Vantage Point

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The Off Hours

One of few times I didn't have fun fishing was at Stockton Lake during the middle of the day, during the middle of August.

Missouri had settled into its summer doldrums. Not a breath of wind stirred the air or water. The temperature was a scorching 90-plus degrees. The sun was too fierce to go shirtless, and the carpet in my aluminum boat was too hot to walk on without tennis shoes. I felt like a baking potato.

Periodically a walleye, catfish or panfish would tug at the nightcrawler I was dragging along the midlake dropoff. The heat took away a lot of the pleasure of catching fish and my casts lacked luster, but it was the first day of a three day fishing trip and-doggone it-I was resolved to spend it on the lake.

At least 10 times that afternoon, I pulled in my lines, yanked up the trolling motor and jumped in the lake. I half expected to encounter noodles, because the water was as warm as soup. The only way to cool down even slightly was by drenching myself, then motoring around the lake at about 15 miles an hour to let the air flow evaporate the water.

When Missouri heats up, it's tough to enjoy yourself outdoors. At this moment it's exactly 24 degrees cooler inside my office than in the parking lot that my window overlooks. From my window, I can also see a stretch of a nature trail beyond the lot. In the spring and fall, the trail gets a lot of use, but nobody's walking there now.

I'm not complaining about the heat-much less about August or about Missouri-but it's something that has to be taken into account. Given what we know about the risks of skin cancer and heat stroke, eight hours under the summer sun can almost qualify as hazardous duty.

Sometimes the best solution is to spend the heat of the day indoors where it's air-conditioned. I haven't done it, but I've dreamed of mounting rod holders on my old comfortable Lazy Boy, filling up the pockets of a fishing vest with cookies and other snacks and spending a whole day watching walleye and bass fishing videos.

Armchair angling isn't the ultimate answer, however. I don't think fishing shows or, for that matter, nature shows or hunting shows satisfy our deep longings for a connection to the natural world.

My solution at Stockton was to sleep through the hot afternoon. That sounds lazy, but it really wasn't because I hit the fishing hard about 7 p.m. and stayed on the lake past midnight. I woke at 4 a.m the next morning to fish and was back at the motel before 10 (well before the thermometer crept into the high 80s). I repeated that schedule for the remainder of my trip.

The fish seemed to maintain the same routine because our paths crossed frequently. If I said more, I'd be accused of bragging.

Even if you're not fishing, you're likely to find the best of the outdoors during the off-hours. Certainly it's more pleasant to hike or bicycle a trail when you're not slippery with sweat and gasping for air.

Wildlife watching also improves. Nearly all animals alter their behavior to deal with hot weather. They rest in the ground, in their cubbies or in the shade during the heat of the day and move around more in the morning and evening. A landscape that looks sterile during the day may come alive with wildlife around dawn and dusk.

Even outdoor vistas become grander during those hours. Photographers have long recognized the existence of "golden time," when the sun is low on the horizon. During the half-light periods before dusk and after dawn, colors appear richer and more saturated. These are the times to see Missouri is at its finest.

Tom Cwynar, Editor

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