New Age Fishing

  • What would Gramps Say?
Some fishermen prefer to go old-school when they set out on northern lakes and rivers.

By Brent Frazee

I wonder what Gramps would think.

Sixty years ago, things were pretty simple when we went fishing. He had a small aluminum boat, an old Johnson motor, an anchor, a few rods and reels, and a coffee can full of worms.

Gramps was our GPS and the anchor rope was our depth finder. Gramps had the rope knotted every two feet so he would know how deep the water was when he lowered the anchor.  He didn’t need an electronic depth-finder to tell him how deep he was fishing.

Nor did he need a $50,000 bass boat, a 250-horsepower motor, a trolling motor with almost as much power as the outboard Gramps used. Nor high-composite graphite rods that cost $200 and reels that have an even higher price tag.

Yeah, I can just see Gramps shaking his head now. He would have a hard time believing what fishing has become today.

Sometimes, I feel the same way. Today’s high-tech era has brought fishing to unbelievable heights.

The fish no longer are able to swim to depths undetected. “Spy” technology has allowed fishermen to track their prey wherever they go.

Sensitive rods allow fishermen to detect even the lightest strike. And reels with multiple ball bearings allow us to cast farther than ever before.

Meanwhile, costs soar and fishermen dole out money at unprecedented rates.

I always come back to the same question: What would Gramps think?

And I always add a question of my own: Is all this technology a good thing or a bad thing?

Please don’t think I am being judgmental. I too have been swept up in this high-tech craze.

I have outfitted my bass boat with a 100-pound thrust trolling motor (outboards are not allowed on the lake I live on), a Hummingbird Helix electronics unit with down scan, side scan, and GPS, and I have hundreds of dollars invested in my rods and reels. I have a few fishing lures that I paid $25 for (a Megabass suspending stickbait, for example), and I have more tubs of lures in my garage than some small tackle shops do.

But every once in a while, I wonder if I really need all of this modern equipment. I think back to simpler times when I seemingly caught just as many fish.

I doubt that Gramps would have been lured by some of this technology even if it were available. He prided himself in being able to figure out what the fish were doing at any given time.

“You have to think like a fish,” he used to joke with me.

And somehow, I wonder if we’ve lost some of that. Some fishermen have let machines take over, relying on electronics to do the job they once did.

Every year, there is one new big thing that captures the imagination –and the dollars – of fishermen. This year it is the LiveScope, put out by Garmin. It features scanning technology that shows moving images of the fish swimming under the boat. For example, fishermen can see how fish react when a lure bumps against flooded timber, what causes them to scatter, etc.

Crappie fishermen are especially excited about the new device, because they spend most of their time fishing vertically.

“It’s almost cheating,” one seminar speaker said this winter.

So what’s next? A machine that reels in the fish for us? Electronics that give fishermen an approximate size of the fish below? A way to will tell us when fish will bite and when they won’t?

The sky is the limit when it comes to fishing technology. But sometime I yearn for the old days, when fishing was considerably simpler – and less expensive.

I picture myself in Gramps’ boat, an orange life jacket around my head, catching fish on a simple worm and a bobber, and I think that life wasn’t so bad back in those days.

 

Opening Day Traditions, Memories for Life

  • Fishing, hunting, warm, cold – you gotta go!
  • Keeping young, no matter your age
  • Remembering my dad
In keeping with tradition, a crowd of fishermen showed up March 1 at Bennett Spring State Park for opening day of the Missouri trout season. Photo by Brent Frazee

By Brent Frazee

I have always been fascinated by the tradition involved in fishing and hunting.

Opening day of deer season.   Spending time with a lifelong friend or relative in a fishing boat.  Days in the field with an old bird dog   And the fishermen’s unofficial first day of spring, the Missouri trout opener.

They all elicit images of the romance in our outdoor sports that the anti’s could never understand.  It’s reminiscing about days with a friend or relative who is no longer with us, of an unforgettable day of fishing, of a big buck that showed up out of nowhere, of a day when the weather presented a formidable challenge.

We take memories of those days to our old age, thumbing through faded pictures of long-ago fishing trips or reminiscing about special moments long after we are no longer able to participate.

I’ll never forget the last time I talked to my dad before he passed away. “Do you remember Arnie?” he said in almost a whisper.

