Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pines and Clear Water, Peace and Contentment







Way back in the bush, I found this sheltered 'narrows' I had never seen before.  It was a great place to fish and a great place to sleep.
      

       Wilderness lay ahead of me that morning. Uncertainty!  But I had all the food I needed for several days, packed in two coolers, with two blocks of ice and not a thing that needed to be cooked or heated. Nothing to drink but water, and in those far away Canadian lakes the cold water is pure.  

       In a dry compartment of my old boat I had an air mattress, sleeping bag and one of those little one-person tents you can pop up in a minute, completely mosquito proof.  With it was all my necessary fishing gear, and a few emergency tools in case I needed them, dry clothes and rain gear. 

       Thank goodness I took along a little extra gas. I wouldn’t have made it back otherwise. My aging War-Eagle boat holds nearly 20 gallons of gas in a built in tank, and I would need more.  I figured it would be about 12 miles to the remote little area I wanted to fish, there in northwest Ontario.  It would take better than an hour to get there, but I could fish two or three days with two batteries and my trolling motor.

       Because of all the rapids you have to navigate between chains of lakes, you can’t go there with a propeller-driven motor.  I knew I could shoot through them with my jet motor and I did.  On one of those stretches of swift-flowing rock-strewn waters, there were dozens of fish with bright red fins sticking out of the water along the edges. Some kind of sucker I think, but never have I seen them with such blood red fins here in the Ozarks.

       On one shoal I saw a pair of pine martens, and there were lots of loons already there, the last two days of May.  I expected to find crappie spawning off the weed beds, but I didn’t.  I think I was just a few days too early.  The smallmouth I was after, and the northern pike, were in five or six feet of water getting ready for the spawn. They readily took my buzz spin off the surface along rock-strewn shores with sand beaches, but there wasn’t one bass above three pounds and that was disappointing.  Often, just as June comes on, you can hook really big ones, four pounds and above.  But not on this trip.

       I got lost just a little bit, but in getting lost I came across a ‘narrows’ I had never seen before.  It was a beautiful spot between two high rock bluffs, well-shaded with water about twelve feet deep.  Perfect for spring walleye.  I only had a dozen minnows, so I reached for my ultra-lite outfit and put one on a bluish-colored hairy jig.

       I drifted through the narrows just bobbing that jig off the bottom and in minutes something hit it hard.  I bent my rod hard and the drag didn’t work right.  It was a heavy fish, that’s all I could say.  I suspect it was a northern pike that got the jig deep enough to bite the line in two, but I didn’t fight him long.  The rod jumped as the line broke, and there I was fishless, jigless and happinessless. 

       But things can change in a hurry.  I adjusted the drag and tied on a new jig and minnow and in only ten or fifteen more minutes I felt a similar strike, with a fish just as heavy.  I fought him for a good while, then saw the white spot on his bronze tail in the clear water well below my boat.  What a big walleye this was!  With my rod in one hand and the net in the other, I got him to the surface and into the net, 27 inches long and probably in the top ten as far as Canadian walleye I have caught over the years.

       Canadian guides make a big thing of shore lunch, bringing out a skillet and cooking the mornings catch on a beautiful sand bar or flat rock shore.  On the open fire they can make the accompanying pork and beans good and hot, and you eat them right out of the can.

        Guiding on Ozark streams, I never fixed a shore lunch.  It took too much time and it was too hot, usually, to be building up a fire, even in the shade.   We made baloney sandwiches mostly, back in those days long ago.  With cheese of course… maybe with a can of cold beanie-weenies.  And there were bananas and soda pop and some Hostess chocolate cupcakes.
 
       I don’t drink soda any more but had a similar meal, without the cupcakes. It reminded me of the old days, as I stopped on a shaded sandbar that day and then stretched out to take a long nap.  I congratulated myself on the big walleye.  Told myself I had done good.  You get to talking to yourself like that when you are off by yourself in the middle of nowhere. I sang a lot too.  No one there to hear me but the loons, which often joined in.

       I had been in Canada fishing for three days and I hadn’t heard a thing in the way of news from the U.S.  It is nice to go for a while without having to hear the news media tell us what a wonderful president Hillary will make, or how great Obama has done.  The cry of loons and the chatter of pine squirrels, and the drumming of ruffed grouse is a much better sound.

