Missouri has long been one of my favorite states to fish in. It's the first state I took long distance specimen collection trips to, where I caught my first Darters and Gar and an all around damn fine place to be. The states almost unfathomable fishiness and stunning natural beauty warped my mind in the best way possible, forever changing the course of my life. One of the cornerstones of this amazing fishery is diversity. Missouri is home to over two hundred and thirty species of fish including nearly forty species of darters, eight species of sunfish, four of the five North American gar species, three of the four Ambloplites species and a plethora of other finned opponents to test against your tackle and skills. This amazing biodiversity is a direct result of the states unmatched geographic diversity. The northern part of the state, known as the Glaciated Till Planes are a series of grassy rolling hills and plains. This region is dominated by farm fields and pasture ranging from totally flat to so hilly that east to west travel is made extremely obnoxious and slow. The water in this area is mostly small muddy rivers and creeks dominated by Shortnose gar small sunfish and shiners. There are also a FEW small man made lakes stocked with pan fish and bass, some of which freeze enough in the winter to offer some Ice Fishing. This region is bordered by the Alluvial Planes of the Mississippi and Missouri River, lowland areas consisting of the main river, its back waters and the surrounding land. These two rivers are home to a smorgasbord of cool fish including some that are extremely rare as well as some certified monsters. The smaller of these two rivers The Missouri River is responsible for both the state record Flathead(99 pounds) and Blue(130 lbs) catfish, Longnose gar nearing if not over six feet in length and plus size specimens of almost every species that swims it's waters. The Missouri River flows south from Iowa and Nebraska forming the Missouri-Nebraska border until it makes a sharp turn east at Kansas city. It then continues its easterly flow cutting across the entire state until its confluence with the mighty Mississippi which forms Missouri's eastern border with Illinois. South of the Missouri River the lowlands give way to the Ozark Highlands sometimes called the Ozark Mountains. The Ozarks highlands are by far the most biodiverse of the regions and are home to not only a lot of the species found in the larger rivers but scores of others including nearly a dozen that are endemic to the region. Colorful Darters and Longear sunfish often live alongside Gar and buffalo in the gin clear rocky streams that meander through this mountainous region. The amount of minnow species that call this area home is overwhelming, many of them with striking vibrant colors not unlike fishes of the tropics. It's truly a micro fishing paradise. In the south east corner of Missouri the Ozarks fade into another lowland region known as the Bootheel. Part of the Mississippi river alluvial plane, this region is home to a variety of species only found in this corner of Missouri and not common in the region. These species include but are not limited to Flier, Chain pickerel, Banded Pygmy Sunfish and Redspotted sunfish. Alligator gar are even found here occasionally. The land is criss crossed with drainage ditches dug by foundering lumber companies at the turn of the century and is mostly farm fields. However, there are small patches of the natural cypress swamp that have been restored and maintained by USFW. You could spend a lifetime fishing any of these areas and never unlock all of its secrets or tire of the fishing. Any one of these areas would be great destination for a weekend fishing trip as well. The problem is, sometimes you want to visit all of these regions in a weekend, that's when things can get hairy. Of course, that's exactly what I intended to do on this trip. it would be a fast and messy sprint across the state, no time for lollygaging or sights seeing could be afforded. It was to be a "fishin' mission" as they say.. The projected forecast was abysmal with nothing less than a sixty percent chance for electrical storms the entire time I was to be there. My friend Teddy desperately wanted to accompany me but could only be gone for a few days due to prior engagements. By prior engagements I mean he has a girlfriend, a girlfriend who may or may not have already been pissed about a certain excursion. I might also add that when I say "desperately wanted to accompany me" I may mean something more like grudgingly agreed to drive his new mid sized SUV on a half cocked, last minute death rally that he could not possibly understand the scope or severity of. I really wanted to go to Missouri, having not been there in years but the weather and limited fishing time alloyed made even me feel like this might be a fools errand. I sent my usual Missouri travel partner Blueye a message explaining the situation and asking for advice. It wasn't long before he responded with a graph of the Missouri River's flow level and a short note saying that it was perfect conditions for fishing and I should give it a shot. Not feeling any more reassured about the situation I asked if he had looked at the forecast. "It's summer, she gon' piss." was his response. He added that we