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Al Agnew
Al Agnew

Meramec River: Sections

The following is a breakdown of the river into its different stretches between tributaries, giving the general characteristics of each stretch, its gradient (how fast it drops per mile), river gauge information, and mileages between public accesses.  Some notes on the information:

Gradient:  In general, a gradient of more than 10 feet per mile is very fast, 6 feet per mile is fast, 3-4 feet per mile is about average for floatable Ozark streams, and less than 3 feet per mile means you'll encounter many long, slow pools.  Gradient also may be important in the Meramec Basin because it's believed that the invading spotted bass don't do well in gradients faster than about 3.5 feet per mile.

River gauges:  For each section, the gauge that most closely reflects the flow in that section is listed, along with its exact location.  All Ozark streams typically flow more water in the March through May period than at other times, and flow the least amount of water in the June through November period.  Highest flows are usually in April, lowest flows are typically in July through October.  The normal flows in cubic feet per second for each of these periods is given, based upon the median flows listed in the gauge information from the USGS website.  The lowest flows that might typically be encountered are given as well, along with the highest flows that could still be fishable. Note that those higher flows may or may not be fishable, depending upon how muddy the stream has gotten after rain events that cause rises, and how long it has had to begin clearing as it drops.

In addition, there is a rating for navigability, both floating in paddle craft and boating with jetboats, at various flows.

Finally, accesses and river mileages are given for each section, with the uppermost access listed as mile 0.0, and all other public accesses given in order going downstream, with mileages from the uppermost access.  The accesses are those that are generally open to the public, with a few of them private but the best access in the area and usable by paying a fee.


Short Bend to Maramec Spring

Usually truly floatable only in the spring, the upper river is clear and fast, flowing through a wide pastoral valley lined by steep hills up to 300 feet high and occasional low bluffs.  Smallmouth are abundant, largemouth common, and spotted bass very rare in this section.  Goggle-eye fishing is usually good.  One or two canoe rental businesses in the Maramec Spring area serve the lower few miles of this stretch when there is enough water, but it is mainly a do-it-yourself float.

Gradient:  about 6.5 feet per mile

USGS river gauge:  Cook Station, located at the Hwy. M bridge, upstream from Crooked Creek, which is the only significant tributary within this stretch.  Occasionally Crooked Creek may be coming in high and muddy when the river above is clear, but usually the Cook Station gauge is reliable.

Normal flow for December through February:  45-80 cfs.
Normal flow for March through May: 70-160 cfs.
Normal flow for June through November: 25-60 cfs.
Low flows range from 10-25 cfs.
The highest flow likely to still be fishable ranges from 200-500 cfs.

Navigability at various flows:
Less than 30 cfs—below marginal, with walking and dragging a lightly loaded canoe necessary in nearly all riffles.
30-50 cfs—marginal, with walking necessary in many riffles.
50-90 cfs—low but floatable, with scraping bottom likely in some wider riffles.
90-150 cfs—easily floatable.
150-250 cfs—high but floatable, with strong currents and difficulty in fishing from the watercraft.
250-500 cfs—very high, the upper limits of floatability, with muddy water likely.
Over 500 cfs—too high.

This stretch is generally considered too small for jetboats.  Jetboating may be possible at flows over about 200 cfs, but narrow, twisting channels and frequent log obstructions make the risk to boat and operator significant.

Accesses and mileages:
Short Bend MDC Access, just downstream from the Highway 19 bridge—0.0
Delcour Road low-water bridge—5.4
Bales Road low-water bridge—7.8 (access questionable due to no-trespassing signs)
Wesco low-water bridge—12.8
Klein Ford low-water bridge—15.8
Cedar Ford low-water bridge—17.8
Woodson K. Woods CA and Access, just downstream from the Highway 8 bridge—25.3
(Maramec Spring is less than two miles downstream from the Highway 8 bridge)


Maramec Spring to the mouth of Huzzah Creek

At Maramec Spring, the river receives a huge influx of 56 degree water, so much water that during dry summers, the river will have 3 to 5 times the volume below the spring as it has above it.  In high flows in the spring or after heavy rains, Maramec Spring can be coming in murky, and not far below Maramec Spring, Dry Fork enters the river.  Dry Fork is a long stream with a large watershed, but it is a classic losing stream, nearly all of its water sinking underground along its course to emerge at Maramec Spring.  When the Dry Fork is flowing after rain events, it is usually coming in muddy.  So due both to Maramec Spring and the influence of the Dry Fork, the river below is often considerably murkier than it was above the spring, and this murkiness can persist throughout this entire stretch.  Typically, the visibility of the river in spring and summer is no more than about four feet, though it can get very clear in the autumn and early winter.

