cedar hill dam

When warmer weather returns, the fishing action is expected to be hot for spotted bass and catfish on Big River at places like the Cedar Hill Access. 

Some 100 years ago, legendary St. Louis Cardinals player and manager Rogers Hornsby said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

I’ve always been a baseball guy so I can sympathize, but while the present-day Cardinals get their reprieve beginning this week as pitchers and catchers report for duty, I find myself still wishing for fishing this time of year.

I understand that even a thick layer of ice doesn’t keep some anglers off the water, but I admit I’m something of a fair-weather fisherman. I think somewhere in the mid to upper 60s is a good place to start.

Much heartier souls than me will be back in the stream in just a couple of weeks when the state’s four trout parks reopen for daily fishing beginning March 1. Hatchery-raised rainbow trout will offer that familiar tug on a tight line and fill many stringers.

I’m more interested in the warm-water species we can find in ponds, rivers and creeks in and around Jefferson County. While they are catchable this time of year, the hot action is still waiting for the water to get warmer. Instead of staring out the window, I like to browse the annual Fishing Prospects report from the state Department of Conservation. The 2023 version was posted online earlier this month.

The report only mentions Jefferson County specifically in its review of Big River, but our other county border lines, the Meramec and Mississippi rivers, are also included this year. Nearby opportunities like the St. Louis Urban Fishing program lakes, August A. Busch Conservation Area, and reservoirs like Clearwater Lake are never too far to drive to when the fish are biting.

Smallmouth bass fishing possibilities are the highlight of the Big River report. “Fish larger than 12 inches exist in good numbers, with the majority being legal-sized of at least 15 inches. We have consistently seen smallmouth bass over 20 inches and fish up to 5 pounds.”

The entire length of Big River and its tributaries have special regulations for smallmouth and spotted bass. Anglers may keep only one smallmouth bass, which must be at least 15 inches long. Spotted bass have no length limit. The report calls spotted bass “abundant” throughout Jefferson County. “Anglers are urged to harvest all spotted bass caught, any size, up to the daily limit of 12.”

Other species getting a shout-out for Big River include rock bass, which are considered good, and channel catfish, “even better than was seen in the past, which were some of the strongest in recent years. Many fish were 16-20 inches and several were over 28 inches.”

The Meramec River report is not as rosy for smallmouth bass, but rich spotted bass locations near Jefferson County include Pacific Palisades and Allenton river accesses, and Robertsville and Route 66 state parks.

Chouteau Claim Access also is mentioned in the Meramec River narrative, but that access may be more readily associated with the Bourbeuse River in Franklin County. The prospects report suggests that spotted bass in the area are “very abundant” on the lower Bourbeuse, with a liberal daily limit and “opportunity to take home several meals.”

If bigger water is your thing, Clearwater Lake may be calling. Largemouth and spotted bass fishing is expected to be “outstanding” according to the annual report. “In the spring 2022 fish survey, there were numerous 7- and 8-inch white crappie. In 2023, these fish should provide anglers with quality size fish.”

The biggest water, of course, produces the largest catches, and the Mississippi River in our area will not disappoint, according to the report. “Flathead and blue catfish 20 and 30 inches in length were common. Biologists also noted an abundance of young catfish and quite a few trophy-sized fish, with several over 70 pounds. Anglers continue to report lunkers being caught in the 60- to 90-pound range.”

The full report for the state includes more than 100 lakes, rivers and creeks sorted by “best bets” based on the work of the fisheries department, angler creel counts and electro-fishing surveys.

Find your favorite water at mdc.mo.gov.

John Winkelman has been writing about outdoors news and issues in Jefferson County for more than 30 years and is the Associate Editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine. If you have story ideas for the Leader outdoor news page, e-mail ogmjohnw@aol.com, and you can find more outdoor news and updates at johnjwink.com.