We conducted a study from 1998 to 2001 to determine the efficacy of a benthic trawl designed to increase species detection and reduce the incidence of zero catches of small-bodied fishes. We modified a standard two-seam slingshot balloon trawl by covering the entire trawl with a small-mesh cover. After completing 281 hauls with the modified (Missouri) trawl, we discovered that most fish passed through the body of the standard trawl and were captured in the cover. Logistic regression indicated no noticeable effect of the cover on the catch entering the standard portion of the modified trawl. However, some fishes (e.g., larval sturgeons Scaphirhynchus spp. and pallid sturgeon S. albus) were exclusively captured in the small-mesh cover, while the catch of small-bodied adult fish (e.g., chubs Macrhybopsis spp.) was significantly improved by use of the small-mesh cover design. The Missouri trawl significantly increased the number and species of small-bodied fishes captured over previously used designs and is a useful method for sampling the benthic fish community in moderate- to large-size river systems.