Tuesday, June 30, 2015

BULL SHOALS...ZEBRA MUSSELS and YELLOW PERCH

                       
Both Bull Shoals and Norfork 
harbor the Ozarks biggest crappie, 
but they are harder to find during 
the day in the summer because of 
the deep clear water. This crappie 
is 17 inches long. They get even 
bigger.
          





 
A fish from northern waters, the yellow perch has somehow been introduced to Bull Shoals lake and is growing in numbers.









        Norfork Lake is a heckuva fishing lake.  It is where my good friend and fellow outdoor writer Jim Spencer catches big catfish on a rod and reel.   A year or so ago I made another friend at Norfork, a fellow who left his home in Joplin with his family to take over a resort there known as Three Oaks.  It is situated on the Arkansas side of the lake near Gamaliel, not far from the Missouri Line.

       It was quite a change for Don Lawellin and his wife Margaret, but they are happy they made it.  Their resort sits on a ridge overlooking the lake and Don isn’t one of those resort owners who works so much he doesn’t get to fish.  He catches all the fish he wants and doesn’t even get in a boat to do it.
       “I got a 22-inch walleye just the other night” he said.  “I ate him for dinner today.”

 
       Lawellin caught the walleye, as so many do, fishing from his dock.  It sits over very deep water, and below it on the bottom are the remains of an old dock from long ago.   He added submerged cedars to create more cover for fish and put lights pointing down into the water from the edge of his dock.  When visitors want to fish there in the summer in the cool of the evening, he turns on the lights, which draw threadfin shad, and all kinds of game fish, more crappie and walleye than anything.   And Norfork’s crappie are big ones, like the ones in neighboring Bull Shoals.  But right now Bull Shoals, to the west, is tremendously high and Norfork is only up 8 feet or so.

       When you fish off Lawellin’s dock, it doesn’t matter how high or low the lake is.  “Most of our summertime guests don’t even bring a boat,” he says. “We have a good guide working this area who they can hire to take them out, and they can swim most of the day and fish off my dock at night.”

       I also visited another old friend over at Buffalo Point Park on the Buffalo River.  When I first saw the Buffalo as a Naturalist for the Arkansas State Park System, Buffalo Point was an old state park, and a lady by the name of Nelda Davenport was in charge of the restaurant on the bluff overlooking the river.  Today that restaurant is managed by her son, Larry, who was only eleven or twelve then.  Larry Davenport fishes Bull Shoals a great deal and I don’t know if you could find many who can tell you more about bass and walleye in that lake.  He says he is amazed that Bull Shoals is absolutely packed with zebra mussels and Norfork has none.

       “I don’t know what they will do to the fishing,” he says, “but they clear the water in the most turbid lakes, and in Bull Shoals now you can sometimes see the bottom in thirty feet of water.”

       That of course, makes daytime fishing tough, and this extremely high water makes it tougher. “But I’ll guarantee you that we can go out early in the morning or late in the evening and catch bass around the flooded brush on topwater lures,” he said.

       I think nighttime fishing with a large spinnerbait, letting it fall down over the bluff ledges, would also be good.  Larry says that is a good way to catch big smallmouth, but he is also a fan of spoon fishing in deep summer water for bass that seek out 40 or 50 feet of water in the heat of the day.

       Both Norfork and Bull Shoals have yielded seven-pound smallmouth in the past, which is akin to catching an 11 or 12 pound largemouth.  Davenport told me that once, while spoon-fishing deep beneath his boat, a friend and he caught 5-9 and a 6-2 pound brownies from the depths beneath them.  They released both fish, after acclimating them to shallow water in the live well.

       “We learned a long time ago how to use a syringe to puncture the air bladder in bass so they can survive being brought up from the real deep water,” he said.  “You can attach a weight to the bottom fin to help them stay upright in the live well, and every one will live when you release them later.  If you fish tournaments, you have to do that so that fish can be released after the weigh-in and survive.”

       We talked awhile about those zebra mussels, and neither of us, nor anyone else I have talked to, have the slightest idea what they will do to the lakes of the Ozarks. All will have them in a few years.  Obviously they are going to clear up murky water, and where there are water intake valves, they will clog them up because of their ability to reproduce by the millions.

       Davenport says it is evident that big blue and channel cat eat them, and some smaller fish may have difficulty passing them through their body.  It’s pretty evident when you catch a big blue if he has been eating zebra mussels!  You can imagine why!

       But there is another foreigner apparently increasing slowly in parts of Bull Shoals; the yellow perch, a small fish in the same family as the walleye, found by the thousands in Canadian waters and often looked upon there as a trash fish.

