Today marks the start of what seems an out-of-season hunting season, as well as what seems to be a perfectly timed fishing season.
This is the opening weekend of both squirrel hunting statewide and fishing for black bass (smallmouth included) in Ozark streams. The first is normally viewed as a fall or early winter sport, and the second is perfect for a lazy summer day on the stream.
I’ll pass on squirrel hunting today. Several times throughout the years I’ve gone on opening day just because I could. Most of those days I’ve come home with far more chiggers and ticks than squirrels.
And a late-May squirrel just doesn’t have as much meat on its bones as an October or November squirrel.
For many years squirrel and smallmouth seasons have opened on the same day in Missouri. I’ve marked a few of those vying for smallmouth on Black River, Big Creek or some other stream in the region.
I wish smallmouth season began a week earlier ... before the city folks all stampede down here and spend a long weekend scattering debris up and down all the floatable streams and on all the gravel bars.
It would be great to get ahead of the crowd and fish all the deep holes and riffles unmolested during the winter and spring months.
I’ve rented a raft or used my own canoe to fish streams for smallmouth many times. The benefit is you can cover a long stretch of water in a relatively short amount of time, stopping at the “fishy” looking spots to make a few casts and then paddling or floating past the less-desirable areas.
But I still prefer putting on old tennis shoes or river shoes and a pair of swim trunks and walking stretches of water fishing as I go. It’s much easier to at least make a couple casts to the even less likely rootwads or riffles, and that has been known to pay off with a monster smallmouth for the stringer more than once.
I have a specific rig I carry while wade fishing. I have three small Plano plastic lure boxes which have a tab built into the end. They’re the hard plastic boxes that really snap shut solid, not the lighter semi-opaque plastic boxes you often find in the bag-style tackle boxes.
Years ago I rigged up a piece of parachute cord into a big loop that fits over my neck and one shoulder and hangs down to nearly my waist. I have four small steel spring clips spaced out about 10 inches apart on a section of the cord loop. I clip a tackle box to each of three clips, and use the other to attach the end of a stringer.
One box contains small lures, the second an assortment of lead-headed hooks and crappie jigs of various colors (especially neon green, pink, red and black). The third box holds other assorted hooks to use with worms or minnows, split-shot sinkers, and a money clip with my driver and fishing licenses.
I have sometimes carried my trout fishing dip net hanging off my other side, but it tends to get caught in brush or drag along in the current and create an unnecessary distraction. With wade fishing you can usually work a fish to the more shallow area and land it without the added benefit of a net.
I mentioned the pending deluge of recreational floaters who will arrive in the Ozarks this weekend. I have a friend who made it a family tradition to go floating down the more popular streams in the days immediately following major holidays (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day). The family members take along swim goggles or masks and keeps a close watch out and makes a point of diving into the deeper holes to have a look around.
It’s hard to guess how many pairs of expensive sunglasses, watches, useless cellphones, pieces of camping equipment and other items (some valuable) they collected from the stream, not to mention some swimsuits and lots of unopened beer — all stuff left behind by inebriated floaters.
This weekend will be a mixture of work and relaxation for me. I have some tractor work to do on the farm, and I'll be overseeing the putting together of our Memorial Day print edition. My wife and I will likely fire up the grill sometime this weekend, and spend at least a few hours hanging out at the river with family. I might take along an ultralight rig and my tackle boxes and slip upstream or downstream for a little smallmouth fishing.
As for squirrels, once the summer heat breaks in the fall I’ll start thinking squirrel hunting in earnest. Until then, my only squirrel efforts will be ongoing trapping of the grays and reds in an effort to keep them from ravaging the burgeoning peach crop in our orchard.