Big Piney River

Posted by Al Agnew on September 26th, 2011
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Just the name alone was enough to make me want to see this river. And I’d heard and read about it for years before I finally floated it. The first time was from Mason Bridge to Slabtown, a beautiful stretch of river, and when I first saw the river I was impressed. It had that green, slightly murky color that used to shout at me that it had big smallmouths.

But…as I remember, the fishing wasn’t all that great that trip. My usual homemade crankbait, which should have been made to order for the Piney, wasn’t producing. At the time, I was almost a one trick pony, if the crankbait didn’t catch fish, I didn’t have enough confidence in anything else to use it well. Later, I found out why the crankbait wasn’t the magic lure it had been on other Ozark streams. Seems that a very similar lure was used at the time by almost all the good bass anglers on the Piney.

But anyway, I was almost convinced that there just weren’t any good fish in the Piney, until we passed a wading angler with a bait bucket hanging off his belt, along with a stringer with four smallies, all of them over 18 inches.

Later, I floated the Piney from the highest usual access at Baptist Camp down to Mason Bridge in four days. It was a great trip, but again the fishing wasn’t all that great. I remember hooking and losing one really big smallie.

So I kind of avoided the Piney for a few years, until I decided it was time to give it another try. This time it was a float from Mineral Springs to Boiling Spring, a day after I’d done the upper Gasconade and caught over 100 bass. On this float I almost matched it, with well over 80 fish. That was about 5 years ago. Two years ago, my wife and I got back onto that stretch, and I was really looking forward to another great fishing day…

I got SKUNKED! Not a single smallmouth, or anything else except a couple of sunfish. It was weird. There were crawdads everywhere, out in the open, something you just don’t see when there are plenty of predators around to feed on them. What happened to the fish? The people at Boiling Spring confirmed that the fishing had been pretty bad, and blamed it on otters. I’ve seen otter damage on smaller creeks, but this stretch of the Big Piney was big enough that I didn’t think the otters could have wiped out the smallies.

I haven’t been back to that stretch since, though I did stop off and fish for just a few minutes at the MDC access above Baptist Camp, where the river is small enough to really be susceptible to otter predation, last summer, and caught three smallies, so I know there are fish up that far now. I wonder how the stretch above Boiling Spring is doing these days?

That’s how the Piney always seems to be, either hot or cold. In the special management area from Slabtown to Ross Bridge, I’ve had days in recent years when the fishing was TOUGH, but other days when it was easy. My wife and I had a great two day trip on that section a few years ago, with lots of fish and several in the 17 inch class. The second morning we floated down to Ross Bridge, catching fish all over the place. I met Bob Todd there since he and I were going to go on down and camp below Ross with some other outdoor writers. The fishing simply turned completely off below Ross. I don’t think Bob would have believed me about how good the fishing had been that morning if he hadn’t seen me catch two nice fish right in front of the Ross Access.

I’ve floated the entire river, except the marginal stretch above Baptist Camp and the 4 miles at the lower end below Devils Elbow. Floating through the Fort was an experience, with artillery booming in the distance, although along the river itself there isn’t really much sign of human activity. We caught lots of fish through the fort, and my buddy Cory caught one that went 21 inches, the biggest fish I’ve seen come from the Piney.

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