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Big Bassin' On Missouri's Little Water

Big Bassin' On Missouri's Little Water

Fishing the smaller streams, bayous, oxbows and lakes of eastern Missouri can offer a break from the fast pace of big-lake bass angling. (April 2008)

Bass fishing on Missouri's streams and small bodies of water offers a change of pace from Missouri's large reservoirs.
Photo by Dian Cooper.

"There aren't many good river bass fishermen left," my observant friend Bob Todd once remarked to me. "Bass fishermen simply want to move too fast anymore. Most have gone the way of the big-lake bass tournaments . . . Race to the hotspots and hurry to the weigh-in. Where's the fun of fishing?" And that comment was made 20 years ago.

It's true: Fishing smaller waters seems be becoming something of a lost art, nudged to the sidelines by the drama surrounding big-lake bass fishing, which has grown phenomenally in the past three decades -- not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, those of us who prefer to chase largemouths on the Show-Me State's rivers and smaller bodies of water have benefited from the exodus of fishermen to the larger reservoirs. Missouri abounds with streams and small lakes that put the opportunity to fish for old bucketmouths practically at the back door of every willing angler in the state.

The 1,381 acres of Seven Island Conservation Area lie near East Prairie. Head east of that community on state Route 80, south on state Route 102, and then east again on state Route A. A concrete boat ramp is there.

Surrounded by cottonwoods and willows, the chute bordering the CA gives fishermen a taste of Southern-style bassin'. Lots of cover and stained water add to the appeal of these waters. Shad and about anything that swims in the Mississippi River form a solid forage base for these types of chutes.

Spring is the time to fish this chute, when high waters from the Mississippi replenish both the water and the fish population. Numerous large bass come from the chute each spring, but by summer, the water can be very shallow. Anglers need to be aware that the chute connects to the Mississippi at both ends and the land between the chute and the river lies in Kentucky.

This 277-acre CA is all that remains of an old blue hole at which the levee broke during the great flood of the late 1930s. Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologist Mark Boone indicated that bass fishermen can enjoy flippin' to the knees of the large cypress trees that stand in the water here.


Wolf Bayou is in northeast Pemiscot County. Take the Wardell exit off Interstate 55 and head east on the outer road; then, take state Route BB over the levee to the end of the road. A concrete boat ramp is available.

Two specific blue holes -- Bird's Blue Hole and Thirty-four Corner -- are both in Mississippi County. The former is southeast of Route 62 at the junction of County Road 301 and Levee Junction, while the latter is 10 miles east of East Prairie on Route 80. Both have concrete boat ramps. The areas flood when the Mississippi spills over its banks.

"The river restocks these holes when it floods," said East Prairie fisherman Tim Eledge, "and the fishing can be really good in spring after the water goes down."

This small tributary enters the Mississippi River north of Cape Girardeau. Exit I-55 at Fruitland; then, travel seven miles north on U.S. Route 61 and six miles east on state Route CC. A boat ramp is available.

"Apple Creek provides good bass fishing opportunities," started Mark Boone, MDC fisheries biologist. "Too, Apple Creek can handle big boats for a good ways. However, boaters should take it easy, because there is a lot of timber in the creek."

Sunfish and shad make up the bass forage base for Apple Creek. The food supply is plentiful, allowing bass to grow to respectable sizes quickly.

"Creeks up and down the eastern border of the state, which dump into the Mississippi, are productive bass waters that many fishermen ignore," said Boone. "They are really underutilized. With a little investigating and work, fishermen can find some new fishing spots for themselves."

The Meramec River is one of the larger streams entering the big river, meeting the Mississippi near Arnold. Fisheries biologist Kevin Meneau wasn't bashful about providing specific information about bass fishing on the Meramec. "I would concentrate my efforts in the Six Flags area around Pacific and Allenton," he advised.

The Meramec is an urban stream this far down. There is a lot of agriculture in the area, and rock and concrete have been dumped to help stabilize the banks. "The rock and riprap along the banks make good cover for crayfish and other aquatic insects and small baitfish," offered Meneau. "Bass key on these spots.

"Largemouth bass are an overlooked species in this stretch of the river. Anglers concentrate on big smallmouth in this area, and their largemouth cousins often go unnoticed. Anglers can expect to catch largemouth in the 12- to 18-inch range fairly consistently, with an occasional fish over 20 inches.

"The Meramec is a great stream," Meneau continued. "Fishermen can catch all three (black) bass species here. Too, the Meramec offers more access than any stream in the state."

The Salt River, in northeast Missouri, is another tributary to the Mississippi River. "Largemouth bass can be found from below the Clarence Cannon Dam on Mark Twain Lake all the way to the Mississippi," said MDC biologist Ross Dames.

According to Dames, the Salt River is very similar to an Ozark stream in its upper reaches. Gravel and rock substrates are common, as are riffles, boulders and limestone bluffs. "The river is quite scenic." Dames added.

The Salt River does not take on the characteristics of a north Missouri stream until it hits the Mississippi floodplain in its last five miles. Lots of woody cover and boulders provide ample structure for big bass to hide in.

With the Salt River dumping into the Mississippi, a good forage base is available to bass. Gizzard shad, suckers, small drum, fathead minnows, crayfish and a variety of other small fish make up the food base. While there are no extensive surveys about the Salt River fishery, Dames pointed out that largemouth bass fishermen would do well to concentrate their efforts in the first two miles of the river below the reregulation dam. There is an access point at the site, which is just off state Route H.

Locals have kept

it secret that the Salt River is a sleeper when it comes to smallmouth bass, which have been showing up more and more here in the last five years. Chris Williamson, another MDC biologist in the region, has turned up smallmouth bass measuring up to 21 inches in his surveys.

"There is not a lot of public access to the Salt River," Dames explained. "There is an access at the rereg dam, one at Indian Camp Conservation Area one mile east of U.S. Route 61 on state Route O in New London, and one in the Ted Shanks Conservation Area.

Fishermen need to be aware of rising water levels on the Salt River as well. Water releases by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can bring the water level up several feet in just a few hours, and the rapidly changing water conditions can make fishing difficult.

Because of the riffles, the Salt River's not the place for a big prop boat -- it's best fished from a jetboat. Some fishermen use small johnboats or canoes.

To reach this 112-acre area, go a mile and a half south of LaBelle on state Route D and then three-quarters of a mile east on a gravel road. There is a concrete boat ramp.

"LaBelle Lake used to belong to the city," Ross Dames explained. "MDC bought it, and now it is the best largemouth bass lake in the region."

LaBelle Lake is fished heavily, but it's well worth the effort to make a trip. Surveys have indicated a healthy population of bass measuring over 18 inches. A strong food base of bluegills produces fast-growing bass, and many big bluegills as well.

Fishing the smaller waters of eastern Missouri for largemouth bass may not be particularly popular among Show-Me State anglers, but if you're looking for a break from the fast, sometimes frantic pace of reservoir bass fishing, give these diminutive areas a cast or two. The results may surprise you.

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