February 22, 2012
I hope your hooks are sharpened and there's fresh line on your reels, because it's time to get serious about planning this year's fishing trips.
This article and its accompanying monthly chart are meant to give you a leg up in that regard by outlining 36 proven options. While we've tried to select the "best" month location and species of fish for each trip, feel free to swap them around a bit to fit your schedule.
It's hard to imagine a better place for a fisherman to be in January than Lake Taneycomo. Most important, of course, is the fact that this "coincidental trout fishery," which is a by-product of coldwater releases through the turbines of Table Rock Dam, is arguably the state's best. There's no question but that it's Missouri's most angler-friendly.
The lake is positively stiff with rainbow trout from one end to the other. While it does receive generous stockings of eating-sized trout throughout the year, this is not a strictly put-and-take fishery like our four trout parks. To be sure, a lot of stockers don't dodge anglers' hooks for more than a few weeks, but others survive for years or even decades, plenty of time for them to reach gargantuan proportions.
Winter weather in southern Missouri's White River Valley is usually relatively mild, but don't bet on it. Happily, another good thing about choosing Lake Taneycomo for a January fishing trip is that accommodations, food, supplies and entertainment varied enough to fit any taste or budget are available in Branson. Anglers who prefer to concentrate on the lower end of the lake will find the good folks in Forsythe eager to take good care of them.
Thomas Hill Lake
Regular readers of Missouri Game & Fish are used to seeing Thomas Hill Lake's winter hybrid fishery featured somewhere among February's top picks. There's a simple reason for that: the hybrid fishing is simply that good. The fact that stringers often also include channel cats and crappie is merely a bonus.
To tell the whole truth, the fishing at Thomas Hill needs to be something special, because winters in northern Missouri are anything but mild. Most of the region's lakes are ice-covered in February. Most of Thomas Hill is, too, but the water in one of its arms is used as a heat sink for an electric power plant. As a result, it's almost always ice-free.
There's a concrete launch ramp in the warm water, boats offering anglers a decided advantage. That said, it's possible to catch fish from shore.
No services are available at the lake during the winter months. Nearby towns can provide anything a visiting angler should need and most of what he might want.
Tourism types in the Upper Midwest and southern Canada hope American walleye fanatics never find out how much good walleye water there is in Missouri. But even here, one lake stands out. That's Stockton, and March is one of the best times to fish.
Stockton is home to two distinct strains of walleyes, one of which prefers to spawn in running water and another that prefers to spawn on rocky shorelines in the main lake. As might be expected, different tactics are called for to maximize action from either strain.
For lake spawners, the face of the dam is obviously the lake's longest continuous rocky shoreline, a fact recognized by both walleyes and walleye anglers. It can get crowded along the dam when the walleyes are on the rocks, but most anglers will be catching fish. Anglers who are turned off by crowds can find their own far more private bonanzas on the ends and sides of rocky main-lake points and off riprapped bridge approaches.
The Big Sac River and Turnback Creek get the biggest runs of river-spawning walleyes. The Little Sac also has a fair to good run. During wet springs, a few walleyes will run up virtually any year-round tributary. Those fish seldom see an angler.
It isn't always necessary to move out of the extreme upper ends of the river and creek arms to find walleyes. When the fish are above the lake in the streams, remember that it's illegal to possess walleyes in or on the banks of streams after 6:30 p.m.
The city of Stockton is the logical base of operations, but marinas and campgrounds begin opening around March 1.
If snagging paddlefish isn't Missouri's second most popular outdoor sport after firearms deer hunting, it's almost certainly a very close third behind spring turkey hunting. A few small restricted zones aside, snagging paddlefish is legal from March 15 through April 30 statewide, and these prehistoric plankton feeders can be found in the Mississippi, the Missouri and the James rivers.
