Missouri is located in the Midwest of the U.S. The Show Me State is covered by grassy plains and bordered by the heavily-forested Ozark Mountains.
Jefferson City is Missouri’s capital city. Check out Kansas City for jazz clubs, museums, and impressive sculptures. The City of St. Louis sits on the Illinois border and is worth a visit to see its famous 630-foot Gateway Arch that overlooks the mighty Mississippi River.
Missouri has lots of offer the keen leisure fisherman too. The State has some superb lake and river fishing to enjoy and is home to a wide range of freshwater species, including sunfish, some large northern pike, huge largemouth bass, brown and rainbow trout, some decent sized walleye, different types of crappie, bullheads, to name a few.
Missouri’s bountiful waters are also home to the State’s two official state fish, the channel catfish, and the paddlefish. So, what are you waiting for?
To fish legally in Missouri, any visitor over 16 years of age must have a valid recreational fishing license. Kids under 15 are limited to using the following fishing methods:
- Pole and line
You must be prepared to present your license to an agent of the Conservation Department for inspection, so be sure to carry it with you whenever you go fishing within State lines.
If you’re after catching trout, be aware that you will need to buy a trout freshwater fishing permit. Note that some locations allow you to purchase a daily trout fishing tag instead, so always check before you plan your trip.
Missouri fishing licenses can be bought online at the MDC website.
Top Fishing Spots
Missouri has so many great fishing spots it’s hard to whittle them down to just ten!
We’ve taken time out to look over what’s on offer and bring you our favorite ten locations to wet a line in the Show Me State. Whether you’re looking for trout, bass, or muskies, you’ll find some great sport here and some stunning scenery to enjoy while you’re waiting for a bite!
So, let’s dive right in and explore the very best fishing that Missouri has to offer.
1. Lake of the Ozarks
This popular vacation destination has it all! Hikers, cyclists, and horse riders can all enjoy the many trails that wind through the park, while water enthusiasts can spend time swimming or boating. Extend your visit by staying in one of the outpost cabins, yurts, or under canvas on one of the Park’s campsites.
This is also a famous and extremely popular spot for anglers who are drawn here by the remarkable variety and numbers of fish that thrive in the Lake.
Fish species that you’ll find here include:
- Largemouth bass
- Spotted bass
- Black crappie
- White crappie
- Hybrid stripers
Prime bass fishing time here is from March to late May, especially around structure in the many quiet coves that surround the Lake.
You can fish from the easily-accessible shoreline or take to the water from one of two boat ramps. There’s also dock fishing and crappie beds. Also, you’ll find numerous marinas and bait shops dotted around the Lake area.
2. Smithville Lake
Smithville Lake in Clay County extends for around 7,190 acres and is located right here, about 25 miles to the north of Kansas City.
Smithville Lake offers plenty of recreational opportunities, including swimming, camping, hiking, horse riding, sailing, and golf.
The fishing here is excellent too from both the water and from the easily accessible shoreline. Smithville Lake is best known for its outstanding crappie fishing. These waters also produce some big bass, especially during the springtime. Also, there’s an abundant population of flathead and channel catfish, white bass, and walleye.
Largemouth bass can be found patrolling around the newly installed brush piles, standing timber, and cut trees. Try casting crankbaits, plastics, and spinnerbaits and expect to catch some nice fish. You’ll find black and white crappie in these locations too, and you’ll have success with minnows and small plastic jigs.
The Lake is stocked annually with walleye, and there are two main fishing seasons for them. Check out the spawning run to the dam and use shallow diving crankbaits for success. During the hot summer months, the fish migrate to the points and flats where you’ll catch them around the newly installed rock piles in the main lake area. Trolling crawler harnesses or deep diving cranks work best.
3. Mozingo Lake
Mozingo Lake on Mozingo Creek is a 1,000-acre lake that’s located here, in Nodaway County, northwest Missouri. The reservoir is owned by the City of Maryville and is the city’s primary water source. The Lake sits within a 3,000-acre park and has a 26-mile accessible shoreline.
Mozingo Lake features in the “Top 100 Bass Fishing Lakes” in the U.S. by BassMasters Magazine. The excellent fishery habitat of weed beds, submerged brush piles, standing timber, and depth of up to 40 feet holds some real lunkers. You’ll also catch catfish, bluegill, walleye, and crappie in these waters.
You can fish from three paved fishing ramps or the shoreline.
