My First Adventure Through the Ozarks

~This report is dedicated to Tyler Goodale, one of the fishiest dudes I’ve ever met and the guy who made all of this possible~

 

I started tossing around the idea of a Missouri trip late last year. I’ve seen way too many reports and awesome photos of the incredible fish from down in the show me state. So I started saving money and developing a plan of attack. At roundup this year I talked to Tyler for quite a while and really narrowed down a plan of attack. I recruited my buddy Trevor, a tattoo artist from Minneapolis and a fellow crazed angler. We planned on spending 3 whole days in Missouri plus an extra night of fishing. We decided to go in late June to boost up my species count for the contest and to focus on new species to add to our lists. My new species goals for this trip were the various Sunfish species that could be found, Ozark and Shadow Bass, Chain Pickerel, Spotted Bass, and most of all, Spotted Gar.

 

            So at 5a.m. on June 24th we pointed my Outback south with visions of colorful Sunfish, murderous Gars, and unique Rock Basses. The excitement was clearly too much for Trevor to handle.

            After the 10 hour excursion we found ourselves in southeast Missouri. After running around town looking for a place to stay, we dropped off some of our stuff and headed off to fish. Our first stop was to be the famous Wappapello spillway, where we found Space monki who was also there for the weekend. He had already caught a couple Bluegills and a Shortnose Gar. After chatting for a bit he left to run an errand. Trevor and I wasted no more time getting to fishing. It was well after dark at this point and as soon as I turned on my headlamp I saw a nice thick Longnose Gar in the middle of my spotlight. This was going to be fun. Of course, the only bait Trevor and I had at the time was worms, which produced my first fish of the trip! A baby Drum. Also amongst the excitement of our first session in Missouri I managed to crack one of the guides in my Fenwick, which became razor sharp and sliced through my line with ease. The rod was rendered useless for the rest of the trip. No time to worry about replaceable gear though, there’s fish to catch. A quick swap with one of my other rods and back to fishing. The bites kept coming, but hooking up was tough. Then from behind me I hear someone yell “You boys don’t look like you’re from around here!” This of course was Tyler, returning with Space Monki, excited to see us and excited to fish.  The whole team began chatting and developing a game plan. It was quite late at this point and after a long day of being on the road, I was pretty spent. But chatting with Tyler gave me a bit of a second wind. Tyler informed us that just downstream from where we were standing there was a flooded parking lot likely to be full of hungry Spotted Gar. Sure, let’s try that. We walked down to the flooded lot and immediately we could hear Gar smashing baitfish in the shallows. We threw chunks of freelined cutbait out and the bites quickly started rolling in. Tyler, of course, landed a beautiful Spotted Gar almost right away. I missed a couple fish and then finally made contact. “Sweet” I thought, “here’s my first Spotted Gar.” But no, a chunky Shortnose came to shore. Eh well, it’s still a cool fish. On the next cast I had another run, and again I made contact, and again, a Shortnose came to shore. I couldn’t help but laugh. I was fishing in an area loaded with Spotted Gar, and I keep catching Shortnose. Well, at least there was no shortage of bites, one of them has to be a Spotted gar. And just like that, the next fish I hooked was a beautiful, lifer Spotted Gar. Unfortunately the picture ended up being a pixely disaster….

Not long after I released my lifer, Space monki was rewared with his lifer Spotted Gar, another beautiful fish.

With that mission accomplished, we moved back up into the main spillway to try for Longnose Gar. It took me a while to get Tyler’s Longnose technique figured out, but eventually I got a slow and steady bite. I set the hook and brought in a nice little Flathead Catfish.

Tyler got a couple runs from what were certainly Longnose and I think the Monki got a couple bites too but no Longnose were landed that night. After a while we called it quits and got some sleep before the multi species beatdown that would take place the next day.

 

            We awoke fairly early and headed out in search of Sunfish species. Tyler had told us of a creek not far from where we were staying where Longear, Redspotted, and Dollar Sunfish should be relatively easy. The absence of predators in this creek makes the Sunfish population totally and completely flourish. It was probably only my second or third cast when I brought in my first Dollar Sunfish

 

followed up by a beautiful Longear Sunfish, another lifelist addition!

And a Redspotted Sunfish, yet another lifer

Space Monki, Trevor and I each caught a number of awesome, colorful Sunfishes and Tyler caught a couple of Grass Pickerel amongst the Sunnies.

