Where the Buffalo Roam

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

The lamps aboard our boat on Pomme de Terre Reservoir chased the darkness away. "There's one!" my fishing partner called. I moved my gig head from one side of the boat to the other as a large, football-shaped fish cruised slowly toward us. The gig sliced through the water and found its mark. Seconds later, I lifted a huge buffalo fish into the boat.

Fish gigging during the fall and winter is an Ozarks tradition. In fact, evidence suggests that aboriginal Americans used bows and flint-tipped arrows and spears to harvest fish in the cold, clear water of Ozark streams. Early Americans took fish with gigs or longbows while wading small streams during the day or on moonlit nights.

European settlers also used spears or "gigs." By about 1860, they were using kerosene lanterns to light the water at night. White-gas lanterns eventually replaced kerosene lanterns. Now, halogen bulbs powered by portable electric generators are becoming standard equipment for night gigging and longbow fishing enthusiasts.

These powerful lights mounted on the front of a boat make it possible for giggers and bow fishers to expand their sport to larger waters. Missouri's large reservoirs, such as Pomme de Terre, are ideal places to legally gig a variety of non-game fish.

Our reservoirs are famous for their bass, crappie, walleye and catfish, but they also contain huge populations of nongame species, such as buffalo, suckers, carp and gar, that are generally overlooked by anglers.

Taking these fish actually helps the fishery. Overpopulations of non-game fish compete with game fish for space and food, and can reduce their numbers and growth rates. Carp and buffalo often root out aquatic vegetation while feeding, which destroys important habitat for small fish. When anglers, giggers and archers harvest non-game species, they help our management efforts on these reservoirs.

Buffalo, suckers and carp are excellent table fare when prepared properly. If you are not interested in eating the fish, your friends and neighbors will probably be happy to accept a mess of tasty, fresh fish.

Identifying legal, non-game species is critical when using a gig or longbow. Because both gigging and longbow fishing mortally wound the fish, you can't practice catch-and-release.

Clear water greatly helps your ability to identify fish. A good test of water clarity is if you can see small stones on the bottom at a depth of 3 feet during daylight hours. Generally, the water in reservoirs is clearest during November, December and

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