had fished in conditions very similar to these many times and still had gotten into plenty of fish. Still apprehensive but slightly emboldened, I decided to throw caution to the wind and pull the trigger. Preparation for this trip was minimal and frenzied. Luckily I'm very familiar with the area's I wanted to visit so planning was minimal. I knew exactly where I was going and exactly what I was after. My first stop would be In Iowa at a small lake off the I35 corridor named Nine Eagles Lake. The lake is home to the Redear Sunfish and happens to be where I caught my first one years ago. My next intended area would be The Missouri River and its tributaries south of Kansas city for Short and Longnose gar, buffalo and Blue catfish. After that my plan was to head into the Ozark highlands after Ozark bass, Shadow bass, and Longear sunfish. If I managed to get that far without some sort of major catastrophe I wanted to finish out my time in the SE lowlands, an area near and dear to this roughfishermans heart. We left Minnesota later than planned and road work on I35 south delayed us even more. As we traveled south blackish grey skies began to let loose a light drizzle, this seemed to unnerve Teddy even though I had told him it was going to rain. He asked if I was sure this was a good Idea. I just laughed. By the time we were in Southern Iowa near Nine Eagles State Park, it had increased to a full out downpour. I knew there would be more chances for a Redear during the trip and opted to keep pushing for Kansas City. The rain was supposed to quit after dark giving me hope for some decently comfortable fishing that evening. Hours passed and the downpour continued relentlessly, by now my companions nerves were shot. We stopped off the freeway for supplies at one point and were almost unable to get fishing licenses because the local Wal-mart had locked its doors with customers still inside due to a tornado warning in the area. The cashier who sold us the licenses chuckled at our plans warning us of flash flooding near the area we intended to fish. Ignoring all of these things we pressed on toward Kansas city. We arrived in KC just after dark, the rain had slowed to a drizzle by now and the first things we seen upon entering the town were a Super 8 and a Waffle House. Two very welcome sights. We checked into a room, unloaded excess gear and hit the waffle house to fuel up and boost our moral. By the time we finished our greasy breakfast food the rain had completely stopped and we were both feeling much better about the situation. We set out to a spot that I had fished before, just downstream from a wing dam. The river was high but still fishable. I was relived but at the same time worried about how long it would take for the river to swell to the point of being totally effed. I scrambled to get my bottom rigs out as quick as possible, slipping and sliding in the greasy mud of the wet banks. I decided to put one of my rods a little further down the bank which involved walking through shoulder high soaking wet grass. By doing this I not only got sopping wet but also angered a battalion of mosquitoes who had apparently been sleeping there before I so rudely tramped through. Despite the Mosquitoes and mud I was ecstatic to be fishing The Missouri River again. She is a fickle mistress who is seldom good to me, often shutting me down completely but these are the kinds of relationships I usually peruse with fervor. My affair with the Missouri is no exception and I couldn't help smiling defiantly at the river as I got my last rig out. "I'm back you hooker" I whispered to the muddy water as I surveyed the monstrous rising river. Not long after I had gotten My last rig out I had my first bite. It turned out to be the first of many Shovelnose sturgeon I would catch that evening.
An hour or so passed with the bite remaining steady, all of the fish caught being Shovelnose. Teddy had a few solid rips on his cat rod but couldn't seem to hook up with anything. I suspect gars were the culprits but wasn't able to see any in the muddy and increasingly debris filled water. The river was rising at an exponential rate at this point and we were continually being pushed back into the parking lot as the river swallowed the boat launch before our very eyes. It started raining again. Full sized trees bobbed down river at warp speed, one of them taking my farthest downstream rod with it. Before I had time to curse the rod went airborne and flew into the raging river. The bite had stopped long ago and Teddy hinted that it was time to go. It was once again time to accept defeat at the hands of my muddy mistress. This river is, to say the least, unimpressed by me, but despite its outward distaste for my presence I vowed to return in the morning and give it another shot. I was soaking wet, covered with mud and happy when I left the launch that night, knowing I had given it my best shot. We returned to our hotel to find every city cop on duty a few rooms down breaking up some kind of wild multi party domestic disturbance. As I was carrying my gear up the open air stair case to the second floor I heard one of the people being questioned heatedly say something about a crazy stripper being responsible for starting it. The cop responded with an amused chuckle as I closed the door to our room.
