Just before daylight last Saturday, lightning lit up the sky and the wind started up and it looked as though a planned walleye trip would be off. However, when the anglers arrived at the Roark Bluff launching ramp they met Bob Butler, as he said, “Are you ready to go fishing?”
As they motored across Stockton Lake, it appeared the storm was headed east and the sky lightened up a little, and with the overcast sky it looked like it might be a good day to catch walleye.
Butler, 53, pulled into a small pocket about 100 yards from the shore in a spot he had been catching fish. His electronics told him there were fish below and on his second cast he felt a tug on his line and then boated the first walleye of the day with a lot more to follow.
“This lake has some great walleye fishing that keeps getting better,” he said. For the past month Butler has found good fishing for walleye. “I have several spots where I always find fish, a lot of them are under the 15-inch length limit, but we have caught some nice ones including a 6-pounder last week.”
After leaving the Kansas City area seven years ago, Butler is on the water at least 50 days a year. His largest walleye so far this year was an 8-pound lunker.
“I first started fishing and camping at Stockton years ago and knew it was the place I wanted to be. It’s a very good fishing lake and not nearly as crowded as some of the other big lakes in the state. Bass, crappie, catfish and bluegill fishing is as good as any lake around,” he said.
The fishing friends were Bob Rogers and Dave Duncan, Jefferson City, on their second trip to Stockton Lake. On their first trip several years ago, they were fishing in a cove when they saw action on the surface in what they thought were white bass feeding. However, after making a cast, to their surprise, they started hooking walleye. Rogers said he had never seen walleye hitting on topwater, but both men along with their guide were pleasantly surprised. They finished up by catching seven keeper walleyes before the action stopped.
Both graduated from Jefferson City High School and played football for the Jays. Rogers manages to fish Stockton a few times a year, usually for bass, but he knew it was the premiere walleye fishery in the state and set out to prove it. However, on the next day he only caught drum while Butler and Duncan, using the same bait, only hooked walleye.
Using a nightcrawler attached to a jig was the killer bait and Butler is a master at loading up a hook with a half worm that produces fish. “Earlier in the year I used jerkbaits and I also used crankbaits, but right now a worm and jig combination is hard to beat,” Butler said.
Not only did they catch keeper walleye, they also caught another eight just under the 15-inch limit. There was plenty of action during the three hours they were on the lake. Along with the walleye, they also had more than a dozen big bluegill, lots of drum, some bass and even a flathead catfish.
In the past, anglers thought walleye fishing was something you go north to do. However, things have changed. Many anglers who used to travel to Canada or Minnesota for walleye fishing now head south to lakes like Stockton and Bull Shoals which hold good populations of walleye. The Missouri record walleye was a 21-pounder taken back in 1988 from Bull Shoals. At Stockton, a 2- or 3-pound walleye is not uncommon.
Butler's favorite way to catch walleye is using a nightcrawler on a jig. There are a lot of lures and live bait used to catch walleye, including frogs and crayfish, but the majority of the time minnows and nightcrawlers are the best producers as well as easier to find in tackle stores. He uses this favorite bait in cold water in the spring, up to the time hunting seasons open. “I don't leave the dock unless I have some nightcrawlers in the boat,” Butler said.
For Ben Butler, fishing Stockton never ends. He is out on the lake in all seasons. “As long as the lake is open, I'll be fishing,” he said. “Some of the best crappie fishing happens in the winter months.”
However, right now Butler is concentrating on the good walleye fishing when catching six or more fish a trip isn't uncommon. “Stockton is the best lake in the state for catching walleye and has been for several years,” he said. “I have caught some big walleye on Bull Shoals, but I don’t have to drive so far when I fish Stockton and I almost always get a few on every trip.”
White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in sports as a participant and journalist. His column appears weekly.