Monday, September 15, 2014

Dove Hunting be Danged

An osprey I photographed as the sun broke through clouds.   

Bolt, being smarter than his two legged hunting partner, determined early that water from a mud hole beat no water at all!
Rich Abdoler hunts doves, while I look for my dog.

Remember a couple of weeks ago, when in this very column I said that I had decided not to hunt doves anymore. I think that was a very good idea. But I went anyway, on opening day, after my old friend Rich Abdoler said he was going by himself.

I got to thinking he would probably need me so I said I would bring my young Labrador, Bolt, and help him get a limit. What a dumb idea that was. It ended up being a great day to go fishing, and instead I went dove hunting, in a sunflower field on Truman Lake.

Just as I anticipated, there were hunters everywhere that afternoon, the first day of September. It sounded like it might have sounded at Wilson’s Creek during the Civil War.

Dove hunting has become a social thing, and I don’t care for that. I like to hunt alone, or with a friend, off somewhere in the woods or marshes or fields where solitude is part of the ambience and mosquitoes aren’t. But if a hunter in this day and time wants to take a boy out to learn to shoot a shotgun and hunt doves, I think he should be able to do that, even if there is a crowd out there, without any interference from me.

I have had my day. I remember great dove hunts in that very same area 25 years ago when you couldn’t hear or see another hunter. It was a different day and time, and it is over. Dove hunting won’t ever be that way again. So I had decided to step aside and concentrate on fishing off somewhere in the solitude I crave, and never hunt doves again.

But what the heck, I went anyway. Poor old Bolt, the third or fourth greatest Labrador in the whole country, went with me. It had rained much of the morning, and when we got out there, about 2 p.m., it was cloudy, with thunder rumbling in the distance.

It was 79 degrees and because I can’t remember September very well, I thought that was going to make for a nice cool day. But the humidity was up there right near 100 percent if I guess right. My camouflaged T-shirt was soaked by the time I locked the pickup beside three or four other pick-ups, and Bolt kept looking back at it like he wanted me to bring the air-conditioner with us.

Surely the two of us could go without water for a couple of hours, I thought. If you bring a gallon of water, which Bolt can drink in less than a minute, it weighs 8 pounds. When you add that to the shotgun and shells and camera I was carrying, that makes more weight than a 21-year-old marine totes in boot camp. And I am not 21.

It was a mile to the dove field, situated a few hundred yards past all the other hunters, who were blasting away. Rich said there were a lot of doves, and I guessed he was right. I closed my eyes and envisioned Wilson’s Creek… or Gettysburg. The thunder even sounded a lot like distant cannons.

My glasses were so fogged over by the time I crouched down in the weeds I couldn’t see a darn thing. Why hadn’t I worn contact lenses? Why hadn’t I brought water and left the camera? Why hadn’t I left the shotgun, now weighing about 30 pounds?

I shot two doves, and couldn’t find either of them. Bolt found both of them, picked them up and dropped them, trying to get the feathers out of his mouth, looking at me as if to say… “I am a duck dog, stupid, and these ain’t ducks!”

He found one more dove before he left. Then he was just gone. Rich said he figured he went looking for water. I panicked. If Bolt was lost, Gloria Jean would lock me out of the house until I found him. While she doesn’t hunt, she loves that big old chocolate Lab. That’s part of the reason he isn’t a better hunting dog.

Spoiled dogs are like spoiled children, they give you lots of trouble at times, and despite my calling and whistling, which he and everyone for a mile around could hear, he wasn’t coming back until he filled up with water. My yelling for him was destroying the ambience.

Rich was yelling at me to shoot, and I couldn’t see anything because of my fogged up glasses. My boots were filling up with sweat! If I could have rung the sweat out of my clothes, I would have lost six or seven pounds. The sunflowers and weeds began to make me itch.

I walked most of the way back to the pick-up and found Bolt in the only mud hole I remembered passing. He was laying in it. I would have given anything to have jumped in there with him. We walked back to the pickup where I retrieved the leash I had forgotten. I drank a bottle of water and left my glasses.

