Missouri'™s Family Fishing Vacations

Thanks to my dad's love of fishing, our family spent nearly every summer vacation at Table Rock Lake during my childhood years.

I remember wading in the freezing water below Table Rock Dam with my dad and catching limits of rainbow trout before sunrise. Then in the evenings we would spend some time bass fishing on Table Rock. Even though we did a lot of fishing during our vacation, it was still a family affair because we also got to spend quality time with my mom and sister at the various tourist attractions in the area.

Although I would rather have been fishing, I still enjoyed our family time that we spent swimming, sightseeing and visiting Silver Dollar City, Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Theater and the shops in downtown Branson.

Another of my favorite summertime vacation spots was Montauk State Park. We never spent a full week at that destination, but used it more as a three-day-weekend get-away spot. The park was an ideal place for our whole family to fish together since the trout were stocked every day, which gave my mom and sister a good chance to catch some fish too.

We enjoyed camping at the park during our earliest visits to Montauk but eventually we switched to lodging at the cabins in the park or one of the nearby resorts. The trout fishing was the main attraction for us, but I do remember doing some horseback riding.

The Show Me State has plenty of areas like Table Rock and Montauk where families can combine fishing with other fun activities for a great vacation. Missouri has excellent fishing spots throughout the state and most of those fisheries offer other recreational opportunities such as swimming, hiking, water skiing, sightseeing and camping that the whole family can enjoy. Many of the lakes and rivers around the state also have tourist attractions that are less than a one-hour drive from a great fishing hole.

Let's take a trip around the state to look at some of the best places to spend a family fishing vacation this summer.

BRANSON

This tourism mecca has to be considered the state's premier location for a fishing family to spend a summer vacation.

Lake Taneycomo offers some of the best trout fishing in the state whether you fish with a fly rod or with spinning tackle. The trophy area below Table Rock dam offers fly-fishermen of all skill levels a chance to catch plenty of rainbow and brown trout.

The most popular technique among the locals is to drift an olive scud below a strike indicator with the current. Water flow from the dam is usually low during the summer so anglers have plenty of opportunities to wade in the trophy area.

Rainbows and browns can also be taken on spinning tackle with 2- to 3-inch jerkbaits, micro jigs or 1/80- or 1/100-ounce marabou jigs in brown or olive hues. Tie the micro or marabou jigs on 4- to 6-pound line and set a float about 2 to 3 feet above the lure.

A wide array of live or scented baits produce best for anglers of all ages down lake. I have used pieces of nightcrawlers, Berkley Power Bait Eggs and Berkley Gulp! worms in pink or chartreuse to catch plenty of trout from Cooper Creek to downtown Branson. A drift rig with a 1/4- ounce weight and a small bait hook works best for drifting or tightlining the bait. Although we usually rent a boat to fish the lower lake, a family staying at one of the many resorts on the lake can catch plenty of rainbows fishing off of the resort's dock.

Table Rock is full of spotted and largemouth bass that hit topwater plugs such as Cotton Cordell Red Fins and Heddon Zara Spooks in the early morning hours. Try the pole timber on main and secondary points, and later in the day switch to crankbaits or slowly dragging a split shot rig with a finesse worm in green pumpkin or watermelon hues 10 to 20 feet deep on the gravel bottom of those same points. The local guides also set up their clients with inflated nightcrawlers to catch bass during the heat of summer.

Hand-sized bluegills and goggle-eyes can be taken on the split shot rig at Table Rock throughout the summer. However, I have had good luck fishing for big bluegills by dropping a cricket 10 to 20 feet down through the limbs of cedar trees along secondary points. I use the biggest split shot I can find so the cricket descends quickly past the smaller panfish that usually suspend higher in the tree limbs.

The Branson area provides plenty of family entertainment with its bevy of shopping malls, music shows and museums. Three popular tourist attractions are Silver Dollar City and White Water theme parks and Shepherd of the Hills historic site.

LAKE OF THE OZARKS

My home lake is also one of the top family fishing vacation spots in the state, but to get in on the best bass fishing you have to be an early riser or a night owl. Recreational boating is the most popular sport on the lake during a summer day, so all the boat traffic makes it difficult to fish during the mid-day hours.

Savvy bass anglers usually wait for the sun to set before trying for bass. A Texas-rigged 10-inch Berkley Power Worm in black/blue or blue fleck hues is one of the most effective lures to throw for bass hanging out in brushpiles 15 to 25 feet deep.

During the summer months, catfish and sunfish keep anglers busy baiting their hooks. "You can catch a ton of channel and blue catfish," says James Bryant of Bryant's Osage Outdoors in Laurie.

The bait-and-tackle shop owner suggests families can have plenty of fun fishing for catfish and panfish such as crappie, bluegills and green sunfish off of docks and seawalls.

"We sell more panfish equipment here than anything else in the store," says Bryant. "Panfishing is the staple of the Lake of the Ozarks. That is what the lake is all about. You don't have to have an expensive boat; you can enjoy fishing the Lake of the Ozarks from a lawn chair."

Customers at the various resorts on the lake enjoy catching crappie, bass, bluegills and catfish from docks that the resort owners enhance by sinking brushpiles in multiple locations. "We have a fishing dock and it produces crappie almost year round," says Michael Spriggs, owner of Point Randall Resort.

Tightlining for catfish off the resort docks offers families a great chance for a bragging-sized catch. "We have a picture on our wall of a kid who caught a 17-pound blue cat right off of our fishing dock," Spriggs says.

Popular attractions at Lake of the Ozarks include Big Surf amusement park, Miner Mike's Indoor Family Fun Center, HaHa Tonka State Park, Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Bridal Cave, the Bagnell Dam Strip and the Osage Beach Premium Outlets mall.

