Long & crooked: the Gasconade River 

By Len Stagoski

It has been called one of the world’s crookedest rivers, and looking at a map of it will reveal why the Gasconade River of central Missouri earns that title. 

At 265 miles, it is the longest river flowing wholly within the state. 

The Gasconade forms in the Ozarks of Wright County, then flows northeast (and every other direction on the compass rose) to its Missouri River confluence near the Town of Gasconade, in its namesake county between Jefferson City to the west and St. Louis to the east. 

From its headwaters the river lazily flows through a deep valley that is adorned with many large caves and springs along its upper half. (Source: Website—Southwest Paddlers, Outdoor Paddlers Guide( 

The extent of Its “crookedness” is hard to appreciate when viewing the river on a small scale map. It helps to look at large scale maps such as those in “A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri,” which is sold on the River Hills Traveler’s website, or better yet to actually canoe for pleasure, or perhaps float fish in a canoe in some section of the Gasconade; it makes little difference which part of the river, it’s all crooked. 

To get a better perspective, here are three large scale maps from “A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri,” which graphicly show the “crookedness” of the Gasconade River.

In my research of the Gasconade River I came across the following bits of river history from the book “Voices of Missouri’s Rivers” – by William Turner (Copyright 2014, Conservation Commission of Missouri.: 

• Steamboats: In the region where the Gasconade flows into the Missouri River, small types of commercial steamboats with shallow drafts (often stern-wheelers) could reach 70 miles upstream during the wet months of the year.
“One of the most popular uses of steamboats on the Gasconade was for day excursions. Boats started at Herman, selling tickets to people who wanted to enjoy the scenic beauty of the river.” 

• Railroad ties rafting: Like other significant rivers in the Ozarks, the Gasconade served as a waterway for moving cut railroad ties from forest to sawmill.
“As the pine forest was depleted, the vast hardwood Ozark forest was perfectly poised to feed railroads the crossties needed to build rail lines within the state and westward across the Great Plans. 

“Millions of ties came out of the Ozarks; 15 million in just the one year of 1912. The key link to moving the mass numbers of cut ties, from hill country forests to the railroads, were the rivers.

“’Tie hackers’ were the men who cut the logs into 8-foot-long ties. The ties were delivered to the riverbank where they were stacked until there were enough ready to be floated downriver to the railhead (i.e.. then transported to a sawmill). This was often a 30 or 40 trip by river taking three or four days. 

“The men who moved the ties downriver were called ‘rafters’ because ties were attached together in a long raft containing between 700 and 1,200 ties. The raft looked similar to a train track.”

• Early form of gloat gishing: For those of us who are avid float fishermen, it is interesting to note that one of the early forms of float fishing occurred when fishermen hopped on the stable platform of a raft and, using a long wooden pole with string tied at one end, and a home-made fishing lure tied to the other end, they would cast out the lure to catch a smallmouth. 

The Gasconade River — Highly rated for smallmouth bass and other fish species

I’ve fished darn near all of the smallmouth bass streams within Missouri’s Ozark Plateau (except for those in the southwest corner of our state), and by personal experience I rate the Gasconade as one of the best smallmouth streams in the Ozarks. 

Here are a few authentic sources complementary of the Gasconade River’s fish habitat. 

MDC’s Annual Fishing Prospects Report — Gasconade River 

Smallmouth bass and goggle-eye are the most sought-after fish on the upper reaches of the Gasconade River. Smallmouth bass fishing should be excellent in 2021. 

Fish surveys indicate good numbers of smallmouth bass on this section of the river. 

Smallmouth bass are usually found near rootwads and boulders that are close to fast current. Goggle-eye fishing should be good. 

The most recently conducted fish surveys indicate high densities of goggle-eye, with a good number greater than 8 inches. Goggle-eye are often found around boulders and rootwads near submerged aquatic vegetation or stands of water willow along the shoreline. 

Preferred artificial baits include crayfish-colored crankbaits, soft plastic jigs, and worms fished around logs and boulders. Live bait (crayfish and worms) also work well. 

When using live bait, care should be taken to not introduce minnows and crayfish from other stream systems. Introductions of minnows and crayfish from different stream systems may upset the ecological balance of the Gasconade. 
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Largemouth bass make up less than 50 percent of the black bass population and prefer slower flowing water, especially around stands of vegetation. 

Plastic worms fished Texas-style work well for largemouth bass. (Source: Missouri Department of Conservation]

Excerpts from Game and Fish magazine – September 30, 2010 (by Steve Felgenhauer) 

• Winding through the hills of Phelps and Pulaski counties, a magical 20-mile stretch of water provides proof positive for the Gasconade River’s reputation as one of the best smallmouth streams in Missouri.
• The Gasconade River is home to more than 60 different species of fish, but much of its fanfare goes to the smallmouth bass that reside in its waters. 

The Gasconade is arguably one of Missouri’s top smallmouth rivers, especially the Special Managed Area, a magical 20-mile stretch that starts at the state Route Y bridge next to the Riddle Bridge Access in Pulaski County, and runs downstream to the state Route D bridge near Jerome, about one mile upstream of the Jerome Access in Phelps County.
• St. Louis resident and Missouri Smallmouth Alliance President Matt Weir believes the Gasconade is worthy of the title “World-Class Smallmouth Fishery.” 

“The Gasconade is hands down one of our best river smallmouth fisheries,” he said. “It’s a very fertile, productive fishery.”
• Perhaps the success of the Special Management Areas on the Gasconade has something to do with having plenty of moving water. 

Nearly all of the Gasconade’s twisting, turning 271 miles has good flow, due to the large concentration of springs that flow into it. 

Of course, not all anglers were immediately pleased with the restrictions that were placed on their “home river,” but as the river’s smallmouth population and the quality of fish increased, the revelers quieted and anglers began doing what anglers enjoy doing most — fishing. (Missouri Department of Conservation) 

The Ozark Plateau 

Over many, many years of reading about “The Ozarks” I have encountered an incongruous geologic term frequently used in the context of naming a geologic region of the Missouri Ozarks… the term is “Ozark Plateau.” 

Let me explain. Webster’s College Dictionary defines plateau as “…an elevated track of more or less level land…” 

However, in my pursuit of float fishing adventures on the streams flowing through the Ozark Plateau region, I have experienced deep valleys, high cliffs rising up from riverways, caves, springs, forests; how come the same region has been labeled as the Ozark Plateau? 

The answer is found in geologic time. 

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