Goggle-eye Bonanza

For more than 50 years, catching goggle-eye in the Gasconade River has been one of my most enduring passions. After just one tussle with this colorful panfish in this picturesque river, you'll understand why.

The Gasconade begins peacefully in Wright County, just north of Highway 60, near Hartville. Narrow and rocky in its headwaters, the river grows quickly as it picks up the flow from Woods Fork, Lick Fork, Whetstone and Beaver creeks. Before long, it changes from a tame wading stream to a formidable river. It grows even larger when it picks up the Osage Fork, Roubidoux Creek and the Pineys.

Flowing generally northeast, the Gasconade River has many great bends, some of which almost connect in places. The Gasconade flows 300 miles to cover 100 miles, making it the most crooked stream in Missouri. In all that distance, there are but a few riffles. The Gasconade is a placid, flatwater stream that holds little attraction for whitewater enthusiasts.

However, the river is full of attractions for anglers. It contains sunfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass and offers good fishing for crappie around brushpiles below Highway 32, but goggle-eyes are what make the stream truly remarkable.

The scientific name for rock bass, or goggle-eye, is Ambloplites rupestris. Three different species of rock bass have been identified, but anglers generally refer to all three as goggle-eye.

These fish grow longer than the various sunfishes and are heavy-bodied, but they almost never weigh more than three-quarters of a pound-and that's a really big one. Anglers love them for the fight they provide on light tackle, and also for their fine flavor.

About the middle of April, goggle-eyes begin spawning. For about four to six weeks you can catch them in the same areas that produce consistently year after year. Over time, my friends and I have identified a great number of spots that produce fish consistently, and we can always count on catching six to 10 on every visit. In the spring, it's not at all unusual for two of us to catch 50 or 60 in a day of floating and fishing, but we keep only enough for dinner.

There is an 8-inch minimum size limit on goggle-eye on Osage Fork from Skyline bridge in Laclede County to its confluence with the Gasconade River, and on the Big Piney River from the Highway 17 bridge to Sand Shoals bridge.

Although you can float the Gasconade from Hartville to its mouth,