September 30, 2010
If you think fishing was good in the Show Me State last season, just wait until you try some of the 36 trips we've targeted for you this year! (February 2010)
There are places in North America that offer excellent fishing for a limited number of species of fish. Missouri isn't one of them.
To the contrary, the Show Me State is bursting with excellent fishing for a number of species, which -- while technically not infinite -- is more than enough to give new meaning to the term "variety."
That said, catching certain species of fish is easier -- or at least less difficult -- in specific places at specific times. Missouri's 2010 Fish Calendar has been designed to illustrate some of the state's best bets on a month-by-month basis. Even so, it's far from definitive. It's not guaranteed either. How could it be in a state where there is no such thing as "normal" weather?
Brown Trout: Lake Taneycomo
There's a lot of good brown trout water in Missouri, but none of it is anything like the Table Rock dam tailrace at the upper end of Lake Taneycomo. Nowhere else in the state is it possible to fish for anything, let alone trophy-sized brown trout while standing in the shadow of a concrete wall hundreds of feet tall. If this will be your first visit, don't be embarrassed when you spend a few minutes staring upward in awestruck wonder. Veterans do too.
Eventually, of course, you'll turn your attention to a deceptively complex stream. Take a few minutes to study the currents. Ask yourself where a trout literally as long as your arm, or perhaps your leg, might lie in wait for an easy meal. That's because presenting your lure anywhere else is pointless.
And what should that lure be? Woolly Buggers, Muddler Minnows and large streamers are among the top choices for anglers wielding fly rods, but no wise trout angler would ever be without a selection of dry flies -- even during January. Anglers who prefer spinning tackle can easily use wet flies by adding a weighted float a few feet above the fly. Even so, most spin-fishermen opt for 2- to 3-inch-long minnow crankbaits, in-line spinners and small crankbaits.
Warning: A siren will sound just prior to increased water releases through the dam. When you hear it, get above the high-water mark immediately, even if it means breaking off the trout of a lifetime.
Hybrids: Thomas Hill Lake
Open-water fishing in February would be rare at Randolph County's Thomas Hill Lake if its southeastern end didn't serve as a "sink" for a large power plant's cooling water. Happily for both bank- and boat-anglers, the plant uses and then returns sufficient water to keep a portion of the lake ice-free.
Although channel cats, flatheads and crappie follow the shad into the warm-water arm, hybrids are the main draw for area anglers. Landing a new state record may be unlikely, but no other Missouri lake can match Thomas Hill's numbers of feisty 4- to 8-pounders.
Drift-fishing with chicken livers is often the best bet for boat-anglers, and the same bait tight-lined on the bottom or suspended beneath a float is usually the way to go for bank-anglers. That said, Thomas Hill's hybrids crush artificial lures as eagerly as will their brethren in other lakes. Quarter-ounce jigs tipped with 3-inch curlytail grubs -- yellow or white are good color choices -- are consistent producers. Lipless crankbaits and spoons are two other must-have lures.
Smallmouth Bass: Stockton Lake
Twin-armed, wind-blown Stockton Lake (in Cedar and Dade counties) is one of the best, if not the best, flat-water smallmouth fisheries in the state. There are other possible structure types, of course, but main-lake and secondary points are the places to start. Narrow your search by concentrating on points with chunk rock or pea gravel banks.
These fish are in pre-spawn mode and are feeding primarily on crayfish, supplemented by any hapless shad or perch that swims within striking range. Short-bodied billed crankbaits capable of diving 5 to 10 feet are a good lure choice, as are both hard- and soft-bodied jerkbaits. That said, it's hard to go wrong tossing a black jig-and-pig or a white spinnerbait.
Paddlefish: Osage River
The paddlefish (a.k.a. spoonbill) is not only among Missouri's most ancient surviving species of fish, it's also among the state's most popular sport fish. At least a few paddlefish make spring runs up most of the Missouri River's larger tributaries, and they're becoming more numerous and more popular in Table Rock's James River arm every year. But be that as it may, the Osage River basin is the place to be if your goal is to -- pardon the irresistible pun -- hook up with a big paddlefish anytime during the March 15 to April 30 open season.
