February 02, 2016
A wise man once said the best day to fish is any day you can go. That's pretty simple logic. Fortunately for us, good fishing opportunities are out there to be enjoyed 12 months a year in Missouri. You just have to figure out the best direction to point the truck.
With that in mind, we've selected three of the finest options for each month of the year, with special emphasis on spots that provide chances to target a variety of species and that are scattered throughout Missouri. Now you just need to block out some days to get out there!
Lake Taneycomo Brown Trout
Stocked annually with 700,000 trout, Lake Taneycomo produces excellent action throughout the year. From late fall through the end of winter, though, is when the big browns come out to play, with the best fishing often coming on the most miserable days. The state-record brown trout, which weighed 28 pounds, 8 ounces, came from Taneycomo in mid-November.
While big browns can come from anywhere in the lake, the trophy waters between Table Rock Dam and Fall Creek, where special regulations apply, hold the highest density of quality fish, while individual oversized browns commonly come from deep holes down toward Branson.
Scud fly patterns, micro jigs fished under floats and marabou jigs account for big numbers of fish, including some large ones. Arguably the best way to target jumbo browns is to throw a minnow-imitating lure like a Rebel Minnow or a weighted streamer fly that suggests a minnow or a sculpin.
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Lake of the Ozarks Largemouths
February's fickle weather can include brutal cold, and parts of Lake of the Ozarks can even get covered with ice. Nevertheless, late winter days yield some of the biggest bass caught every year, and warm spells between fronts can deliver oddly spring-like conditions.
Lake of the Ozarks spreads across more than 50,000 acres and is made up of snaky river arms and hundreds of pockets. Use a map to identify hard channel bends that provide wind protection from multiple directions, places where deep holes are close to feeding flats, and points that have deep water beside them, and then search several areas for concentrations of bait.
Consider that the bass move up with every warm spell and drop back into deep water when cold fronts push through. For deep fish, jig a spoon right at the bottom and among baitfish, or slowly drag a jig. If there's even a hint of spring in the air, fish a suspending jerkbait over main-lake points, using rod tip jerks and substantial pauses.
Bull Shoals Walleyes
Bull Shoals' acclaimed walleye fishery suffered a noteworthy dip after a 2011 fish kill. The population has rebounded well, though, and is in excellent condition, with plenty of quality "keeper fish" and high numbers of smaller ones from excellent recent spawns.
Fine walleye fishing can be enjoyed year 'round, but finding and catching fish in the open water the fish favor through much of the year can be challenging. Early in the spring the fish run up the White River and major creeks to spawn and become much easier to target than at other times. For the same reasons, early spring is when Bull Shoals walleyes spend the most time in the Missouri waters.
Suspending jerkbaits fished at dawn and dusk or through the night account for a lot of big March walleyes. Through the day, when fish often stage in deep holes in river bends, tipping a jig with a minnow and fishing it vertically can produce.
Truman Lake Crappie
A perennial favorite destination among crappie fishermen, Truman Lake promises extra-fast action this spring. High numbers of fish recently moved into the "keeper" range, and plenty of large fish help keep it interesting. Truman's population contains both black and white crappie, with the whites currently outnumbering the blacks by about 2 to 1.
Spring is spawning time, which means the crappie move to the backs of creeks and coves where they make heavy use of shallow cover. That makes them easier to find and catch than at other times. As important, it also puts them within easy reach of the bank, so no boat is needed to tap into much of the best fishing.
Spring strategies are simple. Either fish a jig straight down from the end of a long pole so you can easily work it beside riprap, downed trees and other cover, or put a jig or minnow beneath a float and cast it around shallow cover. If the bobber doesn't go under, twitch the rod a few times to move the jig, or reel in and make another cast.
Big Piney River Smallmouths
May days lend themselves wonderfully to floating a river and casting for hard-fighting, high-flying smallmouth bass, and few places are better suited for that approach than the Big Piney River, especially through the smallmouth bass special management area. The river supports very high numbers of smallmouths in the 12- to 15-inch range, but any fish that attacks a grub or topwater plug could turn out to be a 20-incher.
Floating, either in a canoe or a small johnboat, provides the best means to access most of the best smallmouth waters. However, parking the boat on shoals and getting out and wading allows you to fish the most productive areas much more thoroughly.
Although smallmouths are the main attraction on the Big Piney River, expect a mixed catch that includes plenty of rock bass, especially if you keep your offerings on the small size.
Mozingo Lake Largemouths
Although fairly small in size at 1,006 acres, Mozingo Lake is huge in its offerings to bass fishermen. Bass are plentiful, and the size structure is outstanding, with more than 35 percent of the bass collected in the most recent survey having been more than 15 inches long. Beyond producing good overall quality, Mozingo yields some genuine trophies. When the bite is on, it often takes more than 25 pounds to win a tournament.
Mozingo's outstanding bass fishing is largely a product of excellent and diverse habitat that includes rocky points, brush, milfoil and more. The same diversity allows anglers to use a lot of different techniques to catch bass.
