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Al Agnew

Creekin'...and conservation lessons.

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The fishing has been really tough for me on the middle Meramec in the jetboat.  Canoe floats on smaller streams have been okay but not great.  Way too many people.  So I've been checking out my favorite creeks.  I have three favorites, four sections in total, and after today I've fished most of all four one time.  

Creek fishing isn't rocket science.  If the fish are there at all, they are within reach of any lure you care to throw.  You WILL put your lure in front of every bass in the creek.  And usually they aren't tough to get to strike.  I keep my creek wading simple.  A sling pack with one little Plano box, four or five smallish walk the dog topwaters, and a couple of my homemade twin spins, and I'm good.  I've gotten to where I simply hate spinning tackle, so while most guys would use light spinning tackle on these creeks, I use one of my lightest baitcasting outfits.  A bottle of water, my favorite wading shoes and some quick dry shorts, and I'm set.

Creek section number one was a couple weeks ago.  I have a longer history with this creek and this exact low water bridge than any other stream, because it was where I caught my very first smallmouth, when I was about 7 years old.  My grandpa grew up not far from this spot, and he always liked this creek.  Even though he lived on another creek full of minnows, Grandpa insisted on driving the 30-40 minutes to this spot to trap minnows, and sometimes he would take me along.  One fine summer day, we were at the creek, and Grandpa had just set his glass minnow traps.  I was peering off the edge of the bridge, which had three box culverts carrying the water beneath it, when I saw two nice size fish.  I asked Grandpa what they were, and he said they were smallmouths, and if I wanted to catch one to go catch a couple crawdads.  I did, and while I was procuring the bait, he grabbed a spare rod out of his old pickup, and rigged it with a hook and a couple small split shot.  He took the crawdad I offered, hooked it, and told me to just put it in the water on the upstream side of the bridge and let the current take the line and bait underneath the bridge.  I did, and soon was hauling out what seemed to me to be a big, wonderful fish.  I suspect it was maybe 12 inches long, but I was hooked as surely as that fish.

So the creek has memories for me.  I've fished this creek off and on now for 60 years.  In all that time it has changed some, but not a whole lot.  The bridge was replaced a few years back, and has a different configuration so the smallies no longer lurk beneath it.  It's a popular swimming hole, and often has people parked alongside it.  But I seldom see another angler.  The habitat has deteriorated through the years, but somehow the fishing stays good.

It's not a big creek.  In the spring, there might be enough water to float it; I've done it a couple times.  By early summer it's dwindled to the point where the riffles average about 15 feet wide and 4 inches deep.  The fish-holding pools are 2-4 feet deep, with very little water anywhere more than 5 feet.  It's very clear, gravelly everywhere with huge gravel bars, very few larger pools with rocks; most of the cover consists of freshly downed willow trees.

There were a bunch of people swimming when I got to the bridge, and several cars parked on the road shoulders, more people than I usually see.  I could only hope that the people all belonged to those cars and nobody was upstream fishing, the way I planned to go.  I bypassed them all, stepped into the water, saw two nice smallmouth chasing minnows, first cast with the little WTD topwater and the smaller of the two whacked it, missed it, and then the bigger one took it. 16 incher. I'm not superstitious, but somehow the fishing never quite lives up to the promise of catching a nice fish on the first cast. Fished up through two pools with no action, then got to a pool about three feet deep with some rip rap along the bank that the landowner had dumped to keep the bank from eroding, and the rip rap was lined with fish...a 15 incher and a half dozen smaller ones. Then long stretches of nothing. Got to where I'd finally find a nice fish and it would get off halfway to me. Waded up about a mile, and then a guy and his dog and his four kids came down the creek in kayaks! This creek ain't big enough to kayak. I'm really beginning to hate kayaks. They didn't look like they were having a lot of fun, except for the dog. I let everything settle down, waded up to the next good pool, and hooked a huge fish for this creek. The thing had to be at least 18 inches and I think it was bigger. But when it leaped 4 feet in the air and threw my lure, I decided it was about time to quit anyway.

So not a BAD day...but there was line in the trees, there weren't as many fish as usual, and after all the high water this spring, the pools were filled in badly with gravel. The creek has just a fraction of the good habitat it had even five years ago. I was a little bummed.

