To Missouri and back again *part 1* (A tale of no flow, sleazy Ozark tourist traps and bad mullets)


Its five in the morning and I was in the car already. For me this is an amazing feat, I was on my way to pick up Gary for an adventure of epic proportions.
After loading up the rest of the gear we were on our way. Seven hours from now and we will be in the land of flying fish and toothy gar.

After getting our licenses and checking into the hotel we found ourselves driving down a small road at the base of Illinois largest man made lake. Below the dam at this lake was the kaskaskia river.

Quickly I noticed the water was lower then the last visit I hade here.
very low… ten feet lower. And the dam was almost completely shut. There was no flow!
It is what it is, and what it was was a lesson we would learn continuously over the next 4 days. After a quick look we noticed people at each point and no easy place to fish. This is part of the game here, sometimes you have to wait your turn. While we stood on the bank we noticed a large school of buffalo feeding at the surface. I quickly grabbed my flyrod and tied on a small green bucktail algae fly I made. I lines up my cast and waited for the wind to die down and made my cast. As soon as my fly hit the water the school bolted. All I could see was my fly sitting all alone an inch below the surface. Suddenly a shape appeared, then a white circle opened up below the fly, then quickly moved straight up towards my fly and suddenly my fly was gone. I quickly set the hook and felt a rush. Gary quickly ran for the net and scooped up the fish from the froth. To my surprise it was a small, thin and very hungry looking Bighead carp. First cast of the contest and it was a Bighead! Things were looking good.


Quickly we realized that its not always as easy as it looks. We fished for another hour without so much as a strike. There was one gate open but it was on the other side of the river. That was where the fish were, and that was also where the other fisherman were.
After another half hour we saw the fishermen pack up and leave. Gary and I looked at each other and ran for the car. A few minutes later we were at the other side of the dam, running down the hill to the spot we needed.

A few casts after we arrived I felt the familiar *pop pop pop, slam!* and quickly brought in a small Silver carp.

Behind us they were coming, other fishermen marching down the hill. This location is famous for its combat fishing, we need to hold this spot if we want fish. Gary quickly spread out just far enough to expand out fishing bubble. He began casting up to the tail race when suddenly I heard his drag sing. “There we go” he said. I quickly scooped up the fish as Gary stood examining his odd catch.  A Silver carp, beautiful in its way.

The techniques we learned last year worked again this year. Small green jigs drifted a few feet below the surface right below the dam brought solid aggressive strikes from silver carp.

We caught a dozen more carp from this spot, when we decided to move on and leave the spot for the other fishermen who were hunting large drum. We moved downstream to hunt goldeye and orangespotted sunfish.

After a few minutes and a few green sunfish I pulled up a surprise. A central longear sunfish. It was a goal of mine for this trip to catch the three subspecies of longear. (Central, greatplains and white river)

Moments later I heard Gary saw “Oh WOW!” I glance over and see him staring at a tiny fish in his hand. It was his first orangespotted sunfish, a beautiful little blue gem.

Soon after we decided to get some food and clean up a bit before round two began for the night.
Later that night we went down to the river again to shine the water for patrolling gar. We saw a few and fished for a short time, but really had no luck. The only spotted gar seen was one we found laying on the shore with a busted jaw and a hook line and weight coming from its mouth. The person who caught it obviously was in terror of the “beast” and didn’t even want to deal with retrieving their gear.
After we saw this we decided to pack it in for the night and start fresh in the morning.
After a good nights sleep we headed back down to the river with two goals in mind. An Orangespotted sunnie for me, and a Longear for Gary.

Minutes after we arrived I pulled in a tiny little orangespot and before the shutter on the camera could click I hear Gary say “Bingo!” I glanced over to see a longear sunfish dangling from his line.

Time to move on, but first we stopped above the dam for a look.
The water below the dam was filled with dark clouds of silver and bighead carp with gar stacked against the wall. It was an amazing sight to see.

As we drove out of the town of Carlyle we decided to check a few bridges on the way.
The Kaskaskia river wound its way to the Mississippi. And we checked each spot where we could. We didn’t fish, but did take the time to enjoy the sights of the river.

