Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Purpose For Little Fish


       A grandfather who has lots of grandkids can put them to a great advantage if he loves to fish for catfish.  That’s because you need lots of bait for trotlines and limb-lines, and small sunfish are just about the best bait you can get. And kids love to catch ‘em. My grandfather only had one grandson living close and it was me.  And you will never see a kid more enthused about seining creeks for chubs or catching sunfish on a willow pole. 
       By the time I was 12 I held the record for the most green sunfish caught by a grade-schooler in the whole Midwest.  We ate some of them… the ones that got up to 8 inches or so in length.  But grandpa didn’t want those, he was most interested in ‘black perch’ which is what he called green sunfish, about three or four inches long.

       If you don’t know what a black perch is you ought to be ashamed of yourself. How are you going to teach your grandkids anything important?? In the Ozarks, black perch (or green sunfish) are no doubt the most numerous fish in any waters; lakes, rivers or ponds.  They have a mouth like a bass, larger by far than that of a bluegill or long-ear sunfish.  At times in the spring and early summer they are beautiful in the oddity of their markings and colors.  And in the worst looking little muddy farm pond, when nothing else will survive there, green sunfish may outnumber the tadpoles!  Put three or four in there this spring and next year you may have a hundred.

      At such small waterholes on most every Ozark farm, they get way too populated, and therefore are stunted.  If you toss out a little hook and worm underneath a bobber, you can catch dozens of them, and grandpa and I thinned the crop of them in many a farm pond.  But of course, they were abundant in the deeper holes of small creeks, and that was more fun.  There was also more shade, and cooler, cleaner water to swim in after the bait bucket was full.

       But when the sun was setting over some Piney River ridge, and night came upon the Ozarks, the green sunfish fulfilled its most important purpose.  We used them as bait for the trotlines set in a deep eddy where big flathead catfish lurked.  It wasn’t that there weren’t other good trotline baits, small bluegill and long-ears, (punkinseeds) were also good, but you could see why they weren’t as good as black perch.  The latter lived longer in a bucket, acted up more when they were placed on a big trotline hook, and thumbed their nose at a fat hefty flathead, which made the whiskered fish madder’n heck, so grandpa said.

       Truthfully, horny-head chubs or small suckers up to a foot long, were grandpa’s favorite, but we never could get enough.  There were big minnows we knew as ‘doughguts’, which were excellent but you had to work hard with a seine to get them. As I grow older I realize why grandpa started preferring catching the black perch, it was hard work to man that twelve-foot seine.  You can’t seine bait alone.

So here we are at the best time of year for trotlining, and when I say trotlining, I am not talking about blue cat or channel cat, I am thinking about those forty- or fifty-pound flatheads.  Their spawning period, later in the year than most any other fish, is over, and they are hungry.  And while dead bait and cut-up bait and commercial baits will catch blues and channel cat, flathead turn their nose up at such offerings.  They want live bait! 
       So I am going to have to find a whole bunch of green sunfish.  I can get them from my own pond up here on Lightnin’ Ridge or at one or two stock ponds on my neighbors farm.   But the best way is to go out on the lake, take a little ultra-lite outfit or a long fly rod, and fish around the shallow rocky banks where green sunfish like to hang out.  You can wade out waist deep and drag a bait bucket behind you and fill it up in a hurry with punkinseeds, bluegill and green sunfish.  If the trotlines are set and ready, and the night is dark and maybe there is a little rain coming, that’s all you need to bring home a flathead catfish as long as your leg.

       I have found that in July and August, if a summer storm comes through and just adds a little water to a river, and adds a little color to it, the chances of catching a flathead on your trotline increase just about 43 percent.  In a lake, a summer storm may not affect it much, but it still will make flathead roam around more, increasing the likelihood of catching one by about 31 percent.  Those figures come from a lifetime of trotline fishing and the certainty that no one can say absolutely that they aren’t accurate.  I like to write things that sound really authoritative and no one can really dispute!!

       If there were more room here I would have more to say about trotline fishing and flathead catfish, but you could write a book on that.  It all starts with the little black perch, as grandpa always called them, and the fact that if you can fill a stock tank with about a hundred of the feisty little fish, you have a big jump on landing a catfish that you will want a picture of.

       I intend to do just that.  I have a tank six foot across and 30 inches deep and an aerator to keep the water fresh and I will eventually fill it with bait.  Then I will write a summer column telling all about the monster flathead I caught sometime soon.

       But what I need right now is a couple of somebody’s grandkids that would like to catch some sunfish with me.  Drop them off at my place and I will try to have them home in time for supper.
       You can call me if you want to get my summer magazine, as we have a few left over.  If you are a subscriber and haven’t gotten your copy yet, you should let us know.  In some places, they are delivered in about 3 days, but in Arkansas and Oklahoma it may be three weeks.  If your magazine goes through a large city in route to you, it may go home with someone who works for the U.S. Postal Service!  That is really costly for us because it costs nearly 3 dollars to mail out a magazine after that first shipment is sent.  The percentage though, of books and magazines we mail out that never arrive, is way too high.   Last month I mailed out 40 free books to a group of kids in Neosho Missouri, and the postage was just under 20 dollars.   They were lost en route, and the USPS says there is nothing they can do about it, even though they were suppose to have tracking ability on them, since they were sent via something called media mail.  I have learned over the years in my business that the main problem with the postal service is… they just don’t give a darn.

       Our office number is 417 777 5227.  Email me at or write me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613

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