For over twenty years I've been a catch and release fisherman. Not out of any kind of ideal or noble artistic fishing sense, but because I'm lazy and don't really like killing things I don't have to. There's no great philosophical reason to it, I'm just kind of a wuss in that area. My five-year-old daughter has no such misgivings and has been pressing me to bring home fish to eat from one of my trips for quite a while. This weekend I caved-in and cleaned my first bass in a very long time.
Friday evening, after work, I loaded my gear, kissed the Mrs. and kiddo and headed an hour out of Springfield to Stockton Lake State Park Marina. I put the kayak in the water and paddled around the marina periphery, casting the banks as I went. I caught a small bass on the first cast. I caught the only keeper of the weekend on the second cast. But, I had a lot of fun, since I probably caught another 30-35 fish before I headed home on Saturday afternoon. Friday evening I was bringing them in nearly every third or fourth cast. It was nice. None were crappie, but I did see some in the shallows by the safety of the docks and "no fishing" signs. Eventually I put the rod away and just bobbed around watching the sunset, before calling it, cleaning the bass and then hunting down a campsite for the night. In camp, the stars really came out. The city of Stockton doesn't cast much ambient light on the lake and the skies were very clear. I even saw a shooting start before finishing my dinner, smoking my pipe and turning in.
Up Saturday morning early to the sound of light rain on the car windows and kayak skin, I sleep in my car a lot when car camping. I was on the road before the sun was completely up. I drove around the lake to Masters Park and hung out trying to determine how bad the storm would be and if it would pass in a reasonable amount of time to get back on the water. I made coffee and oatmeal in the parking lot and cracked open a pack of beef jerky. Breakfast of cham-peens, I tell you.
The storm rolled in hard and electrical. I opted not to be BBQ'd and headed into Stockton for a place to hole-up and wait out the weather. I settled on the Orleans Trail Marina/Resort bar and restaurant. I had a second breakfast of steak and eggs while reading a Missouri Department of Conservation article on crappie fishing and watching the wind rip rain across the lake in sheets from my table and adjacent window. The wait staff was really nice and kept a steady stream of coffee coming to my table. My only other company consisted of a two tables of retirees talking about Germany with slight German accents. I don't hear that much anymore, since moving to the Midwest. Where I grew up in southwest Florida you hear it all the time.
I left the restaurant and put my boat in just below at the launch ramp, paddled out past the multitude of large production sailboats and fished the protected coves around them. I caught a bunch of small bass and saw several other fisherman trolling for crappie, staring down at their depth/fish finder screens. Blue herons and ospreys occasionally leapt to the air from dead trees along the bank, sometime noisily protesting my approach. I also saw goldfinches fluttering through shrubs along the shore. The wind changed direction and started blowing right down the cove I was fishing, so I paddled in and moved back to Masters Park launch area.
At Masters I saw a lot of evidence of crappie in the form of cleaned fish bodies in the water by the launch ramp. Several large catfish were taking advantage of the handout. I put my kayak in the water and started working the bank immediately to the right and downwind of the ramp. I had a huge catfish swim under the boat in about five feet of water. I cast for it and something bit! I'm thinking, "Shit! What am I going to do with a big catfish on my kayak?" as I'm fighting a fish that is behaving like a rock that is trying to move away from me. After a half minute fight, I get the fish to the boat and it's what I think is a carp. Turns out that it was a freshwater drum. I'd never seen one before, but was told by a friend that that's what I had caught. I had the drag set pretty low and it fought like mad.
A few more small bass and I called it a day about 4PM. Drove back to town and met the family for dinner after chucking the fish in the fridge, washing my hands and changing into clothes that didn't smell like a raccoon's breath. When we got home, I fried up the fish I had brought home and a happy five-year-old attacked it. I even got my wife, who hates seafood even more than I do, to try it. We all agreed it was good and we could make a meal of it, if I ever catch any in great enough quantity.