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Two early morel mushrooms, with more to come in the next few weeks.

It is time for Missouri's favorite mushroom as people are starting to find gold morels in the woods and fields where they pop up each April. The reasons they are the favorite mushrooms are many, including that they are delicious to eat, easy to identify, can be found for several weeks in April and early May and can be found locally.

As is the case with most fungi, the morel you find is the fruiting body of an organism having a complicated life cycle. It is not like a plant with roots, so it cannot be expected to grow like one. The fruiting body must mature and release spores to complete its life cycle. Size is the least dependable trait to identify. Morels almost always increase in size as they age, but their growth depends on the moisture, temperature and fertility of the soil.

April is usually the peak of the morel season in south Missouri, but there is no accurate way to predict the start or end of the season. The exact length depends on the weather. Hot, dry weather quickly ends the season, while cool, moist weather can prolong the season into May. A couple of years ago I found my last morel on May 10.

In years when soil temperatures warm slowly, the first morels are late, scattered and slow to develop. Should you start the hunt with black morels and end with late morels, you can extend your season to a month or more. For example, I usually find the black morels the last week of March and continue hunting until I find the last mushroom, sometimes as late as mid-May.

As for location, if you rushed ahead to find the secret spots, you may be out of luck. Morels are less predictable than most wild things and their habits are maddening. They often grow where they shouldn't, and they don't grow where they should. You must enjoy the looking as much as the picking, or you will not last long as a morel hunter.

Sadly, a very high percentage of the state's woods and fields contain no morels at all. Many areas that look exactly like spots where you might have had success before may not hold a single mushroom. It is easy to blame your eyesight or arriving too late or too early. Exploring new ground still is fun and often the only option, but recognize it is a long shot. Try to find a forest where you know morels have been found before.

Veteran morel hunters say this season should be a good one because of all the moisture in the ground and with a few warm days and nights those tasty fungi should be popping. I, for one, hope so. Good hunting.

Meanwhile, a fishing trip last Saturday furnished a surprise. While fishing out of Mutton Creek Marina along with Will Wheelock, Springfield, I hooked a crappie, but as I was pulling it in, a big largemouth bass hit the 11 inch crappie and got it stuck in its mouth. Wheelock grabbed his net and scoped up the fish. The bass weighed 6 pounds and along with the crappie, I had two for one catch in the net. To add to the fish story, I managed to catch a limit of 15 big crappie, two bluegill, a three pound walleye and the big bass. It turned out to be a very good fishing trip the day before Easter.

White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in sports as a participant and journalist and. His column appears weekly.

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