Catfish And More: Missouri'™s '˜Double-Bite'™ Lakes

Catfish aren't all that's worth catching at these lakes boasting double bites. (August 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Catfishing is at the top of the list for a lot of us in the Show-Me State during the dog days of summer. Except for the cats, the fish in many waters shut down, and going home skunked is pretty much to be expected. But there are waters where you can catch a lot more than the catfish.

Here's a look at lakes where it's not only the catfish that are biting. Bass, bluegills, crappie and other fish can add a lot of zest to a day on the water when the cats are laying low.

LAKE JACOMO

"Jacomo Lake has the best catfishing in the Kansas City area," said Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries management supervisor Joseph Bonneau, "and there's excellent angling for other species as well, even in August. Anglers take some very nice channel catfish, and some blue cats are also caught on occasion."

Lake Jacomo surrendered the state-record channel catfish -- 34 pounds, 10 ounces -- according to Pam Lanigan, fisheries biologist with the MDC.

Summer is a great time for catching channel cats at Jacomo. Some anglers like to use hot dogs for bait up in the coves at night while others are using minnows and night crawlers. Lanigan gets a lot of reports of fish from 5 to 12 pounds being caught. The MDC stocks about 9,700 channel cats from 8 to 12 inches every year and the returns are good.

Blue cats were first stocked about 15 years ago, and anglers now are catching fish up in the 35-pound range. Blues are caught along the channel in the upper end of the lake on rod-and-reel rigs baited with cut shad under a big float. Jugs and setlines aren't allowed. Blue catfish stocking was discontinued, so there aren't as many blues as there used to be.

Flatheads do extremely well in Lake Jacomo, said Lanigan. These bruisers are caught in the summer using live bait along the steep rocky outcrops. They've even been caught by crappie fishermen on panfish jigs, though that's hardly the recommended technique. Fish in the 70-pound range have been taken during the MDC electroshocking surveys.

"Lake Jacomo is also well known for its largemouths," said Lanigan. "There are good numbers of fish in the 2- to 5-pound range caught, along with an occasional 7- to 8-pounder."

Brushpiles have been placed in the lake as fish attractors. Bass move in to target the prey fish, and small Rapalas, plastic worms and finesse tactics will pull them off when they do. Contact the MDC office at (816) 655-6250 for a map of brushpile locations.

Lake Jacomo covers 970 acres in Jackson County. The lake is a mile northeast of Lee's Summit off Woods Chapel Road. A floating fishing dock at the main marina, a covered dock at the South Ramp and three fishing jetties add additional shoreline access. Putting a boat into Lake Jacomo requires a county permit.

SMITHVILLE LAKE

"Smithville has an excellent channel catfish population with a very good population of flatheads and an occasional blue catfish," said Jake Allman, the biologist who manages the lake.

According to Allman, Smithville's cats provide the best-tasting catfish fillets found anywhere. The channels can be caught throughout the lake from mid-April through November, with the backs of the coves and lake points being especially productive. Cut shad and live sunfish are ideal baits. You might also get a big flathead as a bonus.

Don't bother fishing for these cats with light tackle, cautioned Allman. Big fish are the rule. Trotlines are legal at Smithville, and setting them out on flats near the channel breaks works well.

The white bass are another draw at Smithville, and the action can be fast and furious. "During the daytime, white bass can be caught on the main lake points, humps and old pond dams," said Allman. "Schooling fish may be on the surface chasing shad in the morning and in the late afternoon, but some of the best catches are made when the fish are located in deep water."

Smithville's whites -- which average 12 to 13 inches -- don't move around much, said Allman, and if you can find them, you can take one on nearly every cast for an hour or so. Troll Rat-L-Traps or Cicadas until you find a school, and then use jigging spoons to put a lot of them on the stringer.

The daily bag limit on white bass is 15; no more than four over 18 inches may be kept.

Boasting 175 miles of shoreline and lots of public access, 7,190-acre Smithville sprawls through Clinton and Clay counties. Ramps are available off 240th, W Road and Little Platte, Camp Branch and Crow's Creek parks.

Additional information is available from the MDC's Kansas City Region, (816) 792-8662.

