Your Summer Highlight Reel

By Tim Kjellesvik | June 1, 2022
From Missouri Conservationist: June 2022
Walleye Fishing
Your Summer Highlight Reel

Summer is the season for big, Hollywood blockbusters. But did you know that Missouri has all the makings for your very own angling highlight reel? It’s true! You just need to know where to go and the tactics to use once you get there.

So, grab your rod, tacklebox, and a pair of sunglasses and get ready for the bright lights of your Show-Me State fishing highlight reel. Let’s hit the water!

Award-Winning Walleye

An overlooked and sometimes underrated game fish in Missouri, walleye could quite possibly be the best table fare we have swimming in our deep, clear impoundments and spring-fed rivers. Walleye tend to have more recognition and pressure in northern states and Canada, but insiders know they’re a hidden gem here in the Show-Me State.

While not as splashy and boisterous once hooked as the beloved largemouth bass, walleye have a smooth, pulsing strength as they attempt to stay at depth and out of your net. They strike with surgical precision, removing a nightcrawler or minnow from a jig without touching the hook. They can follow a crankbait for an eternity attempting to make up their marble-eyed mind on whether to strike or not. During our hot Missouri summers, expect to find walleye relating to the thermocline in our lakes.

For any angler willing to hold a casting call for the camera-shy walleye, here are your best places and the best baits to make it happen.

Smithville Lake

Just north of the twinkling Kansas City lights, the Smithville Lake reservoir covers almost 7,200 acres and has received annual stockings of walleye. Smithville is gaining a reputation not only for numbers but for good-sized walleye, too.

During summer months, troll or cast crankbaits over structure along main lake points and flats, especially those getting hit by the wind. Crawler harnesses glammed up with spinners can be pulled along these areas, too. Experiment with trolling speed and spinner colors to determine what the walleye are in the mood for at that particular time. Pay attention to your rods, as sometimes a hit comes in the form of an extra weight, not an explosive fight.

If trolling is too passive of a tactic for you, cast vertical jig spoons into standing timber or the mouths of coves near the main channel. If you have electronics aboard your boat, key in on balls of shad as often there will be a walleye lurking below waiting for stragglers.

Stockton Lake

Known as a walleye destination in southwest Missouri, Stockton Lake, at almost 25,000 acres, is a must-fish on your summer highlight reel. An annual stocking program and strong recruitment means Stockton Lake boasts not only good numbers, but also good-sized fish, too.

During the heat of summer, bounce a jig tipped with a minnow or just half a nightcrawler along the bottom in 15 to 20 feet of water. If the bite is light and you’re getting robbed of your bait, add a stinger hook to your jig.

If you’re having trouble locating fish, or simply want to cover more water, a crawler harness with spinners is also a great option, especially on flats. You can also troll deep-diving crankbaits near the thermocline to hookup on suspended walleyes.

Mozingo Lake

Mozingo Lake is the walleye hotspot of northwestern Missouri, even though it’s the smallest of the lakes on our summer highlight reel at just over 1,000 acres. Just because it’s the smallest lake, doesn’t mean it can’t grow ’em big! If you’re looking for giant walleyes in the 10-pound-plus range, point your spotlight here.

Find those monster walleyes by trolling or casting crankbaits over structure, along tapering points, points with the wind blowing into it. You can also pull crawler harnesses with spinners over these same areas with good success.

Weedlines serve as both protection and ambush spots for walleye. Find them and focus on boat control to run parallel with the outside edge and get ready to set the hook.

Summer Smallmouth Stardom

The undisputed star of our streams is the scrappy smallmouth bass. They’ll hit like a ton of bricks and take off like they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. If you’re looking for a fight and a heavy dose of action and adventure, you’ve come to the right place.

Though known for their fierce disposition, long, hot Missouri summers put smallmouth in a vulnerable position. Lowered oxygen content in the water and dropping river levels can make life tough. To keep our bronzebacks in good shape, keep the fight as short as possible. Keep them in the water while removing the hook and be quick with any pictures before releasing them. You might even choose to go with barbless hooks to free these fighters even faster. Also, be mindful of the unique regulations on the section of river you fish.

