The Ultimate Rough-Fish Summer Road Trip

The stretch of the Mississippi River that splits Illinois and Missouri holds a bounty of trash fish in the American heartland. Sure, the river is great for bass and walleyes, but fish like carp, drum, and bigmouth buffalo are here in large numbers, creating shots at hard fights that those glamour species just can’t deliver.

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Want to enjoy your best summer ever? Then load up your car with tackle and camping gear for an unforgettable fishing road trip. We've dreamed up seven D.I.Y. road trips—all packed with amazing country, great food, and out-of-this-world fishing. You can send us a thank-you postcard from the road.

Tour Illinois and Missouri on the Trash Haul, and you'll find the Mississippi and nearby waters to be rough-fish treasures.

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1. Drum Solo
The tailwaters below Mel Price Locks and Dam hold some of the Mississippi's most productive fisheries for various species, but your prime target here is freshwater drum. Drum binge on crawfish, so work small jigs near the bottom or scrape a Rebel Craw along the rocks.

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2. Park It
Pere Marquette State Park has 80 RV hookups and another 60 primitive tent sites. Camp out under the stars or rent a cabin—but plan on booking well ahead. Pere Marquette overlooks the Illinois River, so you can cast a line during your stay.

3. Triple Play
Where the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers meet, a series of sloughs and backwaters make up the Calhoun Point WMA. Three different boat ramps on the property have docks to cast from. Or launch a boat at Pohlman Slough. Buffalo, drum, and carp can all be caught here.

4. Hit the Hollow
Catch Turner Hollow Road north of Batchtown and fish every spot of water you can. On your right, you'll pass a ramp at Prairie Lake. Launch a boat there to find carp, or continue on to access the Mississippi at Turner Landing, one of the few bank-fishing spots on this side of the big river. The riprap at the Long Lake crossover is a good spot for drum.

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5. Love Me Tender
Cross the river at the Champ Clark Bridge, then head west on Georgia Street until you find K.C.'s Place. Be sure to order the restaurant's masterpiece: In a part of the country where pork tenderloin, breaded and fried, is king, this classic diner serves what may be the area's best.

6. B.Y.O. Bait
Head south to Clarks­ville, where the Mississippi backs up behind Lock and Dam No. 24. This pool of still water creates a tremendous multispecies fishery, but to hook into a bigmouth buffalo, look to the turbid waters around Calumet Creek and similar backwaters. A finicky fish, the bigmouth demands an odd mix of angling finesse and trailer-park bait. Before the trip, mix mashed cornflakes with Big Red soda and bake off the excess moisture. A pinch of this suspended on a small hook works best.

Photographs: Tim Romano (angler and carp); Alamy (bridge). Map by L-Dopa.