Whether they’ll admit it or not, anglers tend to slip into comfortable ruts. For some, this rut is so narrow they limit themselves to a single genus (e.g. crappie, black bass or catfish.) Even self-described multi-species anglers are rarely equal opportunity employers. I’m a textbook example. Since 1991, when I began computerizing my fishing logs, I’ve spent about 80 percent of my time fishing either for crappie or for catfish. That doesn’t leave much time for all the other fish I claim I like.
I’m not about to advocate that any of us drastically realign our priorities, because we all know that’s not going to happen. But what if we could take an albeit very occasional step out of line? Missouri’s semi-secret muskie fishery lies in wait to make that step literally a BIG one. The statewide minimum length requirement for keeping the one muskie allowed per day is 36 inches.
Muskie may–and I stress may–have been native to Missouri several thousand years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, but, for all practical purposes, the species arrived in the state in 1966 when the Missouri Department of Conservation began stocking them in Pomme de Terre Reservoir. This experiment was a resounding success, and Pomme de Terre has become one of the premier muskie fisheries in all of North America.
The MDC has also experimented with stocking muskie in several smaller impoundments with varying degrees of success. According to the best readily available information I could find, the only small impoundments still being stocked with muskie are Hazel Creek, Fellows, Henry Sever and Lake 35 at the Busch Conservation Area.
Pomme de Terre’s size–7,820 acres–gives it a huge advantage in muskie numbers. A few years ago, I accompanied MDC fisheries biologists who were sampling the lake, using specially designed trap nets. Given the muskie’s reputation for being a “lone wolf,” I was flabbergasted by how many muskies some of the nets held after only 24 hours.
But while a boated muskie will eagerly bite your fingers, getting one to bite a lure, so you can get it into the boat in the first place isn’t necessarily easy. Pomme de Terre’s size and international fame allow it to support several guides who specialize in helping people solve this unique sport’s many mysteries. Guides can also supply the heavy tackle and out-sized lures most often used for muskie fishing.
Speaking of guides, I’ve long been a staunch advocate of hiring a guide. Even when fishing for common species, a good guide will save his party most of his fee in the form of time, which, without him, would have been wasted trying to find fish and/or to select the best bait or lure. In fact, the whole truth be told, for the overwhelming majority of anglers, hiring a guide for every fishing trip would be a lot less expensive than owning and maintaining a boat.
But be that as it may, a muskie angler is almost certainly going to be on his or her own on the state’s smaller muskie lakes. Heavy duty bass or catfish tackle is highly recommended, and anyone who intends to get even semi-serious about muskie fishing should invest in some muskie-specific lures. That said, my biggest muskie (21 pounds, 10 ounces) grabbed an eighth-ounce spinnerbait I was casting with a light weight spinning outfit. I’ve caught several only slightly smaller ones on bass-sized deep diving crankbaits.
Hazel Creek, located north of Kirksville, is the city’s water supply. Private boat are OK, but mechanical power is limited to trolling motors. For a 530-acre lake, Hazel Creek is long and has some big coves, so bring plenty of battery power. Don’t forget the lake’s special 42-inch minimum length restriction.
Fellows Lake (820 acres) is located north of Springfield. It’s owned by the city, and city licenses are required to operate boats on the lake. There’s also a 40-horsepower upper limit on outboard motors.
Henry Sever Lake is an 158-acre gem located in Knox county. Private boats are allowed, but trolling motors are the only legal mechanical means of propulsion.
St. Louis area anglers with a yen to tangle with a muskie will want to check out Lake 35 at the Busch CA. Private boats are not allowed on the lake, but rentals are available. Aquatic vegetation can add to the challenge here, but this 62-acre lake holds some very big muskie.
Don’t give up your angling version of a “day job,” but try to squeeze in a muskie trip or two this season. You’ll have fresh tales to tell even if you don’t actually catch one. If you do, you’ll be able to drive people nuts for years.