During the summer months, look for crappie spread out across submerged brush and suspended over the main Lake basin where they’re busy chasing shoals of shad. You’ll have success with small minnows or jigs in the shallow timber in the spring. Use your locator to find schooling fish in deep water throughout the summer and into fall.
Walleye are stocked annually and can be found in the deep points adjacent to the main channel. Tempt them into biting with crawler harnesses, jigs, or deep diving crankbaits. Check out the north end of the lake for good populations of common carp. These feisty fish provide an excellent fight on light tackle for anglers who target them.
The Lake offers excellent facilities for anglers, including new campground sites, cabins, picnic pavilions, improved boat ramps, a covered fishing dock, and fish cleaning stations.
4. Stockton Lake
Stockton Lake (located here) is a 24,900-acre reservoir in west-central Missouri, about 50 miles to the west of Springfield.
Stockton is known as one of the most beautiful and scenic fishing spots in the State, with rocky points, crystal clear water, and steeply wooded shoreline. Stockton is especially good for walleye fishing, but that’s not all. Other fish species you’ll find here include:
- Largemouth bass
- Smallmouth bass
- Channel catfish
- Flathead catfish
Largemouth bass are found in good numbers in the upper portions of the Lake. Head to the lower part of the Lake to find smallmouth and spotted bass.
Walleye school along the dam, in shallow water, and in coves during the spring and fall. In summer, when the weather warms up, fish for walleye at or around the depth of the thermocline. You’ll catch them with minnows or nightcrawlers bounced along the lake bottom. Along the shoreline, try trolling, deep-running, or suspending crankbaits or casting along windswept main Lake points.
Channel and flathead catfish are always present in the Lake. Check out large coves and the upper part of the Lake from mid-May through mid-June right before the spawning season, and fish with trotlines or jug lines and live bait.
Bluegill are found during the summer lurking around the structure and the many bridge pillars throughout the Lake. Use crickets or nightcrawlers to land a tasty 8-inch fish or two.
5. Truman Lake
Truman Lake is a 55,600-acre lake that’s located here in Harry S. Truman State Park, west-central Missouri. The clear waters, spectacular bluffs, and glorious summer and fall colors make Truman Lake a great vacation spot. There’s plenty to do here. As well as fishing, you can spend time hiking, wildlife watching, boating, or swimming. You can camp here too if you want to extend your stay.
Fish species you’ll find here include:
- Hybrid stripers
- White bass
The paddlefish snagging season runs from March 15 through April 30. Check out the upper Osage from the Talley Bend to the area above the Taberville Access to find many fish over 45-pounds!
For spotted and largemouth bass, focus on fishing the rockier areas on the lower Lake around the South Grand Arm, or the Osage Arm between Berry Bend and Talley Bend downstream to the dam.
Crappie fishing is legendary here! During spawning time, crappie fishing is excellent from the bank or boat. Vertical jig fishing or fishing with a minnow works well for suspended fish hiding in cover. Fish with minnows along timbered flats or bluffs near channels during the summer months.
6. The Black River
The Black River is located here in southeastern Missouri.
This is a beautiful location for fishing! Take in scenic limestone bluff walls, natural rock outcrops, scenic shut-ins, and plunging pools of crystal clear water as you fish for smallmouth bass.
Just to the east of the Black River, you’ll find the St. Francis River. This spot provides a memorable day’s angling for fly-fishermen and bait-cast anglers alike. Here you’ll find a tantalizing variety of fish species, including:
- Channel catfish
- Blue catfish
- Flathead catfish
Catfishing makes a great challenge for the angler, as these bottom feeders are strong fighters that just don’t come easily! Methods of catfishing vary. You’ll get a bite by floating the rivers, but you may prefer to fish from the bank by pole and line, throw-line, trout-line, bank-line, limb-line, or noodling. Noodling is not for the fainthearted, and entails using just your hands!
When you’ve finished fishing, why not take a leisurely float tour down the Black River? This is a prime wildlife spotting location, as well as a great fishing spot. Check out herons, osprey, bullfrogs, and the spot-handed Ozark crayfish. Aquatic reptiles make their home here too, including the protected hellbender salamander.
If you fancy extending your stay at the Black River, there are a number of well-equipped campgrounds in the area, providing accommodation at various price points.
7. Busch Conservation Area
There are no less than 28 fishing lakes here, offering pretty much every fish species you might want to pursue. One of the smallest lakes is designated as a “kids only” fishing spot, and you must be aged under 15 to fish there. This little lake is chock-full of hybrid sunfish and bluegill, and it’s also stocked with catfish and largemouth bass, so junior anglers seldom leave empty-handed.