Snagging is the only practical way to catch these plankton-eating monsters. Getting a hook with an inch-wide gap to share space with a paddlefish is difficult under any circumstances, so it pays to follow the crowds to the traditional hotspots. These include the first few miles of river downstream from Bagnell Dam, the Lake of the Ozarks, from about the 50-mile marker west. Snagging is prohibited from the U.S. 65 bridge west to Truman Dam. There's also the upper fourth of Truman Lake and the Osage River from Roscoe to the Kansas state line.
Catfish: Missouri River
Mention the Missouri River and most anglers' thoughts immediately turn to catfish. There's nothing wrong with that, because the Mighty Mo is indeed among the state's best bets for channel cats, blue cats or flatheads. Even so, the Missouri River has much more to offer. Walleyes, saugers, white bass, largemouth bass and crappie are also available to those who seek them both in the main river and near the mouths of its many tributaries. If that's not enough action, drum, sturgeon (most species are catch-and-release) and carp provide both fun and fodder for a surprisingly large number of people.
Expect blue cats, the largest sturgeon and saugers to occupy the deepest current-washed holes. Walleyes, white bass and channel cats often patrol the currents above and below wing dams, chutes and the mouths of tributaries. Largemouths and crappie spend most of their time in backwaters out of the main current. Flatheads, drum and carp can be just about anywhere.
Warning: Big eye and silver carp, both of which often jump several feet above the water at the sound of an approaching boat, pose a serious danger to boaters who venture out of the shipping channel or into major tributaries. Go slow and be prepared to defend yourself at all times.
Channel Catfish: Urban Ponds
Can you imagine walking, bicycling or riding a bus to reach some good channel catfi
shing that didn't require a boat, a special permit or expensive tackle? If you live in either Kansas City or St. Louis, you don't have to use your imagination. Under the auspices of a cooperative program between the Missouri Department of Conservation and the appropriate city and/or county park administrative agencies, ponds located within urban parks receive periodic stockings of "eating-sized" channel cats throughout the warm months.
The MDC does its best to keep the exact timing of these stockings secret in order to avoid the follow-the-hatchery-truck melees common to some other states' put-and-take trout fisheries. Even so, word that the catfish are biting exceptionally well spreads quickly. While the ponds are never "fished out," the presence of an unusually high number of anglers is a solid indication of a recent stocking.
City channel cats have cosmopolitan tastes. Shrimp, hot dogs, miniature smoked sausages, fresh poultry livers and soft cheese are all good bait choices for these fish. If you're more of a traditionalist, don't worry. These cats will also chomp on garden-dug worms, crayfish, minnows and grasshoppers.
Carp: Waters Statewide
Carp as the fish-of-the-month? Whatever were we thinking? Worldwide, the common carp is both the No. 1 freshwater sport fish and the No. 1 freshwater food fish. Missouri's carp fishing is so good in terms of both quantity and quality that Europeans come here every year to enjoy it. It's high time we joined the fun.
Carp can be found in virtually every public body of water in the state and in many private ponds. Fishing from the bank is often the best way to catch them. Unless you spend a lot of time rod-and-reel fishing for blue cats, flatheads or paddlefish, the biggest fish you'll ever catch in Missouri is probably going to be a carp. In other words, it's hard to see a downside to spending some fishing time with the oft-maligned buglemouth bass.
Worms and grasshoppers are the top natural carp attractors. Dough balls, either commercial or homemade, canned corn and boiled potatoes are among dozens of select carp bait choices.
Largemouths: Lake of the Ozarks
Given the Lake of the Ozarks' well-earned reputation for tsunami-sized boat wakes and inexperienced -- to say nothing of inebriated — mega-boat drivers, is Missouri's oldest major reservoir a safe place to fish for largemouth bass during the middle of the summer recreational boating season? It is if you're willing to work the late-night shift. By 3 a.m., the last waterborne reveler has gone ashore, and the lake will remain deserted until an hour or two after sunrise. Happily, those few hours are the very best times of the entire 24-hour day to fish for largemouths during the dog days of August.