In the Morning we arrived at the boat launch to find it gated off with a large closed sign in case someone didn't get the point. We tried another access down stream but found the same style of gate and sign blocking our way. The River was totally destroyed, my hopes at a second shot crushed. Annoyed but not surprised, I decided to head to some drainage canals off of the main river I had fished last time I was in the area and it had flooded. The first spot we checked was the area I caught my first Shortnose gar. I had also caught small catfish and carp as well as observed Silver carp and Gizzard shad here. We arrived to find that the spot had totally dried up, six foot tall grass grew in the old creek bed and not a drop of standing water was to be found. Stunned and increasingly nervous at what else the fishing gods might have in store for us we drove to the next spot. This was a larger canal closer to the main river where I had observed gars and caught my first White perch.
After a short drive we arrived at the bridge crossing and were relieved to find not only water but a gang of Shortnose gar patrolling the surface for food. We immediately returned to the car and got rigged up for gar. When fishing for Shortnose gar I like to use eight to twelve pound test, no weight and a size four four or six hook tipped with natural bait. Sometimes I attach a small float a few feet up my line just so I can see where the fish is going after it takes my bait. My preferred baits are small live minnows or small strips of cut bait but even a night crawler will work in a pinch. Gar hate everything and if they see something they can fit in their mouth that is alive, used to be alive or even could have possible been alive at one time it will eat it. The best way to bring out this instinct is to put your bait right in their face. This bridge allowed me a perfect elevated position to put this technique into action. I walked along the top of the bridge looking for a big fat mean shorty and was not disappointed. A plus sized Shortnose was cruising right near the shadow line of the bridge making itself an easy target to present a bait to. I opened my bail and threw my crawler a few feet to the right of its head and slowly moved it across the surface toward the gars face. In true gar fashion it turned toward the night crawler and without the slightest sign of apprehension or remorse snapped its bony jaws around it making the lovely pop that surface feeding gars are known for. I engaged the bait runner on my reel and let it take some line before reeling down and giving it a firm hook set. I felt the fishes weight and started maneuvering it toward the rip rap below the short bridge so teddy could net it. As it neared the bridge it seen teddy and began thrashing and jumping throwing the hook seconds before ted could get the net under it. This is classic gar angling, when fishing for them I expect about a 2 to 5 ratio on hooked up to landed fish. Teddy seemed more disappointed than me and I assured him it was no big deal. He was the next to hook up about ten minutes later. His fish was a beast of a shorty one of the biggest I have ever seen we both were nervous while it was running around mouthing the bait. He finally decided he could wait no more and set into the fish with a big whooping hook set. It immediately sprang from the water thrashing. I grabbed the net and rushed to get in position below the bridge. Teddy was excited to the brink of panic and was shouting commentary on the fishes every move from the top of the bridge. As it neared the rip rap it began a series a frenzied circles the finale of which was a big headed shaking jump that threw the hook from its mouth. Teddy was pale white and shaking from the massive shot of adrenalin that he had just received. We didn't speak for a good ten minutes, both of us in mourning over the loss of this supreme specimen. The commotion caused by the last two fish had scared a lot of the other gars out of the area and I was starting to get worried when I seen another shortnose patrolling the bridge for an easy snack. I lowered my bait into position and It responded with it's rage filled snapping pop crushing the soft crawler in its jaws. I told teddy I had one working and he scurried into position to net the fish. This fish was smaller but still not too shabby, I waited for it to walk away a bit and smacked it. The hook found a soft spot and I was hooked up. I carefully but quickly fought the gar toward the rip rap, Teddy swung with the net and it was over.
After a quick photo OP I set up a small bottom rig and a float rod to try for White perch while Ted tried for a gar. He hooked and lost three more shortnoses and I caught a small carp. We noticed that the water was rising in the canal quicker and quicker, schools of Silver carp moved in from the main river and we even seen a few huge Longnose gar surface before sinking back into the muddy water. Then all activity totally ceased. It seemed the fish had moved up the canal with the rising river. We decided to take a cue from them and keep moving ourselves.