       It is against the law to camp on those Canadian lakeshores, but I didn’t need to.  About nine that evening I anchored my boat inside those protective narrows between the bluffs and set up that little tent on the back of my boat.  The mosquitoes at night make that net-windowed little tent absolutely necessary.  I put the air mattress in it and filled it, then laid my sleeping bag inside.  Grey owls answered my call, and hooted away on the bluff top.

The back deck on my boat is 71 inches by 36 inches, and the tent is 72 inches around, so part of it had to lap over on two sides.  Luckily, I am only 70 inches long and I didn’t have to lap over at all!  I slept well except for the complicated effort one must give to get out of a tent that is only about 40 inches tall, when nature calls about 4 in the morning.  In Canada, the early summer darkness doesn’t really set in until after ten p.m., and it begins to get light about four a.m.

       I will do it again next spring, maybe a week later when the smallmouth are sure to be up on the banks.  I know just how to get back in the middle of nowhere, catch fish and hunt morel mushrooms and not violate the law at all.  One change… no air mattress!  There’s room for rolled up foam mattresses in my boat compartments.  I’ll also take a skillet and have some fish for supper with my beans. And I may go to ham!  Baloney is fine for lunch but darn poor eating at breakfast!  Another thing… I need to take more bananas.


       While it is hot, I am going to do some trotlining for big catfish at night and go to work on my fall hunting and fishing magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Journal, during the heat of the day.  It should be done by September.  If you have a good story about hunting and fishing from September thru November, send it to me.  We pay from 25 to 50 dollars for stories we publish.  The magazine is going to be a bit different than it has been the last 15 years, perhaps more than a hundred pages, and about half of it in color. 



        

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Justice for a Thief

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 Today she lurks in deep water, nursing a sore jaw.  who knows where she put my stolen lure?

         I had vowed revenge back in the spring, when she stole a treasured lure from me.  It was a gold Rapala about four inches long.  I told her then that she would pay for that sneakiness, that thievery.  I was upstream a ways in early April, using it to catch white bass, and hoping for a walleye.  That’s the thing about those expensive Rapala lures, you can fish them on the surface to catch the whites, or jerk them down underwater two or three feet for walleye.  I probably shouldn’t have been using such a treasured lure on six-pound line.

         But I hadn’t suspected the sudden attack so close to my rod tip and with a savagery often seen from smallmouth in a small Ozark stream. She struck just as I attempted to pull the lure from the water.  That close, the drag on a spinning reel doesn’t work as well and she snapped it with a sudden boiling swirl of water that showed me this wasn’t a smallmouth, but a big black largemouth of remarkable size.

         She had been lurking there in deep water beneath a flat rock ledge where I stood. She saw her chance and took it… took my lure, took my peaceful and relaxed demeanor and turned it into upsetness and aggrevation.  I said then, “I will be back!”

         And I was, late in the stillness of evening last week, as chuck-wills-widows began to call and an owl hooted from a distant ridge.  Standing there on that flat rock, with stronger line and a casting reel I tossed a bushy black buzz-bait upstream. I worked it over the big rocks, down alongside the ledge, once, twice, three times.  And she was down there, thinking perhaps she would steal another one, thinking I still had weak line and that peaceful demeanor of mine.  In the sudden wink of an eye she flashed from the depths and took it from the surface and I let her have line as the drag on my reel buzzed like some kind of evening insect.

         As she fought to stay in those depths I told her that I was the same guy she had stolen from before, and I enjoyed my revenge as that rod arced and strained against her heavy body.  I knew she would lose the fight.  She was a beauty, 20 inches long and hefty--full of eggs!  Downstream, a friend waiting in my boat took a quick picture as the dusk waned. She can find her way upstream to those rock ledges again.  Maybe her sore jaw will cause her to remember to leave my lure alone… next spring, when I am after walleye and white bass again… when my demeanor is peaceful and my line is weak.


         The other evening I was out on Stockton Lake and white bass were beginning to chase shad on the surface out in the middle of the lake.  That makes for very good fishing as the summer goes on.  You have to find the schools of fish on the surface and ease in to them via trolling motor.  Sometimes you can see them several hundred yards away when there is no wind and the surface is like glass.  I like to fish either a white jig, retrieved rapidly through the school or a surface lure of some kind. 

