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- General Interest
By Mindy Crandall
America’s best-seller, the Bible, makes reference to the fact that all things, as we know them, will eventually come to an end.
For many sportsmen who have spent at least one night a week for the last several months together on the creek will also be using this phrase, as the gigging season for this year is coming to an end.
Gigging has changed a lot over the years and has been shared by many.
Gigging season in Missouri begins Sept. 15 and runs through Jan. 31. Non-game fish such as buffalo, suckers, carp and gar can be gigged in streams between sunset and midnight. Not exactly the months in which most people think about fishing, especially in the dark. But for others, it is a ritual.
The Missouri Wildlife code has many laws pertaining to gigging. One such code or law is that the per capita is 20 fish of non-game species per day per person and those gigging must have a Missouri fishing permit. It does seem that the legal limit is a pretty high number of fish that can be gigged, but according to conservation agent, Mark Henry, by taking these non-game fish, it actually helps the fishery.
Overpopulation of non-game fish compete with game fish for space and food and can reduce their numbers and growth rates.
“This law has been in place for many years and we haven’t seen any reduction in suckers or any other non-game fish to the point where we feel like they aren’t reproducing enough,” Henry said. He also knows that some giggers have a bad reputation, but for the most part he says, “Most of those boats out in the water gigging respect our laws and keep things on the up and up. But every once in awhile you get the others who gig bass or other fish not legal to gig.”
“These are usually the same people who don’t take care of their campsites, leaving them a mess,” he added.
“Altogether, it is just a lack of respect for these laws which are to protect our wildlife and the land around us,” Henry said.
It is not known for sure when and how gigging came about, but it has been dated back to the European settlers who used gigs or spears and burned “jack” pine knots in a metal basket to provide light for gigging during the nighttime hours. They would first light their torches and then float their boat sideways downstream.
It is also evident that aboriginal Americans used bows and flint-tipped arrows and spears to harvest fish in the cold, clear waters of the Ozark streams.
In later years, men would wade the streams with lantern in hand and a homemade gig made from a pitchfork. It has been said that they often fell into deep crevasses in the creek because their light was not sufficient enough to see the holes.
Today, the technique in which to gig suckers mainly is by means of an aluminum jon boat with a lighting system run by a generator, waders, gigs and most importantly a fish fryer in which to cook up these scrumptious fish on the gravel bar once caught.
For several groups of guys in this area, gigging is a tradition and one they have shared with their fathers and continue to share with their own children. When talking to any of these gentlemen, it is apparent that the spot in which they fish is important and one that is kept a secret.
There are several groups in the Ava area that go out in the late hours and gig mostly suckers. Each group seems to prefer a certain day of the week in which to gig. All of these groups know exactly when and where they are to meet and seem to have some characteristic that makes their own group a little unique.
Smiles shortly appeared on the faces of Burrely and Mike Loftin just talking about their gigging experiences. They are a few of the men that go on Wednesday night. Burrely says, “We meet faithfully every Wednesday night at Jim’s Body Shop, load up the boats and whoever is there, goes.”
Burrely adds, “There is not much that is discussed that can be told, as it is all top secret,” and the way he said it makes that believable.
Burrely told of one fellow gigger, Delmas Watson, who joins the group that brings a Dutch oven and makes the dessert, right on the creek bed. He makes every kind of cobbler you can think of. He also stated that even though with several going, they could gig a large amount of suckers, they choose not to. They usually have someone bring some other wild game meat such a deer, alligator or turkey, too. He mentioned that when they leave the area in which their campsite is set up, they leave it better than when they came.
Burrely says his son, Jeremy, has gone with him before, but didn’t get a chance to go this year. He regrets that, because this is a pastime the two truly enjoy sharing.
Mike joined in the conversation by commenting on the main difference he sees in how gigging has changed over the years, that being the lighting system. He mentioned how technology has changed, from lanterns, to gas power, and now to generators just in the time since they’ve started doing this together. Mike also told how he would go gigging, take the fish home and freeze them, and once he had enough he would take them up to his son at college and fry them up for his baseball team.