Our next spot was hours away, deep within the Ozark Highlands our quarry the Ozark Bass. The roads through this area are hilly and steep with hair pin corners and no shoulder. If your concentration founders for even a few seconds you may find yourself stuck in a deep rocky ditch. I took over driving at this point and raced as fast as I could through the winding highways toward our destination. The weather changed schizophrenically shifting from sun to a light drizzle then downpour then back to sun. We arrived 20 minutes before dark with a seriously nasty looking thunderstorm looming down on us. I jumped out of the car grabbed, my ultra light panfish rod and scurried into the water downstream over the sharp slick rocks. The creek was higher than normal and the flow made wading the slippery rocks more challenging than usual. The water clarity was poor as well, the run off from the rain had stained the Gin clear stream to a milky brown. This made me more than a little nervous. As I neared the hole where I knew my quarry resided I noticed some commotion down the bank. There was a pack of RV'S lined up and decorated with Christmas lights and a gaggle of rabble rousers pounding beers. Loud country music boomed from somewhere and raucous drunk voices filled the air. A little surprised but unconcerned I finished the wade to the spot and started baiting up. I hadn't even made my first cast when I heard someone trying to get my Attention. "Hey you! Can't be here, this a private creek!" When you are 8 hours from home literally balls deep in a known honey hole this is not the kind of thing you want to hear. This compounded with the fact I had less than 15 minutes of daylight left and possibly even less time before the impending thunderstorm decided to open its flood gates made for an extremely stressful situation. Did I mention the creek was flooded? I pretended I didn't hear them and made my first cast, hoping with every ounce of my aura for an Ozark Bass. As my bait sank to the bottom I felt something pick it up, set the hook and reeled in a small but gorgeous Longear sunfish.
By now there were two angry females on the bank informing me this was a girls only party and that I had better be effing leaving before they called the effing sheriff. I tried to explain I was only after a picture of one Goggle eye and would leave as soon as I made that happen. Teddy was just arriving at this point and his face was a mixture of fear and exhaustion. As I rebaited my hook the exchanges between me and the drunken land owners became more heated. I made a cast to the middle of the hole felt it hit the bottom. As I pleaded for clemency under an onslaught of curses I got a bite. With bated breath I reeled in the fish. Please let it be an Ozark I thought, I can't take this much longer. Apparently the Ozark bass living in the hole were sick of the noise as well and one had decided to take one for the team and help get me out of there.
As I took pictures of the fish I told my hecklers I had what I needed and was leaving, "Effin right you are." Was their goodbye. Teddy had decided he didn't need to catch a fancy rock bass and had already high tailed it back to the car. We wasted no time leaving and sped off east toward our next target area the Current River near Eminence. My target another Ambloplties species the Shadow bass.
We arrived at Akers Ferry near midnight and as we descended into the river valley we were greeted by a thick pea soup fog. Teddy had long since passed out and refused my offer to join me for a short late night session before we went to our campsite at Pulltite Camp Ground a few miles away. I told him suit yourself, grabbed my headlight a rod for bottom rigging and an ultra light with a sixteenth oz jig attached to it. I got my bottom rig out first and then went work jigging around the base of the ferry in search of a shadow bass. I noticed an area halfway down on the upstream side of the ferry that was collecting a large pool of scum. it looked the perfect place for a fish to be hiding and I made my first cast there. The bait had only sank inches when I felt a quick and powerful strike and had a good sized fish hooked up. As I worked it closer to me I was surprised to find that it was a nice sized Rainbow Trout.
Luckily I had parked the car right next to the ferry and was able to wake up Ted for a few quick pictures. After I photo'd and released the trout I went to work trying to jig around the base of the ferry. I didn't have my bait in the water long when the bell on my bottom rig went off. I set down my ultra light and set the hook. I could feel a very small fish frantically kicking back and forth, it turned out to be a big Knobfin sculpin a lifer for me.
I got my bottom rig back out and decided to try jigging closer to shore where the water was calmer. On my third or fourth drop on the upstream side of the ferry near shore I connected with a fish, a small Shadow bass this time, my intended target.
By this time teddy had left the car and was walking along the bank of the river admiring the lime stone gradient and gin clear water. He told me he seen some kind of fish in the rocks and to come check it out, it turned out to be a big Knobfin. I borrowed him my rod and he easily sight fished it under the light of his head lamp. He was happy to have finally caught a fish even if it was a micro and it seemed to raise his spirits.
