• Status
    Completed December, 2016
  • Location
    Smithville Lake, MO
  • Grants Received
  • Total Budget

RFHP provided funding for two separate projects on Smithville Lake. Missouri Department of Conservation was the lead on the first project (2012) which consisted of providing additional structural habitat. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2015) was the lead on the second project which consisted principally of shoreline stabilization.

Smithville  Lake  is a 7, 190-acre U.S.  Army  Corps  of Engineers  (USACE)  reservoir located just north of Kansas City, Missouri. Smithville Lake is known for its hundreds of irregular  shaped  coves that  furnish  175 miles  of shoreline.   Smithville Lake was completed in  1982 and currently  attracts thousands  of water  enthusiasts, including thousands  of anglers each year.  The lake’s primary purpose  is flood  control and, as a result, often experiences large water level fluctuations. Like many reservoirs across the country, fish habitat in the lake has significantly diminished since the reservoir was constructed.   Repeated  and long-term  water  level  fluctuations  have dramatically increased shoreline erosion, increased sedimentation rates and limited aquatic vegetation growth. Re-vegetation  efforts in the past  10 years have been met with  limited  success.  More than 4,000 acres of standing timber  was left intact when the lake was built to     provide fish habitat which has since degraded  and provides  only  limited  habitat  for fish. The lack of stabilized shorelines and suitable fish habitat is limiting the lake’s potential to serve as a productive and diverse fishery. In order to greatly increase the quality of the  fishery and  reduce the  sedimentation  rate, Smithville Lake needs  additional  hardwood and rocky fish habitat at various depths and significant shoreline protection.  In 2007, USACE and Clay County Parks partnered together  to implement  a shoreline stabilization plan  that has armored nearly  23,000 linear feet of shoreline  with  $1.7 million  in rip rap.

The 2012 project included armoring 2900 ft. of shoreline with 5,254 tons of rip-rap on some the lakes most highly eroded points.  The stabilization of the shoreline has provided the lake with much needed additional shallow water habitat while decreasing bank erosion and increasing water quality.  The project also involved the installation of 9 large rock piles in the reservoir basin consisting of approximately 70 -120 tons of rock per rock pile.  Rock sizes varied to diversify habitat structure ranging from shot rock up to 42” rip- rap boulders.  The large rock piles provide excellent, diverse habitat for fishing and recruitment purposes that will last indefinitely.  In addition, hard, woody cover was greatly enhanced in the lake by hinge-cutting approximately 500 selected trees along the shoreline within selected locations and installing over 300 large hardwood brush piles consisting of 3-5 trees per brush pile.  Hinge cutting efforts encompassed 7 miles of shoreline, or 4% of the lake’s total shoreline and were focused in the upper end of the Camp Branch arm of the lake.  Entire trees, large stumps and large tree tops were used to construct the brush piles at selected locations throughout the lake.  The hard, woody cover is providing excellent nursery sites for young-of-the-year fishes as well as providing excellent habitat and fishing destinations, leading to increased angler success.

Annual lake surveys are conducted on Smithville Lake to assess the fish population status of Black Crappie , Bluegill , Channel Catfish , Flathead Catfish , Largemouth Bass , Redear Sunfish, Walleye , and White Bass .  It is very early in the game to tell what effects the Smithville Lake RFHP Project has had on these species but there are a few interesting statistics on a few of the previously mentioned species that indicate increased recruitment and growth.

  • In 2013, 35 % of Black Crappie in the sample were 8 inches or larger. That is the highest it has been for 11yrs.
  • 2013 Largemouth Bass electrofishing catch (>8”/hr) was 45.4.  That is the highest it has been for the last 18 yrs.
  • In 2013, 44% of the Walleye in the sample were 20 inches or larger. That is the highest it has been in 15 yrs.

The 2015 Smithville project continued the structural habitat enhancement and shoreline stabilization efforts. An additional 2000 ‘ of shoreline was stabilized with rip rap,  75 hardwood brush piles were added along with 300 hinge-cut trees and 12 boulders/rock piles.

Before the Smithville Lake RFHP Project, Smithville Lake was sorely lacking in aquatic habitat and especially lacking in shallow water habitat.  The armoring of banks with rip-rap, the addition of large boulders in the form of rock piles and boulder fields, the addition of hard woody structures in the form of hinge-cut trees and brush piles, has all played a significant roll in enhancing the Smithville Lake fishery. A presentation on the Smithville Project was given at the 2016 Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership Annual Meeting.

“The Smithville Project is a great example of agencies and volunteers working together over the long haul to address habitat impairments on a large scale.”

~ Jeff Boxrucker, Coordinator, Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership

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Why It Matters

It is vital that we educate the public about the value of Smithville Lake and the benefits that it provides to the citizens of Missouri. Smithville Lake is currently a high-use reservoir (a short driving distance from Kansas City) and further restoration and enhancement of the fishery will only help to increase recreational use. The opportunities for educating Smithville Lake stakeholders are promising due to the high density population surrounding the lake. Additionally, a healthy reservoir system and fishery can lead to great economic benefits for local communities. Below are current statistics on population density and economic benefits for Smithville Lake and the surrounding area:

  • The 2012 city data states that Smithville, Mo. population is 8,768 people, a 59% increase since the year the lake was impounded;
  • The surrounding metropolitan area within a 50-mile radius of Smithville Lake is 1.39 million people;
  • Smithville Lake has the greatest population density within a 50 mile radius of any major reservoir in Missouri.
  • Smithville Lake receives an estimated 1.3 million visitors each year, of which 460,000 are fishermen;
  • The annual economic benefits of Smithville Lake are an estimated $52 million in visitor spending per year within a 30 mile radius of Smithville.

Before the Smithville Lake RFHP Project, Smithville Lake was sorely lacking in aquatic habitat and especially lacking in shallow water habitat.  The armoring of banks with rip-rap, the addition of large boulders in the form of rock piles and boulder fields, the addition of hard woody structures in the form of hinge-cut trees and brush piles, have all played a significant role in enhancing the Smithville Lake fishery.


As we as a nation become increasingly urbanized connections to the outdoors become increasingly difficult. Surveys show that "lack of time" is a major impediment to recruiting anglers. It is vital that easily accessible quality outdoor recreational opportunities exist near urban centers. Poor quality habitat results in poor quality outdoor recreational opportunities. Given Smithville Lake's close proximity to Kansas City, aquatic habitat restoration projects should be given a high priority.

Siltation, loss of connectivity to the impounded streams and to backwaters within the reservoir (coves) and lack of structure are major habitat impairments at Smithville. Loss of connectivity is a result of sedimentation that can be caused by sediment inputs from upstream. This type of sedimentation issue needs to be addressed through watershed Best Management Practices. Sedimentation from the watershed is especially prevalent in agricultural-based watersheds. However, loss of connectivity to backwaters and coves can be the result of shoreline erosion. This impairment was directly addressed by this project. Correcting degraded woody structure is a multiyear effort and is costly in both dollars and labor. Collaborative partnerships among angling groups, other reservoir users and management agencies are vital to work on this problem over the long haul. Habitat restoration efforts on Smithville are a shining example of such collaborations.