Tuesday, August 19, 2014

More Bass Photos...

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

Smallmouth bass tackles a buzz spin

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer and Shallow Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fishing in the dark…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email me at lightninridge@windstream.net or write box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613. My website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com

Monday, August 4, 2014

Sister Creek….

Norten Dablemont shown with a string of fish caught during a storm on Norfork in the 1950s.
Beautiful weather and a beautiful lake provided hours of entertainment and fun on a family getaway at Sister Creek on Bull Shoals Lake!

A view of Sister Creek from the Sister Creek Resort...

I am writing this column from a place on Bull Shoals Lake known as Sister Creek. Yesterday evening, after a thundershower, as the sun sank away and a mist rose from the hollows to the west, I sat on a high ridge, watching the lake below, calm and peaceful, without a motorboat in sight. And letting my imagination go, I could see in the distance, an old wooden johnboat.

At its stern was a young man with a cigar, and a hand-carved sassafras paddle that seemed to be a part of him, casting a spinner bait with an old Shakespeare reel, moving slowly along the bank with two fishing clients. I could hear him laugh, and it left no doubt to me who it was. My uncle Norten proclaimed this spot one of his favorite places on earth, as he fished here in the late fifties guiding fishermen who wanted to catch bass.

And did they ever catch bass! Norten, who passed away last year approaching his 90th birthday, had boxes filled with old black and white photos of big strings of bass from Bull Shoals and Norfork Lake, when both of the big reservoirs were new. And why shouldn't they show their catches? Fishermen were few, and fish were plentiful, and you didn't buy fish at a supermarket.

I never came back here with my uncle, as he grew old and talked often about those wonderful days when catching a five or six-pound bass was just something you expected on every outing, maybe a half dozen or more. What you were after, if you fished with him, was an eight or nine pounder at the least. It was Sister Creeks - Big Sister and Little Sister - where he took the Indiana farmer one night, just after he obtained a special lure known as a Hauser Hell-Diver, one of the first spinner baits made, in the mid-fifties.

The farmer had a lot of money and he told Norten that if he could help him catch a ten-pound bass, he would give him a hundred dollars. About two o’clock in the morning, somewhere in one of those creeks, the dream became a reality, as a huge bass engulfed the lure and the hook held through a hard fight, that, as Norten always recalled, pulled his johnboat around the small cove they were fishing.

With the bass in the boat, Norten started the old Mercury motor and they headed for the resort where they woke up everyone with the excitement of trying to find a set of scales. Sure enough, the hefty largemouth weighed four ounces over ten pounds, and my uncle made more money that one night than he had ever made in his life.

 Though I lived for many years in north Arkansas, I never saw the Sister Creek area until this past week, when my family all came together for a few days of fishing and fun on Bull Shoals, and we stayed at the Sister Creek Resort about twelve miles into Arkansas, south of Gainesville. This resort opened in 1957, with just a couple of cabins and an old gravel road down to the water. Today, the gravel road is still there, but the resort itself has many cabins, one so large that it is almost like a home away from home, with three bedrooms and a big living room and kitchen/dining room.

The two old cabins are still there, the ones that Norten and his clients would stay in when they came here. My uncle would have never rented a room because he didn't intend to sleep much when he was there. In his twenties back then, he had survived World War II and two years in the 101st Airborne all across Europe, and he would just sleep in his old car if need be. But his clients had money, and they liked the little cabin with knotty pine walls, so they stayed right here in a cabin that still stands after Norten and his fishing partners are all gone.

The other night I went out in the dark with a couple of my daughters and we fished off the old pontoon boat, like we did years ago in the area of the Highway 125 ferry. It wasn't very effective this time, but I hooked a giant of a crappie, something in the vicinity of 18 inches or so. I saw him well in that deep clear water, and got excited enough to fight him like a beginner, and lost him beside the boat. I could hear my uncle laughing, as he paddled that old johnboat in a nearby cove, casting that big heavy Hauser Hell-Diver, easing along with a sassafras paddle and a happy heart.

There are some great places down the east side of Bull Shoals Lake, all the way from Theodosia to Pontiac to Oakland to the Promise Land area not too far north of the dam. Many of the old resorts have closed down, but a few, under new ownership, have renovated and created a great family and fishing atmosphere. Most of these resorts work together and there is little doubt that Bull Shoals is a wilder, less developed and less frequented area than most Ozark lakes. It becomes more and more, a nighttime fishing lake, as the water is so clear it is hard to catch fish when the sun is high.