Having already captured what I was after in less than an hour, I decided to make the jump east to Poplar Bluff that night instead of waiting until morning. I like to do this when I can because waking up to your target area is so much better than waking up to a drive.The problem with this is that sometimes finding lodging late at night far from home can be less than a piece of cake. We arrived in poplar bluff around 2 am to find all of the hotels in town fully booked. After an hour of searching we gave up and drove to the Wappapello State Park to set up camp even though it was threatening to pour at any time. A very similar sequence of events had taken place the last time I was in this area and had ended with me waking up after 3 hours of sleep to a torrential downpour. This time I was a bit luckier and was allowed 4 hours of sleep and was woken by screaming children instead. Not the most pleasant alarm clock, but better than waking up soaking wet and trying to dry your tent out the next day. Despite my lack of sleep and rude awakening I was wide awake and excited for the days fishing. I had been to this area a few times before and was well aware that it was a veritable fish vortex. This time I also had a secret weapon, a local fishing wizard who I had recently befriended Tyler Goodale. Before we met online I had seen this mans pictures in the local bait shop, he is a local legend responsible countless trophy catches including the state record Spotted sucker. We made plans to meet up at the Wappapello spillway, a dam on lake Wappapello an impoundment of the St. Francis river. My plan was to try there for white crappies and buffalo and then head to Mingo Swamp a few miles down the road after a number of species this special area calls home. Mingo National Wildlife Refuge is a 21,000 acre tract of land that when purchased by the USFW in 1945 was a logged off burnt wasteland infested with feral pigs and cattle. Since its purchase it has been restored back to it's once stunning beauty and is home to a variety of native flora and fauna . The most interesting of these in my opinion being the fishes, many species who are usually restricted to drainages further south and east are plentiful here.These species include Chain Pickerel, Flier, Bantam Sunfish and Banded Pygmy Sunfish among others. There are also huge Bowfin and Gar here, Spotted gar being abundant. It was only 10 am and already hot and when Tyler arrived at the spillway. I was taking cover in the shade fishing some submerged bushes for crappies not having any luck. He greeted me with a smile and I immediately liked him.We had already talked quite a bit before this meeting and it felt more like meeting an old friend than a stranger. He wasted no time asking what I wanted to fish for. I told him that I wasn't having luck with the Crappies and was thinking about going to Mingo for Spotted gar and the chance for a Chain pickerel. He shook his head no with a knowing smile and told me that the water in Mingo was low and that he hadn't seen any Spotted gars when he was there yesterday. This was shocking to me since every time I had gone there the area had been teeming with gar. "Did ya check the ditch spillways?" I asked sheepishly knowing full well the answer. He said that he had and that there were zero gar hanging out. This was more than a little disappointing to hear. He could tell I was less than excited by his news and assured me it was no big deal. He told me that all of the big Gar lived in the Main river anyway and that catching one would be a piece of cake. He told me to follow him upstream a bit and I did. We set up on the rip rap bank below the spillway in rough fast current. Not exactly the type of place I'm used to fishing for gar. By the time I had tied up one of the tandem hook three way rigs he uses to fish the snaggy fast water of the spillway he had already netted a couple dozen Gizzard Shad and was offering one to me for bait. I asked if he had a knife and he told me to use it whole. I looked at the fat four inch Gizzard shad and then at him with a look like you must be crazy. I had bought a few dozen Rosy Reds (neon colored crappie minnows) from the local bait store and had planned to use those. The bait he was suggesting I use was way bigger than anything I would have ever dreamed of using for Gar especially Spotted. He laughed and assured me that there were Gar large enough to eat the shad in my hand without a problem in good numbers right where I stood. I had fished this area before but never for gar, always opting to hunt for them in the skinny water of Mingo. I was a bit skeptical but mostly intrigued. I followed his lead and cast my shad into the rushing water of the spillway and held it to wait for a bite. I doubt 20 minutes pass before I felt a sharp thump and something started to head upstream with my shad. I gave it line and waited for it to get the shad well within its mouth before giving it a mean hook set. I thought that it was a nice sized catfish at first because of the weight and was floored when I seen that it was one of the largest spotted gar I had ever laid eyes on. I freaked, this fish was a beast and I thought for sure it would find some way to throw my hook. Luckily before it had time to pull any stunts Tyler snatched it out of the water with his bear hands and handed it to me with a smile. I grabbed the fish in a death grip with both hands, cut the line with my teeth and jogged a safe distance away from the water to take some pictures.