 

Here’s a few creek sunnies caught by Space Monki

I also managed to get a Blackspotted Topminnow that I used as bait for a Grass Pickerel.

The Topminnow got blasted by a Pickerel right away but I missed the on the hookset. Bummer.

 

My favorite catch from this spot would probably have to be this bright male Dollar Sunfish. The colors on this fish were unreal

After deciding that we’ve had our fun at the Sunfish creek we set our sights on Chain Pickerel. As many of you know, Tyler has a pretty killer spot for Chains. If you have fished it, you know how crazy of a place it can be. Right when we arrived, we saw some smaller Pickerel moving around in the weeds, along with some Chubsuckers suspended in-between the clumps of vegetation. I really wanted to get a lifer on the fly so I dicked around with my 8 weight for a while and Trevor and Space Monki threw jerkbaits. The Monki was the first to score with a beautiful Chain Pickerel, a lifer for him.

            Then came a long, frustrating hour or so filled with lots of follows on almost every cast. The only strike I had while fly fishing was from a psychotic little Pickerel that came flying out of nowhere to crush a fly that was about the same size as he was and let go before I could react and strip set.

 

            I heard Trevor, who was fishing a ways to my left say something along the lines of “Ohp……YES!” as he set the hook on a fish that he watched follow, and then crush his x-rap, not long after, the fish decided to go totally  airborne and give us a good look at it. Soon the fish was on shore and Trevor had his prize in the form of a big (at least what I consider to be big), beautiful, Chain Pickerel.

           

            I wanted one oh so bad now. I decided to quit the fly fishing and started throwing a jerkbait around. Again with the follows…. Timid creatures, these Pickerel. Finally, I had one take a swing at my lure and miss, the next cast he came back and this time he hit his mark. Bingo.

These fish were so cool; it was like somebody took the head of a pike twice their size and jammed it onto their little bodies. I definitely want to try for a larger one next time I’m down there.

 

            At this point we rehydrated at the local spring, and moved on to the next spot; a nearby river that was likely to hold Spotted Bass. While we didn’t find any Spotted Bass here, I did catch a Northern Studfish on a little jighead and nub of crawler, this was one minnow that I was actually really looking forward to catching.

            I did a little wading at this spot which may have been a mistake because my legs ended up looking like this, and itched like hell for the rest of the trip.

            After a while we decided to move on to the stump. The magic stump on the Current River that many of you have fished. We arrived to find the river totally packed to the gills with people. None of them were fishing though, mostly tubers and boaters. The stump is positioned in such a spot where even when there is tons of people here, the stump remains fishable. It took all of two casts to catch my first Shadow Bass.

            Space Monki Followed suit.

            And so did Trevor.

 

            Having got what we came for we decided to leave the crowds behind and fish a quieter tributary of the Current. The bites didn’t come hot and heavy at this spot, but after a while, Trevor set the hook and a flash of gold appeared in the main channel. Clearly a Redhorse. As it got closer Trevor was able to land our first sucker of the trip. Once I got a good look at it I had no doubt, “That’s a Black Redhorse dude!” I told Trevor and I saw his face light up. Trevor has become a well versed Redhorser since we’ve started fishing and this was the last of the “Minnesota Six” that Trevor needed on his Horse list. While it wasn’t a Minnesota Black Redhorse, it didn’t matter to Trevor, and I think his smile says it all here…

            After sending his prize back to the creek I got a couple of taps. Could this be another one? Nope, Golden. A little while later I got a couple more taps, but missed on the hookset… wait, maybe? …. No….. oh just some leaves…. Nooo….. Knobfin Sculpin!

I’m not much of a micro-fishing dude but gosh darn was that Sculpin a cool critter.

 

After that a couple of delightful National Park officers told us that fishing was not allowed in this tributary. So if any of you recognize the background of these photos, don’t fish here. After a lengthy ordeal we left without any fines, with our cars freshly disorganized, and with the satisfaction of a couple of cool lifers.

 

            Back in town we munched on some Taco Bell and cooled off while we prepared to launch an all out assault on the Gar at the spillway tonight.