      “I’ve only caught ‘em in two creek tributaries, in deep water,” Davenport says. “They’re a pretty fish and the filets off them are every bit as good as a walleye, maybe even a little better.”

       Of course those of us who fish in Canada know all about them, and no one can imagine how they got in Bull Shoals, but they seem to be reproducing and I can’t see anyway they would be anything but a good addition to the lake.  Only time will tell.

       Davenport says he catches a few that are getting up toward two pounds, which is really big for a yellow perch.  Most are around 12 or 13 inches and may weigh about a pound.  They are all very good to eat!

       In a week or so I am going fishing with Larry Davenport in Bull Shoals and Don Lewallen and Jim Spencer in Norfork.   Should be a good story or two come from that trip to North Arkansas.

       I think you might be interested in a story on muskie fishing in our summer issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal.  You can get sample copies of it and our other magazine, The Journal of the Ozarks, here and there on newsstands. Or you can contact Ms. Wiggins, my executive secretary, by phone, 417 777 5227.  The line is often busy when she is talking to her illegal Mexican boyfriend who has only been deported once since Mr. Obama took office.  She is a democrat because of that and she says I can be sued for firing her for being a democrat!  I guess I will keep her.  She can work cheap because the two of them draw so many government checks. Myself, I never was a member of a political party but I am thinking about joining whatever party Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were!

       Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar Mo 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

AN OLD GOBBLER AT DUSK

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Wild turkey restoration…this Missouri Conservation Commission employee and the farmers with him are the reason we have wild turkey today.  THEY stocked wild turkey on public and private lands that had been captured with cannon nets.  THEY brought back the wild turkey and deer, many decades ago, and likely all three are very old now, or passed away. Today's MDC has nothing to do with the comeback of turkey and deer.
               





        There was a break in the rain a week or so ago, ten minutes after eight in the evening just before dark. And there he was, just like you would see him on some April morning, all puffed up, strutting before a hen. The old wild gobbler and his passion was no fluke, there have been many continuing to mate in mid-June, and some will be mating in July as well. Mating goes on all summer, as does the gobbling. You can hear wild turkeys gobbling any time of the year, any time of day, sometimes in the dead of winter, sometimes in the heat of summer.

       Thank goodness for that, as few hatching poults, would have survived those heavy rains and storms that plastered the Ozarks and areas around us this spring. A young turkey or quail does not have the feathers to repel the rain.  Even if it is 90 degrees, if those young birds get wet, their body can’t maintain a survivable temperature.  Heavy rain kills the young of most any kind of ground-nesting birds.

       It is possible, but not likely to happen often, that a turkey hen will bring off another brood in late summer if her spring poults all die.  Quail often do that even if their chicks survive.  Will woodcock or whippoorwills or other ground nesters do that?  I suspect so but I don’t know, and no one else really knows for sure.

       I’ve written about how many nests are destroyed by the plague of armadillos we have, and make no mistake about it, armadillos and wild hogs have, indeed  become a plague.

       I have a good friend, Michael Widner, who was the wild turkey biologist for Arkansas for quite some time and he talked often about how some wild turkey hens would mate again in late summer and perhaps hatch a full nest of eggs because their spring nests had been found, the eggs eaten.  He said his work with radio transmitter birds in Arkansas’ Ouachita mountains, showed that in one area only three of eight hens nested in April or May.

       We will not have a good hatch of wild turkeys this year and you can take that to the bank, but there will be some poults hatched from now through most of August that will help ensure young turkeys in October.  Hunters in October very often will kill young turkeys that do not weigh ten pounds.

       When they hatch in August, survival into the winter is an iffy thing because early cold and heavy predation is tough for those smaller turkeys to contend with.  I have been there, and I have seen it.  When you are in the woods in October you come across the kills made by great horned owls. The big predatorial birds are hell on those young turkeys roosting together at night.

       We will hope for the best but if we do not kill a mature hen this fall it may help some. Some parts of Missouri and almost all of Kansas has an overabundance of wild turkeys and if you are in such an area, you aren’t apt to worry much.  But there are other parts of our state, and certainly in north Arkansas, where turkey numbers are poor in comparison.  In such places, pass up mature hens this fall.

              I don’t often go to the city, but I was in St.Louis in late winter, visiting the Schwartz Taxidermy Studio, an unbelievable wildlife museum I recommend you see. A worker was attending to their heating system and he told me he didn’t approve of my criticism of the Missouri Department of Conservation.  He made the bold statement, “They’ve done a good job of bringing back the deer and turkey.”