         Occasionally those schools are made up of black bass.  The reason is the same, the fish are chasing shad up to the surface and slashing through them, filling their bellies.  In Bull Shoals years ago in July, I would take my daughters out for an afternoon swim, then as the sun dipped low, take them into schools of surfacing white bass where they would absolutely wear themselves out filling the live well.  This kind of fishing is great in all those Arkansas border lakes and on Stockton.  In Truman Lake, the surfacing fish often include hybrids that weigh from 5- to 10-pounds.  On Beaver Lake, huge stripers may get into the shad-chasing act and you might see a surface commotion a half mile away, because they splash water three or four feet in the air as they feed.  I will write about this again, later in the summer.
        

         I love beautiful wildlife paintings, and have the walls of my office and home adorned with many I have come across over the years that I could afford.  If you have a den or office or whatever that needs some wildlife paintings, you should visit a place called “Pictures and More” on the east side of highway 13 south of Brighton, Mo., which is perhaps only ten or twelve miles north of Springfield. 

         There are all kinds of wildlife and nature paintings there selling for a little as 25 dollars, a fraction of the price
you usually would pay.  And they will also frame and mat any art you want to take home.  Fantastic paintings of deer and eagles and bear… moose, elk, wolves, mountain lions, waterfowl, etc… you’ll see an amazing number and selection.

         I am going to move all my office art closer together to see if I have enough space to buy one or two of theirs.  I’m not trying to give anyone free advertising but I always like to let my readers know when I see real bargains pertaining to the outdoors.           Truthfully if the Creator had given me a choice in the matter I would give up my enormous talent as the world’s greatest johnboat paddler just to be a mediocre wildlife artist.  What those people do with a brush and canvas is so amazing, and few of them are conceited about it.  If I could only do what they do…


         I got a recent call from an employee of the Missouri Department of Conservation, who would be fired if I gave his name.  He said that when I wrote about the MDC agents abusing their power in the collection of big antlers I was right on track.  He said that the reason they won’t let me or any other journalists witness them destroying antlers is because they never ever do that… they just say they do.   “Does anyone think they don’t know the value of those antlers? 

         There are hundreds of good honest employees working for that agency, but too many who are not.  Corruption abounds in Jefferson City and those involved in it are strangely protected by this state’s large media.  The man who called me says that a conservation agent here in the Ozarks has a storage building filled with big antlers worth perhaps tens of thousands of dollars.  He says the agent calls them his “retirement plan”.           He says the antlers are a result of bucks killed on the highway and some he bought.  “But a good percentage of them are from deer confiscated, some illegally taken by the MDC from innocent hunters over some technical charge they often come up with, or just downright bogus charges.”  He says most agents have some big antlers and there isn’t much a hunter can do if he is charged, because a lawyer costs so much.  The best thing to do, he advises, is to never let anyone know when you kill a buck with big antlers.

         He told me one thing that really hits home.  He said that if you hit a deer with a car and you call it in as a doe or small buck, you can get permission over the phone to keep it, clean it and eat it.

         “Not so if you tell them it is a big buck,” he says. “Just try calling in a deer with 14 points and a 24-inch spread, give directions to where it is and see how long it takes a conservation agent to get there.”

         This needs to be investigated by the Attorney General of this state.  That stock of antlers the agent calls his retirement fund should be seized and accounted for.  But if you consider the fact that a few newspapers I write for will delete this paragraph… you get an idea of how easily it is for the MDC to break the law and violate constitutional rights.

         I have worked for years to see the truth come out about many things they are doing.  It is hidden by all Missouri media except the small locally owned newspapers.


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 She is full of eggs, hefty and 20 inches long.  If she wasn't going to be a
mother, I would have had her for supper last week.






Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Letter to a 12-year-old - 6-5-16







   






 
    The 12 year old I was writing to…. with Grandpa Dablemont and a bobcat….

















                              
and shooting snooker with Grandpa McNew



      Vice President Joe Biden wrote a letter to his 12-year old self and there were folks so touched that it brought tears to their eyes.  Get ready to cry again folks ‘cause here is my letter to myself when I was 12.
  
      
Dear Larry,
         It is hard to see a twelve year old boy so torn up about something so let me assure you… you will indeed be able to shoot flying ducks in time! Some day you’ll never again have to shoot the ones which are sitting on the water like… well… like sitting ducks.  And in time, those backlashes in your fishing reel will be almost non-existent.  I hope that is some comfort to you!