 

            Well the Gar were everywhere this night. Trevor had never caught any species of Gar at this point, so we were all kind of coaching Trevor and it didn’t take long for him to get a good rip on a small piece of cutbait. After the usual waiting, waiting, and more waiting, Trevor set the hook hard and brought in his first Gar ever. A stud Shortnose. Earlier in the day, Trevor and I determined that if he caught a Longnose over 40 inches, a Spotted Gar over 30 inches, or a Shortnose over 25 inches, that he would get some sort of Gar tattoo once he’s back in MN. This fish taped out at 25.5 inches…..

            Congrats and fist bumps were passed around. Now the focus shifted to Longnose. There was certainly no shortage of bites tonight, but hooking up was a totally different story. After many, many missed fish I finally made solid contact on an extremely heavy fish. The angry Gar thrashed and thrashed and the suspense was through the roof. Space Monki stood by my side ready to bring the beast to shore when the opportunity presented its self. The fish was juuuuussst outside of the view of our headlamps when it made an extremely powerful run and I felt my rod suddenly shoot skywards and I reeled in the torn up remains of my now broken line.

 

Ouch. That was a very, very large fish.

 

            We had a few more runs and a couple of kinda-sorta hookups but no more gar were landed that night. We called it a night, knowing that tomorrow night would certainly be a late one.

 

            The next day started early. Tyler wasn’t able to fish today but Space Monki, Trevor and I went out in search of lifers. We fished a cool restored marsh looking for Redear Sunfish, but all we were able to get were Bluegills and a bunch of big Golden Shiners. At a nearby pond though, we scored Warmouth! I have caught a small handful of Warmouth from Minnesota, but these were lifers for Space Monki and Trevor.

            From here we parted ways with Space Monki, as he had to head back home (great fishing with you again man, had a blast). Trevor and I headed back into town to grab some food and prepare for the night.

 

We arrived at the spillway again and netted some Shad for bait. We could see some fish hitting the surface in the shallow water so we figured we’d try for Spotted and Shortnose Gar for a little while before switching gears to Longnose Gar fishing. It didn’t take long for the bites to start rolling in, and after a few misses, Trevor brought in his first Spotted Gar.

I followed suit with my largest Spotted so far.

After deciding we’ve had our fill of Spotteds for the night, we collected more Shad and went back to the Longnose spot. There was already more action than the night before, fish were rolling everywhere. Bites were happening every tenth cast or so. But, being Longnose Gar, getting a good hookup was not easy. After missing a bunch of takes, I finally stuck one. A giant it was not, but any success is cause for celebration.

Not long after that Trevor got another good run and was able to connect with what was clearly a heavier fish. This Gar gave him a good fight before I was able to get a hold of it and bring it to shore. This was Trevors first Longnose, and a nice one too. We didn’t measure but we figured it was around 40-42 inches. Trevor couldn’t have been happier.

And on his very next run, he connected again, and brought another chunker to shore. This one was sporting a pretty impressive girth.

After releasing that fish, we hit a bit of a slow period. But after about an hour or so, the bites slowly started to come back. Finally I got a good, real, proper rip. As Gar fishing goes, when you get bit, you let them run for a while, and when they slow down or stop, they’re probably getting the bait in a good position for you to set the hook.

 

This fish didn’t get the memo.

 

I have never had a fish run out that much line before in my life. I was using a rod that I normally use for Catfish and Sturgeon up here, with an Okuma ABF65 on it. That’s a big reel that holds a lot of line. To put it into perspective, I had the reel spooled up with a whole freaking bunch of 50 pound braid, with about 30 yards of 20 pound mono as backing, and when I set the hook on this Gar, I could see the 20 pound backing I had on the reel.

It was tough to tell how big the fish was with that much line out, but as the fish got closer, it became apparent that this was a serious contender. When I saw the fish in my headlamp, I let out an audible gasp. This fish is going to crush my personal best. Trevor was working his way down the bank to help land the fish but by the time he got there I was already wrestling the fish to shore. She was hooked right in the front of the snout, I got lucky. She taped out to 45 inches. The best part, I caught this fish on my gosh darn 21st birthday.

While she wasn’t a true Missouri beast, she was the most impressive Gar I’ve ever handled. The release was perfect, and she’s probably still down there terrorizing shad as I type this report, which is awesome to think about.

It was really very late at this point so after a few more missed runs we called it a night. We were sweaty, bruised, and bloody. But the high of an awesome night of fishing, one that we’ll likely still talk about years from now, ran strong between the both of us.

