Pro fisherman Scott Pauley sings
the praises of fishing in Missouri
much light at 5:30 in the morning as Scott Pauley backs his boat trailer
into the water. The early hour doesn’t seem to bother Pauley or
a small army of other fishermen as a long line of pickups and boats forms
at a Lake of the Ozarks State Park access in Osage Beach, a wide, smooth
slab of concrete large enough to accommodate three vehicles at once.
Pauley, a professional bass tournament fisherman, is sponsored by
the Missouri Division of Tourism. In a decade as a pro he has become
the chief spokesman for fishing for the state of Missouri.
It’s a Saturday
morning in April and though it’s early in the spring fishing season
two bass fishing tournaments on Lake of the Ozarks attract dozens of anglers
from across Missouri. Pauley, a professional bass tournament fisherman
from Boone County, has entered a Heartland Pro-Am Association elite tournament.
Though he normally fishes with an amateur in his boat in pro-am tournaments,
today this Heartland Elite event is for pros only who compete solo.
Pauley, a sergeant
in the Missouri State Highway Patrol when he’s not fishing, has
spent hundreds of hours fishing Lake of the Ozarks. Even so he was still
out on the water the day before the tournament practicing and looking
for fish. Though he didn’t catch many on his practice day, the several
hours fishing weren’t spent in vain, he says.
“The idea is
to zero in on them and I was confirming what I already thought,”
says Pauley. “Right now all they’re interested in is making
babies, so I thought they were going to be far up the coves getting ready
to spawn. I want to isolate the fish and so when it comes time for the
tournament I can concentrate on where I think they are.”
with a fellow tournament fisherman before the start of an event
at Lake of the Ozarks State Park Marina.
Standing on the bow
of his Bass Cat boat in a cove, Pauley visits with a fellow tournament
pro who has pulled his boat up alongside while the two wait for the tournament
to begin. Pauley’s friend fishes for Bass Pro Shops, based in Springfield,
while the Missouri Division of Tourism is Pauley’s main sponsor,
along with a Columbia Ford dealer. The two look more like NASCAR drivers
in shirts covered with sponsors’ logos than someone sitting in an
aluminum john boat fishing a farm pond.
Just looking around
this cove packed with more than 40 bass boats, it’s obvious that
fishing, and particularly bass fishing, is big business in Missouri.
Take Pauley as an
example. He pulls $30,000 worth of boat, motor and trailer with a $35,000
four-wheel-drive Ford diesel pickup. He also carries more than $5,000
worth of fishing gear and tackle. Overall, says Pauley, all forms of fishing
in Missouri contribute more than $2 billion a year to the state’s
economy. Counting everything from a thriving boat manufacturing industry
to outdoor stores like Bass Pro Shops to the money spent at hotels, marinas
and restaurants in the state, fishing is huge.
That’s why Missouri
Tourism has sponsored Pauley as a professional for the past 11 years.
As the pro fisherman for the state of Missouri, Pauley’s boat, truck
and even his clothing are covered with Missouri Tourism logos. And what
does the state get for its money? For a decade they’ve gotten a
savvy marketing spokesman for the state.
tools of Pauley's trade rest on the deck of his boat.
He appears on dozens
of radio and TV fishing programs, hosts numerous nationally and internationally
known outdoor writers and spends countless hours each year singing the
praises of tourism in the Show-Me State at hunting, fishing and boat shows
around the country. He has become the “go to” person in Missouri
for information about the state’s fishing opportunities.
Back at Lake of the
Ozarks State Park Pauley and the small flotilla of fishermen wait to be
released for the start of the tournament. In the early years of bass tournaments
fishermen took off in “shotgun” starts in which boats raced
from starting areas en masse to reach their fishing spots.
Today, with 200-horsepower
motors the norm and safety a prime consideration, tournament fishermen
draw numbers and leave the starting area at a slow idle until they reach
open water and then run at speeds approaching 65 mph to reach their spots.
“Time is money,”
says Pauley. “You’ve only got so much time on the water and
if you’re running 70 miles up the lake to fish you need to get there
as fast as you can.”
what it’s all about — a nearly 4-pound largemouth bass
caught in Lake of the Ozarks.
Today Pauley faces
a number of considerations when deciding where to fish. A cold front approaches,
which Pauley says is like turning off a light switch as far as fishing
is concerned. He’s also looking at the current in the lake and the
color of the water back in coves where he thinks the fish are.
Water is running through
Bagnell Dam today so there is a noticeable current in the lake, which
affects where the fish will feed and how muddy the water is. He’s
also watching water temperature. In cold water bass don’t feed aggressively.
Today he’ll look for coves lined with red rock, which holds heat
and warms the water.
aware of dozens of different variables, Pauley admits getting a largemouth
bass to strike a lure is as much about a fisherman’s innate sense
about where the fish are and what they want as it is about water temperature
and color. And that sense comes from fishing — a lot.
“Some of these
guys are on the water 300 days a year,” he says. “That’s
a lot more beneficial than the 60 days a year I spend on the water.”
But even more than
time spent fishing, successful bass tournament fishermen have an intensity
about them. It’s all about concentration.
Every cast Pauley
makes is precise and hits exactly where he wants it. There’s little
wasted motion. He doesn’t struggle with fishing line or lures and
when he catches a fish that’s “a little short in the britches,”
as he describes a bass smaller than the 15-inch keeper size, he takes
just a few seconds to release the fish and get a lure back in the water.
hooks a keeper largemouth in a Lake of the Ozarks cove. Pauley says
the trick to bass fishing is concentration and persistance, as well
as a little luck.
“A guy that
has the ability to concentrate on the tiniest details for eight hours
is successful. And one fish can mean the difference between being in the
money and being an also-ran. Tournaments are won by hundreths of a pound,”
Pauley once lost a
fish that he estimates cost him $19,000. That fish was the difference
between third and 10th place in a $50,000 tournament.
As weigh-in time approaches,
Pauley fishes faster and faster as he works his way back to the state
park marina. Just as he predicted, earlier in the day the passing cold
front slowed the fishing and he heads back with just three keepers.
are allowed to keep up to five fish. His largest bass today is under 5
pounds and at the weigh-in he comes up with just over 10 pounds of fish.
The top fisherman for the day weighs in nearly 20 pounds.
“I had the opportunity
to do better, I just didn’t get the job done. You just gotta keep
fishing. You might catch three keepers on your last three casts of the
day. You never know.”
line up with their catch in tanks for the weigh-in at a Central
Pro-Am Association tournament at Lake of the Ozarks. The fish must
be kept alive for the weigh-in and then are released back into the
Pauley plans to retire
from his 24-year career with the highway patrol in a couple of years and
fish full time. Even with a career and his appearances for Missouri Tourism,
he still manages 30 tournaments a year, fishing nearly every weekend from
February through October. He’s often accompanied by his wife, Janet,
who is his full-time business manager. The two spend much of the summer
traveling the Midwest pulling a camping trailer and a bass boat as they
head to the next tournament.
such a fantastic place if you’re an outdoorsman. The state is known,
even internationally, for its fishing and hunting,” says Pauley.
“People are constantly stopping me and asking me where the fishing
is good and I tell them where. It’s easy. We’ve got some of
the best fishing lakes in the country.”