March 08, 2011
There are an amazing number of fish and fishing locations around our state. Here are some of the ones that deserve your attention this year.
By Gerald J. Scott
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Those of us fortunate enough to live here in Missouri have so much great fishing for so many exciting species. Our choices are so numerous, in fact, that budgeting our precious time to enjoy it all can be a real problem. To help you get started, here's a list of many possible solutions for each month's fishing adventures.
Rainbow Trout - White Ribbon Streams
The special regulations governing trout fishing on the nine streams or portions of streams set aside as White Ribbon Trout Areas were deliberately designed to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of anglers.
All of them receive periodic stockings of sufficient numbers of rainbow trout to provide a year-round opportunity for anglers of varying skill levels to enjoy not just trout fishing, but also trout catching. Moreover, hungry anglers can keep four rainbows with no size restriction. A 15-inch minimum length limit does apply to brown trout, and there's a daily creel limit of four in seven of the nine areas.
All trout fishing is limited to catch-and-release from Nov. 1 to February 28 in Newton County's Hickory Creek and in Pulaski County's Stone Mill Spring.
Whenever anglers can keep trout, they can use all types of artificial lures and both natural and commercial baits. Conversely, if trout fishing is restricted to catch-and-release, only artificial lures and flies are legal.
Walleyes - Powersite Dam Tailrace
If you've dreamed about catching a new state-record walleye, February is the month, and the first few miles below Powersite Dam is the place. In fact, the current state record, a 21-pound, 1-ounce monster, was caught there in 1988.
The first hint that the water flowing over Powersite Dam from Lake Taneycomo is beginning to warm triggers an upstream walleye migration from an amazingly long stretch of the White River arm of Bull Shoals Lake. The dam effectively frustrates further movement and, thus, concentrates a lot of walleyes in a very small area. That's good news for anglers.
Boats give anglers an undeniable edge. For one thing, fishing from a boat gives anglers access to the tailrace and river/lake downstream from it from bank to bank and from end to end. Possibly even more important, its possible to fish vertically with jigs and spoons while drifting downstream with the current, a deadly technique indeed.
That said, fishing from the bank on the Forsythe side of the river can be very productive. Bring rod-and-reel combos capable of making casts that would make a saltwater surf fisherman proud.
White Bass - Kings River
The spring white bass run up the Kings River out of Table Rock Lake became famous less than a decade after the lake began to fill. Not much has changed. Admittedly, the run is better some years than others -- they always were -- but, even on an "off" year, the Kings River ranks among the very best white bass fisheries in the Midwest.
There's seldom a need to choose any lure other than a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce leadhead jig tipped with a 3-inch white, yellow or chartreuse curlytail grub. If that approach sounds a little too "one-method-Pete" for your tastes, small crankbaits and 1/4-ounce in-line spinnerbaits are consistent producers.
Paddlefish - Osage River
Paddlefish -- including some very big ones -- are pulled from the Osage River everywhere from where it joins the Missouri River to the Kansas state line. Even so, snaggers have a far better chance of beating the inherently long odds associated with this sport in some areas than they do in others. Traditionally, more paddlefish are wrestled from the first 25 miles of river east of the US 65 highway bridge than anywhere else, because that is where most of the catchable paddlefish -- and, therefore, most paddlefish snaggers -- spend most of the March 15 to April 30 open season. The second best, but still very productive, stretch of the Osage River lies between the mouth of the Sac River and Taberville. Third in production but first in the hearts of snaggers who work from shore is the Bagnell Dam tailrace.
Only the November firearms deer season generates more excitement up and down the Osage basin than paddlefish season. Motel rooms in river towns are booked months in advance, boat ramp parking lots are jammed far beyond capacity, and waiting for a table is the norm even at the most out-of-the-way café.
Obviously, you shouldn't expect to have the river to yourself. If you do, you're snagging in the wrong place. Sophisticated electronics can help locate paddlefish, but the surest way to find them is to look for a concentration of boats.
Channel Cats - Tributary Streams
Most of the year a fierce, albeit usually friendly, debate about whether the channel cat should rank first, second or third in popularity rages among Missouri anglers. Black bass and crappie advocates can raise some valid points, to be sure, but when May "frog strangler" rains send torrents of muddy water rushing down the tributary streams that feed the state's large reservoirs, the case for giving the gold medal to Mr. Whiskers becomes all but overwhelming.
Channel cats got their name because they seek out the currents provided by channels. Now imagine what happens when a significant percentage of the channel cats that normally call one of the state's large reservoirs home move into the confines of the streams that feed it. If you imagined wild and crazy action, you've got the idea.
Since the channel cats are on the move, catfishermen who prefer the traditional fish-from-the-bank approach can settle into one time-honored spot and stay there all day. The action will ebb and flow to be sure, but baits won't remain undisturbed for long.
That said, fishing from a boat is more comfortable and greatly increases the amount of bait and tackle each angler can bring along. Then too, the mobility afforded by fishing from boats allows catfishermen to follow the moving schools of fish from resting area to resting area.
Smallmouths - Ozark Streams
Just one day fishing for smallmouths in a clear, gravel-bottomed Ozark stream will trigger a lifelong siren's song in the heart of anyone who tries it. For better or worse, the same thing could be said of anyone who spends a day or a weekend floating down that same stream in a beve
Happily, there are easy steps a peace-loving bass angler can take to make sharing the stream with "recreational floaters" significantly more pleasant. For example, very few recreational floaters are early risers, so float fishermen who launch at first light can count on having the stream to themselves, at least for awhile. Anglers who prefer to wade can avoid the crowds altogether by fishing upstream from an access site in the morning and downstream from it in the evening.
