Driftwood Outdoors: Good place to cast a line

Rocky Fork Conservation Area is full of fish​​

Whether you call them strip pits, lakes or ponds, the waters of the Rocky Fork Conservation Area are worth a visit.

Located six miles north of Columbia on Highway 63, Rocky Fork is an easily accessible, outstanding fishery.

Rocky Fork CA consists of 2,200 acres. About 1,200 of those acres were strip-mined before the Missouri Department of Conservation acquired the property in 1979. Today, the reclaimed land consists of roughly 60 strip pits, but only 20 are stocked with fish. You’ll have to pay attention to make sure you aren’t fishing fishless water.

Most of the strip pits are small, as in less than a few acres. The pits are secluded for the most part, with heavily forested shorelines. The water often drops off deep from the bank. You can fish from the shore, but wade fishing isn’t usually an option.

Float-tube fishing is a favorite way to take advantage of the numerous waters. Since most of the lakes are small, an angler can cover just about all the water he wants from a float tube. Float tubes are also easy to transport into the forest lakes where boats cannot go.

One of the greatest angling appeals of visiting Rocky Fork is the number of strip pits spread throughout the vast amount of public land. If one pit isn’t producing, you can quickly access another to try and improve your luck. Bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish are all plentiful in the Rocky Fork pits.

It seems to me most anglers who regularly fish Rocky Fork do so out of appreciation for its resounding wilderness feel so close to Columbia. Since most of the strip pits are heavily wooded around the shore, beautiful backdrops create scenic, and often successful, angling experiences. Rocky Fork offers anglers an escape to the solitude of a wild space within a very short drive of Columbia.

If you are going to travel to Rocky Fork, then you may want to consider camping at Finger Lakes State Park, which is just down the road. Finger Lakes State Park offers 19 basic and 16 electric campsites, with services including a dump station, showers and water. Finger Lakes is also home to a number of strip pits that are great fishing in their own right.

Although there are many different methods of fishing for the many different species of fish found at Rocky Fork and Finger Lakes, bobber fishing with live bait for panfish seems to be one of the most popular.

Both the crappie and bluegill populations are healthy, meaning anglers are often successful when trying to catch these popular panfish. Worms, minnows and crickets are some of the more popular baits anglers find success with.

If you’re looking for a true strip-pit experience, the Rocky Fork Conservation Area is a great place to visit. Chances are, you’ll catch fish. If you don’t, you picked the wrong pit. Make a weekend of it, and pitch a tent at Finger Lakes State Park.

See you down the trail …

Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at bbutler@driftwoodoutdoors.com

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