Little Piney is one of Missouri’s finest spring creeks. While it has never really caught on with most trout fisherman in the state, this small, winding river is full of wild and stocked rainbow trout in surprising numbers. The land through which it flows is also quite beautiful, a mix of bucolic meadows and typical rough and tumble Ozarks woodland.
The Little Piney starts about 15 miles south of Rolla as a small intermittent stream. It begins to pick up some spring-flow as it nears the Highway 63 bridge about a 10 minute drive south of that college town. While there are some trout upstream from the bridge, the land around the stream is held almost exclusively in private hands. Most anglers leave this section alone, although its possible asking landowners for the privilege to fish private water could be met favorably. By no reasonable definition is the water upstream from Highway 63 navigable, so getting that permission would be vital.
Below the Highway 63 Bridge, the creek soon enters a short reach that flows through Mark Twain National Forest. Quite conveniently for anglers, this National Forest stretch has the best wild trout fishing on the river. Almost within sight of the Highway 63 Bridge, Yancy Mill Spring adds its cool flows to the Little Piney. A couple of hundred yards later, the much larger Lane Spring essentially doubles the size of the stream. These two springs keep the water quite cool throughout the summer.
Many anglers base their operations at Lane Spring Recreation area. A nice campground, along with parking along the river, is available here for a very small fee. As of this writing, the access is open from March 1-October 31while the campground is open from April 1to October 31. During the winter, there are places within the National Forest boundary to park your car before you reach the gated off area, and make a short, easy hike to the river. You can also access the river a few hundred yards upstream at the Highway 63 bridge.
In the approximately three mile run from Yancy Mill Spring to Vida Slab, wild trout fishing is usually good year-round. The trout often rise readily to attractor dries, though most are taken on small nymphs. While bait and soft plastics are strictly forbidden in this reach, spin-fisherman often do well with tiny Panther Martins and Rooster Tails in the 1/32 ounce range. Drifting small marabou jigs under a tiny bobber or strike indicator can also be productive. You’ll want to look for trout in the riffles and the heads of the pools just below. Abundant dead-fall often plays host to the biggest trout. Twitching a small streamer in these areas can produce a trophy rainbow, which for this stream entails a fish in the 15 inch range. Nymphing the riffles will oftentimes allow you to release about as many 5 inch par-marked beauties as you please.
Below Vida Slab (a disputed access that we do not recommend using) the fishing starts to tail off. This stretch isn’t stocked, but also doesn’t see a huge amount of natural reproduction. While in the Lane Spring section, Little Piney’s banks are heavily forested, here they are mostly open pasture-land. The stream is terribly exposed to the sun during the summertime, and it shows in the fishing. There are some smallmouth bass in this reach, and they may well be more plentiful than the trout. Though this stretch is still managed as “Blue Ribbon” trout water, it doesn’t really have that feel.
Milldam Hollow is a popular MDC access site about 7 miles below Lane Spring, and the trout fishing really picks up again here. The state stocks rainbows quite heavily for a short stretch at and below this access site. Many of these fish make their way up and downstream, meaning that these stockings help the fishing in far more water than the short reach actually stocked. Bait is allowed as you head downstream from Milldam Hollow, and it becomes the predominant method used. When trout are freshly stocked, they do respond well to Powerbait and other dough baits, along with worms. But soon, the most gullible fish are caught out of this section. That’s okay, though. Many trout still remain, and they are caught on a variety of flies and artificial lures. The habitat here is not quite as good as the water around Lane Spring, but the creek is once again shaded, and a little bit cooler. Trout hold here all summer long, but in July and August you are better off fishing the Lane Spring stretch (or switching to streamers and chasing the smallmouth bass which are abundant near Milldam Hollow.) There is also Forest Service access on CR 7400 about a mile and a half downstream from Milldam. The water around this area holds good numbers of stocked trout, and also has plenty of smallmouth bass.
About a mile below this Forest Service access, the Little Piney is crossed by CR 7360. This marks the official end of the trout water. Another mile downstream from there, Beaver Creek adds its warm flow and really spells the end of the coldwater fishing except in a very few isolated pockets. You should not, however, overlook the lower Little Piney. The stretch from Beaver Creek to its mouth at Jerome has several access points and plenty of smallmouth bass.
There are two regulation areas on the Little Piney as of this writing. From its headwaters reach well above Highway 63 to Milldam Hollow, fishing is restricted to artificial lures only. Anglers may keep one trout with a minimum length of 18 inches. From Milldam Hollow downstream, 4 trout may be kept, with no length limit on rainbows. Bait, lures, and flies are all allowed. It is not uncommon for regulations to change, so make sure to check before you head down.
The Little Piney will likely never get as much attention as the nearby Current or Meramec, but that is a good thing. This is a stream that you can often fish all day while only seeing one or two other anglers-if you see anyone else at all. And the rainbow trout fishery is quite good. It’s hard to ask for more than that.