What's Special About Special
The bobber dipped, then dipped again and moved slowly toward the river's edge. Dad tightened his line and set the hook. "Big sunfish," he commented, playing the scrappy fish to the canoe. Seeing the fish, I realized he'd caught a 12-inch smallmouth.
"Where's my stringer?"
His bluntness at 82 caused me to smile. No misunderstanding dad's views. He believed in eating what he caught and practiced what he preached. Growing up, the Turner family ate fish . . . lots of fish.
Dad grew up in an age when catching fish meant eating fish. Money was in short supply, and families supplemented their diets by hunting and fishing. Recreational fishing meant not only catching fish, but also harvesting as many as possible for eating. Fishing pressure was light, and there seemed to be an endless supply of fish produced free by Mother Nature. Was Dad's generation wrong for wanting to harvest the smallmouth?
The short answer is no; however times change and the real answer is more complicated. Fish are still free, but the degradation or loss of habitat and increasing numbers of anglers necessitated management changes for our stream resources. The Conservation Department, with experience gained from more than 50 years of scientific research, now better manages Missouri's stream resources.
As I planned the float trip with Dad, I realized that it didn't matter where we fished. Fishing is consistently good because of progress the Conservation Department has made in improving smallmouth bass fishing in Missouri's Ozark streams. Smallmouth fishing is better now than when Dad and I first fished in the Ozarks more than 25 years ago.
The changes in management followed a familiar pattern: anglers reported declining smallmouth bass populations in Ozark streams; the Conservation Department defined the problem and worked out solutions, recommending new regulations to protect and restore high quality smallmouth bass fishing.
That's the short version; the long version is more complicated (and interesting) and a good example of how the Conservation Department balances anglers' desires with protecting resources.
Without anglers, Ozark smallmouth populations would be in balance with their stream environment. There would be lots of small bass in the population, fewer 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old fish and still fewer large fish up to 10 or 12 years of age. Once they get past their first year, the mortality rate of smallmouth bass would run between 15 and 20 percent each year.
Biologists call this natural mortality, a fancy name for the loss