JANUARY – Bluegills: Big Creek CA
Northern Missouri’s many small lakes and ponds provide adventurous anglers a fantastic ice-fishing opportunity. Ponds 5, 6, and 7 at Big Creek Conservation Area near Kirksville are good examples of a place where Missouri fishermen can cut through ice to catch bluegills in the dead of winter.
Smaller is better when it comes to equipment. A small 3-foot jigging pole with an ultralight reel and the lightest line is your best bet. Baiting your tiny hook with wax worms or maybe a red wiggler is the optimal choice. Other options include small Power Baits or small minnows. A 5-gallon bucket is a great tool to carry your equipment onto the ice, to use as a seat while you’re fishing, and to carry your catch back.
Other Options: Boathouse Lake Rainbow Trout: Spinners and jigs lure rainbows at St. Louis’ Boathouse Lake in Carondolet Park. Table Rock Lake Bass: Find largemouths and smallmouths in deep water on rocky points.
FEBRUARY – Walleyes: Current River
The lower reaches of the Current River from Carter County to the Arkansas line offer the best walleye fishing. The highest concentrations of winter walleyes inhabit the Current just upstream and downstream of Doniphan.
Walleyes stay in the deepest pools there — holes at least 12 feet deep. They also look for holes with big rocks. These fish don’t like silted pools.
Fish the deep, rocky pools with a medium-action rod and reel. Your best bet for bait just might be a nightcrawler on a size 6 hook with a heavy split shot clamped on your line about 8 inches above. Toss upstream and let the bait bounce on the bottom into a deep pool.
Other Options: Thomas Hill Reservoir Crappie: Thomas Hill Reservoir’s warmwater discharge offers good crappie action throughout the winter. Bull Shoals Lake Striped Bass: Try fishing early and late in the day near the mouths of large coves for big stripers.
MARCH – Paddlefish: Truman Lake
If reeling in prehistoric fish that weigh as much as 100 pounds doesn’t light your fire, then your wood might be wet! Truman Lake offers great paddlefish snagging, especially in two areas where the paddles move through on their spawning run. Good places are between Horseshoe Bend and Weaubleau Creek, and between Osceola and the Taberville Access.
You need heavy equipment to haul one of these monsters from the depths. A stiff 6-foot rod and a saltwater reel spooled with 100-pound-plus braided line is a good start. You’ll need a large sinker, from 8 to 16 ounces, at the end of the line. Most snaggers tie a size 10 treble hook about 2 feet above the weight and a second hook about 2 feet above that.
Other Options: Maramec Spring Park Rainbows: March marks the opening of catch-and-keep trout season at our trout parks. Bull Shoals Lake Walleyes: Suspended jerkbaits on the upper lake land some nice walleyes.
APRIL – Crappie: Mark Twain Lake
As the spring waters warm up at Mark Twain Lake, the crappie start transitioning from pre-spawn waters of 5 to 10 feet to shallow spawning depths. The fishing action starts getting hot around the middle of the month and lasts through the middle of May. All of the upper reaches of the lake offer good spring crappie fishing. Cast your minnow or tube jig to the bank and slowly move it out to find fish. If that’s not working, try fishing the woody cover in the coves. Under normal water coloration, a blue tube jig with white tail is a crappie killer, but if the water is stained try a chartreuse/red combo.
Other Options: Lake of the Ozarks White Bass: Toss curlytail grubs and small Rapalas in the Niangua and Linn Creek arms. Busch Wildlife Area Largemouths: Try casting spinnerbaits at Lake 33 for early bass action.
MAY – Smallmouth Bass: James River
The James River in southwest Missouri is a gem of a stream for great smallmouth fishing. Fish surveys in 2016 between Delaware Town Access and Galena showed that 55 percent of the black bass population in the James River was comprised of smallmouths. Those surveys also indicated that 52 percent of the smallmouth bass population was over 12 inches and 20 percent was over the 15-inch minimum length limit in the trophy smallmouth management area. The largest smallmouth in the 2016 fish sampling project was a whopping 21.2 inches! This “trophy” area is a 22-mile stretch of river between the Hooten Town bridge and the Highway 413/Highway 265 bridge at Galena. Crawdad-colored crankbaits and soft baits work well for smallmouths around pools just below riffles and around rocky cover.
Other Options: Meramec River Channel Cats: Nightcrawlers and stinkbaits in pools below riffles can be hot for Mr. Whiskers. Big Piney River Goggle-Eyes: Rooster Tails and Shimmy Shads are good for rock bass.
JUNE – Blue Catfish: Columbia Bottom CA
This conservation area is located on the south side of the Missouri River at its confluence with the Mississippi. Both rivers offer world-class blue catfish opportunities. Blue cats can weigh more than 100 pounds. Look for them below wing dikes, logjams, blue holes, and cut banks. Some veteran blue cat anglers target moored barges. The theory is that the barge lights attract insects which attract baitfish, which in turn bring in the big blues.
A stiff 6-foot rod and a heavy-duty baitcasting reel filled with 50-pound-test line is necessary to reel in the big ones. Circle hooks are the hook of choice. Gizzard shad and skipjack herring are the best cut baits.