The stretch from Woodson K. Woods to the Scotts Ford MDC access is a red ribbon trout management area, and holds both rainbow and brown trout.  Most trout fishing is done within the first three miles below the spring.  The trout section of the Meramec is heavily fished and has the reputation of being somewhat tough fishing, but can produce some nice browns and plenty of rainbows coming from the Maramec Spring put and take trout fishery.  This stretch also holds a decent smallmouth population and scattered pockets of largemouth.

From Scotts Ford to Birds Nest near Steelville is one of the original three Smallmouth Bass Special Management Areas, with a one fish/15 inch limit on the smallies.  The smallmouth population in this stretch, along with the rest of the section, is very good, as is the largemouth population.  Spotted bass are present in small numbers.  Catfishing can be good in the lower half of this section, and goggle-eye are very abundant but usually run fairly small.

The river is typical Ozark pool/riffle/run water with the occasional long, slow pool, but the usually adequate volume of flow insures that it moves along well.  There are a number of canoe liveries and campgrounds and the river receives extremely heavy use by rental canoes, kayaks, and rafts in the warm weather months.  Jetboats are common, but the river is often too low for easy jetboat use in the late summer.

The landscape along the river continues to be pastoral, with wide, cleared bottom fields and steep wooded hillsides up to 300 feet higher than river level.  Sheer bluffs are uncommon in the upper portions, but below Steelville there are a number of impressive bluffs reaching as much as a hundred feet high.

Gradient:  about 3.5 feet per mile
USGS river gauge:  Steelville, at the Birds Nest bridge, near the middle of this stretch.  It is fairly reliable for the entire stretch.
Normal flow for December through February—230-420 cfs.
Normal flow for March through May—400-600 cfs.
Normal flow for June through November—160-350 cfs.
Low flows range from 100-175 cfs.
Highest flows likely to be fishable range from 800-1400 cfs

Less than 150 cfs—low but floatable, with scraping bottom likely in some wider riffles and split channels.  Jetboating below marginal.
150-250 cfs—easily floatable, with jetboating marginal; some riffles will be nearly unrunnable and the possibility of boat and motor damage high.
250-500 cfs—easily floatable, runnable by jetboat with some difficulty in split channels or around obstructions.
500-900 cfs—high but floatable with strong currents and difficult fishing from moving craft, jetboating easy for the prudent.
900-1400 cfs—very high and fast for floating with muddy water possible, jetboating possibly dangerous because of obstructions.
Over 1400 cfs—too high.

Accesses and mileages
Woodson K. Woods CA and Access (1.9 miles above Maramec Spring)--0.0
“Cardiac” and “Suicide” walk-in MDC accesses—4.0
Scotts Ford MDC Access—8.9
Riverview MDC Access—16.1
Fishing Spring Road MDC Access—20.6
Highway 19 (No public access, but several campgrounds)--21.1
Birds Nest Road bridge and Birds Nest Park—23.8
Garrison's Campground (private access)--29.1
Saranac Spring Campground (private access)--32.9
Onondaga Cave State Park—42.2 (Onondaga Cave is 2.5 miles below the mouth of Huzzah Creek)


Onondaga to the mouth of the Bourbeuse

The 25 miles or so from Onondaga downstream is the most spectacularly scenic portion of the Meramec, with numerous huge bluffs and big gravel bars.  A couple of the most interesting bluffs are  Black Bluff just upstream from Campbell Bridge, and Vilander bluff a couple miles below Campbell Bridge.  Black Bluff is notable because it is the site of a very recent bluff collapse; in 2010 a huge section of the bluff broke away and fell into the river.  Vilander Bluff, which has two major faces, is about 200 feet high, and is dotted by two wild caves.  There are several other wild caves in this part of the river, including Greens Cave a couple miles above Meramec State Park, at the base of another huge bluff.  And two of Missouri's finest “show caves”, Onondaga and Meramec Caverns, are also found along the river in this stretch.

