High water makes fishing difficult but not impossible


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Some people have already christened this year’s statewide flood event “1993, the Sequel.” As of now, conditions on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are nowhere near as bad as they were in 1993, but in the interest of full disclosure, this is largely because the federal government bought several hundred thousand acres of land after the 1993 event and declared that it can no longer be officially flooded no matter how much water is flowing over it.

On the other hand, for bottomland farmers on the state’s many other streams, comparing 1993 to 2015 is a difference without a distinction. And even though the recreational losses suffered by those of us who enjoy fishing in and hunting beside the state’s rivers and streams is insignificant when compared to the economic disaster being endured by our landowner hosts, we make no apologies for shedding a few tears on our own behalf.

But be that as it may, most anglers prefer the state’s major reservoirs. Technically, these lakes aren’t flooding, because storing excess water is always primary among their multiple uses. Therefore, it’s neither surprising nor the Corps’ fault that all of them are well into their flood control pools and are rising rapidly.

Given you’re too stubborn to stay home and you can find a launch ramp that’s not under water, catching fish in a body of water that’s bigger today than it was yesterday is difficult to be sure, but it’s not necessarily impossible. That’s even true of a flat land lake like Truman that will be a lot bigger from one day to the next.

Success begins with knowing your quarry. Largemouth bass, for example, can–and sometimes do–move long distances, but they’re basically homebodies. Then too, the species evolved in shallow southern swamps, so the newly flooded vegetation that’s closest to where you’ve caught them at normal pool is a good place to start.

Every bass angler worth his hawgin’ stick knows that it’s good to have a plan B. Back in 1986 when Truman eventually reached its highest elevation, slithering plastic worms off the tops of submerged picnic tables was a consistently hot pattern. You can bet that’s a trick I’m going to try on any lake that’s high enough to make it possible.

Crappie can be hard to find during flood events. I know that sounds like a cop out, and I suppose it is, but it’s also the truth. Some crappie are stubborn enough stay schooled on the timbered flats where they’d spend the summer at normal pool, simply rising in the water column to stay at their preferred depth. Most crappie, on the other hand, will scatter out along the new shoreline, holding over submerged vegetation, because that’s where the minnows they eat will be.

I’ll admit to being a little prejudiced in their favor, but catfish are the surest bet in reservoirs like Truman, Smithville and Mark Twain right now, and the odds favor them on Stockton, Pomme de Terre and the Lake of the Ozarks. There will be channel cats and small blue cats hanging around every cove and pocket that is or recently has been pumping fresh water into the lake, but the upper ends of any given reservoir’s major tributaries are the most likely to yield bonanza catches.

When fishing newly flooded flats away from the current, use the lightest weight you can cast to–hopefully–keep your bait from sinking too deeply into the vegetation. Don’t be afraid to fish shallow water even if you’re targeting big blue cats, because the less time a given spot has been flooded, the more food there will be for small fish, which will, in turn, attract big ones.

Current-washed flats and secondary channels are often hot spots for both channel cats and blue cats up to about ten pounds. The current will have flattened the vegetation, so use enough weight to hold your bait where you want it. Wandering baits catch more snags than catfish.

For those willing to trade fast action for double-digit blue cats, the main channel is the place to be. If you try this on Truman, the water will be deep and the current will be powerful, so use extreme caution when anchoring. Carry a stout, sharp belt knife, so you can cut an anchor rope should it become necessary. If you get into trouble, don’t hesitate. The last time I checked, anchors cost far less than boats, motors, tackle or lives.

Worms and commercial punch baits are tough to beat for channel cats and blues up to about four pounds. For bigger fish fresh shad, cut bait or live sunfish are the way to go.

Eventually, the rain will stop, and the lakes and streams will return to their normal levels. In the meantime, we can console ourselves with the fact that high water is very good for newly spawned gamefish. That means we can look forward to better than average fishing for a few years, beginning in 2017.

Sedalia Democrat
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