I can't think of a better way to spend a vacation than by spending it with my family on one of Missouri's top fishing waters. My dream vacation includes relaxing on a boat or on the shore with a fishing pole in hand and my family fishing next to me. There would be no cell phone, tablets, or other electronic devices in our hands, only fishing poles and maybe an occasional soft drink or snack.
Well, almost all of that can likely be your reality — with the exception of the electronic devices. Use this article as a start to planning your summer family fishing vacation in Missouri this year.
Located about 120 miles south of St. Louis, Clearwater Lake offers families a lot of summer fun in the Ozarks without as much of the traffic, both on and off the water, that you would normally find at one of Missouri's larger reservoirs, like Lake of the Ozarks.
Clearwater Lake was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1948. When the lake is at conservation pool level it is about 1,630 acres in size. The Corps keeps the lake at summer pool at a depth of 498 feet.
If you're fishing up in the Black River arm of the lake above the Bluff View Area, you are probably going to need a boat with a jet-prop motor because of the shallow water in that area. Other shallow areas are the Logan Creek and Webb Creek branches of the lake. If you're not familiar with Clearwater Lake, you should check with the local marinas in regards to water levels and navigation.
Largemouths and spotted bass are abundant; according to the Missouri Department of Conservation's 2016 fishing prospects, catching bass 15 inches long or longer shouldn't be a problem.
Crappie, bluegills, catfish, white bass and carp are abundant in the lake too. Just about anyone can catch catfish, bluegills or bass with nightcrawlers just about anywhere in the lake. For catfish, try chicken livers, cut shad, and stinkbaits. For bluegills try redworms and crickets.
If you're looking for crappie, it's hard to beat fishing minnows around the submerged brushpiles placed throughout the lake by
the Corps of Engineers and the MDC. Maps showing the brushpile locations can be obtained by calling 573-290-5730 or by emailing Paul Cieslewicz at email@example.com.
Along The Way
Aside from the fishing, Clearwater Lake offers a lot of other activities for a fun family Show Me State vacation. Boating, skiing, canoeing, camping, sight-seeing, hiking and bike riding are additional family fun options available in the same area.
The lake's three main marinas — Bluffview, Clearwater and Webb Creek — offer a variety of different amenities including fishing boat, ski boat and pontoon rentals, wave runner rentals, fishing licenses, fuel and live bait.
The Corps of Engineers offers 391 camping sites, of which 325 have electric hookups. Check out River Road, Piedmont, Bluff View, Highway K, and Webb Creek parks. Many sites can be reserved. Call 877-444-6777 for more information. Camping rates vary according to amenities present. There is a boat launch fee of $3, and a fee of up to $1 per person for beach use, with a $4 maximum per car.
Another popular tourist attraction in the area is floating the pristine Black River, which is the main tributary to Clearwater Lake. Kempers Hideaway offers canoe, kayak, and raft rentals as well as a shuttle car service for floats on the Black River. For more info, contact the operators at 573-223-7324.
If hiking or biking is a family favorite, check out the Bluff View Nature Trail, a loop trail that begins at Bluff View Campground. Or try the Black River Recreational Trail located below the dam at Clearwater Lake. This 3.25-mile paved and gravel trail meanders through the bottomlands below the dam near Piedmont.
Another local attraction is the Civil War fort known as Fort Benton in nearby Patterson. It was built by Union troops around 1862. This site is on the National Register for historic places. For more info, contact the Wayne County Historical Society at 573-223-7130.
For a free download of Clearwater Lake's printable visitors guide, and more information go to clearwaterlake.org.
CUIVRE RIVER STATE PARK
This state park is a gem in the crown of Missouri's recreational use areas in that it is not well known and doesn't get near the traffic that many of the other parks do during the summer vacation time.
Despite its name, the river doesn't receive a lot of fishing action from visitors from the park. That may be because of its difficult access. Most of the fishing at Cuivre River State Park is done at the 55-acre Lake Lincoln. Anglers will find good fishing for bass, bluegills, catfish, crappie, and carp. Daily limits are posted on site.
Lincoln Lake is stocked and managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. This small lake is a good place to catch channel catfish on stinkbait and either beef or chicken livers. It's hard to beat a relaxing vacation spent fishing for Mr. Whiskers with the family. Small spinners such as Rooster Tails and Mepps are good bets for bluegills, bass or crappie.
If you're really feeling adventurous and want to hike to a secluded fishing hole, try the lake known as the Shady Eighty Lake. To access this previously privately owned 10-acre lake, you will have to hike about 1.25 miles back down Lone Spring Trail located near the north end of the park (at the back entrance) near Highway KK and Lincoln Hills Drive. Anglers will find ample bass, catfish and bluegills there.
