A Lifelong Love Of Fishing

By Gene Kelly | August 2, 2001
From Missouri Conservationist: Aug 2001

"At the age of almost 97, I cannot fish anymore, but those memories are still with me." wrote Fred E. Simmons of Kansas City in a letter to the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation.

Simmons was reminiscing about his lifelong love affair with fishing. He wrote the letter after learning that his family had established an honorarium in his name with the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. The funds, donated by family and friends, will be used for fishing instruction programs at the Department's new Discovery Center in Kansas City.

"I discovered Cole Camp Creek near Edmundson and was introduced to fly fishing by a brother-in-law." Mr. Simmons wrote. "I used a green and yellow popping bug with yellow legs, and I cannot begin to tell you how much pleasure I got from those days, wading down the middle of the creek and catching bass and big perch. I caught my biggest bass (5H pounds) near Edmundson."

His love for fishing brought Mr. Simmons a lifetime of outdoor experiences. He became a keen student of the outdoors.

"I remember the day I saw a hawk swoop down and pluck a 2-foot-long snake off a tree limb hanging over the water," Simmons wrote. "Another time, during the 13-year locust hatch, the air was filled with flying locusts, and many had fallen into the water and were buzzing around. I made a cast and saw something suck in my bug, and the battle was on. It was a 10-pound carp, and it took some time but I finally got him in."

"In my stream fishing I made a discovery." he continued. "In wading from pool to pool there is always a stretch of ripples and small pockets of still water only a foot deep with silt on the bottom.

In the silt I could see small furrows or trails. Following these furrows or trails, on one end or the other, I would find what looked like a moss-covered flat rock standing on edge. Picking it up I found it was a live mussel. So that must be the way they get around, like a snail."

Those who seek to learn about nature sometimes find themselves in an exciting classroom, and Mr. Simmons was no exception. Sometimes his lessons weren't so pleasant.

"There was the day I threw my line over a heavy stick that turned out to be a 5-foot blacksnake floating there," he recalled. "I hooked him about in the middle and really had a problem. I finally got him in and made a grab for just behind his head but got him about 6 inches further back, and he turned his head and sunk his teeth into the back of my hand.

"I laid down the rod and with the other hand I unhooked his upper jaw and then the lower. He drew a little blood on my hand but then I turned him loose. He was as big around as my wrist."

Fred Simmons saw many changes during his long life, but he especially enjoyed those brought about by wise resource management. Thanks to the efforts of the Conservation Department, he saw wildlife where it was once rare or nonexistent. Progressive fisheries management also improved fishing opportunities for him and many other Missouri anglers.

"Many times I have seen deer come down to drink at dusk, also seen families of wild turkeys, "he wrote. "When I was a boy in southeast Kansas there were no deer, beaver or wild turkeys. None. Thanks to conservation efforts they have become plentiful again."

Donna Wielegman, one of Mr. Simmons' four daughters, said that fishing was a central part of her father's life. She recalled a photograph from one trip that both enthralled and tormented him.

"The fish in that picture truly is the one that got away." she said. "It was caught at the Lake of the Ozarks, near Lakeview Heights. He took it up to the filling station for the photograph, then put it back in the live well until evening."

"There was a large crowd when he went to get it from the live well. The catfish had been lying in that well all day conserving its strength. When Daddy went to pull it out, it gave a huge thrust of its body and flipped right out of Daddy's hands and back into the lake.

"Daddy marked the days from then on as, It's the third day since I lost my fish. It's the 17th day since I lost my fish."

"Daddy was so much-a good father, mentor and friend," Donna continued. "He approached each day with the attitude that he wanted to learn something, do something, read something and help someone."

Jeanne Schneeberger, a granddaughter, recalled Simmons' enthusiasm for fishing and the importance he placed on close family ties.

"His love for fishing was so strong, and he was so immensely pleased that the fishing instruction program was being initiated in his name." Schneeberger said. "All of the 16 grandchildren fished with him while we were growing up, spending entire days in his boat fishing for perch and bluegill, and setting trotlines at night for catfish, waking up in the early morning to check them. The memories are good."

Fred Simmons was a remarkable man whose love for fishing was exceeded only by his influence on the people around him. His legacy will be the opportunity for future generations to share the outdoor values that shaped his life.

The Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation helped the Fred Simmons family establish the trust fund in Mr. Simmons' name. Organized exclusively for the benefit of the Department of Conservation, the Foundation holds and distributes funds that support Department programs.

Giving to the Foundation appeals to donors because they can specify exactly how their money will be spent. Some want their gift applied to a specific project, while others leave such decisions to the Foundation board. All projects funded by the Foundation are first approved by the Conservation Commission. Donations are tax exempt.

Money held in the Fred Simmons Fund will be used to teach outdoor education, primarily stream management and fishing, at the Department's new Discovery Center-the nation's first conservation campus. Located near Kansas City's Country Club Plaza, the Center's projected 200,000 annual visitors will learn where and how to explore the outdoors; how to harvest, clean and cook fish and game; and how to make yards more attractive to wildlife.

Six workshop areas and a greenhouse will focus on interactive activities that include both indoor and outdoor experiences.

Fred Simmons passed away June 21, 2000. During his 96 years, he never lost his enthusiasm for fishing. When he became physically unable to fish, he continued to talk and write about his favorite pastime. He deeply understood the old adage, "God does not deduct from man's allotted time those hours spent fishing."

To learn more about the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, call (573) 751-4115, ext. 3209 or 3139. The mailing address is P.O. Box 366, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0366. Send e-mail inquiries to mchf@mdc.mo.gov.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer