Photo and Text By BRENT FRAZEE
Every time Steve Blake pulls his boat onto a flat in the Sterett Creek arm of Truman Lake, it’s like a homecoming.
This was his stomping ground long before the giant reservoir in west-central Missouri was even built.
He can point to the places where his grandfather and uncle once had cabins – base camps for their fishing and hunting trips. He gestures to the place where the little church he once attended stood. And he can take you to the spot where trees once stood along an old path through a cemetery.
They’re all under water now … but Blake hasn’t forgotten. Today, he drops minnows to many of the spots that were part of his childhood and he catches big crappies there.
“I have a lot of history here,” said Blake, who has guided out of Sterett Creek Marina since 1984. “This is where I spent a lot of my summers. We lived in St. Louis at the time, but I was down here fishing and hunting with my grandpa and uncle every chance I got.
“I know about every little ditch or fence row in this area. Now I’m catching fish off them.”
STUMPS & HUMPS
Blake uses the sophisticated electronics on his boat to pinpoint the location of those stump rows, drop-offs and humps. But he probably wouldn’t need them.
He knows this part of Truman Lake better than most fishermen do. That plays to his advantage.
It certainly did on a cloudy afternoon in August. He positioned his boat over an old road and the stumps from the timber that once stood alongside it, and the sonar unit painted a pretty picture.
There were clouds of baitfish below. And the arches amongst those schools of shad indicated that there were gamefish down there, too.
Blake lowered his minnow to the bottom, then reeled it up a couple of feet and held it almost motionless. It didn’t take long for his bait to attract attention. The tip of his rod slowly bent toward the water and Blake set the hook. Seconds later, he lifted a 12-inch crappie into the boat.
But that fish was far from alone. For the next several hours, Blake and his two guide clients – my granddaughter Caty Franklin and me – caught fish after fish.
By the time we were done, Blake estimated we had caught almost 100 crappies. We tossed most of them back, but kept 32 for a couple of fish dinners.
An unusual day? Nah, pretty much business as usual for Blake.
After fishing Truman for 34 years, Blake knows where the crappies will go …especially if he’s fishing his relatives’ old land.
“Truman is just loaded with crappies,” he said. “They’ll move out to these main-lake flats right after the spawn and they’ll stay there, right into October.
“Just about anywhere that has 10 to 15 feet of water that has cover that comes up 2 to 3 feet of the bottom will have crappies.”
Blake fishes with a 9-foot rod with a reel spooled with Berkley Big Game 8- to 10-pound test line. He uses a No. 2 hook with a three-eighths-ounce, pinch-on weight positioned a short distance above the hook so he can bounce the hook out if it becomes entangled in the brush, and he fishes vertically with a minnow.
The crappies typically suspend right above the brush, Blake said, and it’s critical that the fishermen drop their minnows to the right zone.
Then it’s just a matter of moving from spot to spot and remaining patient, he said.
While Blake likes fishing the Sterett Creek area, he is confident he could use his methods to catch crappies in any arm of Truman.
“You don’t have to travel 40 miles on this lake to find crappies,” he said. “There are solid numbers in every arm.”
Year-round, Blake guides customers to those crappies. He is a throwback to the old days, when old-timers knew the water so well that they could sense where the fish were going to be.
At age 66, he jokingly calls himself the “old man and the sea.” He has been a fulltime guide for one marina, Sterett Creek, since he started and he isn’t about to change.
“I have no regrets at all,” he said. “I make my own hours, I’m outdoors every day, and I don’t have someone I don’t know signing my check.”