It's Winter, Float Season's Not Over!
Floating through the winter months is only for those that are serious about it. So, I've about got streams to myself, come November. If you thought I was crazy when applauding float fishing with temperatures in the 90's and higher, you're likely convinced now, that I'm just nuts. Hold on abit and read the story before you decide that my elevator doesn't quite reach the top floor. It all started long ago.........and, in the dark! If you've ever gigged Redhorse Suckers on an Ozark river, I need to explain no further. If not, consider that I grew up on a big, river bottom farm in the Southeastern Missouri Ozarks during the 50's and 60's. Come cold weather, John Boats with gas lights reflecting off the bow, and old men that could stick a Hog Sucker at 30 feet on cold winter nights was as common then as coveralls and chewing tobacco. Outdoorsmen were my hero's and their having a young knot-head along in the boat, with a short-handled gig, was nearly as much fun for them as gigging itself. Some would say that I'm still a knot-head; but hopefully, I remain as much fun on a float trip even if we have to break ice to get started. I thrived on the fun then and still do. When floating everyone's a little wet, even in the winter. According to the characters I was with as a youngster, I was mainly "wet behind the ears". Few memories are more vivid to me then the sound of boats being unloaded in pitch-black darkness or the pop and sizzle of gigging lanterns as 20' gig handles lurched us forward into crystal water. A fish fry to feed a clan was always the ultimate objective; but at ten years of age, it seemed to me we had launched into the unexplored reaches of Heaven. Invariably, I would soon be standing ankle deep in Suckers. Grown men on both ends of the boat were methodically knocking them off their gig tongs at the edge of boat seats while I was doing my best just to take it all in. A few fish, close to the boat, were always passed so that I could take my best shot. More often then not, I'd miss. If I got lucky and nailed one, little was said. When I missed, I'd shuffle feet and feel moisture behind the ears......one or both men would pass along encouragement, "you'll get the next one, knot-head!" Truth is, I was on cloud nine, and they knew it. Had they suggested walking on water, I would have tried. More then once, I've seen grown men slap knees and hold stomachs while I turned beet-red........By the way, many of these men had survived World Wars I and II and and are still my heros! Reflecting about the year's float trips, the memories, and the counting of blessings is just a part of Winter. It's near the end of the year and it makes good since to evaluate and make improvement for the coming year. I like to stay active and out there on moving water. I consider Winter the best time to explore because near everything is exposed. Leaves have dropped and with ice and snow as a back-drop, rock outcrops, bluff shelters, trees, waterfowl, and even the streambed geology can be more clearly decerned. With stealth and effort, fish can be found in and around logs, banks and boulders. Habitat features, ever-changing, can be studied and noted for future reference. Canoeing skills can be honed, wildlife can be stalked and not least, solitude at it's zentih, is yours for the effort. Yes, there can be inclement weather; but with preparation and experience.............so what! During much of the winter, floating can be quite comfortable. Should a chill come on, then stop and explore some of the streamside features, build a fire on a gravel bar and warm up, get out a thermos of coffee, roast a hot dog, take photographs of giant icicles, look for Otter and Eagles......and the list goes on.l Trust me, with time and appreciation, getting out there can become a reservoir of stability during the trying times of every-day life in our stressful world. Certainly, I'll be doing a little canoe repair and I'll clean reels, replace line and organize tackle boxes this time of year. Clients are to be appreciated, and I'll send along post cards with a note or two regarding the old year with a bit of relish about possible adventures for the new year. There will be speaking engagements for fishing clubs and hopefully an article or two to write; but, the real stuff is out there on the rivers with a boat paddle in hand. There will be phone calls, most with good questions and comments from folks that care about and love our streams. I enjoy talking with them thoroughly. We'll share stories and swap tales. We'll send photographs and speak of big bass that refuse to be landed. And, there will be phone calls, a few with the wrong questions! "What's your favorite stream to float fish?" or "Where did you catch your biggest Smallmouth last year?" Actually, I can understand these questions and why folks would want to ask. For me though, it's like letting you know where my tree stand is located and that it's okay to go ahead and hunt there, opening day of bow season. There's no value inh the question or the answer for either myself or for the fishery! I'll be happy to guide you on a trip and share with you what I've learned over the years; but, there must be rules and limits. The facts are, providing too much detail about specific locations, particularly in a public way, is quite harmful. Ozark streams and their fisheries are much more fragile then we understand, more so even, then the public resource agencies that manage them want to admit. Have you actually considered why some streams have "trophy" sections or have restrictive limitations for the fish that can be taken? Have you wondered why some of the publicized "blue ribbon" Smallmouth streams are now just so-so fisheries? It's because fishing pressure is real and there's more of it each year. Plus, there are those that pay little attention to the rules that many live by when out there fishing. I've witnessed it myself and it's enough to make blood boil. It tends to be the same slobs that will leave a couch or a refrigerator under a remote bridge. It's the same guy that will exceed the limit on deer each year or that simply leaves the carcass in the woods! There's little I can do about it; but I can carry an extra trash bag in the canoe. Hauling out someone else's trash is another of those winter projects that helps to keep me warm when out there on the river, come December.