A large, mostly placid pool of water stretched out in front of the manmade dam I sat on. I had cast my line near some fallen logs, hoping that a channel catfish would be hiding beneath its shelter and take an interest in my bait. Nestled in the heart of the Blue River waterway, I had discovered a rare deep pool of water.
It had been a few minutes and I hadn’t gotten a bite. The silvery blue form of an adult gar had frequented the surface before, but I couldn’t see him anymore. I’d given up my initial fever to catch him in favor of the more elusive catfish.
I began to reel in, but was irritated to find that I had gotten snagged on something. The snag that I thought I had caught seemed to get free, so I reeled in. About four feet from where I stood I saw a long, blue shape in the water. I had accidentally hooked the massive gar by the tail, probably three feet from tail to snout. I reached for my net, but the fish flicked his tail and the hook came out. He disappeared back into the water.
That encounter, and subsequent interactions with the rich wildlife in the Kansas City Metro, has fostered in me a new fascination with and a love for nature. Whether it be the elegant form of a great blue heron or a crawdad hiding beneath a rock, Missouri has an abundance of amazing wildlife to discover.
One of the saddest things, however, is pulling a fish from the water that’s clearly unhealthy. The first channel cat that I caught in the Blue River, a three- or four-pounder, had lesions on his head. That water system is so polluted that the Missouri Department of Conservation has warned people not to eat more than one catfish a month from its waters.
Before I started fishing, I never even thought about water pollution. I had no reason to. As I was raised in the suburbs during a time when water magically comes from the faucet, I never realized where water was sourced. It’s the sad consequence of convenience. We become more and more removed from the world around us, and it becomes easier to forget the impact we’re having on the environment.
I’ve also had the experience of catching healthy fish. My first blue catfish was on the Lake of the Ozarks. Its taste was smooth and buttery, far superior to any of the restaurant catfish I’d ever had. We can still have clean waters where the fish are safe to eat, but it might be at the cost of some industry. I think the cost is worth the benefit. No museum, art show, concert, train ride, or house can substitute that raw thrill of encountering an animal in its natural habitat.
The joy of experiencing nature is reason in itself for making sure we are stewarding our natural resources. That’s not including the benefits of having a fresh source of food and water near where you live. Sport fishing, of all things, converted me to environmentalism. You never know: you might see me on the Plaza some day, wearing dreadlocks and passing around a petition to save the fish.