Northern Exposure

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 23, 2010

One of the great things about being a writer for the Conservation Department is getting to talk to people about fishing. Anglers love to talk about their favorite fishing holes, and a surprising number will even share their secrets.

Of course, knowing where to fish is the easy part. Like most anglers, I hear about 10 hot spots for every one I actually find time to visit. For years, that was my excuse for not having fished a single stream north of the Missouri River. Also, I grew up on Big Muddy’s southern shore and had a host of streams between me and the Arkansas state line; I never felt the need to head north.

Now I know that was a serious mistake.

I owe this newfound knowledge to Travis Moore, a friend and fisheries management biologist who lives in Palmyra. It was hard for me to say no when he persistently invited me to come fish with him. So, I finally gave in and paid him a visit late last May.

I had expected a day of drowning worms in deep, mocha-colored water, hoping to land a few bullheads. When we arrived at Blackhawk Access, I was unprepared to find that the South Fabius (known locally as the “Fabbie”) looked much like the gravel-bottomed creeks of the northern Ozarks where I learned to fish. The water had a little more color than I was accustomed to seeing on Bois Brule and Tavern creeks, but this had more to do with weather than the stream’s character.

Thanks to one of the driest Mays on record, the Fabius was 2 feet below normal level. This, together with sweltering temperatures, had brought on the bloom of algae that occurs in many Missouri streams in August. That was okay with me. Coaxing fish into gulping artificial lures—my method of choice—is easier when the water has a slight tinge.

The water around the boat ramp reached just above my knees, with deeper pockets carved out by the current here and there. I recognized those as fish-holding spots, but the first order of business was catching bait.

Travis and three other fishing companions unfurled a small seine net and within half an hour we had collected several dozen small crayfish and minnows. With those, a box of worms and a variety of spinners, crankbaits and jigs, we headed downstream in three canoes.

My second surprise of the day was the rocky riffle our canoes

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