He said, “We are lucky to have this resource in the Ozarks. Many of the boys on the team come from all over and have never heard of gigging.”
Although Mike’s son is in college, when given the chance he, too, is meeting up at Jim’s Body Shop to join in all the fun.
Keith Jones, who also hangs out regularly with this crowd, made mention that he used to go gigging with his parents on the Current River. He remembers their boat being a wooden jon boat back then, a major change from the aluminum boats being used today. This pack of men have been
gigging together for over 20 years and they typically gig the same hole several times over, and it still produces enough suckers each week.
Ava also has a clan of fellows who gig on Friday nights.
David Stout said they have about 10 or 12 that load up and go together. He thinks they have been together in action for about seven years.
Even though several groups gig on the same day, it is not often that you run into anyone out in the water. But if two boats should meet up in the same hole, most are respectful enough to share the creek.
David, too, has taken his children, a son and a daughter, out on the creek to gig.
Daughter, Marissa, is an animal lover and really enjoys seeing wildlife in its natural habitat. David recalls his daughter’s amazement in seeing an otter at the water’s edge.
He also shared a less-pleasant story about himself and another gigger being out on the water, and flushing a flock of turkeys out of their nest only to have them fly directly overhead.
As they flew over, you could tell that they were scared, as “things” began falling out of the sky. He said all you could do was take cover knowing that you were being attacked by turkey droppings.
He also laughs about a time when they were all gathered around the campfire talking. Another comrade was deep in conversation when something flew out of the fire and landed in his jacket hood, catching him on fire. He said they all laughed, but put him out quickly.
It is stories like these that will last forever in the minds of these sportsmen.
David says he has a very unique gig that is not quite put together yet, but will soon be finished – one a friend made for him out of stainless steel. A gig like that needs a handle a little sturdier than one made of wood so he plans on adding a fiberglass handle.
Since this gig is still in the making, his favorite as of right now was made by a friend, Bill Willis.
Most gigs are homemade, but can also be bought in certain stores. A lot of people who gig would agree with David by saying that the gig makes all the difference in the world and everyone has their favorites.
Friday nights seem to be the choice for another group of giggers from Ava and I had the opportunity to tag along with this group for a better understanding in writing this article.
I was able to bring my 13-year-old son on this adventure. He too was a first time gigger.
We were well prepared, fully covered in several layers of clothing, but not quite prepared for an outing in the boat as neither one of us was wearing waders or knee high rubber boots. We both watched from the creek bank and were amazed at how quickly everything took place.
From the time we arrived, it was a matter of about 15 minutes and the whole campsite was set up, complete with a campfire, boat in the water, lanterns set up on the gravel bar to see, fish fryer arranged, potatoes being sliced and every other fine detail worked out fully.
Once the boat was in the water and they headed quietly down the creek, it felt like we were one with Mother Earth as the night was still and quiet until the first time one of the boys speared a fish.
The splashing of the water and the sound of the gig hitting the gravel on the bottom of the creek, and the faint sound of cheering let us know that tonight dinner would be served.
Alongside the typical fare of fried potatoes, bread and whatever snack someone’s wife or mother brought, suckers were to be had tonight, too.
As the rest of us listened with anticipation at the water’s edge, potatoes were being put down to fry, stories were already being told and the simple pleasure of one’s company was being enjoyed. After about an hour in the water, Heath Roberts and Brent Lakey came back in and the boat was filled with about 14 suckers — not a lot of fish by some standards, but it was almost Biblical as they were fishers of men and everyone that night was fed and was fed well as nobody went home hungry.
It was amazing to see these fish, bottom feeders, with distorted round noses and sucking little lips still fighting for life after their battle with a gig – as evil looking as the trident and with similar features.