I was still visibly shaking from adrenalin ten minutes later and Tyler laughed when he noticed. All three of us had a few more runs but no one hooked up again. The heat from the sun had gone from annoying to full on oppressive and I asked about the possibility of a Chain pickerel in Mingo. He told me he had caught them there but had another spot where it was much easier and held some plus sized specimens. He asked if I was interested in catching a Redspotted sunfish on the way, I let him know I most certainly was having only caught one in my life. As we were packing up and heading to the car I noticed ominous black clouds to the south west the direction we were heading. Here we go I thought, time to eat a shit sandwich. As we raced through the mountain roads sometime in excess of 80 mph, it began to rain and I cursed out loud. I was chain smoking cigarettes, The Dukes of Hazzard theme song and David Allen Coe playing loudly on the stereo. Teddy seemed a bit tense, maybe he was just hungry I thought, after all we hadn't stopped to eat since 10 pm the previous evening. I offered him some of my spicy pork crackling but he declined. Suit yourself I thought and finished the bag in between drags of my cigarettes and two hand necessary turns. It was a good half an hour drive to the next spot and by the time we arrived the rain had stopped. The sun beat down on the wet grass surrounding the tiny muddy creek that possessed our quarry creating sauna like conditions. Tyler warned me that the fish were spooky and I would need to make long casts if I wanted to catch them in the shallow narrow water. Cooked from the sun and foggy from fatigue I struggled to control my casts. When I finally got off some decent cast I started to catch beautifully colored sunfish. the highlight being a pair of Redspotted Sunfish.
I also caught Green, Longear and Dollar sunfish all with striking colors. Teddy had opted to wait in the air conditioned car instead of fishing so we decided to hurry up and head to the next spot. Like always it rained on our way to the next spot. This time I was sure our luck would run out and that I would have to try for a Chain Pickerel tomorrow. The rain stopped well before we got to the spot this time and I was almost fearful at the luck we were having. When is it coming I thought, where's the shit sandwich? I can it smell being made... Who is it for? It has to be me, it must. Never mind I thought best to just keep going and not ask questions. The last few minutes of the drive led us down a steep curvy road to a quiet cobble parking lot surrounded by tall lush deciduous forest. It resembled the Ozarks near Eminence and Licking more than the spots I was used to fishing in this area and was not what I had expected. He told us his preferred lure was a subsurface gliding twitch bait, total French to me a Neanderthal bait fisherman. For once i was happy that Teddy was totally obsessed with bass because he knew exactly what we needed and had plenty. I tied on what to me looked like a normal crank bait in a fire tiger pattern. After tying up we made the short walk through the woods and across a gin clear Ozarkian stream to a sky blue mill pond surrounded by perfectly manicured grass. It looked fake, like some kind of too good to be true hallucination.
I must be dead I thought, this whole day isn't real I must have fallen asleep at the wheel last night. I noticed a small pickerel sunning itself next to shore and was back to reality. There was plenty of space to fish and we all spread out and started fan casting our sections of water. Maybe three or four casts into the session Teddy whooped and hauled a nice sized Chain Pickerel up onto shore. It was a gorgeous fish with very different coloration than the Chain Pickerel I had caught in Pennsylvania years ago with Deftik. I wanted one bad.
I couldn't believe how fast it happened. Tyler had guaranteed us a Chain pickerel at this spot and now I could see why. I made some more casts and had some really nice fish follow my lure only to drop back at the last minute and disappear. I started to get antsy and began to work my way clock wise around the mill pond casting to openings in the vegetation where the fish were hiding. Halfway around the pond, sun still shining it began to pour. I could see Teddy and Tyler across the pond scrambling to secure backpacks and tackle containers so they wouldn't get wet. I took cover below the trees near the edge of the banks and made another cast. Feet from shore a pickerel smashed my lure and after a short tussle I had it in hand. As I raced toward Teddy and Tyler where my backpack and camera were the rain quit.