       I asked him if he had ever seen the public-owned wildlife areas we all have paid for, which they ‘manage’ by destroying wildlife habitat for money derived from board feet of lumber or ‘yield per acre’.   Of course he hadn’t.  His only defense of them came from what he read in their magazine, a publication which costs millions and is paid for by the money Missouri citizens give them.
 
       I hear this argument often…  ‘They brought back the deer and turkey’.  It irritates me coming from those who have so little knowledge of what is happening and I said as much to him. “I knew many of the people who brought back the deer and turkey through restocking, protection and work with landowners,” I told him.  “They are all retired and very old, and most have passed away. If you think our modern day biologists and the bureaucracy in Jefferson City have anything to do with the wild turkey and deer populations in our state today you are badly mistaken.”
 
       If the MDC went out of existence today, there would be no change in the number of white-tail deer in this state as long as hunters would impose seasons and limits on themselves as most of us do now. And 90 percent would.  Poaching would not be much greater than it already is!!!
 
       Where landowners want there to be deer and turkey, there will be deer and turkey, and where they do not, there will still be a few.  The term “deer management and turkey management” is only talk now and the attitude of men like that one in St.Louis is something of an insult to the hard-working conservationists who actually DID bring back the deer and turkey 50 some years ago.  They did it by working long hours with little money for an agency called, “The Missouri Conservation Commission”, a different organization entirely than the “Missouri Department of Conservation” we have today.
 
       I knew many of them and, as a whole, they were a different breed than you see in their places today.  I hesitate to point that out because there are some good people who work today for Midwest state conservation agencies in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas Oklahoma and Arkansas who are as honest, devoted and knowledgeable as any ever have been, dedicated to “wise use” of our lands, resources and wildlife.  But they are dwindling in number.  Fifty years ago they weren’t the exception, they were the norm.

       Only widespread poultry diseases, a continuing increase in predation, or indifference by landowners and hunters will hurt the wild turkey populations now.  There is no wild turkey “management”.  Such talk is silliness, but works well with those who have no idea what is going on.

       If you doubt what I say, research for yourself the last big turkey project MDC’s top turkey biologist was involved it.  He called that the “gobbleteers project”.
       Deer may someday become way too populated.  Right now their numbers are controlled mostly by blue-tongue disease in late summer and the annual harvest by hunters.  When the mad-deer disease, or ‘chronic wasting’ spreads to a hundred counties instead of the six counties where it is found today in north Missouri, hunter numbers may actually drop, and in some pockets, deer will be too numerous.

       This state does not have a “deer herd” which you so often hear the MDC officials speak of.  We have many regional and area herds and they range from too few to too many depending on where you are.  Deer numbers found around and in our cities could be used to restock the whole state if need be because they are thriving and over-populated.

       As for the protection division, statewide enforcement carried out by today’s conservation agents does this and it does that… but those enforcement personnel and their work does nothing to impact the number of deer and turkey we have.  ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!

       Like that man in St. Louis, you may just believe one side of everything, but think hard about what I just said.  Having wild places and wild creatures may someday depend on common sense people knowing the truth and standing up against those wildlife and forestry agencies who have so many citizens brainwashed.
               
       Look hard for the truth, or the future of wild things and places may be in jeopardy.   And I am NOT speaking of wild turkey and deer!  They will be here a long time regardless of what we do.  You can see that by looking inside those suburbs, where both are numerous and growing.  And that has nothing to do with “deer management”.
      
       The summer issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, will be out this week.   Contact us for information on how to find it or subscribe at Box 22  Bolivar, Mo.65613. Email me at lightninridge@windstream.net. You can call our office at 417 777 5227.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Common Sense Conservation… Be a Part of It!




       Years ago, I came up with and advanced the idea of creating in Ozark Communities a group of outdoorsmen and women who could stand up for conservation in their area. It was to be a voice against the new logging and farming practices of the Missouri Conservation Department which are detrimental to wildlife on public lands, lands paid for and owned by the citizens of this state.

       If nothing else it has provided a small voice against the MDC, which is no longer a “conservation” interest, but a beauracracy bent on making money from these lands by producing board feet of lumber and tenant farming.  “Conservation” is not their intention any more and should be removed from their name.

       Those community groups call themselves “Common Sense Conservationists” and two especially successful groups are found in El Dorado Springs and Warsaw.  Dean Wyrick and Sharon Peak have headed the CSC group at Warsaw and Lonnie Wallace is Chairman at El Dorado Springs.

       Recently, I visited the group at El Dorado Springs and Lonnie Wallace told me that in the past three years their membership has grown and they have caught the attention of the Conservation Department.   I was amazed to learn that they have raised nearly a thousand dollars to be used to defend innocent people charged with offenses by MDC agents.

