Sunday, July 28, 2013

Northern Ozarks

Yesterday, I visited several northern Ozarks streams with my friends Matt and Nick. We started the morning on Little Piney Creek, ended the morning on Big Piney River, began the afternoon on Meramec River, and wrapped up the evening on Osage River.

Little Piney Creek is home to some Rainbow Trout, so it's fairly cool, especially in the morning. We were fairly far downstream (Milldam Hollow Access), but still in a Blue Ribbon Trout Area, which meant we were restricted to artificial flies and lures; no plastics or live bait.

Heading upstream on Little Piney Creek.
We saw lots of Northern Hogsuckers and Redhorse (no clue as to which species). I netted an Orangethroat Darter with my hand net. Fishing was pretty slow. Matt caught Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass. I caught a Creek Chub, Longear Sunfish, Bluegill, and a hybrid sunfish with my fly rod.

Creek Chub

Sunfish hybrid? ~5" long
Eventually, we came to a side pool that had some Northern Studfish. I quickly tied a size 20 fly onto the end of my fly rod, and soon had my lifer studfish!

Lifer #36: Northern Studfish!
We saw a lot of fish on the Little Piney, and we caught almost none of them. This would end up being a recurring theme through the day. We wanted to seine, but we were unsure if it was legal in a Blue Ribbon Trout Area, so we headed on to the Big Piney.

I took us to a Forest Service access point that had always been empty in the past. Not yesterday! There were about a dozen people there, but they left us alone and weren't fishing. Unfortunately for us, ~0.4" of rain the previous night left the river a little dingy and slightly higher than we were hoping for. Still, the river was only about waist deep in that area.

We immediately headed upstream and set up shop in some emergent vegetation. I threw out a nightcrawler for suckers (never detected a bite, but I had three worms stripped off the hook), then focused on microfishing.

I opted to use a pink PowerBait worm on a tanago hook so I could see where my bait was. Almost immediately I started getting bites from some little minnows. Some were Bleeding Shiners, but most were what we've tentatively ID'd as Bigeye Shiners.

Lifer 37(?): Bigeye Shiner!
There is a small island a few hundred yards upstream from the access point. I've never gone far enough to peak around it, so I was determined to give it a try. Along the way, I noticed some small (40-50mm) Blackspotted Topminnows. They were eager to hit my hook. I lifted four or five out of the water and had them splash back before I finally landed one. Another lifer!

Lifer 38: Blackspotted Topminnow!
Nick pulled a small Map Turtle out of the river while he was in pursuit of his lifer topminnow (no luck for him). Next, we decided to pull out Nick's 20' seine. This ended up being a bad idea. We probably should've brought his 6' seine, as the strong, deep current made it almost impossible to seine. We managed a couple decent pulls, but nothing like we had on Saline Creek a couple months ago. Most seine pulls yielded Bigeye Shiners and Bleeding Shiners, some added some 2-3" Smallmouth Bass and Blackspotted Topminnows. Almost no darters.

Nick's Map Turtle
This brute was seined in a quieter part of the stream. One of the most gorgeous Longear Sunfish I've ever encountered.
Missouri Saddled Darter. We saw many of them in a riffle, but this was the only individual we were able to net. It was huge compared to the Orangethroat Darters.
After the Big Piney, we went to Woods Memorial Conservation Area to try the Meramec River. This was another Trout Area, so our lure options were restricted. I tried an ultralight spinning outfit and caught almost nothing. We wanted to try this area for Grass Pickerel (habitat looked decent, but we didn't even see one) and trout (didn't see one).

Matt caught a Hornyhead Chub, a Shortnose Gar, and some Smallmouth Bass. Nick destroyed the Longear Sunfish. I managed a Largemouth Bass, some Striped Shiners, Bigeye Shiners, and Northern Studfish on a teeny tiny fly.

 I jigged a Rat-L-Trap in front of a Shortnose Gar that was 3' from me in some lily pads. It looked uninterested, then slowly turned toward it. It eventually put its snout parallel to the lure, then snapped. I was so surprised that I missed the hook set and my chance at a gar.

Matt and his Shortnose Gar
My 11 7/8" Largemouth Bass
After two mostly fruitless hours, we headed a couple miles downstream to Scotts Ford Access on the Meramec. Downstream of the bridge we were able to use live bait, so we all threw in for suckers again. Matt immediately caught another Smallmouth and Hornyhead Chub. I lucked into a Freshwater Drum and Longear Sunfish. Nick did not do so well. I also caught our only Bluntnose Minnow of the day while microfishing. We didn't bring the seine due to limited time, but we definitely saw several Meramac Saddled Darters at this location. I was busy trying to catch suckers and never went over to try to catch them on hook-and-line.

Dobsonfly (dead)
At 14 1/2", this is the largest Freshwater Drum I've reeled in.
Around 6:30pm, Nick and I split from Matt to try our hand at Mari-Osa Access on the Osage River. We'd heard this was a good place to try for catfish and sturgeon. It may be, but it wasn't for us! In ~2 hours (nightcrawlers and dead minnows as bait) I had two light hits on my rods, but nothing was ever hooked.

Set up beneath US63 just before sunset.
In the end, I brought in ~25-30 fish of 11 species. I think Matt added another three on the day, and Nick added a single species (Green Sunfish). I'm trying to recreate everything we saw/caught mostly from memory due to poor record keeping on my part, so some species may be missing. The following list is in no particular order and excludes the Osage since we saw nothing there. Rock Bass was a big, unexpected miss on the day.

Species caught, netted only(^) or seen only(*):

  1. Creek Chub (Little Piney)
  2. Smallmouth Bass (all)
  3. Largemouth Bass (Little Piney, Meramec)
  4. Bluegill (Little Piney)
  5. Longear Sunfish (all)
    1. Hybrid Sunfish (Little Piney)
  6. Orangethroat Darter^ (all)
  7. Missouri Saddled Darter^ (Big Piney)
  8. Meramec Saddled Darter* (Meramec)
  9. Rainbow Darter^ (Big Piney)
  10. Bluntnose Minnow (Big Piney, Meramec)
  11. Freshwater Drum (Meramec)
  12. Bigeye Shiner (all)
  13. Bleeding Shiner (all)
  14. Blackstripe Topminnow (Little and Big Piney)
  15. Northern Studfish (all)
  16. Striped Shiner (Meramec)
  17. Ozark Minnow^ (Big Piney)
  18. Shortnose Gar (all)
  19. Hornyhead Chub (Meramec)
  20. Green Sunfish (Little Piney)
  21. Northern Hogsucker* (all)
  22. Redhorse sp.* (all)


  1. That's an incredible list of fish. You're very fortunate to live in MO! I especially like that Missouri Saddled Darter. Did you get a pic of the Meramec Saddled Darter?

  2. No photos of the Meramec...we couldn't catch one! We're confident in what we saw based on drainage, size, color/pattern compared to the Missouri Saddled. They look pretty much the same from above water.