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Monster Cats are always just another cast away
By Jodie E. Jackson, Jr. - News Tribune

ON THE OSAGE RIVER - Virgil Agee carefully scans his depth-finder and the landscape to and the landmarks that point to the best fishing. A shelf along a current of swift water near the Smoky Water Access on the Osage River should be a good place to find a giant blue.

We cast our lines again, wait again and eventually pull up again in search of a productive blue catfish hole.

“There’s times when you fish and fish and fish and don’t catch anything,” he says. “What keeps a person coming back is beyond me.” That’s not exactly true. Virgil knows. It’s thinking that at any time, you could be battling a 100- or 150- pound monster blue.

“You never know”.

Big Blue CatfishVirgil has landed four 100- pound plus blues. He returned three of them to the river after winning “a master game of chess” and still feels badly about the one that died. A fish that big is at the top of the genetic pool. literally speaking, and will pawn countless thousands of others. Virgil wouldn’t dream of putting one of those handsome creatures in THE FREEZER.

“I didn’t hook catfishing,” he explains, “It hooked me”

Sharing Secrets
A week ago Wednesday, Virgil agreed to show me the tricks of the trade that have made him a local catfishing legend.

“I’m just somebody out there when it happened,” he says of the “legendary” label. “I thought you had to be 150- years-old to be a legend”.

He’s happy to share his secrets, but won’t disclose the exact location of the biggest ones that got away. That’s for security reasons, because some people,”will try anything (to catch it) just for bragging rights.”

Virgil tries to think like a catfish, which could explain his success in finding them. Ask yourself what a 100-plus pound fish can hide under? Very few things to be sure, but deep water works well. Besides, there’s nothing in the water that preys on giant blues. Man is the only predator.

One that big, if he can sneak up on a 10-15 pound carp, he’ll go lay down for a few days,”Virgil says, explaining why he has fished the same spot on the same hole for as long as a week.

These are the things most anglers don’t understand about catfishing: noise and patience. You need an absence of the former and an abundance of the latter. I am more than happy to oblige, because my patience needs some work anyway and the peace and quiet offered by the Osage is a welcome respite.

Bait Chase
We start where the Osage meets the Maries River, fishing for herring or goldeneye, a boney bait fish.

Virgil sticks a short worm on his hook, leaving half dangling. “ I call this ‘stingy fishing,” He makes a cast into the dingy water, then in a steady retrieve. “They’re all over in here. Kid’s love to catch ‘em. because they really fight. You’ll think you’ve hooked something.” I have never seen a goldeneye, much less intentionally fished for one. On my fourth cast, a foot long fighter takes the worm and I reel in our bait. A few more casts produced a couple strong hits, but no more fish.

And that’s where the fishing total stayed: Jodie 1, Virgil 0.

In some ways that would be like hitting more home runs than Mark McGwire, like outrunning Carl Lewis, like out shooting Michael get the picture.

A high bank holding back a creek where Virgil hopes to net some shad catches his attention. “That’s all I needed as a kid,” he says. A high bank, a fishing pole and bait, and free time.

“Fishin’ caused me a lot of problems when I was a kid.” Noting that his mother who is over 90 years old, Virgil adds with a wide grin:”I think I put most of the gray in her hair.”

Casting a line
We fish under the Osage City railroad bridge, near the Smoky Waters and Bonnots Mill accesses and a couple of other spots that look like prime feeding grounds, but not necessarily the deepest water.

After about four hours of fruitless fishing.-- with the exception of my herring--- Virgil’s optimism begins to wane. WE both have bait-casting rod baited with herring and river worms on another rod.

“I can’t believe nothing is hitting these worms,”he says, thinking there’s surely a hungry carp or drum scanning the bottom.
He patiently unravels the backlash from the bait-casting reel he’s letting me use. Maybe I should mention it’s just the second time I’ve ever used one.

I think he can tell.
At 59, (time article was written), Virgil’s not contemplating retirement. He and his wife, Virginia (Ginny), a catfisherwoman of some repute, have their own business repairing and servicing optical equipment. A couple of friends make a living from guides, but that’s not too appealing to Virgil. That would mean having your day determined by someone else’s schedule.

Pure Concentration
Just in case one t don’t overplay it, either; trust your tackle and rigging.

“If he gives you an inch, take it. It’s a tug of war there for a while. You just hope you gain more ground than he does,” he explains. “You know you can’t make a mistake or he’s gone.”

Virgil can’t recall how long it took to reel in the biggest he’s caught, a 121-pounder. Suffice it to say he didn’t waste time looking at his watch.

“You could come up and take things out of my boat while I’m fightin’ him and I wouldn’t even know it,: Virgil says. “It’s just over 100 percent pure concentration.”

Bigger Fish
That monster was an unconfirmed world record at the time and died before it could be weighed on certified scales. Virgil owns the catch-and-release all tackle world record of 101.8 pounds, caught on 16 pound test line in 1994.

The unofficial world record blue, caught after the Civil War, reportedly weighed a scale-busting 325 pounds. The catch was made in the in Missouri at Morrison, just seven miles from Virgil’s home in Chamois.

This past December, Virgil said a big blue “hauled” him around near the Callaway Nuclear Plant before it broke off. He’s convinced that current records “are gonna look like pocket change compared to what’s going to be caught.”

It’s just a matter of time, he believes. A commercial catfishing ban that is entering it’s sixth year (this article was written in 2000)has created a huge population of healthy catfish. As a result, some of the monsters are leaving the big rivers to find feeding opportunities in smaller rivers. Virgil even wonders whether Lake of the Ozarks or Truman Lake might produce a world record cat.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all”

The dollar potential of Missouri’s catfishing opportunities is something tourism indusstry should harness. “I think they should wake up,” says Virgil, the public relations chairman for the newly formed U.S. Catfish Anglers Tournament Series (U.S.-C.A.T.S). “It’s an untapped source of income (for the state) that should be pushed.”

Mission Accomplished
We fished four or five spots in the span of seven hours and only had my herring to show for it. As a result, Virgil apologized several times for our lack of success, but it wasn’t necessary. After all, “going fishing” is about more than just casting a line in the water. It’s about being on the water, sharing a few thoughts about life, listening to the river’s quiet conversation and enjoying the company of someone who appreciates those things as much as you do.

In this case, the fishing trip was a complete success.

“I can almost guarantee you’ll catch fish if you do one of two things: Leave your dip net at home or forget your tacklebox,” Virgil said earlier in the day, pointing out that he had forgotten neither.

So that’s what happened,(Not to mention the river dropped three feet during our outing). But Virgil invited me to come along again sometime.

Next time, I think I’ll ask him to leave his dip net or tacklebox at home

( To date U.S.-C.A.T.S is going into it’s fifth year and Virgil is now the President) For the year 2004 there will be 60 + tournaments.)

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