In every month of the year, fine fishing opportunities can be found throughout Missouri. We've sorted through the top prospects and picked the best of the best. (February 2006)
What Missouri angler hasn't lamented, "So many fish, so little time"? How could you not? Pardon the irresistible pun, but our state is truly stuffed to the gills with great places to wet a line for a host of species suited to anyone's tastes and inclinations.
This year's Missouri fishing calendar was assembled with that thought in mind. Come along on a month-by-month tour of some -- but by no means all -- of the best angling our state has to offer.
Truman Dam Buffalo
It's likely that many Missouri anglers are unaware of a fish called the buffalo, let alone that these seldom-sought fish can provide some of the year's most exciting action. Buffalo grow to prodigious sizes in the Lake of the Ozarks, and in January, schools of buffalo weighing from 20 to 30 pounds and beyond crowd into the dead-water channel below Truman Dam near Warsaw.
A double-jig rig consisting of a 1/8-ounce jig tied about 18 inches above a 1/4-ounce jig is the most popular terminal tackle. Tip the jigs with 3-inch white, yellow or chartreuse curlytail grubs. Fish vertically or slow-troll with the larger jig tapping the bottom occasionally. Hint: Adding half a night crawler to each jig can make a big difference.
Trout fishing at any of the state's four trout parks is another excellent option. Anglers are limited to flies and artificial lures and must release their fish, but 50-trout-per-day catches are the norm. Sauger fans can find good action off the wing dams in the Missouri River.
Lake Taneycomo Trout
Taneycomo is one of Missouri's most popular trout fisheries for the simple reason that it offers ample opportunity for anglers of any skill level to use their favorite methods.
When the turbines at Table Rock Dam aren't operating, "Lake" Taneycomo from Fall Creek up is a flowing stream. Special regulations apply in this stretch of water: artificial lures and flies only, and a 12- to 20-inch must-release slot limit for rainbows. Note that the lakewide daily limit of one brown trout over 20 inches applies here as well. Bring chest waders, and pay attention to the loud horn blast that signals the start of power generation. It's never just a drill; leave the water immediately.
Below the mouth of Fall Creek, trout fishing becomes far more egalitarian. Artificial lures and flies are still legal, and catch a lot of trout, but most anglers either drift-fish from boats or tight-line from the bank, using a variety of commercial and out-of-the-lunch-box baits.
Farther north, the warmwater arm of Thomas Hill Lake offers excellent hybrid action this month. Walleyes at the upper end of Bull Shoals make for good fishing, especially after dark.
Lake Of The Ozarks Crappie
Crappie fishing has been good to excellent here for the past several years, and there's no reason for that to change in 2006.
Look for crappie to be on or close to the bank in a late-pre-spawn to full spawn mode. As a general rule, protected coves and small creek arms produce better than do main-lake shorelines. Look for sloping pea-gravel banks. The presence of docks is an asset, especially if brushpiles have been sunk beneath them. When fishing docks, remember that while the water is public, the dock and its cables and ramps are private property.
Small jigs with or without attached spinners (1/16-ounce or lighter) tipped with soft-plastic tubes are the most popular lure for a very good reason: They catch crappie. Some insist on using minnows, and catch some crappie, but, even so, put themselves unnecessarily at disadvantage.
Fishing for white bass should be excellent this month near the upper ends of major creek and river arms at Bull Shoals. And March is the month that largemouth fishing at Table Rock Lake heats up to excellence on any angler's scale.
Regular visitors to this central Missouri lake will tell you that at Stockton, every month is Walleye Month. And that may well be -- but March can be the best of the best.
Many of Stockton's walleyes move into the Sac or Little Sac rivers or Turnback Creek to spawn during February. During March, they begin drifting back into the lake, where they pause for hours, days or even weeks along channel bends, bluff ends, cove mouths and other similar structures.
Post-spawn walleyes can be moody -- but then, walleyes are always moody. Happily, when Stockton's March walleyes decide to bite, they can be very aggressive. That's why guide Mary Thompson -- (417) 424-2277 -- suggests crankbaits as the lure of choice. Experiment with both trolling and casting.
April is a good month to fish for largemouths in MDC impoundments across the state. In many cases, fishing from the bank is as effective as using a boat. And: To describe snagging spoonbills as a "popular" sport is gross understatement. Make motel reservations early in either Warsaw or Osceola and get in on action that ranges from good to excellent.