         You are really a lucky kid getting to work at your dad’s pool hall.  Few twelve year olds have so many friends, even if most of them are old codgers.  And you should know, thinking as you do that your teachers hate you, that some of them don’t.  Not many, but some!  Mrs. Smith, the one who dislikes you the most will brag on what a great influence she had on you when you start selling articles to Outdoor Life and Field and Stream and publish your first book or two.  Sure seems strange that a kid who avoids books like you do would some day write one.

         Oh well Larry, I wanted to offer you some good advice in this letter so lets get to it.  First of all, stay away from alcohol and drugs.  In fact it is far best to stay away from those kids who use alcohol and drugs as well.  A lot of them aren’t going anywhere but to jail, and to an early death.  It is good that you have been able to see, there in that pool hall where you work after school, what tobacco does to men as well.  If you choose to smoke or chew, you will indeed reinforce what Mrs. Smith said about how you couldn’t get any dumber!

         I know that right now, at your age, your biggest worry is the copperheads and the cottonmouths on the ridges and the river.  You need to know that you should throw lawyers and politicians in with them someday… and judges who once were lawyers.  They are people who prey on the unfortunate, the little people, the commoners.  As someone once said in the Bible… “the truth is not in them”.  But one thing they are good at is making lots of money and getting rich.

         The ‘truth’ that seems so sought-after in your youth will be hard to come by as you grow old.  That television your grandparents just bought is a wonderful thing.  I know how excited you and your cousins were when you watched Davy Crockett and Gunsmoke for the first time.  I hate like heck to tell you this, but that old Devil the preacher talks about so much at the Brown Hill Church will someday find his finest tool in that new invention, which will warp and deceive lots of kids and adults way down the road.   But he has lots of tools, like those huge nationally-owned newspapers and something called the internet, which you don’t understand now, and won’t understand ever.

         The fifty cents an hour you are making now guiding city folks on fishing trips down the Big Piney in your old wooden johnboat seems like a lot of money now, but as hard as this is to believe you will be making 75 cents an hour as a guide by the time you are fifteen.  Reckon that ought to make you as happy as sinking the eight ball in the corner pocket!

         It is a fact that there isn’t a 12-year-old in the whole country who can paddle a johnboat better than you.  And shucks, I’ll bet that as far as 12-year-old snooker players go, you are in the top ten percent.
 
         I know that isn’t much comfort for a kid who wishes he could play basketball and football, but here’s some encouragement.  None of the kids you know playing those sports will ever make any money at that after they graduate. Some day you’ll make quite a bit playing pool and snooker.  But, uh, like football, playing nine-ball for money is a good way to get a concussion eventually so I am awfully glad you will finally give that up.  Gambling, too, destroys a lot of people.  It is like donuts and pecan pie, it gets aholt of a kid before he knows it.

         I am disappointed that you lack any social graces, because it probably would be a good idea to go to the school prom someday.  But then, you are a little on the homely side, and you can’t dance, and you are terrible when it comes to talking to girls. It is likely a good decision you will make about camping on some Big Piney gravel bar instead.

         It is good to avoid girls altogether when you aren’t any smarter than you are and have no more money than you do. I know those cheer-leaders look good now but boy you won’t believe how quick they get fat and homely!  Statistics say that there are more divorced cheerleaders in their thirties and forties than hornyhead chubs on a Big Piney shoal in the middle of April.

         Enjoy life while you are a boy. Catch bullfrogs, hunt squirrels and set trotlines. When you are grown, that creek you and your cousins swim in on Grandpa McNew’s farm will be dried up and the Piney will be polluted.  Many springs will be gone, the big trees in the woods you hunt in will be cut down.

         But those old timers you sat and listened to; the good men in that little church, and your dad and your grandfathers… their memories and teachings and the common sense they taught you, will serve you well all your life.  Seek out folks like them, stay away from those places where men live like a great herd of cattle.
 
         Find a place where there remains the old-fashioned ideas and values that you learned as a boy, and never ever make your decisions in life based only on money.  You will find that some of the most miserable people are those who have big bankrolls and some of the happiest folks are those who just keep a few bucks in a can under the bed. Avoid like the plague a man whose greatest goal in life, whose very happiness when he gets up in the morning, is the gaining of one more dollar.
         Listen to God when you are deep in the woods, and go there often.  Don’t get proud of yourself, and don’t be ashamed of yourself, because the little talent and ability the creator gave you is enough.  Do what God put you on earth to do.

