Targeting Trophy Trout
a bite and let the fish hold it for a few seconds before setting the hook, which resulted in another short tussle with the trout.
Despite the peaceful setting, I was getting uptight. Probably the trout was, too; after all, he'd captured three mouthfuls of sculpin and was still hungry.
I moseyed up atop a gravel bar, shucked my fishing vest so I could reach all the pockets and tied a stinger hook, a small treble hook on a short leader that I connected to the main hook. When I was done I had the main hook through the lips of the sculpin and one hook of the treble stinger piercing the flesh near the dorsal fin.
That arrange ment ended both the fish's and my frustration. The brown trout - not even a fraction shorter than 17 inches - came in after a battle.
Although trophy trout were being creeled at a comfortable pace, sculpins proved more difficult to catch. Apparently the first one had been infirm or had a death wish, because no matter how much I swished through the shallows, I couldn't catch another. I saw some, but they were too fast for me and avoided the net.
Some may think it a boyish way to spend the day, turning over rocks, chasing sculpins with a fine mesh trout net, occasionally grabbing crayfish, but to me it was serious business. I wanted to catch another trophy trout.
Through trial and error, I finally discovered that I could occasionally capture sculpins by standing in shallow water so swift it almost knocked me down and dislodging rocks with my fingers. (I couldn't use my feet, I needed both of them planted firmly to keep my balance.)
The rush of swift water apparently discombobulated them briefly and swe pt them into my net, which I held against the bottom immediately downstream.
After I had a few swimming around in my little bait bucket, I started learning about fishing with sculpins.
The first thing I found is that sculpins are strong swimmers and will scoot right to the bottom and under a rock, bringing your hook with them.
This is crude, but the best way to fish sculpins is to kill or stun them. After I had them firmly hooked, I swung them - splat! - against the side of the canoe or slapped them on the water, as if trying to clear a lure of weeds.
The sculpins were tough and stayed on the hook no matter what I did.
Sculpins seemed to work best in real fast water, the stuff with standing waves, especially when the water poured off a shallow gravel area.
The double hook arrangement allowed me to set the hook as soon as I felt a hit - I never had a "nibble" - so that the treble hook was easy to remove with the help of hemostat pliers.
The fish I caught with sculpins, by the way, weren't all trophies, but they probably averaged two inches longer than the ones I'd been catching with nightcrawlers and crayfish.
Nor did I catch as many. That didn't matter, though, because the ones I caught were so nice, culminating in a trophy of trophies, a 19-inch rainbow. And I'd lost a bigger fish, a brown trout that you'd measure in pounds, instead of inches.
That may be my next goal: see if I can land a brown trout over three pounds. No, that wouldn't be a record, but it would be a pretty good fish, and the challenge of catching one would give me a good excuse to take another fishing trip.
Not that you need much of an excuse to spend the day on a beautiful Missouri trout stream.
Trout water on the North Fork River, in Ozark County, begins at the upper outlet of Rainbow Spring and extends as far downstream as Dawt Mill.
The upper stretch, from Rainbow Spring to Blair Bridge, this year was designated a Wild Trout Management Area. Only flies and artificial lures may be used, and trout creeled must be at least 18 inches long. The daily limit is three trout.
The water from Blair Bridge to Norfolk Lake and its tributaries continues as a Trophy Trout Fishing Area. Live bait is allowed, and any fish you keep must be 15 inches or longer. The daily limit is three trout.
The North Fork is a popular canoeing river. Several private and public campgrounds are nearby.
The river has long shallow stretches, but each bend contains turbulent, "fishy" water. Strong current combined with slippery, diatom-coated bedrock can make the footing treacherous in some places.