You can find lists of resorts and marinas for both Norfork Lake and Bull Shoals Lake in the pages of my magazine, The Lightnin' Ridge Outdoor Journal, but if you want to visit here, call the folks who now run The Sister Creek Resort and see if they have openings. If they don't they will help you find a good place to stay nearby.

 My kids and grandkids loved visiting the bluffs across the lake where the clear water made for great swimming and diving, and though they do not know about the days when Uncle Norten and Bull Shoals were young, I looked at those coves and rocks and thought that surely it is good that some things stay the same.

One overhanging rock bluff was much like one my uncle told me about from the early 1960's. He was guiding a regular fishing client by the name of Carl Emmick one morning just after dawn in the spring of the year when a bad wind and lightning storm caught them, and he eased back under a northeasterly facing bluff to find shelter. The wind was tremendous, and lightning bolts crashed down on the ridge top behind them, as hail stones the size of golf balls churned the water before them. Norten said he was really scared right then, figuring they might get pulled out into the storm, but in about twenty minutes it passed, and the water became as calm as glass.

He said that he and Mr. Emmick began to see lots of fish surfacing, and it looked as if they were eating the melting balls of hail. So they tied on some Lucky 13's and began to fish them on the surface. He said they began to catch white bass and largemouth both, and just wore themselves out catching fish. But while the boat filled with flopping bass was something to remember, it was that morning after the storm passed that Norten hooked and landed his only smallmouth bass ever to exceed seven pounds.

He described that morning, and the struggle with that big smallmouth in vivid detail and his eyes were shining as he described how the giant brownie had tried to murder his topwater lure, a wooden one with glass eyes, like they had back when fishing Ozarks reservoirs was new.

And he said again, after that story, how much he'd like to go back and fish Sister Creek again. I could kick myself for not bringing him here again, years ago.

You can view some old photos taken here on Sister Creek back in those days by going to my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.  My email address is lightninridge@windstream.net and you can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Letter From Reader, Concerning Copperheads....

From Nick Sacco, Brumley, MO
I read your recent article about copperheads and found it very interesting and informing. My wife and I moved to Brumley, Missouri in October 2013 and purchased a 175-year-old home. One of the first warnings we received was to watch out for copperheads, as they are thick around our property.
 Right at the beginning of this summer I went into my wood shop to do a minor task. I was wearing water shoes, which have several open slits in the toe. I finished my job and we left to drive to Osage Beach. After a few minutes I told my wife that my foot hurt and I wondered if I had stubbed my toe in the wood shop. Please note the wood shop is probably 100 years old and has openings in the wood around the floor to the outside everywhere.
It so happened I was seeing my doctor for a minor thing but while there asked her to examine my foot. At that time my right toe was bright red and swollen. The doctor prescribed me antibiotics, wrapped my foot up and sent me home. Before my wife could drive to the pharmacy I was physically sick. Running a temperature, nauseous, my leg was hot up to the thigh and now I had huge red streaks shooting up my right leg. We turned around and drove straight to the ER. The attending physician there found one fang mark in the underside of my big toe and confirmed it was snakebite. He asked if I had saw the snake and I had to honestly say I neither felt it bite me or saw it. A local conversation agent told me he suspected that I had stepped on snake in the wood shop and it had struck back and up at my foot piercing one of the slits in the toe of my shoe.
I was on IV's and in the hospital for six days.  The first few days I was in the ICU.  The doctors would come in and see me and tell me that I was still in the "Danger Zone."  After a week I went home but had continued wound care for about two months.
 So the moral to this long drawn out story is that copperheads are very, very dangerous.  I am so thankful we were near the hospital and able to get quick medical treatment. I also NEVER go outside with out boots on anymore.
Thank you for your article.