 I walked back to where Rich was banging away and tied Bolt to a tree, which provided shade, and killed a couple more doves. Finally it came to me that I wasn’t enjoying this much. The humidity rose, thunder filled the sky to the west and I saw a streak of lightning. Over the years I have learned not to sit anywhere and watch it lightning when I could run for the pickup.

Rich stayed… Bolt and I left. On the way back he lay down in the mud hole again, and I was thankful I brought an old blanket for him to lay on in the back seat of my pickup. I had killed four doves and walked four miles!

I will never hunt doves again, I don’t think. If I do, I won’t take Bolt until he is older and it is cooler and the humidity is somewhere around 20 percent and all the hunters have gone back to work.

I let the motor run, turned the air conditioner on full blast and waited for Rich. Some hunter came by on the way to his pickup and I rolled down the window and asked if he had a good hunt. He said it was all right, he had bagged several doves. “But there are too many hunters,” he said, “and some of them are real amateurs.

 One old boy not far away was yelling for his dog the whole time… it just ruined the ambience!”

And that’s what I have against dove hunting… it has become a social event rather than a hunting trip. And there ain’t no ambience. I gave Rich my mangled, sweat-drenched doves and drove home in the darndest thunderstorm I have ever seen! But I might try it one more time about the first week of October.

I have 50 acres and a secluded cabin on a little Ozark creek off away from everyone where I take refuge on occasion to forget the world. I have decided not to hunt deer this year either, as it coincides with some good duck hunting and the fishing might be really good about then.

If you are looking for your own deer-hunting lease, I have one. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. The email address is You can talk to my secretary, Ms. Wiggins about getting a sample of our fall outdoor magazine mailed to you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Buzz-birds of Two Kinds

Teal hunting in September can seem mighty like hunting ducks in the summer, mosquitoes, warm days and green foliage just turning yellow.

Someone asked me recently when hummingbird feeders should be taken down, to insure that hummingbirds would migrate on time and not be caught in a winter snap of some sort. I once believed that was important, but I realize now that leaving feeders filled with liquid has nothing to do with delaying the little bird’s migration flight. It doesn’t.

Migration is triggered by dwindling light, and the change of many factors as fall moves closer. Hummingbirds may indeed die at any stage of their migration, as thousands of birds will, through natural causes due to age more than anything else, but they aren’t going to stay too late because feeders are left up. 

If you don’t believe me, just leave feeders full and watch what happens. The hummingbirds will leave anyway. I am not sure that they aren’t made stronger for their migration flight by the existence of such feeders, as natural food dwindles with the absence of blossoms they seek. So don’t worry about causing a problem for the little buzz-birds. That theory has been spread mostly by the master naturalists who spend more time in books than they do outdoors.

I saw a good indication of that recently when one of the state’s newspapers carried a story about teal hunting. Blue-winged teal migrate earlier than other ducks, and so there is a special hunting season for them in mid-September. The newspaper’s outdoor page showed two photos of blue-winged teal, but they were both drakes in spring plumage.

In the spring, the males are indeed a beautiful bird, but in September they look NOTHING like those pictures. I doubt if anyone associated with city newspapers would know that. In September, there are none of those markings, and teal are as drab as most other marsh birds. Only the wing panels have any color.

Beginning hunters who do not know what they are looking at need to know that hen wood ducks and hen pintails and gadwalls might look a little like teal in September, but once you have a knowledge of waterfowl species and how they fly, you won’t mistake them.

I have hunted teal since I was a teenager, when that special season was first instigated, and I enjoy it tremendously, but there are problems with wood ducks being confused with teal, even though in general their habitats and habits are far different.

The early flights of teal are likely 90 percent blue-wings, but there are always a few green-winged teal in September hunts. That is strange because green wings are one of the latest migrators, coming through our area in December with the late flocks of northern mallards. Both species are very small, but the meat is as good as that of any wild ducks. I usually skin my teal, cut the breasts in strips about the size of my little finger and fry them with some onions and Lawry’s seasoned salt. The legs and wings are just about too small to eat, but there’s a little meat on them too.

