Mississippi River Fishing: The Complete Guide

Aug 2, 2022 | 11 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 11 minutes

The Ol’ Man River, The Old Blue, The Big Muddy, Father of the Waters, The Gathering of Waters, The Great River… There are many names for the mighty Mississippi River and probably more love for this body of water than any other in the United States. And, not to much surprise, unbeatable fishing on the Mississippi River is one of the main reasons why this 2,300-mile watershed is so beloved.

Air view of the Mississippi River

Appearing almost like the spine of the continent, America’s greatest river passes through 10 states: Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Naturally, it has more fishing spots than you could count, and is home to well over a hundred fish species.

The main channel of the river and its numerous tailwaters, levees, and backwater lakes turn fishing into a treasure hunt. The Mississippi has a fickle temper and is often considered the ultimate challenge for seasoned freshwater fishermen. At the same time, there are plenty of spots that are excellent for novice anglers to hone their skills. In short, whatever you’d like to try in the freshwater realm, it’s possible to do it here.

Top Catches on the Mississippi River

A map of Mississippi River

There’s no limit to what you can catch on the Mississippi, as long as it’s a freshwater species. Every state has their favorite catch, so depending on what you’d like to target, there are different areas to visit.

The only limit to your Mississippi fishing escapade is your angling appetite, and if you aren’t sure what to target, we’ve got your back!

The Almighty Catfish

Happy angler woman holding a bit Catfish

There’s no catch in these waters more iconic than a big feisty Catfish. This species is so popular that the official mascot of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is Freddie, the Flathead Catfish.

You can hook three different Catfish species in the vast Mississippi River – Channel, Flathead, and Blue Catfish. Flatheads and Blues are usually the largest of the three. They can easily reach 30+ inches and weigh anywhere from 20–100 or more pounds. Channel Cats are usually in the 20-inch and 30-pound ballpark. Though all three species are quite resilient and can live in all kinds of conditions, clear and well-oxygenated waters are their perfect home.

The lower section of the river is teeming with sizeable Cats, and each of them requires a different tactic. This is because they each have a preferred environment and, though Catfish are generally gluttonous eaters, some finesse is needed to attract the species you’re after.

Channel Catfish aren’t particularly picky about what they eat. You can find them in the deeper sections of the river with slower current, especially in the side channels.

Flatheads love to congregate around sunken logs and underwater structures. If you want to get their attention, it’s a good idea to use live bait.

Finally, Blue Cats, the tastiest of the three, love stronger currents and flows of the river’s main channel. They won’t be able to resist nightcrawlers. Local anglers will always have tested techniques and types of bait that work best on their part of the river. This is why it’s a good idea to have a guide take you to your trophy Catfish.

You can find Catfish in the Lower Mississippi River throughout the year, but the best time to go after them is during the warmer months, usually from late May–September. This is the time when the Big Muddy is most abundant and you can land something truly brag-worthy.

The Walleye-Sauger Fever

Smiling fisherman holding a big Walleye with water in the background

While the Lower Mississippi River has a phenomenal Catfish population, the upper section of the river offers fantastic Walleye and Sauger opportunities. Minnesota, in particular, is so proud of its Walleye that it was named their official state fish back in 1965.

Millions of delicious and hard-fighting Walleye are caught each year all around Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. Sauger numbers follow close behind. Walleye range from 15–30 inches, while Sauger are smaller and usually grow up to 20 inches.

One of the best things about Walleye fishing on the Mississippi is that you can enjoy it all year. However, this doesn’t mean you should expect the same action any time you cast your line. The best times to target Walleye are dawn and dusk, as well as cloudy days, when lower light conditions make it harder for these fish to see. This is also the reason why ice fishing for Walleye is such a big deal on the Upper Mississippi.

In summer, it’s a different story, as these fish head to the deeper, cooler waters. Try to change your location regularly (move if you don’t get a hookup after 30 minutes) to find the bite. Bear in mind that these fish move in schools and if you find one, there will be others nearby.

All About That Bass

An angler holding a Smallmouth Bass with a forest and water in the background

Mississippi River Bass fishing is one of those things people don’t talk about nearly as much as they should. Smallmouth, Largemouth, and White Bass are abundant in the Upper and Middle Mississippi River, though you can find some in the south as well.

