Although it has a typical assemblage of Ozark game fish, the Bourbeuse is far from a typical Ozark stream. From the head of navigation to where it runs into the Meramec, the Bourbeuse is the slowest large stream in the Ozarks. Its highest headwaters drain a nearly flat plain near the town of Vichy that is a little altered remnant of the original surface of the Salem Plateau, and its watershed is mainly within Pennsylvanian sandstone, a patchwork of woodlots and agricultural land with little of the rugged country found along most of the streams of the Ozarks. Because of that large amount of cleared land, the Bourbeuse tends to be murkier than most Ozark streams.
It is also the crookedest of Ozark rivers. All the streams of the region are very winding, a phenomenon called “entrenched meanders”, and evidence that these streams once flowed across a nearly level plain. The convoluted bends of streams flowing across flat land were retained when the Ozark plateaus were uplifted and the rivers began to flow faster and cut into the rising land surface. But the bends of the Bourbeuse are exceptional. From its “head of navigation” at Mint Spring, the Bourbeuse flows for nearly 116 miles in an airline distance of less than 38 miles. And it was once even more crooked. There are “lost hills” on a number of Ozark streams. These are places where the river eventually cut through the narrow neck of a big, looping bend, leaving the old river valley around the bend high and dry and shortening the river's course. The Bourbeuse has taken several of these “short-cuts”, shortening its course by as much as 15 miles.
Given the agricultural nature of the land surrounding the Bourbeuse, its riparian corridor is surprisingly healthy, and while it isn't as scenic as many of the deep Ozark streams, it is an attractive river. The slowness, murkiness, and the inconsistent water supply of the river all keep it from being popular with the rental canoe crowd—there is only one small canoe rental business on the whole river—so the Bourbeuse is largely frequented by local anglers. It was once an excellent smallmouth stream, but the slow, murky water is perfect habitat for the invading spotted bass, and they have severely impacted the smallmouth population in the lower half of the river and appear to be taking over the upper portions as well. The entire river is full of catfish, and many of the local anglers concentrate on the cats.
Mint Spring to Noser Mill
The Bourbeuse, with its very inconsistent water supply, can get too low for easy floating throughout its length, but the upper half is seldom floatable without dragging during dry summers. At Mint Spring the flow is often just a trickle, but anglers walk the riffles in order to fish the big pools that are found even in the upper end of the river. There are several wadeable and fishable tributaries along the upper Bourbeuse, but none of them add really significant amounts of water.
The best fishing during low summer water levels will be found near the heads of these big pools, and in the occasional short, deep run. During wetter seasons when the river holds more water, it is a very fishy-looking stream with plentiful woody cover and pools studded with huge sandstone boulders. Spotted bass have been in the process of colonizing the upper river for a decade or so, and are now common in the lower portions of this stretch. There is still a good smallmouth population in upper sections.
Public access to portions of this reach is scarce to non-existent. While locals may use obscure semi-private accesses, the visiting angler is forced to make multi-day floats on some reaches.
Gradient: 2.6 feet per mile.
USGS river gauge:
Bourbeuse River Near High Gate, located at the Hwy. B bridge, several miles above the head of navigation at Mint Spring. The usefulness of this gauge is questionable for much of the upper river, because there are many tributaries that may add considerable water during times of rain. If there has been significant rain in the area, one should check the other Bourbeuse gauge, Bourbeuse River at Union, to see if there has been a rise on the lower river which may signify high water on the upper river as well.
Normal flow, December through February: 30-60 cfs.
Normal flow, March through May: 40-100 cfs.
Normal flow, June through November: 2-20 cfs.
Low flows range from 0.2-2 cfs.
Highest flows likely to be fishable range from 150-200 cfs.
Less than 10 cfs—the whole upper river will require walking many riffles in order to fish the pools.
10-30 cfs—low but floatable with a lot of scraping bottom, especially in upper portions.
30-60 cfs—easily floatable in lower portions, some scraping bottom likely in upper portions.
60-120 cfs—high but floatable
120-200 cfs—very high, muddy water likely.
Over 200 cfs—Probably too high.
This reach is seldom jetboatable. Even when it's high, over 100 cfs on the gauge, it is seldom runnable for long distances.
Accesses and mileages:
Mint Spring MDC Access—0.0
Glaser Ford low water bridge on Koenig Road—2.3
Enke Road bridge (very poor access)--7.7
Hog Trough Road low water bridge—10.7
Tea MDC Access—17.6
Mill Rock MDC Access—34.8
Hwy. CC bridge (very poor access)--39.0
Wenkle Ford MDC Access—42.0
Laubinger Ford (very obscure and hard to find)--45.0
Peters Ford (unimproved ford, parking non-existent without permission)--53.0
Hwy. 185 at Noser Mill (bridge has no access but there is access just below the mill dam, reached from the north; however, it may be posted against trespass. The safest bet for access is at Devils Back Campground above the bridge.)--59.0
Noser Mill to the Meramec
The river remains inconsistent in flow below Noser Mill until it receives the cool water of Spring Creek, fed by Kratz Spring which flows an average of 25 cfs. The creek comes in about 10 miles below Noser, and at times it may nearly double the flow of the river. From there on the river is nearly always floatable, though some riffles will still have to be walked in low water.
The river emerges from the sandstone country in the vicinity of Spring Creek, and there are a few impressive bluffs downstream. As the Bourbeuse nears the town of Union and the spreading suburbia of the St. Louis metropolitan area, development along it becomes more prevalent, but it remains mostly pastoral in nature.
Noser Mill once formed a barrier to spotted bass spread upstream on the Bourbeuse, and for a decade or more after the spots were common below Noser they were almost non-existent above. Spotted bass are now at least as numerous as smallies below Noser, and below Union smallmouth are practically non-existent. The river retains some Ozark character down to Union, but below it becomes incised into the alluvial banks over much of its course, and it is typically very murky. Few bass anglers fish it below Union. Catfish are the preferred species in the Union area and below. Walleye are sometimes caught throughout the lower Bourbeuse, but they are far from common.
Gradient: 2.2 feet per mile.
USGS river gauge: Bourbeuse River at Union, located at the Highway 50 bridge at Union. This gauge is fairly reliable for the entire lower river, except that the stretch from Noser Mill to Spring Creek will be lower than the rest of this section.
Normal flow for December through February: 150-250 cfs.
Normal flow for March through May: 300-500 cfs.
Normal flow for June through November: 60-150 cfs.
Low flows range from 30-60 cfs.
Highest flows likely to be fishable range from 600-1000 cfs.
Less than 40 cfs—Most riffles will have to be walked.
40-70 cfs—Most riffles will be runnable with considerable scraping bottom.
70-120 cfs—low but floatable, a few wide riffles will entail scraping bottom.
120-250 cfs—easily floatable, jetboating possible for the very experienced, but frequent obstructions likely.
250-500 cfs—high but floatable, some sections are runnable by jetboats.
500-1000 cfs—very high, probably muddy, fishing difficult from moving watercraft, strong currents and willow jungles may be dangerous.
Over 1000 cfs—too high.
Accesses and mileages:
Hwy. 185 at Noser Mill (best access is at Devils Back Campground, but that entails portaging Noser Mill dam. Check out access just below the dam, which may be posted)--0.0
Schmitt Ford (obscure access, may be posted, at the end of Stuesse Road)--4.2
Reiker Ford MDC Access—21.5
Mayers Landing MDC Access—32.5
Union MDC Access—40.9
Dr. Henry A. and Amalia Uhlemeyer MDC Access—49.9
Chouteau Claim MDC Access (at the mouth of the Bourbeuse)--55.2