Soon it was time to make our trek to Lake of the Ozarks. We drove through St. Louis and made our way down to the Osage river valley.

On our way as Gary dozed off in the passenger seat I spotted a bridge and glanced down to see a beautiful green gem of a stream. A second later I saw a side road and hit the shoulder and slammed the brakes to take the turn in time.  Gary shot up with a look of shock “Whats going on?” he said.
“I found a river” I replied.
A mile down this tiny winding road I saw a spot to pull off and glanced at a truck with people loading buckets in the bed.
We hopped out and saw an amazing gem of a stream, bright blue and green pools.

In the pools were schools of minnows, Studfish and topminnows everywhere, and in the middle of the pool were two spotted bass and a school of black redhorse suspended right below the surface.
We broke out the small tanago poles and began catching gem after gem. Its been years since I was able to fish for fish and have no clue what they were. It was amazing!!
“Northern studfish, Blackspotted topminnows, orangethroated darters, bleeding shiners and great plains longear were among our catches.
We attempted to coax the spotted bass and black redhorse, but they would have nothing to do with us.

As the hours passed we decided it would be best if we headed on down to the lake of the Ozarks.

After a few hours we arrived at the dam.

We drove down to the campgrounds to get our site. This was our first mistake. The owners wicked mullet should have been the first warning. The campsite was HORRIBLE. The Owners were HORRIBLE and rude. The grounds were terrible. Right away we both had a feeling this was going to be an annoying day. The campground had an attached bait shop and store. They were out of everything, no bait no food no drinks no nothing. Lucky we still had worms left and a few silver carp from Carlyle for cutbait.
We set up our tent in what we figured may be a camping spot and made our way down to the river. The fishing was slow, almost as slow as the water below the dam. Again we had NO FLOW! All the gates were closed. We tried and tried for hours with only a few taps to show for it. Our lines were constantly getting tangled and twisted together. Frustration grew quickly. Finally we set up off of a point where we saw some fish caught by other fishermen. We quickly noticed the bait of choice was goldeye. There were several goldeye head and carcasses laying about all stripped and cut for bait. I cast out and as the bait sunk *BAM* a fish on shaking like mad, then nothing. Next cast *BAM* again nothing this happened for about ten casts then nothing. I knew they were goldeye, but the school moved on before I could hook up. Soon I saw Gary walk over with a look holding a bluegill. “I am tagging one fish for the contest here even if it is just a bluegill” I snapped the photo and we continued attempting to fish.

The frustration grew when suddenly my pole went nuts. I rushed down and set the hook and I see my other pole go off. I reeled in my fish hoping the other pole would stay put long enough when I noticed the other pole go. I soon realized I had a channel catfish on and it was somehow twisted hopelessly in all the lines including some that weren’t mine. I had about had it, and I took the fish off the hook and tossed it back without a picture. Even if I didn’t have a channel cat for the contest I really didn’t want one from here and from that moment. I didn’t want to look at that pic and remember how annoyed I was.
I cut all my lines at the hook and went for a walk to relax a bit. Suddenly all hell broke loose and the sky lit up with swarms of bats. *WHAM!* right against the side of my head hard enough to knock my head lamp off. That was about it for me.
We decided to pack up flip off the river and go into town to get supper.
That was mistake number two.
I don’t know if any of you have been to lake of the Ozarks or not, but the best way for me to describe it is if Disney world had a baby with a Ted Nugent concert at a brothel.
Pretty much sums it up. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
After a loverly meal at Mcdonalds we decided to try one more time on the other side of the river. We drove down a hair pin turn of death to the river below and walked the stairs below. It was packed so Gary actually went and asked if we could squeeze in. The fishermen at the point said “no problem man” As I shined the light near shore I spotted the head of a paddle fish. As soon as my light hit that fishhead the man next to us got up and high tailed it out of sight. Paddlefish season was closed, and the little poacher ran like a roach. We settled into the spot for the rest of the night tossing out chunk after chunk of cutbait. In the light of the dam.

I watched the pole tip bob in the current when suddenly it bent over. I ran jumping over rocks and debris to get to my pole just in time to catch the rod. I set into a decent fish and quickly brought it to the surface. White bass! Ahh ok not a blue cat, but still better then nothing. I snapped a few pics and sent him on his way.

