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GOING OUTDOORS: Plenty of good catches, just not always desired ones

Mike Genet
The Examiner
Zack Smith in another boat caught the Stockton Lake walleye the author sought on a Pico lure.

Watching deer wade in 3 feet of water on a large lake is unusual, especially during midday. We allowed ourselves a quick glance at this beautiful sight, then all attention returned to studying rod tips lightly bouncing in moderate waves as we slowly trolled, waiting for the telltale sign that a fish had found its prey.

Smaller fish nibbled, making the rod tips rapidly vibrate, but occasionally a big fish nibbles lightly before slamming the bait, so all attention was focused on the bouncing rod tips.

The good-sized fishing boat seemed like a speck on 25,000-acre Stockton Lake in southwestern Missouri over land once occupied by ancient man and later tribes of native Americans.

Our goal was big walleye, but on this day, everything seemed to love our baits. Channel catfish, bass, drum and white bass took our strips of sliced bluegill sides or nightcrawlers that were bottom bouncing behind a walleye harness with spinners and 2 ounces of weight, creating a bottom-bouncer rig. A big fish strike combined with this fair-sized rigging doubled the medium-heavy action rod matched with a baitcasting reel.

Our guide, Kris Nelson, owner of Tandem Fly Outfitters, closely watched each rod sitting in holders mounted on the boat’s siderails. The bite was not aggressive as in recent weeks due to weather changes, or maybe because the boat was loaded with outdoor writers – often the kiss of death for even an adequate fish bite. Many bites came, but all were light.

“When a good fish takes the bait, just reel twice before picking up the rod,” Nelson said. “These are strong fish and a hard hook set is not necessary, they hook themselves. A big walleye may slam the bait and double your rod or the bite may be light. When you reel into the strike and there is no need for a hook set, release a small bit of line because these fish will chase after the bait, perhaps thinking they injured or killed it.”

Suddenly Bill Cooper’s rod doubled, a possible big fish. He turned his reel handle and the rod continued to bow, showing the fish was hooked. The fish made several deep dives and finally came to surface and led to angler disappointment – a short, meaning under the legal-size limit at 14-1/2 inches in length. Legal walleye or sauger must be at least 15 inches on Stockton.

“Well, it was fun,” Cooper said. “At first that walleye fought like it’s much larger grandmother might have.”

Cooper’s rigging was quickly returned to the lake’s bottom that was mostly mud mixed with rocks and some scattered brush. Then it was my turn. My rod dipped in half and two-reel turns made sure that the fish was hooked.

I was surprised by the power of this unknown assailant that tried to steal my piece of bluegill. The fine fish dove and stayed deep. I thought mine was a good walleye and it turned out to be a fair-sized white bass.

“We have had many days where two rods would be hit at once by large walleye,” Nelson said. “They are not really cooperating today. The population of quality fish in Stockton is amazing.”

Fish in this lake have a quick growth rate due to unlimited forage. We witnessed this amazing sight towards evening when clouds of threadfin minnows started breaking the surface.

Soon the lake surface was erupted by larger fish attacking the minnows—quite a show and a great deal of fun when you can flip a small silver spoon or a popping bug on a flyrod while targeting the larger fish.

The highlight of the week, or at least when everybody got the biggest laugh, came when my rod dipped in half again and I set the hook into what might be the biggest walleye of that trip. The great fish made big, deep runs, trying to escape.

Several agreed that it was diving and staying deep like a huge walleye. I pumped the rod up and down while gaining line. The big fish continued to make deeper dives, never giving in to my powerful resistance with the medium-heavy spinning rod.

Nelson saw a flash of gold on the fish deep in the water and proclaimed it could possibly be a huge walleye, exactly what we were after for pictures and fillets. I have few moments in fishing that will rival the instance when we realized that the big walleye was actually about a 10-pound carp. The rotten fish seemed to grin while being unhooked for its release.

However, many good walleyes were caught, most of mine a half-inch under the legal length.

Do you want to try this type of fishing? Contact Kris Nelson at Tandem Fly Outfitters on Stockton Lake: (417)-839-2762. They have nice, clean rooms, and you will be treated like family. You can also contact Damon Spurgeon at (573)-263-9776.

Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at kieserkenneth@gmail.com.