In my latter years of college, I was determined to be a waterfowl biologist, because I have always been so fascinated with wild ducks and geese. My dad and grandfather and I hunted them when I was only ten or eleven years old.

For a time, I was the waterfowl editor for Gun Dog Magazine, and I hunted with many knowledgeable and experienced waterfowl hunters. Most all of them could tell at a glance any species flying past within 50 yards.

But if you are a real expert, you can look at a flock of ducks a couple of hundred yards away and pretty much know what species they are, from size, shape and speed, and wing beat, even when you can’t see their colors. If you hunt blue-winged teal the next week or so, remember that they will look nothing like the photos shown on outdoor pages of larger newspapers. Those are spring plumage photos, and nothing similar to what a

September teal is. It is a bad situation when young duck hunters go out to hunt ducks and aren’t sure which species are which. It’s even worse when young conservation agents don’t know a mallard hen from a drake gadwall. A year or so ago a couple of my friends were checked by a young female agent on the James River to whom they had to give a crash course in duck identification. She had a book to tell her what the bag limits were but they had four species of ducks and she didn’t know what any of them were.

Folks expect conservation agents to know a great deal about the outdoors, and the older ones did. Many of the younger ones do not. A reader called me this week to tell me that he had heard a conservation agent on a Texas County radio station telling folks that while bullfrogs were indeed good to eat, they were also great bait for “troutlines”. In all my years of trotlining for flathead catfish or blues or channels, I never ever heard of any trotliners using bullfrogs for bait.

I can’t even imagine that. It would be comparable to using ripe red tomatoes to throw at squirrels and rabbits in place of regular ammunition. Comparable to using pecan pies for deer bait! Big flatheads sought after by trotline, or what he referred to as ‘troutline’ fishermen, seldom take dead bait. You catch them on live bait and live frogs held under water for a short period of time will be dead.

I cannot imagine someone doing that to any living creature, even a mouse. Any catfish caught on a bullfrog would be just as easy to catch on any of a dozen other kinds of bait. In fact, I will have to check the laws, but I think it might be illegal to use bullfrogs on trotlines if you look through the fine print. It is illegal to use any gamefish for trotline bait, and even sunfish, one of the best baits for flatheads and other species, must be under a certain length.

If bullfrogs are legal as bait, it is a bad situation, because year after they become scarcer and scarcer. On streams where I found bullfrogs in abundance as a boy in late summer, there are perhaps about twenty percent of the bullfrogs in most of them that there were forty years ago. In another column, I will go into some of the many reasons why bullfrog numbers are declining, but while I understand why any of us would love to have a skillet full of bullfrogs, please don’t use them for ‘troutline’ bait.

You might be interested in knowing that the first frost is only 38 days away, so it might be a good idea to go down to the pond or creek and take one last swim. One of my old friends was sitting on his porch last week with tears running down his face. I asked if there had been a death in the family or something of that sort. He told me he was crying because he had just eaten the last tomato out of his garden.

These are tough times for those of us who have gardens and love garden produce, but you have to remember that winter has good times too. Thanksgiving and Christmas are ahead, rabbit hunting in the snow, and walking woodland trails with no snakes, no spider webs and no ticks. God has given us six or seven seasons to enjoy for their variety, not just four. And the best of them all, as I see it, is the one we have now, and all those we are going to have.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge To see what our new fall magazines look like, go to my website…

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Excerpt from "Little Home on the Piney"


"Dressed up for the first day of school in Houston Missouri in September of 1940.  
I didn't hunt squirrels in my new clothes of course."

This is a story my father, Farrel Dablemont told me. It is part of a book I have written about his childhood entitled, “Little Home on the Piney”. This is a true story which took place in 1940, when he was about 14 years old.

We started going to the ‘Methadess Church’ in Houston in August, and the preacher just zeroed in on me. He told me I was going to hell just as sure as God turned green apples red, if I was to die. I didn’t figure I was going to die, but I didn’t want to take any chances so I went up to the front of the church with some other sinners to be ‘saved’. Truthfully, I don’t think that I was near the sinner, at my age, that some of them folks were.

