After an amazing day on the Meramec River with Damon Spurgeon boating trout on a fly rod, the second day of my mid-life retirement was spent on the middle section of the Current River with Billy Smith catching smallmouth bass out of deep holes with soft plastics pitched from spinning outfits. We had the river all to ourselves and caught more bass than we could keep track of.
Billy Smith has lived his whole life in Ozarks around the Current River. He had a long and distinguished career with the National Park Service, working mostly out of Van Buren for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. When retirement arrived for Billy, and I mean real retirement — not a week and half off like I experienced — he knew he wanted to find a way to continue to promote the rivers he loves so much while having fun. So he decided to start an outfitting business, and to honor the park he cherishes, named his business Scenic Rivers Guide Service and Tours.
Billy caters to fishermen primarily, but he is just as willing to take folks out for a boat ride to look for wildlife, especially bald eagles, of which there are many making their home along Current River. When I meet bird watchers who don’t hunt or fish, I like to tell them most of my time outdoors is spent watching birds, only to be momentarily interrupted by catching fish and taking game.
Nathan “Shags” McLeod and I met Billy at Ruby’s Restaurant on the square in Eminence for breakfast at 7:30. After filling up with hearty meals, we headed to Two Rivers to launch Billy’s jet boat. We headed down river quite a ways and started fishing immediately. Billy normally spends his guide trips instructing and focusing on client enjoyment, but since this was more of a friendly fishing trip, Billy started showing off right away. With each fish he boated, his big, beaming smile shined brighter from the bow of the boat. He certainly knows how to catch the smallmouth on Current River and it only took a few seconds for him to prove it.
Shags and I competed in rock, scissors, paper to see who got to start in the back of the boat. He won the two out three battle, throwing scissors to cut my paper and breaking the 1-1 tie. We switched each time someone caught a fish. We moved around a lot, because we caught more fish than we could keep track of.
I’ll tell you what, Shags is one of the best fishermen I’ve ever met. If you listen to his radio show, The Morning Shag on 96.7 KCMQ, then you know him as a wild and funny guy. And he certainly is that, but on the water, when Shags is Nathan, he is as serious about fishing as anyone I have ever met, and boy he can catch fish. Much of it is due to effort. I’ll regularly sit down and kick my feet up. I can sit back and just soak in the sun for long stretches of time. Not him. That dude is throwing, reeling, throwing, reeling, throwing, reeling every minute we are on the water. It truly is impressive. He’s like a 7-foot tall 7-year-old who is trying to catch his first fish every time he goes out. His enthusiasm for fishing is infectious.
The upper Current River, where the big brown trout roam, has become my home water. I absolutely love it and could spend every day floating there. Maybe someday I will. But having now experienced the level of smallmouth fishing Billy Smith introduced me to down river, I am going to have to start spending more time chasing bronzebacks. For one, no fish fights harder. Smallmouth are so much fun to catch, and when you can catch as many as we did, it’s hard to argue that anything could be more fun.
If the old adage is true that “he who has the most toys wins,” I’m in the running for a medal. And of course, now I have my heart set on owning a jet boat. I want a smaller one with a 25-horsepower jet motor so I can run above Round Spring. Then I’ll need to outfit it with all the bells and whistles for gigging, which is another Ozark tradition I’m excited to become much more involved in. So if you are looking to unload a boat that might meet this description, I might be a willing buyer.
See you down the trail.
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