Fishing on a Different Path

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Published on: May. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

Travelers who drive the Interstate Highway system often are focused on the horizon. Many attractions, activities and adventures await, but one must exit and take a different path to get to them. Anglers are the same. They head for large lakes and popular rivers and overlook aquatic adventures that are accessible only if they take a different path.

A different path will take you to Saline Valley Conservation Area. Turn south off of Highway 54 onto Highway M near Eldon and you leave the automotive parade headed for the Lake of the Ozarks. Highway M twists and turns down the Big Saline Creek valley. Forested hills rise quickly from the Big Saline bottoms; you begin to feel like you're slipping into a world of your own.

Big Saline Creek, the largest of four wading streams on the area, is typical of many streams known for their warmwater wading fishery. Arising from the hills of northwestern Miller County, Big Saline Creek appears to be a typical Ozark stream. With a gravel bottom and clear flowing water, it is home to a number of fishes: green and longear sunfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass and suckers galore. Little Saline Creek, Jack Buster Creek and Jim Henry Creek are smaller versions of Big Saline.

Saline Valley Conservation Area is a great place for wading and fishing. With over a dozen miles of wadeable small streams and six parking lots, I can fish as little or as much as I want. Today I'm going to walk. Hip boots or a pair of old tennis shoes and cut-off blue jeans are about as close to technological breakthroughs as I want to get.

I put in at the upper parking lot on the area. An old private fish hatchery used to be here; it's been converted to a marsh for shore birds. Aquatic birds seem to like Saline Valley Conservation Area; in addition to those that frequent the marsh, you may see green herons fly up and down the creek, and a great blue heron rookery is in the lower reaches near the Osage River. One of the side benefits of wading and fishing is that you're always able to watch lots of birds.

My fishing rod of choice today is an ultra-light spinning rod with lures that imitate small crayfish. I normally prefer using a short fly rod with some sort of sinking black fly, because

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