HUNNEWELL LAKE

"Hunnewell Lake is one of our better catfishing lakes in the Northeast Region," said fisheries management biologist Chris Williamson. "Hunnewell receives annual stockings of both channel and blue catfish. The blues grow to some nice sizes in this lake and several fish over 50 pounds are taken every year."

One reason that the blues tip the scales as much as they do is the presence in the lake of Asian clams, said Williamson. Local anglers aren't complaining.

The panfish bite is also good. Redears, bluegills and crappie all run large, and fishing for them can be fast and furious. The lake is well known for its redear sunfish and bluegills, noted Williamson. A 10-inch redear may not even turn another angler's head. Bluegills and crappies up to 9 inches aren't uncommon.

"Hunnewell is one of the better bluegill lakes around the area," said Vince Smith of Nemo Bait Inc. in Perry. "There's a lot of larger fish, which may be due in part to the fact you have to rent a park boat and can't use your own."

Most of the catfish and panfishing is in the north end of the lake. A lot of anglers never get on the water and do well right off the bank.

Brushpiles have been added near the covered dock to attract the panfish. Fish attractors have been scattered around the lake.

Part of the Hunnewell Conservation Area, the lake covers 220 acres in Shelby County. Special regulations are in effect: Only rod-and-line fishing is allowed, and anglers are required to maintain their own stringers. The daily bag limit is four catfish with an eight-f

ish possession limit; the daily limit on crappie is 30, with 60 in possession.

Owing to concerns about the zebra mussel invasion, private boats have been banned from the lake. Boat rentals are available.

For more information, contact the Northeast Region in Hannibal, (573) 248-2530, or Nemo Bait, (573) 565-3271.

PERRY COUNTY LAKE

"All of our public lakes are stocked annually with channel catfish," said Mark Haas, fisheries biologist with the Southeast Region, "so a good catfish bite at night in August is possible anywhere. I'd recommend Perry County Lake near Perryville. The lake has a good population of largemouth bass for a backup bite. A third of the bass are greater than 15 inches, which is very good."

The lake's aeration system helps keep the lake well oxygenated, making the bass are a little more active than they'd otherwise be in the middle of summer.

Early-morning and late-evening fishing in the shallow shoreline areas will be the bass angler's best bet. You can set out a line for the cats and toss topwaters for the largemouths.

Gary Burton, a retired biology teacher who worked at both the high school and college levels, now owns Burton's Bait and Tackle in Smithville, and is always ready to lend his expertise to anglers. "Catfish are generally scavengers," he noted, "and will eat whatever they're in the mood for at the time."

In smaller waters like 100-acre Perry County Lake, the cats are easier to find -- but not necessarily easier to catch. Use baits that pack a punch to compete with the other scents that drift through smaller eutrophic lakes, which have plenty of decaying plant and animal matter. Channels will move right up to the shoreline areas when the sun starts to set; that's where you'll find the numbers.

For additional information, contact the Southeast Region at (573) 290-5730.

MOZINGO LAKE

Northwest Missouri has several good hot-weather destinations. One of the top picks of biologist Harold Kerns is Mozingo Lake in Nodaway County. The fishery in this lake owned by the city of Maryville is managed by the MDC -- and it's a good one, as Mozingo boasts a channel catfish population that's nothing less than spectacular.

The biologists who keep a finger on the pulse of Mozingo's fishery are impressed with the size of the cats. Big fish in the 8- to 10-pound range are fairly common, and can be taken just about anywhere on the lake during the night. Blues and flatheads are extremely rare at Mozingo, but they do show up on occasion.

Conventional baits for cats include chicken livers, doughballs and cut fish. Nothing fancy is needed on this 1,006-acre lake. After dark, pick a spot along the shoreline on the flats and you'll be on the cats.

Target the jumbo bluegills on the deeper brushpiles during the summer heat. The larger 'gills go deep in the summer and will generally be deeper than smaller fish. Outside weed edges, points and dropoff areas outside the coves will hold fish. The shallow, woody cover will hold smaller bluegills if you're after a stringerful of fish for supper.

MDC samplings have produced bluegills up to 9 inches. They're a great alternative to the lake's cats when you're after the double bite.

Boat passes are required; these can be obtained from the park. Three small ramps are available.

