Spring fishing in Missouri has never been better. Whether you’re angling for rainbow trout or planning on slamming walleyes, these are the best places to hit.
Rainbow Trout, MO Trout Parks
I dislike fishing around crowds so I have never experienced opening day at the four trout parks. However, lots of Missourians enjoy the tradition and festivities of opening day at Montauk, Bennett Spring, Roaring River and Maramec Spring parks. The parks are stocked daily with trout averaging about 12 1/2 inches long, but the Missouri Department of Conservation adds to the thrill of opening day by stocking more lunker rainbow and brown trout than usual for that special occasion.
Although I have never made the opener, I’ve frequently fished Montauk and Maramec Spring in March. Snow melt and early spring rains cause the streams to flow a little higher and faster, and the water has some color to it, so the trout are less line-shy than during times when the current is slow and the water clear.
My favorite tactics for the trout parks in March are bouncing 1/32-ounce marabou jigs off the bottom of deep pools or hopping the jigs at a steady pace through the shallow riffles. Running a gold Flatfish or Roostertail downstream at a steady pace also triggers strikes from aggressive rainbows.
Walleyes, Stockton Lake
This southwest Missouri reservoir contains walleyes that run up the tributaries to procreate and those that breed on the main lake. Anglers have a good chance to catch walleyes in a confined area up the feeder streams, but conditions have to be ideal — the right amount of rain and water flow — to draw spawning fish to the riffles. Plenty of spawning walleyes can be taken on the lower end during the full moon period of April.
Spots on the main lake where the old river channel swings into a pea gravel bank are ideal for spawning walleyes. Jerking suspending stickbaits along these areas in the early morning, late evening or at night works best for walleyes. If the water becomes too warm during the month, try for post-spawn fish with minnows along ledges and channel swings in the 20- to 30-foot range. Trolling nightcrawlers attached to a horsehead jig along rocky points is another effective tactic for walleyes in April. Make sure the bait bounces slowly along the bottom at depths ranging from 5 to 20 feet.
Bluegills, Table Rock Lake
Anglers throughout the Show Me State know about Table Rock Lake’s fabulous bass fishing, but only the locals and a few outsiders have discovered the impoundment’s other fantastic fishery.
I remember when I was a teenager visiting the lake during summer vacation and catching several nice bluegills, but I never had the pleasure of fishing for these hard-fighting sunfish during the spawn. Table Rock continues to yield high-quality bluegills from one end of the lake to the other, and another sunfish cousin, the rock bass or goggle-eye, has become a popular catch in May.
Table Rock bluegills tend to spawn 2 to 7 feet deep in the backs of pockets. The fish will nest on either mud or rock banks and prefer holding next to some type of wood cover or big rocks. The most popular live baits for spawning bluegills include crickets, redworms or baby nightcrawlers. Present the bait vertically to the nesting fish or cast to the beds with a slip-bobber rig. Fly rod enthusiasts can also tempt the shallowest bedding fish with a small topwater popper or Woolly Worm.
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