KANSAS CITY

Families wanting to fish and have fun in the big city, can have the best of both worlds in the Kansas City metropolitan area. They can spend plenty of vacation time taking in a Royals baseball game or visiting Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun amusement parks, the Kansas City Zoo, Science City and Hallmark's Kaleidoscope. Racing fans can watch exciting NASCAR action at the Kansas Speedway.

Despite its big-city atmosphere, Kansas City offers plenty of fishing opportunities with a wide array of public lakes. Ten Kansas City, Liberty and Jackson County park lakes are stocked throughout the summer with channel catfish that are susceptible to nightcrawlers, stinkbaits and cut bait. Other city or Missouri Department of Conservation lakes offering good fishing for a family outing near the metropolis include Atkinson, Blue Springs, Edwin A. Pape, Farmington Park, Harmony Mission, Hazel Hill, Jacomo, James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area and Watkins Mill State Park. Most of those lakes have thriving populations of bass, bluegills and channel catfish.

Only 15 miles north of the city is Smithville Lake, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir loaded with bass, crappie, bluegills, catfish and walleyes.

The MDC rates catfishing as outstanding during the summer at Smithville. The best fishing for catfish usually occurs above the bridges in the Camp Branch and Platte River arms where the fish can be taken with fresh shad, liver, stinkbaits and worms. Bass fishing is also good during the summer with crankbaits worked along the riprap or with plastic frogs and Senkos fished in the grass.

Smithville's crappie suspend in the standing timber over a depth of 20 feet deep during the summertime. Dipping minnows or jigs about 10 to 12 feet deep around the timber usually draws strikes.

The lake's walleye population continues to grow, with summer usually being one of the prime seasons for catching Smithville walleyes. Trolling deep-diving crankbaits or crawler harnesses along the main-lake points and flats produces best.

ST. LOUIS

The St. Louis Urban Fishing Program Lakes provide 18 fishing spots in St. Louis City and County Parks for families vacationing in the Gateway City. The lakes are stocked monthly throughout the summer with channel catfish and also contain some bass, bluegills, redear sunfish and crappie. There are excellent fishing opportunities in the outskirts of the city at August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area and on the Mississippi and Meramec rivers.

The Busch area has 72 MDC-managed lakes and ponds filled with bass, crappie, bluegills and catfish. The lakes contain plenty of sub-legal (less than 15 inches long) bass, and so small crankbaits, plastic worms and topwater lures are recommended.

Bluegills can provide the best action throughout the summer on all of the Busch lakes. Worms and crickets fished on the bottom near weedbeds will trick the bigger fish. Families can stay busy catching channel catfish on stinkbaits, chicken livers, nightcrawlers and hot dogs on lakes 3, 4, 5, 7 and 23 where 1-pound catfish are stocked monthly. Channel catfish weighing more than 10 pounds are consistently caught on lakes 33, 34 and 35.

The rivers close to downtown St. Louis produce plenty of summertime action for bass, panfish and catfish. Mississippi River catfish can be caught on cut shad or live goldfish while largemouth bass fall for crankbaits in the sloughs and around the main river islands. Smallmouth bass and goggle-eyes provide the best action on the Meramec River south of St. Louis. The best lures for these fish are crawfish-colored crankbaits, small plastic worms and finesse jigs tipped with small plastic craws.

Entertainment for the family while visiting St. Louis includes attending a baseball game of the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Zoo, Gateway Arch, Grant's Farm, Six Flags, Magic House, Forest Park, Science Center and Missouri Botanical Garden.

NORTHERN DESTINATIONS

While visiting the historical sites of Hannibal and St. Joseph, families can also try their luck fishing at Mark Twain and Mozingo lakes.

The MDC predicts largemouth bass fishing will be good this year at Mark Twain. Dragging a Texas- or Carolina-rigged plastic worm along the points is one of the most productive tactics for taking summertime bass. The lake is loaded with crappie, which can be taken in the standing timber on minnows or jigs tipped with minnows. Drifting in a boat or tightlining along the bank with cut shad produces catfish throughout the summer on this reservoir. The lake is also the sight of Mark Twain's birthplace and more attractions dedicated to Missouri's most famous author can be found in nearby Hannibal.

After spending some vacation time at the Pony Express Monument, Pony Express Museum and Jesse James Home Museum in St. Joseph, families can take a short trip over to Mozingo Lake near Maryville. MDC surveys reveal Mozingo has a stable bass population with 43 percent of the fish sampled measuring greater than 15 inches. Texas-rigged 10-inch plastic worms and creature baits worked along the points and creek edges produce best during the heat of the day. There is also some topwater action in the shallow wood cover early and late in the day.

TROUT PARKS

The four trout parks scattered in the southern half of the state probably offer the best chances for all members of the family to catch fish. That's because the trout are stocked daily and readily bite a wide array of baits and artificial lures. Throughout my years of fishing three of the four parks — Montauk near Salem, Meramec Spring near St. James, and Bennett Spring near Lebanon — I have seen anglers of all ages and abilities catch limits of trout. Roaring River State Park near Cassville is the other trout park where families can enjoy consistent action every day.

My favorite lure at the parks is a 1/32-ounce black, olive-green or white marabou jig that I throw on 2-pound-test fluorocarbon or 1-pound monofilament line. Novice anglers can catch plenty of trout on a variety of scented baits such as Berkley Power Bait floating worms, eggs, dough baits, nuggets and nibbles.

The trout parks are located near some of the best canoeing rivers in the state, so families staying at or near the parks can also spend some of their vacation floating and fishing for trout, smallmouth bass and goggle-eyes on the Current, Niangua and Meramec rivers.

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