Fourth-generation guide Billy Rosner with a chunk of Vermilion River bronze.
A question I'm often asked is what species or type of fishing I enjoy the most. I'm an all-species angler in every sense, and there are aspects I cherish about everything from crawling up a tiny mountain creek to flipping from the deck of a bass boat to fishing from a big boat for ocean fish. Forced to choose, though, river smallmouth would get the nod. The places they call home; the floating, wading or jet boat approach; and the way they attack and fight puts river smallies ahead of the pack in that mind.
With June being an outstanding time to target stream smallmouth bass, it seemed fitting to share a list of my favorite moving waters for smallmouths.
A couple of disclaimers, for starters. I'm not attempting to name the seven best smallmouth rivers in the country. 1) These are personal favorites -- waters I've fished and enjoyed immensely -- but all are legitimately spectacular places to fish for smallmouth bass. 2) Order is alphabetical.
Buffalo River, Arkansas
Free flowing for 135 miles, mostly through federally owned wild lands in Arkansas' Ozark Mountains, the Buffalo National River offers spectacular scenery and fast action from smallmouth bass and lends itself to a host of floating and wade-fishing options.
New River, Virginia
Steep-sided, rugged and rural, the New River cuts a south-to-north swath through the western tip of Virginia, and a mix of mild and wild river sections produce some seriously big smallmouths (plus more than a few husky muskies) for anglers who know how to target them.
New River Gorge, West Virginia
I know. Same river. However, West Virginia's gorge section, with its crashing rapids, house-sized boulders and towering bluffs, deserves mention of it's own. Super-abundant fish with occasional giants, and all within a very dramatic canyon.
Penobscot River, Maine
Most Penobscot fish have serious shoulders and they hit topwater lures with absolute abandon. The river winds between dense forest and occasional farms, and you never know when you might spot a moose or a bear.
Spring River, Arkansas
As the name suggests, the Spring River rises from a giant spring, so its waters stay a wonderful temperature for smallmouths year 'round. Expect fun mixed catches of smallmouths, rock bass, rainbow trout, brown trout, walleyes and more. Avoid summer weekends, when giant "canoe hatches" occur.
Upper Mississippi River, Minnesota
Because Minnesotans favor walleyes over bass and lakes over rivers, you can enjoy some of the world's finest action for heavyweight smallmouth bass within an hour's drive of the Twin Cities, and you might not see another fisherman.
Vermilion River, Minnesota
Northwoods beauty, a canoe and big, mean smallmouths make for a fabulously fun fishing trip, and that's exactly what you find on the Vermilion River, which is WAY north in Minnesota -- almost to the Boundary Waters, in fact.