Fishing Missouri's Big Rivers

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

rivers have many varieties of habitat. Learning about them wil l increase your ability to catch the fish that live there.


The tailwater is that reach of deep, swift water extending for one-half mile below each Upper Mississippi River lock and dam. Water passing through the dam is rich in food attractive to small forage fish, which attract larger fish. Gizzard shad, freshwater drum, walleye, sauger, channel catfish and white bass frequent the swift water below each upper Mississippi River lock and dam.

Wing Dikes

Wing dikes are rock structures extending from the river bank perpendicular to the river's current. The Corps built them to prevent the main channel from filling by directing the river's current away from the bank and into the channel.

Trail dikes

Constructed along outside bends of the channelized Missouri River, trail dikes are positioned to protect against bank erosion. Similar to wing dikes, trail dikes provide rock habitat and dee p holes, which attract many fish species.

As water is forced around and over a wing dike, it carves deep "scour holes" at the tip and downstream of the dike. The holes provide important winter and summer habitat for flathead catfish, blue catfish and channel catfish. The rocks of a wing dike also provide spawning and rearing habitat for catfish. Other big river fishes, such as carp, walleye, bluegill and largemouth bass, use the rock as shelter to avoid the constant force of the river's current.

Notched Dikes

Below St. Louis, several wing dikes have had sections removed to allow water,to flow through, creating deep water holes below each notch. These modified wing dikes are called "notched dikes," and often attract flathead, channel and blue catfish, gizzard shad, freshwater drum, walleye, sauger and white bass.

Cut Banks

Another habitat sought out by river-wise anglers is the deep water associated wi th a cut bank, where the erosive force of the current scours deep areas that attract many fish. Cut banks frequently occur along outside channel bends, on the back side of islands and along non-reveted (unrocked) banks.


Fishing in the deep, slow moving current downstream of a submerged sandbar can be productive. Fish tend to collect here, out of the swifter main channel current. Sandbars are abundant along the Missouri River and unpooled Mississippi River. Channel catfish often frequent sandbar habitat.

Off-Channel Waters

Oxbow lakes, sloughs, side channels, blew holes and chutes are located off the river's main channel. In these habitats, the river's current is slow to nonexistent, providing essential spawning and rearing areas for several fish species. Off-channel waters usually have abundant cover - fallen trees, submerged vines and tree limbs - that provides shelter for young fish.

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