When February throws you a 70-degree day, you drop what you’re doing and head outside. Especially after the stretch of weather we’ve had the last few weeks. To take advantage of this beautiful day, I joined my friends, Nathan “Shags” McLeod and Adam Voight, on a quick afternoon trip with fishing guide Tommy Bench. We chased big smallmouth bass on the Gasconade River.
Bench refers to large smallmouth bass as dinosaurs. As the owner and operator of the Gasconade River Guide service, he catches a lot of these old beauties. Targeting big smallmouth with his clients is what keeps Bench coming back to the water day after day. His success at finding and catching the biggest fish in the river is what keeps his clients coming back.
“It takes smallmouth so long to grow big in these Ozark streams and rivers. They must be as old as dinosaurs by the time they reach 20 inches,” Bench said. “These giants aren’t common, but if you know where they hole up in the winter, you can experience epic days.”
Smallmouth stay active in rivers all year. The befit of winter fishing is the bass stack up in deep holes. When you find one, chances are you’re going to find more. The pre-spawn period generally kicks in during late February when water temperatures push above 50 degrees.
“The water is 48.5 degrees,” Bench said. “This is when the fish start to disperse. When the water temps are below 48, you can find schools of dinosaurs. When you hook into multiple fish in a day over 18 inches, you’re doing something special, no matter what body of water you are fishing in the country. We do that here on the Gasconade regularly.”
Pound for pound, smallmouth fight harder than any other fish I’ve tangled with, and they live in some of the prettiest waters to explore. The Gasconade is no exception. The water has a gorgeous aqua tint to it. The wild lands along the banks are filled with wildlife. Yesterday, we saw deer, bald eagles, a mink, and more. This destination is worth the trip.
This was more than a wildlife watching trip, though. We boated some bruiser fish. In only three hours of fishing, Shags, Adam and I caught close to 20 smallmouth. Shags caught the fish of the day with a dinosaur that stretched the tape to just under 20 inches. Adam and I both caught beautiful fish, too.
The fishing wasn’t complex. We through crankbaits at bluffs and points. Tommy knew right where to go. He uses LiveScope on the river, which isn’t too common, he says. This technology helps him locate promising stretches of river, and then pinpoint locations of fish. with some deep water.
Many smallmouth rivers are perfect for wade fishing. The Gasconade isn’t one of them. This river requires a boat to access many of the best spots. Especially in the winter, when the fish are stacked up in the deepest holes. Bench runs a jet boat, so he can reach just about any section of the river. You can float downstream, but access points may be quite aways apart.
Fishing with Tommy Bench is a great experience. He’s a real nice guy and you won’t have to force the conversation. He’s a fun guy to fish with, on top of be an expert guide. He offers nice cabins on his property for rent. Staying on site with him near Richland, Missouri can make the trip simple for you.
Whenever you hire a guide, you should look at the experience as a learning opportunity. A guide trip can be about so much more than catching fish. If you try to learn all you can from the guide, you’ll find the cost of the experience well worth it. After fishing for a few hours with Tommy yesterday, I have a much better understanding of wintertime river fishing for smallmouth bass. He’s happy to teach you about the tactics you should be using when you go out on your own. He also like to teach about using electronics, like LiveScope, more efficiently. Contact Tommy Bench through his website, www.gasconaderiverguide.net.
See you down the trail….
Pic: Guide Tommy Bench holds Nathan “Shags” McLeod’s Gasconade River dinosaur, with Adam Voight admiring the catch.