Outdoor Recreation

Scout it Out

Mark Twain Lake

Name: Mark Twain Lake

Location: In Ralls and Monroe counties, 28 miles southwest of Hannibal and 120 miles northwest of St. Louis.

For more information: see the links listed below.

On an angler’s first visit to one of Missouri’s big reservoirs he or she might well wonder, “Where, in all that water, am I going to find good fishing?” Sprawling Mark Twain Lake in Ralls and Monroe counties is a good example of a tough lake to approach for the first time. The lake has great crappie fishing and plenty of Corps of Engineers accesses, but it’s almost as if it gives you too many choices. Maps help, and you can get good ones from the Web site shown above, at area bait shops or by calling the Mark Twain Lake Project Office at (573) 735-4097. However, the simple strategy described on this page in A Leisurely Troll will likely produce good fishing action on your first visit. At the same time it will allow you learn more about the lake.

Slowly drag small lures or baits along the dam and bluff edges, over creek channels and near riprap shorelines with a steep drop-off. The lake has no crappie length limit, and the daily limit is 15. Fisheries Management Biologist Ross Dames reports that Mark Twain contains lots of 8-inch crappie that are growing at a good pace, promising improving fishing through the summer.

A Leisurely Troll

Snag-free angling for panfish and an occasional lunker.

Missouri has no natural lakes, but it has oodles of impoundments. The difference is that the latter have dams that hold in the water. Along these dams you’ll find deep water and plenty of fish.

The dams make good starting points for anglers on both big and small lakes, especially on unfamiliar waters. A proven technique is to drag tiny tube jigs in open water along the dam face.

Electric motors are best because they are quiet and can move the boat at low speed. Cast and release enough line so that the 1/16-to 1/8-ounce jigs trail around 30 to 40 feet behind the boat. The depth the lures run can be critical so experiment with different speeds and jig weights. If you have a GPS unit, a good speed to start trolling is about .7 miles per hour.

Use rod holders to spread your lure pattern behind the boat. Make runs at various distances away from the dam until you find the most productive depths and speeds. Also experiment with color. You may experience lots of “tap” bites, but fish that mean business often hook themselves.

Trolling the middle of the water column usually means you’ll have little trouble with snags and can learn to avoid places where you repeatedly hang up. Note these places, as well as where you catch nice fish, so you can return and fish them thoroughly.

Native Beauty

Mayapple

What better native plant to admire in May than the mayapple (Podophyllym peltatum). The plants often poke up in Missouri woodlands as early as March. They typically reach a height of about 18 inches. After they unfold their leaves, which could be up to a foot across, clumps of mayapple suggest crowds of commuters standing beneath umbrellas. Their single white flower, which often appears in May, nods beneath the large leaves. The flowers have a distasteful odor. Only plants with two leaves create a flower. Single leaf mayapple stems produce neither flower nor fruit.

If it’s the apple you have your eye on, you’ll have to wait. Mayapple fruits don’t mature until late summer, and after the leaves have withered. They are not really apples and more resemble small lemons. Technically they are berries, and they are only edible when fully ripe. Some people who have eaten them describe the fruit’s taste as “insipid.” Others say the apples make great preserves or juice. The rest of the plant, including the seeds of the berry, is poisonous.

It’s usually better to admire mayapples in the woods than to plant them in your yard. Colonies of them grow from creeping underground roots and can be disturbingly difficult to control. Learn more about mayapples from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Web site listed below.

Nettles and Jewelweed

Nature presents a prickly problem and a solution.

It’s a pleasant coincidence that stinging nettles (Laportea canadensis) and jewelweed (Impatiens spp.) often grow close to one another. Both plants are fairly common in low, moist woodlands and along streams, and it just happens that the juice of jewelweed is a balm for the toxic effects of the nettles.

If you haven’t engaged bare arms or legs with stinging nettles, you have missed out on an intense experience—albeit a bad one. Tiny hairs on the leaves of most species of nettles have sharp terminal ends that penetrate human skin, even through a layer of clothes, and release irritants. You immediately feel burning pain and desire relief. Rinsing the exposed area with water helps, but so can the sap of jewelweed. Break the jewelweed stems and repeatedly apply the abundant juice within to the affected area.

Stinging nettles are about 2–3 feet tall and tend to grow in dense colonies. If you look carefully, you can see the stinging hairs along the stems and ragged-edged leaves. Jewelweed is slightly shorter and its leaves have scalloped edges. When mature, the plant’s flower explodes a seed into the air at the slightest touch, giving rise to another common name for the plant: touch-me-not.

Bird Songs at Dawn

Wake up early to enjoy the morning melodies of birds.

The greatest symphony in the world may be heard from your deck or patio at dawn. Find a comfortable chair, pour a cup of coffee or tea and listen to what the birds have to say. Birds sing to attract mates or claim territory. In other words, they are either saying “come hither” or “stay away.” Their songs seem to travel farther and sound crisper early in the day, especially on still mornings.

A CD called Missouri Bird Calls helps you identify 192 state birds by their calls and habitats. The CD costs $8, plus tax, shipping and handling, where applicable, and is available by calling (877) 521-8632 or visiting the Nature Shop link listed below.