Arnie was our guide the first time my dad took me to Canada. I was just a little guy and I was thrilled that I would get to meet a real Indian.

Arnie was colorful, to say the least. He drove us to the boat ramp in a beat-up truck with a door that wouldn’t shut, a motor that coughed and sputtered, and seats that were so worn that the foam was showing.

Arnie guided us to the trip of a lifetime, showing us where to catch giant northern pike. My dad and I reminisced about those days often, especially when there was a lull in our conversation.

We didn’t talk about the little-league games my dad coached, the big-city vacations we took, the trips to our family farm or the many major-league games we went to.

We talked about special times together in a fishing boat.

I see how many other people bond the same way.  And I smile.

Photo by Brent Frazee

Tradition is a big part of who we are as fishermen and hunters.

In my world, nowhere is that more evident than at Bennett Spring State Park in south-central Missouri.

The park celebrated its 95th trout opener on March 1, most of them as a destination managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and stocked by the Department of Conservation.

Some fishermen will try to tell you that they have been to every one of them – but then, you know how fishermen like to stretch the truth.

Still, there are many who have been attending the opener for many years and wouldn’t miss one, no matter what.

Over the years, I have interviewed many of those proud old-timers and have taken delight in their stories.

Chet Snyder of Grandview, Mo., comes to mind. He is 85 and still makes sure he gets back to Bennett on opening day every year.

He has been fishing the opener for 63 years and he won’t let anything hold him back.

“We’ve driven on icy roads, through snow storms, in real cold weather, but we’ve always gotten there,” he said. “It’ something I won’t miss. It’s tradition.”

When I talked to him several years ago, his dedication to follow tradition was especially impressive. He suffered a seizure less than week before the opener and he was released from the hospital only days earlier.

He asked for the doctor’s OK to travel to Bennett for the opener, and he got it. His son did the driving and he was back on the water.

Snyder returned for this year’s opener with his sons Chuck and Curtis and his grandson Cody. He cast for a short time, but a problem with his balance kept him from going at it as hard as he once did. Still, he was there, and that’s all that mattered in his mind.

But Snyder certainly isn’t in a class by himself at Bennett. Walk into the park store and you’ll hear others talking about how long they have been coming to Bennett for the trout opener.

I suppose I have a streak of my own. I have been attending the Missouri trout opener since 1980 when I started working at The Kansas City Star—most of them at Bennett, but a few at Roaring River. Now that I’m retired, I still go back, using the trip as an excuse to do an article for one of the media outlets for which I freelance.

I enjoy talking to old friends, making new ones, and reminiscing about past openers.

It’s tradition, and I’m not ready to give that up.

Late-summer musings …

Ah, the mysteries of life. Food for thought in the throes of this heat wave.

By Brent Frazee
• Why is it that you catch fish on a new lure, get excited, and buy a bunch of them, only to find out that it was a one-trip wonder?
• Why is it that no one talks about lures such as electric-blue plastic worms or gadgets such as the Color-C-Lector, once the rage in fishing, anymore?
• Why is it that lure companies have such short-term memory? Those revolutionary baits they introduced last summer are quickly forgotten when the new models are unveiled.
• Why is it that those crappie or bass that were just a fraction short of being a keeper never seem to grow to the desired size the next year?
• Why is it that the fishing can change so quickly – from boom to bust – in only one day without any discernible change in conditions?
• Why is it that an artificial bait can often outfish the real thing, a nightcrawler or a minnow?
• Why is it that a fish at the end of your line always looks so much bigger in the water than in the boat?
• Why is it that photos seldom do justice to the big bluegills you catch?
• Why is it that two fishermen can fish side by side with nearly identical equipment and one will catch all the fish?
• Why is it that a catfish will bite strange baits such as hot dogs or soap?
• Why is it that bass fishermen who constantly boast of having great practice rounds seldom finish high in tournaments?
• Why is it that some pros can talk of a 5-pounder getting away at the boat and know exactly how much that fish weighed?
• Why is it that some experts say that luck plays no part in fishing? The record books are full of lucky fishermen.
• Why is it that a fisheries biologist doing an electrofishing survey will find a big bass in a spot you had just cast to with no luck minutes earlier?
• Why is it that you can toss a lure right into the middle of a school of surfacing white bass and not even get a hit?

