Recreational opportunities abound on Missouri River


Mar 11, 2001
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Recreational opportunities abound on Missouri River.

By Tim Renken of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.


Someday, maybe, the Missouri River will become a lot more friendly for recreation than it is now.

Maybe, someday, a plan now under consideration will allow the river to create beaches, backwaters, islands, wetlands and all of those other features that were wiped out by 100 years of work to turn it into a barge canal.

Some of these things may happen in our lifetimes but, meanwhile, the Missouri River can provide people in this area a lot more recreation than it does now. But people must make a start in learning how to use it. The last two dry summers have given just a hint at what the Missouri has to offer.

A lot more boaters are using the river than were a decade ago. More family camps are on the beaches, more fishermen are on the wingdams and in the backwaters. St. Louis area people seem to be lagging behind the rest of the state in discovering the Missouri, maybe because the Missouri is bigger here and a bit less friendly than it is upstream. Or maybe it's because the public access areas aren't as attractive as they are at, say, Washingon, Gasconade or Hermann.

What does the river have to offer you? Fishing, for one thing - a lot more than most people know. And that fishing is a lot better than it was before 1992 when Missouri and four other river states banned commercial fishing for catfish.

On some stretches of the Missouri the floods of 1993 and 1995 left conditions that were almost natural. These places have improved fish numbers even in areas totally channelized. Channel cat are the dominant species most places, but the river also contains numerous flathead and blue catfish and blue and yellow bullhead.

In the infrequent backwaters are crappie, mostly black, largemouth bass and bluegill. White bass occur here and there, some places and some times in abundance. The St. Louis area has a number of places where people can find bank fishing on the Missouri. The most popular are the nice public access sites, but many more are available to people who go looking for them.

A list of the public areas is in the pamphlets, Fish St. Louis and Fishing Missouri's Big Rivers available from the Department of Conservation office here (314-301-1500). The river's best fishing, though, is found by boat. It should be a good boat, of course.

The Missouri is no place for canoes or the proverbial 12-foot johnboat. A 16-foot johnboat with a 20-horsepower or larger is the standard river craft. Bass boats, both fiberglass and aluminum, work well, too. Boating safely on the Missouri is a lot more complicated than on reservoirs like Lake of the Ozarks or Mark Twain. The Missouri contains numberless dikes, many almost invisible, and sand flats.

The only water safe for travel faster than an idle is in the channel, which is marked with buoys. Another factor that makes boating on the Missouri different is traffic. Most places there is little. Many places you won't see another boat for hours, if ever. Help isn't always handy in case of a mishap as it is on the reservoirs. Many of today's river users carry cell phones. Some do all of their recreating upstream from their launch areas, knowing that if their motor quits they can always ride the current home.

Boating on the Missouri differs from boating on the Mississippi in the incidence of tows. The Mississippi in this area has many, the Missouri has few - it's rare to see more than one or two a day. If a tow is encountered, though, it's best to give it the whole river because the Missouri is one of the most difficult barge routes in the Midwest.

For some boaters the river's challenges and its ever-changing scenery are what make it more fun than the reservoirs. There are some people who use the river now who believe that it doesn't need more users or that maybe even fewer would be better.

But this view overlooks the reality that changes on the river are much more likely if a large constituency is demanding it. The Missouri was degraded into a barge canal starting in the 1950s because commercial interests demanded it and there were too few recreational users then to fight back.


Outdoor Q&A

Question: In the Friday Fishing Report you give a figure that I suppose relates to the lake level. Does that have anything to do with depth?

Tony Losciuto, St. Louis.

Answer: It refers to feet above sea level designated by the Corps as normal for that reservoir.


Well-known member
Mar 13, 2001
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It aggravates me when it's said banning commercial fishing "Cured" the bad fishing for cats in the Missouri River.....

The real problem was the Dikes the Corp of Engineers built in those early days.  These Dikes I'm talking about are the ones that are all along the banks to create swift water to keep the channel dug out for the barges.  

The design of these dikes did not allow any place for the fish to SPAWN.  (these dikes were straight and jutted out in the river)  Naturally, if the fish can't spawn, we'll eventually run out.  The problem was studied and "Trail Dikes" were added to the straight dikes and created spawning areas.  

and now, we see the results of allowing the fish to Spawn.....


Matt in MO

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Apr 26, 2001
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I've been out on the big MO in my 18 foot jon. Its been several years and would like to do it again with my boys. You really get the feeling of being a long way from civilization and traveling back in time. Didn't bother to fish - just wandered around exploring. Put in at Waverly.

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