The river from above Onondaga to Meramec State Park almost ceased to exist back in the late 1970s, when it was slated to be buried beneath the reservoir formed by the Meramec Dam.  The Meramec Dam battle was one of the most bitter conservation conflicts in the country at the time, and  the river was saved by a referendum among the counties of the basin that went almost 65% against the dam, even though the land for the reservoir had already been acquired and preliminary work had started on the dam itself.  Most of the land returned to private ownership, but subject to scenic easements that limited new construction within a certain distance of the river.  A few parcels reverted to state ownership as part of the state park system or as MDC accesses.

This stretch is as popular as the section immediately above it, with a number of large canoe rental businesses and the two major state parks, Onondaga and Meramec.  It also receives heavy jetboat use.

Below Meramec State Park, the river becomes much more the province of jetboats.  There are fewer canoe rental businesses and fewer anglers float it in paddle craft.  While the geology changes and the bluffs are not as high or as prominent, the river changes little otherwise, just becoming a little wider and slower down to the mouth of the Bourbeuse.  Summer homes and cabins are much more numerous in this lower portion, however, which may lessen the “wild” experience for many floaters and anglers.

Huzzah Creek adds quite a bit of very clear water to the usually somewhat murky flow of the river above, and this section is often clearer than it is above the Huzzah.  Visibility is commonly around 4-5 feet, perhaps a little less in the downstream half.

Smallmouth are abundant down to about Meramec Caverns, with largemouth common throughout this stretch.  The non-native spotted bass are rather uncommon above Meramec State Park, but increase very quickly downstream to become abundant in the lower half of this stretch.  Walleye are found throughout this section in small numbers.  There is an excellent catfish fishery, freshwater drum are common, and crappie can be found in quiet backwaters.

Gradient:  2.6 feet per mile.
USGS river gauge:  Near Sullivan, at Sappington Bridge.  It is in the upper portion of this stretch but is fairly accurate for the whole stretch.
Normal flow for December through February:  550-1000 cfs.
Normal flow for March through May:  950-1450 cfs.
Normal flow for June through November:  325-700 cfs.
Low flows range from 140-300 cfs.
Highest flows likely to be fishable range from 1500-3000 `cfs.

Less than 250 cfs:  low but floatable, scraping bottom possible in wide riffles and split channels. Jetboating marginal.
250-500 cfs:  easily floatable, jetboating possible but many spots will likely be very shallow, especially in split channels.
500-1000 cfs:  easily floatable and jetboatable.
1000-2000 cfs: high but fishable under normal circumstances.
2000-4000 cfs: very high, possibly fishable but very difficult from a moving canoe or kayak, conditions dangerous in some areas due to obstructions and submerged willows.
Over 4000 cfs: too high.

Accesses and mileages:
Onondaga Cave State Park—0.0
Campbell Bridge MDC Access—5.3
Blue Springs Creek MDC Access—10.2
Sappington Bridge MDC Access—14.5
Meramec State Park boat ramp—19.3 (there are several other areas within the park in the next several miles to access the river)
Sand Ford MDC Access—26.7
Plum Ford, undeveloped access at end of county road—35.7
Red Horse MDC Access—43.9
Hwy. 30-47 bridge, private access at resorts only—48.6
Mill Hill Road bridge, iffy accesses at the old bridge site just upstream and under the new bridge—54.1
River Round MDC Access—57.5
Chouteau Claim MDC Access at the mouth of the Bourbeuse River—63.1


The mouth of the Bourbeuse to the mouth of Big River

The Bourbeuse River, the Meramec's second largest tributary, doesn't always add a lot of water to the river, but it adds enough in high water events to change the character of the river considerably downstream.  The Meramec becomes wider as well as slower and more murky.  Visibility is often no more than three feet, but in low late summer and autumn water levels it can still be clear, and the river retains an Ozark appearance with big gravel bars and low bluffs.  But it is a very settled stream, with many areas lined with cabins and homes.

