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Al Agnew
Al Agnew

Big River

The largest tributary of the Meramec River, Big River begins with water running off the north side of a ridge topped by State Highway 32. It almost immediately begins to have permanent flow, however small, and is dammed on the upper end by the U.S. Forest Service's Council Bluff Lake, a beautiful, clear, timber-lined reservoir nestled among high wooded hills. In this upper portion the watershed is within the igneous rock of the St. Francois Mountains, the oldest outcrops in the Ozarks and the geologic center of the Ozark uplift.



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Although there is an MDC access where Highway 21 crosses the river south of Potosi, the river there is still wading water only. It first becomes marginally floatable a few miles downstream, where Cedar Creek enters and adds some flow. From there it flows for nearly 124 miles northward to enter the Meramec. The river in that long reach may be the most abused stream in the Ozarks, suffering from the effects of vast amounts of old lead mine waste as well as some of the ills of suburban civilization as it flows through what is known as the Old Lead Belt, once the largest lead producing area in the nation. Below there it flows through a barite (tiff) mining region and has suffered fish kills in the past from barite mine waste. And in its lower reaches it is lined with homes, cabins, and camping trailers along with their often inadequate septic systems and trash dumps. Yet the river has always had the reputation of good fishing. It is a slow river that has never been popular with the canoe rental crowds, and is served by only a couple of small rental businesses. There are two major state parks along the river and a few private campgrounds, but most river users are local people. Access to the river is poor in many sections.

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Big River has only one major tributary, the Mineral Fork, but many smaller streams gradually add to its flow, along with a few springs, and in the old lead mining district there are a number of rusting “drill pipes,” connected to the now flooded underground mines, which are gushing water into the river. While the river does not dramatically change character at any one point, St. Francois State Park makes a convenient place to divide the upper reaches from the “upper middle” river, the Mineral Fork adds considerable water and is the spot at which the river becomes truly big enough for easy floating and some jetboat use, and Morse Mill divides the still pastoral and scenic “lower middle” from the highly developed lower reaches.

Special Bass Management Areas:

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Description of River Sections (Link)

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River Levels

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Missouri D.N.R. Big Creek Fact Sheet

Fishing Regulations

Missouri Code of Regulations; 3 CSR 10-6.505 Black Bass, 1 (C)  On the Meramec, Big, and Bourbeuse rivers and their tributaries, the daily and possession limit for black bass is twelve (12) in the aggregate and may include no more than six (6) largemouth bass and smallmouth bass in the aggregate, except that the daily limit may include no more than one (1) smallmouth bass on the Big River from Leadwood Access to its confluence with the Meramec River, the Meramec River from Scotts Ford to the railroad crossing at Bird’s Nest, and Mineral Fork from the Highway F bridge (Washington County) to its confluence with the Big River.  Otherwise:

Bass, black (largemouth), smallmouth and spotted bass (kentuckies)- 12-inches length limit, 6 daily, 12 possession.

Statewide season on bass in rivers and streams is open from the 4th Saturday of May till the last day in February annually.

White bass, striper, hybrid bass- 15 total daily (only 4- 18 inches or longer can be kept in a daily limit), 30 possession.

Rock bass (goggleye) - no length limit, 15 daily, 30 possession.

Crappie, white or black - no length limit, 30 daily, 60 possession.

Bluegill - no limit

Catfish - no length limit, 10 daily (only 5 can be flatheads in a daily limit), 20 possession.

Walleye - 18 inch minimum length, 4 daily, 8 possession.

Fishing Licenses -

Residents - those fishing of the ages of 16 and older and 65 are required to have on their person a valid Missouri fishing license. Those 65 and older do not need a fishing license.
Proof of residency - Valid Missouri Drivers License.
Non-residents - those fishing of the ages of 16 and older are required to have on their person a valid Missouri fishing license. 

Costs -
Resident - $12 annual
Non-resident - $42
Daily - $7
Trout Stamp - $7

Buy Missouri Fishing Licenses Online!

Report Violations - Poachers

In cooperation with the Missouri Department of Conservation, Operation Game Theft works to stop the illegal taking of fish and wildlife that includes trophy animals and rare and endangered species.

Missouri Wildlife Code

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