Missouri offers plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
Nothing brings back more precious memories to me than reminiscing about summers spent fishing with my parents and grandparents when I was a boy. We spent a lot of time on the banks of rivers and ponds catching bass, channel catfish, bluegills and just about any fish that would bite our lures and live bait. We had our secret honeyholes and we made a lot of memories at those places. We also ate a lot of fried fish after we got back to camp.
When I was a boy we spent an entire week doing nothing but camping on the banks and shores of these bodies of water and fishing them too. We didn’t venture to town to do any extracurricular activities. We spent so much time in and on the water that I’d often check myself to make sure I wasn’t growing fins and scales!
Keeping in mind that today’s kids need some of those extracurricular activities to round out their vacation time, we’ve rounded up some great family fishing opportunities around Missouri that also have some interesting and fun places to go that are away from the water and campsite.
JAMES A. REED MEMORIAL WILDLIFE AREA
The James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area is in Jackson County near Lee’s Summit. The area is only 33 minutes away from Kansas City. Although close to K.C. it offers some excellent fishing on 12 different lakes that total 252 acres of water.
Those lakes range in size from 1 acre to 42, and include a variety of fish offering opportunities for everyone in the family. The fish include largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegills, green-eared sunfish, crappie and bullhead catfish. A couple of the lakes are even stocked with hybrid striped bass. There is even a special 1-acre pond called Honker Pond that is reserved for kids-only fishing!
Try red wigglers and crickets for the sunfish and bluegills and nightcrawlers for channel and bullhead catfish. If artificial baits are your thing, try medium-sized topwater baits like a Chug Bug or a spinner like a Mepps Aglia for the bass there.
Many trails make accessing the lakes pretty handy, and most of them offer great bank fishing opportunities. Rental boats are available at 42-acre Gopher Lake. Dock fishing is available at 22-acre Coot Lake, the 31-acre Jackrabbit Lake, and the 42-acre Catclaw Lake. Fishing from jetty/platforms can be found at the 31-acre Lake Nell, the 15-acre Plover Lake, and at Coot, Jackrabbit and Catclaw lakes.
The area includes three pavilions, 15 picnic tables, eight restrooms/privys, and a visitor’s center.
The only camping on location is reserved for youth groups, but there are plenty of nearby camping areas including the Jacomo Campground in Lee’s Summit, which has 57 campsites ranging from tents to full-service campsites. For more information or to reserve a campsite, call the Jacomo Campground at 816-503-4805.
For more information about the James A. Reed Memorial Area call 816-622-0900.
Along The Way
If you vacation near Kansas City, you would be amiss if you didn’t visit Sea Life Aquarium Kansas City. That attraction will let you see really big fish such as sharks up close and personal. There are more than 5,000 sea creatures available for your viewing pleasure and there is even an interactive touch pool and feeding shows.
For more information call 816-471-4386 or visit visitsealife.com/Kansas-city.
Meramec Caverns could be called your one-stop family fishing vacation destination. Located in Stanton along the Meramec River, this area offers everything a fishing family could want for producing a nice vacation.
The Meramec River is known for its fantastic panfish, smallmouth bass and catfishing opportunities. Meramec Caverns offers 11-mile and 6-mile float trips with canoe rentals on site. The river offers gravel bars where you can slide your canoe ashore and have a picnic, swim and fish from the shore. Live bait, such as nightcrawlers, is a good choice for all fish species, but small spinners, crankbaits and soft-plastic lures are likely to entice a feisty smallmouth bite. Try casting around rocks and logs in still water for panfish, and in calm water just below riffles for smallmouth bass.
Lodging is available at Meramec Caverns via a cozy motel, or at campsites that even include riverfront camping and RV hookups. The campground is equipped with showers, picnic pavilions, riverfront beach, a playground, a country store and a restaurant.
Along The Way
You would never have to leave the Meramec Cavern area because aside from the great fishing opportunities and camping, the area offers the famous Caveman Zipline varying from 200 to 1,250 feet and more zip-lining adventures. There are riverboat tours of the upper Meramec River, not to mention the world-famous Meramec Caverns itself, which is one of the largest caves in Missouri. Touring this fantastic cavern is a real treat for the family.
For more information on Meramec Caverns or any of their amenities, call 573-468-6463.
However, if those fun activities aren’t enough to keep you occupied, you can drive from the campground about 32 miles east on I-44 to Six Flags St. Louis, located in Eureka. This 323-acre theme park includes every kind of thrill-seeking ride you could imagine plus many that are geared for small children. There are many shows and even a water park at Six Flags. For more information visit sixflags.com.
This 162-acre lake is somewhat of a hidden gem in southeast Missouri’s Cape Girardeau County. Located in the Lake Girardeau Conservation Area about 13 miles southwest of Jackson.