         Try your best to be a gentleman, even if don’t ever own but one tie!  Stand up for the weak, the oppressed and the less fortunate; don’t ever watch women or children or animals be treated cruelly without trying to do something about it. Be proud to let everyone know that old-fashioned, masculine men can still be devoted to the words and teachings of Jesus, and even if they fall down a lot and often make dumb mistakes, they can still be constantly TRYING to follow Him, just as men did in the old days.

         Don’t worry about counting the stars, or understanding the sun.  Just put your trust in the One who made them and your life will be blessed beyond comprehension.  Thank Him often for that.

         And no matter how perverted and sick and evil this world becomes, get away from it and retreat to the good earth and good people who are still there, off to the side of the main stream, like the caves and sycamores still sitting silently along the Piney.  You are a little like Peter, the fisherman who stumbled a lot and had to wait until he got old to be worth anything.  Someday he might just tell you where the best fishing is in heaven… and where there might be an old-time pool hall.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Lunkers in a Lonely Place - 6/1/2016








         It was almost dark; I was fishing a black topwater chugger of some kind, about three inches long.  But it was light enough to see the fish take it, and there wasn't any doubt he was big and strong.  I questioned for a moment whether I'd get to see him or not.

         Fish like to move and feed during the evening of an early summer day.  It had been fairly hot earlier, but the fishing had been good, and the water was cool.  I had already landed and released one big smallmouth, about nineteen inches in length, and I figured the one I had ahold of would beat that one.  We were paddling up a big eddy in the river off in the middle of nowhere, and were almost to the shoal which fed it.  There was the increasing current, six or eight feet of water and big rocks well out into the river with weeds along the bank.  Of course a big smallmouth would be there, and he just engulfed that topwater lure about halfway between my boat and the bank.  He stripped line against the drag, but I had twelve-pound line on that casting reel, and I figured I would land him if the hooks held, and they did.


      For quite some time he bore deep, and bent my light rod to a breaking point as he went beneath the boat.  He did that twice, and I strained against him to bring him back.  Finally he made one half-hearted jump, and I could see he was everything I guessed him to be...one of the biggest Ozark stream smallmouth I have ever taken.  My
partner waited with a net, and even before he was finished fighting, he slipped it beneath the big brownie and the fight continued in the bottom of my boat.  We got some good pictures, thanks to the flash unit, and I measured him and bid him farewell, releasing him back into the current that had been his home for a long time.  It takes several years for a smallmouth to reach his size, twenty-one inches and about four-and-a-half pounds.  There's a chance he will eventually exceed five pounds.

         Few fishermen will ever be a threat to him, because he lives in a place where no one tarries much past mid-day.  It is not a stretch of river on which the canoe rental people have operated, and it is far from any put-in or take-out point.  Serious fishermen don't get there often late in the day when summer smallmouth feed ravenously.  To be there late in the evening, or at first light of dawn, when the air is cool and columns of mist rise from the river, you need to float down, set up a mid-afternoon camp and spend the night there. In mid-summer, when the river is low, there is an art to doing that.  You can't load a boat or canoe with heavy gear and cover miles of water.  You have to be something of a back-packer in a canoe.

         First of all, I tell serious fishermen to forget the 17-foot canoe, unless it is a square-sterned version with several inches more width than a double-ender, and much more stability because of it.  My choice for any Ozark stream fishing is an 18 to 19-foot square-stern canoe, or a 16 to 17-foot aluminum river johnboat, and both are hard to come by.  But both are easy to handle and stable.
   
         I don't like sleeping on hard gravel bars as I did when I was younger, so I take a small light tent, a very light sleeping bag or blanket and pack it all in one waterproof bag.  Most important is a small air-mattress, a tough one…one of those which doesn't easily puncture or leak, and a little battery operated air pump.  There's very little weight in that pack.  In another small waterproof bag.... rain gear, a change of dry clothes and dry footwear.  Again, not much weight.  In a cooler, stash a frozen milk carton or two, so that as it melts, you can drink the water. And bring extra water in another container.  Put a variety of food in that cooler for two lunches, dinner, and one breakfast.  Use your head.... instead of cartons of eggs, break two or three eggs for each fisherman, into a ziplock bag.  You can fill the bag with chunks of ham, cheese, peppers, onions, whatever. Bring along a camp cooking kit and fry it.  If you want, you can fry potatoes and fish, or take cans of beef stew.  You figure out how you want to eat, but plan it, and take as little as you can.  Add to it a light camp stove, an extra paddle, two good rods and tackle, and a camera box.   Spend the night somewhere on a lonely Ozark river where there's not a sound but the bull-frogs and the owls and the splash of feeding fish during the night.

