Annual Prospects Report
The main portion of the James River extends from the dam at Lake Springfield south to Galena. On this stretch, smallmouth bass and goggle-eye reign supreme. Smallmouth fishing should continue to be excellent in 2023 with roughly 25% of the smallmouth sampled greater than 15 inches. Anglers regularly report catching smallmouth greater than 18 inches, particularly in the Smallmouth Special Management Area (SMA). The SMA runs from the Hooten Town Bridge (the Loop Road at Route O) to the Highway 413/Highway 265 bridge at Galena where special limits apply. Statewide limits apply outside of the SMA, please refer the Missouri Fishing Regulations for more info. Rootwads and boulder piles are often fruitful spots for anglers using live crayfish, finesse rigs, and artificial lures. Topwater fishing, particularly around sunrise and sunset, can provide an especially thrilling experience to kick-off or cap-off a day on the water.
Goggle-eye fishing should also be good for 2023. Catch rates in 2022 were some of the highest recorded with roughly 35% of goggle-eye sampled greater than 8 inches. Rootwads and boulders are also good spots to catch goggle-eye; most anglers use tube jigs, curly-tailed grubs, or worms. Largemouth bass and spotted bass are also present in the James, albeit in lower densities. Slower flowing water, including pools, are good spots to target both largemouth and spots.
Channel catfish should provide good fishing opportunities in 2023 as well. Minnows with a slip bobber fished around rootwads and fallen timber are a great place to start, particularly in the spring months. Nightcrawlers, stink baits, and chicken livers are also good options. Please exercise caution when fishing with live bait to not introduce minnows or crayfish from other streams.
Longear sunfish are always a great option for anglers of all ages due to their aggressive nature when presented with small hooks baited with pieces of worm or small artificial lures. The James River sports an excellent population of suckers for the aspiring gigger willing to brave the dark. When water conditions are right, paddlefish will run up the James River from Table Rock Lake during the spring months and have been found all the way to the dam at Lake Springfield. Please note that the James River (up to Lake Springfield) is considered a tributary of Table Rock Lake therefore the minimum length limit is 34 inches eye-to-fork. Legal harvest season for paddlefish in Missouri runs from March 15-April 30 with a two fish daily limit.
According to legend, the James was the birthplace of the Ozark float trip. Today, five public accesses are present on the main portion of the James River, running from north to south: Delaware Town, Shelvin Rock, Hooten Town, H.L. Kerr, and Cox Memorial. For those searching for a bit of seclusion, most recreational floaters will be found between H.L. Kerr and Cox Memorial during the floating season.