       We have no such group in the area where I live and it is needed badly here.  One agent has been little more than a bully, and often she and another agent team to charge innocent people with some technical or drummed up offense.  Twenty-two years ago she visited me wanting to acquire a Labrador puppy, and she boasted of writing up a charge against a man who lived down the gravel road from me thinking I would laugh along with her just because he was someone many folks laughed at.
 
       The fellow was developementally disabled, so paranoid of modern life that he actually had nailed his doors and windows shut and entered his home through a stairway he had built to a hole cut in his roof!   She said she had driven past his place and seen him with a gun in his woods near his home and she stopped to charge him with hunting squirrels out of season without a hunting license.

       There was no way that poor man could justify going to court.   He had no money to pay a lawyer, not knowledge of how to find one.  The agents for the conservation department feast upon the fact that no one has a chance before today’s judges all alone, and paying the fine is the cheapest answer whether they are guilty of anything or not.  If you think the truth comes out in court, talk to the agent I know who resigned after five years.  One of the reasons he gave was, “I got tired of being asked to lie in court.”
 
       Twenty-five years ago the MDC considered me an ally, because I wrote so many of my columns and magazine articles in support of them and the work biologist were doing.  I saw them changing drastically after new people came to power and saw that huge pot of money created by the one-eight sales tax that Missourians like me thought was a great idea.  When I wrote articles against what they began to become, they saw me as an enemy.  The word was spread that I was just mad because they wouldn’t hire me as a writer.
 
       Truth was, I would have had to take a big pay cut to work for them; I never once applied to them.

       A policeman in a small community three years ago laughingly told me that the agent I speak of had told him to watch me when I drove through his area because I was a “washed-up alcoholic”.  She didn’t know he was a friend of mine.   He knows I am a non-drinker and always have been.  In my entire life I have never drank one beer!

       Last year I got a phone call from a man in his thirties who told me that two weeks after he called in his deer, killed with a landowners permit on his own land, that same agent knocked on his door one evening just before Christmas.  It was well after dark and she told him she doubted he killed the deer on his own land.
 
       There was another agent with her, a younger man who never said a word the whole evening.  She talked this hunter in to taking her to the spot where he had killed the deer and he complied.  What he should have done was told her that since it had been two weeks he wasn’t concerned with what she thought and closed the door. No conservation agent cannot enter your home or continue to harass you there without a search warrant or an arrest warrant, according to what MDC enforcement chief Larry Yamnitz has told me.

       But the young man had nothing to hide. He knew he had violated no laws.  He said on the way to his hunting stand at the back of his place, via flashlight she tripped and fell and got her uniform muddy and got very angry.  Then she said that it was obvious that though he had killed the deer from his stand, she believed it was on a neighbors land when he shot it.   That neighbor was in Florida and there was no fence or markers to designate a boundary. Her target’s objections were overruled.

       The fine was nearly 200 dollars and the young man, who has children, used their Christmas money to fight it.   He is like many Ozark hunters who work at a 40-hour a week job for a salary which pays the bills.  Christmas money was saved over the year before.   What kind of agent would do such a thing, with no evidence of any kind; over a doe called in as it was suppose to be, two weeks before?

       I asked the man why he didn’t go to court and he answered that he had no chance without a lawyer and no money to hire one.       You can’t fight what this agent did without money to get some representation in court, and that is what Lonnie Wallace’s “Common Sense Conservation” group has done.  And it is what Dean Wyrick’s Warsaw group has done.  Both groups have monthly meetings, cook-outs, fish-fries and other activities.  They are outdoorsmen who enjoy their fellowship and their numbers protects them from being targeted individually.

       No matter where you are in the Ozarks, you can start such a “Common Sense Conservation” Group and begin to defend those whom the MDC targets with silly technicalities or absolute false charges.  With them, and judges who have become a rubber stamp for what they do, it has become a form of bullying.  They don’t often get out and find true violators… they come down on the poor and weak and the innocent.

       I do not ever want to defend a poacher or law-breaker, but today’s agents seldom find them.  I will come to join you in setting up a CSC group which can defend innocent with a local lawyer and money gathered to pay for doing it.  I am sure I can bring Lonnie or Dean and Sharon to tell you how they have done things.

       Just contact me, and we will advertise in your area what you want to do, and get started.  There has to be small voices in the Ozarks to stand against the tremendous power of the MDC and what they have become.  Those small voiced can become a ground swelling thunder the MDC might someday have to answer to.