Secondary points, boat docks located on moderately sloping banks, weedbeds and the back ends of small pockets are good places to try your luck. Hint: Anglers who mark the locations of major resorts on their topo maps can use these establishments' lights as navigation beacons.
A black plastic worm rigged Texas style on either a hook or a jig is easily the No. 1 lure. That said, topwater lures and spinnerbaits also are good choices.
Walleyes: Stockton Lake
It's really no surprise that Stockton Lake is at the head of an impressively long list of good places to find Missouri walleyes in September. At this time of the year, rocky main-lake points are a favored structure type for walleyes, and Stockton is loaded with them.
Keep in mind, however, that points are not carbon copies of one another. Some points have gradual slopes and extend 100 yards or more offshore before breaking into deep water. Others have moderate or stair-step slopes. Still others break within pitching distance of the shoreline. Walleyes use them all but not necessarily at the same time. Keep experimenting until you find active fish.
Whether you're using night crawlers, minnows or artificial lures, the trick is to keep your offering within, at most, a foot of the bottom. Admittedly, this is easier to do with live bait, but artificial lure purists can accomplish the task by matching the lure they choose to the depth of water they're fishing.
Crappie: Clearwater Lake
Clearwater Lake nestles into the hills of eastern Reynolds County as if it were trying to remain hidden from the public. It may or may not have been a good plan, but the lake offers too much good fishing for it to have had a chance of working.
The lake's crappie fishing is an excellent example of what Clearwater Lake has to offer. That's never been more true than it is in October when huge schools of crappie move into hardwood brushpiles constructed by the MDC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This is a must-do trip for anyone who lives even close to southeast Missouri.
One of the nicest things about crappie is their consistency when it comes to both real and fake edibles. Grab a bucket of minnows, a handful of jigs or both, and you're good to go.
Rainbow Trout: Urban Ponds
Now's the time to return to those same urban ponds that produced so much good channel cat fishing during the spring and summer. Only this time, the target is rainbow trout.
Through Jan. 31, 2010, urban trout fishing is strictly catch-and-release and only artificial lures are legal. Small in-line spinners, jigs tied with marabou or hair, and miniature crankbaits are popular with spin-fishermen. Fly-rodders favor wooly worms, glow balls and streamers.
Beginning on Feb. 1, 2010, it's legal to harvest up to four trout per day with no size restrictions. The use of live or dead bait also becomes legal. Soft cheese and canned whole kernel corn are standbys, but earthworms, mealworms and shrimp also have their advocates.
The catch-and-keep season officially remains open until water temperatures have risen too high to support trout. From a practical standpoint, this fishery is very popular, and only a handful of trout are left in most ponds by March 1.
Striped Bass: Bull Shoals Lake
By December, the water coming over Powersite Dam near Forsythe is a few degrees warmer than the water in the main body of Bull Shoals Lake. That's the signal for pure-strain striped bass to begin moving into the dam's tailrace and the first few miles of lake downstream from it. They've come there to feed on whatever they can catch, of course, but their main target is rainbow trout that have followed the current over the dam.
These fish are real brutes, and some of them are as long as your leg. Stout tackle and muskie-sized lures are the order of the day. Striped bass feed almost exclusively on fish, so there's little need for lures in any colors other than rainbow trout or chrome with either blue or black backs.
Live bait is another possibility. It's illegal to use game fish or parts thereof for bait anywhere in Missouri, so baiting up with rainbows is a no-no. On the other
hand, suckers, creek chubs and other cylindrical-shaped non-game fish are OK. Don't be afraid to use baitfish up to a foot long or more.
The best action usually takes place at night or, albeit to a far lesser extent, on overcast days. Luckily, there's some bank-fishing opportunity just below the dam, and it's possible to launch a boat almost within sight of the best water.
Obviously, going fishing only 12 times a year is absurd. Return to the calendar at the beginning of this article for 24 more suggestions. After that, you're on your own. But, if you're a typical Show Me State fisherman, that won't be an insurmountable problem.