Not surprisingly, Mozingo Lake's bass bounties have not remained a secret. The lake gets a lot of bass fishing pressure for its size. Because there is so much cover, it "fishes big," and finding a good place to fish typically isn't a problem. The fish are fairly well educated, though, so good presentations can be very important.
Missouri River Flathead Catfish
The Missouri River is as famous for its catfish as any waterway in the nation, but much attention often goes to super-sized blues and ultra-abundant channel cats. Too often overlooked is an outstanding population of big flathead catfish throughout the big river's Missouri run.
While numbers in the upper river have moderated from a recent peak, flatheads still are very abundant, with plenty of big fish. The 99-pound "bank pole" state record, which was caught in 2000, shows the size potential of Missouri River flatheads.
Because flatheads are top-end predators that rarely feed on anything dead, catching them with any consistency calls for a targeted approach that defies catfishing stereotypes. Live fish, including bullheads, bluegills, carp and goldfish, make the best bait.
Flatheads are highly structure-oriented and stay out of the strongest current, tucking close to wing dams, revetment banks and logjams. Fish baits close to that kind of cover, using extremely stout gear.
Mark Twain White Bass
White bass are best known for the predictable action they offer when they run up rivers to spawn each spring, but at Mark Twain Lake, these hard-fighting fish also serve up big summer fun. The white bass school up during the summer, herding gizzard shad, and when you find them you're apt to find a bunch.
The best action occurs over main-lake humps and flats. Mark Twain is a large lake, though, and the fish are following roving baitfish schools, so look at online reports before going in order to get an idea about where fish have been schooling. Much schooling activity is on the surface, so the white bass will reveal themselves. When you see them, cast a spoon, a small topwater lure, or small bucktail jig, work it quickly, and hang on tight.
If you don't see schooling fish, use your electronics to search for baitfish over flats and humps, and then troll small crankbaits and spoons through the bait. When you find the fish, you'll know it!
Montrose Lake Flathead Catfish
Hints of fall that creep in during September tend to activate the flathead catfish that abound in Montrose Lake. The fall bite only gets better through September and continuing to Oct. 15, when the lake closes to fishing until the end of waterfowl season.
Montrose holds claim to the Missouri state-record flathead, a 77-pound, 8-ounce fish that was caught in 2003 and that was no fluke. The lake supports extremely high numbers of quality cats, including channels and flatheads. Much of the flathead fishing is done with trotlines, but anglers who target the big cats with rod-and-reel approaches do well.
The flatheads tend to stay close to inundated channels, often congregating in holes formed by hard channel bends and in places where channels swing close to a point or other structure. Invest time searching likely fish-holding spots with electronics, and set up with big live baits when you find fish.
Gasconade River Smallmouths
Excellent smallmouth fishing can be found through much of the Gasconade River, but the population of quality fish is especially high through the special management area in Phelps and Pulaski counties, based on Missouri Department of Conservation sampling.
Similarly, good fishing can be found throughout the summer, but the action tends to get hotter as the water cools during the fall.
The Gasconade can be waded or floated, and the best overall approach is probably to combine the two. Keep planned floats on the short side so there is plenty of time to wade shoals and work other areas thoroughly.
Biologists point toward root wads and boulders that get swept by current and form hard eddies as prime areas for Gasconade River smallmouths, but with a reminder not to overlook deep cover in the lower ends of long pools. Some fish may hit topwater lures during October, especially during the first part of the month, but jigs, Texas-rigged soft craws, and jerkbaits generally produce better autumn action.
Fellows Lake Muskellunge
Folks who follow muskie reports know that Fellows Lake is recovering from a 2012 fish kill, when drought-caused low water combined with high temperatures to kill a lot of the lake's largest muskies. Fishing is on the upswing, though, and even a subpar Fellows Lake offers far better opportunities to catch decent muskies than do most other waters in the region. In 2014, 9.5 percent of the fish collected during sampling were more than 40 inches long, and that percentage almost certainly has increased over the past two years.
Muskies like cool water and become more active late in the fall. The coldest, wettest days of the month typically provide the best opportunities to catch fish. Use super-sized spinners, bucktails and swimbaits and focus your efforts around brushpiles and weedbeds.
Trolling and casting each offer advantages. Trolling keeps your lure wet and working all the time and allows you to cover a lot of territory, but casting allows for more precise presentations around shallow cover.
Lake of the Ozarks Blue Catfish
Catfishing was long considered as strictly summer play, but that perception definitely has changed. Blue catfish bite all year, and some of the best action in big reservoirs like Lake of the Ozarks actually occurs during the cold months.
Lake of the Ozarks supports an excellent blue cat population, with some seriously big fish in the mix. They primarily stay in the main river channel, either holding near the bottom in major river-bend holes or following baitfish schools in the open water in the far lower end of the lake.
In either case, spend some time searching with electronics for baitfish and for fish that appear to be cats. Once you find an area that holds catfish, the best way to find the most active blue cats is to drift across the area with big chunks of cut shad suspended just off the bottom.
Remember that a protective slot applies to blue catfish on Lake of the Ozarks. All blue cats between 26 and 34 inches in length must be released immediately.