 But not so much that I didn't go back a week or so later.  This time I planned to wade downstream from the bridge.  There weren't any other people there so I was happy.  But the first couple good pools produced nothing. Finally I caught a couple smallish ones, under 12 inches. Then at the head of a pool about the size of the average living room, I got a big blow up on the topwater, and brought in a 17 incher. I was wading downstream, and making the usual long casts from the top of the riffle above into these pools, and quite a few nice fish were in the swirling water at the bottom of the riffle. I caught a 16 incher. Several in the 14-15 inch class. But there were some of the better pools that didn't produce much of anything, which was surprising.

I fished downstream more than two miles, with hit or miss results. There was a private low water bridge that was going to be my cut-off point for the day, and the pool within sight of it was nice, 4 feet deep or a little deeper and maybe 50 yards long. I caught a 16 inch largemouth at the head of it. Got a strike from a good fish that missed. Another miss. Then a terrific strike, where the fish came from several feet away with its back out of the water to slam the lure...and miss it. Of course, I set the hooks too soon and the lure came back at me. I reeled in the slack, and cast to the same spot. This time the fish followed the lure for a bit before swiping at it, and I missed it again. At this point the 17 incher was 15 feet in front of me and seemed to be staring at me. I flipped the lure just past it, worked it toward the fish, and the smallie spun around and took it solidly.

At that point I turned around to hike back to the truck. Usually I don't bother to fish on the way back, but I had just one lure in my little box other than the topwaters, one of my homemade twin spins. On a whim I tied it on, and started fishing it back up through that same pool...and caught two 15 inchers on it! That twin spin was simply magic that day. All those good pools that had produced nothing on the way down produced good fish on the twin spin on the way back. I caught ANOTHER 17 incher. A couple more 16s. And at least as many fish going back up as I had coming down. When I got back to the truck I didn't want to quit.

After three bad days on the Meramec, I decided to try another of my wading size creeks. This is  one I messed around on all the time as a kid, and back then it was rather polluted, full of mine waste, and did not have ANY smallmouth. It was many years later that my brother tried it and found out it had a pretty decent smallmouth population since the pollution and mine waste problems had finally been addressed. It's a civilized creek, houses along it, pipelines crossing it, 6 bridges crossing it in the three mile section that's worth fishing. It smells a bit, because the treated sewage of a LOT of people dumps into it.  But it has a few really nice little areas, ledge rock waterfalls up to three feet high, little bluffs, a nice spring...

The water was low and warm, and the smallmouth were pretty much stacked up at the heads of pools. There are a few pools that are 3-4 feet deep, but most of the fish-holding water was less than two feet deep. When you made a cast you had to land it in the middle of the channel, because the bass were along the edges and if you landed too close to them they'd flee. If you landed 5-10 feet away they'd charge it, leaving a big wake...now that's some cool sights to see and some fun fishing. The year my brother and I discovered it had smallies, I caught about 50, including a few in the 16-17 inch class.  It's never been quite that good since.  On this day I caught 44, with nothing over 15 inches, lots of 10-13 inchers, nearly all on topwater. Fun day!

I don't pound any of my favorite sections of creek.  Once or twice a year is all I'm going to fish them.  So today I wanted to go again, but wasn't going back to either of the creeks I'd been.  I hesitated to go to my third favorite creek; it had been badly damaged by a huge flood last year, scoured down to bedrock in many sections, habitat gone.  But I decided it was worth a try to see if it had recovered with the slightly smaller floods we'd had this spring.

I have less of a history with this creek.  I first fished it with my brother in law back in the mid-1980s, and didn't go back for nearly 20 years, because what we found was a torn up creek where the landowner had bulldozed it out for a long stretch.  No habitat.  There were a few smallmouth, but there just wasn't hardly anyplace for them to hide.  This creek probably has a long history of such abuse.  I don't know for sure, but I suspect it was seriously channelized many years ago, because it is a lot straighter than most creeks, almost arrow-straight lines going along the edges of the big bottom fields.  It is the smallest of the creeks I fish, the riffles today were maybe 10 feet wide and 2-3 inches deep, and many of the pools are not much bigger than the average mobile home.  

But after that first disappointing trip those long years ago, when I went back again finally I discovered a real gem.  The habitat still wasn't great, but the creek had long recovered from the recreational bulldozing, and the number and size of smallmouth in it was truly amazing for such a tiny creek.  Over a four or five year period I caught a pile of 18-19 inch smallmouth from it!  Lots of 15-17 inchers.  But...then some total doofus whose grandfather or somebody owned land along the creek started showing all these pictures of big smallmouth HE was catching from it on a bowhunting website...and NAMED THE CREEK.  Suddenly there were signs of fishermen when there had never been any before, and the 18-19 inchers just totally disappeared.  It was still okay for smaller fish, good enough to keep fishing it, but it was a big disappointment that the big ones were no longer there.