Ah, the mysteries of life. Food for thought in the throes of this heat wave.

 

Stay up-to-date with all of Brent’s stories at www.brentfrazee.com.

Ozark Bass are Easy Pickin’ when You Know How

  • Canoe Fishing with Dennis Whiteside
  • Old-Fashioned Topwater Fishing Fun

By Brent Frazee

Dennis Whiteside, 69, shares how to catch Ozark bass in the middle of stifling hot summer weather.

It was another stifling day in the Ozarks.  The temperature steadily climbed toward the upper 90s and the humidity made it seem even worse.

A bad time to go fishing, right?

Not in Dennis Whiteside’s eyes.  To him, these were near-perfect conditions to take a float-fishing trip for smallmouth bass.

“I’ve had some of my best days of fishing on these Ozarks streams on days like this,” said Whiteside, 69, a longtime float guide from Springfield, Mo.  “For one thing, no one else is out. You can make a float and not see another person.”

“And this is the time of the year when their (smallmouth bass) metabolism is highest.  They’re eating.  You just have to drop the food in front of them.”

Minutes after launching his canoe on the middle stretch of the James River near Springfield, Mo., Whiteside was doing just that.

With a few strokes of his paddle, he maneuvered his 18 ½-foot canoe through a gurgling riffle, then positioned it to the edge of a pool.

He cast a topwater lure to a spot where slack water met the current and began buzzing it across the surface.  But it didn’t get far.

The bait disappeared in a flash of bronze and an angry smallmouth bass leapt out of the water, arching to get free.

The fish landed with a loud splash, then made a frantic run to escape.  It wasn’t long, though, before Whiteside had the 16-inch fish in the canoe and was celebrating another day of fishing the old-fashioned way.

“This is how I’ve been fishing most of my life,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with being out on a big lake, in a bass boat, with a big motor and all, but that isn’t for me.

“I’d much rather be on moving water, where you’re practically alone and you’re fishing the same way as people have been for more than 50 years.

“I don’t even use a trolling motor.  It just gets in the way.  All I need is a paddle.”

Whiteside can do magic with that paddle.  He can negotiate hairpin turns, find water that is barely deep enough to float his canoe, and display an uncanny ability of knowing where the smallmouth’s will be.

It was the James River on this day.  But it could be countless others—the Current, the Niangua, the Eleven Point, Crooked Creek, and on and on.  He estimates he has floated 300 streams in Missouri and Arkansas, some of them so small that they aren’t even on the map.  And he has caught smallmouths out of every one of them.

He is part of a vanishing breed.  In a day and age, where most guides take customers out on large reservoirs to fish for bass or crappies, Whiteside does things the old-fashioned way – with just a paddle, a couple of fishing rods and a small tackle box of lures.

Even on the hottest days of the year, it works.  When Whiteside took two customers – David Gray and me – on the James in late July, the fishing was spectacular.

As schools of suckers scattered in front his advancing canoe, Whiteside continually searched for the shaded water with enough depth, current and cover to provide good smallmouth habitat.

Feeding the fish a steady diet of a variety of topwater lures, we got explosive hits throughout the morning.  Most fishermen would expect the action to slack as the sun got higher.  Just the opposite.

As noon approached, the fishing got even better. Casting to rocky banks in the shade, we watched as big smallies routinely emerged to attack our lures.  By the end of our five-mile trip, Whiteside estimated we caught and released 40 smallmouths, many of them in the 13- to 16-inch range.

An unusual trip?  Hardly.  Whiteside expects good fishing on the Ozarks streams once summer arrives.  There is one caveat.  There has to be enough water.  Some streams, especially those that aren’t spring-fed, will get too low to even float for long stretches.  But those that have springs, will remain floatable.

“The big fallacy about topwater fishing is that you have to be out either early in the morning or just before the sun goes down to catch fish,” Whiteside said.  “That’s not true. Even on these hot days, our best fishing will be from 11 (a.m.) to 3 (p.m.)

“You have to be accurate with your casts.  But if you can put that lure within 3 feet of where you think that fish will be, and it’s in the shade, you can catch some big smallmouths.”

