Whether you call it Old Man River, the Mighty Mississippi, or just the Mississippi River, it is the largest and longest river in the country, if you include its main tributary, the Missouri River. Most people do not think of the Mississippi River as a place to fish, rather a muddy, polluted, channelized waterway. It is true that the river is deeply damaged, but it still manages to offer unparalleled fishing opportunities even to this day.
The area of this massive river I am going to cover is the section that borders Missouri. The most northern part of this section still resembles the upper Mississippi. It is mass of lock and dams, which create large river lakes, and tail races below them. The lakes are known for producing excellent largemouth bass fishing, as well as large catfish and bluegill. They generally have slow current, which makes boating simpler than the rest of the Mississippi River. Almost every tail race of these lakes is known for world class walleye and white bass angling. Boating a safe distance from the dam, and dropping jigs or night crawlers works well for both species. The tail races of these dams are also well known for being good places to snag paddle fish.
The locks and dams end sometime above the city of St. Louis. Walleye and White Bass begin to thin out, and catfish become the main quarry of anglers. At the mouth of the Missouri River at Columbia Bottoms Conservation Areas, the Mississippi’s best catfish water begins. Channel Catfish are the most common, but the river is most famous for record catches of Blue Catfish and Flathead Catfish. As a matter of fact, the Mississippi river several miles downstream of St. Louis recently produced an all-tackle world record blue catfish to an Illinois angler. Fish in the thirty to fifty pound range are not abnormal at all.
The lower Mississippi (generally the term given to the Mississippi River downstream of St. Louis), holds the best catfish populations in the nation. They are not the only species to target, however. The river provides excellent fishing opportunities for carp, gar, freshwater drum, bowfin (also known as grinnel) and bluegill. Although these species are not usually held in high regard, they can all be great fun to catch. Largemouth bass can be found in the main channel. Heavy current and silty water limits bass populations in the main river, but a patient angler can find enough to make it worthwhile. The extremely muddy water effectively limits fisherman to live bait presentations. Night crawlers, crayfish, and minnows are good options. The slow water upstream of wing dams tends to be a good bet. Better largemouth bass fishing will be found in the slough-like backwaters of the river. The water tends to be just a bit clearer here, and current is much less. This makes fishing much simpler than in the main river, and allows some artificial’s such as plastic worms and spinner baits to be used with good success. It is important however, to find backwaters that have flowing water at least much of the year, because bass do not like stagnant water.
Despite the fact that it is so underrated as a sport fishery, the Mississippi River has a lot to offer to the serious angler. Its size makes it a bit daunting to the average fisherman, but the rewards are there. Most people who know the river will say that it is worth it.