Fires and Fairness

One of the newspaper editors told me that I made a big mistake in last week’s column. I wrote that there was an MDC news release about the man who was killed by a copperhead bite. I should have said, “news story”, instead of ‘news release’. I must therefore apologize for not being a better journalist. On the subject of copperhead snakes, and in the interest of being fair to copperheads and the tree huggers and fern feelers who defend them from their suburban homes, I publish the letter here that MDC News Services Coordinator Jim Low sent to that editor…

We didn't send anything out from Central Office, and I think I would know if any of our regional media specialists did. It's possible someone on our staff was quoted in a news story and Larry assumed/imagined that constituted a press release. There is no open season on snakes in Missouri, so technically they are protected. However, the Wildlife Code allows people to kill wildlife that is a threat to human safety or property, such as pets and livestock, so anyone who finds a venomous snake on their property is justified in killing it.
Then there's (there are) folks like me who actually like snakes and figure there's little point in killing them anyway, since they will be around as long as adequate food and habitat are present. I found a couple of 6-inch copperheads while cleaning out the little fishpond that sits ten feet from my house a few years ago. I let them go on their way. But that's just me. I don't fault anyone who chooses to kill venomous snakes. On the other hand, I always wonder about folks who claim to be terrified of snakes, but willingly put themselves within hoe-handle distance of every one they find.” Jim Low, 573-522-4115, ext. 3243

What I reported on was the story quoting the MDC herpetologist, who said there have only been three recorded deaths from snakebite in Missouri. There is an MDC website concerning snakes which says there have been NO DEATHS recorded in the state from snakebites. Imagine people who know as much as they do about things making a mistake like that. Guess they will get that corrected now.

You can read more about poisonous snakes in the fall issue of my magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, where I talk about an old time Ozarkian I knew when I worked on the Buffalo River by the name of Rufus Still, a man I admired tremendously. He told me about copperhead bites he knew of when he was young, there in the Ozarks of Arkansas, and the deaths that occurred on occasion. There were many more than anyone could imagine, because there were no doctors close, no antivenin and not much you could do but try old remedies with things like coal oil or dead chickens. Some died, some lost a hand or a foot. But he said survival and a complete return to normal might take a month or more. Death from a copperhead or cottonmouth bite took a long time and folks suffered terribly.

And there is a letter with it that gives the experiences of an Ozarkian who was bitten recently by a copperhead, and what he went through in nearly escaping death. Make no mistake about it, copperheads are very, very dangerous, and they should be killed wherever they might represent a threat to humans. I wonder if that copperhead which killed the man in Sam A. Baker Park might have been allowed to live by some other camper who saw it or some park employee who bought into the idea that we need to let poisonous snakes live. In some places that is fine, other places it is not wise. Common sense! Read that letter today on my website www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.

It hurts to see what is happening out west in national forests and parks where horrible fires keep raging. It was such a beautiful country once. The fires get worse each year, but they will be much worse next year and the year after that. The west is just drying out, in the midst of drought like no one ever imagined they would see. People who know the most about it say they see no end to the change.

Of course there has been the loss of hundreds of homes, soon to be thousands if I’m guessing right. But think of the millions of birds and mammals and fish that are killed by these fires. Those small streams, which are trout havens, will fill with ash that will kill most everything in them, and birds, which cannot fly long distances, will die by the thousands. How many species of mammals cannot escape those crown-fires, which travel with strong winds faster than most men can run.

That is horrible; we have lost so much that is wild and natural. And forest products, which are being demanded by our expanding population by leaps and bounds, are being burned in huge swaths.

The term global warming has caused a lot of folks to laugh, but most of those who laugh loudest have no idea what is happening. They are clueless, people who live with their head in the sand. There are two extreme sides, and one, led by Al Gore and his crew, talks about earth changes they use as a political tool. They don’t know a thing about what is happening, and I am not sure any of us do. Some think it is just the result of natural cycles, and others believe it is God punishing mankind for forgetting His laws.

But you cannot argue that as numbers of men and cattle and hogs and chickens become greater and greater, as automobile numbers increase by the thousands each year, and as we demand more water and gas and oil from beneath our ground, we are going to have an impact that can destroy a large bunch of us. Few people understand those water tables beneath the earth and how drastically they are receding. But can anything be done? I doubt it. We have just gone way, way, way too far out on the limb to get back to the trunk.

Global warming is a dumb term, but the degeneration of the earth is real, and you can’t argue it. They are drilling huge deep wells in the far western agriculture areas where the water once plentiful is now gone. The wells have to go way down to find water, and they hope to draw out millions of gallons to irrigate agricultural land. Millions of gallons from deeper and deeper, each week in areas of California, Nevada and Arizona!! The wells cost about 400 to 500 thousand dollars each and the government pays part of that with money we pay in taxes. Those folks aren’t a bunch of poor farmers. They drive Cadillac pick-ups and they get millions in government help.

I wonder sometimes if the caverns and lakes beneath the earth hundreds of feet, which have always been filled with natural gas, oil and water, will stay the same after we empty those spaces and they dry out, when there is no replenishment for what we take.

