Non-Game Grab Bag Fishing Fun

Fish Catching Fun Just About Everywhere Fish Swim!

These guys put the game back into “non-game” species as the author lands a nice, eating-sized freshwater drum.

I recently got what seemed like the dozenth press release from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) about a new state fishing record.  Looking back over agency releases since the first of the year, I discovered that my perception was a little exaggerated, but not entirely unfounded.  In the first four months of 2016, MDC certified no fewer than seven new records.  That’s more than get submitted in some entire years!

What also struck me just as interesting was the fact that six out of seven of the new records were for fish species that MDC classifies as “nongame.”  This category includes a few surprises, such as the bluegill and green sunfish, but most of the rest are critters that few anglers actively pursue: suckers, carp, buffalo, drum, gar, bowfin and their ilk.

Now there is a widespread perception that these species are somehow less desirable than those classified as “gamefish.”  You might get an argument about that if you asked a devoted sucker-gigger or a 16-year-old whose crappie jig has been inhaled by a 10-pound freshwater drum.  So-called non-game fish can be just as sporty and tasty as their more illustrious kin.  Non-game fish might not win a popularity contest or a beauty pageant, but they definitely are not trash fish.

All this got me thinking about the fact that I’ve never tried fishing for any of these species.  The smallmouth bass is my favorite fish, but being realistic, I know that my home area on the south bank of the Missouri River has more good non-game fish water than smallmouth streams.  I grew up here.  Why have I never tried my hand at these underused fish?

I remembered that one of my co-workers used to enjoy going out about this time of year and catching suckers from a wadable tributary of the Moreau River that runs through Scrivner Road Conservation Area.  I further recalled that his preferred method of stalking these delicious fish was to drift nightcrawlers through riffles.  This is a type of fishing I understand.  Although I long ago left behind bait fishing in favor of artificials, I cut my angling teeth on worms and bobbers.  I’ve been wading small streams in search of smallmouths and sunfish for more than half a century.

So I headed down to the nearest bait shop, where I scored some size 6 bait-holder hooks, size 8 trebles, small barrel swivels and assorted sizes of egg sinkers.  I rigged up half a dozen spinning and baitcasting rods with slip-sinker rigs.  I cut off about 1-foot of monofilament, sliding a sinker up the standing end of the line, then tied on a swivel, tying the foot of monofilament onto the other end of the swivel and finishing up with a hook so it dangled about 9 inches below the swivel.  Then I headed to another Moreau River tributary not 10 minutes from the house.

I knew as I set out that I was a little late by the calendar.  Suckers are most concentrated and therefore easiest to catch during their spawning run.  This usually occurs the last week of April or the first week of May.  Spring came early this year, thanks to warmer-than-average weather, so I probably had missed the hottest action, but I hoped to catch a few slow-starters. Besides, once suckers get this far upstream, they don’t go back down to the big rivers where they spend the winter.  They drift down to deeper holes, sometimes lying at the heads of pools where they can vacuum up morsels washed in at the tail ends of riffles.

Other than being a little late in the spring, conditions were perfect.  The water was a little dingy from recent rains and the creek had a nice, brisk flow.  Areas that will be gravel bars in a few weeks were still under 1 or 2 feet of water.  With high hopes, I tossed out three lines (the most allowed without labeling them with your name and conservation ID number, Then I pulled out the book I was reading at the time, “The Last Full Measure,” by Jeff Shaara. (Great read, btw.)

I didn’t get much reading done and before I knew it, I had a fat, 15-inch channel catfish on the line.  That was followed by several largemouth and smallmouth bass, all of which had to be released, as black bass season is still closed in most streams south of the Missouri River.

Even when there were no fish to unhook, I was kept pretty busy checking lines, refreshing bait and replacing slip-sinker rigs that snagged on rocks or roots.  A couple of hours later I had a 3-pound drum and my original catfish to show for my trouble.  No suckers, but I figure next time I’ll head downstream to a long, deep pool and try my luck there.

There will be a next time. The relaxed pace, ease of access and excitement of not knowing what would turn up on my hook next made me understand why some people target “nongame” fish.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go fry those fish.