The lake has good populations of bluegills and redear sunfish, bass, channel catfish, and crappie. Bluegills as big as 8 inches long and an abundance of 7- to 10-inch redear sunfish should keep the kids smiling and their rods bending. Channel catfish are stocked there at a rate of 30 per acre. Try chicken livers for a good catfish bite.
This lake features two disabled-accessible fishing piers, two floating fishing docks, and a concrete boat ramp. Outboard motors over 10 horsepower must be run at no-wake speed. Camping is available at designated sites which include a gravel parking pad, barbecue grills and picnic tables. No water or electric hookups are available. There are three restrooms/privys available for public use. For more information on Lake Girardeau call 573-290-5730.
Along The Way
If you didn’t get enough water fun at Lake Girardeau, then Cape Splash Family Aquatic Center includes all the family water fun you could ask for. The area includes a 700-foot Lazy River, flume slides, a pool, and a spray pad for the kids. There also is a bathhouse and a changing facility, as well as places to rest in the shade. For more information call 573-339-7529.
Another sight you should see while near Cape Girardeau is the Lazy L Safari Park. This is a walk-through zoo filled with 50 different exotic animals, and a petting barn. There is a gift shop, picnic shelter and snack shack. You can even mine for your own gem stones and fossils at the new mining facility. You can take home your mine finds. For more information call 573-243-7862.
This 820-acre lake is in Greene County near Springfield. This body of water is owned by the Springfield City Utilities but offers some great fishing opportunities close to many major attractions in Springfield.
A wide variety of fish species is in this lake, including largemouth bass, many of which are over 15 inches in length. There’s channel catfish, walleyes, muskellunge, crappie, bluegills, redear sunfish, and white bass too. Bluegills over 6 inches long make up about 32 percent of that species population in the lake. Try worms, crickets and small spinners and jigs for these fun-to-catch and tasty panfish. There are plenty of channel catfish throughout the lake as well. Try using a prepared stinkbait to catch a mess of these whiskered wonders.
A disabled-user fishing dock is located in the northeast arm of the lake, and there’s a boat ramp with disabled access and a courtesy dock near the marina.
Along The Way
You can find some good camping in Springfield at the Springfield/Route 66 KOA Campground located off West Farm Road. The campground offers RV and tent camping as well as cabin lodging. For more information call 417-831-3645.
There is plenty to do in and around Springfield that will keep the entire family entertained.
Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World
If you are an avid outdoors person, then a stop at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield is a must. This is the original Bass Pro store and offers over 500,000 square feet of shopping for outdoor-related items and more. There are seven huge fish tanks and a waterfall tank that includes all native fish species, even large sturgeon. Fish-feeding shows occur daily. There is an alligator pool and many exhibits of mounted wildlife. There are two museums at this location, including the NRA National Shooting Arms Museum and the Archery Hall of Fame. There is a handgun/pistol range where you can get your firearm sighted in for up to 100 yards in the rifle tube there. For more information, call Bass Pro at 417-887-7334.
If it’s good food you’re looking for then you’ve got to visit Lambert’s Cafe in Ozark, about 26 miles south of Springfield. Lambert’s Cafe offers a variety of cuisines including American, barbecue, home-style, seafood, sandwiches, and gluten-free. But Lambert’s is famous not just for their good food; they are perhaps best known as home to the “throwed rolls.” Patrons are tossed the restaurant’s tasty rolls from servers, and everyone loves catching them. For more information call 417-581-7655, or visit throwedrolls.com.
Missouri Sports Hall Of Fame
If you are a sports buff, then you’ll enjoy this place, which includes more than 4,000 sports memorabilia items and exhibits in a two-story, 32,000 square-foot building. There are plenty of interactive exhibits that are great fun for the family including a NASCAR simulator. Or you might want to step into the batter’s box and face a major league pitching simulator, or throw a football and more.
Some of the famous baseball inductees include Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Ken Boyer and George Brett. Football inductees include Marcus Allen, Jack Buck and Dan Dierdorf. The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is aptly located on East Stan Musial Drive in Springfield. For more information call 417-889-3100.
Whether you are a couple without kids or a family that’s the size of the Brady Bunch, Missouri offers plenty of great places to enjoy a family fishing vacation. We’ve listed here just a few examples of Missouri’s great fishing opportunities available for the whole family, along with some fun and exciting extracurricular activities that adults and children will enjoy. That’s a hard combination to beat while spending a little time resting and relaxing in the Show Me State.
Two great sources for finding both great fishing opportunities in Missouri and fun activities are the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Web site at mdc.mo.gov and the Missouri Division of Tourism’s Web site at visitmo.com. Check out these resources for additional fishing hotspots and places to visit in the great Show Me State.
We’re sure you will be making your own precious memories with your family this summer in the great outdoors of Missouri.