An Angler's Guide to Mark Twain Lake

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

however. The lake is so dark at night that it's easy to become disoriented. Adding to the risk of both night and day fishing are the boating hazards of flooded timber and fluctuating water levels.


Lots of pictures of big catfish--some over 50 pounds--are pinned on the bragging boards at baits shop near Mark Twain Lake. Russ Withrow describes trotlining on Mark Twain as awesome.

Like most catfish anglers, he tends toward the back of coves. He'll set lines in 3 or 4 feet of water for channel cats. His favorite bait is cut leeches.

He runs his flathead lines a little deeper, about 8 feet, and he baits them with small goldfish or small perch (3- to 6-inch sunfish or bluegill). He likes to place his flathead lines along channel or drowned field edges.


Although crappie, bass and catfish are the reservoir's "Big 3," Mark Twain Lake contains a wide variety of other fish, including bluegill.

White bass are showing up more often. Anglers sometimes catch them when fishing for crappie, but they've also learned to target them in open water. White bass sometimes "herd" gizzard shad to top of the water. Casting a spinner, spoon or small crankbait into a surface disturbance often results in jolting hits and fast action.

Walleye fishing used to be better on Mark Twain, but the lake still yields some big fish. Mark Twain Lake stands to benefit greatly from the Conservation Department's current Walleye Initiative, which aims at increasing walleye fishing opportunities in lakes throughout the state.


In 2002, the Corps of Engineers recorded the highest lake visitation ever. According to Dames, many of the anglers come from the St. Louis area, but Iowans and Illinoisans also have discovered the lake.

Mark Twain Lake features excellent facilities. Except for a few informal hunter/angler access points, boat ramps are wide and well regulated. The Corps ramps charge a small daily or annual fee, while the state park ramps allow you to launch for free.

Although the lake, which averages about a mile wide and 29 feet deep, attracts a lot of boaters and anglers, it offers a completely different atmosphere than Lake of the Ozarks or other reservoirs.

"There are no private docks and only two marinas," said Dames, "Mark Twain has more of a remote atmosphere, almost a wilderness experience. You're not going to see a lot of lights or activity, and you might have to drive 10 or 15 miles to find fast food."

That's a price many of us are willing to pay for close-to-home fishing in a near-wilderness setting.triangle

Information Please!

  • View the Conservation Department's annual report of fishing prospects for Mark Twain Lake online.
  • View the weekly statewide online fishing report which includes current information on Mark Twain Lake.
  • Check the fishing tournament schedule on Mark Twain Lake by calling the Corps of Engineers management office at (573) 735-4097 or going to online.
  • Fishing can be better when they are generating power at the dam. For a schedule of releases, call 918/595-6779 and punch in Code #19 for Clarence Cannon Dam.
  • A map of the lake will help you almost as much as a bucket of bait, and it costs about the same. You can find a waterproof "Fishing Hotspots" map of Mark Twain Lake almost anywhere fishing gear is sold. Remember that depths listed on maps are for normal pool. You will have to make adjustments for high or low water.

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