There were more than 10 boats scattered over the flats that morning when I dropped the trolling motor over the stern and began fishing. We were using worms, but the fishing was slow.

There were more than 10 boats scattered over the flats that morning when I dropped the trolling motor over the stern and began fishing. We were using worms, but the fishing was slow.

“Hey!” one of my fishing friends said, pointing to a boat pulling alongside one of the fishing boats. “That sport in that boat is worrying hell out of everybody. That’s the third boat he’s pulled in on in the last 15 minutes. Must be hard to find fish.”

I glanced idly at the boat and then turned my attention to a small bass that was half-heartedly worrying my worm.

“Take a good bite, you little coward,” I said barely moving the worm. Teased beyond endurance, the 2-pounder tugged once and took off with the bait. The rod was low, and I jerked him cross-eyed before he’d moved 2 feet. Seconds later, I swung the flopping fish in the boat.

“I got one, too,” one of my friends said while reeling madly in an attempt to keep the fish free of brush.

I was putting the second fish in the livewell, when what seemed to be the voice of a giant announced: “WE’RE COMING ALONG SIDE!”

When I turned to see who was in the other boat, I noticed a Missouri Department of Conservation logo. He was courteous as he requested to see my boat registration.

After digging through pictures of my grandkids, three expired credit cards, a driver’s license and a couple of business cards, I finally came up with the requested item.

After finding us legal, he said, “It’s been a busy day on the lake, yours is the 28th boat I have checked.“ We asked him if he had seen anyone with fish, and he replied, ”We have only seen a few legal walleyes and several that were under the 15-inch limit.” Then he moved on to another boat on the flats.

In more than 70 years of fishing on Missouri lakes and streams, I have only been checked four times and on all four occasions, it seemed as though the conservation agent had a sixth sense about a possible violation.

Once, while fishing at Pomme de Terre and filming for my television show, two photographers from Hallmark Cards in Kansas City were trying to get some action shots. However, fishing was slow and since I had extra rods in the boat, the photographers asked if they could try to catch a fish.

After making a couple casts, a boat suddenly appeared in the cove and pulled alongside. It was Roy Harman, the conservation agent for Hickory County and a longtime friend. We had a conversation, and then he said, “Well, I had better get on down the lake. Oh, by the way, do you photographers have a fishing permit?”

Both men said they did and Harmon ask to see them. Both men reached in their pockets, but couldn’t find the permits. Harman said when they got home they could send him the numbers on the permits and all would be fine. At this point, they admitted they didn’t own a permit, so they were given a ticket.

On another occasion, while fishing at Bennett Spring on opening day, an agent waded into the stream and asked to see my lure. I had a spinner on, which was legal, but as the guy fishing next to me pulled in a small trout and the agent saw he was using a nightcrawler, which wasn’t allowed in the spot he was fishing.

Another time I was hunting squirrels in Carroll County and there was rifle shots near me. Suddenly an agent popped out of the woods and ask to see my permit and the number of bushytails I had, which was just two. A shot rang out, and the agent, John Madden, rushed over to check on the shot and caught a hunter with a dozen squirrels, way over his limit.

There is a lot of opposition to controls and regulations, but they do help preserve our enjoyment of the outdoors.

Even with all the opposition to controls that are inherent to me (could it be I’ve outlived my generation, one that really knew the meaning of freedom) other than the controls of one’s common sense? I know that with the increased boat traffic of recent years, and the seemingly lack of knowledge of many new boat operators, something must be done. The shadows of the future are more and more unpalatable – but inevitable – regulations.

In the next 10 or more years, we will see many lakes divided into restricted zones – one for fishing only, a skiing-only area and routes for pleasure boaters – to reduce conflict between the different aspects of boating. Also, within this time, a small boat operator’s permit will be required of all persons operating a motor boat and an examination (physical and operating ability) will be given. If constitutional, all persons riding in a boat will be forced to wear life preservers.

There will be increased controls on pollution. Fishermen and boaters will be required by law to return to shore bathroom facilities, and according to something I learned recently, this alone will greatly reduce the incidence of drowning.

Although I will deeply resent being forced to wear a life preserver if required by subsequent regulations, I must admit these devices (unless worn at all times) are often beyond immediate reach in the panic resulting from an upset. Down through the years, I’ve heard from persons who have assisted in the rescue of someone from the water, and few were holding on to a life preserver. Most such victims held to the front of the partially submerged boat or swam to the nearest tree. At such times, life preservers seem to float away with the wind, far beyond the reach of persons in the water.

No life preserver, whistle, no fire extinguisher will prevent trouble if common sense is left on the shore. Your safety – as well as the safety of those persons aboard, and the safety of other boats with which you come in contact – are your personal responsibilities. Even if the man in another boat chooses to play the fool, cuts across your course, rocks you with a too-close wake, you must not let anger dictate a similar course of foolishness. Of such errors are accidents born.

There was a time – and it was in my lifetime – when the waters were clear and unpolluted, and all one heard throughout a long day of fishing was the occasional call of a bird and the soft lapping of waves against the boat. Relaxation came easily then, and a man could fish for hours without encountering another boat or fisherman.

As the lakes became more and more crowded, I wonder if people are really enjoying themselves as we did in those bygone days of peace and tranquility. I believe that peace and tranquility are what they are seeking, but by their very presence, they are part of the destructive forces which preclude the thing they seek. Perhaps it is that I grow old, perhaps there is a mania for noise in this generation – the high whine of a powerful outboard engine, the ripping staccato sound of a mini-bike buzzing off to nowhere, the whistle or horn or the hard-rock blare at full blast from a radio.

But, if this is so, I wish they’d just stay at home and let me fish in peace. The hiding places are all gone. They’ve invaded them all, but I have memories of another time and another place. I hope these will sustain me.