Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Night Crawlers




An Ozark river ten inch goggle-eye…an increasingly rare fish.

    One of the ways I made money as a boy on the Big Piney was digging and selling night crawlers.   Those were earthworms that averaged from 8 to 12 inches long as big around as a pencil.  I got three cents apiece for them, but provided them free to the clients I took on float trips.  With a good potato fork in specific spots in the bottoms, you could dig a hundred or so in about 30 minutes. 


Of course we used minnows and crawdads and hellgrammites too, but a night crawler was the best bait a kid could get if he was after rock bass, the Ozark river species we referred to as goggle-eye.


      Old-timers in the pool hall often said you could start catching goggle-eye when oak leaves were “the size of a squirrels ear”. My grandpa was a trotliner and he always said when the oak leaves were the size of a squirrels ear the flathead were really active.  Of course you could catch all species before then but that’s about the time, in early April, that my dad and I would float the river before the spawn, using small spinner baits we called shimmy flies.  Those were the hottest lures there were in early spring when the water was clearer than normal.  Shimmy-flies were made by a fellow named Varney from over around Salem Missouri. They were small spinner baits with brown- or black-haired jigs wrapped around a yellow and black core that looked a lot like a bee’s body. If you hopped ‘em over the substrate of the right places in the river you could catch big goggle-eyes, from eight to ten inches long, 20 or 30 a day. 


      I had a cousin by the name of Dwain McNew, who was a year older than me.  His dad had a farm on the river and when I was 13 or 14 he and I roamed all over the bottoms there, after goggle-eyes and black perch mostly.  Actually, black perch, were known to most local folks as green sunfish. Back then they often got just as big as a goggle-eye.  One of my granddad’s wooden johnboats was always on the river down at the Sweet ‘tater eddy and we’d paddle it upstream past the mill eddy nearly to the paw-paw bottoms and then back down river through the Ginseng hole to the McKinney eddy.  We fished that mile or so of river with old fiberglass rods, casting reels made by Pflueger and Shakespeare and South Bend, all with braided line and a two- foot monofilament leader.  Most fishermen called that clear leader line ‘cat-gut’.  My dad protected his shimmy flies, and well he should have.  Dwain and I would have left a lot of them on submerged logs and snaggeldy rocks in water too deep to get them loose.  We did fish some old Lazy Ikes and Flatfish lures, but when we wanted to bring in a big stringer, we took the potato fork along and dug a coffee-can-full of big fat night crawlers.  Then we looked for root wads and log-jams, where goggle-eye and largemouth hung out.  Smallmouth hid beneath and around big boulders, and they liked the night crawlers too.  But there weren’t as many bass as there were black perch and goggle-eye.  They were really plentiful.  Then there was the nemesis of the night crawler fisherman pesky little long-eared sunfish we called punkinseeds.  They were thick as tadpoles in a spring branch, and could take a night crawler off a hook without getting caught.  When you did hook those tiny-mouthed pests, there were never any big enough to eat. 


      The Piney had so much water back then, and deep holes where big rocks protected all kinds of river life.  Today I can show you where they were, but most are partly or completely covered by sand, silt and gravel. The deeper waters where smallmouth and goggle-eye and flathead are found are still there on lower portions of the river, but more rare today than I ever would have believed, in that day of plenty.  If you didn’t live in that time, you would never believe that most Ozark creeks and rivers have about 25 to 30 percent less water today.  But there isn’t 25 to 30 percent less goggle-eye today in the streams of the Ozarks.  It is more like 60 percent less. I wonder if they can ever come back, if maybe our conservation folks would just try a rock bass catch and smallmouth catch and release program for about 3 years.  I try to convince all the folks I come across who are fishing any Ozark streams in Missouri and Arkansas to release ALL smallmouth and rock bass, but there are still so many local folks that you just can’t reach with that message.  And I understand them.  While I seldom eat fish anymore I recall how happy dad and I were to take home a stringer of fish from the Piney for supper.  BUT, back then there were about 5 percent as many fishermen fishing the river and that’s what makes the difference.


I urge readers to look at my website sometime, and also check my blogspot from time to time for photos and information I can’t put in today’s newspapers.  That computer site is


Contact me by writing Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or emailing


Friday, April 2, 2021




        I need to tell folks that we aren’t going to be able to have our Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s swap meet in April because I haven’t been able to find a place large enough that will allow us to have the 1,000 people we are expecting in attendance… but we WILL have it this year, maybe in September.  I will keep you informed.  However… I will be taking folks out to my special wilderness area on Truman Lake, via pontoon boat, on Saturday, April 17.  At midday we will have a big fish fry on the lake and I hope to teach people how to find morel mushrooms that afternoon. I will also show you an area that is much like it was 200 years ago, with huge timber and a great variety of wildlife.  The hikes we take into the woods are not strenuous.  We start from Wheatland Mo at 9 in the morning and come in at sunset.  To join us just give me a call at 417-777-5227 or email me at   

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Savages in the Water

This large white bass has unbroken lateral lines on it's side






















This is actually a small hybrid... notice the broken lateral lines on it's side compared to the unbroken on the white bass



         The first thing I need to tell folks with this column is that we aren’t going to be able to have our Grizzled Old Veteran’s swap meet in April, but we WILL have it this year, maybe in September.  I will keep you informed.  However I will be taking folks out to my special wilderness area on Truman Lake, via pontoon boat, on Saturday, April 17.  At midday we will have a big fish fry on the lake and I hope to teach people how to find morel mushrooms that  afternoon. I will also show you an area that is much like it was 200 years ago, with huge timber and a great variety of wildlife.  The hikes we take into the woods are not strenuous.  We start from Wheatland, Mo at 9 in the morning and come in at sunset.  To join us, use the addresses or phone number at the end of this column.


         On the lower reaches of a small river I like to fish, the water was deep and clear and cold a few days ago.  I fished hard for an hour with no results.  Then I moved down into a quiet backwater of the lake and noticed it was getting murky.  After a hundred useless casts, I was about ready to head in.  At exactly 5:30, I became glad I had persisted.  He hit my lure with the ferocity of a bobcat on a rabbit!  And I landed, after a struggle I wasn’t sure my light line would survive, an 18 inch hybrid, a fish some call a wiper.  His daddy is a striped bass and his momma a white bass.  It was what I had come looking for, and finally my patience was rewarded. And I knew he wouldn’t be alone.  Three casts later another struck my lure with a savagery most fish don’t display.  I sat there until almost 7 p.m. disappointed to be reeling in white bass instead of the hybrids.  Remember when I wrote about catching a pot-load of fish a couple of weeks ago and I said none were above two pounds?  Well on this trip only a few days ago, I caught all my fish on that same lure and none were UNDER two pounds.  Many of the hybrids exceeded four pounds a little, but none made it to 5.  And truthfully, a four pound hybrid isn’t that impressive because I was after 8 to 10 pounders that would strip five or six feet of line against my drag on any run or several hard runs.  I have caught 15-pound hybrids from Norfork lake and 10 to 12 pound hybrids from the upper Sac River.


           I expect that where I will fish for them the next week or so, I will get some bigger ones.  But you don’t really complain about catching 18-inch hybrids on lite tackle.  When I begin to catch bigger ones, I won’t use six- pound line and a spinning reel, I will go to my casting reel and ten-pound line.   Hybrids are very strong, but in most waters they don’t run for the brush, they fight in the open water.  Brother, when they get in a river current, pound for pound they will outfight a smallmouth bass and put to shame a comparable-sized trout as well.  If you want to see the difference between a white bass and a hybrid, I have pictures of the two, side by side, on my computer site…   Hybrids are a whiter fish with darker lines down the side and many of the bottom lines are broken.  A white bass’ lateral lines are not broken.


         It is unbelievable to me that for weeks I have been using a lure that I found back in the winter beach combing, as I do often in the dead of winter.  I know that I could catch fish on lots of lures when you get into them as I recently have, but it is hard to switch to something else when I am using this little crank bait that has caught six species of fish since the last days of February.


