Float #104 & 105: Big Piney River

26 Jun

Slabtown to Ross Bridge

F104_BigPiney

Big Piney River
Texas and Pulaski Counties, Missouri
Saturday, June 21 & Sunday, June 22
15 Miles

Over the years I’ve noticed that we tend to float a lot of rivers around the same time every year. This is one of those. Last year we floated the Big Piney a week later than we did this year. Two completely different groups of people and two different styles of float trips, but the river calls us back right on schedule every time! This year we did an overnight fishing float with the St. Louis Adventure Group. There were about 12 of us in all, spending two lazy days on the river fishing every hole we meandered past.

We arrived at Slabtown camp on Friday evening. I set up camp while DW and the rest of the drivers ran the shuttle to Ross Bridge access. Slabtown is a National Forest Service campground. It is very small with only 3 sites in a sort of communal setting. There is no water, restroom or trash service; but that also means there is no fee to camp. I last camped at Slabtown many years ago and it looks like the Forest Service has improved it since then. There is now a small parking lot next to the camp so you can unload your gear easier, new fire pits and picnic tables, and the boat ramp looks improved as well. Gone is the walk-in access to the camp, which was up a steep staircase from the boat ramp parking.

We spent Friday evening around the campfire getting to know new people and catching up with some friends we knew from previous SLAG trips. DW and I got to bed a little late and woke up around 8am to find most of the group had already set out an hour before. That’s nothing new for us though, we’re never in a hurry when we’re on river time! Our good friends Tommy and Val usually slack off at the end of the group too, which is one reason we get along so well. It took us a while to get all our gear from camp down to the boats and packed up for the trip. We were on the water just before 10am and it was already so humid and warm that I had to take a swim before I even got into my boat.

Big Piney River

Putting in at Slabtown access

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Right around the corner from Slabtown access is a large gravel bar across from a craggy bluff, which just happens to be where we camped on the river last year. This year’s two-day float is the same stretch we did in one day last year, but when you are fishing things go a lot slower. We started catching fish pretty soon after hitting the water. The Big Piney is a blue ribbon smallmouth area, which means smallmouth bass must be at least 15″ to keep. We didn’t catch anything close to that big, but we did catch a lot of medium-sized smallmouth, goggle eye and bluegill. There were some beautiful bluegill in this stream with such vivid coloring, and a lot of tiny little fish finger size bluegill that were almost the same size as my lure. That didn’t stop them from getting hooked though! Within the first hour of fishing a goggle eye managed to steal my brand new crawdad lure. That was one of three lures I lost over the weekend (I’m really good at losing lures). I lost two more to snags (I’m also really good at catching trees).

Big Piney River

A large dragonfly commandeers my fishing pole

Big Piney River

Lily pads are blooming

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Prewett Spring

The Big Piney is a great river with excellent fishing and many tall beautiful bluffs. Everyone always raves about the bluffs on the Jacks Fork (which are great), but the Big Piney has just as good a selection of pine-topped cliffs along the river. Another great thing about the Big Piney is that it isn’t very busy. We only saw a handful of other people the whole weekend. This is probably due to the fact that it is a little farther from the city than the Ozark National Scenic Rivers and there is a lack of outfitters on the Big Piney. There is only one on the upper river and two or three on the lower river. We also didn’t find much trash until we got to the last five miles of the float (which is stretch frequented by the lower river outfitters). The river is mostly surrounded by National Forest, so there aren’t many cabins or other signs of civilization along the way. There are a few springs on the Big Piney. The big spring branch on this stretch is Prewett Spring, which comes into the river on the left side. The head of the spring is a ways up the branch on private property, so I’ve never walked back there to find it. Swimming in the water where the spring flows into the river is good enough! It was very cold, especially compared to the Big Piney water, which is not too cold at all.

The whole first day of this trip there were ominous clouds and the sounds of thunder upstream from us. I was hoping it would never actually catch up to us, but a few miles from our camp we got caught in a downpour. It rained as hard as it possibly could for about 20 minutes and then it was over. Luckily it was a warm rain with no wind, so no harm done. We just paddled through it, though we had to pay extra attention since the huge, fast raindrops obscured the water so you couldn’t read where the obstructions were. We reached the rest of our group camped across from a large bluff, bailed out all the rainwater from our boats and set up our camp. The evening was spent stargazing, watching the spectacular firefly show, and the distant lightning illuminating the thunderheads. It didn’t rain on us again during the trip, but it was never too far away.

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Our camp on the river

Big Piney River

A rock slide

Big Piney River

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear. We cooked our breakfast over the coals from last night’s fire and broke camp. We were on the water a little earlier than the day before, but we were at the back of the group again (as usual). Within the first couple miles we came upon a hillside that had a few rock slides that looked fairly recent. That’s something you don’t see too often in Missouri. We spent the day fishing and swimming. There was a lull in the fishing around mid-morning when they weren’t biting, but then it picked up again soon after. One noteworthy animal sighting was a box turtle swimming across the river. That’s something we’ve never seen before. He was funny because he saw us and couldn’t pull his head into his shell while swimming, so he was looking a little panicked. He made it across just fine though.

Big Piney River

A box turtle swims across the river

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Swift water

Big Piney River

Coming up to Ross Bridge

We stopped for lunch on a shaded gravel bar, ate the rest of our food and did some swimming. The last couple miles of the float we spent picking up trash, as there was more trash in that last couple miles than on the whole other part of the float. I did find a nice water gun and a cup koozie. We arrived at our take out around 2:30 and spent about an hour unloading the boats and loading the gear back into the car. It was a very relaxing weekend and I had a lot of fun fishing and spending time on this beautiful stream with good company. When we arrived home we found that the storms had been much worse at our house. We had a maple tree split in half and smash our backyard fence. Lovely to come home to a big mess when all you want to do is unload your gear and ride the couch for the evening. At least it didn’t damage anything more important.

We are planning to spend 4th of July weekend on the Eleven Point with our friend Jake from Nashville. I’m really looking forward to that trip, as the Eleven Point is my favorite stream in Missouri!

Critter Count: Ducks, Turkeys, 1 Bald Eagle, Turtles, Soft Shell Turtles, 1 Box Turtle

Bonus Prizes: 1 cup koozie, 1 water gun

 

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3 Responses to “Float #104 & 105: Big Piney River”

  1. Jason June 27, 2014 at 11:15 AM #

    Great Trip report! My son and I and some friends (10 people) will be doing the Big Piney in a couple weeks. Thinking of putting in at Mason Bridge and floating to Ross Access (23 miles). I’m a little concerned about trying to do too many miles. We will be fishing a lot. What is your opinion?

    • groovealee July 21, 2014 at 2:40 PM #

      If I am fishing I try to do no more than 12 miles per day. 8 miles per day is just about perfect for my fishing pace. If you are splitting the 23 mile trip over two days it is doable.

  2. ScottK June 28, 2014 at 6:33 AM #

    Love your float articles and pics! I havent gotten to float as much yet this year as I want to, but I’ve got some more planned. Your blog keeps giving me more ideas also….. Keep up the great work, thanks!

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