Watch Those Lines!

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

Rob Farr's johnboat eases across the glassy surface of Truman Lake as the warming rays of the sun wrestle to break through the fog. He approaches an orange jug floating on the water and cuts the engine. With the outboard off, all is silent in the cove.

The jug floats without movement, suggesting that the trotline it marks doesn't hold any fish. Nevertheless, Farr retrieves the orange jug and starts a familiar grab-and-pull journey down the line. The first hook comes into view and is bare. So are the second, third and fourth hooks.

Farr senses some extra resistance farther down the line. He pulls gently and brings a big flathead catfish to the surface. Trouble is, this flathead has been dead for days. It's now an unusable, partly decomposed carcass. The rotten smell of the fish assails Farr's nostrils. Farr, a Conservation Agent in Benton County, knows from experience that the unattended trotline probably contains more rotting fish carcasses.

Working unattended and unlabeled setlines is a regular part of a Conservation Agent's job. Once an agent identifies illegal setlines, he marks the illegal lines with either seizure tags or tags to remind the user that lines must be run every 24 hours.

Trotlines, throwlines, jug lines, limb lines and bank lines (known collectively as set-lines) are legal in most Missouri waters. Unfortunately, some anglers abuse the privilege of using set-lines by either not labeling their lines with their name and address, or by not attending their set-lines at least every 24 hours. Both are required by the Wildlife Code of Missouri. Many setlines don't meet either requirement.

Set-line abuse is becoming a serious problem on many of Missouri's waters, especially Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir. On these waters, hundreds of trotlines are strung along shorelines or are stretched across river channels. Boaters complain about having to run a gauntlet of trotlines and jug lines as they maneuver their boats. Rod and reel anglers grumble because they can't even drift across an open flat without snagging an invisible trotline. Dock owners are frustrated when they can't find an open spot to fish from their own docks.

Trotlines are not the only setlines used illegally. Anglers also fail to properly label or run their throwlines, jug lines, limb lines and bank lines. Abuse of these methods also results in unnecessary dead fish.

To gather input from Missourians about the statewide catfish management plan, Conservation Department officials conducted

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