Other Options: Lake of the Ozark Bluegills: Use crickets or red wigglers to catch limits in small coves. Table Rock Lake Smallmouths: Bounce spider grub jigs down deep points.
JULY – Channel Catfish: Grand River
The Grand River from Worth County to the Missouri River offers great channel cat action. Although a relatively small river, its slow-moving current is chockfull of logjams, which act as magnets on the waterway’s catfish. Any other cover you might find in the river and in the deeper pools are good places to locate the abundant whiskered wonders. Fishing from canoes and john boats offer opportunities for catfish up and down the river. Don’t let this stream’s small size fool you. Not only is it full of channel cats, but the lower stretches have a good population of flathead catfish too.
Other Options: Fox Valley Lake Largemouths: Throw topwaters like Zara Spooks or Chug Bugs. Point River Smallmouths: The topwater bite can be hot on this river. Try Tiny Torpedoes and 1/4-ounce buzzbaits.
AUGUST – Largemouth Bass: Clearwater Lake
This southeast Missouri impoundment offers fishermen great largemouth bass fishing in the summer. According to the MDC, the bass population is in excellent shape and biologists suggest that anglers have a great chance to catch bass 15 inches and larger. During the 2016 spring electrofishing survey, the MDC found that 38 percent of the largemouth bass they caught were 15 inches in length or longer. That’s impressive for any Missouri water.
A good choice for top lure is a 1/4-ounce willow-leaf spinnerbait in white or chartreuse fished near cover. Dark-colored worms bounced off points are a good choice too.
Other Options: Mississippi River Flathead Catfish: Fish live baits like large shiners or nightcrawlers behind wing dikes. Lake Taneycomo Brown Trout: Browns are moving upstream to spawn. Fish below the dam at night with stickbaits and large flies.
SEPTEMBER – Muskies: Hazel Creek Lake
This northeast Missouri lake located near Kirksville is virtually unknown as an excellent muskie fishery. The MDC estimates that 1 in 3 muskies there measures 36 inches or longer!
Cooler September days amp up the muskie bite at Hazel Creek. Fishing on overcast days will up your odds of landing a big fish. Bucktail spinners are perhaps the most popular lures to throw. The Mepps Muskie Killer and the Blue Fox Vibrax Muskie Buck are good choices. Other popular baits include the Heddon Rattlin’ Spook, Suick Musky Thriller jerkbait, and the Eppinger Dardevle Spoon. Try casting these baits in the shadows, around woody cover, and near vegetation.
Other Options: North Fork White River Rainbows: Rainbow trout hit Little Cleo spoons and Worden’s Rooster Tails. Council Bluff Lake Redears: Fish the bottom in 8 to 15 feet with crickets or red wigglers.
OCTOBER – Largemouth Bass: Mozingo Lake
This approximately 1,000-acre lake is home to some really big bass, and a lot of them. MDC sampling in 2016 indicated that just over 40 percent of the largemouth bass were more than 15 inches, with some individuals weighing in the 10-pound range! According to the MDC, Mozingo has boasted 5-fish tourney limits of 25 pounds. That’s an incredible stringer of bass anywhere you fish. Mozingo Lake offers rocky points, submerged brushpiles, milfoil weedlines, and shallow coves. Favorite lures include the Zoom Fluke plastic jerkbait, the Gambler swimbait, plastic worms, and spinnerbaits.
Other Options: Blind Pony Lake Crappie: Tube jigs and live minnows fished over brush and along points yield crappie. Lake of the Ozark White Bass: Look for large schools of foraging whites along windblown shorelines.
NOVEMBER – Largemouths: Lake of the Ozarks
November can be one of the very best times for fishermen to catch largemouth bass at the granddaddy of all of Missouri’s big lakes. The bass are on a fall feeding frenzy and can be found in the backs of coves, around docks, on rocky points and up in creek channels.
Try using skirted jigs in coves and along rocky points. If you are fishing the backs of coves, try using a buzzbait or a Zara Spook. In the creek channels, toss a spinnerbait. You may need to change baits and fishing locations as the day wears on.
Other Options: Montauk SP Trout: Catch-and-release trout season begins at all four Missouri trout parks. Fishing pressure is light. Table Rock Lake Spotted Bass: Fish deep-water crankbaits along bluffs and on deep points.
DECEMBER – Hybrids: Thomas Hill Reservoir
This is a warmwater discharge lake that provides a unique year-round fishery. One of the most sought-after fish is the hybrid striped bass, or wiper. A legal hybrid striper must be 20 inches long. Fish that size weigh about 3 pounds.
The coldest days of December make for the best fishing because the wipers move to the warmwater spots, the Brush Creek arm in the southeast portion, and the power-plant discharges.
Most anglers fish for the hybrids using either chicken liver or bait shrimp as if they were fishing for catfish. A limber rod and a reel spooled with 10- to 12-pound-test line is a must.
Other Options: Meramec River Smallmouths: Fish the deep holes with deep crankbaits or jigs. Wappapello Lake Crappie: Fish minnows, tube jigs, or jigs/minnows in 10 to 15 feet of water.