing, as well as a couple of access points for launching rafts or other small floats. Crayfish imitations, spinners, and streamers are your best options here, with my preference being on the crayfish imitations. Target pools, eddies, and riffles for the smallmouth bass, and you’re sure to find a smallmouth willing to strike.

6. Niangua River

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing Niangua River

A winding river with gravel bars and deep pools in central Missouri, Niangua River offers a relaxing fishing opportunity for experienced anglers and beginners alike. Public access points along the river can be found for wading and floating, giving you options on where to set up.

Small crankbaits, soft plastics, and inline spinners will get you the best results from smallmouth bass fishing here. Concentrate on deep pools and eddies since most of the smallmouth in the river will try to stay in these areas of slower-moving water.

7. Black River

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing Black River

A lesser-known river in southeastern Missouri with diverse fish habitats, including some very healthy populations of smallmouth bass. Public access points for wading and floating are plentiful along the 300-mile length of this river.

Wade fishing and canoeing are very popular here, with wading being my personal preference. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and soft plastic worms are a great choice for smallmouth. Fish around submerged logs and rocky banks at all hours of the day and night since fishing pressure will be low overall.

8. Current River

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing Current River

A scenic Ozark river in southern Missouri with crystal-clear water, offering an exceptional fishing experience for anglers wanting to focus on smallmouth bass fishing. You’ll find several access points along Current River for wading and floating on canoes or small rafts.

Fishing pressure is moderate throughout the year, with small jigs, soft plastics, and streamers getting the best results. Most anglers target pools and riffles where the water moves slower, but oxygen is still high for the fish staying there.

9. Eleven Point River

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing Eleven Point River

A designated National Wild and Scenic River in southern Missouri, characterized by clear waters and serene surroundings, smallmouth bass anglers of all skill levels will love the Eleven Point River. It has several easy access points for wading and some for launching a canoe or small floating raft.

Crayfish imitations, soft plastics, and spinners will get smallmouth bass to react pretty quickly. Focus on pools and eddies for the best results, but rocky areas and gravel bars are very popular points too.

10. James River

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing James River

A winding river with varying flow, the James River features excellent smallmouth bass habitats in southwestern Missouri. James River has a range of public access points for floating in small boats, but wading is almost exclusively the best bass fishing method here.

Fishing pressure in James River is moderate throughout most seasons, with jerkbaits, soft plastics, minnows, and buzzbaits getting quick reactions from several fish species here, especially the smallmouth bass. Fish around log jams and riffles to get the best results in the least amount of time in James River.

11. North Fork White River

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing North Fork White River

A popular river for canoeing and kayaking, offering a mix of smallmouth bass and other game fish, the North Fork White River in southern Missouri is a great option for anglers wanting to focus on smallmouth bass in an area with moderate fishing pressure from fall to early summer.

There are a few good access points for launching your canoe or kayak and multiple areas for wading. Crankbaits, soft plastics, and topwater lures fished near submerged structures and gravel beds will get smallmouth bass to strike quickly and with decent aggression.

12. Big Piney River

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing big piney river

The Big Piney is a meandering river in south-central Missouri with varying depths, providing a tranquil fishing experience for anglers wanting to focus on smallmouth bass but also have other options for gamefish, including largemouth bass, walleye, and bluegill.

Public access points for wading and floating can be found along the 110-mile length of the Big Piney River, giving you plenty of opportunities to concentrate on deep pools and rocky structures along the river. Soft plastic worms, shad, crayfish imitations, and jigs will get you the best results from smallmouth bass, in my experience.

13. Little Piney Creek

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing little piney creek

A smaller tributary of the Gasconade River in central Missouri offers secluded fishing spots and limited access points for wading. You won’t find much in the way of canoeing or kayaking since many parts of this small waterway can be extremely shallow.

Being so secluded, fishing pressure is constantly low, giving you a great chance to land smallmouth bass in a very short amount of time. Crankbaits, soft plastics, live minnows, and nymphs cast into pools and riffles will be your best option.

14. Big River

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing big piney river

A scenic river in eastern Missouri known for its smallmouth bass and other game fish species populations, many of which are very willing to strike on a wide range of presentations. This bass river is a great waterway for complete beginners to get their feet wet with wading and canoeing.

Fishing pressure is low to moderate throughout the year, and crankbait, spinners, and soft plastics are most commonly used. Focus on pools and submerged structures to find schools of smallmouth bass or target larger trophy bass in deeper holes and around rock formations.

15. Huzzah Creek

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing Huzzah Creek

A picturesque Ozark stream in the eastern part of the state with plenty of smallmouth bass and a serene setting to provide relaxation after a rough week at work. This smaller waterway offers limited access points for wading, but if you focus on fallen trees and other heavy brush areas.

Jigs, soft plastics, crawfish, and topwater lures are the go-to bait options for bass here. Fishing pressure is low throughout the year and most seasons, so it’s a good spot for beginners to experiment with new methods and techniques.

16. St. Francis River

Missouri Smallmouth Bass Fishing St. Francis River

A winding river in southeastern Missouri with various habitats along its 426-mile length, offering a mix of fish species, including smallmouth bass, black bass, longear sunfish, and walleye. You’ll find a few easy access points for wading and floating, giving you some options as to where you want to toss your hook in the water.

Fishing pressure is moderate but can get high on weekends. Many anglers will use crankbaits, soft plastics, minnows, and inline spinners for smallmouth bass, as well as a range of different finesse setups. Fish around eddies and rocky areas to get quick strikes.

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Photo of author
Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.