But in order not to go to hell, you had to do that, and let the preacher pray hard over you and pronounce you good enough to go. Then if you died you would go to heaven and float around in the clouds and live in a house made of gold. The clincher though, what you had to do first, was to go out some Sunday afternoon and get babtized. I did, and the Piney was really cold that October afternoon when the preacher pushed me under.

I never knew what was going on much, but it made Mom and Zodie happy. They both cried and cried. I wondered at the time why they would cry so much about me escaping the devil. It looked to me like they ought to really be happy. I reckon maybe they was thinking about my brother Norten!

So what it came down to was me all confused about everything. Somehow, there was a God who took care of us and he had sent his son who was killed but didn’t die, to show us that if we are killed we don’t die either.

I thought and thought about it, and tried to read the Bible Mom had but I couldn’t hardly make heads nor tails out of it. I had seen some stuff wrote by a guy named Shakespeare in school and it was a lot like that. Some folks must have known what it meant, but I didn’t.

The afternoon in late October that I went out to try to get a squirrel after I got home from school was one of the biggest turning points in my young life. We had three squirrels and Mom wanted to make squirrel and dumplings because Jim Adey was going to have supper with us. She wanted another squirrel to make sure we had enough. Pop and Jim were sitting trotlines, and Norten was up there on the Meramec River so I was the one the job was left up to.

I didn’t mind that, I loved hunting squirrels. But we didn’t have one shotgun shell in the whole house, so I had to take a little Stevens Marksman .22 rifle, something Pop had took in for a trade for a boat paddle. It had a bent barrel enough to where you had to aim about a foot to the right of what you were shooting at to hit the target, at 25 or 30 yards. Pop was going to straighten it but he hadn’t gotten around to it. Somebody had painted the stock and forearm yellow!

I can’t remember ever seeing a day more beautiful. The trees were turning red and gold and orange, and the fields were full of bright sumac bushes. I wondered if heaven could possibly be as pretty as the Big Piney. I hunted for an hour up the river, in the woods bordering the fields, and then I crossed the shoal above the Paw-Paw Bottoms and found about the most perfect woods you could ask for.

Sitting there waiting for a squirrel, I got to talking to God. I told Him that I was awfully confused about what I had been told, but I was willing to do my best if He would just show me He knew who I was and wanted to help me be less of a sinner. I just flat told Him right then and there I wanted to see some proof of things. Asking for a squirrel wasn’t much of a request.

I sat on that fallen log beneath big oaks and hickories, watching colored leaves drift down around me while the late afternoon sun sent bright shafts into the shadows between the tree trunks, “God,” I said beneath my breath, “if you are real, just show me, by letting me get a squirrel for Mom.”

About five-thirty that afternoon I headed back to the old mill, squirrel-less. I hadn’t seen one, I hadn’t heard one. I was pretty disappointed. There I had went up to be saved and had been dipped in cold water to show how much faith I had, and God wouldn’t even let me have a squirrel. My fragile faith was being tried, my beliefs strained.

There are going to be folks who won’t believe this, but I had left the woods only about 200 yards from the mill-house and I wasn’t paying much attention as I grumbled along. And suddenly I looked up to the old broken down fence I would have to cross and there was a fox squirrel sitting on a post, eating something. I can’t say I thought about aiming, I just cocked the hammer, shouldered that little short rifle and pulled the trigger. The fox squirrel, thirty-five yards away, tumbled from the fence post, shot through the head.

When I picked it up, I was expecting to hear God scold me, but I heard nothing. I just sort of got weak-kneed and it hit me that wherever God was and whatever He was, I was important to Him. He knew about me. And finally I knew a little bit about Him.

I looked up into the fading blue and grey skies blue over the high bluff above the Mill Pond Eddy and I said, rather meekly… “Thank you God for this here squirrel.” And then I said agin.. “Thank you.” Somehow I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I would be saying it. He was real and we’d have enough squirrels for supper just to prove it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Good News About Nuts

This year in October, Hammons Products will pay 14 dollars per hundred pounds, the highest price ever in sixty-seven years.
Some farm families make their Christmas money gathering walnuts in October.
 In the 1940’s, a truck unloads walnuts at a Stockton warehouse.