Canoes and kayaks are available for rental at Cuivre Rental State Park in the summer months. You can reserve basic, electric and sewer/electric/water campsites, and there's an equestrian campground, three group campsites, and a special-use camping area. Some family campsites offer a little extra space. Another unique camping experience offered there is platform tent camping sites. Those areas have canvas, cabin-style tents set up on elevated decks. For more info or to reserve a site, call 877-422-6766.
Swimming is available at the public beach on Lake Lincoln. A change house is located at the beach. No swimming is allowed in other areas of the lake.
Cuivre River State Park also offers horseback riding trails (bring your own horse), backpacking and hiking.
Along The Way
Vacationers might want to check out the historic home of Daniel Boone located in nearby Defiance. There are about a dozen other buildings on site from that time period that are sure to impress the historian. Daily tours are scheduled. For more, call 636-798-2005.
The family is sure to love the Adrenaline Zone, a popular multilevel laser tag arena. This is a good way to work out your family frustrations with a little friendly competition. Call 636-940-7700.
We'd be remiss not to mention the famous Bass Pro Shops store located nearby in downtown St. Charles. You can pick up additiona camping, fishing, and hiking supplies while you visit, and don't forget to check out the huge fish aquarium there, which features many of the species you will be after in Lake Lincoln. For store hours call 636-688-2500.
FINGER LAKES STATE PARK
Finger Lakes State Park, located just north of Columbia, is an incredible vacation place for families. This is a reclaimed strip-mining area and includes about seven strip pit lakes that offer good fishing opportunities. Bass, bluegills and channel catfish are the staple species found in these lakes. The state park will rent canoes and kayaks to visitors. You could spend an entire week fishing these lakes and probably not have enough time to explore the entire system of connected strip lakes, which offers about six miles of fishing fun.
When fishing with children, I highly recommend using basic equipment and live bait to keep the fishing simple, fun, and full of fish on the end of their lines. Their enjoyment is what matters.
Aside from their enjoying the great fishing opportunities this state park presents, families have the opportunity to do something in this area that is only allowed at one other state park in Missouri — off-road motorcycling and ATV riding. There is a series of riding trails and a motocross track available too. The motorcycle/ATV riding is probably the most popular family activity at the park, but that's also what makes the fishing there so good. It often gets overlooked by park visitors.
Other activities on site include hiking, swimming, mountain biking, and camping. There are 19 basic and 16 electric campsites available at Finger Lakes State Park. Mountain-bikers will enjoy the challenge presented by the 2.75-mile Kelly Branch Mountain Bike Trail.
Along The Way
Just minutes from Columbia, vacationers will find the famous Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. This is a very scenic area and offers some of the most popular hiking trails in the state. There is a large cave system there that includes a rock bridge, sinkholes, and an underground stream at Devil's Icebox. Connor's Cave also gives visitors a hint of what's below the ground in Missouri! For more information, call 573-449-7402.
When you're in the Columbia area you have to visit Shelter Gardens, an award-winning botanical garden that features 300 varieties of trees and shrubs, and 15,000 annuals and perennials that make great photo opportunities and are sure to awaken your senses. For more, call 573-214-4595.
MARK TWAIN LAKE
Located about 20 miles southwest of Hannibal, the 18,000-acre Mark Twain Lake is one of northeast Missouri's premier fishing destinations. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation's annual fishing prospects report, anglers can expect to catch an abundance of bass. They predict about a third of all bass caught will be over 15 inches long! There's an abundance of small crappie in the lake but keepers are few and far between. There are good numbers of white bass in this lake that are greater than 12 inches. Look for the white bass feeding on schooling shad, or the whites could be schooling over humps or mud flats during the summer months. There is an abundance of catfish at Mark Twain Lake, with the best catfishing found in the North Fork, Middle Fork, South Fork and Indian Creek arms of the lake.
Mark Twain Lake offers camping in both U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds as well as privately owned campgrounds around the lake. Hikers and backpackers can enjoy the many miles of trails around the lake.
Along The Way
Aside from the main attraction of the lake and its many attractions, vacationers also should enjoy visiting the Missouri birthplace of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) who penned the famous book "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Twain's two-room cabin is now a museum featuring many of his personal items and the hand-written manuscript of Tom Sawyer. For more information, call 573-565-3449.
Another attraction in the Hannibal area is the Mark Twain Riverboat. This vessel offers families sight-seeing or dinner cruises. Sight-seeing cruises last for one hour and feature commentary on river history, legends, and sights. There is a concession stand on board featuring sandwiches, snacks and beverages. The dinner cruises are two hours long and include excellent food and dancing. For more, call 573-221-3222.
Please remember that your vacation is about the family and, we hope, getting your kids hooked on fishing for life. Teach them how to bait a hook, let them fish in the best places, and help them in every way you can so that the entire family enjoys a family fishing vacation they will remember forever.