Fish Gigging with a Senator

Content Image

Fish GiggingGigging suckers is an Ozark tradition that dates back to the region’s earliest settlers. While methods may have modernized, the basic concept of spearing fish on the bottom of the river is still in practice and participation is thriving. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, rich and poor, fish gigging is a blast and an effective means of putting meat on the table.

Over the last couple of years, through my work with the Conservation Federation of Missouri, I’ve come to know many of our state senators and representatives. Usually our meetings take place in the capitol amongst men in suits and women in heels. Coffee is often the highlight of excitement. But my most recent legislator meeting was right up my alley.

Senator Dave Schatz is not some city slicker politician. I quickly grasped that fact when we rebuilt a worn out gas tank hose in a Wal-Mart parking lot. We had tried to launch his gigging boat on the Meramec River, but no matter how hard he squeezed the primer bulb with his massive forearms, the motor just wasn’t getting gas. A pair of needle nose pliers, a couple of connectors, two pieces of hose and a new primer bulb later, and we had that 40 horse jet roaring and ready to go.

Dan Kleinsorge is Chief of Staff for Senator Schatz. We’ve been friends since my first days in Jefferson City. He was responsible for putting this trip together.

“I need to get you out on the river gigging with Dave,” Dan said. “He’s as into the outdoors as anyone I’ve ever met.”

In my line of work, I often hear about the guy or gal who is more hardcore outdoors than anyone else. So I’ve become a little jaded towards the idea that I’m about to meet another Bear Grylls. Especially when every time I’ve ever seen Senator Schatz he was wearing a suit. But boy, did this trip reaffirm the notion of not judging a book by its cover.

First off, Senator Schatz isn’t a career politician. He has spent his life a businessman in the construction industry. He’s the owner of Schatz Underground, a company that, according to it’s Facebook page, “provides project management, engineering, and construction of aerial, buried, and underground conduit systems for Telecommunications, Sewer, Site Development, CATV Systems, Electric, Gas, Water, and Fiber Optics.” So Senator Schatz built his muscular forearms the old fashion way – with a shovel.

Once we had the motor back in action, Senator Schatz screwed three massive light bulbs onto the front of his boat. Then he told Dan and I to each pick up a gig and position ourselves on the front platform of the boat. A large, sturdy rail wraps around the front about waist high. Dan quickly gained appreciation for it when the Senator ran into a sunken log and nearly pitched his Chief overboard.

Gigging is tougher than it looks. You have to move the boat rather quick to get up on the fish before they spook. Then you thrust your gig at them, but you need to aim a little in front of where the fish is because of the refraction in the water. You also aim for the front of the fish because if you gig the tail section, they can slip between the prongs and swim off.

In about an hour, Dan and I put a dozen or so suckers in the bucket. It took a while to get the hang of it, but towards the end of my run, I was gigging about one fish for every ten throws. To be honest, I was pretty proud. Then Poseidon himself stepped to the front of the boat trident in hand. Senator Schatz gigged fish after fish. He didn’t miss. Five in a row. Then six. Then seven. He gigged 15 suckers in under 15 minutes. Dan and I just looked at each other with blank faces as our confidence evaporated like mist over the Meramec.

As soon as we hit the shore, Senator Schatz started fileting the fish. He made short work of a bucket full of suckers. Back at his house, he showed us how to run the filets through a special machine that scores the bones. Then he coated them in Andy’s seasoning and dropped them in 325-degree oil. We sat there in his garage and ate sucker filets until midnight, telling stories and talking a little shop.

When it came time to leave, I realized I was certainly right about one thing. I didn’t meet another Bear Grylls. Instead, I met a hardcore Missouri sportsman who I doubt any celebrity survivalist could keep up with in a gigging boat. And I’m told he’s even better in the turkey woods.

See you down the trail…

Brandon Butler


Read more about frog gigging, included an especially delicious way to cook them.


Previous Post
Federation Report:...


Next Post
The November Issue...