By Larry Dablemont
I spent a few days living on my camp-boat last week on Truman Lake. It is a hard-topped pontoon boat, custom-built for me with no furniture on it and attachable canvas-type cover with screened windows and doors built in. On board I have attached small cabinets and a big box that holds cooking utensils and sleeping bags and air mattresses.
It is a great way to live in something like a camper on the water. I have taken it to several lakes in the Midwest and Canada and it is a great way to get back into the far corners of any kind of water and be there at dawn and at dusk when the fishing seems to be the best.
Crappie were spawning on Truman last week, and it wasn’t hard to catch a limit. But I wasn’t there for crappie. I knew of a small tributary to the lake that rainwater had swollen to full flow, and it was swarming with white bass. The largest of them were averaging 15- to 16-inches in length. They were hitting topwater lures and fighting like they thought they were smallmouth bass. I would rather catch a 15-inch white bass on a light action spinning outfit than a half dozen crappie that size. I love to catch them, and I know how to remove the red meat from a white bass filet so there is nothing left but pure white meat and great eating.
There was the roar of outboard motors out on the lake, but I fished the small tributary all alone, watching nesting eagles and birds of all kinds, catching and releasing dozens of whites, keeping only the biggest ones.
Some folks don’t seem to mind fishing in a crowd. The trout parks show you that. But I just want to be off somewhere by myself when I am outdoors. I don’t fish where others are fishing. Each evening that week I would return to my camp-boat with a limit of hefty white bass, and often had 18- to 20-inch hybrids in that number too. I would filet them, and eat quite a few, and put the others on ice. Out in the middle of a nearby cove, I dumped the cleanings into the lake.
White bass are not very good to eat if you don’t skim off that layer of red meat between the white meat and the skin. It is a thin layer and easy to remove with a sharp filet knife. Then there is a strip of red meat in the center of the filet which I also remove. That strip is a lot like a six-inch nightcrawler, and I got to thinking what a shame it is that it is thrown away when it appears to be tough enough to use as bait. Fish and game laws forbid the use of game fish for bait, except for small-sized sunfish. But if you have pieces of scrap from any fish like that red meat strip, why not use it.
One night I set a trotline out in the cove for an experiment. With only 18 hooks, I baited half of them with rib cages and the other half with the red meat strips cut from the filets. The next morning, the nine hooks with the ribs held no fish, but the ones baited with the red meat strips held seven catfish. There were three smaller channel cat, three- to five- pounds and two small blues that were six- to eight-pounds. Then there were two big blue catfish, a 40-incher and a 36-incher, pot-bellied and big enough to be a handful to land. Because it was just an experiment and I didn’t have enough ice on board my camp-boat to keep catfish anyway I released them. I do not know if it would be considered illegal to use the red meat discarded from the white bass as bait but it shouldn’t be, as it is discarded anyway. I would like very much to trail that red meat strip behind a jig while fishing for bass or walleye.
So many fish and game regulations are useless and outdated. There should be an overhaul of many of them. How ridiculous it is that you can use sunfish species for bait only under a certain length. How the heck does anyone think some of these regulations are going to be enforced with the way today’s agents work? If you bait a trotline with sunfish a half-inch or an inch too long, no agent today will ever know it.
People who obey the silliest of the game laws only do so because they want to follow the letter of the law and it is good to do that. Those who violate them know they aren’t ever going to be caught. There is no way a conservation agent could cite someone using that red strip of meat from a white bass unless they took samples to a laboratory to prove it wasn’t from a sucker or a shad or sunfish. And I wonder why a whole 15-inch yellow sucker is legal for bait and a red strip from the filleted carcass of a white bass wouldn’t be.
No one is going to use a crappie or walleye or bass for bait. If you keep any of those fish you do it to eat them, not use them for bait. The remaining carcass of any fish ought to be used anyway it can be, rather than to feed over-populated buzzards! Plenty of anglers have learned that if you dump fish cleanings in a regular spot on any river or lake you will attract catfish. According to old laws, that is an illegal form of chumming. In next week’s column I will tell you about a kind of fish dumping that ought to be ended, but it goes on year after year.
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