While we were celebrating and taking pictures I mentioned something to Tyler about the weather. He laughed and told me the local saying is " If ya don't like the weather, stick around, it'll change." "Jesus I guess so.", I replied. We kept fishing for pickerel for at least a half and hour after I caught one but only had follows. It was Mid afternoon and not a great time for pike fishing of any kind. We started discussing other possible targets, my suggestions being Spotted bass and Redear sunfish. He looked thoughtful as he retrieved his jerk bait in a tugging popping motion pausing every few feet to elicit a strike. " You ever caught a Skipjack herring?" he asked. I responded that I most certainly had not and would jump at the chance to try for one. He said he knew a spot where some might be running but that it was a good hour from where we were so we had better get hustling. With a new sense of urgency we set off for the car through the picturesque Ozark river bottom. Both of us were almost out of gas and we were all starving so we made a quick pit stop for food and gas before speeding off like a two car plutonium fueled funeral procession. Light was fading and the sky ahead of us looked less than inviting. Hoping my luck would hold for a few more hours we pressed on into a pretty nasty storm. This time the rain didn't stop before we got to the spot and a we got out of the car into a cold drizzle that threatened to turn into a downpour at any time. The river we were fishing was a tributary of the Mississippi and we were only miles from the confluence. We chose this spot because it was right below a stretch of nasty rapids that create a natural barrier and the swift current skipjacks love. We tied up with pearl colored tube jigs and attached a float two feet up our line to keep the jigs near the surface. I set to work at once casting the rig and quickly retrieving it back popping the float on the surface of the water to attract attention to my lure. The rain stopped for awhile and I thought maybe this would help but I had zero follows or bites. My luck had run out and so had the daylight. Beaten but satisfied with my efforts and catches for the day I retreated to the car as the rain began to drizzle again. Tyler said he was sorry at my luck and I assured him it was no big deal. Schooling baitfish are one of the hardest fish to be consistent with and i wasn't at all surprised that they weren't in. He told me if i really wanted a Skippy that Kentucky Dam was the spot. I duly noted this fact. Back in the parking lot Tyler asked some cat fishermen loading their boat if they had done any good. "Didn't do nothin but pour down rain." was the reply, head bowed and facial expression a mixture of annoyance, exasperation and shame. I felt his pain. We headed back toward Poplar Bluff and by the time we arrived at Wappapello the rain had cleared and it was a calm hot steamy night, perfect conditions for Gar fishing.. We decided to give it a shot and went to work trying to collect bait. Problem is sometimes bait doesn't want to be collected and this was one of those times. Our efforts only produced 3 small shad hardly even worthy of being used and a wrecked cast net. Teddy Used one for bait and caught this small Channel catfish but our plans for gar fishing were abandoned. We were all tired and decided to head back to our respected sleeping areas for some rest.
I woke up the next morning to a text from Tyler saying that he couldn't make it out with us again that morning because of previous engagements with his girlfriend. He apologized and told me not to hesitate to call if i needed help or directions. I told him I was disappointed but understood. We started out the day back at the Wappapello spillway where I caught a small White crappie in short order.
The rest of our day was not as successful. Our first strike out was at Black Duck WMA an extremely sexy lake home to some huge panfish and Bowfin. We were after Redear Sunfish but came up with only bluegill and LMB. I did get a few bites on a float that was set deep that I suspect may have been redears but I will never know. What I do know is that I will be back to this area again.
After giving up on the Redears we tried for the Skippys again. I threw tube jigs around the base of the run for an hour without so much as a nip. I was definitely disappointed and definitely had a grudge against Skipjack herring now.
On our way back to Poplar Bluff Teddy received a series of rapid fire text messages that turned his demeanor grim. He never revealed the contents of these messages but indicated that we had better start heading for home if he wanted one to go back to. I was disappointed but prepared for this scenario. I had really wanted to try an area for Grass carp near St. Louis and Nine Eagles for Redear sunfish in the AM but keeping Teddies genitalia intact seemed like the right thing to do. Tyler texted us asking our plans and we filled him in. He said he was down at the spillway so we met up on our way through for a final goodbye. We found him perched in his gar spot with a bucket of shad, probably a pretty common sight. Saying goodbye to him was like saying goodbye to a brother or good friend who you knew you wouldn't see for awhile I was definitely a sad.
Morale was low and the car was quiet for the first few miles after leaving the dam. We were both anxious exhausted and tired. When I seen the sign for Ted's BBQ I knew it was an omen and had to stop and eat. Ted turned out to be a great guy and even posed for a picture with the other Ted. He also threw in two smoked cheeseburgers with slaw on top for free with our order of shredded pork. Both the burger and shredded pork were delicious.
This much needed boost of our spirits made the car ride home bearable and I was feeling good about what I had accomplished in the short time I had. I was also nervous because of what I didn't get and wondered what certain other fishermen may or may not have caught over the previous days. We were out of the Mountains now and Teddy had resumed driving so my brain had nothing to distract it from the obvious pressing question I had. What next? This short excursion hadn't quelled my appetite for travel and adventure like I hoped it would. In fact it had made it worse, like an ex junkie off the wagon I felt an insatiable lust for fish filled travel and adventure.