Fire And Water

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

Fire and water seem mutually exclusive, but you can find both when you visit Fiery Fork Conservation Area and explore the Little Niangua River.

Nestled in the hills of Camden County, Fiery Fork Conservation Area encompasses 1,606 acres of typical mid-Missouri countryside. It's a beautiful place that's renowned among deer and turkey hunters. In late spring and summer, however, its expansive frontage on the Little Niangua is its main attraction.

A smaller, tamer version of the big Niangua, which flows a few miles to the east, the Little Niangua begins in Dallas County and flows gently north through the hills of Hickory and Camden counties before entering Lake of the Ozarks.

Though skinny at its headwaters, the Little Niangua generally holds enough water for dependable floating in the spring at Highway 54, near Macks Creek. Top-grade fishing water, however, begins about eight miles downstream, at Mule Shoe Conservation Area. From there, it's 10 miles to Howard's Ford, which is 2.5 miles southeast of road NN. From Howard's Ford, it's 9.5 miles to Fiery Fork, and then about three miles to the Highway J Bridge, which essentially marks the start of Lake of the Ozarks. You can divide those sections into three easily manageable day floats. During normal spring and summer flows, the river runs between 2 and 4 miles per hour, so you can move at a good clip without even getting your paddle wet.

In each section, the Little Niangua exhibits remarkably different profiles, and each one requires different fishing techniques and approaches. Near the headwaters, the water is unusually clear, with a clean, rocky bottom and plenty of fallen trees and bushes that provide valuable fish cover. At first glance, the water appears devoid of life. This is typical in clear waters, where fish must stay hidden to avoid the eyes of predators. To catch them, you must move quietly, keep a low profile and cast precisely to small holes and pockets.

The water on the inside bends is shallow and bordered by narrow gravel bars. The outside bends are deep, and the banks feature many exposed root cages. These are excellent places to lure sunfish out with crickets and worms dangling under a bobber.

Farther downstream, between Mule Shoe and Fiery Fork, the pools become longer, straighter and deeper. This is also where you start encountering good numbers of smallmouth bass. The fishing in this section is outstanding,

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