Spearfishing aplenty at Missouri lakes

Saturday, April 8, 2017
A big drum speared by Gary Maugh on Beaver Lake. (Submitted photo)

Throughout the world the ancient sustainable method of spearfishing has been an ongoing practice.

The conjured image of any of our forefathers seeking to provide his family a meal from a lake, river or stream enters the mind. Spearfishing is alive and well right here in the Ozarks, with our abundance of beautiful lakes and rivers nearby.

They say that spearfishing is like bow fishing underwater. One person who agrees is 73-year-old Gary Maugh.

Maugh enjoyed bow fishing when a friend got into the Midwest Diving Council and started spearfishing.

Maugh said, “He talked me into doing it so I started out with a tank on my back. In the Midwest Diving Council. If I ran out of air, I would take the tank off and try free diving for a little bit. Soon, I was more into free diving than scuba diving.”

Maugh can hold his breath underwater for two minutes or more. “From 1977 on, for nine years in a row, I took first place in the Midwest Diving Council,” he said. “I didn’t get started until I was 33-years-old, which is pretty late to be getting started.”

This past year Maugh took third place in the USOA Free diving National Championship held on Beaver Lake, Ark. Although he finished third, he caught more fish (22) than the first-place finisher, who weighed 14, and the second-place finisher who caught 15 .

Maugh’s catch weighed 99.45 pounds, which totaled 122.45 points, compared to 129.2 for first-place. The fish taken during the tournaments are donated to various individuals and groups.

“The fish don’t go to waste,” Maugh noted.

Maugh, who is originally from St. Joseph, moved to the Ozarks in 1998 to be closer to the big impoundments. He started spearfishing at Stockton, but also hit Table Rock, Bull Shoals, Pomme de Terre and Beaver Lakes.

He said, “We would go to a different lake every weekend. You don’t think of Pomme de Terre as a good spearfishing lake, but you never know what species may come by you. There are a lot of big buffalo there and some in Stockton, but not like the ‘Pomme.’ A friend of mine once shot a 25-pound six ounce drum at the Pomme. You see some big drum in Beaver Lake also.”

His summer vacations were weekends at local lakes in the Midwest where he competed in Midwest Diving Council tournaments after he found he enjoyed free diving a lot more than scuba diving.

On one of his weekend dives, back in 1978 along with his girlfriend Carole, Gary spent the week camping, diving, spearfishing and was married while in their boat in front of Stockton Lake dam.

Maugh’s wife Carole, is also a champion spearfishing free diver. She has won numerous tournaments over the years. Like her husband, she started spearfishing using scuba gear.

He has competed in five free diving Nationals. In 1987, he placed third individually and second (team). He competed in the Nationals held on Table Rock in 1990 and again in 2005 by coming out of retirement. The Nationals sparked his interest in spearfishing, He thought the tournament on Greer’s Ferry in 2010 would be his last, but his dive partners talked him into diving last year at Beaver Lake.

He said, “The biggest surprise of my life was shooting the most fish last year in the USOA Nationals at the age of 73.”

In Missouri, all game fish may not be taken by spearfishing. However, Maugh said, “I would really like to see that changed. When you shoot some game fish, like Beaver Lake, they start a season on the 15th of June for walleye, crappie, but not bass. That’s not a problem for me –– I wouldn’t shoot a bass anyway. Walleye and other fish would be nice. You know a lot of people don’t want divers to shoot those fish, but if they put a tank, mask and fins on they would soon find out its not as easy as it looks.

“You are not going to deplete the population. Spearfishing as a free diver is a tough sport. It’s hard to hold your breath and the visibility can make it hard to see fish, especially in summer months when you have two-foot visibility. Anyway, you are not going to make a long shot.”

During his 41 years of diving, he was the Midwest Diving Council Free Diving Champion 10 times and holds seven USOA catch records.

Maugh was president of the Midwest Diving Council in 1981-82. In 1987 he was awarded the International Underwater Spearfishing Athlete of the Year. Quite an accomplishment for someone who didn’t start spearfishing until age 33 and is still going strong 40 years later.

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