         By the way, my spring outdoor magazine and my spring Ozark magazine are printed and ready to mail now.  If you want a copy of either, just call my office to get information about the cost and postage.  The number is 417 777 5227.  Email me at or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

“I Ain’t Never Seen Nothin’ Like It!”



       “ I ain’t never seen nothin’ like this”, I heard one old timer say when it was raining for so many days last week.  I have said the exact same thing several times the last couple of years or so. You have to start getting some age on you to say that effectively.  I never, ever said that when I was 25 or 30 years old.  When I was that age, about everything that happened was a fairly new experience.  But now that I am older, I remember seeing a lot of things happen related to the weather and nature, which causes me to say, “I ain’t never seen anything like this.”


       Uncle Norten, who was eighty-four years old at the time, recalled when he was only about ten years old or so in the spring of 1933 that it rained five days straight and the Big Piney River where he lived.  It rose to the highest point anyone had ever seen.  He said he remembered older folks going around saying, “I ain’t never seen nothin’ like this.”


       “We had built a little log cabin up on the hillside above the river, not far from a nice spring,” he recalled.  “ I had helped Pop cut the logs and build the place, even though I was awfully small.  I did a lot of mud hauling.  We filled the cracks between the logs with red clay from a mud bank not far away, and I think Pop intended to eventually build a floor in it, but we never did. We just hauled in sawdust from a nearby sawmill, and the floor was always sawdust, until we moved out two or three years later to a little broken-down house up the river.  But we’d change the sawdust ever so often, so as to keep things as clean as possible.”


       Norten told me that what he remembered about that deluge in 1933 was that it rained so hard and the wind was so strong at times, that it washed away the clay mud chinking on the west side of the cabin and started blowing rain in through the cracks.  He said that for awhile the sawdust was floating in water on that side of the cabin.  Fortunately, the oak shingles didn’t leak, and so their beds in the attic stayed dry.  Those beds consisted of makeshift mattresses filled with duck feathers.  It was a lot better life than the first Ozark settlers had enjoyed, when they had to live primitively out of wagons that brought them there.


       My uncle said that eventually the rain ended, the sun shined, the river fell and life returned to normal.  Then they just had the heat of July to contend with… and the coming depression. For him the depression was no problem. There in the hills, times didn’t get much worse than they had been, just because the stock market crashed.


       Hard times and floods don’t affect me much.  I live on a remote country ridge-top far from civilization.  My place is not prone to flooding, and so far, free from tornadoes, knock on wood.  The ice storm hit pretty hard here, though, a few years back.  I ain’t never seen nothing like that!


       I think that for those in huge cities, some worse times than we have ever seen are coming, sooner or later.  Those who mass together in a world of concrete and pavement and glass and computers are already trying to find places to escape to, like the Ozarks.  I am not one of those global warming nuts…I have no scientific evidence to call upon to help me predict the future course nature might take, and I don’t know for sure what is coming.  But I am fairly sure that worse is coming.  It is the consequence of huge, ever-increasing numbers of people, and the idea that the lifeboat will hold everybody while the country sinks from too many people. It is the problem of man not realizing that there can be too many people, not knowing that the earth is, after all, the boss…and man is not.  I am convinced that it isn’t the climate changing that we should worry about.  IT IS THE CHANGE IN PEOPLE!


       But one thing for sure, there is no turning around; there is no changing the course.  We are going wherever we are going, and good or bad, global warming, global cooling, or global chaos, ….it is coming eventually.  Some things a man can’t do a thing about.  When a massive black cloud forms on the horizon, you just can’t change the course or the power of the impending storm.  Not even with a computer! My guess there will be more old timers sitting around and saying, “I ain’t never seen nothin’ like this.”  Until there aren’t any old timers left!


       There is one thing that gives me a good feeling.  I know a place or two where the woods are deep and the trees are big, and the spring water is still clean.  There are squirrels there and fish in the river below and blackberries grow in the summer just like they did when uncle Norten was a boy.  There’s a cave there to protect a man from wind and ice alike. Inside, the temperature stays around 60 degrees year-round regardless of what it may be outside. If times get too hard, I intend to take my Labrador and my television and a good sleeping bag with some matches, fishing gear and shotgun, pack it all in my johnboat, and float down to that peaceful little valley.  In the meantime, I am going fishing this week… a whole lot… when the river goes down!

       Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613, or e-mail me at



Friday, March 19, 2021

What a Place to Fish!



Alan Gingrich with one of the bass he caught

         Before all the rain started, I spent a couple of days hunting...  hunting a good place to catch some fish.  High winds made us seek out a long cove, being fed by a creek bringing in warmer water and the fish were attracted to it.  Right off my partner, Alan Gingrich, caught a small white bass about eight inches long.


         Then I caught one an inch longer and commented that the cove likely had a bunch of those little males wanting to go up that creek.  I remember saying that we weren’t going to catch any that were keeping size and about that time my fishing partner’s rod bent over like he had hung his lure on a log.  When he hoisted up a 14-inch female white bass I told him that I was about to say that there likely were a few females up in that cove as well.  But I couldn’t believe there were.


         Between 4 p.m. and dark, we caught fish like we were fishing in a hatchery. The next evening was the same.  We’d fish three hours in the evening, trying to escape 40- mile-an-hour wind gusts, easily catching limits of white bass that were averaging 14 to 15 inches long.  In addition to those chunky white bass, we caught another 40 or so that were much smaller, and we each caught 20 or more bass; largemouth, smallmouth and a few Kentuckys.  With the light gear we were using, we had a great time, but we never did catch a fish above two pounds.  Alan stayed with a quarter-ounce jig both evenings, and truthfully he caught more fish on the jig than I did. But I was using a small crank bait I had found on the lake during the winter that had a small spinner at the lures tail. I don’t know that about any crank bait wouldn’t’ t have caught fish, they were packed in the deeper water out from that warming creek, and they were aggressive.  But there is something fascinating to me about using a lure that I found and didn’t  have to pay for.


         During those two evenings I was sure one of us would hook a walleye or two, which is what we went after in the first place. But we didn’t, and it is puzzling that in the landing of nearly a hundred bass in two evenings of fishing, there wouldn’t have been one somewhere in the four- or five- pound range.


         The rains came the next day and I am sure the creek is rolling high and muddy now.  When it gets back to normal in a week or so l am going to hit that place again.  I am sure the lake level will be higher though, and that could change things.  Spring rains will raise Ozark lakes and provide a much better spawning situation IF the water is kept at a fairly constant level through early June.


         In clear water, bass and crappie and other sunfish will spawn deeper, but in murky water they spawn shallow.  In muddy water they are nearly spawning at the water’s edge.


         To change the subject some-- don’t cuss the March winds, they are absolutely part of the Creator’s plan, because strong winds sweep over the smallest of plants to the highest of trees.  There is a reason for that.  Waving, bending branches pull sap up out of the lower parts of all plants into their trunks, stems, limbs and twigs.  The wind is always a part of the early spring, and essential as the rain. Likewise, the lightning of spring and summer is just as essential, as the electricity in the air fixes nitrogen in the soil.  To get a more complete picture of wind and lightning’s importance, find reading material on the subjects. You will be surprised!


            Before ending this, let me say that on Saturday, March 27 and again two weeks later, I will be taking some folks over to a wilderness spot on Truman lake where there is a large woodland with 200 to 300 year old trees, eagles nests, migrating birds and abundant wildlife.  We can take groups of fifteen at a time, and will go there by pontoon boat, do some hiking, have a big fish fry and return at sunset.  If you want to go, you can contact me via email,, or call my office at 417 777 5227.  Read all the details on my computer site…


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Best Tackle For You




         There are many people out there who want to learn to fish, and many who have been fishing for years who have questions about the right tackle. One of the most-asked questions from folks I took fishing was.... What should I buy to fish with?  Every guide knows that the success of a fisherman who hires him depends to a great extent on whether or not he can use what he has properly.  I can take you fishing, but you have to make the lure land where it should, and do what it should in the water.


