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Back in the 1970s, I fished a regional bass tournament circuit. Stockton Lake was my favorite stop of the year for the simple, if not always explainable, reason that I could count on finishing in the money there.

But as good as the bass fishing was, it wasnít Stocktonís whole story.

My family spent many happy weekends camping along its shores, while we fished for walleye, white bass, crappie and bluegill.

After far too long a hiatus, I recently returned to Stockton to try to find out if the ensuing 40 years had been kind or cruel to the lake. Conversations with several people who are familiar with the lakeís fishery revealed Stocktonís today is even better than its yesterday.

As in the past, Stockton Lake is a productive place to pursue largemouth bass, but itís now become one of the stateís best smallmouth lakes.

Since the brown member of the black bass clan became one of my favorite fish immediately after I landed my first one, that sounded like good news indeed.

Thereís a 10-inch minimum length limit on crappie. Thatís actually good news both for the fishery and for perch jerkers who prefer that the crappie they catch have some meat on their bones.

Unlike at Truman Lake, where an early bluegill bonanza quickly turned into a permanent bust, Stocktonís initial bluegill explosion continues to produce consistently fast action.

And then thereís Stocktonís walleye fishery. While no body of water gives up its walleyes easily every time out, Stockton isnít just Missouriís premier walleye lake, itís one of the best bets anywhere in the United States.

Except for a dozen sites developed for public use ó three of which include full service marinas ó the lakeís shoreline is virtually undeveloped. Boating past scenery that makes it easy to pretend youíre in a pristine wilderness is a pleasant experience in and of itself.

Stockton Lakeís main (Sac River) arm runs nearly due north and south. Itís been said that when an old cow standing in a pasture more than a mile from the lake switches her tail, Stocktonís water begins to white cap. That may well be true, but itís good news for sailing enthusiasts.

Itís such good news that Stockton Lake is rated among the top 10 freshwater sailing venues in the United States.

The annual Governorís Cup sailboat race has grown from a one-day event in 1974 to a three-day regatta with multiple classes and hundreds of sailboats ranging from 16 to 40 feet or more in length. The Governorís Cup is the highlight on the Stockton Yacht Clubís year, but club members and sailing enthusiasts from far and wide gather for official races or on-the-water socials at other times during the year.

More often that not, youíll see more white sails on Stocktonís lower end than white rooster tails thrown up by mega outboards.

The outdoor recreation bonanza offered by Stockton Lake and its environment notwithstanding, you have to come off the water sometime. Thatís when the city of Stockton has to step up to the plate.

The local chamber of commerce describes Stockton as ďPleasiní in Every Season.Ē Executive Director Peggy Kenney amazed me with her list of events a town with a population of 2,000 can put together in a single year.

These include Eagle Days in January; a gun and knife show in March; a truck and tractor pull, a Chicken Stampede and a city-wide garage sale in May; a Fireworks Extravaganza and an Art and Fine Crafts Fair in July; a raft race in August; another Chicken Stampede and a Black Walnut Festival in September; a bluegrass festival in October and a Living Christmas in December.

One of the most fascinating things about the city of Stockton is that it should have been named Phoenix after the mythical bird, which is reborn from its own ashes.

On May 4, 2003, the townís core was literally smashed by a mile-wide tornado with peak winds lacking only 10 mph of qualifying for EF4 status.

Residents know exactly what the town lost, including several buildings of historical significance. Conversely, a visitor will find it hard to believe that the town had ever been virtually destroyed, let alone that the damage occurred only a decade ago.

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