COLUMBIA — The quiet splash of a lure a few minutes past 7 a.m. was the only ceremony that marked the opening of Philips Lake as Columbia’s most recent public fishing area Friday.
The first anglers to arrive made their own paths through long, dew-covered grasses between the unfinished Bristol Lake Parkway and the 40-acre lake. As the sun rose across the water, they struggled to cast past the thick shoreline vegetation into water containing bluegills, crappie, gizzard shad and largemouth bass.
Jesse Curry and Woody Woodard, both fishermen from Columbia, brought a 12-foot aluminum boat with a trolling motor and glided over the growth into deeper water. “A lake like this you can’t fish from the bank,” Curry said.
In the first few hours about 10 anglers came out to test the waters, reeling in several bluegills and largemouth bass.
Craig Gemming, a fisheries management biologist from the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the lake is stocked with some catfish, but anglers will have the most success with largemouth bass and bluegills. According to the last survey, he said some bass were recorded up to 5 or 6 pounds. There were a few crappie, but not many.
Jerry Jones of Columbia drove by to check out the area, having heard it was being opened to the public. Previously, it was only accessible with permission and a fishing permit purchased from the previous owners.
“We caught channel catfish then,” Jones said. “That was 25 or 30 years ago, I don’t know how the fishing is now. I’ll probably come back tomorrow morning early, with my son.”
As previously reported in the Missourian, the 140-acre park was formerly known as the E.M. Philips Farm, and the city acquired it in two parts. The city purchased 77 acres in 2004. Bristol Lake Investments donated the remaining 63 acres to the city in 2005.
Plans for naming the park have rested on “A. Perry Philips Park,” after its former owner. Columbia Parks and Recreation is working out details for plans to create a parking lot, boat ramp, boat dock, restrooms, additional sidewalks and lighting, funded by a $157,500 grant from the Missouri Department of Conservation. Mike Griggs, the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department’s services division manager, said the plans for those facilities are being completed and he expects to see “everything up and running” by spring.
However, for anxious anglers like Curry, Woodard and Jones, an uneven field of wild grass isn’t enough to keep them off the water.
“We always have a good time when we get out, even if we don’t catch anything,” Curry said. “At least it gets us out of the house.”