Seven Great Missouri Fishing Destinations
Summer is the perfect time for a road trip to some of Missouri's best fisheries!
Get out the calendar and block off some dates. It’s time to plan a fishing road trip.
Whether you are a resident of Missouri or an out-of-state angler looking for a good place to take a vacation, the Show-Me state has a lot to offer. Here are some options to consider.
LAKE OF THE OZARKS BASS
Lake of the Ozarks is known nationally as a tourist destination. The water can get crowded in the heart of summer, but the calm before the storm can be an excellent time to take a fishing trip.
The 54,000-acre reservoir in central Missouri is known nationally for its largemouth bass fishing, and late-May to mid-June is a time when that reputation is built.
Mark Tucker, a professional fisherman who has fished the big lake for 40 years, suggests concentrating on the boat docks along gravel banks where the fish spawned. He likes to cast spinnerbaits, topwater lures and shaky head rigs to the corners of those docks, hoping to lure a bass suspended under one of those docks.
He targets no-wake coves from the Glaize arm to Bagnell Dam. He looks for docks that are secluded, offer plenty of dark sanctuary for the bass and are off the beaten path.
If You Go
If you’re looking for a small, family-friendly waterfront resort, try Alhonna Resort or Point Randall Resort. If you’re searching for a motel, hotel or restaurant, go to the website funlake.com for a listing, plus places to launch your boat.
CURRENT RIVER SMALLMOUTH BASS
Dennis Whiteside has floated all of the Ozarks streams in search of big smallmouth bass. But he has little trouble picking his favorite: the stretch of the Current River that flows from Doniphan, Mo., to the Arkansas state line.
Big, mean smallies reside in that water, he will tell you. And they’re often looking for a fight in late spring and early summer.
Whiteside launches at the Doniphan ramp and floats 15 miles to the takeout at the Arkansas line. That might seem like a lot of water to cover, but it’s misleading, he says.
“The Current is appropriately named,” says Whiteside, who runs the Dennis Whiteside Float Fishing Guide Service (denniswhiteside.com). “With the moving water, it doesn’t take long to do a long float trip.”
Because that stretch of the Current doesn’t get as much canoe traffic as others, the fish often are willing to hit, especially in the calm of weekdays.
Whiteside advises casting spinnerbaits, crankbaits or buzzbaits to rocky banks, logs and laydowns, and boulders at the edge of the current. Often, that water is 1 1/2 to 4 feet deep.
When he stops and fishes from gravel bars, he bounces Ned rigs, Senkos and plastic lizards along the bottom in the current.
Early summer is a great time to catch numbers of smallmouth bass. And there’s always a shot at a trophy. Whiteside has caught two bass measuring more than 20 inches on the Current, one within sight of the Doniphan ramp.
If You Go
Check out Southern Comfort Cabins and RV Resort in Doniphan. It has comfortable cabins, an RV park, a swimming beach and a launch ramp on property. Doniphan also has motels, restaurants and canoe rentals. Go to ripleycountymissouri.org for details.
STOCKTON LAKE WALLEYE
Missouri fishermen don’t have to travel to the North Country to find good walleye fishing in the summer. They can head to Stockton Lake in the southwestern part of the state and get plenty of bites.
The 24,000-acre reservoir is loaded with the toothy gamefish, and they’re hungry coming off the spawn. Les Jarman, a longtime guide on the Ozarks reservoir, looks forward to the months of May and June when the walleyes are on the prowl.
He starts by working the banks in the Little Sac arm. He casts plastic grubs to the shallows where the crappies and white bass are spawning.
“The walleyes are done spawning, and they’re hungry,” Jarman says. “They’re like piranhas.”
Jarman’s favorite grub is a chartreuse with smoke glitter Swimming Minnow, an Ozarks favorite. He will concentrate on pea-gravel banks, spots that transition from gravel to larger rocks, secondary points and cuts.
Once the water temperature climbs, the walleyes will move out to the main-lake flats, and they’ll follow balls of shad. They’re often scattered, so Jarman stays on the move. He trolls with Flicker Shad, Bandit and Bomber crankbaits and covers water.
If You Go
Jarman can be reached at 417-276-5568. For info on lodging, restaurants and businesses in the area, go to the website stocktonlake.com. That website includes a lake map showing locations of boat ramps and marinas.
TABLE ROCK LAKE BASS
If you’re looking for variety in your bass fishing, there aren’t many places in Missouri that can measure up to the Kimberling City area on Table Rock Lake.
Fishermen there can catch four varieties of black bass — largemouth, smallmouth, spotted and the rare meanmouth (a cross between the largemouth and smallmouth). And the fishing is seldom better than in early summer, says Larry “Doc” Seger, a longtime guide on the Ozarks reservoir (docsguideservice.net).