I have good news and bad news for those who like to get outdoors in the fall and pick-up walnuts. The good news is, Hammons Products, the walnut-buying folks at Stockton, Missouri will pay 14 dollars per hundred pounds of hulled walnuts starting October 1, the most they have ever paid. The bad news is, they expect the walnut crop to be down a little under the average.

They have been buying walnuts since 1946, and one year in the early eighties they bought 49 million pounds. The average has been about 21 million pounds and this year they think the total will be just under 20 million pounds.

For years, Hammons has had buying points set up all around the Ozarks where you can take your walnuts and they will hull and weigh them and pay you on the spot. They have paid 13 dollars per hundred for a long time.

At that rate, I figured that by enlisting the help of my grandsons, I could make about 20 dollars a pick-up load, but it didn’t work so well, as Alex, who was six at the time, kept getting distracted. Ryan, who was eight, probably earned me about 35 cents an hour, and kept sneaking in hickory nuts, claiming he didn’t know the difference.

To make money with walnuts, when you get to be my age and your back is weaker and what fits above your belt in the front is larger, you have to buy one of those walnut-picker-uppers, a rolling flexible wire ball on a long handle that looks something like a paint roller without the cover.

You can get them at the local feed store, but they cost about two good pickup loads of walnuts, so it is hard to see how you can come out on them unless you use them year after year. If I bought one I wouldn’t be able to find it next year so that idea is out!

The squirrels in my woods behind the house are thick as termites in a dead log. They are working the hickories here and making a mess of chewed up hulls on my porches, my pick-up hood, just everywhere. I really ought to go out some morning real early and get a couple for breakfast, and a couple more for dinner, but it is hard to make yourself shoot something that you have watched grow up.

I have that same problem with doves. A pair of doves raised two or three broods (only two young at a time) right behind my screened porch, and I know that on opening day I could sit down by my pond and kill a limit.

There are more doves around here than I have ever seen. But I have had my fill of dove hunting, and I don’t imagine I will ever go again.

My friend Rich Abdoler will be out there on Corps ground at Truman Lake, hunting over harvested wheat or sunflower fields. That hunting is like trying to play checkers at a table with ten or twelve players. Each field has an army of hunters, and twice when I was there I had shot rain down on top of me from hunters not nearly far enough away who paid little heed to where they were shooting.

For me, hunting is something to be done in peaceful solitude or in the company of a small group of close friends, not a matter of sitting 60 yards from someone you never saw before, hoping that you can shoot a dove that he misses. If that is what hunting is to become, I am just too old-fashioned to enjoy it. And besides that, as good as doves are to eat, if you are someone who actually just kills your limit and goes home, you don’t have much to eat.

In the past I have had to split mine with Gloria Jean because she cooks them better than I do. She is a sweetheart and normally lets me have more than my half but that still isn’t enough.

My thinking is that on that first weekend of September, while those sweltering Truman Lake dove-hunting fields sounds like Bull Run or Shiloh back in 1862, there are distant river eddies with cool water and shade, where I can be all alone to set a trotline and catch a flathead or a boatful of channel catfish that will nearly fill my freezer.

I bought a box of shotgun shells for turkey hunting this past spring at my local Walmart store, and while I was out in the woods with two or three in my pocket I felt some lead shot in my pocket, leaking out of the shells. I got to looking and the shotgun shells had not been adequately crimped and sealed on the end.

Usually, I buy nothing but Winchester or Remington shells, or Fiocchi shells for waterfowl at times. But I had been in a hurry and I bought a small box of Federal shells, with a logo on it saying “turkey thugs”.  Back at the sporting goods counter, I started looking through remaining boxes of those same shells and found several other boxes on the shelf, which also had the defective shells.

The manager of the store was called, and I showed her the problem. She said there was no way to take defective ammunition back, but as a courtesy she would allow me to have another box. I won’t be buying any more Federal ammunition after seeing that.

It amazes me, with all the opposition to hunting, with all the people how there joining a growing list of anti-hunters, that some company would want to use the logo of “turkey thugs”. What are they thinking? I am a hunter, not a thug.