          I catch lots of big smallmouth, they are the fish I love to fish for.  Now you know how and where.  In late spring and early summer, that early and late river fishing seems to be at its best. And it is so quiet and peaceful!  I get sick of hearing outboard motors on our reservoirs, and no matter how good the fishing is, it doesn’t compare to what I find on the rivers where smallmouth lurk. But you have to work a little to get there, and to make it all come together.

         On the river, even those where the hollering, banging greenhorn canoeists hurry through in the heat of mid-day, all is quiet at dusk, except for the sound of a topwater lure, and a smallmouth busting it with everything he's got.  And I eat can eat well, sleep well, and get back at 'em at first light.


         I wrote a book a few years back all about rivers and fishing and camping and everything unique about the streams, with lots of history and nature.  The name of it is “Rivers to Run,-- swift water, sycamores and smallmouth bass”.  If you are a fan of rivers, or want to learn more about rivers and how to enjoy them I think you’ll like it.
It is a big book, 374 pages with many of pictures.  In it is the plans for building a couple of types of wooden river johnboats.  If you find it in bookstores it sells for $15.95 but you can get an autographed inscribed copy from us for $12.95 and we’ll pay the postage.  My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.
 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Headed North 5/27/16

Sondra Gray with her football-shaped smallmouth










    Catching big smallmouth in northwest Ontario is no big deal.  Small Canadian lakes are full of them.














Gloria fighting a lunker


        Sometimes fishermen think the month of May is too early to fish in Canada.  There are lakes in northwest Ontario that still have a lot of ice earlier in the month.  But several years ago some friends and I went there the last week of May and discovered that it is one of the best times to catch the biggest of those football shaped smallmouth bass…. on topwater lures and buzz-baits.

         I can’t say for sure about the spawning of smallmouth and largemouth bass in those lakes, but it is obvious that they move to shallow water pretty quickly.  And the number one bait for us has been big white or yellow buzz-baits.  Other topwater lures may be just as good… Zara spooks, Rapalas and big popping lures of all kinds, but you can fish a buzz-bait much faster and that allows you to get in more casts.

         There are a lot of misses.  You’ll see smallmouth you are convinced weigh five pounds just roll at the lures and never get hooked.  But you will catch a few too, not many in that five-pound category but lots of them above four pounds.  As much as I like to fish buzz-baits in the late summer and early fall here in the Ozarks, that kind of fishing here has never given the results you see in Canada.

         I can’t wait to get there, back in the wilderness where the only motors you might hear is from a pontoon plane passing overhead on occasion.  In late May, we leave the boat to find morel mushrooms the size of jumbo ice cream cones, amongst pine cones and moose tracks. 
 
         As you fish you hear the sound of old-time farm tractors starting on a cold Ozark day, except there in the Canadian bush country, it is the sound of drumming ruffed grouse along the shores.  You will see a few pine martens and occasionally a fisher; mink and otter and beaver are plentiful.  And there are the loons, and the haunting but melodious calls they send out throughout the morning as you fish. 
 
         It is rare to see moose and bear, but over the years that has happened too.  And when you return worn out from a long day of fishing, you sleep like a baby. You occasionally marvel at northern lights when you step out on the porch at three or four in the morning to answer nature’s call.  Sometimes you will hear a wolf howl at night, but that too is rare. And it is difficult to figure why there are so many more stars in the sky than you have ever seen before.

         Whatever drastic news comes from the political problems and the terrorists back in the rest of the world, you do not know a thing about, because cell phones don’t work on those little Ontario lakes.  Who gives a hoot?

         But back to the fishing, which is the best reason to go there in late May. You’ll find that not only smallmouth bass like those big noisy buzz-baits.  The good thing about buzz-bait fishing is the fact that they work fairly well with an eight-inch steel leader.   That steel leader is necessary because every now and then a northern pike that weighs three or four pounds will intercept that lure take your lure by biting through the strongest of monofilament line.  And occasionally, when you get a ten or fifteen pound northern, you’ll want to land him, and you probably won’t without the steel leader.

         While that casting gear is the choice for bass fishermen, you also will want to have a light-tackle spinning outfit with you and some small jigs.  Because several times we have found big fat crappie from one to two pounds, schooling just outside of weed beds.  We seldom eat a smallmouth, because there are crappies for supper and they are absolutely delicious. I love Canadian crappie but I don’t filet the skin off, I scale them.  They are so, so much better to eat with that skin intact.

