Fishing Missouri's Big Rivers

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

Small gizzard shad, chicken liver, crayfish and bait shrimp, fished on the river bottom, are also effective in warm water. During winter one of the best baits is a piece of shad.

Flathead Catfish

Also known as johnnie cats, yellow cats, goujon and mud cats, flatheads sometimes exceed 50 pounds and have an excellent flavor. They are prized by most river anglers. The best time of the day to catch large flathead catfish is after sundown, when they begin feeding. Fish in deep water off the end of wing dikes or upstream of wing dikes or use trotlines in deep water along main channel borders.

Unlike channel catfish, flathead catfish prefer live bait. Use large minnows, goldfish, green sunfish and bullheads and fish them from set trotlines or by tight-line fishing.

Blue Catfish

Also known as white fultons, blue fultons, fultons, white cats and blue channels, blue catfish often reached 150 pounds or more in the 19th century and are still the largest catfish found in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Today some blue catfish over 60 pounds are caught.

Blue catfish are more abundant in the Missouri and in the Mississippi River below Cape Girardeau than in the pooled portion of the Mississippi. They prefer the swift current of the main channel, main channel borders or deep waters immediately below upper locks and dams.

Light saltwater tackle is recommended and skipjack herring (noted for its oily odor) is one of the best baits. Other popular baits include cut gizzard shad (also an oily fish) and all baits used to catch channel catfish. Trotlines set along the main channel border in deep water with live bait are also popular.

Bullhead Catfish

Also known as mud cat and yellow cat, two species of bullheads are found in the sluggish backwaters of the big rivers. The black bullhead is more common than its close relative, the yellow bullhead, but both are found in similar habitats.

Bullhead feed on a variety of items, ranging from insects to smaller fish. Earthworms are a common bait, but liver, crayfish and frogs are also good. During the hot, "dog days" of summer, when other fish are slow to bite, bullheads feed, making them a good choice for filling a stringer.


Also known as calico bass, slabs, strawberry bass, papermouth and tinmouth, both black and white crappie live in the off-channel areas of both big rivers.

Crappie are seasonal in their habitat selection. In late winter and early spring,

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