Don’t expect a fast boat ride when you fish with Dennis Whiteside.
Others prefer to rip across lakes at breakneck speeds to get from spot to spot. Whiteside stays in fishing’s slow lane.
He does things the old-fashioned way. On any given day, you might find him on an Ozarks float stream, paddling his canoe to some of the region’s best smallmouth-bass fishing.
“I have a trolling motor, but it doesn’t get much use,” said Whiteside, 67, who guides on the Ozarks streams. “I don’t need it.
“I’ve been paddling down these streams for years, and I’m not about to change now.”
Whiteside paused and lifted his weathered paddle out of the water as he made his way down a stretch of the Niangua River near Lake of the Ozarks.
“I’ve had this old paddle for years,” he said. “It’s hard telling how many miles I have covered with this thing.
“It’s made from sassafras wood, and it just doesn’t wear out.”
For Whiteside, his lightweight canoe and durable paddle are part of his trademark. He was brought up on the Ozarks streams and hasn’t outgrown his fascination of them.
The wooded hillsides, the gurgling riffles, the bluffs, the solitude, the wildlife — that’s Whiteside’s world. He loves floating silently down an Ozarks river, sneaking up on a likely looking hiding place of a big smallmouth bass.
That’s Ozarks fishing, Whiteside will tell you.
“There’s nothing like catching a smallmouth bass in the Ozarks,” he said. “Once you catch a big one, you’ve lived the ultimate Ozarks experience.”
Whiteside has a true appreciation of the Ozarks streams. He can tell you the history of many stretches (“The Niangua was an Indian word for ‘stream of many springs,’” he said), how they used to be and how they are now, the best fishing stretches and the ways of the smallmouth bass.
“I live within an hour’s drive of 25 different float trips,” said Whiteside, who lives in Springfield. “ I have my favorite portions of each stream.
“But my favorites are the tiny streams that are good because they don’t get hammered. I’m not going to tell you which ones those are.”
Whiteside laughed and continued to alternate paddle strokes and casts on the lower Niangua.
If you picture him as a true Ozarks hillbilly, dressed in bib overalls, a T-shirt and a beat-up ballcap … well, you’ve got the wrong picture.
He looks more like a business executive than an Ozarks guide. On this day, he wore khaki shorts, a salmon-colored shirt and a wide-brim hat.
Whiteside has a history in the business world. But he is at home on the Ozarks streams, doing what he was on this brilliant spring day — trying to outsmart smallmouth bass.
“There are some big ones in here,” he said. “I had a client who caught one that was 22 1/2 inches long, and I’ve had two that were right at 22 inches.
“But those fish don’t come along every day. They can be pretty wary.”
That’s where Whiteside’s canoe comes in. He is able to use stealth to maneuver into secluded spots where the big ones live. It’s quiet, and much more stable and comfortable than most people would imagine. His canoe is wide and has backrests on the chairs.
“We haven’t tipped one yet,” Whiteside said with a smile.
As Whiteside approached a shaded stretch of water filled with big boulders, he launched a long cast. He could see his spinnerbait flash over the rocks. He could also see a smallmouth appear out of nowhere and grab the lure.
Whiteside set the hook, and the fish burst into the air. A short time later, he was admiring a 14-inch fish before easing it back into the water.
“Love these smallmouths,” he said.
He saw plenty of them on a recent outing. Fishing eddie pools, stretches of calm water at the edge of the current, root wads and boulders, he and I combined to catch more than 20 smallmouths and a few largemouths in a variety of sizes during a half-day trip.
We used everything from small plastic finesse worms to spinnerbaits to entice the bronze-colored fish.
Along the way, we didn’t see another boat, one more reason Whiteside loves fishing the float streams.
“I’m out on these streams year-round,” he said. “This is my second home.”
For more information on fishing the Ozarks streams, call guide Dennis Whiteside at 479-692-3372 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Three others to try
The Ozarks are filled with scenic float streams teeming with smallmouth bass. Here are three to try:
▪ CURRENT RIVER: The middle portion of the river from Akers Ferry to Van Buren offers breathtaking scenery and outstanding fishing. Surveys have shown that the smallmouth population here is in good shape, both in terms of quantity and quality of fish.
▪ BIG PINEY RIVER: The Special Management Area established by the Missouri Department of Conservation is paying off. That stretch of river, where size and creel limits are restrictive, produces excellent fishing. Fishermen reported catching large numbers of fish from 12 to 15 inches in that section of river, which flows through Pulaski County, during the 2014 season.
▪ GASCONADE RIVER: The section that flows through Laclede County should produce excellent smallmouth fishing this year. Surveys last year found the highest number of smallies there since 2002.
| Brent Frazee, email@example.com