Youth Deer Season, Again


Youth Deer Season, Again

By Josh Gowan

Youth deer season, that time honored tradition when precarious adolescences are escorted into the wild by the seasoned outdoorsman in their life, in hopes of encountering the majestic whitetail deer, and subsequently assassinating your majesty by means of a lead projectile through the lungs. A challenging adventure for both; the youth, thrust into the woods in the dark, surrounded by sights and sounds that are quite foreign, and the instructor, tasked with both protection and patience, in a constant attempt to muffle the young hunter while holding their fickle interest and answering their relentless questions. That is the essence of the “easy part”, then there’s the small matter of actually shooting a deer!

I spent the weekend back in one of my favorite places on Earth, Mark Twain National Forrest in the Ozarks of Missouri, with my favorite hunting partner, my 9-year-old son Jameson. We were joined by our Ozarks guide and resident “PaPa” Perry Jackson, with help from his longtime friend, Mike Hill. I initially wanted my son to have the same wonderful experiences I remember, having to “rough it” in a camp in the woods, no electricity, running water, or proper facilities, but that would mean I would have to put myself through the same “wonderful experience”, so as is the case with fathers and sons, he got it a lot easier than I did!

What has now become a staple in our youth season tradition, our accommodations for the third year running were at The Landing, a gorgeous resort that towers over Current River, a pristine, crystal clear river that cuts through the hills of the Ozarks. Every room is waterfront, and waking up to a bright November moon glistening off the spring-fed current is worth the trip in itself. The river is void of partying tourists this time of year, and our only company was the increasing number of father and son hunters taking advantage of the comfort, convenience, and scenery, as well as the off-season rates. The Landing offers the nicest lodging in the area, floating trips, houses The Blue Heron restaurant (the finest of fine dining along the river) with chef Bobby King at the helm, and has an incredible multi-purpose event center in The River Centre that you really have to see to believe. For a look at the layout go to or give them a call at 573-323-8156, you won’t be disappointed!

Now back to the hunt and my young apprentice, who eases through the woods like a crashing zeppelin, his stealth only bested by his vast knowledge of botany, with his primary emphasis on sticks. He can spot a prized specimen in a pile of otherwise common branches from 20-feet away, and in a matter of a few seconds examine and categorize said stick, either deeming it worthy of his collection or discarding it back to the forest floor. By the time we reached the deer stand, had it not already been equipped with its’ own 15-foot ladder, we’d have had the material on hand to construct one, along with a lean-to shed and a few rocking chairs.

We saw deer on every hunt, but were still unable to get the shot we were looking for. This is the closest we’ve come to harvesting his first deer, with us in perfect position on two occasions, only lacking cooperation from our would-be prey, but that is the nature of hunting. We’re not even close to being finished for the year, and come hell or high water, this will be the year he takes his first deer.

The conversations we shared over the weekend, many had with our foreheads nearly touching and in the quietest of whispers, are priceless memories. After an hour of him playing a game on my phone while I methodically scanned the woods, he grabbed my leg and said “DAD!” in a whisper-yell. I leaned in slowly with wide eyes thinking he’d seen a deer, only for him to ask what tactic I would use to defend myself from a cheetah attack…

As we were leaving I pulled up the roadmap app on my phone to make sure I was going the right way, and in the search box the last destination that was entered was still there: Atlantis!


Josh Gowan with a couple Illinois crappie


Drop-shotting for Illini Slabs

By Josh Gowan

Oh sweet fall, how I adore thee! The leaves are a turnin’ my friends, and if there was anything I could do to accelerate the process I’d be on it. The crappie are biting at every lake in the Midwest right now, so if you’re not in a tree waiting on a big buck, get out there and go fishing!

Being that I will be afield and “awater” for the next three weekends, I was intent on spending every minute with my wife and son, and getting some real quality family time in the books. We watched movies, played some board games, and kicked the ball around in the yard, and by noon on Saturday I’d worn them out. Apparently my wife, who’s quite the detective, somehow noticed that I was going stir-crazy (possibly the exaggerated sighs and longing looks out the window, I can’t be sure). I tried to get them out of the house, but to no avail, and after the third time I read the weather for Sunday, she suggested that I should get out of her hair for a while in the morning, probably an “absence makes the heart grow fonder” sort of thing.

I managed to find someone else who was not only feeling as cooped up as me, but who also had a wife that was happily sending him off, my old fishing buddy and stepdad Perry Jackson. Our wives even made us sandwiches and packed our drinks!

We left Seabough’s Bait and Tackle in Jackson, Missouri at a little after 5am, and made the hour drive to Lake Kinkaid, Illinois well before the sun came up. We were trying a new tactic to catch our favorite panfish, drop-shotting for crappie. About a month ago I wrote an article for about this tactic, using professional fisherman and guide Kyle Schoenherr as a source, who fishes Kinkaid regularly, so we went back and read the piece as a refresher.

The drop-shot is much like a double-crappie rig, except the sinker (1/2-ounce) is on the bottom, with two light-wire crappie hooks on short leaders above it. The bottom hook is just 4 or 5-inches above the sinker, and the top hook is a few feet above it. Lake Kinkaid has phenomenal water quality and clarity, much like Norfolk Lake in Arkansas, which results in healthy crappie that spend most of their time in depths of at least 15-feet.

The idea is to drive around and find deep brush piles, which is a breeze with the Humminbird Side-Imaging Depthfinders, and throw a marker buoy on them. Then you pull up to the marker buoy with the trolling motor, and with a live minnow on each hook, drop your sinker to the bottom. We were fishing 25-foot deep, so a spinning reel on 10 or 11-foot jig poles were the ticket.

Here’s where it gets weird. Once your sinker is on the bottom, you start bouncing and swinging it around on the bottom until you get hung up, and then you fish. Getting intentionally hung up is out of the norm for most of us, but the idea is to drop that sinker down through the middle of a brush pile, and your hooks are always hanging on a limb. However with the sinker at the bottom, you can pick it up and drop it back down and get “unhung” very easily. You are in constant contact with the brush, and if you don’t feel anything, you’ve drifted off the brush and need to find it again.

Once we were in the brush, we were getting “THUMPED” fairly often, and managed a good mess of thick shouldered crappie by noon. After catching a few out of one spot, we’d ease on and find another one, and repeat the process. It was a blast and I can’t wait to do it again, as Kyle said the fishing only gets better as it gets colder.

If you’d like to read more about this and other methods, look up and click on the “CRAPPIE” tab, and for information on booking a trip with Kyle, go to!

Danny Bright with an 8-point buck from Western Kentucky

2014-15 Missouri Deer Hunting Forecast


2014-15 Missouri Deer Hunting Forecast

By Josh Gowan

I’ve already seen some deer forecasts for my home state of Missouri, and it’s a wonder we even bother buying tags according to a few journalists. With all the doomsday talk about our poor, diseased, malnourished, and miniscule deer herd, I thought a bit of logic and facts might keep a few guys from selling off their rifles!

First of all, there is one other authority on our deer herd that you can safely take advice from, and that’s Mr. Jim Low, the head writer for the Missouri Department of Conservation. As of right now, the only two people I’d listen to in reference to deer numbers are Jim and myself, there may be other legitimate sources out there, I just haven’t come across them yet!

Here’s the deal, many of these journalists base their story on five minutes of tireless research. Looking at the total harvest numbers from the 2012-2013 season, and then at the total numbers from last year’s season, one must come to the conclusion that our deer herd is on a steep decline, and this year will be the worst yet, but that is simply not true.

Deer hunting in Missouri has a $1,000,000,000.00 (that’s one billion dollars, written out for effect) impact on our state’s economy, and supports 12,000 jobs, one of which is mine. I am also an avid deer hunter, having not missed a deer season in 20+ years. So, with a vested interest in my home state’s economy, an even more vested interest in my personal economy, a deep love for our wildlife and its preservation, and an abhorrent sentiment towards journalistic sensationalism, I call BS!

Here are some real, true facts in case anyone’s interested. First of all, making comparisons to last year’s season and the 2012-13 season alone is not “apples to apples”. The 2012-2013 season was the largest harvest ever on record in the state of Missouri. I, as well as others, wrote about the likeliness of a historic deer season, with both a healthy white-tail population and a statewide summer drought that brought the poorest acorn crop in a decade, deer would have to be constantly on the move looking for food, and deer hunters would see and have the opportunity to shoot a lot of deer, and we did.

This is all happenstance with regards to last year’s season (although an argument could be made that you may not kill as many deer the year after the largest harvest in the state’s history). There is one dominant, overwhelming factor that brought down last year’s total numbers, and that was absolutely deplorable weather during the 11-day firearms season, where 2/3’s of our harvest generally comes from. This past year Missouri was pummeled with some of the worst weather we’ve seen in years, namely ridiculously high, sustained winds for both weekends, along with massive thunderstorms that spanned the entire state on the second day, when the grand majority of hunters are in the woods. Deer do not move in such weather unless they’re forced to. Due predominantly to this weather, the total number of deer harvested in the 11-day firearms portion was 157,272, down from the 5-year average of 186,677.

EHD, or Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, receives most of the blame. While EHD, or HD (which generally encompasses both EHD and Blue Tongue, as they are very much alike) did have an impact in 2012, it has an impact in every year there is a drought, namely 1980, 1988, 1998, 2007, and now 2012. The impact of HD is extremely localized among herds, and proof of this is evident in the county with the largest suspected deer loss from HD, Osage County, which was also in the top 10 counties of the state in respects to total harvest.

The next issue that is getting a ton of heat (with the flame aimed directly at the MDC’s green pants), is the “liberalized hunting regulations” that allows taking unlimited does in many counties. Well, a little research turns up an interesting fact, no one seems to take advantage of the allowance! Of the 9,270 archery hunters using antlerless (bonus) tags, 93 percent harvested two or fewer antlerless deer, and of the 65,026 firearm hunters using antlerless tags, 95 percent harvested two or fewer deer. The ability to shoot “unlimited” does as we like to brag about to our friends from states or areas with tighter restrictions, does not force, nor does it necessitate a hunter to take advantage of the rule, that is not why it’s there, but we’ll get to that.

As to the two years of drought, that is Mother Nature’s whim, and as I said earlier, was one of the primary reasons the 2012-2013 season was so successful. Last year’s drought on the other hand was regional within the state, and the east and southern half of the state was not as affected. In fact, the wet weather we had in the Ozarks of southern Missouri produced a bumper acorn crop, quite the opposite of the year before, and while plentiful acorns are great for deer population, they are not necessarily conducive to deer hunting.

The history of Missouri’s deer population and the MDC’s involvement is an important part of this entire debacle. In 1925, our state’s deer herd was estimated to be only around 400 due to the European settlers raping and pillaging the land. In 1937 the first Conservation Commission formed and closed deer season for five years, while stocking deer from northern states and existing refuges. The first professionally trained conservation agents were trained to enforce the ban, and by 1944 the state’s deer population was up to 15,000. That year Missouri held a two-day, bucks-only season, and 7,557 hunters took 583 deer. On a steady incline for the better part of a century, it wasn’t until 1995 that Missouri’s harvest broke 200,000, and not until 2001 that we reached 250,000. While our numbers are impressive, our size is even more so, and at last count, Missouri ranked 5th in the nation for the most recorded Boone and Crockett deer.

The Conservation Department has a deer management goal each year. The idea is to have a population that provides hunters with good opportunities to take a deer, but that is not so large that crop/landscape damage and deer-vehicle accidents skyrocket.

What these writers have blatantly missed, like an arrow off a limb, was the fact that just because there was an impact on a small area, or a county, or even an entire region of our large, geographically diverse state, which may have seemed like a tidal wave if you were standing near it, may not have even made a wake 100 miles away.
I spent a week in northeast Missouri last year and saw deer on every hunt, and have mostly erased the 10,000 or so game camera pics of deer from my computer. I also spent a week in the Ozarks of southern Missouri and again, deer were plentiful. Finally, my season concluded with a week in the river bottoms of southeast Missouri, the region with the lowest (albeit growing) deer population in the state, and guess what, I saw a lot of deer. So just because your uncle didn’t get a deer, and he always gets a deer, doesn’t mean our 1,000,000+ deer population have either died from disease or swam the Mississippi for Pike County, Illinois!

The nail in the coffin is the numbers, which rarely lie. The five-year total harvest average is 285,000 respectively, this past year we rung up 250,000. This is a variance of 35,000, and to find where this number comes from it takes but to look. The five-year average of our 11-day firearms season is 186,000, in this past year’s season we only took 157,000, accounting for 30,000+ in those 11 days, during gale force winds and storms. The next largest portion of the harvest is archery season, which runs from mid-October to early January. The five-year archery average harvest is 50,486, last year’s archery total was 50,507, an increase. The next largest portion is the youth season, and without further ado, the five-year average is 17,902 and last year’s numbers were 19,859. We lost the last couple thousand during antlerless and alternative methods season, which would have been unnoticeable with a normal firearms season.

Here is the other number that’s very important to our state’s deer herd, 90 percent. This is the amount of land in Missouri that is owned by private citizens. It is as much, if not actually more, up to us to regulate our deer population than the MDC. If your numbers are down on your property, stop shooting mature does for a few years. If your property isn’t big enough to regulate the deer traveling through it, talk to your neighbors and formulate a plan. The ability to shoot every doe you see does not mean that you should, it is a liberal policy, and it’s dependent on landowners making the right decision for their own property.

To the MDC I say, good job, but beware. The 4-point rule was a risk. If the “4-point on one side” restriction was put in place to increase the doe harvest by giving hunters fewer opportunities on bucks, then say so, and if our deer population is lower in some counties than it should be, lift the restriction. If the 4-point rule was put in place to grow bigger/older bucks to balance the herd, than say so, and lift it in the counties where it isn’t necessary, like Knox and Lewis where I do most of my hunting, and where 18 month old deer often have four points on one side. John Q. Public may get irritated that you’re lifting the ban and his neighbor will resume shooting forked horns, but if the population is low and hunters still want to take an animal home for the freezer then they should shoot bucks, even if they’re small bucks. This decision should be made by county, and as you well know everyone will never be happy, but progress by misrepresentation, regardless of intent, is dangerous.

As for this year’s forecast, the acorns are good but not great, so the Ozarks will show up and we should see good numbers from southern Missouri. The northern half of the state will have a dramatic increase if we get cold weather without sustained gale-force winds. The deer that we never saw last year (mostly because they were hunkered down in hiding) have grown and had fawns, the mild summer with ample rain means they’ve been eating well and will be healthy, and as long as Mother Nature complies, we should see at least a 20 percent increase from last year’s numbers statewide and be very close to the five-year average.


Ben Moore with a big Ohio River blue catfish


By Josh Gowan

Youth Deer Hunting in the Bluegrass State

There is absolutely nothing better than spending time in the great outdoors with your kids. It is an experience that no child should be without, and it can often be just as rewarding for the adults.

My little hunting partner is 9 years old, and this WILL be the year he kills his first deer! We’ve been out every season for the last four years, and although he has only been big enough to handle the gun himself for the last two (I don’t believe in holding his gun and aiming for him,) it is at a point now where it’s really up to me. He can shoot a baseball at 100 yards, I just have to get him in a position where he has the opportunity. Now granted, the spike leaning up against the bottom few rungs of our ladder stand last year was a pretty good opportunity, but it was a simple case of sensory overload, and we’ve both recovered from that (he recovered in about 20 minutes, it took me until New Years…)

The set of challenges that comes with killing a deer using a 9 year old is not easily overcome, especially when you vagabond-hunt here and there on any friendly, sympathetic person’s land that lets us! The challenges I face outside of getting him in position, really just boils down to restraint; trying to get him to restrain from making noise, and restraining myself in the manners with which I try to restrain him!

When you’re a 9 year old boy, there are certain things that are primal urges, instincts even, that are very difficult to suppress. For instance, walking past a cut cornstalk without kicking it is nearly impossible, and any sapling shorter than him obviously needs pushed down. A stick lying on the ground must be picked up and examined for possible use, and any “droppings” require immediate inspection, followed by a postulation of which animal dropped them. His whisper can be heard from 200 yards away, and the amount of snacks it takes to sustain him for four hours in a tree stand could fill up a claw-foot bathtub.

Being that we “vagabond-hunt”, often seeing our stand or spot for the first time in the dark the morning of the hunt, I’ve found it best to take everything so that we’re always prepared. When I was young, I was dropped off in the woods an hour before daylight, and picked up an hour afterwards, and I have distinct memories of teetering on the edge of both starvation and hypothermia throughout the day, with the constant pondering of which debilitation would be my demise possibly the only thing keeping my mind active and me alive. With those memories lodged in my mind, we carry enough equipment to the stand to lightly stock a military outpost, both in gear and food.

On one particular instance, while carrying a 40-pound backpack, a rain suit, and his rifle at a very quick pace due to a late afternoon position change, one of the cornstalks grabbed my foot and sent me flying. I hit the ground hard, and his eyes were the size of golf balls. Not only did I manage (more practice in restraint) to withhold the symphony of vulgarities on the tip of my tongue, I also turned the situation into another lesson for my young apprentice. While laying on the ground and looking up at him, I whispered, “Now you see that, that is how you fall. I didn’t land on the backpack and I kept the rifle from sticking into the ground.” I’m all about passing down wisdom…

In all seriousness, we had a great trip, and I can’t thank my friend Kenny Douglas enough for taking us. We didn’t connect on a deer, but our first trip to Kentucky was a blast. Not to mention, it’s free for kids under 10 to hunt in Kentucky, and very cheap for 11-15 year olds. If only Tennessee, Arkansas, and Illinois would adopt the same pricing, we’d hunt them all! I am going to try to get him over to Tennessee for another chance before Missouri’s youth season comes in, one way or the other, we’re getting his first deer this year!


Daryl and Jason Masingale with a few of their winning stringer at Bass Pro Shop’s Big Cat Quest National Championship


By Josh Gowan

Big Blues and Young Bucks

October is a wonderful month for us outdoors-folk, and having already picked out my Halloween costume (I’ll be revising my role as an underpaid outdoorsman: same camo, new boots) I intend to take full advantage of all early fall has to offer! The deer herd is thriving, the waterfowl outlook is outstanding, and the fall feeding frenzy should be kicking off in waters near you any day now!

This past weekend the Bass Pro Shop’s Big Cat Quest National Championship was held in New Madrid, MO. The county seat of historic New Madrid County rolled out the red carpet for the professional anglers who traveled from all over the country for a chance at their sport’s biggest prize. While the locale’s namesake fault kept quiet, the wind was another story entirely, but the top catfishermen in the country don’t get discouraged easily!

I know how to catfish, and most of you all know how to catfish, but what some of these anglers do is pretty far outside the realm of hooking on an earthworm and casting out into a pond! Some of these boats were running over $6,000 in electronics, and using them to their fullest. The storms that moved through the area Thursday night dumped a lot of rain into the area north of New Madrid, putting the river on the rise, and the accompanying cold front should have made it extremely tough to catch fish.

So with a quickly rising river and a dramatic temperature change, anglers awoke knowing the bite would be tough, but add gusting winds on an already rough river, and you had the perfect storm! These are the conditions, however, that separate the competitors, and one team clearly had the edge.

The Massingale brothers from Paragould, AR took to the water and put on a clinic on day one, bringing in 179.95 pounds, and holding a wide margin against rest of the field. Day two brought more wind and while some competitors improved their weights from the first day, the Massingale’s 91.2 pounds gave them a total of 261.15 pounds, out of reaching distance for the field, making them the 2014 Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest National Champions!

The “Big Fish” prize went to Brooke Wilkins with a 52.2 pound blue catfish she caught on day one. Rounding out the top five were Nick Dimino and Adam Long taking 2nd place with 219.9 pounds, and David Shipman and Brooke Wilkins, who had a huge 2nd day with 167.75 pounds, taking 3rd with 203.8 pounds. 4th place went to the local team of Troutt, Whitehead, and Burton with 198.1 pounds, and Carl Morris and Jeremy Martin took 5th with 180.55 pounds. The teams weighed their biggest five fish each day. Great job guys!

This coming weekend will find me in the woods, using the most primitive of weapons to try and harvest a whitetail deer. My weapon of choice seems even louder than last year, smells a bit more than I’d like, and is not exactly what I’d call steady, but his mother and I are praying if given the opportunity, he’ll shoot straight! Kentucky’s youth season is this coming weekend, and Kenny Douglas, a crappie fishing friend of mine, has invited us over to a farm just “across the creek” outside of Wickliffe, KY.

For anyone who’s been following this column, you know that my son and I have had some very close calls, but with all the time and effort spent in the woods, the stars have not aligned for us, and we’ve yet to harvest his first deer. He is now 9 years old, and while I’ve always insisted that he has to handle the gun and take the shot completely by himself, I think he’s big enough now to make it happen. That being said, I know there are a ton of other factors that come into play, but I’m going to do my best to have him prepared and set up, so if a monster buck (or anything with hooved feet, ears, and at least partially covered in fur) walks within range, he’ll have the best opportunity!

2014 National Champions Tony Sheppard and Alan Carter

2014 National Champions Tony Sheppard and Alan Carter


By Josh Gowan

Back to Back Classics

It is very nice to be sitting back in my favorite chair, surrounded by my favorite people (and dog), and slowly recovering from a wild week down south. However, saying goodbye to the lake, land, people, and food of Washington County, Mississippi was tough!

When I last spoke to you all I was just arriving, and marveling at all that was around me, but as I hit “send” (after finally finding a computer hardwired to the world wide web), the seriousness and gravity of the tournament set in, and a fishing we went!

Everyone knew the situation, there were six lakes you could fish, one of them was Lake Washington which held the biggest fish, but also the had toughest bite, and the other five were chutes off the Mississippi River, which is where most people fished. The top teams figured that it would be impossible to put together two big stringers (2 day tournament, 7 fish per day) from Washington, and were nearly all committed to fishing the other lakes.

We were staying on Lake Washington, which is 30 miles south of some of the other lakes, and were familiar with both the lake and the huge crappie it held, and planned to spend a few days there finding out for ourselves.

On Monday we did quite a bit of driving around and scanning with the Humminbird Side Imaging units, and easily located big schools of crappie, however, getting them to bite was near impossible. While spider-rigging with minnows, I did manage to catch one big fish that tipped the scales around 2-pounds, and that afternoon we caught some decent, 3/4-pound fish as well.

Tuesday started off with more searching, and first thing that morning my outboard started to make a knocking sound. I am certainly no mechanic, but I know knocking is not good. I checked everything I could check, and after finding nothing amiss, we continued on hoping for the best. About midday I opened her up, and within a few miles the knocking got very loud, and the engine shuttered and locked up, otherwise known as blowing up. We limped in, and my suspicions were confirmed at a local shop, the outboard was dead.

The registration was Wednesday at lunch, so we decided to just troll around with the electric motor Wednesday morning near the ramp. Easing through a line of spots I’d marked on the GPS just after sunrise, we began catching good fish, and a lot of them, and our mood swung 180 degrees.

We left that area alone the rest of the week, and were there waiting on 7am Friday morning. There were still a lot of fish there, but no big ones, and after 8 hours of tirelessly fishing we drug a measly 6 ½-pounds to the scale. Saturday we improved by a pound, putting us in 70th out of 180 boats, I suppose not bad considering we were without an outboard, but not what I was hoping for. That being said, we had an absolute blast and got to experience our first classic, and I can’t thank the people that helped us get there enough.

It turned out that one team was able to get enough of the big, Lake Washington crappie to bite to win. Tony Shepard and Alan Carter of Murray, Kentucky figured out the puzzle, and beat out 8-time National Champions Capps and Coleman by a few ounces.

The ticket was abandoning live bait and going small, pushing 1/16-ounce jigs tipped with a crappie nibble right on the bottom. Seeing those guys win, the emotion and excitement shared by so many people, was something I’ll never forget!

This coming weekend, New Madrid, Missouri will be hosting the BassPro Shop’s Big Cat Quest National Championship. The city has been working hard to put this event on, and it’s a great chance to get the family out and see some of the biggest blue catfish on the river! And here’s an added bonus, Bill Dance is on one of the teams fishing the tournament!


Larry Griffin pre-fishing Lake Washington, MS


By Josh Gowan

Heartlander Abroad: Lake Washington Mississippi

I have lived the grand majority of my life between Southeast Missouri and Northwest Tennessee, and am quite accustomed to the subtle nuances that distinguish our land from those who reside elsewhere. We have a surplus of bugs, it is part of life, but we have those bugs because we’re fortunate enough to live in an area that is rich in fertile soil, vast wetlands which are connected one way or another to the Mississippi River, and abundant wildlife. We live in the Mississippi River Delta, or in the hills closely surrounding it.

Well my friends, I am well below our home, and in a much deeper part of the Delta, one whose namesake geographically defines the area, and whose history is evident at every turn. Lake Washington, Mississippi lies just east of the levee separating the tumultuous Mississippi River from the fertile farm ground that surrounds the cypress-laden lake. While there are many characteristics here that parallel the Missouri Bootheel, there is a sense that this place is much older, and operates at a pace even slower than back home.

Mike Jones, owner/operator of Southern Stars RV and Cabins, and Bait’n’Thangs, both on the banks of Lake Washington, has been working for a decade to bring the CrappieMaster’s Tournament Trail here, and once he was successful he immediately started working on bringing a National Championship here, and succeeded this year.

Chippy and I are staying in one of Mike’s cabins here on the lake, and we haven’t needed for anything. The place is clean, comfortable, and has everything you’d want in a cabin on the lake. Bait’n’Thangs is just 100-feet or so away, where we’ve bought fishing licenses, minnows, and cooler cups, and the week is still young!

A trip to this beautiful lake is not complete without stopping at the Gator Den for a bite to eat. The sweet tea is served in big mason jars, and the menu has all the country fixin’s you’d expect, made to order of course. My personal favorite is the “Country Burger,” which is a hamburger however you’d like it (I went with a bacon cheeseburger) with a fried egg atop the patty. There are groceries, fishing gear, cold drinks, and gas on hand, and a myriad of cane poles are hung from the ceiling, and these are not decoration. This is a part of Dixie where yesterday sits right beside you, last year is just a few minutes away, and a century ago is right down the road.

Everything seems left as it was, and the people are as nice and personable as you’d expect. There are plantation-era mansions dotted along the shore, some in spectacular condition, and others with broken windows and columns wrapped in ivy, still standing though clearly unoccupied for years. Add the ancient trees towering over the property and it paints a rather spooky picture. My fishing partner, Chippy, who has been a self-proclaimed ghost hunter for years (although I’ve always maintained that if he ever actually saw a ghost his hobby would come to an abrupt end) is adamant about wanting to go “check them out,” I am less interested!

The fishing aspect of our trip is going well, and around 10 a.m. this morning we found our biggest concentration of crappie, and although none of them were monsters, there were some decent fish among them. There are five other lakes in this area that are “fishable waters” for the two-day tournament that starts this Friday, however they are all river chutes that generally do not produce crappie as big as the slabs from Lake Washington.

The problem we are all having is that we’re right smack dab in the middle of the summer-fall transition, and fishing can be tough. Actually, the fishing is great, but the tournament fishing is tough, meaning finding a congregation of big fish is proving difficult. However, there are over 200 teams which represent the best crappie fishermen in the country down for the tournament, and as is always the case, someone will put together two big stringers, I just hope it’s us!


5-year-old Brock Murphy with a big Kentucky Lake crappie he caught with his dad, Kevin


By Josh Gowan

Ducks, Doves, and the Big Dance

There is no greater time of year for us outdoor-folk than fall. The deer are moving about, the squirrels are cutting, the ducks are preparing for their migration down the Mississippi Fly Way, and the fish are gorging themselves! I’ve seen plenty of posts from people on Facebook about fall bringing hoodies, campfires, and football, and while I’m a proponent of all three, my thoughts are drawn more towards big bucks, mallard ducks, and plucking crappie from Reelfoot stumps! (The rhymes are free, you’re welcome.)

Alright, I may have regurgitated that opening paragraph from last year’s column, but when you hit the nail on the head there’s no need to keep swinging! Missouri and Tennessee’s early waterfowl season is in full swing, and as soon as we dry up (which hopefully will have happened by the time most of you read this) most of the areas corn will be getting harvested, opening up the region for a slew of dove hunting opportunities.

Jaime and David Boden of IDHP (that’s Insane Duck Hunting Posse in case you were wandering) have been wide open after teal. Jaime said that Friday morning there were teal everywhere and they limited out within 30 minutes, and Saturday they were getting flogged before shooting hours, but after the first volley the speedy waterfowl disappeared and haven’t been seen since. They spent Sunday morning watching cranes eat frogs, and as exciting as that was, it wasn’t what they were out there for! Jaime thinks the cold front pushed the majority of the teal south, and with the numbers my buddies in Mississippi are putting up, I’d say he’s probably right. All they can hope for is more teal migrating south, and with the season ending shortly, it needs to happen quick.

The dove population is pretty weak according to both the Boden’s and Scott Stafford, and the cold nights probably had something to do with it. Scott said after 75 miles of scouting he finally found a small concentration of birds Sunday afternoon and was able to get a quick limit, but overall it’s pretty dismal. He said the doves he found were however, some of the dumbest of the species he’s ever encountered, which means they had not been hunted much or at all on their migration south. Ignorant doves are a rarity, as most fly fast with neurotic patterns and flair away from would-be predators, namely hunters. He said these birds were fattened up and would fly directly at you, even if you were standing in the middle of the field picking up another bird, making for easy targets. I’ve yet to get out after any doves, and it looks to be at least three weeks before I’ll have time, but my wife regularly reminds me that we have a surplus of bacon and BBQ sauce waiting!

By the time some of you read this, my fishing partner Chippy Chipman and I will be on our way south to fish in our first CrappieMaster’s National Championship at Lake Washington, MS. We’re as excited as a mosquito at a blood bank, and are going to work extremely hard to figure out what promises to be a very tough late-summer bite in the Mississippi Delta. It is a two-fold trip for me, as I will be taking pictures, video, and writing updates for upcoming articles for my new gig at, while we simultaneously bounce around to the five lakes we’re allowed to fish and try to develop a plan.

This is the 5th consecutive time I’ve qualified for the National Championship, and the 3rd with Chippy, and the reason we’ve never went is because of the astronomical cost. I have plenty of product sponsors, but without some folks stepping up for us this trip absolutely wouldn’t have been possible. Being that my next article will come mid-prefishing from southern Mississippi and Lord only knows what kind of mind frame I’ll be in, I want to make sure and humbly thank the folks that are getting us there: Bait’n’Thangs on Lake Washington,, Cajun Fryer, The Silent Stalker, Trey Rone at Butler Drug Store, Carnell’s Collision Care, and Julie and Dr. Boyd!


6-year-old Sara Foley with a big suckerfish she caught at her Papa’s campsite on Current River


Fishing for a Cause

By Josh Gowan

I’d like to state for the record, that my entry fee for the Ben Kruse Charity Crappie Tournament was meant as a donation, and I was in no way trying to compete or actually place in the tournament… and if you believe that I also have some magic beans for sale!

The tournament was a big success once again thanks to all the sponsors, contestants, and most of all the folks that did all the leg work pulling it off. Another record turnout, with 77 boats, and a big crowd of spectators helped raise over $20,000 for the charity! I just can’t emphasize enough the impact the foundation has on people from right here in our area that are faced with a crisis. So before you peel off a check and send it to some far off organization with a lot of overhead, consider sending it to these folks first, where every single penny goes into the fund to help our local residents.

Now on to the fishing. Wappapello Lake was tough as was expected, but as usual there were still plenty of local teams that managed to put fish in the boat. The winning team was Frank Sifford and Scott Northern with 6.52-pounds, 2nd place was David and Wes Howard with 6.22-pounds, 3rd was Allen Chappell and Jason Sandage with 5.6-pounds, and 4th was Jeff Riddle and Slabber Dabe Maddux with 5.22-pounds. 1st Place Big Fish was David and Wes Howard with a 1.56-pound slab, and 2nd Place Big Fish was Sam and Cheryl Sandage with a 1.33-pound crappie.

Since I destroyed my trolling motor last weekend and Chippy’s boat was in disrepair, I called in one of my old fishing buddies with a working vessel, Perry Jackson, and we met up at Slabber Dave’s and picked up 1-pound of minnows and headed out to a big brush pile he had marked. While the temperature was perfect, the north wind was kicking, and we marked and attempted to cast over the top of the brush pile. With our bobbers bouncing like a kangaroo on a trampoline, getting a solid hook-set was difficult, so we eased, so to speak, up to the massive underwater cover and began vertical jigging. We didn’t miss many fish with this tactic, but the small fish were still picking our minnows off.

I did an article a few weeks ago for a magazine and used Kevin Rogers as my source. Kevin is probably the most famous vertical jig fisherman in the country, and is well known for using huge baits, regardless of the size of the fish. With the dingy water and the incessant tiny crappie sucking our minnows off, I decided to give Kevin’s method a try. I put a #1 blade (spinner blade like the ones that come on a roadrunner or beetlespin) above a red bead, and tied on a 3/16-ounce glow pink head with a 3-inch black and chartreuse tube, tipped with a minnow hooked through the lips. The entire bait was around 4-inches long, and with the blade and bead on the line, I could shake my rod violently and produce sound and flash, and the crappie smashed it! Unfortunately only five of them were over the 9-inch length limit, but hey, two keepers last year, five keepers this year, next year I’m going to be a threat!

The weigh-in was as big as any I’ve ever been to on the professional circuit. Tons of spectators came out and everyone seemed to have a great time. Tyson donated the chicken that a group of volunteers cooked to perfection, Kohfield provided cold Coors Light, and every grocery store in the area kicked in to provide soda’s, water, etc… Marty Toetz, once again, was phenomenal as the MC, and I believe he truly missed his calling, and should be hosting a game show of some sort!

The bottom line is that a group of people who are absolutely determined to raise money to help other people, worked their tails off and put on a great event, and I was thrilled to be involved, and I suggest you pitch in if you can, it feels great!


TJ Shands with a big blue catfish from the Ohio River near East Prairie, MO


Long Weekend Deals Tough Hand

By Josh Gowan

I don’t necessarily believe that karma is a legitimate force of nature, but I’d like to think that those of us who go out of our way to be kind and helpful to others have a bit more good fortune. I have been told by more than one person that I have the uncanny ability to walk through a pig farm and come out smelling like a rose, and I always attribute that to holding the door open for people, being friendly to everyone, and trying my best to be a genuinely nice fellow. Well, apparently I let the door fall on a little old lady at some point last week because my weekend was riddled with woes!

Every Labor Day weekend we host my in-laws and niece from Memphis at Reelfoot Lake. It’s my niece’s birthday and she gets to hang out with her cousin (my son) Jameson, my wife and her mom get to spend time together, and me and Romel, my father-in-law, carry the heavy burden of constant fishing! It’s a trip we all look forward to and we always have a good time.

We arrived ahead of our guests and found that the central air unit would not kick on. I have fixed and worked on many things in my life, but central air units are not on the list. After a few hours of sweaty trial and error, I was able to get a hold of my buddy Robbie Mays, all-around handyman extraordinaire from Portageville, and he walked me through a couple steps, which resulted in ice cold air in a matter of minutes!

I had a few magazine articles coming up that needed new pictures, so my father-in-law and I were off to chase crappie. No dice. We awoke Saturday to an alleged front bringing rain in from the south, but it stalled out just below us. Not wanting to venture too far from home with the lingering threat of storms, we thoroughly fished the south bank and tried some of the areas I’d caught black crappie a month ago, without getting a single bite.

It rained throughout the afternoon, and late that evening we eased out into open water and put 16 minnows in the water, trying to drum up a bite, but again we were blanked. Romel made some catfish jugs out of pool noodles a few years back, and I thought it would be fun to strap glowsticks to the opposite side the line was on and set them afloat in the dark. I managed to talk the entire family into climbing in the boat and joining me on what turned out to be a wonderful moonlit trip.

It didn’t take long for a hungry channel catfish to smell the bait and latch on to one of our jugs. It was a sight to see, the bright glowstick flinging back and forth and shooting through the pitch-black backdrop. The kids had a blast (as did the adults) chasing down the neurotic glowing noodle and netting the fish!

Sunday came and went without a crappie, and our only hope of sacking up filets seemed to be catfishing. We went back out at night, with new glowsticks and a much brighter moon, and had a blast again, right up until I hit a stump with my trolling motor that rendered it useless. We still got back to the house without much trouble, only to find that the sewage had backed up in the toilet and bathtub and flooded the bathroom. I have never been under our trailer at the lake, but I have to tell you, outside of the 5,000 spider-crickets, it’s not that bad! The rest is, well, not something to be shared with mixed company, but it was rough!

Regardless of the fishless (crappie-wise) weekend and the technical difficulties, we all had a great time spending time with each other! Now I just have to get my trolling motor working and the stink bait washed off the boat before the Ben Kruse 18 Fore Life tournament next Saturday at Wappapello Lake!