Central Missouri’s local fishing guide.
Jefferson City is a hidden gem of outdoor adventures. Whether you prefer trails, forests, lakes, rivers, or all the above, there is a wealth of options in our very own backyard. The same also applies to fishing. According to Andrew Branson, the fisheries program outreach specialist at the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) headquarters, locals don’t have to travel far for excellent fishing.
“We’re in a great area of the state because we have easy access to big rivers and big lakes as well as smaller rivers and smaller lakes,” Andrew says. “You can find just about any kind of fish you want in this centralized area.”
“We’re in a great area of the state because we have easy access to big rivers and big lakes as well as smaller rivers and smaller lakes.”ANDREW BRANSON
Rivers run through it
Within a 15-mile radius of Jefferson City, you have the Missouri, Maries, Moreau, and the Osage river and their smaller tributaries. While these rivers don’t receive as much acclaim as their clearer cousins deeper in the Ozark hollows, they still promise enjoyable days on the water and fish on your line. Depending on the river, you can hope to tangle with catfish, black and white bass, crappie, paddlefish, smallmouth, suckers, walleye, and sauger.
The Big Muddy has always been a favorite among catfish anglers, and for good reason. The former world record and current Missouri state record blue catfish was caught on the Missouri and weighed in at an astounding 130 pounds.
Living the lake life
There are four municipal lakes that are primed for dropping a line, each with its own unique setting and appeal.
Binder Park is the city’s largest park and home to its largest lake. Located near Apache Flats, the shining star of this park is the 155-acre lake that provides a plentiful amount of largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish, bluegill, and channel catfish. Shoreline trails meander around the perimeter of the lake providing access to fi sh habitat that is otherwise hard to reach by boat. Suspending a jig or playing a rooster-tail jig at varying retrieval speeds are great for enticing crappie and other sunfish seeking shelter in the submerged evergreens around the fishing docks. Large bass tend to congregate near the exposed trees leftover from the lake’s impoundment. Also, jumping a frog across the lily pads can produce quite a thrill when the hidden bass smashes your lure.
County Park Lake is just east of the Cole County Fairgrounds. This 7.3-acre lake boasts healthy populations of largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish. A 0.65-mile paved trail runs along the perimeter of the lake allowing anglers to fi sh the entire lake.
Hough Park Lake can be found on the southside of Oak Hills Golf Course and comes into play from the second tee. Largemouth bass, crappie, sunfish, and bluegill are the primary gamefish here; just be sure not to hook any golfers on your backcast. Well-trod footpaths run along the eastern and western banks of the lake for bank fishing.
McKay Park, set between Southwest Boulevard and Southridge Drive, features a 6-acre lake with a unique claim to fame among the capital city’s lakes. While channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, and sunfish are the year-round species, anglers can catch rainbow trout beginning in November of each year as part of MDC’s Winter Trout Program. Each year, MDC stocks thousands of rainbow trout in select lakes around the state, including McKay.
“The winter trout program has been a really big hit — people love having the opportunity to fi sh for trout closer to home,” Andrew says.
McKay also is a favorite for anglers with little kids as the nearby playground and paved walking path are welcome reprieves for those with shorter attention spans when the fishing is slow.
Not far from home
If you’d like to cast your line a little farther, you can find a variety of enticing fishing adventures within a 90-minute drive from the capital city. Painted Rock Conservation Area (Westphalia) offers stunning views of the Osage River and a Native American burial cairn along the rugged Osage Scenic Bluff Trail. The area’s Clubhouse Lake also brings in visitors to drop a line for black bass, catfish, and sunfish. Scrivner Road Conservation Area (Russellville) has the 9-acre Winegar Lake and 2 miles of South Moreau Creek frontage that provide scenic and secluded fishing for black bass, catfish, and sunfish year-round. The beautiful 8.5-mile Moreau Creek Trail traverses most of the area’s 911 acres and is a great option if the fish aren’t cooperating.
Tavern Creek (St. Elizabeth) and Little Tavern Creek (Eugene) are two of Andrew Branson’s favorite local spots for targeting smallmouth bass.
“The Jefferson City area is right on the border of smallmouth country,” Andrew says. “Both the Tavern and Little Tavern have some really nice clear river sections like you’d find farther south and the smallmouth are definitely there.”
The Lake of the Ozarks is regarded as one of the best fisheries in the nation. Numerous species live in this 54,000-acre lake, but the most sought after are bass and crappie. To help get the bearings on this massive body of water, hire a local fishing guide like Big Ed’s Guide Service. They have everything you need for an enjoyable, action-packed day on the Lake.
Bennett Spring State Park (Lebanon) is an iconic park offering trout fishing for much of the year. Civilian Conservation Corps architecture abounds throughout and the fully stocked park store has everything you need to catch your limit of rainbow and brown trout in the cold, clear streams.
Cardiac Mountain Outfitters (St. James and Lebanon) provides a western fly-fishing experience in the heartland. Take to the spring-fed Meramec and Niangua rivers in a well-equipped drift boat to search for rainbow and brown trout as well as feisty smallmouth bass.
Before you go
A valid fishing permit is required for all anglers in Missouri with the exception of anglers 15 and younger and 65 and older. Purchasing a permit online is quick and easy on MDC’s website or the free MO Fishing App. With the app, your permit is stored digitally, and you also can find nearby bodies of water and the forecast on what you can expect to catch at each. Be sure to follow all conservation limits and regulations when fishing Missouri’s lakes and rivers.
When fishing locally, your needs are quite simple. A medium weight rod and reel (set up for spinning or baitcasting) will get you started. Pick up some live bait and/or smaller artificial lures and you’re all set. A bobber would be a handy addition if you choose to fish with live bait to make sure you don’t miss a bite. Fishing tackle can be purchased at Mertens Live Bait and Tackle near Binder Lake as well as at area big box stores. If you want to try fishing without the initial investment in tackle, you can borrow a fully stocked tackle box and fishing rod at the Missouri River Regional Library downtown. Simply use your library card to check out the gear like you would a book. Just be sure to bring it back when it’s due so that others also can enjoy this free program.
“The Jefferson City area is right on the border of Smallmouth Country.”ANDREW BRANSON