Email me at lightninridge@windstream.net or write me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613
Our office phone is 417 777 5227 and my website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

TIME OF PLENTY


The red white and blue…. and green, of ripening black raspberries  


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 By this afternoon ripe black mulberries will be gone. The red ones will be ripe tomorrow morning, and I will have to get a ladder and fight the squirrels and birds to get a mouthful.





         One of my readers told me recently that he thought my newspaper column last year about how I love to eat the buds of those orange day-lilies, which are thicker in the summer than thorns on a locust, was all a tongue-in-cheek effort to try to get gullible folks to do something silly.  But people, I am as serious as three-day blizzard when I say that those buds, cut just before they bloom, are delicious. And they are growing large now all over the Ozarks.

         The reader remembered the column I wrote telling folks I had envelopes filled with nearly invisible morel mushroom seeds for sale for a five dollars each and the one where I said that raw gizzard shad soaked in catsup tasted just like sardines.  I regret those feeble attempts at humor at the expense of others and if I could retract what I said about boiled tadpoles and ‘turnip green-chicken hawk’ casserole, I would do it in a minute.
 
         But that’s the truth about day-lily buds.  Sautee them like asparagus or roll them in eggs and flour and fry them and you will be amazed how good they are. In fact they have been called ‘poor man’s asparagus’.  But I like them fried crispy rather than like soft asparagus.  They grow all over my place here on Lightnin’ Ridge and I like them so much that none hardly ever get to bloom!  Don’t take my word for it; ask someone who is honest and trustworthy!!!

         There is also a big mulberry tree a short distance from my porch, which has ripening berries.  We have a bunch of mulberry trees here, but most don’t produce fruit.  The female trees bear a fruit that starts green, turns red, and then black.  When they are black, they are delicious and sweet.  Uncle Roy use to make wine out of them, but heck, Uncle Roy made good wine out of about everything.  I can’t get to the mulberries without a ladder and the doggone birds and squirrels around here don’t leave many ripe ones.
 
         I was sitting on my porch this morning early and watched a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers light on the tree.  One flew up to grab a mulberry in flight.  I have never seen that before.  The gray squirrels hang upside down from their back feet to reach out and grab ripe mulberries, and blue-jays and cardinals get the rest.  Mulberries are beautiful trees with big leaves and trunks which are a seldom bigger than six or eight inches at the base.

         Cardinals also are working on the black raspberries which grow around us at the edge of the woodland just off what I jokingly refer to as a lawn.  These white, red and bluish-black berries against the green leaves make the most beautiful picture.  My daughter Christy joined me on Sunday afternoon to pick about a gallon of them but there are plenty left if someone wants to come up here and help themselves to them. The wooded ridge-top also has an abundance of gooseberries, and they are green.  They aren’t worth much, but my daughter makes gooseberry pies out of them that are tart and delicious.



         I intend to eat some of these young gray squirrels soon, but it is impossible to shoot any close to my porch, where they fight with the doves and make a mess of any bird feeders you fill.  You get to where you know each of them too well to shoot them.  They are lucky I am of a different mindset now than I was when I was 15 and our family couldn’t afford hamburger.

         During the winter the rascals chew out a big hole in the entrance to my bluebird house so I have to fix it every spring, tacking on a new board with a hole only an inch and a half round, ‘cause that’s what bluebirds like.

         A doe has a fawn up here between the office window and the pond somewhere, and that is a mixed blessing.  She’s pretty, but she also has eaten the top out of one of our tomato plants.  I like summer tomatoes grown from my garden more than anything else we grow, so she is treading on dangerous ground there.

         I worry about ground nesting birds up here on Lightnin’ Ridge because there are so many egg eaters.   Armadillos top the list and we need to kill those intruders from the southwest every time we see one.  There are more than just quail to worry about.  I am really not hearing very many whippoorwills or chuck-wills-widows up here like I did 20 years ago.  I am certain that is due to the increase in egg eaters, mostly the armadillo but also black snakes, raccoons, possums and skunks.  There are way too many of all of them.  I miss the whippoorwill calls we use to hear so many of.   You will never find a whippoorwill nest because they don’t make one, they just lay their eggs in leaves on the forest floor.  There isn’t any great concern about them yet but there should be.  They are declining, year after year.  So are meadowlarks.

         The heavy spring rains are tough on ground-nesters too, especially quail, turkey woodcock and killdeer.  I’ll bet the wild turkey poults have taken a real blow because of it. If young poults get drenched, they usually won’t survive.  The spring hatch has to be poor, but there will be some late nesting that will help, when the rains have ended.   BUT… the heavy rain and rising, holding water levels will help fish spawning.  Low water is the nemesis of spawning fish, especially dropping water levels, which fish can sense, a situation that keeps them from having a successful spawn.