Gasconade River

Carving its way through 271 miles of Ozark Plateau country with the middle section fed by numerous springs, the Gasconade River is home to some highlight reel-worthy smallmouth fishing. Load up your boat or throw on some wet-wading clothes and get ready for a summertime blockbuster!

Find big smallies holding at the ends of pools and runs by throwing walk-the-dog-style topwater baits, like the classic Zara Spook. Wait until you feel the fish on your line, otherwise you might pull the bait right out of their mouth.

Go a little deeper in these same areas by burning tandem willow leaf spinner baits. These bold and brash offerings trigger explosive reaction strikes that require you stay frosty and ready to set the hook.

When the fish aren’t as aggressive, go with lighter line on a spinning rig and finesse jigs with crawdad-looking trailers around boulders and through eddies. These hits may feel like solid thump, then hold on and get ready to steer that smallmouth away from the snags he’ll likely run for.

Big Piney

The Big Piney River runs 110 miles through south-central Missouri, ultimately joining up with the Gasconade River. While smallmouth can be found along its entirety, the Smallmouth Bass Special Management Area from the Slabtown access to the Gasconade is where some of the best angling can be experienced.

Boisterous top water prop baits run quickly through glides, runs, and riffles are often more than a smallmouth can stand. Pause and pop these baits around isolated cover to coax a smallie out of hiding. Use tube jigs in deeper eddies around boulders.

Elk River

Meandering 56 miles through southwestern Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, Elk River is further proof that smallmouth bass have good taste in where they live. The scenery is second only to the fishing.

If you’re packing light for this trip, you could get by with a small tackle box of nothing but shaky head finesse worms. They’re flat-out showstoppers for smallies on the Elk. But if you want a little diversity in your offerings and some incredible topwater action, try throwing buzzbaits through riffles and glides.

Weightless Super Flukes are another option, especially when algae blooms decrease visibility in the water. Dart these injured-minnow impersonators through glides, riffles, and deep pools.

Catfish Cameos

The summertime sleepers of the fishing world, catfish may not have the glamour and charm as walleye and smallmouth, but they run away with the award for cunning and sheer strength. With blues, channels, and flatheads on the marque, this summertime highlight reel is a triple-threat.

Smithville Lake

Smithville shows up a second time in our highlight reel, but this time, it’s for whiskered reasons. If catfish are in your queue for a summertime smash, this lake is ready for a double feature.

For flatheads, look for standing timber in proximity to the channel. These brutes will come up from deeper water to feed, so be sure to use live bait like bluegills and keep them fresh and lively for maximum effectiveness. The rule for flatheads in general is that if you’re not getting snagged, you’re probably not fishing in the right place.

Find channel cats on flats, especially those with a gradual descent into the channel. Channel cats have a less discerning pallet and will take most any pungent-smelling offering, including cut bait. Channel cats can also be fished with good success on primary points.

Truman Reservoir

Situated in west-central Missouri, Truman Reservoir covers over 55,000 acres and is a must-see for anglers looking to connect on big blue cats. Use cut shad suspended above the bottom with a small float between the hook and the weight. Drift with the wind across open flats and when you hook up, drop the anchor, and get ready to catch some more.

If you plan on keeping any blues, be mindful of slot limits and any other special regulations that may apply.

Missouri River

From the Kansas state line to the Mississippi River, the Big Muddy is home to some absolute monster blues. Plan on beefing up your rod, reel, and line weight to take on these big river beasts.

Key in on shallow sandbars between wing dikes using cut bait for blues. These opportunists love gobbling down hunks of Asian carp and shad, too.

Also find blues and flatheads on the upstream of both wing and L dikes. Complex hydraulics near the bottom create a neutral current area allowing fish to easily feed on anything that passes by. Use cut bait for blues and live bait for flatheads.

One final word of caution when fishing for big cats: Never leave your rod unattended or it might get pulled into the river!

Missouri’s rivers and lakes are home to world-class fishing, especially during the high temperatures of summer. Get in on the action and don’t get left on the cutting room floor. Grab your gear and head out on location to start in on your highlight reel … just be sure your drag is set right.


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This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation Manager - Laura Scheuler