Brent Frazee is a freelance writer from Parkville, Mo., who served as the outdoors editor of The Kansas City Star for 36 years before retiring in 2016.  He continues to write for magazines and has a blog on his website www.brentfrazee.com.

To reach Dennis Whiteside, call 479-692-3372.

Summer Walleyes in the Heat of Summer, NO PROBLEM!

Inland Lake walleyes in the mid-west are easy hot-summer fun if you’re fishing guide, Les Jarman.  Read how.  Brent Frazee Photo

By Brent Frazee

Think about the very worst conditions for walleye fishing.

High noon.  A hot sun beating down. Temperatures in the low 90s.  A blue sky, with hardly a cloud in sight.

That about covers it, doesn’t it?

So why was Les Jarman, a longtime guide, so optimistic that he and his friend, Ken White, would soon be catching walleyes in those conditions as they trolled on Stockton Lake in southwest Missouri?

“We’ve caught walleyes in the middle of the day on days that were hotter than this,” Jarman said, as he zig-zagged his boat on a flat near the river channel.  “These walleyes will get out here on these flats in the summer and they’ll suspend.

“If the baitfish are here, the walleyes will be too.  If you put a crankbait in front of them, they’ll hit.”

Staring at his electronics, Jarman saw the perfect scenario setting up.  As he trolled in 20 feet of water not far from the river channel, he watched the screen of his depth finder light up with specks of baitfish.  The occasional mark of a gamefish also showed up.

“The walleyes are scattered right now,” said Jarman, 65, who lives in the town of Stockton and operates the Specialized Guide Service.  “They’re just out here chasing shad.

“That’s why I like to troll.  Instead of sitting on one point, I can cover a lot of water this way.”

Approaching an area where a long point extended into the flat, Jarman felt something jolt the Bandit crankbait he was trolling through the Bic Sac arm of the Ozark reservoir.

When the fish stayed down, Jarman knew he had a walleye.  Moments later, he tossed that keeper into a live well already splashing with fish.

Hot weather, hot fishing.  That’s Jarman’s formula for success.  Though he fishes for walleyes year-around at Stockton, he knows the fishing doesn’t necessarily come to a halt when the heat arrives.

From early June to mid-October, he trolls for walleyes far off shore, and he and his guides clients routinely catch limits.  Jarman himself has caught fish up to 6 pounds trolling.

There is a science to his approach.  He doesn’t merely pull into open water and start trolling. He tries to keep his crankbaits cutting through the water over main-lake structure.

“I’m looking anything where there is a change in the bottom,” he said.  “Main-lake or secondary points, drop-offs, humps – that’s what walleyes will relate to in the summer.”

Jarman likes to troll with 60 to 70 feet of line out.  He uses 10-pound test and trolls at two miles per hour.  He wants to keep his crankbaits 10 to 12 feet down in water that is at least twice that deep.

“Walleyes will always come up to hit a bait,” Jarman said.  “If you troll too deep, you’re not going to catch them.  You have to be in the right zone.”

During the hottest part of summer, Jarman prefers to troll early in the day and in the evening hours.  But he knows that the fish will hit in the middle of the day, too.

He proved it on a recent sultry day in the Ozarks.  He, White and I caught enough walleyes to make a meal.  And there was a bonus.  We also caught about 20 white bass, several big crappies and a couple of keeper largemouth bass.

But such results aren’t unusual.  Jarman and his clients have been catching limits (four walleyes 15 inches or longer) of walleyes regularly in the June heat.

For Jarman, that’s just one more trick in his trade.  After guiding on Stockton since shortly after it opened in 1969, he knows where to find the sharp-toothed gamefish.

He also knows that he is fishing on the right reservoir. Stockton has long been recognized as one of Missouri’s top walleye spots, thanks to regular stockings by the Department of Conservation.

Jarman’s favorite method is to use suspending stickbaits in the early spring. He caught a 10-pound, 4-ounch walleye in March several years ago.

But he doesn’t stop fishing when the weather turns hot and humid.  He knows he can tie on a small crankbait such as a Bandit and stay on the move.

Hot Fish Bite in the Rainy Ozarks

  • Bass, Crappie, Trout Turning On
  • Guides and Resort Owners Report GOOD Catches
  • High Water Offers Some Silver Lining

By Brent Frazee

Though Table Rock Lake has dealt with flooding since late April, guides such as Buster Loving and their clients have still enjoyed good bass fishing.

