I’ll never forget the day my long journey as outdoors editor of The Kansas City Star started.
It was a beautiful April day in 1980, and I was eager to explore my new surroundings. Fresh out of Wisconsin, I didn’t know much about Missouri and Kansas. But I had heard the buzz about the new Truman Lake and the fishing below its dam, so I set out to get a look.
I stopped in a modest bait and tackle shop at the top of a hill, and I was greeted by a bear of a man dressed in bib overalls and a ballcap. Norm Trautman was a character. We started talking about the fishing below the dam, and he started tossing out the type of superlatives I would expect a bait-shop owner to use.
When I kidded him about that, he reached behind the counter and tossed me a handful of marabou jigs. I told him I had to pay, and he answered that those lures were loaners.
“If you don’t catch anything, come back here and get your money back,” he joked.
I climbed down the chunk rock below the dam and cast one of the small jigs into the frothy current. I immediately got a hit and reeled in a hard-fighting white bass.
I proceeded to catch other white bass, channel catfish, largemouth bass and two walleyes. Just when I was feeling pretty good about myself, I glanced over and saw other fishermen carrying big stringers of fish back to their vehicles.
I went back to Norm’s bait shop and paid for my “loaner” lures, then continued my exploration tour. I saw boats come into Drake Harbor transporting huge paddlefish. And camouflaged hunters were bringing in turkeys at a check station.
I remember thinking to myself, “Man, I’m going to like Missouri.”
Thirty-six years later, that hasn’t changed. I was a pup back in those days, dashing around to explore every part of Missouri and Kansas that I could. Now I’m more like an old dog. The heart is still passionate about the outdoors, but the rest of me is aging.
How did this happen? Where has the time gone?
More than half of my 65 years have been spent at The Star. And this job has been a wild ride.
But like they say, all good things have to come to an end. And I’ve reached that point.
I recently took a buyout from the newspaper and I am retiring. This is my goodbye.
I still plan to write a book, freelance articles for magazines and give presentations on the outdoors. I might even be back to write freelance articles for The Star. But it won’t be the same.
That’s OK, though. It’s time to move on to a new life.
When I transition, I will carry plenty of memories of a life well-spent.
▪ I remember the day in Alaska when I thought I was going to become bear food. I was fishing with a woman guide on a narrow river that meandered past her wilderness home.
She was rowing us in a rubber raft and I was facing her, making casts with my flyrod. Suddenly, her eyes got big and the smile disappeared from her face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Don’t turn, but a big grizzly just came out of the woods and he’s watching us,” she said.
Naturally, I turned. And I watched as the big bear slowly advanced toward us.
“Normally, those bears will take off when they see a human,” she whispered. “But this one’s aggressive.”
Luckily, the bear just stared at us for a while, then wandered down the bank. When it got far enough away, my guide rowed the raft to her dock and we got out and dashed into her house. Once the coast was clear, we got out on the river again, this time with her boyfriend seated at the back with a big rifle.
It’s the only time I’ve fished with an armed guard.
▪ My favorite all-time guide was J.D. Fletcher. He was a self-professed hillbilly who was a combination fisherman, entertainer, comedian, historian and businessman.
He called me early in my career and invited me down to little Eagle Rock, Mo., to go fishing on Table Rock Lake. I traveled down there and we had a great trip. We caught a stringer of huge white bass and J.D. and I hit it off right away.
I did numerous articles on ol’ J.D. and I would always bring him newspapers. One of the funniest days I can remember at The Star came when J.D. and I stopped to talk to an old rancher who was going to be our shuttle driver on a float trip down the Kings River.
We left a big stack of newspapers on the seat of J.D.’s beat up old truck, and as we were talking, I glanced behind me to see one of the rancher’s billygoats up on its haunches, reaching into the open window to eat every one of those papers.
J.D. roared with laughter and said, “Frazee, I always told you your articles were in good taste.”
▪ I remember days when I shared the boat with guides and their favorite fishing partners, their dogs. My buddy Clyde Holscher took his westie, Brody, with us and he showed how the little canine was a specialist. He would react with boredom when most fish were caught. But when a big white bass was landed, Brody immediately got excited.
Angel, Chris Jones’ husky mix, had similar tendencies. When a big blue catfish was on the line, she had her nose plastered to the water, watching the fish’s every move until it was landed. A small one? Not so much.
Then there was Fred, Johnny Everhart’s yellow Lab, that was a combination duck dog and fishing dog. He would go with us when we fished Johnny’s strip pit and keep us company, and he would perform like a champ when we shot ducks at Johnny’s private marsh.
▪ I’ll never forget 9/11, when my worlds collided. John Wilson, a neighbor who has a primo duck lease in west-central Missouri, hosted me to a great teal hunt that warm September morning.
We relaxed in the beauty of the marsh and the serenity it provided. But as we motored back to Wilson’s boat house, that ended.
We saw John’s father-in-law pacing on a levee and immediately knew something was wrong. At first, we worried that something had happened to one of our family members. Then he told us the America was being attacked by terrorists.
I could go on and on. I have attended funerals of fishing buddies, helped close friends through cancer treatments with the therapy of fishing, made close friends in a fishing boat or a duck blind, and traveled the backroads of the Ozarks and the Flint Hills to view parts of our states few get to witness.
Yes, it was a dream job. But now it’s time to go.
Thanks for the memories, everyone. It’s been a great ride.
To reach Brent Frazee, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org