September 30, 2010
Fine fishing's found throughout the Show-Me State. To find it yourself, all you need is some smart planning -- and for that you need our handy little guide! (February 2007)
Missouri's a great fishing state. Regardless of the month, you can find almost any flavor of fishing to satisfy your wishes: small farm ponds, intimate lakes, the expanses of world-renowned impoundments, little spring branches flowing cool and clear from deep within the Ozarks mountains, Ozark flows, rich with smallmouth bass and rock bass, that tumble through shale and granite, and large, productive rivers draining the state -- all providing an array of freshwater angling option that equals any in the nation.
Over the past 35 years I've had the wonderful opportunity as a working fisheries biologist and rabid angler to sample this wonderful aquatic resource we call Missouri. Join me for suggestions on where to fish during the many seasons of the year, along with tips to improve your fishing success.
Ice-Fishing In Northern Missouri Ponds And Small Impoundments
Winter is full swing in January, yet there's a wonderful fishing opportunity in northern Missouri. As ponds freeze and become walkable, the ice cover opens up a whole new world to Missouri anglers. All you'll need are an ice auger or spud and an ice-fishing rod or an ultralight spinning rod set up with 4-pound line and tipped with a 1/80-ounce or smaller jig. Add a small bobber, a handful of Mouses, wax worms, earthworms, or crappie minnows and you're set for some great winter fishing. Bluegills, crappie, and bass will be readily available through the ice.
To locate fishing ponds in north Missouri, check with your local National Resource Conservation Service office for the locations of watershed lakes. Although these are on private property, most landowners will allow ice-fishing when asked.
As an alternative to ice-fishing, check out Missouri's trout park catch and release trout fishing season. Beginning this winter, Montauk, Bennett Spring, and Roaring River state parks open Friday through Monday, and Maramec Spring, is open seven days a week throughout the season.
Blue and Channel catfish in Little Dixie Lake, Hazel Creek Lake, and Hunnewell Lake can readily be caught through the ice using cut bait, minnows or stink bait.
Lake Taneycomo Rainbow Trout
By February, most anglers are beginning to go a little stir-crazy. The first vestiges of spring appear. Air and water temperatures warm; ice leaves the ponds; and those many fishing catalogs begin arriving. To feed this fishing itch, check out Lake Taneycomo, Missouri's most productive trout fishery. Lake Taneycomo is a coldwater tailwater, created by the construction of Table Rock Dam and lake in 1958. Since then it's become one of the best large trout fisheries in the world, routinely producing 14- to 20-inch and larger browns and rainbows for anglers.
In February, large, mature rainbows move to the upper end Lake Taneycomo in an attempt to spawn. Access the upper end from Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery and fish near hatchery outlets, or riffles near the dam and the large riffle downstream from the boat access.
While I'm talking trout, Missouri's Blue and Red Ribbon Trout Management Areas heat up in late February as the hatches start. Check out the Current River from Montauk State Park boundary downstream to Cedar Grove access, the North Fork of the White River from Rainbow Springs to Dawt Mill dam, the Meramec River from the confluence of Maramec Spring to Scott's Ford access, and other Blue Ribbon trout streams.
Thomas Hill Lake's warmwater discharge provides great crappie fishing in February.
Trout Park Opening
How can any Missouri trout angler pass up the official opening of Missouri's trout park season? Maramec Spring Trout Park, Bennett Spring State Park, Montauk State Park and Roaring River State Park open officially on March 1 for catch-and-keep trout fishing. Anglers, who must purchase a daily trout tag, can harvest four trout daily.
Opening day's like visiting your local county fair: Anglers head for the parks to renew old friendships, catch a few trout, and welcome spring to Missouri. I've attended opening days since 1969 to visit with old friends who also take the day off to fish.
The parks, although heavily used, are heavily stocked with rainbows for opening day. Hatchery folks also throw in a few large individual trout. You can find any flavor of trout fishing you enjoy from using natural bait, artificial lures, or fly-only fishing areas. Some parks even have catch and release areas.
Missouri's southern lakes also wake up in March. Crappie and bass begin to move to spawning locations in Table Rock Lake, Bull Shoals, and Norfork lakes. On warm days, check out the backs of coves receiving windblown surface water.
Upper Bull Shoals Lake downstream from Powersite Dam, near Swan Creek also supports Missouri's most productive walleye fishery, whose denizens spawn in March.
Paddlefish snagging season also opens March 15 in upper Lake of the Ozarks, Truman tailwaters and in the James River arm of Table Rock Lake.