         And if you filet a five- or six-pound northern, and know how to take out those Y bones in the upper part of the filet, you will not believe how good they are, hot from the skillet.  Anyone who fishes in Canada needs to learn the simple procedure for removing Y bones from a northern pike.  It is simple.  But no matter how good they are to eat, they are repulsive to some fishermen because they are so slimy.  Indians of the region, including today’s Cree and Ojibway guides, called them ‘snakes’ and avoided them completely.   But why not, they had so many walleye to eat.
 
         So as you read this, I hope I am taking a picture of a great big smallmouth before releasing it, somewhere on a little lake where there are no other fishermen.  They come here mostly in the summer, to the easy access waters and fly-in lakes and I have very often heard fisherman brag about catching a hundred smallmouth a day. I have never counted the brownies caught and released in a day; it seems a silly, and downright impossible thing to do. When you are having so much fun on such fantastic waters, who wants to count fish?

         There are many lakes up there where you can catch smallmouth of a pound or so one right after another.  If you fish four hours you should easily boat a hundred of them. But most are not to be boasted about unless you are taken with fish under two pounds in weight.  You need to catch smallmouth above three pounds in order to count up your accomplishments.  I think that a few years ago a friend of mine caught 20 or so smallmouth above four pounds in one morning of fishing but we never kept track.  That was something to see.

         If you want to catch a six- to seven-pound bass, you can do that… in one of the remote lakes that holds largemouth.  How strange it seems to me that those largemouth lakes have no smallmouth, and smallmouth lakes have no largemouths.  One late August night in the darkness on an unnamed lake, I caught a largemouth close to seven pounds on a jitterbug, and we landed quite a few six pounders.  I have never seen largemouth bass that heavy and fat and that short and that color, nothing like Ozark largemouth.

         Perhaps this is a good place to say that if you fish our streams here in the Ozarks on opening day of the “bass season” you should release all the smallmouth you catch.  They are hard pressed here, as our streams increasingly become more polluted and fill in more each year, deep holes becoming scarcer as fishing pressure intensifies.  Keep the largemouth and Kentucky bass, even the green sunfish, if you want to eat fish, but release all the smallmouth and goggle-eye you catch, or figure on a day in the future when there won’t be any for a future generation to catch.
 
         Yeah, I kept the brownies and goggle-eye too when I was younger, but I kept my last one forty years ago when it became apparent they were being overharvested and I began to see the decline in habitat.  I plead with fishermen to release those two species from our rivers, as I do not know of a greater move a fisherman can do for conservation of a species.  More to say about this in another column.


         Thanks to the 52 people who came to our Panther Creek Youth Retreat last Saturday for our fish fry and tour of the place.  No one enjoyed it more than I.  It is so good to meet people like that, when you are someone who pretty much lives a solitary life outdoors. Often as I write this column up here on this secluded ridgetop, I wonder if there are really people out there who read it.
 
         I hope I get to see all of you again.  Special thanks to a couple of our youth counselors, Dennis Whiteside and Rich Abdoler, who fried almost three hundred fish fillets, and neighbor Pam Myers and my daughters Christy and Leah. It was a great day!









Monday, May 23, 2016

Becoming a Farmer, For Wildlife – 5-23-2016


 


 
My daughter Christy was talked into spelling ol' Dad for a round or two on the tractor.  Didn't last long… she kept thinking it was about to turn over!





A deer antler and two arrow heads found at Panther Creek Ranch. Only a few of the treasures youth may have the experience of finding and learning about at the ranch.
 

























         In all my life, I never drove a farm tractor until just recently. I spent most of the day last Sunday on a 1948 Farmall Cub disking up four different plots of ground along our Panther Creek bottoms.  My maternal Grandfather, Bert McNew told me once that riding a tractor working on the farm was a great way for a man to talk to the Lord, because it was something he did all alone.  He was right!
 
         It is another way for a man to get his mind away from this messed-up world. I have spent my life escaping to the woods and the river as a naturalist, hunter, fisherman, guide, and explorer, but never did I try to work the land as a farmer.
 
