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.

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.