Missouri is river rich. From our namesake, the Missouri River, to the mighty Mississippi and every crystal clear stream coursing through the Ozark Mountains, our state teems with waterways worthy of warm summer days spent paddling and fishing.
One of the finest for both is the Big Piney, which flows for 110 miles before its confluence with the Gasconade River.
It begins in Texas County, near Dunn, and ends its journey near Hooker. Along its course, the river flows of the just south of Cabool then between Houston and Bucyrus. The Big Piney passes through Fort Leonard Wood, offering soldiers stationed there an opportunity to enjoy an incredible natural resource of Missouri close to home.
When I first moved to Missouri back in 2010, I was barely aware of the magnificent rivers in the state. Most of my exposure to Ozark streams had occurred in Arkansas. I knew of the Current and the North Fork from fly fishing magazines, but I was not familiar with lesser known gems like the Gasconade, Black and James, to name just a few.
By sheer luck alone, the very first river I ventured out to explore was the Big Piney. Now, nearly a decade later, it remains one of my favorites. The smallmouth and goggle eye fishing is second to none and the scenery is right up there with many of the more recognized rivers of Missouri.
The Big Piney is without question a premier smallmouth bass fishery. In fact, a special management area, extends downstream of Slabtown Access to the confluence with the Gasconade River. In this section, there is a daily limit of just one smallmouth that must be more than 15 inches long. For anglers looking to land a true trophy "bronzeback," this stretch of river is a place to do it.
Another reason I will forever appreciate the Big Piney is because of a lesson she taught me on the importance of planning river trips.
It was a beautiful, blue sky spring day during turkey season when I decided to launch my raft from Mason Bridge with plans to spend a leisurely afternoon floating down to Slabtown. I had two of my outdoor heroes with me, Bobby Whitehead, the editor of Outdoor Guide magazine, and Rick Story, a former director of the United States Sportsmen's Alliance.
I wanted to guide these two for a nice day on the water, but what I failed to do was properly judge the distance of the trip. I didn't have a river guide or a map, so I estimated the distance to be about five miles. Turns out it was closer to eight, and with little current in long stretches and a strong head wind, my raft barely inched forward. Both Bobby and Rick are good-sized men, so the three of us plus gear was more than 800 pounds I had to row down the river. With bad backs, neither could spell my efforts. It was pure misery.
Night fell before we reached the boat ramp. At one point I was sure we'd be sleeping, unprepared and under equipped, on a gravel bar. I was embarrassed by my blunder, and can guarantee you, never again will I assume how a river trip will go. Planning and preparation are key, and the Big Piney is where I learned that lesson the hard way.
Bass Pro Shop Redhead Professional Allen Treadwell said, "If you know of a better way to spend a summer day than floating down a crystal clear Ozark Mountain stream, then by all means, please let me know. The Big Piney is as beautiful as smallmouth waters get. Floating through miles and miles of natural, hardwoods habitat, pitching plugs to bronzebacks and admiring all sorts of diverse wildlife, then pulling over to camp on a gravel bar and spending the night in the middle of nowhere sharing a fire with good friends and family.
"Yes sir, what a way to spend a weekend."
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler, the executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at [email protected].