slid into before we were out of sight of the boat ramp. It was the first of many modest rapids that punctuated our trip. There were also small limestone bluffs with bedrock shelves at their feet. I might have been on one of the many southern tributaries of the Missouri River.
Bites were infrequent for the first half mile of our 5-mile float. A handful of channel catfish and freshwater drum measuring 6 to 10 inches fell for minnows, worms and crayfish.
Travis assured me that walleye and sauger haunted this stretch of river. Those species were nowhere to be found, but I was both startled and pleased when a bronze-sided smallmouth bass snatched the tiny crayfish imitation I was casting into remote, rocky pockets along the bank. Over the course of the trip, the tally of smallmouth bass I caught topped the number of largemouths.
The action heated up when we reached the foot of a large riffle, a spot where the river level dropped 3 or 4 feet in 200 yards. Dozens of bass and channel catfish waited where the riffle emptied into a deep pool. Fish competed for the honor of snatching hooks gobbed with worms and drifting beneath plastic bobbers.
I wondered if deep holes like this one harbored larger flathead or channel catfish. As the day progressed, I witnessed a couple of encouraging incidents. Twice, our lines were broken by large but unseen fish that took the hook, then made powerful dives to the log-strewn bottom. The sensation is unmistakable to anyone who has tried to turn a 10-pound catfish on light tackle.
However, the most exciting action came around 5 p.m., as shadows crept across the water. That was when we reached a long, narrow run. The current was too swift to call that stretch a pool, but the water was 6 to 8 feet deep, so you couldn’t call it a riffle, either. The current had cut a long, slow curve out of a 10-foot dirt bank. Shrubs and vines hung over the water, and tree trunks and root wads festooned the outer curve.
The fish showed a definite preference for night crawlers here, and soon the three canoes were taking turns drifting through the run and catching fish as fast as we could cast, reel in and rebait our hooks.
For the past six years, fisheries biologists have been tagging flathead catfish in several north-Missouri streams. They