An Angler's Guide to Mark Twain Lake

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

Mark Twain wrote, "There is no use in your walking five miles to fish when you can depend on being just as unsuccessful near home."

No matter where you live in Missouri, however, a trip to Mark Twain Lake in Monroe County makes great sense. Stay near home and be unsuccessful, if you want, but you'll be missing out on fine fishing. Whether you fish for crappie, bass or catfish, Mark Twain Lake seldom disappoints.

At 18,000 acres, Mark Twain Lake is the largest reservoir in north Missouri. Clarence Cannon Dam, which holds back the Salt River to form the reservoir, was authorized by Congress in 1962. The lake filled in 1984. In addition to flood control, the dam and its reservoir provide hydroelectric power, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation--especially fishing.

Crappie are the bread and butter fish here," said Ross Dames, the Conservation Department fisheries biologist for Mark Twain Lake. Around here, people's livelihoods rise and fall with the crappie. If the crappie fishing is good, the parking lots are full."

The lake drains a large watershed and is notorious for fluctuating water levels and turbid--or muddy--water. "It clears up during midsummer and fall," Dames said, "but it's turbid most of spring and early summer. And any time it rains, the lake comes up."


Water levels directly affect crappie success at Mark Twain. Gizzard shad are the primary forage species in the reservoir, but adult gizzard shad are too large for crappie to eat. When water levels are high in spring and early summer, shad reproduction increases, providing more food for crappie.

"In the last four years, I've seen the schools of young shad so thick you felt you could walk on them," said Fred Withrow of Winfield. "The small shad make them crappie grow."

"I love that lake!" Withrow said. He's been fishing Mark Twain Lake since it filled. "I'm up there all the time--two or three times a week--from early spring to December."

Lately he's been fishing the middle fork, launching at the Shell Branch ramp or the Highway 107 ramp, but in other years he's focused on either the north fork or the south fork.

"They're all good," he said. "I just switch to get a little variety."

Withrow says Mark Twain is one of the most consistent producers of crappie of all the lakes he's fished. "There have been a few times a year

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