Growing up, I spent many cold winter nights in the back of an aluminum johnboat next to my dad or grandpa trying to keep my cold fingers as close to the generator as I could. At the other end of the boat, uncles, cousins and close family friends stood on the deck holding 12-foot wooden poles with rigged with hand-crafted metal fish gigs. They were giggin’ for suckers.
As the years went on, I stepped up from the back of the boat up to the deck. I remember the first night I held the gig. My dad pointed out how sleepers (hog suckers) could camouflage themselves against the rocky riverbed and how you had to look for movement with a yellow sucker and be quick to ease the gig down to hit the fish. After years of watching my family move around the deck with ease and hit fish after fish, I thought it would be easy. I was so wrong. After just a few minutes, my shoulders started to burn, my hands hurt and I hadn’t even gotten a fish yet.
But the lesson that stuck with me more than any other is this: although we could take up to 20 suckers, five of which could be sleepers, we didn’t always need them. There was no need to take what we couldn’t use at the fish fry that evening. I was learning way more than giggin’. That conservation ethic has stuck with me, and it’s something I look forward to passing on to my children. As the years passed, I started to branch out from gigging late nights with my family and started going with buddies from local towns. With borrowed boats, we would ease up and down the rivers, sharing the different gigging tricks and techniques we had learned from our family. But we all had one thing in common: our love of the river and our conservation ethic, never taking more than we could eat.
I have been lucky enough to turn my love of the outdoors, including giggin’, into a career as a naturalist with the Missouri Department of Conservation at Twin Pines Conservation Education Center. This year I got to take out my son, Harper Glen, named for the grandfather who took me out on those early giggin’ trips. I have also coordinated an effort to take area youth and women out for their first time giggin’. I’m not sure who is looking forward to the trip more - the kids or me. I know the excitement they will feel and the lifetime of memories they will make.