I hope your hooks are sharpened and there’s fresh line on your reels, because it’s time to get serious about planning this year’s fishing trips.
This article and its accompanying monthly chart are meant to give you a leg up in that regard by outlining 36 proven options. While we’ve tried to select the “best” month location and species of fish for each trip, feel free to swap them around a bit to fit your schedule.
It’s hard to imagine a better place for a fisherman to be in January than Lake Taneycomo. Most important, of course, is the fact that this “coincidental trout fishery,” which is a by-product of coldwater releases through the turbines of Table Rock Dam, is arguably the state’s best. There’s no question but that it’s Missouri’s most angler-friendly.
The lake is positively stiff with rainbow trout from one end to the other. While it does receive generous stockings of eating-sized trout throughout the year, this is not a strictly put-and-take fishery like our four trout parks. To be sure, a lot of stockers don’t dodge anglers’ hooks for more than a few weeks, but others survive for years or even decades, plenty of time for them to reach gargantuan proportions.
Winter weather in southern Missouri’s White River Valley is usually relatively mild, but don’t bet on it. Happily, another good thing about choosing Lake Taneycomo for a January fishing trip is that accommodations, food, supplies and entertainment varied enough to fit any taste or budget are available in Branson. Anglers who prefer to concentrate on the lower end of the lake will find the good folks in Forsythe eager to take good care of them.
Thomas Hill Lake
Regular readers of Missouri Game & Fish are used to seeing Thomas Hill Lake’s winter hybrid fishery featured somewhere among February’s top picks. There’s a simple reason for that: the hybrid fishing is simply that good. The fact that stringers often also include channel cats and crappie is merely a bonus.
To tell the whole truth, the fishing at Thomas Hill needs to be something special, because winters in northern Missouri are anything but mild. Most of the region’s lakes are ice-covered in February. Most of Thomas Hill is, too, but the water in one of its arms is used as a heat sink for an electric power plant. As a result, it’s almost always ice-free.
There’s a concrete launch ramp in the warm water, boats offering anglers a decided advantage. That said, it’s possible to catch fish from shore.
No services are available at the lake during the winter months. Nearby towns can provide anything a visiting angler should need and most of what he might want.
Tourism types in the Upper Midwest and southern Canada hope American walleye fanatics never find out how much good walleye water there is in Missouri. But even here, one lake stands out. That’s Stockton, and March is one of the best times to fish.
Stockton is home to two distinct strains of walleyes, one of which prefers to spawn in running water and another that prefers to spawn on rocky shorelines in the main lake. As might be expected, different tactics are called for to maximize action from either strain.
For lake spawners, the face of the dam is obviously the lake’s longest continuous rocky shoreline, a fact recognized by both walleyes and walleye anglers. It can get crowded along the dam when the walleyes are on the rocks, but most anglers will be catching fish. Anglers who are turned off by crowds can find their own far more private bonanzas on the ends and sides of rocky main-lake points and off riprapped bridge approaches.
The Big Sac River and Turnback Creek get the biggest runs of river-spawning walleyes. The Little Sac also has a fair to good run. During wet springs, a few walleyes will run up virtually any year-round tributary. Those fish seldom see an angler.
It isn’t always necessary to move out of the extreme upper ends of the river and creek arms to find walleyes. When the fish are above the lake in the streams, remember that it’s illegal to possess walleyes in or on the banks of streams after 6:30 p.m.
The city of Stockton is the logical base of operations, but marinas and campgrounds begin opening around March 1.
If snagging paddlefish isn’t Missouri’s second most popular outdoor sport after firearms deer hunting, it’s almost certainly a very close third behind spring turkey hunting. A few small restricted zones aside, snagging paddlefish is legal from March 15 through April 30 statewide, and these prehistoric plankton feeders can be found in the Mississippi, the Missouri and the James rivers.
That said, the Osage River upstream from Bagnell Dam to as far west as the Kansas line is the place to be in April. That’s not exactly angling’s best-kept secret, of course. To the contrary, “no vacancy” signs on motels, overflowing launch ramp parking lots and waiting lines at restaurants are the rule. Seeing flotillas of boats almost close enough to walk across isn’t unusual either. That’s especially true on the stretch of the Osage River/Lake of the Ozarks from the U.S. Highway 65 bridge at Warsaw east to several miles downlake from the mouth of Deer Creek.
Sustained current is the key to triggering paddlefish movements upstream out of the Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake. Keep an eye on the weather in the Osage Basin west of Osceola and be ready to respond when conditions are right.
Discover the top spots for Missouri fishing for May, June, July and August on page two