Once the bass are done spawning in the gravel pockets on the main lake, they’ll stay shallow, and the topwater fishing can be outstanding. By early June, the bass will move out to main-lake points in the Kimberling City area and they can be caught on drop-shot rigs.
For drop-shot fishing, only one lure is needed in Seger’s eyes: a Chompers drop-shot plastic worm in a purple-brown laminate with red flakes color.The best points run all the way to the main channel, he says. But he adds: “You’ll find bass on every point from Kimberling City to the dam.”
If You Go
Table Rock Lake has an abundance of resorts, restaurants, marinas and tourist attractions. Go to the website visittablerocklake.com for details. While in the area, make sure to check out the music shows at nearby Branson. If you’re into amusement parks, plan a day at Silver Dollar City.
MARK TWAIN LAKE CRAPPIE
The crappie is king at Mark Twain Lake, an 18,600-acre reservoir in northeastern Missouri.
The popular game fish attract a crowd in the spring when they move shallow to spawn. But even after the spawn, they can be readily caught and provide fishermen with good action.
“There is about a two-week lull after the spawn where the fishing is tough,” says Ken Erb, who has guided for 28 years on Mark Twain. “But once they recover and move out to the deep timber, it can be unbelievable.
“We have days when each person in the boat will catch (and release) 100 fish,” he adds.
Places such as Truman and Lake of the Ozarks have bigger fish. But for numbers of keepers (9 inches and larger), Mark Twain is tough to beat, Erb says.
He often keys on the timber along bluffs in the summer. He fishes vertically with minnows on a 1/8-ounce jighead. If he doesn’t catch fish on the two trees at the end of the bluff, he moves to the next place.
Which arm of the lake he fishes depends on the water clarity. Mark Twain is naturally murky, but some arms can turn almost black after big rains, Erb says.
He also takes into account the thermocline, which often is at 15 to 18 feet in the summer. That means he is often dropping his bait to suspended fish in the deep timber.
If You Go
Erb can be reached at 573-267-3546. For lodging, he recommends Timber Ridge Resort near Perry, Mo. Check out the Visit Mark Twain Lake website for other resorts and events. While in the area, travel to Hannibal and check out Mark Twain’s boyhood home.
BENNETT SPRING STATE PARK TROUT
Bennett Spring is the perfect place for a getaway, whether it be for families or veteran fly-fishermen.
The Missouri Department of Conservation stocks the stream nightly during the regular season from March 1 through Oct. 31. That means there are plenty of medium-size rainbows — and an occasional lunker — roaming the clear water each morning when the siren sounds the start of fishing.
That makes Bennett Spring one of the most popular fishing destinations in Missouri. Even the most inexperienced fishermen can put fish on the stringer under normal conditions.
Vic Eckmann, who works in the Bennett Spring store, suggests that beginners start with an ultralight spinning outfit and a reel spooled with 4-pound-test line and a 4-foot section of 2-pound-test line as a leader.
He advises they fish in Zone 3 with either a minnow, worm or Powerbait on a small hook under a small weight and let it bounce along the bottom.
Fly-fishermen in Zones 1 and 2 do well with yellow and black marabou jigs or crackleback, woolly bugger or Zebra midge flies.
Whatever the skill level, fishermen should target weekdays for the best fishing. The stream is less crowded, and the trout are less wary, Eckmann says.
If You Go
Bennett Spring State Park offers many lodging options. Visitors can rent a cabin, reserve a campsite or stay in a motel room. The state park also has a dining lodge and a store filled with fishing lures and equipment. During your stay, plan on hiking one of the park’s scenic trails or floating the Niangua River just outside the park. Visit the Bennett Spring state park website for more information.
MISSOURI RIVER BLUE CATFISH
The Muddy Mo might not look like a great place to fish, but it holds some monster cats. We’re talking big blues, and fishermen don’t have to stray far from major cities such as Kansas City to catch them.
Fishermen aren’t going to catch great numbers, but the quality is definitely there. Guide John Trager, better known as Captain Catfish to many, has caught fish as big as 100 pounds in the Missouri and its tributaries, not far from the Kansas City skyline.
“If you look on the map, Kansas City is a big bend in the river,” Trager says. “Catfish will relate to bends like that.”
The best fishing takes place after the spawn, Trager adds. From the third week of June on, the big blues will be on the prowl.
He targets rocky banks and often drifts with fresh-cut shad. He also will anchor along troughs where rocks slide down from a steep bank into the main river channel.
When the weather starts getting hot, Trager often will fish at night on the shallow flats where the big fish feed. He often launches at Kaw Point in Kansas City, Kan. But Riverfront Park not far from downtown Kansas City and Platte Landing Park in Parkville are other options.
If You Go
To contact Trager, call 913-706-5888. Kansas City has hotels and restaurants not far from the river. Go to visitkc.com for more information.