STORIES THE VIEW UPSTREAM Posted Mar 21, 2018 By: Keith ''Catfish'' Sutton Missouri Catfish Hotspots for 2018 If your New Year's resolution was to catch more catfish, make sure to fish one (or more!) of these hotspots in the Show-Me State Giant catfish, like this 72-pound blue caught in the Missouri River by Reggie Gebhardt of Glasgow, have given the Show-Me State a reputation as one of the country's top states for big-fish action. (Keith Sutton photo) When it comes to great catfishing, rivers and lakes in the Show-Me State are among the nation’s best. Trophy blue cats are common in many Missouri waters, including world-record-class specimens. Flatheads from 30 to 50 pounds, some bigger, surface with astounding regularity. Fishing for channel cats continues to improve as the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) maintains and improves populations with continual stockings. Catfish swim in practically all waters of the state except the coldest trout streams, but the lakes and rivers listed below deserve your close attention when planning a trip in 2018. Some rate better than others because of their potential for producing lots of eating-size cats, but in the mix are several waters that could produce a new state or world record. You could be the lucky angler who catches it. Big Rivers The Missouri River tops my list of Show-Me State catfish hotspots. Crossing the mid-section of the state from Kansas City to just north of St. Louis, this huge tributary of the Mississippi provides ideal conditions for growing lots of big catfish. Spring, summer, fall, winter: the river’s abundant blue, channel and flathead catfish can be caught during all seasons and on every stretch of water. Missouri’s state-record blue cat, a 130-pounder, was caught here in 2010, and the 100-pound alternative-tackle (trotline) record flathead in 2015. Bigger specimens always are a possibility, with an abundance of 20- to 50-pounders to keep you on your toes. The river is bristling with big channel cats as well. The Mississippi River is another world-class catfish river that produces astounding numbers of giant blues, flatheads and channel cats. Fishing rates a blue-ribbon designation throughout the entire length of the river along Missouri’s eastern border. According to MDC biologists, channel catfish can be found around snags, wing dikes and in side channels. Flathead catfish are common on the tips of wing dikes, along riprap banks with swift currents and near woody debris. Blue catfish also are found along the tips of dikes, in the large eddies above the dikes and along the river channel. Excellent catfishing also attracts many visitors to the Grand River, which flows 218 miles through southwestern Iowa and northwestern Missouri. Reports like the 1854 account of a 136-pound blue catfish caught near Chillicothe won’t likely happen again. However, for those partial to moving water and the excitement of catfishing, the Grand is worth exploring. Big catfish are still plentiful, and biologists note flatheads and blue cats topping 30 pounds aren’t unusual. Channel cats are abundant, with lots of 2- to 10-pounders eager to accept anglers’ offerings. The best catfishing is in the lower reaches of the Grand, just above its confluence with the Missouri River. Waters near the Bosworth and Brunswick accesses are the best trophy cat waters. Bosworth Access is 22.4 miles above the Grand’s mouth, near the town of Bosworth on Highway M in Carroll County. Plenty of cats are caught along the bank here, near logs or other cover. The Brunswick Access, at the intersection of Highway 24 and Polk Street in Brunswick, is three miles from the juncture of the Grand and Missouri. Lots of monster cats are caught by anglers float-fishing from here to the river’s mouth. The Osage River deserves mention as well. This is one of the country’s top waters for giant blue cats. The stretch from Bagnell Dam to the Missouri River near Jefferson City harbors numerous 50- to 75-pound fish. Northwest Hotspots Pony Express Lake, a 240-acre MDC lake west of Cameron, exemplifies the saying, “Good things often come in small packages.” Despite its relatively small size, Pony Express harbors abundant channel and blue catfish. Channel cats averaging 1 to 3 pounds usually fall for chicken liver, night crawlers or stinkbaits fished along shallow points and in coves. Anglers drifting shallow flats and points with cut shad or live sunfish often take blue cats exceeding 20 pounds. Cameron Reservoir #3 covers just 96 acres, but it should be on your “must visit” list if flatheads are your quarry. Just west of Cameron in DeKalb County, this little gem is bristling with 25- to 39-inch-long fish, biologists say. And it harbors a sizeable population of much larger specimens that often exceed 40 pounds. Higginsville City Lake (150 acres) in Lafayette County ranks high among this region’s channel cat hotspots. Each year 1,500 channel catfish are stocked in the fall, maintaining a healthy population that includes many fish exceeding 10 pounds. Try fishing below the spillway and dam of the upper lake (by boat or bank), off the pier and along the banks with worms, doughbait and cut-baits. Northeast Hotspots Long Branch Lake, a 2,400-acre Corps of Engineers reservoir, should serve up excellent fishing for all three major catfish species in 2018. Biologists report that channel catfish in the 2- to 3-pound range provide good action for bank anglers and those fishing flooded timber in the Long Branch and East Fork of Little Chariton River arms. Large blue catfish are not uncommon; jugs fished with shad are most effective in spring and early fall. Flathead catfish are more difficult to catch, but are available to those willing to use live bait in the lake’s upper arms near old river channels. Hunnewell Lake near the town of Hunnewell is a mere 220 acres, but don’t let its size fool you. The MDC marks it as “one of the best all-around fishing lakes northeast Missouri has to offer,” and there are plenty of blues and channel cats available for whiskerfish enthusiasts. Several blue catfish exceeding 30 pounds are caught there each year. Mark Twain Lake covers 19,000 acres of the Missouri landscape near Paris. For flatheads in this region, few waters are better. Many exceeding 25 pounds are caught each year on trotlines, bank lines and jugs, with the best fishing in the upper portions of North Fork, Middle Fork and South Fork arms. Southwest Hotspots In this quadrant of the state, you won’t find any catfishing waters more productive than Truman Reservoir. Anglers take scores of 50- to 70-pound blues and flatheads in this 55,600-acre impoundment every year. Channel cats from 5 to 10 pounds are abundant, too. Montrose Lake, 12 miles west of Clinton on Highway RA, harbors numerous 2- to 10-pound-plus channel cats, but large flatheads garner the most attention. In April 2003, an angler from Odessa caught a 77.5-pounder, and he caught a 35-pound fish the same morning. Good days like that can be expected for savvy catfish anglers. The Elk River is another hotspot worth a visit in this region. Most catfish anglers concentrate their efforts in the downstream portions of the river below Noel, catching numerous fish to 5 pounds on live and prepared baits. According to the MDC, channel catfish were abundant in the river during recent fall surveys. Southeast Hotspots In the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, 44,000-acre Wappapello Lake, a Corps of Engineers impoundment on the St. Francis River, serves up superb catfishing for the region’s anglers. Channel cats to 5 pounds and more are common, especially along the dam. A few large flathead and blue catfish also are present, including some topping 50 pounds. The St. Francis River above and below Wappapello also offers excellent catfishing, especially for abundant 12- to 24-inch channel cats. Trotlines and limblines are among the favored fishing tackle of local cat men, and almost every bait imaginable, from live crawfish and minnows to stinkbaits and Ivory soap, is used to entice these hard-fighting sportfish. For additional information on the waters mentioned, including regulations regarding catfishing, visit the Missouri Department of Conservation website at http://mdc.mo.gov/.