Retired siblings put out `Gone Fishing' sign every day

When you ask 73-year-old Archie Gauwitz how many years he has been guiding at Lake of the Ozarks, you expect to hear some impressive number.

Instead, he admits to being a rookie at this game.

"I've only been doing this for a couple of months," he said. "I fish just about every day, so I figured I might as well start getting paid for it."

Gauwitz paused, then laughed.

"Besides, my wife wanted to get me out of the house," he joked. "So, this is what we came up with."

It's a job that Gauwitz is perfectly qualified for.

He and his brother Chuck, who lives nearby, have been fishing for most of their lives.

They tell stories about the days of their youth when they followed Huck Finn-type lifestyles, building rafts out of logs and floating down the Illinois River to favorite fishing holes.

They talk matter-of-factly about how they built their first fishing poles by simply cutting down a tree limb and tying a string to it, the big catfish they used to catch, and their travels to other states in search of fish.

But most of all, they talk about Lake of the Ozarks - and their fishing lifestyle in Missouri.

"If you like to fish, this is the place to live," said Chuck, 65, as he stood on his dock near Climax Springs, Mo. "We've fished in Illinois, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Minnesota and Kentucky, but this is by far the best.

"We've been fishing here for 45 years, and we've seen a lot of changes down here. But one thing has stayed the same. The fishing was good when we started coming here, and it's still good."

With that, Chuck came up with some proof.

He lifted a large fish basket tied to the dock at Archie's place and produced several pounds' worth - two limits of crappies from the day before.

"There are some big ones in there," Archie said. "They've been biting."

For the Gauwitz brothers and many others, that's what makes spring special at Lake of the Ozarks.

Once the redbuds and the dogwoods start to bloom, fishermen know that the crappie spawn isn't far away. The fish will soon be heading to the shallows, and the fishing will be as good as it is at any time of the year.

"This is the time we look forward to," Archie said. "It's hard to find us home once spring gets here."

The Gauwitz brothers started coming to the Lake of the Ozarks with their parents years ago, staying at small mom-and-pop resorts. They were so struck by the lake atmosphere that they started coming back when they were grown.

Chuck, who worked as a Teamsters official in Illinois (he can show you pictures of him and Jimmy Hoffa), made a point of having organizational meetings at the lake. And Archie also vacationed there whenever he got a chance.

When Archie retired in 1994, he and his wife moved to the lake. Several years ago, Chuck and his wife followed suit.

Today, fishing is their full-time job. On any given day, the Gauwitz brothers are either fishing off their docks, where they've sunk brush to attract the crappies, or they're out in their boat, fishing coves within a few miles of the 45-mile marker.

Either way, they usually catch fish.

Few fishermen keep closer tabs on the crappies than the Gauwitz brothers. They are on the water almost every day, year-round.

And they seldom run out of places to fish. Archie estimates that he has put 200 brush piles in the lake over the years. And many of them are just a short boat ride from the Climax Springs area where he lives.

"A lot of the limbs that came down during that ice storm, we made them into brush piles," Chuck said. "We put in a lot of new beds, and some of them are holding fish already."

Knowing where that cover is located is the key to catching fish, the Gauwitzes say.

"The brush will hold these crappies," Archie said. "But a lot of times, you have to move around until you find the right one."

The Gauwitz brothers found the right one on a recent weekday.

When they traveled to a cove where they had put out several brush piles, Archie made a looping cast to a shoreline and was greeted with an immediate tap at the end of his line. Seconds later, he had a keeper crappie in the boat.

The brothers continued to catch fish and soon had their limit of 15 apiece.

But fishing can change from day to day at Lake of the Ozarks, especially in the spring. The following day, the Gauwitzes awakened and learned that the water level on the lake had dropped almost a half-foot. And that put a damper on the fishing.

"When these crappies are up here shallow to spawn, they don't like it when they get the water dropped out from under them," Archie said. "It can really kill things."

The crappie spawn is now in its last stages at Lake of the Ozarks, and the fishing has only been fair. But the Gauwitz brothers know it will only be a matter of time before the fish will be hitting again.

"I caught my limit of crappies on the Fourth of July last year," Chuck said. "So you can catch them in the heat."

And in the cold, too.

"I've been out fishing when it was so cold that my rod tip was freezing shut," Chuck said with a laugh. "My wife thought I was crazy for being out there.

"But I was catching fish."

Archie added, "About the only time we don't catch them is during August. That's when we'll go to fishing for catfish. But most of the year, we're chasing these crappies. They're our favorite."