Spring is a great time to go fishing in Missouri.
Warmer temperatures and extra hours of daylight in May and June generally bring better conditions and more opportunities to fish in the Show-Me State, where rivers, lakes and streams are teeming with everything from bluegill and crappie to bass, catfish and walleye.
The VisitMO team recently caught up with Missouri outdoors expert and professional fisherman Scott Pauley, who offered his insights on spring fishing in Missouri.
VisitMO: Did the relatively precipitation-free winter have any impact on spring fishing or have recent spring rains gotten things back to "normal"?
Pauley: When we started tournament fishing back in February the lakes were pretty low which lets you see lake features you normally don't see with the naked eye and it really helps you get a sense of how some of these lake bottoms really lay. Spring rains have allowed the lake levels to rise and things are pretty close to normal, but one major rain event can change that within just a few days.
VisitMO: We've had some really warm days already and we had a lot of warm days in February. Other than allowing for more time on the water, how has that impacted fishing in Missouri?
Pauley: It was really interesting to see the water temperatures that warm that early in the spring. Often the water temperature in February is 38 to 42, maybe 45 degrees. I was finding mid 50s and sometimes even upper 50s, way up some of the major river arms.
What that meant was the fish stayed shallower, fed more often and allowed me to use faster-moving lure presentations. I was catching fish on crankbaits and jigs like I would normally be fishing in April. As we have gotten into spring things have really leveled out. While we may be a week or two ahead of normal, I think the length of daylight has more of an effect on fish behavior than water temperature.
VisitMO: What should people be fishing for this time of year (mid-May through early June)?
Pauley: Mid May through early June is an outstanding time of the year to catch large numbers of fish. The water temperature is prime for fish metabolism, mid 60s to 70s. The fish have finished spawning. They are feeding actively and will hit a large variety of lures. Many fish will stay shallow as the water temperature has not gotten too warm yet. All species; bass, crappie, bluegill, and catfish are feeding and active. So you can have your pick on what species you want to target. And don't forget the cold-water trout fisheries are outstanding year-round.
VisitMO: What are you having luck with lure wise, and what's not been working so well?
Pauley: I am primarily a tournament bass fisherman, so bass are what I primarily fish for. In May and June, the post-spawn period, I find that soft plastics work the best. One of my most productive lures is called a "shakey head worm." It consists of a specially designed jig head called a "shakey head" (you can buy them in about any store that sells fishing tackle). I like a three-eighths ounce size.
I then rig it with a straight 6-inch worm called a trick worm. One important key is to use light line eight-pound or 10-pound test, no bigger. You then cast the lure toward the bank and let it fall to the bottom. With your rod tip held high at the 10 o'clock position, you shake the worm with very small twitches of your rod. As the worm falls into deeper water, the bass will grab it and start swimming off. A bite often feels like you have a heavy piece of moss on your line. When it feels heavy, set the hook.
VisitMO: Missouri has several lakes that offer excellent fishing. What have your experiences have been like so far this year?
Pauley: This spring, I have fished Lake Taneycomo, Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake, and Bull Shoals Lake. What I am finding is that all of these lakes are in outstanding condition. The water quality is excellent and the fish are very healthy. We are very blessed to have world-class fishing right here in our backyard.
VisitMO: Any other tips for anglers?
Pauley: Some of my favorite spring fishing is on the Current, Jacks Fork, and Eleven Point rivers. I love to catch smallmouth bass on crawdad-colored jigs and crankbaits.