I hunt with the reverence for life my father and grandfather taught me, and I do not enter the woods or fields with the attitude of a thug. I guess in this day and time, when so many young hunters want to be looked upon as great turkey hunters, champion callers, pros, or whatever, they place themselves on some notch above us common turkey hunters by calling themselves ‘turkey thugs’.

Now I see t-shirts and hunting clothes and all sorts of hunting gear with that name on them, but I assure you I will never again buy anything with that moniker on it and I hope those hunters who read this column will follow suit. We hunters are not thugs! At least the ones I know are not. Maybe there are a growing number of those younger hunters who think they are. They are certainly hurting the image of hunting.

My two magazines are being printed this week. If you would like to get the fall issues of either The Lightnin’ Ridge OUTDOOR Journal, or the Journal of the Ozarks, or both, just call my executive secretary, Ms Wiggins, who is about to celebrate her 39th birthday again. Her number is 417 777 5227. And remember I still have a sweet tempered yellow Labrador here who needs a good country home.

Email me at or write to me at box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. My website is

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

More Bass Photos...

                       This is the time of day to be fishing a topwater lure on an Ozark lake.

Smallmouth bass tackles a buzz spin

 Late in the day, bass come in from the depths to explore for something easy to eat,  and topwater lures are enticing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer and Shallow Water

In late August and September, I love to fish a buzz bait anywhere, and in the tips of Ozark lake coves, you can almost always catch a nice bass by sneaking up on them.

After last week’s column on jitterbug fishing at night in streams, I had a couple of readers complain that they were unable to paddle a canoe and spend the night on a gravel bar, and wanted to know if jitterbugs worked at night on Ozark lakes, like Norfork, Bull Shoals and Beaver, or Stockton, Pomme de Terre or Lake of the Ozarks.

I have tried the jitterbug at night on several of those lakes, and I have to say, I have had little success with it. It seems strange, but at night on a reservoir in the summer, I think bass spend most of the time too deep to pay attention to it. On occasion, I have caught smaller bass on the jitterbug at night, and sometimes you will have a pretty good-sized bass cause a big commotion behind the lure without getting hooked.

This time of year, bass, crappie and white bass are going to spend most of their time in deeper water. Crappie fishermen tell me often how they are catching crappie in 50 or 60 feet of water, but the fish are only 10 or 15 feet beneath the surface.

White bass and smaller black bass, especially the Kentuckies or Spotted Bass, will chase shad to the surface out in deep water and stay close to the surface for awhile, breaking the water enough to where anglers can see them several hundred yards away.

This usually happens early and late in the day, but sometimes that schooling activity goes on in midday. About anyone can catch those fish with small white jigs, or spoons or small shad-like lures, cast into the melee, if you can get close. Too many anglers who don’t know much about that kind of fishing try to get to close, or throw a motor wake onto the schools and spook them. You have to sneak up on those surfacing fish and stay out away from them as you cast.

On our larger reservoirs, it is true that bass stay fairly deep most of the summer, but they also come into 6 to 8 ft. water at times, as if curious as to what they might find. But even so, in my experience there is little reason to fish a jitterbug on a reservoir at night. It works on rivers, where there are shoals, and the deepest water below the riffles is usually only ten or twelve feet deep.

On an Ozark lake, I like to fish for big bass an hour before sunset and a couple of hours after sunset with other kinds of topwater lures. And I like to go back into deep coves to do it, using something big and noisy, like a Hula Popper, a Lucky 13, Zara Spook or buzz bait.

Before it is completely dark, if you use one of the larger Rapala Floating Minnows, you might be surprised how effective those Finland-made lures are, which first came to the Ozarks in scarce quantities more than fifty years ago, and were on occasion rented to fishermen by boat docks. You have to know how to fish all those lures.

On a lake at night, or very early or late in the day, you want large lures, not the little ones. On a stream, I like a little Hula Popper only an inch or two long, fished with a light to medium spinning rig. On the lakes, I will use casting gear and the biggest Hula Poppers I have.