April showers brought more than May flowers in the Ozarks.  They brought near-record flooding and a mess that residents are still trying to clean up.

That’s the bad news.

There’s also plenty of good news.

Though reservoirs such as Truman, Table Rock and Taneycomo are still high, guides and resort owners report that the fishing has been surprisingly good.  If anything, they say, the floods may have helped the fishing.

And then there’s the long-term outlook.  Fisheries biologists with the Missouri Department of Conservation say that high-water springs usually result in boom year-classes of fish because of the added cover in which fry can hide from predators.

“We’re certainly not minimizing the hardships the high water has brought for many residents,” said Brian Canaday, chief of fisheries for the Missouri Department of Conservation.  “But some of our largest year-classes of fish have come in these flood years.  So this wasn’t a bad thing as far as the fish were concerned.”

At Table Rock Lake, a 43,100-acre reservoir near Branson, Mo., the water level reached almost the top of flood pool in late April after almost 10 1/2 inches of rain in a three-day period.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing water ever since.

It is now down to 11 feet above normal and some boat ramps are still hard to access.  But those who have been able to get on the lake have found good bass fishing.

Buster Loving, a longtime guide on Table Rock, has guided his customers to some impressive catches throughout May.

 “The bass were in the process of spawning when the high water hit, and they didn’t move,” Loving said. “For the most part, they stayed where they had fanned out their nests.

“I’m fishing the old banks. Those places might have been in 10 to 12 feet before, and they went to 25 to 30 feet after the water came up. But the fish have still been there.”

Loving remembers years when the high water hit before the spawn and the bass would pioneer into newly flooded cover.

“I won back to back tournaments one year when the lake was flooded,” Loving said. “The fish were in flooded campgrounds, around buildings and lantern holders and in green yards.

“But I haven’t seen that as much this spring.”

The huge releases from Table Rock into Lake Taneycomo caused some nervous times for resort owners, residents and fishermen for a time.  But now that release rates have slowed to a fishable rate, trout fishermen are finding excellent fishing. They’re even catching some fish not normally found in the nationally known trout lake that were flushed out of Table Rock.

“I’ve never seen so many smallmouth bass caught,” said Phil Lilley, who owns Lilley’s Landing Resort and Marina in Branson, Mo. “And the trout fishing from the dam to the Lookout area has been really good.”

“We’re seeing lots of 20-inch rainbows and more browns than normal, too.”

Lilley isn’t surprised. Every time high water hits at Taneycomo, an abundance of shad is flushed from Table Rock into Taneycomo and it sets off a feeding spree among the trout.

White jigs, shad flies, drift rigs and spoons have been the most effective lures.

The fishing has also been good at Truman Lake, the 55,600-acre reservoir in west-central Missouri that was hit hard by flooding.  As of May 18, the water level was still 20 feet above normal pool, but guides such as Jeff Faulkenberry are still helping their clients catch limits of crappies.

“The crappie spawn was about over when the water came up,” said Faulkenberry, who runs the Endless Season Guide Service. “The fish just followed the water into the new cover.

“You have to move around to find them; they’re not bunched up in one place.  But if you stay on the move and fish the green bushes, you can catch a limit.  The key is finding the schools of shad and fry.”

The biggest problem at Truman?  Access.  With the lake still high, some of the boat ramps are inaccessible.

But a few are open and others will be as the water continues to fall.  Go to the website http://www.nwk.usace.army.mil/Locations/District-Lakes/Harry-S-Truman-Lake/Daily-Lake-Info-2/ for up-to-date information on facilities.

 

 

Spring Fever, a Highly Contagious Disease in Missouri

  • Turkey Hunting
  • Crappie Fishing, Bass Fishing
  • Exploring, Camping, Hiking, Canoeing
  • Morel Hunting
This is the time of the year when wild turkeys cause a Missouri hunter’s heart to race.

By Brent Frazee

Once the weather warms, the fish and wild turkeys start stirring, morels starting popping up, the redbud and dogwoods trees bud out.

It’s time to head outdoors!

Where? Here are some places in Missouri where spring is in full display.

