Although my plans for an overnight solo trip this fall have been foiled by the scheduling constraints of work and family, I did manage to get a full day on the Meramec yesterday and it was awesome. Perhaps not a 'banner day,' but it was certainly a success by my standards. The numbers were good, but the sizes were smaller than I was hoping for.
It started off chilly but when the sun came up and burned off the fog it was perfect. Water temp was 56 when I put in at daybreak (a bit cooler than I was expecting), and despite landing a spot on my first cast the bite was pretty slow in the morning. I stopped at 12:30 for lunch at my half-way mark, and at that point had only boated 4 smallies and 2 spots. Spook and (large) HD craw counted for 1 fish each, and a white spinner bait claimed the other 4 (thanks for the tip, @Hog Wally!). I lost track of the number of short strikes on the spinner and spook.
Despite the hoopla, I've never had much luck with my half-hearted efforts on the ned rig. I really wanted to spend some time with it yesterday and I'm glad I did. Just after lunch I found a nice rock pile along the bank in a 7' run. Water clarity was right at 7' so I could see plenty of fish but was having trouble holding my kayak against the current. I beached upstream and walked down the bank to the rock pile and caught 4 smallies in quick succession. The afternoon continued to produce well on a similar pattern, and they all came on a PBJ ned. I finished the day with 21 fish - 13 smallies and 8 spots -- 15 of which came in the afternoon on the ned. Biggest of the day was only 14.5" and I had one more that was just over 14".
I didn't see a soul out there, with 1 exception in the early afternoon that was a fun encounter. I could hear a radio in the distance blaring KSHE-95 (the oldest continuous rock station in the world, for those not from this area), and expected to come upon a group of river rats partying it up. To my surprise, it was one person - a retired guy named Steve. He had pulled his car up to the bank with the radio on, and was sitting in a lawn chair with a cooler of budweiser and his trusted companion - a grizzly old yellow lab. I planned to give him his space and was fishing the far bank. He cut the radio as soon as he saw me, and soon after called me over to his side of the river. He was enamored with my kayak rig, asking all sorts of questions about it, then revealed to me what I perceived as the secret to true happiness.... He said he has owned that land for 27 years and is retired but comes down to the farm almost every day to 'work' while his wife actually does go to work. If 'working' means pulling up a lawn chair by the side of the river with a trusted 4-legged companion and cooler of beer on a Wednesday afternoon, then I'm doing it all wrong. When he called me over, he said I was fishing the wrong bank and should try a series of lay-downs that were right along his bank. 3 casts and 3 fish later, I figured he'd been 'working' that bank (and the passing fishermen) for all 27 years of his tenure. Steve - if you're out there, it was a pleasure to meet you and I enjoyed our conversation!
Lunch was at the mouth of a big cave along the river, and I saw quite a few bald eagles throughout the day. I also saw a flock of turkeys fly across the river and struggle to climb a steep bank on the other side. I can't get a horny Tom to cross an ankle-deep, shoulder-width creek during turkey season, but yet here was a flock that willingly flew across a wide and fairly swift section of the river to a steep bank that any human would have needed climbing ropes to ascend. Story of my life chasing turkeys, but I digress. The weather, scenery, solitude, and fishing all exceeded my expectations and I still have a grin on my face.
I consider myself a guest on this river, so I won't reveal my exact location to the innerwebs but if you've floated this stretch you'll probably recognize it from the pictures.