        
         Not a whole lot was said about it, but a couple of weeks ago a man in his thirties was bitten by a cottonmouth while wading in the James River.  He went home without any medical attention and died during the night.

         Enough of this “snakes are our friends” nonsense when it causes people to think poisonous ones are not dangerous.  Peddling this over the last twenty years, those ‘experts’ who work for the Department of Conservation almost always live in city suburbs. Real outdoorsmen and country people know that poisonous snakes are very, very dangerous and their presence where people live, work and play is a threat.
 
         If you are bitten, treat it like a heart attack, and get to the hospital quick.  And eliminate any rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and copperheads you come across.  Believe me, we aren’t going to put any of those on an endangered species list!

        
         After writing about the MDC’s media specialist statement that just because more mountain lion are being seen it doesn’t mean there are more of them, a reader sent me the following, sent out in a news release from that state agency.  Surely it is just meant to make us smile…

         Jeff Briggler and other workers at the Missouri Department of Conservation have made informal observations over the years, counting the number of dead turtles – especially box turtles – on stretches of highway.  “We discovered that mortality rates are very high on high-traffic roads,” says Briggler, “whereas mortalities are much lower on less-traveled roads.”
         Those folks are paid well for that kind of scientific observation.  
You can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com



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Monday, June 1, 2015

FIFTY YEARS OF WRITING

 

 

In fifty years of writing, I haven't see any of those millions of words make much difference in preserving and conserving the best of the Ozarks woods and waters.  I have come to a point where I feel it is a hopeless endeavor. I hope that what I write from here on out paints a picture of a time that will soon be, and maybe already has been, forgotten.

 From the yellowing page of an old newspaper my mom saved, this is the heading used in the Houston Herald fifty years ago with my first column.



           June of 1965 doesn’t seem so long ago.   Be that as it may, fifty years ago this week I was a 17-year-old kid finding myself on the campus of School of the Ozarks College wondering what kind of fish I might find in the flowing waters of that big river they called Taneycomo down below the high bluffs of the school. It was the farthest I had ever been from my hometown of Houston, Missouri and the Big Piney River where I had grown up.
 
            I started guiding fishermen on the Big Piney when I was about twelve years old and one of my steady clients was the editor of the local newspaper, Lane Davis, who also liked to fish the upper Gasconade and the Roubidoux Rivers not far away from the Piney so I often went with him to paddle the boat.  Guiding fishermen was easy, and fun.
           
            I was a third generation fishing guide; my grandfather, my dad and his brothers had been doing that long before I came along.  In fact Lane Davis had fished with them all.  He was a fascinating person whom I enjoyed spending a day with, and he knew about writing.  Lane had taken some goofy things I had written in grade school and high school and published them in The Houston Herald.

            But it was fifty years ago this month that I began a real writing career and my first real outdoor newspaper column for Lane Davis while I was in college.  My new book about my time at School of the Ozarks beginning fifty years ago includes a chapter about Lane Davis and my column in the Houston Herald. The column was entitled “Summer on the Piney” and as it continued, only the name of the season changed.
 
            What I wouldn’t give if I could have stopped time and stayed there where I was born and raised, and be there today with the river I knew fifty years ago.  But it is gone, and so am I.  I gutted out those years in high school where I felt very apart from it all. My only friends were those old timers at the pool hall where I went to work each evening at four o’clock.  On the weekends, I had the Big Piney and my dad and grandfather and my main job--- guiding some fine local fishermen like Joe Richardson and Lane Davis.

            Life there in that pool hall and on the river was wonderful!  I never attended a social event at school; no proms, no parties, no football or basketball games.  Honest to goodness, my father had to threaten to take away my johnboat for a month just to get me to attend my graduation ceremony.  I didn’t even graduate in the upper half of my class and didn’t care!

            When I began that job of writing weekly outdoor columns at the age of seventeen, it was to become something far greater than I could have ever dreamed.  Never has a week passed since June of 1965 that one or more of my newspaper columns on the outdoors has not appeared somewhere and when you consider my lack of writing talent, that is amazing… to me at least.
  
             Over the years, I’ve written more than 4000 columns appearing in more than two hundred different newspapers in five or six different states. I figure I have sold about 700 feature articles to outdoor magazines.  I sold my first magazine article when I was 19 and a year later wrote my first article for Outdoor Life about a wooden johnboat I had used for many years on the Big Piney River, a story entitled “Old Paint” which won a national award in 1971.
 