Bass are ferocious fighters and, on a good day, you can catch dozens on the Mississippi on one trip. Smallmouth are the most popular catch, especially in cold clear waters. Largemouth love to hang out around any type of underwater structure. White Bass are another very popular target of “bassing,” especially in the clear open waters and near jetties.

Locals are almost religious about changing their setups every season to catch the Bass’ interest. From spinnerbaits in the early spring to crankbaits in the fall, there’s an assortment of lures and bait that you can use to get Bass to bite.

If you’re a passionate Bass angler looking to test your abilities on the Mississippi, your best bet is hitting the water in spring and fall. The action during fall is especially fast and furious because Bass are ravenous and will gulp down just about anything. And for any Bass fisherman out there, this is as good as news can get.

Let’s Not Forget About Crappie

Two fishermen standing on a boat holding four Crappie fish

White and Black Crappie are very popular catches in the Mississippi, especially because they make for excellent table fare. The Lower Mississippi, in particular, offers some great action.

The best spots to target Crappie are usually in oxbow lakes. These little lakes are affected by changes in the main channel of the river without becoming too turbulent. You’ll find Black Crappie in clear(er) waters, while White Crappie are more resilient and don’t mind turbid waters as much.

Crappie are active on the river throughout the year, and the most productive time to go after them is in spring. This is their spawning period, when they move to skinny waters and hang around underwater vegetation. While spawning will begin in the main channel as early as March or April, it begins later in oxbow lakes, usually at the beginning of May.

The Best Fishing Spots on the Mississippi River

Now, this is a topic that should be covered in an encyclopedia. Seeing that the Mississippi River runs down the whole length of the US, it’s safe to say that you could spend several lifetimes exploring all the treasure troves in this 10-state area. Here’s a short run-through of all the states to help you find the best bite near you.

Minnesota

An angler holding a hefty Walleye, standing on ice

Whether you’d like to go ice fishing or just explore the north end of the Mississippi River, you can join many Minnesotans who spend their free time doing the same. This is one of the few states where ice fishing on the river is actually possible and productive.

If you’d rather stick to conventional fishing, then one of the best spots in the state is definitely Lock and Dam Number Two (very close to St. Paul and Hastings). Anglers from all over the country come here to experience the superb Walleye and Sauger bite. This is a catch-and-release fishery, which allows for some real lunkers that could easily find their way to your line.

If you’re in the mood for some first-class Smallmouth Bass fishing, then hit the waters around Coon Rapids Dam. You won’t be disappointed.

Some of the best spots for Walleye fishing include shallow waters, as well as underwater structures like flooded tree trunks and debris, where they can hide and spawn. Current breaks are another potential gold mine, especially when Walleye make their spring trip to the spawning grounds. Walleye fishing around dams is very productive, but it can also get crowded, so consult a local before you go.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin is another state where ice fishing is serious business. This is because there are so many hot spots to get your fill of fishing action, even on the coldest days of the year. One of the well-known ice fishing spots is Mississippi River Pool 8, where you can hook a nice Walleye, Crappie, or Perch, just to name a few. Not only is the area productive, but the scenery is stunning.

Fishermen who prefer warmer parts of the year can hit Mississippi River Pool 10, wedged between Iowa and Wisconsin. In these backwaters, you’ll find plenty of Bass, Sauger, Northern Pike, and of course, Walleye.

If you want to try something completely different, head out to one of the fishing floats on the river. These floating platforms are conveniently anchored in some of the most productive spots on the river, and make it possible to reach them without a boat. You can find floats in several towns, including Alma, Trempealeau, and Genoa. There’s a small daily fee you’ll need to pay to fish there, and you’ll need to bring your own gear, but the fun is worth it.

Iowa

A beautiful Walleye held in one hand

About 300 miles of the Mississippi runs through Iowa, making the riverbanks of this state a very attractive fishing destination. You’ll find the best Walleye and Sauger action near Dubuque, especially during the winter months. Paddlefish, Carp, and Bluegill are also common catches near dams, where the water runs slower.

You can fish the many sloughs and side channels both from shore and from a boat. Still, deep holes around underwater structures are your best shot at securing a hookup or two, or much more.

Illinois

A long stretch of the Mississippi River (almost 600 miles) also makes up the western Illinois border and boasts excellent fishing opportunities. You can hook the likes of Channel Catfish, Walleye, Northern Pike, and Bass on the river throughout the year. Whether you’re on the main channel or backwater, finding a good fishing spot is quite easy.

