With names like Big Sugar and Little Sugar, floating and fishing on these two Ozark streams is as sweet as it gets.
Big Sugar Creek twists its way through McDonald County, Mo., a little to the north of its sister stream, Little Sugar Creek. Little Sugar is another gem that's mostly in McDonald County, but miles of it are in Arkansas. A scenic stretch of the creek flows through Bella Vista.
The two streams come together at Pineville, Mo., to form the Elk River. Floating is tops on the Elk during summer, with jovial crowds in canoes, kayaks and inner tubes enjoying the gentle current.
The Elk always has enough water for floating in summer. Big Sugar and Little Sugar are smaller and can be tough floats during summer when the water gets low.
For anglers, the smallmouth bass is the trophy on all three streams. Big Sugar, Little Sugar and Elk River offer some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the Ozarks.
Russ Tonkinson of Rogers knows how great the fishing can be on Big Sugar. He's caught high numbers of smallmouths, and some big ones, on previous canoe floats. Casting tube baits and top-water lures with a spin-cast rod works wonders on most any Ozark stream.
He'd never fly fished on Big Sugar until late June when a fishing buddy hinted it might be worth a try. The two arrived at Deep Ford access on Big Sugar just after sunrise in late June. Deep Ford is about four miles upstream from Pineville. There is a big parking area with easy access to the water.
Deep Ford is a popular swimming hole with the locals, but the swimsuit crowd doesn't show up at this early hour.
Into the thigh-deep water, the fishermen waded, lobbing crawdad-imitation flies at underwater boulders and timber. Rocks and wood are typical lairs of smallmouth bass.
An Ozark bass chomped down on the crawdad fly 15 minutes into the trip, ramping up the confidence meter. Anglers also call these fish goggle-eye. Ozark bass are small and bronze-colored with black speckles on their backs. A big one might weigh 1 pound. They put up quite a tussle for their size.
The higher the sun climbed, the hotter the morning. By 10 a.m., Tonkinson managed to catch just one 8-inch smallmouth. The two anglers covered a lot of water, wading as far as one-half mile downstream from Deep Ford.
Enough was enough. The pair hopped in the car and drove 20 minutes south to Little Sugar Creek, hoping for better fishing. Fly fishing Little Sugar was good last fall, with smallmouth bass and a three-pound largemouth bass caught and released.
Griffith Bridge was their destination. It's a low-water bridge across Little Sugar along a gravel county road north of Jane, Mo.
There's a deep pool of clear, swirling water on the downstream side of the bridge. Tonkinson whipped it to a froth casting a brown woolly bugger fly. His buddy worked his way downstream about a quarter-mile. One smallmouth bit, but gave him the slip. Tonkinson got skunked fishing the pool.
Time to wave the white flag and surrender victory to the fish on this day. It was lunchtime. Sandwiches and cold drinks were on ice in the car. The buddies took two lumps of sugar on this fishing trip but enjoyed a fine day.
Go big or little
Big Sugar Creek flows for 24 miles from the Missouri KK bridge to its confluence with Little Sugar Creek. Little Sugar Creek enters Missouri north of Bella Vista. From the Missouri 90 bridge northeast of Jane, Mo., Little Sugar flows for eight miles to its confluence with Big Sugar.
Both streams meet to form the Elk River.
Source: Missouri Department of Conservation