Missouri walleye fishing an unexpected surprise

Nathan “Shags” McLeod, Brandon Butler and Kris Nelson with one of many keeper walleye from Stockton Lake. (Driftwood Outdoors/Brandon Butler)
Nathan “Shags” McLeod, Brandon Butler and Kris Nelson with one of many keeper walleye from Stockton Lake. (Driftwood Outdoors/Brandon Butler)

Walleye fishing in the southern Midwest isn't on the radar of most anglers.

Bass, crappie, catfish, bluegill, and trout garner most of the local attention. But walleye fishing is growing in availability and popularity in a number of states.

One of the best waters to pursue them is Stockton Lake in southwest Missouri, where Kris Nelson with Tandem Fly Outfitters is the man who knows how to put limits in the boat.

Walleye fishing was my grandpa's favorite. He would study magazine articles, watch VHS videos, listen intently during professional fishing seminars and do whatever else he thought might give him an edge against the marble eyes.

One thing he was sure of was the further north you go, the better your chances of catching walleye. Too bad grandpa never met my friend, Kris Nelson, because if he had, he might have come to understand there is some excellent walleye fishing in the southern Midwest.

Kris Nelson is one of those fishermen who just seems to be able to outthink the fish, no matter the species he's after. I, along with my good friend and podcast partner Nathan "Shags" McLeod, have had the chance to pursue crappie, trout, white bass and largemouth bass with Nelson in the past.

We've never caught limits of big crappie anywhere else like we do when we fish with Nelson. He has the spots that produce, no matter the time of year or weather conditions.

So when he asked if we would like to come to Stockton Lake to try our hand at putting some springtime walleye in the boat, we eagerly accepted the invitation.

When it comes to fishing, I do enjoy catch-and-release for certain species, but it really excites me to put fish in a cooler. I love the entire experience of fish fries.

The food, the fellowship and the lazy Sunday afternoons on the back deck during summer. Fish fries bring people together, and if you'll be serving walleye, then you could end up bringing a lot of people together.

Nelson assured us we'd leave with fish for the freezer, and once again, he came through on his promise.

We fished a Friday evening and Saturday morning in early May. It was surprising how few boats were on the water.

Only once did Nelson want to fish a spot that already had another boat on it. The walleye fishery in Stockton is really under-recognized.

The same could be said about the lake as a whole. With Truman, Lake of the Ozarks and Pomme de Terre all so close, there are a lot of options for anglers, and for whatever reason, Stockton doesn't see the pressure of the others.

Shags is an aggressive angler. He wants to make as many casts as possible every time he's on the water.

He can't sit still long, either. So, the type of fishing we did, which consisted mostly of casting a ¼ ounce jig head threaded with a nightcrawler and slowly dragging it on the bottom back to the boat in 30 to 40 feet of water, did not appeal to him.

He needs more action.

For me, though, it took me right back to experiences of my youth in my grandpa's boat. Back then I thought walleye fishing was boring, too.

I wanted to cast spinnerbaits for bass, but grandpa had no interest in fishing for fish he wasn't going to eat. Walleye, crappie, bluegill and yellow perch were our targets, with walleye being the grandest prize of them all.

It felt good to recognize that his methods today resonate so deeply within me. A few walleye filets dusted in breading and fried in peanut oil mean more to me these days than fish I throw back.

When we pull up on spots to fish, it's hard to believe Nelson knew what he was doing. We'd be fishing hundreds of yards from shore, just out in the middle of nowhere.

It's like Nelson has the entire lake mapped in his mind and he just knows where the fish are at all times of the year. He's spent years and years learning this knowledge.

Without a guide, you're going to spend a lot more time looking for fish than you will spend catching fish. You can cut down the learning curve immensely by hiring a guide.

Check out Tandem Fly Outfitters on Facebook or give Kris a call at 417-839-2762 to learn about the all-inclusive packages he offers for fishing, lodging and dining.

See you down the trail...