Until last year, when I found the creek so torn up and shallow that there just weren't many fish.  This creek has always had a shallow gravel and rock bed over shelving bedrock, and the pools are mainly formed where the rock and gravel piles up to form little dams.  All the little dams had been scoured out, and the gravel and rock from them dumped into the lower portion of my favorite stretch, filling it in.  

So today I went not expecting much, but just hoping for some improvement.  The pool beneath the bridge is about the deepest on the creek and gets pounded mercilessly.  But on my second cast, two nice smallmouth charged the topwater.  One slammed it, got hooked, and the other followed it around as I brought it to me.  Both were 16 inchers.  And this time, catching a nice fish right off showed promise that the day lived up to.  Over on the other side of the pool, I quickly caught a very fat 16 inch spotted bass.  (Spotted bass are not native to this creek but invaded it shortly before they invaded the Meramec River system.)  Next pool, more nice fish.  Every pool that looked like it should hold a fish had one.  But there were more spotted bass than smallmouth, and I caught several hybrids as well.  And there were also little largemouth everywhere, probably coming from somebody's private lake.  

In one wide, shallow pool, I saw minnows jumping to escape something, out in the middle of the pool a long cast away.  I made the long cast, and got a blowup from a big fish.  Best smallmouth of the day, 17 inches!  I kept working my way upstream,  and came upon a lady swimming with two little girls.  I caught a 16 inch spotted bass at the tail of the pool, and a 15 inch smallmouth right in front of them, which impressed them all.  I let the little girls touch the fish before releasing it.  In little more than a mile of creek, and about 3 hours of fishing, I caught 54 bass!  The habitat hadn't improved much, but the fish were somehow still there.  It just goes to show that these fish are resilient...give them just a LITTLE help on habitat and some respite from the catch and kill crowd, and they'll respond.  

So I don't have too many more creeks in my back pockets , but I've got a couple in mind to try yet this summer.

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Everything is getting a severe pounding this year.  All of the outdoors are getting it.  Nothing seems to be a quiet getaway.  And after a week of dealing with all of the stupid people that are getting dumb downed again from the subliminal ads prior to the election, I want solitude time with family.

Dad let a neighbor swim and camp overnight at our place a month ago, now I am breaking up a migrant camp tomorrow with a camper and 5 tents.  Sis told me there was a crowd gathered there along with the other mess.  I have a new AR that needs some bullets run thru it.

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County law enforcement is pretty weak out there. But it is an election year.

I think I know most of them, so there should not be an issue.  The foreigners the brought in, not sure.  They don't seem to value others property lines.

I really worry about the quality of all future fishing in Mo after this year.  Lots of people outdoors.

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6 minutes ago, jdmidwest said:

County law enforcement is pretty weak out there. But it is an election year.

I think I know most of them, so there should not be an issue.  The foreigners the brought in, not sure.  They don't seem to value others property lines.

I really worry about the quality of all future fishing in Mo after this year.  Lots of people outdoors.

Was funny that I brought up the fact on a Facebook fishing group about the amount of people over-using our resource because of the coronavirus lockdowns.  I said I was worried about the fish being over harvested. A local tourney guy told me to get a life. He said bass need to be depleted sometimes so restart the gene pool. 

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1 hour ago, Mitch f said:

Was funny that I brought up the fact on a Facebook fishing group about the amount of people over-using our resource because of the coronavirus lockdowns.  I said I was worried about the fish being over harvested. A local tourney guy told me to get a life. He said bass need to be depleted sometimes so restart the gene pool. 

I hope it wasn’t a smallmouth fisherman

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I was hoping Covid would have that affect on human population myself.  Our mental gene pool is getting pretty shallow.

I am sure that fisheries management will have to do a study about this year.  People are not travelling far and seem to have lots of free time with all of the government cheese floating around.  They all seem to be heading outdoors.  Yaks, bikes, tents, campers, side by sides, boats are everywhere

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Little Sugar creek, which flows through Bella Vista up into MO is also seeing a lot of use this year.  Used to be unusual to see anyone floating it as it is fairly small, but this year it is not unusual to see some yaks.  Seeing more fisherman banking it and people hanging out on gravel bars.  

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27 minutes ago, snagged in outlet 3 said:

I hope it wasn’t a smallmouth fishermanI hope it wasn’t a smallmouth fisherman

He was a regular and respected guy on the  Upper Meramec bass club. Turns out he’s just a selfish guy. I have pretty much no respect for him anymore. 

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