For additional information, contact the Northwest Region at (816) 271-3100 or the city of Maryville at (660) 562-8001.

FELLOWS LAKE

Channel cats rule the roost in Fellows Lake, but the largemouth bass and muskies are certainly worth contending with as well.

"Fellows is normally stocked with 10 to 15 channel catfish per acre every year," said Jennifer Guyot, the area fisheries biologist. She reported that the lake is a numbers lake rather than a trophy fishery. During stockings from 2001 through 2005, the lengths of sampled fish ranged from 8 to 25 inches. Many of the catfish are in the larger size-brackets, but the majority will prove perfect for the pan. An occasional fish over 25 inches is sampled by the MDC, but not very often.

Anglers can keep up to four channel cats daily; there is no minimum-length requirement. The cats are taken on conventional baits like night crawlers and chicken livers.

About a fourth of the lake's bucketmouths are above the 15-inch mark, which is nothing short of excellent, said Guyot. A 12- to 15-inch slot limit is in effect with a 6-fish limit.

Check in the area of the submerged fish attractors that have been scattered around the lake.

A third bite -- if you can hit it -- is that for the lake's muskies. Fellows has a good muskie population, but they're tough to find in the midsummer months. The minimum-length limit is 36 inches, and about 30 percent of them are at least that size, according to a recent MDC survey. Fish over 40 inches are not uncommon.

Summer muskies can be taken from deeper water near the weedbeds. Troll large crankbaits and inline spinners with heavy gear capable of handling savage strikes and hard runs. Sleek and mean, these torpedo-shaped predators will tear up flimsy tackle.

The minimum-length restriction on muskies is 36 inches; only one muskie may be taken daily.

Fellows is northeast of Springfield and is owned by the Springfield City Utilities. A boat permit is required. Boat motors are restricted to 40 horsepower or less. A handicapped-accessible fishing dock is on the northeast section of the lake and other spots to bank fish are available. The ramp is at the marina.

For a contour map showing the fish attractors contact the Southwest Region at (417) 895-6880, or visit the MDC Web site.

LITTLE DIXIE LAKE

Catfish and redears are the name of the game at this little lake, according to fisheries management biologist Craig Gemming. "Little Dixie is one of the best smaller lakes we have for catfish in the Central Region," he said. "Every year the lake is stocked with over 3,000 channel cats and 500 blue catfish. Surveys last year indicated that most of the channel catfish are from 16 to 22 inches and weigh from 1 1/2 to 4 pounds. Most of the blues range from 18 to 24 inches and are in the 2- to 5-pound range."

The cats do get bigger: Last year a 51-pound blue was caught, and every year a few between 20 and 40 pounds come out of the lake.

Fish off the dam and jetties, on cover and near creek channels for the cats. Four cats in combination may be kept; no minimum-length restrictions are in force.

"Little Dixie also has an outstanding redear population with most of the fish averaging between

8 to 10 inches," said Gemming. "There are also a few redear up in the 12-inch range that weigh in at about 1 1/4 pounds. Chances of catching a 10-inch 1-pound Master Angler redear are excellent."

Local angler Courtney Culler offered that both channels and blues are so abundant that anglers take them right off the shoreline during daylight hours. Culler, who spends a lot of time on the water, is very impressed with the fishery.

"Anglers are fishing for cats and catching 20-inchers one after the other right off the bank," said Culler. "Most of the fishing is from the dam but there's fishing from the dikes on the north end of the lake, as well. I watched one angler bring in a 4-pound channel catfish and an 8-pound blue in one afternoon. Just use a worm under a bobber."

Fishing for redear sunfish can be a challenge. Gemming believes that the difficulty anglers have in tagging these hefty panfish explains the neglect of the fishery.

Fish worms and crickets on or near the bottom, said Gemming, or in the stumps in shallow water. Move the bait slowly along the bottom on a small hook with enough split shot to keep the bait down.

Little Dixie Lake is in the Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area, which lies 15 miles east of Columbia next to the town of Millersburg.

Up to 20 sunfish can be taken daily. For more information call the Central Region at (573) 884-6861. Find lake maps on the MDC's Web site, www.mdc.mo.gov.

Find more about Missouri fishing and hunting at: MissouriGameandFish.com.

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