Missouri River Feeder Streams Channel Cats
Thanks to the ban on fishing the species commercially, the Missouri River is now absolutely stiff with what many regard as the fish with the best possible combination of practical size, spirited fighting ability and pan-fried delight. Even anglers who find that description of the channel cat a trifle overstated won't want to miss being on a stream somewhere in the Missouri River basin during May.
During May, the Missouri's channel cats begin feeling the urge to spawn. A lot of potential spawning sites are in the big river, but channel cats are born with an urge to roam that's as strong as their urge to reproduce. Couple that with the fact that the warmer water temperatures make the river's feeder streams more aapealing than the main river to a spawning channel cat, and you've got the basis of a large-scale migration. Best of all, there's no need for any adjustment in either tackle or tactics.
Panfish! Not all MDC impoundments offer good bluegill fishing -- check with the appropriate district office -- but all that do can provide a fun day for all ages. Stockton Lake crappie know what angling pressure really means. Nevertheless, crappie fishing remains good here.
Meramec River Trout
Officially, the trout zone on the Meramec River stretches from the Highway 8 bridge downstream to Scott's Ford. Considering that one of the easiest access sites is throug
h the always-crowded Maramec Spring Park, the lack of fishing pressure on the Meramec River has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. It's not unusual to be out of sight of any other angler while fishing this trout-filled water on a summer evening.
There is, of course, a "catch": For openers, only flies and artificial lures are legal terminal tackle. In addition, the limit on brown and rainbow trout in the aggregate is two fish with a 15-inch minimum-length limit. However, creel limits and size restrictions only affect hungry anglers. The rest of us can enjoy catching and releasing more than a dozen feisty trout of both sublegal and superlegal size on an average day.
Truman Lake is positively stuffed with 1- to 5-pound channel cats, and June is an excellent time to get in on the action. And by June, most of Mark Twain Lake's largemouths are well on their way to post-spawn recovery, and right now is a good time to do battle with them.
Truman Lake Crappie
Even though the lake's 15-fish daily creel limit and 9-inch minimum-length limit mean it will take several trips, summer is freezer-filling time for crappie anglers from one end of Truman to the other.
The most popular tactic here is to fish jigs, minnow or jig/minnow combos vertically in standing timber along the edges of submerged river and major creek channels. Minnows or jigs? Conditions will determine when one will outperform the other. Depth is far more often the key. Suspend your bait of choice at a variety of depths between 8 and 25 feet until the crappie reveal themselves. If you haven't had a bite in a minute, try a different depth or location, or both.
If Plan A fails, try standing timber on flats in depths from 15 to 30 feet. As a last resort, move into water 4 to 8 feet deep and fish in and around brushpiles.
Stockton Lake has a great smallmouth fishery, and anglers who key on rocky points should have good luck. The solitary flathead has been called a muskie without scales, and those looking for unique catfishing action will find the upper Missouri River a good place to be this month.
Stream Black Bass
August might seem a strange month to advise anglers to visit any of the Ozarks' recreational canoeist-clogged streams. Even so, the results can be more than worth having to grind your teeth occasionally.
Anglers fortunate enough to own boats equipped with jet drives can beat the crowds either by launching early in the morning and motoring upstream or by waiting until evening and working downstream. Anglers with chest waders can employ the same strategy with excellent results. Launching a canoe and drifting downstream right in among the crowd works, too. Missouri's stream smallmouths, goggle-eyes and trout have learned that passing canoes ring the dinner bell by rousting small prey species from their hiding places.
Small jigs, jig-spinners and small spinnerbaits are the ticket for catching large numbers of smallmouths and every other species in the stream. Conversely, big baits are often the key to catching numbers of large smallmouths.
Carp are a top-rated game fish almost everywhere else in the world. There's no better time to find out why than right here in Missouri. Also: Remove the hooks from a large topwater lure and secure a 4-inch piece of unraveled nylon or plastic rope to the lure's rear hook attachment eye. Cast near a school of gar sunning themselves near Lake Pomme de Terre's surface, and you'll know why this trip was listed.
Pomme De Terre Muskies
It wouldn't be September in Missouri without taking a crack at Pomme de Terre's toothy giants. Both of the lake's two major arms produce good numbers of muskies every year, and a majority of these fish are released to fight another day.