It is tough for some people to master the Zara-Spook, because it has to be retrieved in jerks, which make it ‘walk’, back and forth. A Hula Popper, which I think is extra effective because of the skirt on it, and a Lucky-13 or any lure like them, have to be fished with a fairly stiff rod tip, because they must kick up an attractive commotion on the surface, and you work them for a foot or so, kicking up water before them. It is a good idea to be patient enough to let any of them but the Spook and the buzz spin, sit a few moments before working them again.

In August and early September, nothing excites me more than fishing the last hour or so of daylight back in the tip of a cove with a good-sized buzz bait of some kind. If you don’t know what a buzz bait is, (and half the time when I write about them I call them buzz-spins) take a look at the photo on my website, given at the end of this column.  That one is white, and it seems as if the light colored ones work better than dark ones.

Still, if you don’t know anything about the retrieval speed of your reel, you may have a hard time fishing them, because they have to be fished fairly fast along the surface, so they stay up on top, with the blade sputtering and turning to make a big bass think it is a living thing making a panicky dash for safety.

You don’t fish those with spinning outfits unless you have one with a gear ratio of about six to one… six feet to one turn of the handle. The newer bait-casting reels are much better for big bass caught on a buzz bait, because you need 10 or 12 pound line and a faster gear ratio than older ones. A five to one gear ratio or less is just too slow for buzz bait fishing and line under 8 pound test isn’t a good idea at dusk, dawn and after dark.

Of course, almost any Ozarks lake affords good bass fishing to those who want to use live crawdads or deep running spinner baits or a jig and pork, even a big plastic worm. But when you can fish topwater lures, you get to a point where jigs and spinner baits aren’t so attractive.

Maybe the easiest way to catch bass this time of year is to drift a crayfish on a hook over and around points where there is 15 to 30 feet of water to fish. You can do that same thing with night crawlers and hook some walleye of various sizes. That’s when you can use the spinning outfits and four or six pound line. Just be darn sure you have your drag set well.

If you go back into a cove to fish a topwater lure for bass in the early morning or late evening, do it with a slow trolling motor, don’t rush into a cove with a motor that creates a wake. I have watched big bass in clear water in the end of a cove just slowly move out into deeper water and disappear with the arrival of a boat they can detect several hundred yards away.
To see some summer fishing photos, go to my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.  And on that website, we will be glad to post some of your own opinions, photos, and comments. Just send them to me via regular mail at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email them to

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fishing in the dark…

My old friend Bobby Lowe with a smallmouth bass taken on a jitterbug from Crooked Creek, the summer of 1974

 In August and early September I have enjoyed some of the best top-water fishing I can recall, with nothing more than a casting reel, my old johnboat and an old-fashioned jitterbug lure… and a headlamp. It puzzles me that when I am fishing during the daytime, that jitterbug, first made seven decades ago by the Arbogast Lure Company, doesn’t seem to get much attention from bass. I use another old reliable Arbogast lure, the hula popper, during daylight hours and catch bass on it. But it has an entirely different action than that you get from a jitterbug.

Fred Arbogast made lures as a hobby in the 1920’s and then founded his Arbogast lure company in 1928. The jitterbug came along ten years later when he and a friend were trying to make a deep running lure that just wouldn’t work. But he quickly figured out how to make it wobble back and forth on the surface and the ‘jitterbug’ was born. Millions have been sold since, and they are still being produced.

When I was a kid on the Big Piney, I used old ones my uncle Norten would give me. They were made of wood with glass eyes. Those jitterbugs are valuable collector’s items today.

Over forty-some years of guiding fishermen on the Piney, Gasconade, Niangua, Crooked Creek, Buffalo, War Eagle and Kings, I found that everyone I took on two or three day float trips wanted to catch just one big 19 or 20 inch smallmouth. If they didn’t get one during the day, and I could talk them into fishing after dark, the chances were good they would catch the biggest smallmouth they had ever caught, fishing in complete darkness below the shoals with a jitterbug. Jitterbug fishing was good from the time the rivers dropped down to mid-summer levels and cleared up, as early as mid June, and sometimes into the middle of September. When summer rains brought the rivers up and colored them a little, jitterbug fishing was never as good.

