Lake Paho offers quiet fishing and lunker largemouths

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Princeton, Mo. – Most people visit Lake Paho to catch trophy largemouth bass or to enjoy the green rolling hills of northwest Missouri. History lurks among the coves and fields, too. The 273-acre lake was built in Mercer County by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) in the late 1940s, making it one of MDC’s oldest public fishing lakes.

But the centerpiece of the 2,350-acre Lake Paho Conservation Area is also becoming a good place to catch a lunker bass. Anglers can harvest only two largemouths per day and they must be longer than 18 inches. So the lake is a haven for big bass.

“I’d say your chances of catching a three- to six-pound bass are pretty good here,” said Darrel Cunningham, an MDC resource technician at Lake Paho. “This is also a pretty good channel catfish lake.”

An MDC crew recently used electroshocking to study Lake Paho’s fish population. The crew led by Jerry Wiechman, an MDC fisheries biologist, shocked up good numbers of bragging-size bass.

“Paho has consistently provided some nice-size bass,” Wiechman said. “We’ve seen a number in the 18- to 22-inch length range.”

Habitat improvements and management changes bode for even better fishing in the years ahead.

MDC in 2010 phased out catfish rearing ponds downstream of the dam. Water from the lake was used to fill those ponds. That caused water levels in the lake to fluctuate in spring, Wiechman said, which hurt spawning success for bass. But in the past two springs, the percentage of small bass in the population surveys have increased, so the overall bass numbers are on the rise.

Brush piles are submerged along the lake’s eastern shore at depths from six to 12 feet. They provide havens for fish. Bass congregate near the brush piles, which gives anglers a good place to fish for them. In coming years, MDC crews will be using barges to sink brush piles along the lake’s western shore.

Gizzard shad in the lake provide a good food base for big bass. But also feeding on the shad are hybrid bass, which are a cross between white bass and striped bass. They’re a hard-fighting fish capable of reaching large sizes. MDC began stocking hybrids in Lake Paho in 2007. They must be 20 inches before anglers can harvest them, and fish from the first stockings are nearing or exceeding that size.

“There’s some pretty decent-sized hybrids in there now,” Wiechman said.

Crappie are numerous in the lake but generally small. The lake also has walleye.

Angler Colin Cridlebaugh of Princeton fishes at the lake often and he’s had good luck catching bass with spinnerbaits and jigs rigged with plastic twister tails or grubs.

“It’s a nice lake and the fish are in here,” Cridlebaugh said.

Lake Paho also offers two paved boat ramps and three campgrounds. Picnic areas are associated with the campgrounds, which are primitive and do not offer electricity or potable water. One boat ramp has a courtesy dock. A fishing jetty and parking lot is wheelchair accessible.

Special length and possession limits apply for fish at Lake Paho. For more information visit:

A good time to visit Lake Paho is during Missouri’s Free Fishing Days June 8 and 9. During Free Fishing Days, anyone can fish in the state without having to buy a fishing permit. Normal regulations such as creel and size limits remain in place. The lake offers opportunities to fish from shore or from a boat.

“It’s a pretty little lake that has well-kept campgrounds and the fishing is improving,” Wiechman said. “It’s a good place to get away from things.”