The other lakes offer great sport for everyone. Check out Lake No. 33 if you want to fish for big bass. In this Lake, 25 percent of the bass are bigger than 18-inches! If channel catfish are your thing, you’ll need to fish Lake No. 7, which is packed with 1-pounders just queuing up to be caught.
Other fish species you’ll find here include rainbow trout, muskies, redear sunfish, and white crappie.
Be aware that there are MDC regulations governing creel limits, size etc. For more specific information and further details on what species live in each lake, check out this link to the relevant page on the MDC site.
The park has a picnic area, several hiking and biking trails, and a pavilion.
8. Grindstone Reservoir
Grindstone Reservoir is a 208-acre lake that’s located here, close to the City of Cameron in DeKalb County.
Here you’ll find an abundance of decent-size channel catfish in the 15 to 23-inch range; the perfect size for a great fight and some tasty eating too.
After heavy rains, the water at Grindstone can get cloudy. While that won’t trouble the catfish bite, it might affect crappie fishing. For crappie, wait until the water clears. There are lots of crappie here from 7 inches right up to an impressive and tasty 20 inches!
There are also a few largemouth bass to be had in Grindstone Reservoir.
Facilities include a concrete boat ramp, a fishing dock, and a wheelchair accessible restroom. There’s no camping here, but there are several nice RV campgrounds nearby.
9. Lake Taneycomo
Take in a show at one of the nearby country music theaters, and then pack your gear and head on out for a great day’s trout fishing at Lake Taneycomo. This 2,050-acre reservoir is located here on the White River in Taney County.
In this regularly stocked lake, you’ll find rainbow trout in huge numbers and some big brown trout too.
The first part of the Lake is influenced by water releases from the dam. During these periods, safe fishing is restricted to the shoreline and drifting in boats. Outside of these times, the water becomes a series of slow-moving, shallow pools with a few shallow riffles between. Anglers usually wade or fish from the bank at these times. Further downstream, you’ll find covered fishing docks and resorts.
Lake Taneycomo is also home to other fish species too, including:
- Black crappie
- Smallmouth bass
- Largemouth bass
- White bass
Most of the best bass fishing happens in the lower lake where the water is warmer, mostly below Rockaway Beach. Here you’ll also find some big bluegill and black crappie in the spring and winter.
When warmer water is released through the floodgates at Table Rock Dam, white bass, smallmouth bass, and walleye can be caught below the dam.
If you want to stay overnight, there are some very well-equipped campgrounds close to the scenic, tranquil location.
10. Table Rock Lake
Table Rock Lake (located here) is a reservoir that’s located in the Ozarks in southwestern Missouri. The lake is impounded by the Table Rock Dam that was built in the 1950s on the White River.
This location is a happy hunting ground for bass fishing enthusiasts, with good populations of both smallmouth bass and largemouth bass thriving here. Bass fishing starts in earnest in March when the fish begin to move toward their spawning areas. Fishing along ledges and gravel banks with shad and crayfish-imitating lures will trigger strikes from hungry bass.
March is nationally recognized as the best time of year to catch some really good-quality fish of decent size at this location. Check the lower end of the lake down to the dam and Long Creek for smallmouth bass. The James arm is the best spot for largemouth bass, and you’ll find spotted bass evenly spread right throughout the Lake.
As well as bass, you’ll find other fish species here, including:
- Rock bass
You’ll find paddlefish in schools, feeding on zooplankton. Use a fish finder to locate them and try by trolling over the school while snagging. If you catch a tagged fish, you’re encouraged to report it to the MDC. You’ll then be entered into a prize draw!
This is a beautiful and productive fishing spot, and it’s well worth extending your visit at one of the nearby campgrounds.
Missouri might not be your first thought when it comes to choosing a destination for your annual fishing vacation. But if you pass over the Show Me State, you’ll be missing out on a fantastic angling opportunity!
Missouri’s lakes are frequently mentioned in dispatches by BassMaster magazine, and many trophy size fish are regularly caught here. If you fancy taking on a hard-fighting catfish, filling your creel with trout or crappie, or you love the idea of tracking down and doing battle with the elusive paddlefish, a trip to Missouri won’t disappoint!
Hey, look at that! You found me! Lucky for you, because when I’m not writing articles all about the wilderness life, I’m out in the bush. Camping, fishing, canoeing, and sometimes even getting lost. You know the drill.