I have always enjoyed fishing at Bagnell Dam, Lake Ozark. I have also been enamored with how the dam came about in the beginning of the Great Depression and how quickly it was built.
You would think that would not be a good time to start or continue with such a large undertaking at that precarious time. It took a lot of insight to continue with the work of building one of the largest man-made lakes in the U.S., two months after the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange.
It is doubtful we could build a dam like the Bagnell Dam today in less than two years. Even with the 20,000 workers that it took then, it would probably take five to fifteen years of studies, charts, lawyers, and don’t forget the politicians to even get to the groundbreaking stage.
Bagnell Dam stands 148 feet tall and holds back the Osage River. It has a 520-foot spillway with 12 generators producing 215 megawatts, (Wikipedia) and makes a lake of about 60,000 acres, with 1,500 miles of shoreline.(Missouri State Archives)
Enough of history already, back to CATFISH AND TURTLES. A few years ago I was staying with my in- laws who had a house, in a cove, on Lake Ozark. When I went there to stay, I usually went fishing.
The first thing I did was to catch bait. Usually I caught bait on my fly rod and topwater popper. That was probably the most fun, one after another right into the fish basket to keep them fresh and alive. Late in the afternoon I would pull my trotline and set up my limb lines.
In the early evening I would set the limb lines and trotline with the live sunfish I had caught hours before. The limb lines were set with the sunfish submerged in water just deep enough to cover the dorsal fin and the hook. The bait would swim around in circles and make a lot of noise on the surface of the water.
The trotline was set with sunfish hooked like limb lines only on the bottom of the lake. I also baited the hooks with liver and stink bait.
I had tried to get my wife to go out that night and check all the lines, but she said she would go early in the morning. I was excited about getting out early because Joy had never gone out to check lines before.
As I paddled slowly to the first limb line set, I could see the large branch the line was tied to was moving a bit. I told her to move to the front of the “V” bottom aluminum boat quietly and pick up the aluminum dip net.
As I moved the boat slowly to the moving limb, I told Joy to quietly place the dip net into the water as we approached the possible fish under the water. As we neared the limb she stood up to put the net into the water.
While lifting the net over the seat and standing, she dropped the net into the bottom of the boat making a terrible “BOOM-CLANG” in the noisy aluminum boat.
The fish reacted quickly, heading for the deeper water and pulling the branch down into Joy’s face. Joy then flopped down and rolled onto the floor of the boat with the branch still attacking her.
She finally gained her balance on the seat and grabbed the net. I directed her to pull the line up while netting the fish. She tried and tried to net the fish and said she couldn’t get the fish to swim into the net.
I then moved forward to help and soon found out that the catfish was too large for the net. While she pulled the line up, I placed my fingers into the gills of the fish and put it in the boat.
Joy was squealing and yelling with excitement while trying to get as far away from the fish in the middle of the boat. After pictures with Joy and her mom, we had a lesson in cleaning a catfish.
What a great time we had checking the rest of the lines that morning with no other success. Around noon I decided to pull up the trotline by myself.
As I made my way from the bank to the first staging I could feel a pull as if something had been caught since we checked earlier. As I disconnected each hook and removed uneaten bait and placed hooks onto the staging board, I saw a disturbance and a pull on the line as I was pulling the boat along to the end.
The closer I got to the end of the line the more weight and pulling I felt, and then I saw the head of a huge snapping turtle. As I pulled the turtle out of the water his neck stretched to about seven inches.
I saw the hook in his throat and I wanted to remove it to let him go free. I reached into my tackle box and got some needle nose pliers.
Now, I know some people have heard of different electrical charges in certain animals — well, since the neck was stretched out so far and the turtle was hanging from the hook, how could he snap me?
The instant I touched the hook to remove it, his neck snapped out another two to three inches up the line and mashed my fingers between the handles of the pliers and the beak of the turtle.
My reaction was not as quick as the turtle’s, but it was strong enough to twist the pliers and my fingers loose. I was able to remove my fingers with only a small amount of skin being removed but the pliers was still in the throat of the turtle.
That was it! He could have the pliers! I grabbed my knife and cut the line allowing the turtle to swim away with my pliers.
Another outdoor lesson learned, and it only took a bit of skin from my fingers this time.
(Bob Brennecke lives in Ballwin, Mo., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)