Written by Ben Cantrell
In the first week of September last year, I had the chance to drive through southern Missouri on my way to and from Oklahoma. This was a new area for me, so I didn’t make any concrete goals, but I put together a list of fish to look for. Shadow bass, Ozark bass, northern studfish, blackspotted topminnow, Ozark sculpin, banded sculpin and bleeding shiner were a few that I was hoping to come across. I wasn’t successful with the bass, but for a microfishing trip it was quite productive!
I’ve experience rain on fishing trips before, but this was the first time experiencing a hurricane, or at least what was left of it. Isaac had hit the gulf coast a few days earlier, and unfortunately the storm passed through southern Missouri at exactly the same time I was driving through.
I knew the fishing would be better on my return trip, so I only made one quick stop at the James River on my way out. I set up under a bridge like a hobo (any microfisher will know what I’m talking about) and got to work catching fish. There were a lot of topminnows near the bank, and quickly I was able to catch a blackstripe and a blackspotted (new lifer). I was impressed by the size of the blackspotted topminnows. I caught a few standard size fish and pursued a darter for a while, but had to get back on the road before long.
On my return trip a few days later, I made sure to give myself as much time as possible in the water. I crossed the Oklahoma border late in the early evening and stopped at Shoal Creek on the south side of Joplin. The sun was going down, but I was able to get some western mosquitofish (new lifer) and some colorful longear sunfish. There were shiners and darters that I would have liked to pursue, but I had to continue on to Springfield to get a motel for the night.
In the morning, I drove south to the Finley Creek, a tributary of the James River. It was a scary place to microfish. The slate bottom of the stream was covered with a film that made it incredibly slippery. There were some close calls. This stream was a shiner paradise. I managed two new lifers, duskystripe shiner and carmine shiner. The unfortunate thing about my timing for this trip was that none of the micros had their spawning colors. I’d love to revisit this area in the spring when many of the species have bright colors.
Next stop was in the south-central part of the state, the Big Piney River. This spot was the highlight of the trip. It was so beautiful! Crystal clear water filled with colorful longears, grazing black redhorse, and a large diversity of micros. The easiest catch by far was the northern studfish (new lifer). Equally easy were the bleeding shiners (new lifer). Striped shiners hung out at the drop-offs below riffles. The hardest catch was a greenside darter (new lifer). I found him in about 4 inches of very swift water. He made me work for him, but eventually my small bit of worm on Tanago hook was too irresistible. I thought the greenside darter looked interesting from the top – almost blenny or goby like in appearance.
My final Missouri stop was the Current River at the Akers Ferry crossing. Unfortunately I arrived here too late and only got a chance to fish for an hour or so. I was lucky to make it across the ferry before it closed for the day! The ferry operator was an older gentleman, and when I told him what I was doing he gave me permission to fish from the ferry (because it was closed for the day). Among the gravel and cobble bottom I was able to sight fish knobfin sculpin (new lifer), a close relative to the Ozark sculpin. I probably caught 15 or more of these. These sculpin are able to change their coloration based on their surroundings, so I’m posting several pictures showing the variations I saw that day. Very cool fish!
I also caught nice examples of female and male hornyhead chubs. The male had a nice bold stripe across his side. My last catch of the day was a large rainbow darter. I wasn’t sure what species it was at first, because its coloration was quite a bit different from the rainbows I’m used to in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio. I’d be curious to see what they look like with their spawning colors.
That was the end of what was probably my longest day of fishing. I started in Springfield, MO well before the sun came up, bought a day license at Walmart, and then fished across the state until after the sun had gone down at the Akers Ferry spot. I continued driving through the night to my brother and sister-in-laws house in Springfield, IL. It was a long day but quite rewarding! I’d love to make a return trip this spring. I’ll have a more focused list of fish to pursue, including plains topminnow, Ozark sculpin, banded sculpin, Ozark minnow, Ozark madtom, Black River madtom, and a long list of darter species.