St. Joseph is on the banks of the mighty Missouri River, surrounded by rolling hills with farms, forests, and grasslands. Some visitors come to see the jumping off place of the Pony Express. Many also visit to enjoy the region’s great outdoors, especially in spring when warm weather puts fish and wildlife on the move. Outdoor enthusiasts know they will find good crappie fishing, wild turkey hunting, and morel mushrooms in lovely northwest Missouri.
Crappie are a favored fish to catch in the spring. They move into shallow water to spawn in April and can be caught from boat or bank. Minnows and jigs are preferred baits. Some lakes have either white crappie or black crappie, others have both.
The 1,000-acre Mozingo Lake near Maryville is a large body of water with good crappie fishing. Maryville’s park at the lake offers boat launch ramps, hiking trails, and camping. But don’t overlook the other Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) lakes in northwest Missouri that offer crappie fishing in the spring. Happy Holler Lake is a short drive northeast of St. Joseph and it holds crappie and other sport fish. Anglers can also check out MDC managed fishing spots at Harrison County Reservoir near Bethany, Lake Paho near Princeton, and Indian Creek Lake at the Poosey Conservation Area near Chillicothe. The Bilby Ranch Lake Conservation Area west of Maryville offers fishing and a chance to view MDC native grassland restorations.
Most ponds and lakes in MDC areas also offer fishing for largemouth bass, catfish, and bluegill. A few are stocked with hybrid white bass. Anglers seeking big catfish should try the Missouri River flowing past St. Joseph. One of America’s great rivers is also a good place to catch trophy blue, channel, and flathead catfish. Catfish weighing 40 to 50 pounds are not uncommon, and often one topping 100 pounds is landed. MDC has several boat ramps and bank accesses along the river. Find more information on places to fish in northwest Missouri here.
Wild turkeys add excitement to the woods in spring, when Toms start gobbling, strutting, and fighting to win the favor of hens. The mix of farms, woodlands, and forests north of St. Joseph provides good habitat for turkeys. Missouri’s spring turkey hunting season runs April 19–May 9.
Turkeys frequent forests in MDC conservation areas in the Missouri River bluffs. These have steep hills with deep valleys or cuts. Hunters willing to hike some distance, including uphill, can get away from busy spots. Be prepared for a hiking challenge, however, due to rough country.
MDC has other conservation areas in northwest Missouri with gentle terrain that offer turkey hunting. Areas have parking lots on the edges. Access is usually by foot only. Some areas have hiking trails and service roads that hunters can use as paths into an area.
Scouting in advance gives a hunter an advantage. They can find turkey signs such as feathers or places where they’ve scratched for food. Knowing private land boundaries can help keep a hunter in places less traveled. Familiarity with topography and landmarks helps, especially when walking into dark woods ahead of sunrise. Most turkey gobbling and hunter success occurs in the early morning. Carry a compass and study maps. Many MDC conservation areas offer wild areas big enough to get lost in.
Finding and eating morel mushrooms is a highlight of spring for many outdoor enthusiasts. Where are they? A wise mushroom hunter once said, morels are where you find them. That riddle means morels are found in both likely spots and odd spots. But those who are willing to walk and explore with eyes wide open usually find a few, or a bag-full hotspot.
MDC conservation areas offer morel mushroom hunting. Be aware that turkey hunters are afield in the morning in many areas, so afternoon may be a better time to search. Some people favor looking for morels near dead elm trees. Others look under cedar trees. Brushy creek banks with good soil moisture are likely spots. Some like to look at the base of hills, others atop wooded ridges. Many just like to take a walk in the spring woods and keep a sharp eye on the forest floor. Veteran morel hunters check all those places.
A fine feature about the St. Joseph region’s outdoor opportunities is that visitors often can mix the big three of spring. Turkey hunting in the morning can be followed by a morel mushroom search. Then later, some crappie fishing may be in order. Northwest Missouri is a great place to connect with nature, especially in spring.
Some MDC conservation areas have designated camping sites, usually adjacent to a parking lot. These are unimproved campsites with few or no improvements or services. But they do put visitors close to fishing and hunting.
Visitors should always check websites for conservation area regulations. Some areas have specific rules and restrictions. Always carry out trash and dispose properly. Share public areas politely with others. MDC urges COVID-19 precautions this spring such as physical distancing when near others.
St. Joseph also offers outdoor activities in town. Enjoy catch-and-release fishing in the city’s Krug Park Lagoon and at Everyday Pond on the Missouri Western State University campus. MDC’s Mark Youngdahl Urban Conservation Area within the city has hiking trails, restored grasslands, and woodlands. The Remington Nature Center on the Missouri River has extensive exhibits highlighting nature in the region.
Campers and hikers may also be interested in Missouri’s State Parks. Crowder State Park, Wallace State Park, and Weston Bend State Park are three of the most popular within easy driving distance of St. Joseph and MDC conservation areas. Even more outdoor adventures can be found at stjomo.com, including mini golf, kayaking, paddle boating, golfing, hike and bike trails, and even go-kart racing.Start planning your St. Joseph, MO Getaway!