            That story is included in one of my nine books. I hope I can write 9 or 10 more.  In my basement there are boxes and boxes of typed or hand written manuscripts dating back to the 1960’s.  Many of them are embarrassing. It is something to look back on what you published when you weren’t yet old enough to vote.

            I owe a lot to Lane Davis and old-time professional writers I came in contact with at School of the Ozarks where I was the very last of 200 or so students accepted in the freshman class in June of 1965, fifty years ago this week!
 
            I hope you will forgive me for such reminiscences that mean little to anyone but me.  In today’s world of writing excellence and professional writers groups that probably wouldn’t even let me join, I look back on a career that actually started fifty years ago this month, and thank God for His help and for the people I came in contact with who gave me encouragement.
            Today, this weekly column you are reading goes to about 30 papers with readerships totaling perhaps a quarter million readers across the Ozarks in three states.  It does not include newspapers in Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, where editors would dump my best work in the trash can!

            I ask Lane Davis once when I brought him an article when I came home one weekend if I could actually call myself a real writer.  I remember him telling me that at the very least, I was a good fishing guide and outdoorsman… who wrote.  “I think,” he said with a laugh, “maybe being a good outdoorsman and guide says more about a man than calling him a writer.”

            As I said, memories of the hours and hours spent there in the pool hall with those old rivermen and on the Big Piney are treasured times I wish I could recapture. And I do of course, when I write about those days. If only I could stop time.  But men like those are gone forever and the rivers of that time, like the Piney, are gone forever too.  It makes me wonder if what I write and what I have tried to do with whatever talents God gave me hasn’t been a waste of time.

            Fifty years of writing about the outdoors while rivers grow shallower by the year, polluted and filled, springs dried up and gone forever as well as creatures like the hellbender and rock bass and smallmouth declined to numbers lower than a boy could have dreamed fifty years ago.  If the river and the Ozarks and the people could have remained as they were then, I would have been happier there than anywhere else, just as a good fishing guide and a naturalist who never ventured far from where he was born.

If you do the best you can at whatever God meant you to do, and it is what you love to do, you have to look back on fifty years with happiness and a determination to take what you have learned and do a better job with whatever time you have left.

            And just for laughs, here is a paragraph or two from my first newspaper column in the summer of 1965 when I was The Houston Herald’s first outdoor columnist.


“The Big Piney River and the forest and farmlands around it are part of an ever-changing environment continually accepting new strains and hybrids.  Species such as the bear, the prairie chicken and the bison have disappeared because of that changing environment.  It’s interesting to note that the abundance and distribution of wildlife species in this state depend upon how well they can live with agriculture.  This is one reason why quail are thriving so well despite heavy hunting.  The greatest story of wildlife comeback though is that of the American eagle.  During the fall and winter while floating the Big Piney we are seeing these big birds soaring above the water, following the wild ducks we hunt.  Who knows what will dwell in the woods and waters of Missouri tomorrow?”

 
To contact me, you can comment on this blogspot or write to Box 22 Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email lightninridge@windstream.net.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

MRS. JONES' BASS

 
  THE FOLLOWING IS A CHAPTER FROM THE NEW BOOK… THE PRINCE OF POINT LOOKOUT.




 
    I was a heckuva fishing guide at 17, and Table Rock Lake was full of big bass back then.

 

        Dr. Clark (left) with Mrs. Jones at the celebration of the completion of the learning center she donated so much money for.
        She is shown receiving an honorary degree from the college.  It wasn't for fishing!!

 




 It might be a good time to brag about my contribution to the Nettie Marie Jones learning center at School of the Ozarks, which held the auditorium and two or three floors of classrooms. Nettie Marie Jones was a very rich lady, probably in her seventies, and she had given a great deal of money to the school.

While the Nettie Marie Jones learning center was under construction at School of the Ozarks, it was a great place to sneak off with a girl and explore the dark stairways at night, and I think I did that a few times but not often enough. I can’t remember the names of the girls. If I did I wouldn’t tell. Now some girl from that time can read this book, and brag to her family that she was one of them!

At seventeen, I was very na├»ve and immature. This isn’t one of those tell-all books. If it were, I wouldn’t have much to tell! The only exploring I ever did, had nothing to do with the girls I met and spent time with. I was happy to just hold them close and smell them, and steal a few kisses whilst exploring the vast stairways and darkened rooms of that big dark building and get away with it.

You have to remember I never did anything like that in high school, having never had enough money to have a date. At S of O, you didn’t have to have much money to explore the under-construction learning center, or sit on lookout point watching the moonlight on Taneycomo, far below.

