May 31, 2013
One of a small number of things the majority of anglers agree upon is that their sport is constrained — to say nothing of cursed — by nature’s penchant for extremes.
A post-trip interview of any angler will reveal that — no matter how heavy his or her stringer may be — the day would have been more successful had not the wind been too light or too strong, the sky too dark or too bright, the temperature too cold or too hot or the water level too low or too high.
The last item on that list is my most-used reason when things either cannot or do not go as I’d planned.
For example, by the end of May last year, most of my favorite streams’ water levels were too low for fishing, and a good many of the ponds and impoundments I most enjoy were rapidly following suit.
Of all my haunts, only Truman Lake’s below normal level was actually an advantage.
Low water hasn’t been a problem thus far in 2013. The U.S. Geological Survey’s website (waterdata.usgs.gov/mo/nvis/rt) indicated that, as of Thursday, almost every Missouri or Mississippi river tributary in northern Missouri was at flood stage, and several were at all-time record flow rates.
Streams south of the Missouri river weren’t quite that out of control yet, but weather forecasts suggest that might change.
With precious few exceptions, that much excess water makes rod-and-reel fishing in streams almost impossible and plying the shorelines of major reservoirs problematic.
Flood waters open up exciting fish-catching opportunities that most people have never thought about, let alone experienced.
The key to this unheralded variation lies in the fact that, in Missouri, any species of fish not specifically designated as a game fish or as endangered is, by legal definition, a nongame fish.
The taking of nongame fish is subject to its own set of sometimes complex regulations, especially in regard to what I call “unorthodox methods.” Be sure to check the Wildlife Code or ask a conservation agent’s advice before doing anything you’re not absolutely sure is legal where and when you’re fishing.
In most cases, the rules regarding harvesting nongame fish are surprisingly liberal, and this is never more the case than when the body of water in question is the result of the “temporary overflow of a river or ditch.”
Methods including snagging, gigging, bow fishing and underwater spear fishing can be used in flood water between sunrise and sunset throughout the year.
Goldfish, bighead carp, common carp, grass carp and silver carp can be taken with hand nets. While you need to be aware of the fact that there are daily creel limits on a number of species of nongame fish, goldfish and the various carps — which are the species most often encountered in flood waters — can be taken and possessed in any number.
Based on my experience, gigging and, to a lesser extent, bow fishing work best when the water begins to recede, because most of the fish in any given pool of flood water will begin moving toward low spots, where the trapped water’s flowing back into its normal channel.
Be aware that catfish and other gamefish species also make use of temporary water. It is illegal to take gamefish by any of the methods discussed in this column, so positively identify your targets.
Impounded water above a reservoir’s multipurpose pool is not legally considered to be a temporary overflow of a river or ditch, but high water levels do provide enhanced opportunities for unorthodox anglers to ply their trades.
Gigging and bow fishing are legal methods for taking nongame fish from impounded waters year-round from sunrise to sunset — on some waters the hours are extended to midnight at certain times of the year. Snagging nongame fish is also legal on impounded water, but see the Wildlife Code for specifics.
Bow fishing is legal on streams year-round. Gigging is legal on streams from Sept. 15 through the following Jan. 31.
Complete fish gigs can be difficult to find, but store-bought heads for them can be found in tackle shops and on the Internet. I mounted the head for mine on the telescoping handle of an old pole saw. It works great.
It’s possible to spend $500 for a bow specifically designed for bow fishing. Potential bow fishermen who are less committed to stimulating the economy can either shop for a complete kit built around a recurve bow — I found one for around $120 — or by attaching a reel to the bow they use for deer, an option that will cost around $60.
It isn’t hard to find recipes for carp and other nongame fish. I haven’t tried many of them, but I prefer carp patties and smoked carp to their salmon counterparts by a wide margin.