Some of the most popular Illinois fishing spots on the Mississippi River include the area around Fort Kaskaskia, where you can enjoy both beautiful nature and good fishing. The Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge is another gold mine where the Mississippi and Illinois rivers meet. Here, you and you can fish for anything from Bass and Crappie to Catfish, and it’s both fun and productive!

Missouri

A close-up of a big Catfish in the water

We’re slowly getting into Catfish territory, and there are many fishing holes in Missouri where you can find all three species – Flathead, Channel, and Blue Catfish. One of the most popular spots to chase jumbo Catfish is Sulphur Springs. This prolific fishing spot is just a short 30-minute ride from downtown St. Louis.

The section between the McKinley Bridge and the Chain of Rocks Canal has a good population of White Bass and Catfish. If you’d like a mixed bag, then head here – whether you’re casting your line from shore or aboard a boat, chances are, you’ll be successful.

Kentucky

We’re officially in the middle section of the Mississippi. The fish available to you will change at this point, but the quality of action is solid. In Kentucky, Carp, Crappie, Bass, and Catfish are all in the cards. Carp, in particular, has been gaining popularity in recent years, especially among fly fishermen.

Fly fishing is very popular in Kentucky, especially because targeting Carp on a fly has become somewhat of a trend. Carp are relentless fighters and targeting them on a fly takes the fishing battles to a whole new level.

You’re welcome to fish wherever there’s public land close to the river in Kentucky, so long as you’ve got a fishing license. Columbus-Belmont State Park and Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site are both excellent fishing locations, and you can even explore the river fishing opportunities from a kayak. In short, there’s a bit of something for everyone.

Tennessee

Three anglers standing on a boat holding a giant Catfish

In the Volunteer State, it’s all about Catfishing! Wherever you cast your line in this 167-mile stretch of the Mississippi, a Catfish will find its way to it.

Here, you can actually go after five different types of fish – Spoonbill (also known as Paddlefish), as well as Channel, Flathead, and Bullhead Catfish, and the most popular of them all, Blue Catfish. Blues can get giant in Tennessee, and they’re the reason why Catfishing in these parts has got such a good reputation.

You can find Catfish just about anywhere, but the Memphis area usually sports top-notch action, especially if you hit the water anytime from July–November.

Arkansas

On Arkansas’ portion of the Mississippi, Catfish still reign supreme, though White Bass and Crappie are following close behind. If you’re chasing trophy Catfish, your best bet is fishing the spot where the Arkansas River flows into the Mississippi. This is a known hangout of massive Blue and Flathead Catfish.

If you’re looking for White Bass here, be on the water in spring, when they’re on their way to the river’s tributaries. The Crappie bite is good in early spring in the slower moving sections of the main channel. If you’re looking to fish for a bit of everything, the confluences of the Mississippi with the Arkansas and St. Francis rivers are a good place to start.

Mississippi

A happy angler holding a massive Catfish over his shoulder

The namesake of the revered river, Mississippi has a lot to offer when it comes to river fishing. Going after Catfish is the top thing to do here, both because it’s fun and because there’s plenty of fish to catch.

You can find guides that specialize in looking for giant Catfish in the opaque Mississippi waters, especially in deep waters. Tunica Lake is an oxbow of the Mississippi River, where you can find a good Catfish and Crappie bite.

Louisiana

This is the southernmost part of the Mississippi River, and is very popular with avid Catfish anglers. Blue and Channel Catfish are all the craze here and you can target them wherever you go on the river. It’s common knowledge that if you’d like to find mammoth Catfish, you come to the Louisiana section of the Mississippi.

Some of the more popular treasure troves include the confluence of the Red River with the Mississippi, as well as the area around St. Francisville. If you don’t want to leave New Orleans to go fishing, you don’t have to. The portion of the river around the Crescent City Connection is the playground of sizeable Catfish and they’re always there for the taking.

Mississippi River Fishing Regulations

Since the Mississippi flows through 10 states, it’s safe to say that fishing laws change as often as state borders. Different sections of the river have different weight and length limits on the same species, so what you need to know vastly depends on which state you’re fishing in. What’s more, regulations are frequently updated due to the river’s ever-changing ecosystem, making it crucial to stay in the know.

