A narrow coal mine strip pit in Henry County yielded the first state-record fish of 2017 — a massive bigmouth buffalo shot by Springfield bowfisherman John Paul Morris.
Morris, son of Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, said he and several friends were targeting carp and other rough fish Saturday night, using a boat with special floodlights that illuminate the water beneath the boat.
"We saw this big fish cruising toward our boat in 8 feet of water," Morris recalled. "All of us took a shot but none of us connected. But then the fish came up behind us and was almost surfing the wake. I don't know why that fish stayed up like it did, but I got an arrow in it and my friend got a backup arrow in it, which we do with real big fish."
They got the fish aboard and measured it at 39 inches in length, with a girth of 32.5 inches. Their unofficial boat scale showed it weighed 58 pounds.
"I knew the Missouri record was in the mid-50s, like 54 pounds, on a fish from Pomme de Terre," Morris said. "Ours weighed 57.7 pounds on another set of scales so we knew it might be a state record."
They contacted Mike Bayless, a Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologist, who met them at Lost Valley Fish Hatchery near Warsaw. The hatchery's official scale showed the fish weighed 57 pounds 13 ounces — easily eclipsing the 54-pound mark set in 2015 by Fayette bow fisherman John Overstreet.
Morris's fish also is bigger by more than a pound than the current hook-and-line record bigmouth, a 56-pounder caught in 1976 by Dr. W.J. Long of Poplar Bluff.
Bayless confirmed the fish beat the current record and sent the paperwork to MDC's Jefferson City office for official listing. Morris said he's waiting for the official record confirmation from MDC. For now, the monster bigmouth buffalo is in a freezer, until it can be sent to a taxidermist to be mounted. It was the first Missouri record fish of 2017, following a banner year in 2016 that saw 15 Missouri fish records set or broken.
"I probably have more big carp mounted than any man should," Morris quipped. "But this one is special. It could easily be over 20 years old. It might go in the store (Bass Pro Shops) or at the new museum and aquarium. I don't know yet."
Bayless, the fisheries biologist, said bigmouth buffalo are native to Missouri and are often targeted by bow anglers because they can get very large. It's not considered a game fish, and a bow angler can take up to 20 fish a day during the two non-game seasons, and have up to 40 fish in his or her possession at one time.
Bayless said bigmouth buffalo are surprisingly good to eat.
"It's a pretty white meat," Bayless said. "Some people fry them and some smoke the meat."
He said it appeared Morris's fish was likely a big female full of eggs, though they won't be sure until the fish is opened up. It's one of three buffalo species that live in Missouri waters, the other two being smallmouth buffalo and black buffalo. Of the three, Bayless said bigmouth buffalo are most common.
Morris's state-record buffalo is a reminder that bow fishing is becoming one of the fastest-growing segments in the fishing world. Morris plans to bring two major bow fishing tournaments back to Missouri this year. Both are sponsored by Bass Pro Shops.
The first will be the 5th annual U.S. Open Bowfishing Championship on May 20. It will be conducted on five lakes (Truman, Stockton, Pomme de Terre, Table Rock, Bull Shoals), with official weigh-ins and related events at the Bass Pro Shops store in Springfield. Previous U.S. Open events have drawn more than 100 bowfishing teams from across the country. Last year's competition was based in Memphis, Tennessee.
The second event will be the Ultimate Bowfishing Championship on July 28-29, and is an invitation-only event for the top bowfishing teams in the country. Teams will compete the first day at Truman, Stockton, Pomme de Terre and Table Rock lakes, then the top 25 teams will compete the following night at Bull Shoals Lake. Weigh-ins and awards will be in Springfield at the Bass Pro Shops store.