I was sitting one evening at an access point on one of our Ozark streams waiting on my shuttle ride back to where my truck was parked up river at a put-in.

It was wintertime, and the stream which is otherwise busy in the summer was resting for the winter from all the summer hoopla. My favorite time to be on the water.

My thumbs were raw from thumbing many smallmouth from the past few days. Being well below freezing and having similar temps the past week, was right down my alley.

The main channel’s water temps plummet during periods of cold weather such as this.

The big springs that feed into our streams provide a steady and constant temp of right under 60 degrees. In the summer these springs feel cold to the touch but in the winter the 59-degree temps are way warmer then the main channel’s water temp.

Richard Whiteside

That warm constant surge of 59-degree water is very appealing to fish in the cold days of winter. Bait fish congregate at the mouth and downstream from these springs and kind of creates a perfect opportunity for smallmouth to fatten up.

More times them not, smallmouth girth measurements are nearly what their length is. Fat bellies to say the least. At times bloated and miserable looking, they’re so fat.

I put all this together one night laying in bed at 2 o’clock in the morning. I specifically went and targeted these sites and would use a variety of methods and at the end of the day, my go-to bait would end up being a black mariboo jig with 6-pound test line.

The bass this time of year do not commit like in the summer. Very often it’s just a tap. Being able to distinguish what you felt and setting the hook is vital to catching smallmouth in the winter.

The trip had been a solo trip and one for the books.

As I sat there waiting I noticed the board at the put-in and saw a stapled MDC smallmouth regulations page on the board. On the page were the requirements.

I thought back to when I followed the requirements. It had been way over 10 years since I had killed a smallmouth. Feeling the guilt, I tried to imagine the smallmouth I had killed and how big they would have been by now if I had of just released them.

Is harvesting a smallmouth wrong? No. Is harvesting a smallmouth permitted? Yes. But the guilt was there and will always be there.

I feel that each outdoorsman that enjoys the thrill of fishing and hunting is always maturing. And I also feel that we all mature at different paces and speeds.

One day long ago I was fishing with family on a river in the mountains of Arkansas called the Big Piney River. It was the first time in a long time that I had been with my uncle.

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