The "secret" to catching muskies begins with locating prime structure like points, breaklines, cove mouths and the outside edges of flooded timber. Step two: Cast to structure until at least one of your shoulders has separated -- muskies really can be the fish of 10,000 casts.
A variety of baits, most of keeper-crappie size, can be purchased from the lake's marinas and tackle shops. Ask for advice about how, when and where to use the lures you just bought, or better yet, hire a guide. If you really want to catch a big muskie, there's no better investment you could make.
For something more conventional, try crappie fishing at Mark Twain Lake. It's too good to miss. Largemouths and spotted bass share the Lake of the Ozarks. Both species offer good crankbait action this month.
Current River Brown Trout
I'm not about to argue with anyone claiming that brown trout as long as my rather lengthy arm swim the Current River: I know there's one in the river that's almost that long -- because for one shining moment, his lip was adorned with my favorite #16 Light Cahill.
If all's as it should be in Missouri, early October on the Current River means stable flows of clear, well-oxygenated water, pleasantly cool air temperatures and a near-absence of "party time" floaters. If ever a time and a place cried out for a fly rod, the Current River in October would fill the bill. Nevertheless, artificial lures -- a term that excludes soft-plastic or scented baits -- are also legal.
The daily creel limit is one trout (either brown or rainbow) over 18 inches long. Anglers serious about big trout probe the river's depths with weighted wooly buggers, salmon-sized streamers or hard-plastic diving crankbaits; the rest of us match the hatch or float a highly visible generic dry fly down the runs and through the riffles. We catch lots of chunky, hard-fighting sublegal fish and, once in a while, a lunker
White bass really turn on at Truman Lake this month. At worst, this fishery rates good; in most years, it's excellent. And Kansas City metro anglers don't have to travel any farther than Longview Lake to find good walleye action this month.
Mississippi River Blue Catfish
Some historians maintain that blue cats weighing more than 300 pounds were sold in St. Louis fish markets in the early 1800's. That might be a "fish story" -- but there's incontrovertible evidence that blue cats weighing well over 100 pounds still swim in Missouri's portion of the Mississippi River.
Anglers who pursue these whiskered giants think big from the get-go. Most locals opt for saltwater boat rods or, at least, heavy-action muskie rods mated with heavy-duty baitcasting reels large enough to spool at least 200 yards of 50-pound-test or heavier line. Terminal rigs vary, but all include weights in the 4-ounce to 1-pound class and heavy wire circle, octopus or Kahle hooks. Bait choices are simple: fresh shad or herring, either alive or as cut bait.
To find trophy blue cats, first find the deepest water in a mile-long stretch of river. Use your boat's electronics to search the entire hole for breaklines or for schools of blue cats. Anchor upstream of the
fish and present your bait right in front of their noses. Failure to see action in a half-hour is a signal to search for another hole or another location in the same hole. However, be sure to try your original spot again later in the day.
There's also excellent walleye and sauger action to be found near the Mississippi River locks and dams north of St. Louis. And while Lake Wappapello doesn't get as much publicity as many other Missouri lakes, it's a good place for tangling with largemouths this month.
Table Rock Spotted Bass
If you're the type of angler who lives for the chance to face bass fishing's greatest challenge every time out, this trip isn't for you. On the other hand, if you'd like to end your bass fishing year with some of the best, and definitely the most laid-back, bass catching of the year, you'll have come to the right place.
The lake's many river-channel bluffs set the stage for this late season action. Submerged standing timber, the tops of which may be 50 feet or more beneath the surface, form the backdrop. Huge schools of spotted bass suspended within or just above the submerged treetops are, of course, the actors.
A jigging spoon weighing from 1/2 to 1 ounce is the most popular lure. However, jigs of similar weights tipped with soft-plastic grubs, tubes or minnow imitations are always worth a try.
The only important secret to this fishing is to bring the fish up from the depths slowly. A too-fast ascent can kill a bass hooked 50 feet or more beneath the boat.
Trout anglers who want to be free to choose their angling method and to take a few trout home to eat need to sample the Niangua River's excellent rainbow action this month. Also, Lake Wappapello sports some good late-season crappie action along the edges of the river channel.
Obviously, 36 fishing trips aren't enough to last a redblooded Missouri angler an entire year. Feel free to add some of your own, or to repeat the ones here as often as seems necessary.