The best way to deal with this is to hire a local guide. They’ll keep you in the loop about what you can and can’t do while on the water. This way, you’ll avoid breaking any laws unwittingly, while still having a blast.

All (Fishing) Roads Lead to the Mississippi

Beautiful aerial view of the Mississippi River

It has to be said – there’s no river on the continent like the mighty Mississippi. From Lake Itasca in the north all the way to the marshes of Louisiana, and finally to the Gulf of Mexico, this marvelous (albeit murky) body of water is a dream come true for any freshwater angler.

Whether it’s Walleye or Bass, Crappie or Catfish, ice fishing or prowling the wetlands, the Mississippi has it all. There’s no need for an introduction, selling points, or persuasion – the Father of Waters has more than enough fishing opportunities, stunning scenery, and history to keep you coming back time after time.

What are your fishing experiences on the mighty Mississippi River? Do you have a favorite fishing spot? Do you have any special tricks to get that fish to bite? Share your thoughts in the comments, it’s always great to hear from you.

Comments (23)
  • Dan

    Sep 13, 2022

    My dad and I used to fish the sloughs of the Mississippi River near St. Louis when I was a kind. I think near Winslow. I drove out there recently and couldn’t find the spots, and the old boat rental place was gone.

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  • Tree

    Aug 29, 2022

    Made it to the mighty Mississippi via aluminum fishing boat just a couple weeks ago to discover our exploration was extremely limited due to water depth less than 2′ in some areas as we headed north towards the Coon Rapids damn. Average depth was 4′-5′ mid August going north, saw 13′ when we headed far enough south to see the Minneapolis skyline.

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      Lisa

      Aug 30, 2022

      Hi there,

      Thank you for reaching out and sharing such useful information!

      Lisa

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  • Bill

    Apr 22, 2022

    Thanks for the great article! I’m in St. Louis, I drop into the Mississippi at Lake Center Marina in St. Charles, MO.

    Could you give me any fishing locations and tips? My boys and I want to figure out what to do and where to go to get some nice fish.

    PS – we are new to fishing.

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      Vuk

      Apr 27, 2022

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for getting in touch. The Missouri Department of Conservation has an app that could come in handy when looking for a good nearby fishing spot. We’d also recommend you check out our guide to family fishing since you’re new to the hobby.

      Hope this helps a bit and you have a great time on the water!

      Tight lines,
      Vuk

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  • Brandon

    Jul 23, 2021

    I love the river and I like the attempt to give good fishing advice. But everybody that doesn’t really know much about catfishing yet tries to write about it are usually identifiable by a common piece of incorrect information. The hot late spring and summer months are NOT the best for catfishing. The nesting period is right in the middle of that time frame. Late fall through early to mid spring is by far the best time to catch catfish, particularly trophy blue catfish. However, flatheads become nearly uncatchable during the cold months of mid winter. The flathead bite can be very good just before they nest, and the end of that bite is generally when the fishing starts to suck for a while. Both will continue to fatten up before they prepare for their deep hole hangouts for the cold months. But…these monster blues will readily bite from deep down in their winter holes. And if you find one, you may find several more.

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      Katie

      Jul 23, 2021

      Hi Brandon,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on fishing the Mississippi River. We always appreciate a different perspective! Which stretch of the river do you usually fish in?

      Tight lines,

      Katie

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  • Merlin

    Jul 22, 2021

    Looking to get my boy and me on the Mississippi river near St Louis Mo

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      Katie

      Jul 22, 2021

      Hi Merlin,

      Thanks for your comment. Great idea! Catfish are the main targets along the Mississippi River in this area, with trophy-sized specimens potentially in the cards. You don’t have to travel far to fish the river, and there’s plenty of natural parks dotted around the city if you choose not to fish from a charter boat.

      Have an excellent day on the water with your son, and if you need any tips or advice before you go, let us know!

      Tight lines,

      Katie

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  • Handy-Cap Outdoors (Pete)

    Mar 2, 2021

    Hi, Pete from Handy-Cap Outdoors youtube channel, Your article was a nice read for a general overview of the biggest river in the country lol. I’m glad my “home pond” of Pool 8 was on the list of spots. Thing about Pool 8 is it covers such a HUGE area and so many different ecosystems in and of themselves a man could spend several lifetimes and not explore all of it. I remember hearing a couple of the bass pro tour fisherman saying that the tournament in Pools 7,8 and 9 every year is one of the most challenging because the sheer number of places to catch bass cant be fished in a tournament day. and depending on the weather and other conditions it can compound the challenge.. But those same people also said it is one of the most beautiful places they have ever fished. The locals are very friendly and several of the local ma and pa diners have out of this world food.