 

No time to waste on real sleep, so we were up early the next morning. This was going to be a long day, our last day in Missouri. We planned on hitting a river far from where we were staying in hopes of many different species, but specifically Ozark Bass. With Tyler and his buddy Jesse joining us, it became a four man effort.

After a long drive, and a particularly sketchy dirt road, we found ourselves on top of a bridge, over a crystal clear Ozark stream. We immediately saw Redhorse feeding in the gravel, and we could see the faint orange glow of Longear Sunfish  in the shallows. I had a rod rigged up with a heavy split shot and a number 8 octopus hook that I planned on using to try to sight fish some of the Redhorse we could see. On one of my first drops, a smaller fish intercepted the crawler chunk on its way down to the Redhorse. That little fish ended up being my first Ozark Bass!

            I also caught what I thought were the prettiest Longear Sunfish of the whole trip out of this spot.

            Tyler found what must have been some sort of Ozark Bass hotel or something. He kept dropping into the same little hole and catching Ozark Bass after Ozark Bass, including a couple of studs.

            I sight fished a really chunky Hogsucker that was aggressively feeding under the bridge.

            And some more Ozark Bass

            We also kept seeing Longnose Gar rise out in the middle of the river. After further inspection, we noticed there was a whole gosh darn pile of Longnose Gar down there! A big school of Gar was concentrated near the top of the pool. Tyler mentioned how Whitetail Shiners would probably be around in good numbers. Sure enough, it didn’t take long to get my first one.

            That Shiner became bait and got knocked off the hook by a Gar after a while. Then Tyler caught this pretty male White Tail.

            Tyler was kind enough to let me use that fish as bait as well. Right after putting it on the hook, I saw a couple Gar break from the school and slowly head downstream. I plopped the bait in their path and sure enough, one of the Gar slowed down, fluttered its pectoral fins for a moment, and snapped up the Shiner and began to run with it. Because the water was so clear at this spot, I could see the Gar the whole time it was running. If I had been blind fishing, I would’ve set the hook long before the fish had the bait in a position to be hooked. I even saw the fish drop the bait and pick it back up a couple times. All in all it was a 10+ minute ordeal between when the fish first picked up my bait and when I set the hook. The fish put up a strong fight and even jumped a couple times! Tyler ran down the bank and grabbed the fish for me. I met him down there where he handed me my prize.

Tyler and I both agreed that this was one of, if not the prettiest Longnose Gar we’ve ever seen.

It wasn't much after releasing that fish it was time for round two. This one was a little smaller. But again, a beautiful fish from a beautiful place.

 

And the place certainly was beautiful. 

            After releasing that last Gar we left that little piece of heaven and headed back, or at least we tried to. I got all of us quite lost in the middle of the Ozarks, mostly because I’m an idiot, but also due to the lack of service in the area for the GPS on our phones. But, mostly because I’m an idiot. After driving around like the idiot I am for a while we finally got back on track and before long we were back at the spillway. Again, Gar were biting pretty regularly, and after s few runs, Tyler brought in a nice Longsnout.

            Not long after this a saw a huge gar cruise by my feet. The fish looked to be about 40 inches but it wasn’t a Longnose. It was tough to tell but it was either a gigantic Spotted Gar or one of the very few Alligator Gar that Tyler informed be could be in the spillway. I flipped out my shad and the fish immediately pounced on it. I let it run and run, I wanted this one. But such is gar fishing, I didn’t connect on the hookset. That one is gonna be in my mind for a while.

            However as a consolation prize, I sight fished my largest Spotted Gar with a whole Shad. This fish taped out at 34 inches and was the last fish I caught in Missouri. This was the number one species I wanted to catch on this trip so this fish was a fitting finale.

We left a bit after releasing that fish, knowing that we had a long drive ahead of us in the morning. Tyler kept fishing after we said goodbye and of course, stuck a 50+ inch Gar after we left.

In the morning my hands looked like this, the product of epic gar fishing.

We enjoyed the scenic trip out of the Ozarks and already started plotting our return trip.

 

Huge thanks again to Tyler, your knowledge and expertise of the area and species made this trip as epic as possible.

Thanks to Trevor and Space Monki for the exceptional company and good laughs.

