This story appeared on news-leader.com and was written by n. If you and your family and friends have spent any time on the banks of Missouri’s large lakes and streams, then this scene will be quite familiar. It was a warm quiet day; the birds were singing; the cicadas were harmonizing; a gentle breeze was rustling through the trees; small waves were lapping at the shoreline. Perhaps you were enjoying a quiet picnic, or lounging on a beach towel reading a book, or watching your kids or grandkids splashing in the water. It was a calm serene afternoon, far away from the hustle and bustle and noise of the city, which is why you were there in the first place.
When, from the far distance, you heard a muffled roar, almost like a distant boom of thunder or rumble of a freight train. You looked all around the horizon, but the sky was clear, with no clouds at all, and there were no railroads within 50 miles. But the noise not only persisted but quickly became louder and louder, until it cleaved the air like the scream of a 747 jetliner. And then suddenly around the corner raced a whole armada of 50, 100, 500 or — in the event of the yearly Skeeter Boat Owners Tournament — 2,350 tournament anglers at the helms of 21-foot, 350-horsepower bass boats traveling at nearly 100 miles per hour. Totally ignoring you, they screamed right past your spot, rending the air with horrific noise, throwing up huge, dangerous wakes which angered the swimming adults and frightened the wading children, nearly swamped nearby kayakers and canoeists, carelessly rocked the wading anglers and left behind them thoughtlessly polluted air and water and quiet. And God help you if the lake or river you were at was hosting even more tournaments on that same day.
This is a common scenario now enacted over and over and over on Missouri’s public waterways, as anglers — often participating in the ever-increasing number of high-stakes tournaments — revert to even larger and more powerful boats and motors in order to “get onto the fish” faster. For example, a recent Lake of the Ozarks Big Bass Contest offered a first prize of $101,500 and the Forest Wood Cup angling contest winner got $1 million! When that much manhood and/or money is part of the equation, too many fishermen simply lose their minds and all their common sense. It isn’t just casual and fun angling anymore; it’s become the commercial harvesting of fish for cash, and as such, all bets and manners and safety concerns are off.
Oddly enough, although there is a (mostly ignored) 30 mph nighttime boating cap, there is no daytime speed limit or boat length requirement for any watercraft in the Show-Me State. And since bass boats of any size — legally being driven by operators as young as 13 — are free to go anywhere they want, at any speed they want (which is often 30 mph faster than the Missouri highway speed limit of 70 mph), more and more hardcore fishermen are taking advantage of this loophole and greatly increasing the size, horsepower and speed of their vessels, an ugly trend that will only continue for Americans that have always been unreasonably addicted to “bigger” and “faster,” be it motorcycles, ATVs, personal watercraft, pickup trucks or boats.
Additionally, due to budget cuts, there are only 79 Water Patrol officers in Missouri to oversee 272,000 acres of lakes and 1,052 miles of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Obviously, there’s no way for such a small force to adequately control the hordes of rude bass boaters or the thousands of small and large fishing tournaments now plaguing our state.
According to the Missouri Highway Patrol Marine Division, there are approximately 283,000 registered boats in the state, and probably around 60,000 of those were of the bass boat type. Thus, there are 223,000 watercraft owners who do not have bass boats. Additionally, the Missouri Department of Conservation estimates that there are currently 404,300 licensed non-boating anglers in the state as well. This means that bass boaters are outnumbered by non-bass boaters 627,300 to 60,000, or more than 10 to one. So it’s time that we — the overwhelming majority of recreational anglers and boaters — assert our democratic right to determine who actually has the prior claim to our waterways.
As one of the casual non-bass boat owning fishermen, I urge the Missouri legislature to immediately mandate that every fishing boat over 14 feet in length with an outboard motor of more than 40 horsepower — along with all fishing tournaments with their disruptive behavior, infernal racket and corporate pageantry, etc — be moved to private lakes, just as NASCAR’s 200 mph souped-up cars, for the obvious safety reasons, aren’t permitted to race on public roads and highways. It doesn’t take a bloated $62,795, 21-foot, 350 horsepower, 100 mph boat to catch a 12-inch fish. But if you believe in your heart that it does, OK, but find or build a private, safe, off-public water venue to pursue that irrational dream, and leave the Ozarks’ wonderful lakes and streams to those of us who still love the quiet tranquility of Mother Nature.
That only makes sense.