When did you start fishing?

The whip-poor-wills were determined to serenade us with their endless Nocturnal Song. When one bird would stop, another would take up the cry… whip-er-will, whip-er-will, whip-er-will.  

The birds were nestled in trees lined up on one side of our gravel bank, while the Current River flowed on the other side.  

My fishing buddies from the St. Louis Chapter of the Missouri Smallmouth Alliance were in no hurry to leave our campfire as we circled it in our camp chairs, for we anticipated that with the whip-poor-will’s serenade, it would be a challenge to get a good nights’ sleep.

Hushed talk around the campfire centered around the subject we dearly loved… fishing. I remember an evening when someone raised the question, “When did you start fishing?”

I don’t remember exactly my response that evening, but now I do fondly remember exactly when, as a maturing adult, I “got hooked.”

Sure, as a kid I fished with my dad, but they were outings that he arranged, and I cheerfully went along as a kid.  

But now I had just graduated from high school, my brother Bob was on summer break from St. Louis University and with a neighbor buddy, we organized a fishing trip.  

We drove Bob’s car to a camping spot at Black River’s Peolia Bluff. To access the bluff, we had to traverse a roadbed of loose gravel formed from a now dry riverbed.  

This route led to a “primitive” resort known as Kapelski’s Resort (cabins with no indoor plumbing or running water, but great fried chicken and homemade ice cream on Sunday).

Our family had maneuvered this route on a number of occasions vacationing at Kapelski’s. On some occasions we got stuck in the loose gravel and the resort owner would come pull us out using a team of mules and a chain.  

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Anyway, let’s get back to fishing. Black River’s Peolia Bluff was several miles past Kapelski’s Resort. I remembered Peolia Bluff from our family vacations in that area.  

Now, as maturing adults, we camped and fished at this spot. I used the fishing skills that, as a kid, my dad taught me.  

I remember two skills I learned that today are history. One, how to trap minnows using a glass minnow trap with a funnel-like opening in front, and a lid with holes at the back to let the water flow through the trap. 

Crackers and cornmeal poured into the trap attracted beautiful two- to three-inch “shiner” minnows if, with cord attached to the handle on the trap and a large rock tied at the other end, you placed the trap at exactly the right spot… in a somewhat rapid current and about 14 inches deep.  

If the current was too slow or the water depth too deep, you trapped only small minnows. Today’s plastic traps are OK, but not as effective as the now-outlawed glass trap.  

The second skill I acquired is how to “thumb” a Pflueger free-wheeling level wind reel, without getting a “birds-nest.” Today’s engineered bait-casting reels and open-face reels make throwing your bait so much easier.

As the years passed, I fished a multitude of Missouri lakes, stocked trout parks and many free-flowing streams. I’ve navigated the Current River using a classic all-wood Jon boat with a Johnson 10 hp outboard motor, fished lakes in a pointed bow boat and a 25 hp motor, used guide services in a 18-foot Jon boat with 45 hp jet outboard, and have greatly enjoyed many-a-day float fishing in a canoe.  

So, when did I first start fishing? I started angling 60-plus years ago. I became a confirmed believer that the absolute best way for a nature-loving fisherman to truly appreciate our Ozark streams is to float fish in a canoe with an optional stern or side-mounted electric trolling motor. 

Quiet solitude! Slow-paced, with time to look and really enjoy the ever-changing panorama of river bends, bluffs, flowers, trees and yes, the phenomenal smallmouth bass. 

(Len Stagoski can be reached by email at las4331@gmail.com.)

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