Relatively few people float it in paddle craft, but it is popular with jetboaters and the occasional prop boat can be encountered.  All the game fish found anywhere in the Meramec can be caught in this section.  Smallmouths, while not nearly as common as in sections farther upstream, still make up a  percentage of the bass species.  Spotted bass are very abundant.  Walleye are a little more common, and catfish are very abundant.

Gradient: 2.0 feet per mile
USGS river gauge:  The nearest is the “Near Eureka” gauge at the old bridge at Times Beach, but it is below the mouth of Big River so it is affected by the flow of Big River.  The best way to gauge this section is to subtract the flow of the “Big River at Byrnesville” gauge from the “Near Eureka” gauge.
Normal flow for December through February:  800-1800 cfs.
Normal flow for March through May:  1800-2600 cfs.
Normal flow for June through November:  500-1500 cfs.
Low flows range from 150 to 350 cfs.
Highest flows likely to be fishable range from 3000-6000 cfs.

Less than 500 cfs—low but easily floatable, jetboats may have trouble in wide riffles and split channels.
500-2000 cfs—easily floatable, easily jetboatable but there may be a few obstruction-filled riffles.
2000-4000 cfs—easily jetboatable, floating is easy but fishing from paddle craft may be difficult.
4000-8000 cfs—jetboatable but fast water may be dangerous, very high for floating and difficult fishing.  Very good chance of being muddy.
Over 8000 cfs—too high.

Accesses and mileages:
Chouteau Claim MDC Access at mouth of Bourbeuse—0.0
Robertsville State Park access—5.2
Catawissa MDC Access (must paddle through old gravel pit lake to get to the river)--11.9
Pacific Palisades MDC Access—16.5
Allenton MDC Access—23.4
Times Beach MDC Access (three miles below the mouth of  Big River)--30.2


The mouth of Big River to the Mississippi

This last section is truly an urban river, lined in many places with homes, cabins, and even industrial plants.  There are areas where gravel has been dredged for many years, forming large pools that get speedboat and jet ski use.  However, the river's banks have actually been protected to some extent with greenways and public lands.

The river in this final section is often influenced by high water on the Mississippi, which can back up the Meramec for many miles.  It is very slow, usually quite murky, and has far fewer clean gravel bars.  Paddle craft are not very popular on this stretch, while jetboats and prop boats are both common.

The smallmouth largely disappear.  Spotted bass and largemouth remain common, however, along with catfish and rough fish.  Even though it is in the “backyard” of the St. Louis metropolitan area, the fishing can still be quite good.

Gradient:  0.8 feet per mile
USGS river gauge:  The best one is the “Near Eureka” gauge three miles below Big River.  Much of the river downstream is sometimes affected by backwater from the Mississippi, which may make gauge readings problematic.
Normal flow for December through February:  1100-2400 cfs.
Normal flow for March through May:  2300-3700 cfs.
Normal flow for June through November:  1500-5000 cfs.
Low flows range from 200-600 cfs.
Highest flows likely to be fishable range from 3000-8000 cfs.

Less than 500 cfs—easily floatable but very slow, jetboatable but may be difficult at wider riffles.
500-1000 cfs—easily floatable, easily jetboatable but with possible obstructions.
1000-5000 cfs—easily floatable but possible dangers from strong currents, easily jetboatable but murky water and wind may hide obstructions.
5000-8,000 cfs—boatable but very high, probably muddy and dangerous.
Over 8000 cfs—too high.

Accesses and Mileages:
Times Beach MDC Access—0.0
Castlewood State Park boat ramp—8.0
Valley Park MDC Access—11.5
Green Tree Park MDC Access—12.5
Ackerman Access at I-44 bridge (no boat ramp)--15.0
Highway 30 bridge (good parking, poor access)--18.4
Winter County Park boat ramp—19.4
Highway 21 bridge (walk-in access, iffy parking in this area)--22.6
Flamm City MDC Access (1.5 miles above the Mississippi)--31.0

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Great write up. One correction. Saranac Springs has been out of business for years. Property is still intact but it's owned by a friend of a friend. Have visited a few times but it's strictly private with a caretaker on site. 

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