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Missouri's Best Summer Fishing

Missouri's Best Summer Fishing

For the season's best angling action, be sure to check out the fishing at these prime locations around our state. (July 2010)

The author took this chunky largemouth by tossing a Bass Pro XTS Minnow alongside a weedbed. Targeting shady cover like weeds and moss is a sure way to get all-day action.
Photo by Billie R. Cooper.

The hot, sultry air of the midnight hour, coupled with the thick smoke from a campfire stoked with green wood to ward off mosquitoes, made me question why my fishing buddy and I were subjecting ourselves to such misery. Then we heard the resounding splash of water and soggy moss echoing through the Missouri darkness as a monster bass inhaled my buddy's plastic frog. Our misery faded into the night.

July and August can be the toughest months of the year to catch fish. Heat, humidity, insects and fish with a bad case of lockjaw can discourage anglers. However, with a little ingenuity, homework and planning, the upcoming weeks can be turned into exciting fishing adventures that are equal to any.

Missouri's waters offer an abundance of places to fish and a multitude of species as well. Following is a look at some of the best summertime fisheries in the Show Me State.

The summer sun began dropping behind the high ridge to the west as my wife and I drifted leisurely along in our kayaks trying to catch just one more smallmouth bass. I dug for my watch.

"Its 8 p.m.," I chuckled to my wife. "Unbelievable! We have been on the river for 13 hours!"

It had been a hot August day, but we felt little of the heat as we pushed off into the cool, clear waters of the upper Meramec. We immediately began catching goggle-eyes and smallmouth bass. The action remained steady as we flipped black and gold Rooster Tails for goggle-eyes and pearl Flukes for smallmouths. Dian and I discovered that we could catch smallmouths at the heads of pools just where the water began to get deeper at the end of a run, even in the heat of the day.


Located in the southeastern quarter of the state, the Meramec is a veritable fisherman's paradise from its source in Dent County to its confluence with the Mississippi River south of St. Louis.

The Meramec meanders through the countryside for 26 miles from Short Bend Access north of Salem before reaching the Highway 8 bridge, the beginning of a Red Ribbon Trout Area. Maramec Spring Branch (different spelling), a daily put-and-take trout fishery, enters the river two miles downstream. Trout fishing in the river picks up below the confluence. The spring water cools the river considerably, making trout fishing an option down to Steelville, some 20 miles away. The Red Ribbon Trout Area ends at Scott's Ford. However, big smallmouth bass can be caught in this 9-mile stretch of river using hair jigs and Wiggle Warts.

A Smallmouth Management Area begins at Scott's Ford west of Steelville and runs 15 miles to Bird's Nest Bridge just north of Steelville. Smallmouth fishing has improved considerably in this stretch since the implementation of new regulations.

Kevin Meneau, a fisheries management biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, says that anglers traditionally fish early and late in the heat of the summer months.

"There are fish to catch in the hot, ugly part of the day, too," Meneau stated. "Fishermen should concentrate on shady spots and the tailouts of riffles and runs. They should also fish around big boulders and root wads."

Fishing pressure affects the quality of fishing as much as anything this time of year, Meneau believes. "We know that fish have the ability to learn, so if they get caught on Brand-X lure a couple of times they will begin to recognize it. So, changing lures until you find something that works is wise."

Meneau also noted that spotted bass are plentiful in the Meramec River Basin. "There is no length limit and anglers can keep up to 12," he stated. "Spots compete with smallmouths, so we would like to see their numbers reduced."

Hot-weather anglers can expect to find good numbers of catfish all the way up to the Smallmouth Management Area. "The lower river is better for flatheads," Meneau noted. "People don't chase channels in fast water, but our studies show that they are there. In the heat of summer is a prime time to catch channel cats on natural or prepared bait in fast water about 18 to 24 inches deep."

A high Ozark Mountain reservoir, "The Rock" is known for its deep, clear water. Located at the famous tourist location of Branson, Table Rock receives a lot of angling pressure at times. But, let the weather turn to a real scorcher and many fishermen turn into water sports enthusiasts. The good news is that, with the right tactics, hot-weather fishing can be grand at The Rock.

Pete Wenners is a longtime guide from the area. He says that July and August are the easiest times of the year to fish Table Rock. "It is a fun time to fish here, because the thermocline forces fish to hold shallower than any other time of the year. People who do not like to fish really deep water need to be here in July and August."

Wenners recommends running up the river arms to search for largemouths, white bass, catfish and a growing walleye population. "Look for bass on drops, ledges and main river points near gravel flats. Walleyes can be caught by trolling big crankbaits in 15 to 18 feet of water. Most catfish are caught on trotlines."

White bass have been phenomenal for the last two years, according to Wenners. "Schools show up on top out in the main lake for as far as you can see. It's been easy to catch 100 fish a day. The best lure to use is a white Mepps spinner. We fish it fast while the fish are on top and let it drop when the fish go down."

Crappie can be caught, but you have to go back to deepwater fishing. Wenners recommends that anglers stay after white bass, largemouths and spots. "Some of the biggest spots in the state can be caught right here in hot weather," Wenners concluded.

If you are looking for a summertime fishing spot that is not much different in July and August than it is the rest of the year, Taneycomo is the place for you, according to fishing guide Walt Fulps. "The cold water pouring from Table Rock Dam does not change much in temperature year around. This factor is good for overall fishing, but things can get tough in the intense heat. As strong light penetrates the water, it heats up the skin of trout found there. Their metabolism picks up, requiring them to feed more, but they will search out areas

with the most oxygen."

