COLUMBIA — Getting out of bed before 4 a.m. might make you feel like a fish out of water, but some Columbia anglers wouldn't have it any other way.
Seven Columbia lakes will soon be opening two hours earlier to accommodate those early risers, and all indications show local fishers are already hooked.
The Columbia Parks and Recreation Commission approved a recommendation to open parks for fishing at 4 a.m., instead of 6 a.m., Thursday by a 4-2 vote. Park Services Manager Gabe Huffington said the recommendation originally came from a resident's request and that the new policy go into effect within the next two weeks.
"Sounds good to me. I like that idea," Columbia fisherman Chris Gregory said. "If they open these up a few hours early, that suits me just fine."
Saturday morning, Gregory was fishing on Stephens Lake. The six other lakes slated for the earlier opening are American Legion Lake, Antimi Lake, Twin Lakes, Cosmo-Bethel Lake, Philips Lake and the fishing lake at Nifong Park.
Huffington said anglers want to hit the lakes earlier because conditions are optimal for fishing in the wee hours of the morning. Before the sun rises, the water temperature is cooler, and fish come closer to the surface of the water. They also like to feed in the early morning, which makes them easier to catch.
"Every true fisherman knows the first two hours of the day and the last two hours of the day are the best fishing times," Gregory said.
Opening the parks earlier won't cost the city more than it takes to change the hours on the park signs, Huffington said. Park employees' schedules might need to be adjusted, but the department will not need to hire any additional staff because of the change.
Columbia's new fishing hours are modeled after the Missouri Department of Conservation's park hours. However, most cities allow fishing only during park hours, which usually open at 6 a.m. or later, Huffington said.
"By offering some earlier fishing ... we're going to have some new people come from surrounding communities to come out and fish because they know they can get out earlier," Huffington said.
Christopher Harwood, a Michigan fisher who comes to Columbia to visit relatives, said he'd be more likely to fish at city lakes due to the extended hours. Saturday morning he was perched on his cooler waiting for the fish to bite at Philips Lake when he learned about the impending change.
"If this place opened at 4 a.m., that'd be awesome," Harwood said. "You just want to get out, get your spot and hang out. The fish are usually usually biting earlier in the morning, and you seem to catch a bit more in the beginning of the day."
The new hours will take effect as soon as park signs and the department's website can be updated, Huffington said. It shouldn't take longer than two weeks.
The parks will open early only for fishers, who will need to have lines in the water and fishing permits on them to indicate they are actively fishing. Normal park hours will remain the same for all other purposes.
Huffington said the parks department will monitor the new hours to see if people are making use of them. He hopes to not only bring new people to the park, but also to make it easier for regular anglers to reel in the big one.
"That's ultimately our goal, to get people out there and fishing," Huffington said. "We're making them happy by opening those parks earlier for them."
Gregory hopes the extended hours will catch on statewide and said he's looking to take advantage of those hours as soon as possible. He's certain other fishers will be joining him in the early-morning hours.
"I might even shoot over here before I go to work," Gregory said. "If it's open at 4 a.m., I can come here and fish for an hour-and-a-half, go home and get ready for work."
Supervising editor is Edward Hart.