A few minutes later the pole doubled over again. This time it was better I could tell right away by the fight it was a catfish, but what kind? In the light of Gary’s head lamp I could see what it was. Gary blurted out “It’s a blue dude, it’s a blue!” Thanks to some fancy netting from Gary the blue was soon on shore. Not big, and not pretty, but it was a blue.
WOW! I took a few shots and sent him back.

Its Garys turn now. I moved to a new spot and Gary set up in mine. No sooner then casting it out we heard a sound *WoooooooooooooOOOOOOP  WoooooooooooOOOOP!” Sirens! They were opening gates. RUN!!!!
Gary and I grabbed everything and tore up the hill like billy goats on speed.
At the top of the hill I looked down and the other fishermen were casually moving gear a few feet up the hill as they looked at us like we had lobsters crawling out of our ears.
Ok so… we may have over reacted. Ok… adrenaline faded after picturing our bloated corpses being swept down stream we decided to head back down.
We went back and set up in the same spot. Moments later Gary’s pole started bouncing then bending fiercely. He set the hook but lost the fish, he let it sit a moment and the fish grabbed the bait a second time and ran. We soon realized it was a drum, a larger drum, a battered and abused drum. The fish had two lines coming from its mouth in addition to the hook of Gary’s.  He had one eye, the other either damaged by a hook or was stabbed out by a pimp in the town above the dam. Either way, the dude was ugly. After a mugshot he was released. Where he is now nobody knows, I assume lurking in the seedy underbelly of Osage beach.

We fished for another half hour until we called the game for lack of sleep.
Tomorrow we head to the James river, if we can get out of this town alive.


Species List: 
Bass, White
Carp, Bighead
Carp, Silver
Catfish, Blue
Catfish, Channel
Darter, Orangethroat
Drum, Freshwater
Shiner, Bleeding
Studfish, Northern
Sunfish, Bluegill
Sunfish, Green
Sunfish, Longear
Sunfish, Orangespotted
Topminnow, Blackspotted


TonyS's picture

Awesome report!  Those Longears are awesome looking!  All in all, an awesome collection of fishes.


As much fun as it would be to catch a Bighead on the fly I'm not sure I want to fish the Mos Eisley Spaceport and I know I don't want them in the rivers in my backyard...


Is it just me or does look like somebody has been chewing on the Blue?  Maybe just spawning or rough life scars.

Jason E.'s picture

Ahh, the ups and downs of a road trip.  Those frustrating encounters make our experiences with friendly folks at other locations all the sweeter.  Looks like some variety was found, and some cool scenery as well.  I've always wanted to investigate the ruins of St. Louis and East St. Louis someday.  Interesting that there's low water there but such high flow here right now.  The St. Cloud dam is absolutely booming with water.  Nice report. 

Deftik's picture

Fun report, nice fish!

Your momma fishes for lifers with Eagle Claws.

These lines made me laugh out loud.

"He had one eye, the other either damaged by a hook or was stabbed out by a pimp in the town above the dam. Either way, the dude was ugly. After a mugshot he was released. Where he is now nobody knows, I assume luring in the seedy underbelly of Osage beach."

That's good stuff right there.

Great report and looks like a cool trip even if you dealt with some "adversity".

Gary's picture

Just wait, it gets better - this was only day 1 and 2 of a 5 day journey... the next part offers sweet redemption, and fish that dang near NOBODY else has seen with their own eyes!!!!! 

Do not meddle in the affairs of BAGMAN, for thou art crunchy and good with Old Bay seasoning...


Hengelaar's picture

Who knew Bigheads got that ... small!

The more I think about it, the more I believe we really hit the jackpot when we were there. Even though we did have to do some battlin' too. Or maybe there is just some kinda energy that's released when the three of us fish together...


Can't wait for the next installment!

Fishn sure is neat

brad's picture

I had the same frustration at Bagnell as you did! I couldn't get anything to bite. I only caught bluegill and white bass and a trillion snags. Lost a bunch of big fish too! My hooks must've been dull...