By Larry Whiteley
When most people think of snorkeling they think of sandy beaches, blue saltwater and coral reefs, but Missouri’s freshwater streams and lakes can also be a fascinating snorkeling adventure.
We don't usually think of our local fresh bodies of water as a place to grab your mask, fins and snorkel for an adventure but after you read this I think you will change your mind. You would be amazed at the opportunities that are available for snorkelers in Missouri and all you have to do is go find them.
The marine life can be as diverse as that found in saltwater, just maybe not quite as colorful. There are many species of fish to be seen as well as turtles, snakes, crawdads (crayfish, crawfish or whatever you want to call them), hellgrammites and other forms of tiny aquatic life.
My wife and I have had a cabin in the Missouri Ozarks for over 20 years.
The clear water of a creek that runs through our land makes snorkeling a popular thing to do for everyone who visits on a hot summer day.
Bluegills swim right up to your face or nibble at you as you float along in the water. Bass and hog suckers don’t want anything to do with these homosapiens that have invaded their home and skitter along ahead. Colorful sunfish and goggle eye usually guard their nest or hide back under a rock ledge. Multitudes of baitfish swim around in schools continually battling the swift water. Colorful darters hide among the rocks.
If you’re lucky, you might see a turtle or a huge crawdad. There was the time I took some real lobster claws and placed them where they stuck out under a rock ledge making them look like the granddaddy of all crawdads was there. I then watched as my neighbor snorkeled closer and closer to where I had hidden them. Cost of the lobster claws - $35. Cost of the camera to take my neighbor’s picture as he came up out of the water - $250. Look on my neighbors face – priceless!
If visitors are really lucky or unlucky, depending on your fear of snakes, they might get to swim along with a 4-foot-long water snake. No, it’s not a fake snake and no I’m not scared of snakes. At least as long as I know it’s not poisonous.
I was a little nervous once though when I dangled a crappie jig in front of this same snake and he struck at it catching the hook in his mouth. I haven’t had a whole lot of experience unhooking a writhing, very mad water snake, and was thankful the line broke before I had to figure it out. I guess he forgave me, because he now lets me swim along underwater with him. He does look at me funny some times and he would probably stick his tongue out at me if there wasn’t a crappie jig in the way.
I think what people enjoy the most while snorkeling in the creek is underwater fishing. We use either a small kid’s rod and reel combo or a tiny ice fishing spinning combo baited with a worm or crawdad. You float along with your mask and snorkel watching fish take your bait. Then you set the hook and reel in the fish, all underwater. I think the adults love it as much as the kids. Now how many of you can say you caught a fish while underwater with the fish?
Another thing we do is have someone stand on the bank and cast different artificial baits into areas where fish are holding and then we snorkel underwater to watch how fish react to the different baits. Doing so has helped us all become better fishermen.
Snorkeling around with an underwater camera or a smart phone in a waterproof bag is another thing we enjoy doing. It is amazing the fantastic photos you can take underwater in freshwater.
So what are you waiting for? It’s July, it’s very hot and it’s a whole lot cooler when you’re snorkeling. Plus it’s a whole lot of fun!