Fishing Missouri's Current River

by Davidson Manning

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The Current River in southern Missouri is one of the most beautiful and pristine in the country. Winding through some of the most beautiful hills and valleys the Ozarks have to offer, its pastoral attraction is obvious. The river flows entirely through Ozark National Scenic Riverways Park, which results in limited streamside development, and excellent public access. It is one of the most popular float and fish streams in the country.

And no wonder. The river's cold, clear water is perfect habitat for rainbow and brown trout. Indeed, the river seems tailor-made for trout fishing. Settlers in the area soon realized this, and regular stocking began in the early 1900s. Although habitat seems perfect, trout have never been able to reproduce well. Lately, with new regulations, a fairly significant wild rainbow trout population has come into existence, although they still must be stocked to meet angler demand. Brown trout cannot reproduce at all in the river, although they are stocked heavily. The constant water temperatures from spring-water allow the fish to stay healthy and active throughout the year, even in the dog days of summer.

The river rises from several strong springs in Montauk State Park. Where the river leaves Montauk, and enters Ozark National Scenic Riverways, it comes under Blue Ribbon trout regulations for the next nine miles to the Cedar Grove Bridge. Regulations here allow the harvest of only one trout, and there is an 18" minimum. Artificial lures and flies only are allowed. Nearly 10,000 Brown trout are stocked throughout Blue Ribbon area annually, and many rainbows migrate from other areas of the river. Trout number about 400 per mile.

The first mile of the Blue Ribbon trout water, from Montauk State Park to the Tan Vat access may be the river's best water for wade fisherman. This water is too shallow to float, so acts as a sanctuary for wade fisherman. Many rainbows, and some large browns are found here. Thousands of rainbows move down from Montauk State Park into this area each year, and it usually proves relatively easy to catch a few fish.

Another popular river section is from Tan Vat to Baptist Camp Access. This is also mostly a wade fishing situation, although a few canoes may be encountered. There are almost equal numbers of rainbow and brown trout in this part of the river. This run is classic trout water, with some awesome riffles and deep pools. The fish tend to be a bit more selective here than further upstream. Small flies and delicate tippet are often required.

The Blue Ribbon area stretches for 6.5 miles below Baptist Camp. There is good wading access at Baptist Camp, Parker Hollow, and Cedar Grove Bridge, but float fishing is more popular. A good one day float is from Baptist Camp to Cedar Grove. Brown trout predominate, and they tend to grow quite large. There are also some rainbows, which tend to reside in the faster moving water. Browns are found in the deep pools as well as the riffles.

The White Ribbon area begins at Cedar Grove, and stretches downstream for 8 miles. The Missouri Department of Conservation stocks the White Ribbon area every few weeks from March through October. Statewide trout regulations are in effect, and there are no bait restrictions. Browns are not stocked this far downstream, but many migrate from upriver. As a result, many of the river's largest browns have come from this area.

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The White Ribbon area can be divided into two distinct sections. The first is the 5 mile section from Cedar Grove to Welch Spring. The river here is relatively slow and shallow, and it can get warm in the summer. Temperatures occasionally rise into the mid-70s. Generally, trout are only stocked in the spring and fall. Some trout hold over from year to year, but most fish will be fresh from the hatchery.

The situation changes dramatically below the mouth of Welch Spring, 3 miles to Akers Ferry. Welch Spring is a major cold water source, and it keeps this part of the river from ever reaching the 70 degree mark. For this reason, fish are stocked through the summer. Many trout hold over, and some real trophies are found here. Below Akers Ferry, smallmouth bass begin to predominate, and the river becomes on of the country's best smallmouth streams below Round Spring.

Fishing techniques on the Current are many and varied. It is a surprisingly good dry fly fishery. Tricos are the river's "big name" hatch. Every morning from mid-June through mid-September, massive hatches of tiny tricos come off. These are seriously small bugs, ranging from #22-#30, and it takes some skill to fish them properly. Caddis also come off during the warm months, and #16-#20 Elk Hair Caddis will do well.

Nymphing may be an even more popular method. All the standard nymphs work well, including Prince, Hare's Ear, Pheasant Tail, and Copper Johns. The best year-round bet, however, is a #16 Scud imitation. Scuds (tiny freshwater shrimp) are a top food source throughout the river, 365 days a year. They are best fished near weeds.

Many other techniques also take fish on the Current. Egg imitating flies have probably taken more fish than all other patterns combined. Orange, pink, peach, and white are all good. San Juan worms, and various streamers also work well. The river also works well for spin fisherman. 1/16-1/32 ounce spinners and spoons of just about any make or color will always take fish. Marabou jigs from 1/32-1/128 ounce work extremely well in white, brown, green, and olive.

No matter what technique you choose to use, the Current River is a great trout stream. With many miles of great trout water, you'll be hard pressed to find a better stream in southern Missouri. With its beauty and excellent trout fishing, this is a stream that holds interests for all fishermen.

The Ozarks are a magical place and the Current is one of the main reasons why.


Davdison Manning is an avid outdoorsman spending over 100 days per year pursuing his passion for fishing, many of them in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. He details many of his favorite spots on his website Family-Outdoors. His other pursuits include many days spent in the field camping and hunting. Davidson loves to share his knowledge of the outdoors in the hope of helping others to find their own connection to the outdoors.

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