         If you want to catch bass, you need to learn to use an open-faced casting reel, and it needs to hold relatively heavy line.  I use some of those casting reels for bigger bass on reservoirs… heavier line and stronger rods.  When you are fishing in lakes for larger bass, 5 pounds or heavier, you need 10 pound line, minimum. The men who caught the monster bass from Midwest reservoirs back in the sixties and seventies used 20- pound line. Some of them caught had caught a half dozen bass in the 10-pound range.  Heavier line stretches less, so it is easier to set a large hook in the bony jaw of a big bass with the heavier line.


         If I want to fish a stream for big smallmouth, I might want to go with a more limber rod, a little shorter because of the restrictions of overhanging limbs when I am casting, and lighter line, perhaps eight or ten pound test. But lighter line the clearer the water. And some smallmouth fishermen would argue that they prefer spinning gear with line only six pounds.  I use that too, of course, when I'm fishing smaller lures.  You can't effectively fish large crank baits, large spinner baits, buzz baits and big topwater lures with a light spinning reel. 


         Heavy spinning reels can be used for heavy fish of course, with stronger line and stiffer rods.  Up north they go for trout and walleye of considerable size with heavy spinning gear and 10 to 12-pound line.  But here in the Ozarks, my spinning reels are used for lighter fish, smaller lures with lighter line.  Casting reels should be used with lures and weights of 3/8 ounce or larger.  Light spinning reels should be used with lures smaller than 1/4 ounce.


         No, you can't effectively cast a little quarter ounce jig with an open faced casting reel and 12 or 14-pound line.  Fishermen learn with experience that a jig falls in the water in direct proportion to the diameter of the line. With four-pound line, a small jig drops much faster than it will with eight-pound line.  That's why crappie fishermen like the spinning reels with light line.  For crappie, use a light, limber little rod which helps you feel a slight tap, and gives you a fight out of a fish that doesn't resist all that hard, and doesn't take a strong hook-set.


         I use medium spinning gear and 6-pound line for white bass when they are hefty, the three- or four-pound specimens not found often.  Most of the time, when I am fishing a spring spawning run for whites that only average a pound, I want four-pound line on a light spinning rod.  If I am going to fish for hybrids or stripers, I want to use heavy casting gear, and if the stripers are big enough, strong rods and 14- or 20-pound line.  Same thing for big catfish when using live bait.  But then, when I fish for stripers on Norfork with guides, we are using long light rods and only eight-pound line.  A 20-pound fish can't break it if the drag is properly set.


         When I go to Canada to fish for smallmouth, muskies, largemouth or northern pike, I use casting gear and strong line 10 to 14 pounds, and you have to use steel leader.  Sometimes, just for kicks I fish for smallmouth in Canada lakes with light action spinning tackle and six-pound line.  For walleyes that are usually less than four pounds, I use that same gear, but heavier spinning gear for lakes that have six- or eight-pound walleye.  The thing about walleyes is, they usually are found in unobstructed waters up there, and they aren't going to run away from you.  They usually stay deep and under you.  Big bass don't do that, they find something to get around, and you have to horse them a little.


         Though I often fish with the heavy casting gear for bigger fish, I just love to fish with an ultralight spinning outfit, and four-pound line for smaller fish; trout, white bass and crappie, even goggle-eye and bluegill.  Sometimes in the summer, I like to find a cool shoal on an Ozark river late in the afternoon and cast a small floating minnow-type lure for smallmouth from 10- to 15-inches long.  What fun that is on the light tackle.  Of course, sometimes an 18- or 20-inch bruiser takes your lure and leaves you wishing you had a heavier outfit.


         It is wise to stay away from push-button reels if you want to become a serious fisherman.  I guess they are okay for kids, or inexperienced fishermen who won't fish very often, and with a really small youngster that's only five or six years old, that's what you begin them on.  But start a youngster that is 10 or 12 years old, learning to cast the better tackle, and you'll be glad you did.


         Well, as you might guess, I take a variety of tackle on most fishing trips, different rods, reels and lures almost all the time, but never more than three rods and reels.  I suggest you learn to use types of fishing gear one at a time and practice casting to a two-foot ring in your back yard until you never miss.  Then hire a guide to teach you the rest.  If you want to learn to fish, a good guide is the best investment you can make.  BUT… I said hire a good one! That takes some research.  In this day and time there are lots of  ‘guides’ trying to pay for a bass boat rather than trying to teach you how to fish.


Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO  65613.  The website is And my email address is lightninridge47@  




Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Greatest Swap Meet Ever!


  We had to skip the   Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s swap meet last year because of the Chinese virus, but for about ten years before, we had held it in late March at a church gym in Brighton, Mo. We didn’t charge admission and all vendor spaces were free. Therefore we had lots of tables and lots of people and the gym was always packed. And we always raised a lot of money for the youth projects of that church. But then they got a new preacher. And since the whole thing wasn’t his idea, he nixed it! I figured that might be the end of our swap meet, but not one to give up easy, I found a big church in Bolivar, MO that had a gym twice the size of the one we had been using. 

     This year we will have our Outdoorsman’s swap meet there, in a space of two end-to-end gymnasiums that will easily hold a thousand visitors and 75 or 80 tables. It has a small cafĂ© attached to it where folks can sit and talk and eat breakfast or dinner. And once again while having a great day, we will raise a lot of money for the church and other charity projects. Best thing is, unlike other such outdoor swap meet events, ours will again be free. If you have stuff to sell, call me and I will hold you an 8, 10 or 12-foot space and it won’t cost you a penny. In the past there has been a bunch of antique guns, antique fishing gear, modern day fishing lures and equipment, knives, camping gear, outdoor art, canoes, fishing boats, outboard motors, mounted fish and deer heads… you name it. I always give away copies of my magazines and sell my ten outdoor books at discounted prices.  This will likely be held this year on Saturday, April 17, but I will let you know here if it has to be set back again to a week later.  IF YOU KNOW YOU HAVE STUFF TO SELL, CALL ME AT 417 777 5227 TO RESERVE YOUR SPACE.  You can do it via email… or even send me a post card at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. I want to get some vendors that have stuff for ladies too, so all the spaces won’t be outdoor items. We may have a space or two with baked goods, jewelry, women’s clothing, etc.

     One year at our swap meet an elderly lady brought all the tackle from her husband’s hideaway. There were some antique lures there worth 40 or 50 dollars and some old rods and reels made in the twenties and thirties. She was selling the lures for three dollars each. She couldn’t understand why she had become so popular with dozens of male visitors. Best buy I ever found at one of our swap meets was a double barrel shotgun that was a hundred and fifty years old. Antique outdoor gear of all kinds is becoming more popular each year, especially fishing lures. Certain collectors pay into the hundreds of dollars each year for just one lure.

     My friend Dennis Whiteside told me he was contacted by a neighbor lady in the late ’80’s who had an old lure she wanted 25 dollars for. “I had no idea if it was worth anything,” he says, “ but it was in the box and looked like it had never been used, even though it was really old. “I stood there thinking, ‘Holy cow, how can I pay 25 dollars for a fishing lure.’ But I did! And that was several times more than I had ever paid for a lure.”

     Whiteside heard of a local restaurant owner where he lived in northwest Arkansas who was a big time lure collector, so he took the lure to him. “When he saw it, he was really fascinated with it, so I knew I hadn’t wasted my money. Then he invited me to his place to see his collection. I didn’t know it then, but I was looking at what amounted to a million dollar lure collection in that guy’s basement.”

        The restaurant owner got him into a group known as the National Fishing Lure Collector's Club, an organization that actually sent out newsletters and magazines informing its members about collectible fishing gear. He said that he saw then just what a big business old fishing lures were. Dennis recalls seeing one lure sell for thirty five hundred dollars. Today, that old lure he bought from his neighbor who thought she was getting a really good deal, is worth about a thousand dollars. Neither of them knew what it was worth at the time. I have saved a lot of lures and now have about a thousand in my basement that I am going to bring to the swap meet. Most are just good ol’ lures that will still catch fish… but I have some weird old lures from my grandpa’s time. I might sell trade one for an old magazine, or an old gun. I will talk more about the coming swap meet in future columns, but I want to let everyone know my outdoor magazine and my Ozark magazine will be mailed around the tenth of this month. Let me know if you want one. I might trade you one for a real good topwater lure!