Crappie - Truman Lake
Anyone who enjoys fishing for crappie that are (almost) cold front proof should set aside as many July days as possible to spend at Truman Lake. Although the amount of submerged and semi-submerged timber dotting the lake's flats and lining its creek channels is a mere shadow of what it once was, there is still plenty of woody cover to serve as summer homes to more crappie than every perch jerker in Missouri could shake a fishin' pole at.
Everyone agrees that crappie are most likely to be found suspended between 8 and 15 fee below the surface in water between 20 and 60 feet deep. Be that as it may, ask these formerly agreeable experts to name the "best" summertime crappie bait on Truman, and the fur will fly. Some local anglers wouldn't even consider using anything other than lively shiner minnows, vertical fished in the heart of the cover either on a tight line or suspended beneath a slip-float. Other equally successful crappie fanatics use nothing but jigs, either fished vertically or cast and retrieved. The truth is that both approaches work very well.
Blue Cats - Truman Lake
If you think it would take something extra special to schedule two consecutive No. 1 fishing picks on the same body of water, you'd be right. As anyone who's tried it will attest, blue cat catching -- not just fishing -- on Truman Lake in August really is that special. No, it's unlikely you'll hook many, if any, blue cats weighing more than 20 pounds, but eatin'-sized blues are not only abundant, but they're also ravenous this month.
Unlike their whiskered relatives, blue cats relate to cover only by coincidence. Instead, they form loose schools and roam the entire water column both vertically and horizontally in search of the shad that make up an overwhelming percentage of their diet. That said, some parts of the lake, topped by the flats on the middle sections of the Osage and South Grand River arms, are more consistent producers than are others.
Rod-and-reel purists do best by drift-fishing flats close to creek and river channels with fresh-caught shad. Sophisticated electronics can help locate schools of blue cats, but the fact that your fishfinder doesn't register anything doesn't necessarily mean hungry blue cats aren't close enough to be attracted to your baits.
Truman Lake catfishermen who like to combine fun and efficiency, rely on free-floating juglines. Each angler can use up to a maximum of 33 hooks, so a two-man team can blanket a large flat, assuming, of course, that they can net enough shad to keep that many hooks baited. For what it's worth, my partner and I use a total of 28 jugs, and we catch a lot of blue cats.
Muskies - Pomme de Terre Lake
Pomme de Terre Lake's nationwide reputation for producing keeper (36-inch plus) muskies is based on the firsthand testimony of thousands of happy anglers. September is a great month to add your own big-one-that-didn't-get-away story to the lake's archives.
Main-lake points hold muskies to be sure, but points aren't the whole story. Big muskies also prowl the outside edges of the timber at the mouths of short coves and pockets. At times, sand or clay shorelines with moderate slopes into deep water hold some tackle-straining brutes.
Guides can be contacted through any of the lake's marinas. If you're new to muskie fishing, or just new to Pomme de Terre, a good guide's fee is money very well spent.
Brown Trout - Blue Ribbon Streams
The regulations governing Blue Ribbon Trout Areas are designed to promote high-quality fishing by restricting harvest to one trout at least 18 inches long per day. It works.
The blue ribbon portion of the Current River runs from the boundary of Montauk State Park downstream to Cedar Grove Bridge. Brown trout weighing 18 pounds rather than measuring 18 inches certainly aren't run-of-the-river fish, but neither are they impossible. Some wading opportunity exists near access sites.
The blue ribbon portion of the North Fork of the White River runs from the upper outlet of Rainbow Spring downstream to Patrick Bridge. The North Fork's brown trout fishing is fantastic, but floating through some (ahem) "interesting" water is the only way to reach it.
Blue Cats - Missouri River
Missouri River blue cat veterans have a saying: "You can't fish too deep in the daytime or too shallow at night." That's an oversimplification, of course, but not too much of one.
On the other hand, forthrightly stating that 2011 will be the year of the trophy blue cat on the Missouri River isn't an oversimplification; it's a fact. Several years of exceptionally high water levels have provided everything a blue cat needs to pack on the pounds, and the fish have taken full advantage of the situation.
Trophy blue cats are surprisingly picky eaters. Offer them a hefty chunk of fresh shad, skipjack or carp and they'll bite. Bait your hook with almost anything else, and the odds are they won't.
Triple-digit blue cats have been pulled from just about everywhere along Missouri's portion of the river. That said, more big blue cats are caught downstream from Hermann than upstream.
Spotted Bass - Table Rock Lake
What better way could there be to end the fishing year than with a bass fishing trip that not only yields nonstop action, but which also takes place on one of Missouri's most scenic bodies of water? None that I can think of!
Hidden beneath the surface of the water off of most of the bluffs on the main stem of Table Rock Lake is at least one row of mature hardwoods. Because they top out so far below the water line, 20 to 60 feet in most cases, most of these trees' major limbs and many of their smaller branches remain intact.
Schools of spotted bass gather in these treetops to spend the winter months ambushing passing shad. Not every treetop will be holding a school of spots at any given time, of course, but somewhere along the length of a typical bluff, several treetops will be.
Catching treetop spotted bass is easy, because they'll strike anything that moves past their noses, including a vertically jigged structure spoon. Finding treetop spots is always possible, but not always easy. A reliable depthfinder and the ability to interpret its signals is essential to success. So is a powerful trolling motor with an operator skilled enough to keep a boat exactly on station.
It's necessary to get a hooked spot into unobstructed water as quickly as possible, but the fish should be brought the rest of the way to the surface slowly to minimize the potentially fatal effects of a too-rapid change in water pressure. Most of the spots in Table Rock, like those in every body of water, are less than the 15-inch legal minimum for harvest, so there's nothing that can be done with fish killed by mishandling other than to toss them back over the side.