The first quarter-mile of open fishing water below the dam is not the place to fish, according to Fulps. "Oh, there are lots of trout there, but there also are lots of fishermen. Taneycomo has become very popular because of the big, football-shaped trout it produces. There are lots of fish downstream, too, and far less fishermen."

Fulps offered several tips to help hot-weather anglers fool Taneycomo trout. "Taneycomo is heavily fished and it is paramount to change flies often. These fish have seen it all," he testified. "Watch your strike indicator religiously. Hookups have to be quick, because these trout are accustomed to eating the plentiful natural supplies of scuds and sowbugs. An artificial fly is not natural and a trout will quickly realize that and spit it out."

Fulps also advises his clients to set the hook on gut instinct. "Even if he sees a moving shadow that could be a trout taking the fly, he should set the hook. The difference in a hookup and a missed fish is a micro-second."

The best fishermen, according to Fulps, are those with good eyesight. "Those guys attract the attention of other anglers," Fulps explained. "They catch lots of fish and everyone wonders what kind of fly they are using. It is not necessarily the fly, but their ability to see the fly as it drifts through the water. They set the hook as soon as they see a fish take it."

Taneycomo is divided into two zones. Zone 1 runs from the closed zone 760 feet below Table Rock Dam to the mouth of Fall Creek, and the tributaries entering Lake Taneycomo within that area. It's strictly artificial flies and lures only -- soft plastics are specifically prohibited. Fishermen may keep four trout daily, of which only one can be a brown trout. Rainbow trout must be less than 12 inches or greater than 20 inches to keep. Brown trout must be greater than 20 inches. That's a big trout anywhere.

Zone 2 extends from the mouth of Fall Creek to Powersite Dam, including all tributaries entering within the zone. Daily limit is four trout, only one of which can be a brown. Brown trout must be greater than 20 inches to keep. No bait restrictions and no size restrictions on rainbow trout apply there.

The upper three miles of the river are easily accessible to wade-fishermen. From Fall Creek downstream, fishing is limited mostly to boat fishermen or those fishing from one of the commercial docks.

If you are in doubt about the hot-weather angle, consider this: Bryan Chapman of St. Louis caught a state-record brown trout from Taneycomo in July 2005. The 27-pound, 8.8-ounce bruiser took a rainbow trout-colored Little Cleo just below Fall Creek. Scott Sandusky of Arnold bested that record in December of 2009 with a 28-pound, 12-ounce brown caught on Power Bait. And the word is that MDC biologists netted a 32-pounder that is still in the lake.

I lump these two grand rivers together only because of magazine space limitations. Every Missouri citizen is within a couple of hours of one of these magnificent fisheries. If you want to have a day of laid-back, catch-what-you-can style of fishing, these are the rivers for you. The possibility of catching a wide range of fish is greater on these two rivers than at any other bodies of water in the state. Everything from carp to walleyes exists in these muddy waters.

Of course, catfishing is the major attraction of the big waters. Look for flatheads around cover. Logjams, cut banks, bridge pilings and rockpiles hold these delectable fish. Live baits are the best way to go. Bluegills are popular baits and can be caught from feeder creeks. Use the smaller ones; keep the larger 'gills for your own feast.

Blue catfish are abundant in both rivers. They associate with faster water and often are caught from the scour holes below wing dikes. However, during the hot-weather months, Washington's Al Struckhof prefers to fish the main channel for big blues. As the sun sets, it's not a bad idea to switch your efforts to shallow flats below the wing dikes.

Channel catfish can be caught throughout the big-river systems. It's great fun to pitch a camp on a big, open sandbar and prop up a rod on a forked stick for channels. Worms are favored bait, but don't ignore summertime grasshoppers.

Largemouth bass, white bass and crappie are associated with mouths of creeks. Every time I'm on one of the big rivers, I take a little time to toss a spinnerbait for bass and a jig for crappie. At times I dabble worms for monster bluegills. Those efforts are often rewarded.

For those fishing enthusiasts who like something way out there, the big rivers are chockfull of Asian carp, or the jumping variety. They fly out of the water at the noise of an approaching boat. Staging a bow shooter or two on the decks is a surefire way to have some unusual fishing fun.

A note of caution is in order, however. These fish are big and dangerous. Boaters should always be aware of their presence while running the big rivers. Several boaters are seriously injured by these jumping fish every year.

This sprawling U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir in the northwest portion of our state is home to great summertime fishing. Catfishermen methodically drift across flats in search of schools of blue cats. Those searching for big blues concentrate their efforts on main-lake channel swings near deep water. If there is a flat nearby, the spot is even better.

Crappie are taken all summer from structure around deep bluffs and around timber in deep water. Move closer to the banks where there is some structure and you are likely to find mega bluegills. The boat docks that surround the lake also are bluegill magnets. Tiny jigs work wonders on these mighty fighters.

Largemouth bass action is good at early morning and late evening on topwater baits. And don't overlook fishing at night. My most productive nighttime fishing hours have been from 3 a.m. until sunrise.

Hybrid striped bass action can sizzle in July and August as well. Jack Vanderpool is a longtime hybrid guide, well known for his high-tech fishing gear. He is the guru of fishing with gizzard shad for hybrids. Summertime hybrids key on big balls of shad. They can be hard to find at times, but Vanderpool has the electronics to get the job done. Vanderpool not only is a fine angler, but an educator as well. He wants to teach people how to fish Truman Lake.

There you have it. There is no reason to leave Missouri waters in the summer heat as long as there are fish to be caught. And there are!

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