Thanks to Moose, Goldenfishberg, Dr.Flathead, Hengelaar, Jknuth, Tony S, Carp Chaser and Phil for the info and tips.

And lastly big thanks to Corey and Andy for starting roughfish.com and changing the way I look at fishing. None of this would have happened without you two.

Species List: 
Bass, Ozark
Bass, Shadow
Gar, Longnose
Gar, Shortnose
Gar, Spotted
Redhorse, Black
Shiner, Whitetail
Studfish, Northern
Sunfish, Dollar
Sunfish, Longear
Sunfish, Redspotted
Sunfish, Warmouth
Topminnow, Blackspotted

Comments

Dr Flathead's picture

Nice adventure homey.  Love the Ozarks!  Someday I'll make it thru again and experience that super sweet part of the country.  A must do trip for serious species fanatics.

Eli's picture

Awesome adventure man! Nice photos and writeup.

I'm hoping to spend some time in them hills one day. Take in the sights and sounds. Do some fishing. Maybe join an Israelite cult.

Eli

 

 

andy's picture

So many awesome fish.

Hengelaar's picture

Man, what a great report! Loved the whole thing. Felt like I was there (again).

Great to read about some spots I remember so fondly, and some that sound sooper magical. What a rich area that is...

 

My favorite photo has to be the one of Tyler handing you that Gar. Great symbolism to it.

Fishn sure is neat

DinoFish's picture

Those fish are all super cool, the colors on those Longears are amazing. I don't think I've ever caught any of those species! Maybe someday I'll make a trip out there. Thanks for sharing, sounded like it was a lot of fun!

"Fishing is much more than fish... It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers." - Herbert Hoover

Phil's picture

What great specimens and adventures 29 and company - just the stuff to get you dreaming on a -25 degree MN night tonight!

Cast_and_Blast's picture

I always enjoy an Ozark report.  I have great memories of some of those places.  Would love to go back again someday.

Mike B's picture

Great report dude. I really enjoy the Ozark write-ups and yours was no exception. Congrats on your PB longnose too. That's a great B-Day gift.

mike b

space monki's picture

It was a great time. So many timeless memories on that trip. Loved fishing with you guys. Maybe next time I won't be rushed to head iut if there. Till next time.

Goldenfishberg's picture

I've been anxiously awaiting this report and it was everything I knew it was going to be! Awesome photos of some even awesomer fish. Nothing Like the ozarks to get a man's brain all wigged out of sorts on Gars and neon colored panfish. The smile on yourr face holding that big ass birthday gar says it all! Awesome report dude, really rad stuff! 

Ya just Can't catch um from the couch.

TonyS's picture

Good story, awesome fish.  Congrats on all the things.  That area is awesome, one of these days I have wander back down

roughfish29's picture

Thanks for the kind words guys! It was fun reliving the trip as I typed it up 6 months later.

FP4LifesDad's picture

Awesome report man!

Really cool pictures dude thanks for sharing, my favorite is that sculpin, my oldest says they look like aliens that would eat thru your belly button and climb inside your body!  LMFAO  He has a strange imagination, what a cool looking fish bro!

Been down that way on business a few times, now I really want to get down there and do some fishing!  Awesome.

It looks like it was an awesome adventure. My wife & I travelled through the Ozarks a little over a year ago when we went to Missouri to get our puppies from a breeder and regreted that we didn't bring along our fishing gear. I live in Tennessee but I noticed the picture of your leg bites and I don't think they are from wading. As a man who has had them before, they look like chigger bites. Once you've got them, the old school treatment that I use is to cover each welt with clear finger nail polish to suffocate the little critter living on the bite. I don't know if it is still available but Benadryl used to make a topical spray that was great at relieving the itching. The best preventative method that I've found is to spray down your legs with a high DEET product like Off or Cutter before getting dressed then spray down your pants and shoes/boots. When in chigger country, it is best to opt for pants over shorts no matter how hot the temperature is.

andy's picture

Thanks for the tips on chigger bites, steve. Also welcome to roughfish.com!

TonyS's picture

I hate chiggers I'm glad they aren't common up here.  "Swimmer's Itch" kinda looks similar and can be caused by a number of aquatic parasites, but I'd still wager on chiggers.  Unless you were in a lot of shallow stagnant water. But in the end either one sucks...