Bull Shoals, Table Rock, Norfork And Stockton Lakes Crappie
In April, Missouri lakes warm, crappie begin to spawn, bass think loving thoughts about procreating, and white bass, wipers, and striped bass all move to headwater spawning locations. April 15 is the longstanding date for crappie anglers to target Table Rock, Bull Shoals, Stockton and Norfork lakes.
In northern lakes such as Lake of the Ozarks, Truman and Mark Twain, crappie move into the shallows to spawn later in the month.
April is also the time to check farm ponds and small community lakes for spawning bass. Ponds warm quickly in spring, and bass spawn earlier than in large deep lakes. Check out ponds on Missouri Department of Conservation Areas and small community lakes managed by the MDC. These see little angling.
Big Piney, Big River, Gasconade River, Jacks Fork Smallmouths
Smallmouth bass in Missouri's southern rivers finish spawning in May. Early in the month, catch-and-release smallmouth fishing peaks as males guard nests along all southern rivers. Later, at the end of the month, smallmouth bass harvest se
Special smallmouth bass regulations and areas really work. For exciting smallmouth fishing, fish Big Piney River, Gasconade River, Jacks Fork River and Big River special management areas.
While fishing for smallmouths, don't forget all of Missouri's smallmouth bass rivers also support great rock bass fishing.
Sauger fishing in the Mississippi River just downstream from any of the five locks and dams in northeast Missouri continues to be hot through May.
Lake Of The Ozarks
Water warms throughout the state, and the fishing's hot all over. For largemouth bass, target Lake of the Ozarks. This old lake built in the 1930s produces more trophy largemouths annually than any other lake in the state.
As a second choice, Table Rock Lake consistently produces great bass fishing, especially for large smallmouth bass near Cow Creek Recreation Area and Logslide Bluff near Lampe and for largemouth bass in the nutrient-rich James River arm near Cape Fair. Panfish spawning also peaks in most north Missouri ponds and small lakes.
Bass And Catfish
By July, summer has settled in, and large lakes see the annual onslaught of non-fishing users, so it's time for the angler to switch to Missouri's small impoundments for a wide variety of game species. All the lakes support bass, bluegills, and channel catfish; however, the MDC also stocks several with blue catfish to add a trophy fishery. Check out: Little Dixie Lake, near Columbia; Atkinson, Smithville and Truman lakes, in west-central Missouri; and Hazel Creek, Hunnewell, Long Branch and Mark Twain lakes, in northeast Missouri.
Crappie fishing in Truman, Pomme de Terre and Stockton lakes moves from the frantic action during the spawn to anglers working under lights with small jigs and minnows at characteristic spots near brushpiles, docks, and other structure.
Flathead catfish angling in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers is in full swing in July as catfish come off the spawn. Flatheads are serious predators, living on live fish. Fish off levee points in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers using shad, small sunfish, or minnows.
Ozark Streams Black Bass
The dog days of summer arrive with a vengeance in August, slowing the angling at most lakes and ponds. This is the time to fish for black bass on Missouri's many cool, spring-fed, Ozark streams or for large catfish on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
For smallmouth bass, check out Big Piney River, Big River, and Jacks Fork River within the special smallmouth bass management areas. The protection provided by the 15-inch or 18-inch length limits enables those areas to support large populations of smallmouth bass, all available to anglers willing to float through the management areas. Target boulders and drowned timber near moving water.
Largemouth bass, although less common than are the smallmouths, are underfished in most Ozark rivers. Fish backwater areas exhibiting little current, especially areas with aquatic vegetation using surface lures. Anglers in the know regularly catch 2- to 3-pound largemouths, with that occasional 5-pounder thrown in for good measure.
The dog days of summer also see blue and flathead catfish angling picking up in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers as water flows diminish. Both rivers produce numerous large catfish each year, with a new state or, possibly, world record a real possibility. Catfish anglers have caught several new catfish records during the last five years from these rivers.
Pomme De Terre, Hazel
Creek, Henry Sever,
Fellows Lakes Muskies
As water temperatures cool to the 70s in Missouri's lakes, some of the hottest muskie fishing in the nation cranks up. Known as "the fish of 100,000 casts" in northern waters, Missouri muskie anglers do much better at catching these beasts. In fact, the high catch rates typical of Missouri's muskie program attract anglers from states known for muskies.
