A campsite at Crabtree Cove on Stockton Lake surrounded by high water covering the picnic table. Several campsites are closed for the big holiday weekend due to high water in Stockton, Truman and Pomme de Terre lakes.

Squirrel, bass seasons open Saturday; camping a no-go

With the big unofficial start of the summer outdoor season, campers, boaters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiast are set to take advantage of the holiday. However, hunters like Robert Sawyer, Clinton, are able to get a jump start on the big weekend.

Squirrel season in Missouri starts on the fourth Saturday of May, so Saturday the long season will open with an impressive daily and possession limits. This season hunters can take 10 bushytails. Sawyer is one of the few squirrel hunters who doesn't mind the heavy ground cover, ticks, heat and mosquitos of the early season for a chance to take some squirrels.

“When I'm out there I am thinking about how good it will be to have fried squirrel with biscuits and gravy for breakfast,” Sawyer said. “There are several things I like about early season squirrel hunting including not many other hunters. Last year I never saw another hunter in the woods where I was hunting. I know the number of squirrel hunters are down, but the number of squirrels is up and that makes it good for me.”

The 62 year-old-squirrel hunter got his start when he was 6 years old by following his big brother in the woods.

“I tagged along and learned a lot about squirrel hunting,” Sawyer said. “My brother showed me where to look for the bushytails and what to expect from them. By the time I was in high school, I would spend nearly every weekend in the squirrel woods. Today I don't walk nearly as far as I used to and the hills have grown higher and the trees a lot higher, but I still manage to bag a few squirrels. I still use my .22 rifle and try to hit the target in a place where it won't hurt the meat. It’s a lot easier to shoot one with a shotgun, but when you bite into a pellet, you go back to the rifle.”

Another early season squirrel hunter is George Walker, Oak Grove, who was in the Jackson County woods near Lone Jack last year on opening day.

“It didn't take long to get four reds and two grays,” Walker said. “I had a great start of the season. Although the limit was raised, six squirrels is plenty for me.”

Another season opening Saturday, May 25, is the bass fishing in Ozark streams. Fred Thompson, Springfield, hit the Eleven Point River last year on opening day and caught several smallmouth bass with the largest weighing close to three pounds.

“It was a great way to start the season,” Thompson said. “I had caught several smallmouths earlier but had to release them since the season wasn't open, but I usually would release them anyway. The way they fight, I would like to give other anglers a chance to experience the same feeling I get when a nice bass hits.”

Thompson has caught smallmouths this spring from Stockton, where the state record smallmouth was taken back in 1994. That fish weighed 7 pounds, 2 ounces.

“I know there are some big smallmouth in the lake, but there's nothing like floating down an Ozark stream and catching fish,” Thompson said.

With the first big holiday weekend just ahead, safety is the key to enjoying it to the fullest, so play it safe when in or on the water.

Camping is another big thing over the Memorial Day weekend. This year high water has caused some campsites to be closed. In checking with the Corp of Engineers, I found many sites around the lakes are underwater or close to being surrounded with water.

Terry McGuire, attendant at the Crabtree Camping area on Stockton Lake, said, “This is our third year here at Crabtree. The first year we were here the water covered the road and caused several campsites to be closed. This year we have several that can't be used and should we get a lot more rain, there will be several more closed. Right now, we are full for the weekend."

Other Corp campgrounds have campsites unavailable for the holiday weekend, including Hawker Point with many sites underwater.

“We have 60 campsites that are underwater and with more rain we might have to add to that total,” Rod Hendricks at the Stockton Dam Project Office said. “Both Truman and Pomme de Terre park campgrounds are in worse shape than Stockton due to the high water."

With some decent weather over the big weekend, there will be a lot of outdoor activity going on around area lakes in spite of the high water.

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

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