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Rural Missouri Magazine
No Where Better
Pro fisherman Scott Pauley sings
the praises of fishing in Missouri

by Jeff Joiner

There’s not much light at 5:30 in the morning as Scott Pauley backs his boat trailer into the water. The early hour doesn’t seem to bother Pauley or a small army of other fishermen as a long line of pickups and boats forms at a Lake of the Ozarks State Park access in Osage Beach, a wide, smooth slab of concrete large enough to accommodate three vehicles at once.

Scott Pauley, a professional bass tournament fisherman, is sponsored by the Missouri Division of Tourism. In a decade as a pro he has become the chief spokesman for fishing for the state of Missouri.

It’s a Saturday morning in April and though it’s early in the spring fishing season two bass fishing tournaments on Lake of the Ozarks attract dozens of anglers from across Missouri. Pauley, a professional bass tournament fisherman from Boone County, has entered a Heartland Pro-Am Association elite tournament. Though he normally fishes with an amateur in his boat in pro-am tournaments, today this Heartland Elite event is for pros only who compete solo.

Pauley, a sergeant in the Missouri State Highway Patrol when he’s not fishing, has spent hundreds of hours fishing Lake of the Ozarks. Even so he was still out on the water the day before the tournament practicing and looking for fish. Though he didn’t catch many on his practice day, the several hours fishing weren’t spent in vain, he says.

“The idea is to zero in on them and I was confirming what I already thought,” says Pauley. “Right now all they’re interested in is making babies, so I thought they were going to be far up the coves getting ready to spawn. I want to isolate the fish and so when it comes time for the tournament I can concentrate on where I think they are.”

Pauley visits with a fellow tournament fisherman before the start of an event at Lake of the Ozarks State Park Marina.

Standing on the bow of his Bass Cat boat in a cove, Pauley visits with a fellow tournament pro who has pulled his boat up alongside while the two wait for the tournament to begin. Pauley’s friend fishes for Bass Pro Shops, based in Springfield, while the Missouri Division of Tourism is Pauley’s main sponsor, along with a Columbia Ford dealer. The two look more like NASCAR drivers in shirts covered with sponsors’ logos than someone sitting in an aluminum john boat fishing a farm pond.

Just looking around this cove packed with more than 40 bass boats, it’s obvious that fishing, and particularly bass fishing, is big business in Missouri.

Take Pauley as an example. He pulls $30,000 worth of boat, motor and trailer with a $35,000 four-wheel-drive Ford diesel pickup. He also carries more than $5,000 worth of fishing gear and tackle. Overall, says Pauley, all forms of fishing in Missouri contribute more than $2 billion a year to the state’s economy. Counting everything from a thriving boat manufacturing industry to outdoor stores like Bass Pro Shops to the money spent at hotels, marinas and restaurants in the state, fishing is huge.

That’s why Missouri Tourism has sponsored Pauley as a professional for the past 11 years.
As the pro fisherman for the state of Missouri, Pauley’s boat, truck and even his clothing are covered with Missouri Tourism logos. And what does the state get for its money? For a decade they’ve gotten a savvy marketing spokesman for the state.

The tools of Pauley's trade rest on the deck of his boat.

He appears on dozens of radio and TV fishing programs, hosts numerous nationally and internationally known outdoor writers and spends countless hours each year singing the praises of tourism in the Show-Me State at hunting, fishing and boat shows around the country. He has become the “go to” person in Missouri for information about the state’s fishing opportunities.

Back at Lake of the Ozarks State Park Pauley and the small flotilla of fishermen wait to be released for the start of the tournament. In the early years of bass tournaments fishermen took off in “shotgun” starts in which boats raced from starting areas en masse to reach their fishing spots.

Today, with 200-horsepower motors the norm and safety a prime consideration, tournament fishermen draw numbers and leave the starting area at a slow idle until they reach open water and then run at speeds approaching 65 mph to reach their spots.

“Time is money,” says Pauley. “You’ve only got so much time on the water and if you’re running 70 miles up the lake to fish you need to get there as fast as you can.”

Pauley shows what it’s all about — a nearly 4-pound largemouth bass caught in Lake of the Ozarks.

Today Pauley faces a number of considerations when deciding where to fish. A cold front approaches, which Pauley says is like turning off a light switch as far as fishing is concerned. He’s also looking at the current in the lake and the color of the water back in coves where he thinks the fish are.

Water is running through Bagnell Dam today so there is a noticeable current in the lake, which affects where the fish will feed and how muddy the water is. He’s also watching water temperature. In cold water bass don’t feed aggressively. Today he’ll look for coves lined with red rock, which holds heat and warms the water.

Though he’s aware of dozens of different variables, Pauley admits getting a largemouth bass to strike a lure is as much about a fisherman’s innate sense about where the fish are and what they want as it is about water temperature and color. And that sense comes from fishing — a lot.

“Some of these guys are on the water 300 days a year,” he says. “That’s a lot more beneficial than the 60 days a year I spend on the water.”

But even more than time spent fishing, successful bass tournament fishermen have an intensity about them. It’s all about concentration.

Every cast Pauley makes is precise and hits exactly where he wants it. There’s little wasted motion. He doesn’t struggle with fishing line or lures and when he catches a fish that’s “a little short in the britches,” as he describes a bass smaller than the 15-inch keeper size, he takes just a few seconds to release the fish and get a lure back in the water.

Pauley hooks a keeper largemouth in a Lake of the Ozarks cove. Pauley says the trick to bass fishing is concentration and persistance, as well as a little luck.

“A guy that has the ability to concentrate on the tiniest details for eight hours is successful. And one fish can mean the difference between being in the money and being an also-ran. Tournaments are won by hundreths of a pound,” says Pauley.

Pauley once lost a fish that he estimates cost him $19,000. That fish was the difference between third and 10th place in a $50,000 tournament.

As weigh-in time approaches, Pauley fishes faster and faster as he works his way back to the state park marina. Just as he predicted, earlier in the day the passing cold front slowed the fishing and he heads back with just three keepers.

Tournament fishermen are allowed to keep up to five fish. His largest bass today is under 5 pounds and at the weigh-in he comes up with just over 10 pounds of fish. The top fisherman for the day weighs in nearly 20 pounds.

“I had the opportunity to do better, I just didn’t get the job done. You just gotta keep fishing. You might catch three keepers on your last three casts of the day. You never know.”

Fishermen line up with their catch in tanks for the weigh-in at a Central Pro-Am Association tournament at Lake of the Ozarks. The fish must be kept alive for the weigh-in and then are released back into the lake.

Pauley plans to retire from his 24-year career with the highway patrol in a couple of years and fish full time. Even with a career and his appearances for Missouri Tourism, he still manages 30 tournaments a year, fishing nearly every weekend from February through October. He’s often accompanied by his wife, Janet, who is his full-time business manager. The two spend much of the summer traveling the Midwest pulling a camping trailer and a bass boat as they head to the next tournament.

“Missouri is such a fantastic place if you’re an outdoorsman. The state is known, even internationally, for its fishing and hunting,” says Pauley. “People are constantly stopping me and asking me where the fishing is good and I tell them where. It’s easy. We’ve got some of the best fishing lakes in the country.”

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