One of the first lakes stocked was southwest Missouri's Pomme de Terre Lake, which continues as one of Missouri's best venues for the species. Biologists report more than 15 percent of the muskies in the lake exceed the statewide length limit of 36 inches. Also check out: Hazel Creek Lake, north of Kirksville, first stocked in 1983; Henry Sever Lake, in northeast Missouri near Newark, where 50 percent of the muskie population exceeds the legal length limit; and Fellows Lake, north of Springfield, 25 percent of whose muskies exceed the length limit.
Trout fishing in upper Lake Taneycomo picks up as brown trout begin a spawning migration to the upper lake and Table Rock Dam. The trout fishery in the upper end of the lake down to Fall Creek is managed with a 14- to 20-inch length limit and artificial lure regulations.
Gigging season for suckers and carp also opens Sept. 15 in all southern Missouri streams.
Lake Taneycomo Brown Trout
By October, fall is in full career, and the brown trout are in full spawn in Missouri's special trout management areas. If you want to fish over the largest concentration of spawning browns in the Midwest, fish upper Lake Taneycomo. By October mature browns concentrate in the lake's upper end near Table Rock Dam to spawn. The run is so large that Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery workers net hatchery outlets for brood fish for next year's brown trout release in Missouri's Blue Ribbon and Red Ribbon trout management areas.
This annual brown trout spawn also has the potential to produce a new state-record or world-record fish. Brown trout exceeding the current world-record length have been handled and returned to the water by MDC management biologists.
Access this great fishery by boat during generation periods or by wade-fishing from MDC facilities at Shepherd of the Hills hatchery.
While we're discussing spawning brown trout, the upper Current River downstream from Montauk State Park, the North Fork of the White River from Rainbow Springs to Dawt Mill, and the Meramec River from Maramec Spring to Scott's Ford access also support great fall fishing for brown trout.
Shallow, stump-filled Lake Wappapello hosts some marvelous largemouth fishing. Biologists report that this southeast Missouri venue is lightly fished in the fall, with lots of 2- to 5-pound bigmouths c
Trout Fishing Season
November signals the beginning of Missouri's winter trout fishing opportunities. All four trout parks officially close Oct. 31 and reopen on the second Friday of November for catch-and-release trout fishing with artificial lures only. This past year the MDC expanded trout park catch-and-release season to four days, including both Friday and Monday at Bennett Spring, Montauk and Roaring River state parks. Maramec Spring Trout Park, privately owned, is open seven days a week. Trout catch rates during this special season are outstanding. Anglers report catching 15 to 20 trout per day; some report 100-trout days.
In addition to the winter catch-and-release trout fishery of the trout parks, MDC also stocks special lakes in Columbia, Jefferson City, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Jackson for winter urban trout fishing. Lakes in the program include: Bethel Park Lake in Columbia; Alex George Park Lake, Bowlin Road Lake, Coot Lake, Chaumeire Lake, and others in Kansas City; Busch Lakes, Jefferson Park Lake, O'Fallon Park Lake, Walker Lake, and others in St. Louis; and Rotary Lake in Jackson. Be aware that other lakes are being considered this year for this unique urban trout program.
Sauger and walleye fishing picks up behind all five locks and dams on the Mississippi River north of St. Louis. Jigs tipped with minnows or night crawlers produce good fall catches.
Southern Lakes' Winter Crappie
In December, as northern waters harden, look to the Ozarks for some great late-year fishing. All large lakes including Truman, Lake of the Ozarks, Pomme de Terre, and Table Rock Lake provide great winter crappie fishing. Fish hard, deep structure such as bridge piers or large brushpiles with minnows to get results.
For the anglers who enjoy smallmouth fishing, I also recommend a winter float. Fish any of Missouri's south flowing streams. In winter, although streams don't freeze, smallmouth bass relocate to deep holes with lots of hard cover including boulders and sunken timber, especially deep pools with warm spring inflows. The warm spring flow attracts smallmouth and other stream fish in the winter.
The spotted bass population of Table Rock Lake has been growing steadily for the past 15 years or longer, reaching a level that rivals or exceeds the venue's complement of largemouths. In December, management biologists recommend, anglers using jigging spoons, deep-running crankbaits and jigs should try targeting spotted bass schools along cliff faces with deep dropoffs, over drowned timber in some areas exceeding 30 feet in depth, and off deep points near Cape Fair.
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We've completed our fishing journey. Enjoy Missouri's great fishing resource in 2007 -- and please: Let us know about your successes!
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