  1. TURKEY HUNTING AT TRUMAN LAKE: This massive reservoir in west-central Missouri also has a massive chunk of public land surrounding it. It attracts a lot of hunters, but then, there are a lot of turkeys hiding in the heavy timber.  Hunters who do best get away from the crowds.  A tip: Scout by boat and get back into areas often accessible only by water.  Once you locate birds, slip into the area the next morning, beach your boat and set up in a likely looking strut zone.  It’s work, but it can pay off.
  2. CRAPPIE FISHING AT SMITHVILLE LAKE: The crappies at this reservoir near Kansas City generally spawn a little later than they do at places such as Truman or Lake of the Ozarks.  But fishermen with patience can find outstanding fishing.  The peak of the spawn at Smithville generally takes place in early May.  And it can be outstanding.  Fishermen in coves fish from the bank and boat to catch stringers of big fish.

    As guide and lure manufacturer Jim Dill can attest, Lake of the Ozarks is a hot spot for spring bass fishing.
  3. BASS FISHING AT LAKE OF THE OZARKS: This big reservoir in central Missouri is an old-timer, but it continues to produce amazing bass fishing. A 10-pound bass was caught last spring and many fish exceeding the 5-pound mark have already been caught this year.  Head to the back of coves and pockets with gravel banks and look for spawning beds.  Use Senkos or Flukes and target the nests the bass have built.  Then hold on.
  4. WHITE-BASS RUN AT OZARK RESERVOIRS: Ozark reservoirs such as Table Rock, Bull Shoals, Stockton and Pomme de Terre are nationally known for their spring white-bass fishing. When the water warms and there is enough flow in rivers, the whites head up the tributaries to spawn.  Hit it right, and you can experience some fantastic fishing.  But you better hurry.  The run is in full force, and it generally only lasts several weeks.
  5. EXPLORING AT ECHO BLUFF STATE PARK: This state park captures the rugged beauty of the Missouri Ozarks at its finest. One of the newest additions to the Missouri State Park system, it is carved out of a wilderness-type setting with thick timber, rock formations and a scenic creek.  The state park features a luxury lodge at the edge of Sinking Creek and Echo Bluff, for which the parks was named.  But for the more adventurous, there are plenty of campsites, hiking trails and a chance to view unusual wildlife such as wild horses.  The landscape is alive in the spring with blooming redbud and dogwood trees.

    Echo Bluff State Park in the Missouri Ozarks offers breathtaking scenery and plenty of options for outdoor recreation in the spring.
  6. CAMPING AT BENNETT SPRING STATE PARK: One of Missouri’s oldest state parks, Bennett is also one of the most popular parks in the state.  The main attraction, of course, is the trout fishing.  The Department of Conservation stocks the stream with trout each day of the season, and the fishing is outstanding.  Many visitors like to stay in campgrounds, either pitching a tent or staying in an RV just a long cast away from the beautiful trout stream.  The park also has cabins for rent,
  7. PADDLEFISH SNAGGING AT TABLE ROCK LAKE: Want to catch the fish of a lifetime? Try Table Rock Lake during the paddlefish snagging season, which lasts through the end of April.  The James River arm is loaded with big fish.  In fact, the last two state records, both fish exceeding 100 pounds, came from Table Rock.
  8. HIKING AT JOHNSON’S SHUT-INS STATE PARK: This state park, set in the St. Francois Mountains of eastern Missouri south of St. Louis, is filled with geological wonders. The shut-ins got their name from a portion of the Black River where the rushing current flows through a maze of boulders and rocks, creating a series of mini waterfalls and pools.  That makes it one of the most popular swimming spots in Missouri.  All access points to the shut-ins are temporarily closed due to high water, but that should ease as spring progresses.  A trail system provides beautiful views for everyone from those seeking a short outing to backpackers who desire a long-distance trek.
  9. CANOEING ON THE CURRENT RIVER: This beautiful, clear-water Ozark’s river is often jammed with canoes and kayaks in the middle of summer. But it shows its peaceful side in spring, especially on weekdays.  The steep hillsides are splashed with the pink of redbuds, the white of dogwoods, and the green of other trees.  Bluffs glisten in the spring sun and the gurgle of riffles add to the solitude.  Canoe-rental businesses are available in Eminence, Van Buren and Akers Ferry as well as other locations along the river.
  10. MOREL HUNTING: Once the weather warms and a few timely rains add moisture to the woods, these tasty mushrooms start popping up and set off a giant treasure hunt.  Morel hunting has become a popular pastime unto itself, with thousands of Missourians taking to the woods each spring.  Most public and federal lands with timber have morels.  You just have to beat others to them once they pop up.