That said, the Osage River upstream from Bagnell Dam to as far west as the Kansas line is the place to be in April. That's not exactly angling's best-kept secret, of course. To the contrary, "no vacancy" signs on motels, overflowing launch ramp parking lots and waiting lines at restaurants are the rule. Seeing flotillas of boats almost close enough to walk across isn't unusual either. That's especially true on the stretch of the Osage River/Lake of the Ozarks from the U.S. Highway 65 bridge at Warsaw east to several miles downlake from the mouth of Deer Creek.
Sustained current is the key to triggering paddlefish movements upstream out of the Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake. Keep an eye on the weather in the Osage Basin west of Osceola and be ready to respond when conditions are right.
Discover the top spots for Missouri fishing for May, June, July and August on page two
Crappie fishing at Smithville Lake is very popular with anglers in the Kansas City metro area, as well it should be. The lake lies practically in the shadow of KC's downtown skyline, and — more important — the lake boasts a robust crappie population.
Smithville offers several interesting options during the crappie pre-spawn and spawn. Secondary points and small coves in the lower portion of the often good numbers of slabs for those anglers with access to boats capable of handling broad expanses of water stirred by both wind and large boat wakes. The upper third of the lake is full of standing timber, and both by practicality and by law is restricted for use by fishermen. Finally, Smithville offers more reasonably accessible walk-in shoreline than any other reservoir of its size in the state, and that shoreline is by no means second-class crappie water.
Good smallmouth bass streams can be found throughout the southeastern United States, but I'd bet a dollar to a donut that no other state has as many really good smallie streams as close together as does Missouri. While I wouldn't argue with anyone who says there is no bad month to be floating or wading an Ozark stream, June is certainly one of the very best.
The transition from spring to summer finds stream smallmouths recovered from the rigors of spawning and ready to stuff their maws with just about anything that will fit. While being a one-method-Pete is seldom a good idea, no matter what your favorite type of tackle or technique, now it will probably produce bass.
Be prepared to share the stream with recreational floaters. Take heart. Unless the crowds get excessive, as they do on some streams on holiday weekends, the presence of passing boats bothers fishermen a lot more than it does fish. That said, guides throughout the Ozarks use jet boats to transport anglers upstream to avoid either real or perceived crowds.
Powersite Dam Tailrace
An accidental release of pure-strain striped bass into Bull Shoals Lake several years has created a narrow and rapidly closing window of opportunity to tangle with striped bass big enough to impress saltwater anglers. In fact, the new Missouri state-record striper, a 60-pound behemoth, was taken there on June 18, 2011.
Big stripers easily tolerate a wide range of water temperatures, but they're drawn into the upper reaches of Bull Shoals Lake every summer by the continuous flow of cool water released by Powersite Dam near Forsythe. In fact, it's easily possible that the next state-record striper will be caught by someone casting from the bank within a half-mile of the dam.
Of course it's also possible it won't be. Cold water and warm water resist mixing. Given that Bull Shoals' water level remains stable, a distinct line of temperature demarcation will form somewhere within a few miles of what would ordinarily be thought of as the downstream end of the tailrace. Tremendous schools of shad stack up along that line. Wherever there are shad there will be stripers to eat them.
I'm not sure why American anglers feel an overwhelming need to look over their shoulders to make sure nobody's watching before they bait up for
carp. The mega-sized, hard-fighting fish so disdained on this side of the pond is high on freshwater sportfish list all across Europe.
One reason carp are so popular elsewhere is that the United States and Canada are the only two countries in the world in which most anglers equate boats with success, and, far more often than not, carp fishing is at its best from the bank. Note: Using a boat to reach an otherwise inaccessible shoreline is considered acceptable behavior to all but the most pernickety Old World carpists!
Any gently sloping bank that extends for at least 100 yards from shore before dropping into water more than 10 to 15 feet deep is worth checking out, but bottoms composed of sand, marl or mud are usually superior to coarse gravel or rock. Loose schools of carp roam those shoreline flats throughout the daylight hours, and usually spend most of their time within easy casting distance.