    But enough horn tooting lol I’m sure you are wondering about the name. I have been personally dealing with a mobility disability the past 4 years and this past summer/fall I decided to do some recreational activities to get more active and less depressed. I started the Youtube channel not only to help get my mind right but to be an inspiration and encourage other people who are disabled like me to get outdoors and enjoy nature. I made several fishing videos. never caught a thing but i watched the sunset and rambled on. I made several more videos then I posted but I havent edited them. Ive been terrible at editing. I’m mechanically inclined so Handy-Cap… Bad pun… But thats the reason for the name.

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      Andriana

      Mar 2, 2021

      Hi Pete,

      Thanks for reading, I’m happy you liked the article, especially because you’re a local.

      Also thanks for sharing all this useful info about your “home ponds,” it sounds beautiful and exciting for all levels of fishermen. Kudos for getting out there, enjoying nature, making the most out of your life, and inspiring other people to do the same. It’s a great idea to start your own YouTube channel and share your experiences with anglers who might need a bit of encouragement to get back out there.

      I hope you keep enjoying the sunshine and peace that fishing brings, feel free to share your adventures and catches with the community.

      Have a wonderful day, Pete!

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  • David A Ruperd

    Nov 26, 2020

    We live in Arkansas but would love to fish the hole mississippi river from top to bottom in our kayaks. Do we need a separate fishing license for each state

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      Andriana

      Nov 26, 2020

      Hey David,

      Thanks for reading, and wow, that’s a great ambition and an amazing adventure you’re planning!

      This is a very good question, especially because the Mississippi spans over 10 states. From what we know, if you plan on fishing the waters all over those 10 states, you will need to get an appropriate license for each and every one of them. There are some Upper Mississippi regulations that state that you can fish the waters of the neighbor state (from Wisconsin to Iowa and Minnesota), but only if you’re in the boundary waters, otherwise, standard licensing rules apply.

      I hope this helps. If you go through with your plans, please come back here and let us know how it was!

      Tight lines!

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      Mike Houser

      May 13, 2021

      I can only comment for Missouri. A Missouri fishing licence counts for BOTH sides of the Mississippi river the entire length of the state. So I am legal to drive into Illinois and fish the bank of the Mississippi.

      Im sure most of the states are similar but definitely check.

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  • Windom watts

    Aug 12, 2020

    I like your article on Mississippi river..l live close to the river in baton rouge. LA. I WOULD LIKE TO LEARN TO FISH THE RIVER ….AND WHAT TYPE BAITS TO USE.

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      Andriana

      Aug 12, 2020

      Hey Windom,

      Thanks for reading, I’m glad you liked the article.

      It’s awesome you’re learning to fish the Mississippi, with a bit of luck and practice, you’re in for a treat.
      Around Baton Rouge, Catfish are the most popular catch, and they respond well to shiners and nightcrawlers. The good news is that you don’t even have to go far to catch yourself a good-sized Cat, there’s solid action close to the city center.

      I hope this helps.

      Tight lines!

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      Alex clearer

      Nov 13, 2020

      This is really good

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      Andriana

      Nov 16, 2020

      Hello Alex,

      Thanks for reading, I’m glad you liked the article.

      Tight lines!

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  • Brandon Parker

    Jul 27, 2020

    Spoonbill is not a type of catfish.

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      Andriana

      Jul 27, 2020

      Hi Brandon,

      Thanks for reading. You’re right, Spoonbill is not a type of Catfish, rather just a type of fish that can be caught in the Tennessee section of the river. Thanks for pointing it out, I’ve updated the article to make it super clear.

      Stay safe and tight lines!

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  • Larry Smith

    Jun 24, 2020

    I live in southwest Arkansas and I enjoyed your article, however the Arkansas segment stated that the best place for trophy catfish is where the OHIO flows into the Mississippi????

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      Andriana

      Jun 25, 2020

      Hi Larry,

      I’m glad you liked the article!

      You’re right, it should say Arkansas River, we just fixed that, thanks for pointing it out!

      Tight lines,
      Andriana

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      Zareth

      Nov 17, 2020

      cool!

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