I scooped up each fish one at a time as they awaited their fate. As Jody Porter scaled each fish, I took notice of the fact that their puncture wounds almost seemed invisible.
Once scaled, Brent proceeded to wield the fillet knife. To some this, too, would seem like a brutal act. But even to my son and I who are both a little on the squeamish side, it didn’t seem to faze us as we saw it as a way to provide what God intended for us to feed upon.
It was also interesting to see an ironing board used as a makeshift table to scale and fillet the fish, and watching all the extra fish pieces fall through the holes. It was such a sight to see, a true beauty. And what a wonderful color these fish portrayed, each fillet being of a brilliant white color.
I was rather shocked. I expected them to be dark in color because just the very thought of a bottom feeder fish seems unappealing or dingy in a way.
After all the fish were scaled and filleted, they were then scored with a homemade apparatus that cut little precise slits through each fillet allowing for it to cook out all the bones during frying causing each fillet piece to curl up ever so nicely.
At this point, the fish are ready to be dressed out. Each was sprinkled with a small amount of salt and coated with a cornmeal coating. They were then ready for the fryer.
Now, as I do not really enjoy the taste of fish, I was really apprehensive about trying a sucker. Everyone said that it didn’t really taste like fish, but I was afraid that I was going to end up being the one that was the sucker in this scenario.
However, I must admit and highly agree that they were quite delicious.
Heath Roberts’ dad, Denny Roberts, said, “They always taste better fresh out of the cold water in these Missouri streams.”
As for that, I do not know with this being my first time, but I am sure there is truth to that. He was the potato fryer for the night and Denny, I must say, those were the best fried potatoes I ever had.
He was enjoying the night with his son and although he said he never went with his parents he did enjoy gigging in his earlier years with a few other friends. Brent’s dad, Darrell Lakey, was also available and did a great job blessing the food. Michael Shiverdecker, Sue Jones’ son, was also there for the evening’s affair. Each and every one of these gentlemen made my son and me feel right at home. Even though I haven’t been a part of this bunch for the last three years, it didn’t take me long to feel like one of the men and jump in and take part in the process of gigging.
I learned a lot that night about gigging, and just as quickly as the camp was set up, it was taken down at the end of the night.
The campfire was put out, the boat was loaded up, pop bottles were collected and the rest of the stuff was neatly packed away.
Laughter exploded that night like the wildly burning flames from the campfire, and it faded as somberly as the wet ashes being smoldered out. But forever in our hearts lay the burning memories so deeply etched in our minds, a night not too easily forgotten. They had allowed a girl to enter into their kingdom for the first time, which isn’t typically allowed.
For my son and me, it was a time of bonding, a treasure to tell, an experience like no other, and for this I am eternally grateful.
Thank you, boys, for allowing us to go! I think my son has a new-found love for gigging and is on the lookout for some size 11 waders.
Just as the still of the night hit, sounds of footsteps faded and truck doors were slammed shut and headlights now guided the way to the path in which we came. The open road was ahead as each one found their way home, but I can almost promise that as every head hit the pillow that night, prayers were sent up thanking God for such a beautiful night with wonderful fellowship, and with thankfulness for the 14 fish that fed the multitude. Thank you, Lord, for making us fishers of men.
These are the small things that make living in the Ozarks worthwhile. I do wish more people would take advantage of such things and respect what has been given to us. As with anything else, laws are in place to make sure that every generation following us can enjoy these simple pleasures too.
Even though the techniques, style and reasons for gigging have changed, the mere act of going has not.
There was a day that gigging was more for survival and wasn’t really a social event. Today, I am glad that most people don’t have to rely on fishing as a means for living, but as a way to create memories and to pass on a time-long tradition. I know most of these guys hate to see gigging season come to an end, but they have their stories to tell until yet another season is upon us.
Reflections is a weekly column exploring Douglas County. This week’s story focuses on the ending of a beloved season of gigging for many in this area.