The Patron "Saint" of Panfish Anglers
are hitting well and you get into crappie, you can catch all the fish you need for supper out of one or two downed tree tops," Victor said. "A lot of the crappie run between 7- and 11-inches long, but now and then you'll catch 12- or 13-inchers."
On my first day on the river, none of the panfish we caught were what you would call "lunkers," but they were large enough. During our five hours of fishing, we put 48 panfish in the cooler. We also caught 13 different species of fish, including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, longear sunfish, green sunfish, redear sunfish, warmouth, white bass, black crappie, white crappie, goggle-eye, bluegill and channel catfish.
A Chance to Catch Walleye
The St. Francis River was once one of Missouri's premier walleye streams. The Missouri state-record walleye - a 20- pounder - came out of the St. Francis. For reasons not fully understood, the river's walleye population plummeted to the point that catching a walleye there was extremely rare.
For the past several years, however, the Conservation Department has been rigorously stocking walleye in the St. Francis. This boost to the population has proven successful. The walleye in the river are again spawning and producing young.
In the spring of 2003, the Department opened the river to walleye fishing, with an 18-inch, four-fish limit. If you panfish the St. Francis, your catch might well include walleye.
Victor said the best times to panfish the St. Francis are on days when temperatures reach no higher than the 80s. Those are also the best days for camping. When temperatures reach into the 90s or hotter, fishing can be uncomfortable. During mid-summer, the water level sometimes drops so low that it's hard to float a canoe through the riffles. The fishing is still good in the pools. It's just much harder to reach them.
It's a good idea to find out about river levels before you travel to the river. Recent rainfall will improve the floating, but if the rain is too heavy, the water muddies so much that it's not good for fishing. A good source of up-to-date river conditions is the canoe rental service at Sam A. Baker State Park (537/856-4223).
State law mandates that all boaters on Missouri waters have personal floatation devices. It's a good idea to wear them. The St. Francis drains rocky, hilly terrain. Heavy rains reach the river quickly and, in little time, can turn the river into a roaring rush of dangerous water.
You will find a lot of public access points on the river. The online Missouri Conservation Atlas shows most access points along the river. Just go to <www.missouriconservation.org> and click on "Conservation Atlas," on the left side of the home page.
Plan a day trip, putting in at one access and taking out at another access downstream. Four to six miles of river makes for a good day's float if you spend a reasonable amount of time fishing each pool.
If you enjoy panfishing, the St. Francis River has a lot to offer. Most of the time it provides a peaceful, easy float and the opportunity to catch a lot of fish and a large variety of fish. It has quickly become my new favorite panfishing spot, and there's a good chance it could be yours, too.