         My recent experiences on that little red tractor of mine have nothing to do with harvesting grain for sale.  I am putting in wildlife food plots strictly to feed wildlife. Six miles from me there is a Conservation Department wildlife management area of considerable size that has no wildlife.  They have recently killed some of the smaller fringes of trees there with herbicide, and expanded gates to facilitate the machinery of a tenant farmer so he can harvest a large crop, of which the MDC gets a percentage.

         A year or so ago, a friend and I turned loose five beagles there and in more than an hour of hunting, we didn’t see one rabbit. That place, owned by all of us as public land, is basically an ecological desert.

         My place has rabbits and birds in abundance.  I have been taking care of a big covey of quail.  Going into the spring, there were 18 of them and I hope the careful combination of these small plots of food, escape cover and nesting cover, plus the control of egg-eaters like armadillos and possums and skunks, will allow these eighteen birds to expand their number.  Wildlife is increased by what is known as edge and interspersion.  I am creating that. 

         There was a time long ago when state-owned public wildlife areas were managed to produce edge and interspersion, and rabbits and quail, deer and turkey, and furbearers and birds.  These places are now for producing bushels of grain, or harvested logs, all for maximum profit, not wildlife conservation.  My intention is to make this small 50-acre tract an example of what can be done, when preserving wildlife is the goal. I am planting one of them with turnips and clover for deer and turkey, and another is planted in a wildlife mix, some sunflower, milo, soybeans, millet and others.  This will help feed my quail and rabbits.
          
         On Lightnin’ Ridge, where I live when not working on this Panther Creek project, there is nothing to plow and plant except the garden.  It is a high ridgetop of big trees, and they will not be cut down by contract loggers as so many landowners seem anxious to do today.  My office is a museum, and I have a long trail built through those big trees that I have opened for anyone to hike.  Visitors seem to enjoy it.

         We have similar trails along Panther Creek Bottoms and on the timbered ridges above it.  If you have been reading this column you know we are proud to be making the place a completely free retreat for underprivileged children of all ages.  We are in bad need of someone who owns a bulldozer to create an athletic field there.  That is one of our last projects left unaccomplished.  About everything else I have been able to handle with that old Farmall Cub tractor.
        
         The big fish fry we had last Saturday to show the place off, let over 40 folks see what we have to offer with our lodge and two cabins, enough room for a church wanting to bring 20 or 25 kids.  We had representatives from several churches show up to see it.
        
         When a church from Springfield brought seventeen boys for a weekend of fun at our place, I wrote about it, and got a phone call a few days later that I will never forget.  The lady who called me was crying, and asked me if she could get her little boy into such a group.  I explained that she needed to contact that church and likely they would include him.  Then she went on to say that he needed help, because his father had left them and he was becoming morose and difficult.

         I hope that lady is reading because she and other parents like her can enroll troubled young boys in a week-long stay at our Panther Creek project, running from June 13 to June 16, four days and three nights.  I will have on hand four other Christian men, whom I have known for years and years, as counselors.  There will not be a time when any boys will be alone with me or anyone else.

         We will act as a group, building trails and hiking, learning to swim, handle canoes and kayaks; hunting arrowheads and shed antlers, and working on daily classroom assignments involving our biggest purpose there…nature and  conservation.
 
         For those whose parents give permission, there will be a hunter safety course for their boys, teaching the safe handling of firearms and involving shooting clay pigeons with one twenty-gauge shotgun and one .22 rifle at stationary targets.  We have White River guide and fly fishing expert Jerry McCoy, from Arkansas, coming up to spend an afternoon teaching boys to fly-cast and use fly-rods right there in the creek.
 
         What I intend to do with these boys involves teaching them self-worth, emphasizing that God gives us all certain talents, and that each of them have some special gift they should pursue as the grow into men.  We’ll emphasize the evil lurking in the use of drugs and alcohol and the health aspect of using cigarettes.  It isn’t intended to be just a week of play and fun.  They will indeed have fun, but they also will LEARN.

         If you want to send your son, my email address is lightninridg@windstream.com or telephone me at 417-777-5227 and we’ll have you fill out a form which tells us all about him, especially any physical or medical limitations. We’ll be glad to show you our place and explain what we will be doing. I should point out that later in the summer we will do this again if we have more than we can take during this first camp.  And we will do the same thing for girls at some time in the summer and fall, with women counselors, if there is an interest.

         I will be glad to furnish references for all of our counselors and myself.  Our purpose is to show the outdoors and the best of God’s creation to boys, to steer them towards interests they might have as individuals…  our purpose is to use nature and good men to change young lives of many boys for the better.