MONTROSE, Mo. -- If you're an angler, you would like the way Rick Jackson has decorated his house.
The minute you step in, you're greeted by mounts of a 4-pound crappie and a bluegill that weighed just short of 3 pounds. Walk into the garage, and there's a 10-pound bass hanging on the wall.
All fish of a lifetime. And all caught just minutes from Jackson's home in little Montrose, Mo.
Head any direction out of town, he'll tell you, and you'll run into a place that is capable of producing some of the best fishing in the state.
No, we're not talking about Truman Lake. Or the Montrose Power Plant Lake.
We're talking about little bodies of water so obscure that they're not even on a map -- strip pits.
Once, west-central Missouri was at the heart of the state's coal industry and was actively mined. But once that era ended in the early 1980s, a new era dawned. Those pits filled with water and were stocked with fish.
Today, many of them are dream fishing holes -- places Jackson calls "a little slice of heaven."
"I only have to go a few miles outside of town to find all the fishing I'd want," said Jackson, 59, who has been fishing the strip pits since he was a child. "The amount of strip pits in this area is unbelievable.
"Most of them are on private land, but I have permission to fish about 50 of them. And I'm out on them every chance I get, especially in the spring."
That's where Jackson was Tuesday. He rambled down the back roads in his truck, with his johnboat sticking out of the bed, and passed many good-looking pits, all filled with fish, he said.
"I've caught fish out of all of these," he said. "But we're going to a better one."
He finally pulled his truck up to a gate to a pasture, then drove through and bounced down a country lane until he reached the edge of a remote pit. He slid his boat into the water, attached a trolling motor and was off.
It wasn't long before he was casting a plastic crawdad imitation to the shallows along a rocky bank. He felt a tap, then a pull. When he set the hook, a 3-pound bass shot to the surface and exploded out of the water.
The fish pulled hard, then made a run. But it didn't take long for Jackson to take the fight out of the fish and pull it into the boat.
"That's a good, solid fish," he said before releasing it. "But there are bigger ones in here."
Moments later, Jackson was holding the proof -- a bass he estimated at 5 pounds.
We spent the rest of the day fishing two other pits and catching fish. By the time we were done, we had caught and released 63 bass, almost half of them 15 inches or bigger.
We used everything from suspending stickbaits to jig-and-pigs to tube baits to entice those fish. But that came as no surprise to Jackson.
"March is the best month to catch a big bass on these pits," he said. "The water's just warming up, and the big ones are just starting to get active.
"They're usually shallow, and they're looking for something to eat."
Jackson laughs when he labels his style of fishing as "primitive."
"I'm just out here in a leaky old boat with a handful of lures," he said.
But it's hard to argue with success. Jackson has been around long enough to know which strip pits are the most productive and when they'll turn on.
And he knows the factors that will activate that fishing. For example, his log book indicates he always finds his best fishing three days either side of a full or new moon. Overcast days are usually most productive, and the wind plays a big part.
That's how it was Tuesday. Jackson keyed on the banks and cuts where the wind was blowing in and found the fish concentrated in the shallows.
He used his customary arsenal -- a Paca Craw plastic bait, a brightly colored tube bait with a big blade attached, and a white Mepps spinner.
Jackson has learned through experience. He started fishing the pits years ago when his family lived in the Kansas City area and his dad worked as a maintenance man at condos on the Plaza.
His dad received permission from some of the residents to fish strip pits and ponds on their land near Montrose, and he took Rick and his other son, Joe Jr., with him to fish the area.
The Jacksons quickly found success and became hooked on the area. Joe Jr. caught an 11-pound, 5-ounce bass one March day years ago, and the boys caught and released many other trophies.
Joe was killed in 1990 in a deer-hunting accident, but Rick carries on the family tradition. Once March arrives, he has the Gone Fishin' sign out.
"My biggest bass is 10 pounds, but I'm still trying to beat that," Jackson said. "There are bigger ones out there, and March and April is the time to get them.
"That's when you have your best shot."