The Missouri River is a tremendous and underutilized resource flowing through the Kansas City Region. High water during much of the fishing season in 2019 and 2020 led to even less pressure than normal. The river produces good numbers of catfish over 50 pounds, even in downtown Kansas City. True trophies travel the waters of the Missouri with the state record flathead catfish being caught near Riverside in 2015. The same weekend the flathead record was broken, a 99-pound blue catfish was caught as well. Variety abounds, you can also catch fish such as sturgeon, several catfish species, carp, buffalo, sauger, hybrid striped bass that get washed in from Kansas reservoirs, and even crappie and white bass in the mouths of some streams.
Flathead catfish in excess of 40 pounds are available to those who are willing to venture out on the big river. Flatheads are caught fishing around brush piles, off the ends of the wing dikes or in the back eddies of the dykes. Flatheads prefer live bait but will take cut bait in the early spring. Green sunfish, bluegill and creek chubs work well, but bullheads are the best bait. If you can't get live fish try a big hook full of nightcrawlers. Blue catfish are becoming more numerous and fish over 50 pounds are not uncommon. Blue catfish will take a variety of baits from live fish to cut shad. Blue catfish often feed on the shallow flats between wing dikes, on the upstream side of trail dikes and on submerged sandbars on the inside of river bends, usually in the evening. During the day they will often be found in woody cover along the banks. They can also be caught in the deep holes off the ends of the wing dikes during cooler months. Some of the best bait is cut Asian carp.
These Asian carp do not take bait, but often one will jump in the boat if you drive behind a dike. It is illegal to move live silver carp, so euthanize them and place them immediately on ice if you get one. Trotlines and limb lines are used by many anglers to fish large stretches of the river. Don't forego rod and reel fishing though. Battling a large flathead or blue catfish on a rod in the swift Missouri River currents is a unique challenge. That means your tackle needs to be heavy. The minimum would be a heavy bass rod with 20-pound test line, but a heavy catfish rod with at least 40 pound line is typically used.
There is also the chance of seeing an ancient fish should you catch a sturgeon. Be sure to release any sturgeon that you cannot positively identify as a shovelnose sturgeon. Pallid and lake sturgeon are protected and must be released. Any sturgeon 30-inches or longer must be released. Channel catfish bite the traditional catfish baits and can be found along cut banks between wing dykes, sand bars and on shallow flats. Dough baits and worms can be good baits for common carp which are caught just about anywhere on the river. The best areas for carp have slower current and are shallow. One of the best things about fishing the river is you never know what you might catch. Walleye, sauger, hybrid striped bass, crappie and even the occasional northern pike have been reported.
Access to the river is good; you can normally access the Missouri River above Parkville from MDC's Schimmel City Access located on the lower Platte River. The boat ramp in Parkville provides excellent access to the river above downtown. Fishing in downtown Kansas City can provide a unique experience. This stretch is accessible by boat ramps at the old Riverfront Park just upstream of the Chouteau Bridge and at Kaw Point Access at the confluence of the Kansas River on the Kansas side. Below Kansas City, Sugar Creek maintains a boat ramp in LaBenite Park at highway 291 that is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Missouri Department of Conservation has an access with a boat ramp on the Cooley Lake Conservation Area, about two miles east of Missouri City off Highway 210. There is also a boat ramp near Fort Osage in Sibley.
Regardless of where you are fishing on the Missouri River, you may encounter a tagged fish. You will find the tags on the back of the fish just below the dorsal fin. Should you catch a tagged fish, but want to release the fish, cut the tag off and call the number on the tag. The catfish tags are worth either $25 or $150 and the information you can provide to biologists about the fish's location, size, etc. can prove invaluable. An angler fishing in the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City will not experience crowds and possibly never see another boat all day. Those boating on the river should take a few precautions and use common sense when navigating and fishing the river. Keep your boat well maintained, avoid floating debris and wing dikes that stick out from the banks, and make sure to wear a life jacket. Navigation maps can be obtained from the US Army Corps of Engineers.