The early morning was cool and overcast with a mist rising through the trees, and my fishing buddies and I could hear the Vermillion River gurgling in the distance. The three of us spent most of our free time fishing and hunting, depending on the time of year. This day was no different than many others; we were off on another outdoor adventure.
This adventure had us pursuing channel catfish in the Vermillion River, whose watershed was composed of pasture and cropland. What made the Vermillion a rarity was its rock- and boulder-strewn riverbed. The adventure began well before the actual fishing. Our fishing success relied heavily on the bait we used and involved making homemade “stink bait.”
We began by visiting grocery stores and begging or buying cheese that had become too old to sell; we liked the strong cheddars or other potent cheeses best. We placed the cheese in an old bucket with an airtight lid and set it in the sun to age and ripen. The night before the fishing trip, we would combine the cheese with cornstarch, American soap flakes, and garlic.
This potent concoction was then mixed by hand, formed into softball-sized lumps, and placed into plastic bags. As you might expect, our friends and parents were not impressed with the residual smell that could not be washed off our hands.
As we waded into the river that misty morning, it took a while to become acclimated to the water because we wore tennis shoes and blue jeans instead of “honest-to-gosh” real waders.
The object was to find a riffle behind a rock, roll a gob of bait onto a treble hook, then toss out the line in the riffle downstream of the rock. We soon developed the ability to judge the amount of split shot needed above the hook to ensure that the bait suspended properly to melt off and entice the channel catfish to strike.
More often than not, these outdoor adventures yielded tasty fish for meals enjoyed by our friends and families. Funny, when eating these morsels, they no longer noticed the aromas emanating from our clean but smelly hands.
Outdoor adventures like these had a great influence on me. They molded me early in life and encouraged me to consider a conservation career. Now, 39 years later, the adventure and responsibility continues. As most of my colleagues will agree, a career in conservation is not a job, it’s a vocation and a way of life. If successful, our efforts will ensure future generations have access to a wide variety of outdoor adventures.
Today, the world is a much smaller place. People, plants, and animals travel or are moved across the globe at an incredible pace. This mobility increases the risk of movement of diseases and invasive species, which can and do impact native forest, fish, and wildlife resources. Missouri is at a crossroads and citizens have many important and citizens have many important issues before them. Thousand Cankers Disease is a serious threat to black walnut trees, White-Nose Syndrome may significantly affect bats in our state’s cave systems, and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has the potential to decimate Missouri’s valuable white-tailed deer herd.
The Department of Conservation is working hard to minimize and reduce risks posed by each of these threats. In order to protect Missouri’s deer herd, the Department has proposed common sense Wildlife Code changes to ensure the continued health of this valuable cultural resource. Multiple venues such as email, social media, or direct mail can all help facilitate citizen involvement. Citizens can provide input by speaking directly to a Department representative, filling out a comment card available at any Department office and in this edition of the Conservationist, or by sharing their comments online at mdc.mo.gov/deerhealth.
Many Missourians have had special adventures like mine, whether fishing or observing and pursuing other species. Given the serious threats we face, it will take a concerted effort by all of us to find the balance to ensure those adventures continue for Missourians, both today and tomorrow.
Tom Draper, deputy director
Editor In Chief - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Managing Editor - vacant
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Brett Dufur
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler