As fishermen and hunters in Missouri and Kansas get ready to ring in a new year, they will look back at 2015 as a year in which a lot of things were super-sized.
Giant floods, giant fish, giant improvement in Kansas pheasant and Missouri deer hunting. That pretty much sums up the year that was.
Rain, rain go away!
After a May in which it seemingly rained nonstop, fishermen, boaters and campers were praying for sunshine.
Reservoirs throughout Missouri and Kansas flooded, and recreation took a big hit. Boat ramps and parking lots were under water, marinas had to extend walkways to even remain accessible, and some campgrounds flooded. And it wasn’t a short-term situation.
In the Missouri Ozarks, the rain gauges were overflowing. From May 1 through early June, the Table Rock area received 22.62 inches of precipitation — more than the region receives annually some years. Bull Shoals, Norfork and Table Rock lakes all had significant flooding. Closer to Kansas City, Smithville Lake in Missouri shot to a record high level on June 8, when water rose to 10 1/2 feet above normal.
Kansas wasn’t spared. At reservoirs such as Tuttle Creek, Perry and Pomona, water levels soared to 15 feet or more above normal.
At some places, that practically stopped recreation in its tracks, lending boat ramps inaccessible and flooding low-lying campsites.
“This is exactly what these reservoirs were built for — flood control,” said Scott Rice, operations manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Pomona Lake. “You can imagine the damage we would have seen downstream if these dams and reservoirs weren’t there.
“But it definitely affects recreation in the short-term.”
A monster of a fish
Andy Belobraydic of Richwoods Mo., had modest goals when he went paddlefish snagging for the first time.
Before joining his friends on March 22 at Table Rock Lake, he said, “If I get lucky, maybe I’ll catch a 50-pound fish.”
He got lucky all right. He more than doubled his goal, landing a paddlefish that weighed 140 pounds, 9 ounces. That was a Missouri state record, exceeding the former mark of 139 pounds, 4 ounces. In fact, it was the biggest fish of any type ever landed in the Show Me State.
“I had that fish to the surface four or five times,” Belobraydic told The Star. “I told my friend to take a picture of it when it came up, just in case I lost it. I knew no one would believe me if I didn’t have some proof.”
The giants of the Muddy Mo
Maybe the Missouri River doesn’t look like a prime fishing spot with its muddy water and channelized banks, but it still has plenty of life to it.
Talk to Matthew McConkey of Kansas City. Running a trotline near Riverside on Sept. 19, he caught a 100-pound flathead catfish. That giant put McConkey in the Missouri record books for flatheads caught by methods other than rod and reel. It broke the former “alternative methods” record of 99 pounds, also set on the Missouri River.
“That giant moved my 17-foot ... boat around like it was nothing,” said McConkey, who was using a 4-inch goldfish for bait.
But that wasn’t the only super-sized catfish the Muddy Mo gave up in 2015. On March 21, Burr Eddie III of Malta Bend, Mo., landed a 120-pound, 8-ounce blue catfish on a trotlines in Saline County. That fish also made the record books.
It exceeded previous alternative-methods state record of 117 pounds that was caught more than 50 years ago on the Osage River.
A striper to remember
Lawrence Dillman of Rockaway Beach, Mo., thought he had a big paddlefish. Or maybe a giant catfish.
But when the fish on the end of his line May 21 surfaced, he was shocked.
It was a 65-pound, 10-ounce striper, a beast that took him 45 minutes to land at Bull Shoals Lake.
That fish went into the Missouri record book, surpassing the former mark of 60 pounds 9 ounces, also caught at Bull Shoals.
“When I got that fish into shallow water, I went in and bear-hugged it and got it on the bank,” said Dillman, who was using 20-pound test and a creek chub for bait. “I wasn’t going to let a fish like that get away.”
Hatchery fish kill
Fisheries workers who run the Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery, which raises trout that are stocked in Lake Taneycomo, will be happy to see 2015 leave.
A rare set of circumstances in November combined to lower the dissolved oxygen levels to dangerously low levels for trout. And that set off a major fish kill at the hatchery.
Officials estimate more than 80,000 brown and rainbow trout were lost in the hatchery, according to a report in the Springfield News-Leader. There also was some mortality in the lake, though not nearly as significant.
Low oxygen levels are nothing new at Taneycomo during the fall months. But this year’s situation was especially bad because of the large amounts of debris that washed into Table Rock Lake during heavy rain this summer. That debris decayed and lowered oxygen levels in Table Rock, which feeds Taneycomo.
The situation is back to normal now that Table Rock has turned over and restored oxygen to the water. In fact, the fishing has been good in recent weeks. Hatchery officials expect to make up for the lost fish by relying on surplus trout produced at Missouri’s four other cold-water hatcheries.
Missouri deer hunting rebounds
The good times returned for Missouri deer hunters in 2015.
After several down years, they enjoyed an outstanding November firearms season. They shot 189,933 deer in the 11-day season, 23,556 more than in 2014 and 32,661 more than in 2013.
“Good weather and plenty of deer activity likely are the reasons why there was an increase,” said Jason Sumners, a wildlife official for the Department of Conservation.
Sumners also credited a steadily-increasing deer herd in southern Missouri and a stabilized herd in the northern part of the state.
A good Kansas pheasant season
Just add water.
That was the missing ingredient in the recipe for producing pheasants in Kansas.
Several years of drought dropped populations drastically and result in poor hunting in recent times. But the water was back in 2015 ... and so were the pheasants.
Surveys this year showed that pheasant numbers were up by as much as 50 percent. Hunters saw the proof this fall.
Though the hunting was still spotty, significant areas in western Kansas showed much-improved hunting.