The best of it was on Arkansas’ Crooked Creek back in the seventies, before the creek began to become polluted and filled in with silt and sand, which made it shallower and with far less cover than it once had. I saw many smallmouth taken from that river at night on jitterbugs that were over four pounds. Trouble was, I made the mistake of writing about it back then in the state’s largest daily newspaper, the Arkansas Gazette, and in some of the national outdoor magazines that I wrote for, and people from all over the Midwest came to the creek to fish it. Too many of them kept the big smallmouth. Today it is nothing like it was then.

Still, no matter what river you fish, if it is clear and low right now, you can catch the biggest smallmouth in an eddy at night with a jitterbug, if you are competent enough to do it. You have to learn to keep your lights off and not try to cast against the bank with a lure. If you keep any smallmouth bass, you do not deserve to catch them! I just don’t have any admiration for those who catch these ever-dwindling hard-fighting bass and keep them. They are always full of yellow grub parasites and they aren’t much good on the table. If smallmouth are the only fish you can find to eat, you are indeed a poor fishermen. It’s best to turn them loose, all of them.

I have to admit, I was slow to learn to do that. We kept and ate a lot of smallmouth when I was young. But I learned, and today I am proud to say, I eat Kentucky bass I catch from a river, and I eat some largemouth bass I catch from Ozark lakes, but I eat mostly crappie, walleye, white bass and catfish when I need to eat fish. There will never ever again be a smallmouth in my freezer.

It isn’t easy to float down a river at night when the water is low and you have to keep your lights off. The older I get, the harder it is to get started, but once I do, I enjoy it as much as I did when I was young.

Some friends and I are looking forward to floating a section of an Ozark stream not visited much by the chaos and capsize canoe crowd. We will camp on a gravel bar, set a trotline and do some jitterbugging. I fully expect to land another lunker smallmouth or two, just like we did in the old days. The only thing different will be a thicker air mattress to sleep on.

In thinking of those times on Crooked Creek in the 1970’s, I am saddened a little by the recent death of an old friend from Harrison, Arkansas. I moved there in 1972 to work as a naturalist at the newly formed Buffalo National River. My wife was a stay at home mom who looked over a two year old and a small baby and the local First Baptist Church had a program where young women could attend a bible study while older ladies of the church took care of the little ones. I hoorahed the whole idea. 

 Back home, I went to little country churches and we called the folks who went to the big Baptist church ‘silk-drawered folks’ people who had money and didn’t associate with poor people like we were. But Gloria Jean got to know some wonderful ladies there and they took it upon themselves to teach her all about the Bible. So I went with her to church one Sunday, mostly just to show her how uppity and snobbish those silk-drawered people were, and there I met Bobby Lowe, the husband of one of those ladies.

I knew no one in Harrison, and as I remember it back then I really didn’t have any friends at that time anywhere. Little wonder, the way I was. Bobby had read my articles in magazines and in the Arkansas Gazette, and he said he wanted to take me over to Bull Shoals and teach me all about what a wonderful fishing lake it was. It wasn’t long until I had a friend, one of the finest men I have ever met. I couldn’t understand it… this fellow was a prosperous businessman with plenty of money, and yet he was interested in me. He began to show me what Christianity was about, rather than tell me. I took him on Crooked Creek at night many times over several years and we had great times catching smallmouth on jitterbugs.

When I moved to Missouri about 20 years later, we kind of lost track of Bobby and Jean Lowe, but one day in the mail I received a new fishing rod, with my name on it. Bobby had sold his business and was making fishing rods, some of the best graphite casting rods I ever saw.

He became ill and passed away this past summer. Probably no one ever knew how that one man, a silk-drawered Baptist businessman, changed my life, and therefore made life better for my family. But I am sure he knew. When we were down there on Crooked Creek, talking about what is important in life, occasionally whooping and hollering about some big smallmouth, Bobby did what Christian men are suppose to do, changing one life at a time, through what he was, rather than what he said. When I am fishing with a jitterbug in the dark next week, I will not forget those times long ago.

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