CLINTON — With the temperature soaring toward 100 degrees, it would have been the perfect day to sit in the air conditioning.
So why was there a beehive of activity recently at Bucksaw Marina on Truman Lake, guides readying their boats, workers filling buckets with minnows and fishermen talking excitedly about the prospects for the day?
Put simply, against all odds, the crappie fishing has been as hot as the weather lately.
"Truman has always been a good summer lake with all of its cover," said Jeff Faulkenberry, who runs a guide service on the large reservoir in west-central Missouri. "But this is the best we've seen it in some time.
"Even in this heat, the fishing has been unbelievable. The hot weather is affecting the fishermen a lot more than it is the fish."
That's why there was a crowd of fishermen at the marina at 6:30 a.m., hoping to get in a few hours of fishing before the summer sun turned up the thermostat.
Faulkenberry and his two fishing partners — Johnny Everhart and I — headed out when the temperature was still a relatively comfortable 84 degrees and made a beeline toward the spot in the Grand Arm where Faulkenberry had been catching fish. When he arrived, he got another reminder of how good the fishing has been. There were six other boats working the tree lines that had been holding fish.
"Time for Plan B," Faulkenberry said as he roared off to his second place.
Once he got there, he found a far more encouraging scene. He and his guests were alone.
"This place is like home to me," said Faulkenberry, 31, who lives in Clinton. "My grandfather built a home up on that hill, and I was down here all the time in the summer, fishing.
"The crappie fishing was great then and it still is. This is a big flat — probably one of the farm fields that was flooded when the lake was built. About the only cover around here are these tree rows.
"So that narrows down where you have to fish."
And with plenty of shad using those flats, there are plenty of crappies waiting to ambush them.
"The shad are at a perfect size for the crappies right now — 1 1/2 to 2 inches," Faulkenberry said. "When they get blown up on these flats, like they are now, the fishing can be fantastic."
Moments later, Faulkenberry proved it. He dropped a rig with two minnows attached to hooks into the thick branches of a flooded hardwood. When the bait reached the bottom, he made several cranks and was immediately greeted with a tap.
He set the hook and pulled a glistening 11-inch crappie to the surface.
But there were plenty more where that one came from. In the next 15 minutes, Faulkenberry, Everhart and I caught six more crappies before the action finally slacked off.
Looking out at the large stretch of water with tree limbs jutting above the surface everywhere, Faulkenberry said, "In a normal year, you wouldn't even see these stickups. They'd be under water. But with our water being low, you can see where to fish."
With Faulkenberry and I fishing minnows and Everhart using a small silver spoon, we moved from tree to tree and caught fish at every stop. By 10 a.m., we each had a limit of 15 crappies and were headed back to the marina.
But we weren't the only ones who found success. The sounds of electric knives slicing through crappie fillets carried from the fish-cleaning station.
"It's been like this for a couple weeks now," Faulkenberry said.
Faulkenberry finds his success by tying a 3/8-ounce weight to the end of his line, then two hooks above it. He baits those hooks with minnows.
That formula has worked perfectly in recent days. He and his fishing partners have taken limits of crappies every time out, and most of the time it's been before the sun really heats things up.
"You could catch them in the heat of the day, but it wouldn't be too comfortable," Faulkenberry said. "I'd much rather get out here early and be off the water before it gets too hot."