Missouri is a fishing state. Nearly a fourth of the population, encompassing all ages, fishes. They spend millions of dollars on tackle and bait and several billion dollars on services and goods each year. It's a good thing for the state's economy as well as the need for recreation.
Should you ask these Missourians why they fish, the answer usually would be to catch fish and have fun, although the average shows out of ten anglers, one will catch most of the fish. Why? Some may call it luck and sometimes it is, but day after day, know-how is the answer.
Out of all the fish in Missouri waters, the all-star line-up of game fish has to be largemouth bass, white bass, crappie, walleye, bluegill, catfish, muskie and trout. Each species is something special to various anglers. They will all give you a battle as well as good table fare except the muskie, but its good fighting qualities make up for its deficiency in flavor.
Each of these game fish differs from the others in several ways including where they live, what it eats and the pattern for catching. Sometimes even desperation tactics fail to work. Should that happen, you might as well wrap up your tackle and call it just one of those days. You can smile, cuss a little if it helps, but remember even the experts get blanked. Anglers should fish and fish should bite, but not always.
Each species is individual in many ways, so the pattern for catching each will vary with the fish's movements and seasonal habits, as well as feeding periods
You have to be mobile in order to cover a lot of water in a day's time. This doesn't mean being an aquatic hotrodder. If you move around too much too fast, you just catch a lot of water, not fish.
My preference is a 14-foot boat with a 25-horsepower outboard motor. It will purr you around quietly, economically and let you maneuver in spots a larger rig never would make. With such a rig, you can cover the area like a tax assessor. The more waters you fish, the better your chances to find catching patterns.
I am often asked, “What is a catching pattern?” In a few words, it's the key to catching fish. It can be a certain lure's action or even color. It can be a certain depth or type of cover. It could be the time of day or night when the fish are feeding. It could be something simple as adding a strip of pork rind to your lure.
Having talked to many tournament anglers as well as fishing many myself, one thing stands out. It seems tournament winners find a pattern to catch fish. You might be having a bad day and think the other anglers are experiencing the same. However, when you get to the weigh-in at the end of the day, there is nearly always someone with a good catch of fish because they found a pattern that works.
Once you work out a catching pattern for a particular species of fish, you can go to bed knowing where to go and what to use in the morning.
Let’s take a look at some of Missouri's favorite game fish.
The largemouth bass is found in 49 of the 50 states with Alaska the only state where it is not found. It has attained the stature of the most sought-after sport fish in the state.
The crappie is the largest fish in the group called panfish. It rates as one of the most flavorful and best tasting fish in the state. Being a schooling fish, anglers know if you catch one there will be many more closely by.
The bluegill is a fish which can be called everyone's fish. It can be found in ponds, streams and lakes across the state and is caught by youngsters and grandparents. For its size, it gives a good battle and is very good table fare.
The catfish family is a big one with over 1,000 species found around the world. In Missouri, the channel cat is the most popular and can be found in lakes and streams across the state. When fishing for catfish, think bottom because it is where it spends most of the time. It eats a wide variety of items including frogs, worms, crawfish, minnows, chicken liver and things kids have handy, like hot dogs, jelly beans, popcorn, etc.
The excellent tasting walleye has become a favorite for the table and its popularity in Missouri is growing. A pattern for catching them includes using a jig with a nightcrawler attached. They are usually found in deep water.
The white bass is one of the hardest striking fish for its size in the state which is one reason for its popularity. It feeds on shad in big lakes. Being a schooling fish, it often lets anglers know where it is by hearing the fish feeding. Anglers can hear and see the feeding fish slashing and flashing at a distance. Should you find a school of whites feeding, you will get all the action you want until the school disappears.
In Missouri we are blessed and privileged to be anglers and have the ponds, streams and lakes with a variety of many species of fish. We need to enjoy, cherish and preserve it.
White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in sports as a participant and journalist. His column appears weekly.