 

Giant Paddlefish Make “Show-Me” Memories

By Brent Frazee

Welcome to fishing’s version of blue-collar labor.

Giant Paddlefish from Missouri waters are fun to catch, but any good fisherman won’t complain about the sore muscles. Brent Frazee Photo

You won’t find wrapped bass boats, glitzy weigh-in ceremonies or fishing jerseys filled with patches here.

Neither will you find bait buckets, ultralight rods or tackle boxes filled with the latest lures.

When you go paddlefish snagging, life is really quite simple. You rig up with the biggest rods and reels, weights and treble hooks you own, and you go trolling.

The object? To hit a giant snag, one of the biggest fish roaming Missouri waters.

“It isn’t easy work,” said Tracy Frenzel of Kirbyville, Mo., who guides for paddlefish on Table Rock Lake. “After you spend a couple hours jerking those big hooks through the water, you feel it in your back, your shoulders, your arms.

“But once you hook up with one of those monsters, you forget about all of that.”

That’s the lure that draws thousands of fishermen to Table Rock, Lake of the Ozarks and Truman lakes each spring.  They dream of catching one of the biggest, baddest fish residing in Missouri.

 How big? Well, the Missouri state record, caught in 2015 at Table Rock, weighed 140 pounds, 9 ounces. Before that, the mark stood at 139 pounds, 4 ounces. That fish also was snagged at Table Rock, in 2002.

Are there bigger ones out there? Frenzel would like to think so.

At this time of the year, he is busy guiding clients in the paddlefish-rich waters of the James River arm of Table Rock, hoping to get them into one of those dream fish.

Because paddlefish are filter feeders and eat primarily plankton, Frenzel leaves the lures and bait buckets home.  This is “mano to fish” type of fishing.  You snag them and winch them in, or you go home.

Frenzel and others slow-troll big treble hooks and weights through the water and hope to be in the right place at the right time.

”It can be a game of millimeters,” Frenzel said. “You can be dragging those big hooks through the water and be just inches away from the fish, and you’d never know it. “

The new fish locators increase the odds, Frenzel said.  They etch a clear picture of a paddlefish, with its big snout, on the screen.  Then it’s a matter of getting lucky enough to hook up with one of those fish.

Frenzel knows the excitement of catching a 100-pound fish.  He took his family snagging several years ago, when he felt his hooks come to an abrupt halt.

“I was steering the boat with one arm, snagging with the other,” Frenzel said. “It hit so hard that it hyperextended my elbow.

“I fought that fish for 25 minutes, but I was finally able to get it in.  I was out of commission because of my elbow for the next few days, but it was worth it.”

Frenzel has guided customers to big fish, too.  A couple earlier this spring had a day to remember.

“The woman had never been snagging before,” Frenzel said.  “She ended up snagging an 80-pound paddlefish.  Her husband had been before, but he said he had never caught anything that big.”

Frenzel said the best paddlefish snagging is just starting.  With the recent rains that have created flow in Table Rock’s tributaries and the rising water temperatures, the big females are just starting to make their spawning run.

The snagging season on Table Rock and its tributaries runs through April 30, so there is plenty of time.

Snaggers can thank the Missouri Department of Conservation for the big fish they are chasing.  At one time, Missouri had a self-sustaining population of paddlefish, but once the dams went in, they blocked the fish’s spawning migrations and populations dipped.

The Department of Conservation compensates for those losses by raising thousands of fish in their hatcheries and stocking them in Table Rock, Lake of the Ozarks and Truman.

Missouri is now known nationally for its snagging opportunities and the sport continues to grow in popularity.

“I remember when I was a kid and my uncle would show me pictures of fish he snagged,” Frenzel said. “They were only 30 pounds or so, but I thought they were giants.

“Now, we regularly catch fish 50, 60 pounds and some bigger.”

For information on Frenzel’s Guide Service, go to the website www.fishingbranson.com or call Frenzel at 417-699-2277