I met with MDC director Sara Pauley for about 3 hours in the spring and I am afraid it was a waste of my time. But some folks asked what we talked about. I told her that I would publish a full page color story in my magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, which would describe something being done in the way of conservation which would create better hunting and fishing for common people. There has been no response.
Then I asked her to join with me in tackling some conservation projects here in the Ozarks which would make a difference with much cost, since I know they have little money to spend on such projects. (go ahead and laugh). In this column I will discuss the ones she seemed very interested in at the time.
One project is based on the idea that smallmouth bass are being overharvested in a five-mile stretch of river above Pomme De Terre Lake, in the Pomme de Terre River. I know this section of river well, having first fished it back in 1990. I found that sometime in February and early March, smallmouth populations swelled tremendously. Where I might catch a half-dozen brownies in October, there were suddenly days in late February and early March when two of us would catch fifty or sixty in the same two or three miles of river. These were BIG smallmouth. At times we would hook and release perhaps 20 or 30 smallmouth between two and three pounds, and on the same day, eight or 10 from three to four pounds. I have seen such fishing in Canada often, but the best I ever experienced in the Ozarks was in that river section about 6 or 7 years ago when on the last day of February, when spring seemed to come early, a friend and I caught more than 90 bass. Twelve were big largemouth but the rest were brownies. As usual, I kept a couple of largemouth to eat, and released all smallmouth.
About two years ago a group of Mennonite fishermen, a sect from another county, who owned boats and pick-ups, found out about the river fishing to be found there. They started coming there one or two days a week, and I never saw them ever release a bass. They never fished past the sign telling where the lake water ends and the river begin, just on the section of flowing water below it, where 13 inch bass are legal year round. Two springs ago, there were 12 boats there one day and each boat had a wife and several small children. The limit per boat therefore was anywhere from 18 to 30 bass— and as I counted, there were twelve boats. That day I am sure that somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 to 250 smallmouth were taken and kept, plus every white bass they could put in all those boats.
While I know they are good people and the fish mean a lot to them, they kept about everything whether it reached the length limit or not. I have seen these same fishermen keep 10-inch smallmouth on the Niangua.
I proposed to Mrs. Pauley that we work together and close the upper section of that lake where the water is flowing, to any smallmouth fishing at all, for two or maybe three years to see if it makes a difference. I think it still may be possible to see smallmouth thrive there again. The smallmouth in the flowing water below the lake boundary act differently than any brownies I have ever seen anywhere in the Ozarks, and if this project were undertaken I think it would give some of their young fish biologists a great deal of knowledge concerning this fish.
I have a couple of friends who have floated Ozark rivers for more than 50 years, and one of them is a smallmouth float-fishing guide with more experience and knowledge about the fish and it’s habitat than anyone I know. They both attended a meeting held by MDC biologists concerning rivers and smallmouth bass. They both said the same thing… the biologists are too young, too much fixated on studies and books, not nearly enough experience on the river. “If they are the future of the smallmouth in the Ozarks,” one said, “there ain’t no future!”
I would give anything to see something sensible tried on that once-unbelievable smallmouth fishery which would be so simple, so easy and so productive. What they could learn there might be invaluable. But I haven’t heard one single word from Director Pauley nor any MDC fisheries biologist yet. You can read a whole lot more about this in future Lightnin’ Ridge Magazines. Call or write me to get one. Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email email@example.com You may call me at 417-777-5227.
Please contact Mrs. Chrystal Lyerle at 417-926-5148 and thank her for allowing this type of opinion to be heard.