I did have a big part in the financing of the big learning center that bore her name, because I took Nettie Marie Jones fishing! I didn’t know who she was at the time. Dr. Clark quite often benefited from the trout I caught from Taneycomo, and he told me about property on Tablerock Lake only about four or five miles south of the school called “Clevenger Cove”.

There was an old V-bottom aluminum boat there, a great deal harder to paddle than our johnboats on the Big Piney. Still, I could paddle it, and that cove back then was full of big bass. I’d spend a weekend there on occasion and bring bass filets back for Dr. Clark, telling him I would take him fishing whenever he would like.

He never seemed to have any time, and then all at once he did. He told me that he needed me to paddle a boat around Clevenger Cove one spring evening for him and a guest of the school, to see if I could help the elderly lady catch a fish.

On the Piney, I had been guiding fishermen since I was 12 or 13. Guiding fishermen was my cup of tea. So there I was about four p.m. one beautiful afternoon paddling around Clevenger Cove with Dr. Clark, the only time I ever saw him without a suit and tie, with a lady along whom he referred to as Mrs. Jones.

I didn’t know who she was and I didn’t care. My job was to see to it she caught a bass, because she never had caught anything before. Dr. Clark’s tackle was sparse, and he only brought some little Zebco push-button reels on rods that would have been better suited for goggle-eye fishing than bass.

Mrs. Jones couldn’t cast, no matter how hard I tried to teach her. My favorite topwater lures were going to be of no value. Thankfully she was just enjoying the afternoon so much she didn’t seem to care about the fishing. So I tied on a plastic worm rig for her, a hairy jig for Dr. Clark, and took them out just off the timber aways so they wouldn’t get hung up. I paddled slowly along while Dr. Clark’s line trailed out on one side and Mrs. Jones’ line trailed out on the other side, behind the boat.

All in all, it was a really boring afternoon, until Dr. Clark interrupted himself and jerked his rod high. It bent double and he fought a two-pound largemouth around, whooping and hollering and laughing in that Georgia accent, until he got it close enough that I could grab its lower lip and boat it.
The two of them acted like that bass was a wall-hanger, and I put it over the side of the boat on a stringer, thanking God that something exciting had happened that didn’t involve any one falling out of the boat and getting wet.

We had a fish! There weren’t going to be any more, I knew that.For Mrs. Jones I had a plastic worm rigged so that the hook’s barb was back deep in the plastic. It would keep her from hooking every stick on the bottom of the lake she dragged over, but if a bass picked it up, she’d have to set the hook, and she had as much chance of feeling a strike and setting the hook in a bass as I had of making an A in algebra.

Everyone is a witness to a miracle on occasion. Some of us recognize one when we see it, and others do not. I was watching Mrs Jones line, and I saw the fish hit. There wasn’t any doubt about it, the line didn’t just stop a bit, it lurched. And then it cut through the water to the left and came back.

“Ma’am, jerk that rod,” I hollered. She turned to look at me, and the end of it started to bend. “Hang on to it ma’am” I hollered again, “and give it a jerk.”

Mrs. Jones never once jerked, but thank goodness she did hang on. She didn’t look all that hefty and I figured a three-pound bass would whip her. But she came alive in that boat, struggling and squealing, turning that handle on the reel backwards, giving that bass a little more line to work with. I finally got it across to her to reel it the other direction, and there was pandemonium on Clevenger Cove.

It took awhile, and there was great suspense as all three of us thought there wasn’t a way in the world she would get that bass close to the boat. But by golly she did, and I being the type of experienced professional fishing guide I was, got ahold of his lip on the first try. He weighed five pounds if he weighed an ounce and there has never been three happier people in one boat.

That afternoon back at Dr. Clark’s house, there were pictures taken and all the girls who worked there looked at me as if I was a hero. But after I filleted the bass, I headed back to the dormitory and a supper of meat loaf at the cafeteria, remembering the laughter and happiness behind me at the Clark home. Kind of sad, ain’t it.

 In time they finished the Nettie Marie Jones learning center. Thousands of students have gone through the classrooms of that big building, and graduates who learned much there, have gone on to do great things. But nowhere is my contribution to higher education at School of the Ozarks noted, nor has anyone ever given the proper credit to that big bass that gave himself up for the advancement of knowledge. No one but me and my old friend, Dr. Clark.

The book “The Prince of Point Lookout” is priced at $16.00.  Readers of this column can have it sent to them, inscribed and autographed for $14.00 and the postage is paid.  Payment can be sent to Lightnin’ Ridge Publishing, Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. You can write to me at the same address or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com