Chumming with canned sweet corn, soured field corn or sinking commercial fish food is both legal and an effective way to speed up and sustain the action. Just don't overdo chumming. Providing the carp with too much free food can decrease the number of fish that find the pieces of bait with hooks in them.
Take a look at the top spots for Missouri fishing for September, October, November and December on page three
Pomme de Terre Lake
There's a very good reason why muskies at Pomme de Terre Lake are a perennial top pick for the month of September. "Pommie," as area anglers prefer to call it, is one of the very best muskie lakes in all of North America on a keeper-per-angler/hour basis, and more often than not, September is this best lake's best month.
I got to see just how robust the lake's muskie population is when I accompanied a crew of Missouri Department of Conservation biologists when they sampled the lake by means of trammel nets stretched from the shoreline out into deeper water near points in the lower third of the lake. I had hoped I would be lucky enough to see a muskie or two in at least some of the nets. Much to my surprise, many of the nets — which had only been in the water overnight — held more than a dozen muskies, including an impressive number of keeper, 36-inch fish.
Even so, catching a keeper muskie there isn't a cakewalk. Any of the lake's marinas can put anglers in touch with a competent muskie guide, and, believe me, his or her services will be worth far more than they cost.
Upper Lake Taneycomo
Under "normal" conditions, Lake Taneycomo from a short distance above the mouth of Fall Creek to the base of Table Rock Dam might more accurately be called an albeit short stretch of the White River. But unlike the ancestral White River, this is a wadeable coolwater stream that simply begs to be plied with fly tackle.
Be forewarned, however, that it pays to keep a tight grip on your rod. Lake Taneycomo is home to brown trout as long as your leg, and October finds them moving up out of the lake to attempt a spawning run. There's no better place in Missouri, and very few better places in the world, to catch brown trout that will pull the scales well down in the double digits on wet or, occasionally, dry flies.
It's possible to tangle with a trophy nearly any time of the day or night, but the best action's almost always well after sundown. Most regulars get to the river before dark and select a pool or run they can cast to blind. It sounds boring, but when your rod starts bucking and your line's screaming off into the blackness toward unseen splashing, it's anything but!
Fishing in the shadow of Table Rock Dam can involve another type of thrill you don't want anything to do with. One of the dam's mandated purposes is to generate electricity. A loud siren is used to announce when power generation is about to start. Stop fishing immediately and move to higher ground even if it means breaking off the trout of a lifetime. If you tarry too long, that fish will be the trout of your lifetime.
Ironically, one of foolhardy schemes put into play by the forerunners of the MDC was to stock trout into waters totally unsuited to the long-term survival of a coldwater species. Nearly a century later, the MDC is also stocking trout into unsuitable waters. But there's one huge difference. The MDC has created a wintertime put-and-enjoy trout fishery that, on February 1, becomes a put-and-take fishery in city park ponds where they're available to thousands of people who would never have had a chance to catch a trout otherwise.
The Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas were early targets for the program, which has indeed put trout fishing only a bus token away from more than half of the state's citizens. But the MDC's definition is admirably broad. Sedalia, Jefferson City, Mexico, Kirksville and Columbia also have winter trout fishing.
I don't know about you, but if I'm going to wrangle enough time for a fishing trip away from December's endless work, outdoor and family obligations, I want to catch something that will stretch my string to the max. The Mississippi River's jumbo blue catfish will not only do that, but they also will stretch your arms a tad.
During daylight hours, which is the only time a catfisherman should challenge the mighty Mississippi in the winter, expect to find the biggest blue cats in the deepest and most current-washed holes. Every hole more than 30 feet deep probably holds at least one blue cat weighing more than 50 pounds, but the stretch of river from the mouth of the Missouri River downstream to the mouth of the Ohio is the best bet for triple-digit cats.
The Mississippi River is not a good place to learn how to run a boat. Know your limitations. If you or your boat are not fully qualified to operate in heavy, oftentimes conflicting current, do yourself a big favor and take advantage of one of the many guides who operate out of every city and town on both banks.