Whatever is going to happen, we have created it by increasing in number like lemmings or mice. The worst is yet to come and most of us won’t be here to see it, but most of us who see and understand today what man is doing know there is no stopping it. Like there is no stopping the advance of those fires out west. The end of one marks the beginning of another, especially in the land of milk and honey. Let’s all move to California, learn to speak Spanish and enjoy ourselves.

You can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo, or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Snake News

 Last week a visitor to Sam A. Baker State Park apparently picked up a copperhead and was bitten two or three times. He died some time later. I heard the Missouri Department of Conservation news release saying it was only the third death from a copperhead bite in Missouri … which they had record of.

That last part should be emphasized. Anyone who thinks a copperhead is not capable of delivering a deadly dose of venom is silly. I can’t imagine that man, who was apparently in good health, picking up a copperhead. He was from St. Charles, and perhaps he didn’t know what kind of snake it was.

There have been plenty of cases of snakebite death amongst early people in Missouri, back before any state agencies thought to keep records. I would bet that between 1850 and 1950, there were hundreds of deaths, some from cottonmouths, some from rattlesnakes, but many from copperheads. I say that because I talked to many people in the Ozarks, especially in north Arkansas, who knew of someone who died from the bite of a copperhead. Many were children, because they ran around those hills barefoot.

My uncle Norten came very close to death in 1929, when he was bitten on the foot by a copperhead. Of course he was barefoot, outside their cabin, and the copperhead was a big one. In describing to me what he went through, with the high fever and hallucinations and unconsciousness, plus the swelling and breaking of the skin, you realize he was fortunate to live through it.

Old timers thought the only hope was cutting into the bite and sucking out the venom, but they also killed chickens and put a bloody chicken breast on the bite, or rags soaked in coal oil. Many snakebite victims did not survive, and if you hear someone telling anyone that a copperhead bite is not to be worried about, they are misleading you. Sure, the MDC has only three records of copperhead bite fatalities, but there is so much they do not know about.

They are trying to keep people from killing copperheads, or any other snakes, because few of them have actually grown up in the country. That’s why they tout the law that makes it illegal for you to kill a copperhead around your place, or a blacksnake or whatever. It is against the law to float a river and kill a cottonmouth as well. A cottonmouth is a little bit more aggressive than a copperhead, and anyone who ridicules that hasn’t spent enough time on the river. They are very dangerous in the right situation. Much of a snake’s demeanor depends on the temperature, and the time of summer.

A cottonmouth that is in the molting stage is a bad character. We are coming into the time of summer when snakes are the most dangerous, that molting period, and the highest temperatures of the year, followed by the cooling night temperatures of September which causes them to be on the move. If you live in the country, you likely already know that. And remember too that a wasp or yellow jacket becomes much more likely to sting you in August and September than it would in June. Thankfully, the MDC allows us to kill wasps and yellow jackets.

If I see a copperhead around my place anywhere, I intend to kill it. In the 20 years we have lived here on this wooded ridge top miles outside of town, I have killed at least 40. I am not going to allow them to live around my Labradors or my grandkids…. Or me! I have had two come into my basement. I have also killed a few blacksnakes, those climbing trees in the back yard trying to eat eggs or baby birds in the nest.

Now if I had a dairy barn where mice and rats were finding stored feed, I would welcome a blacksnake to keep the numbers of vermin down. It is nothing more than a matter of common sense. Many times when I was working for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, studying and reporting on the states most remote wild areas in the Ozarks, I came across cottonmouths, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes, which I left alone.

I never killed any of them; because it was their land, and they were so far from people I didn’t consider them any great threat. Again, it is a matter of common sense. In a campground on the Buffalo River, when I was a park naturalist there, I killed several poisonous snakes, and captured and moved some others. You couldn’t let copperheads live under benches in the amphitheatre or around washrooms or in a campsite. Common sense.

With the new people coming into outdoor jobs without an outdoor background, you can see why they lack that common sense. They do not know nature as it actually is. That’s why we have a law protecting snakes and no laws protecting red wasps, spiders, moles, field mice, wood rats or groundhogs. What sense does that make?

I will say that if you want to protect copperheads around your place, as the law requires, you should kill king snakes. The king snake kills and eats copperheads and other snakes as well! A king snake can actually eat a copperhead bigger than he is… I have seen it happen. It might take him all day to do it. Despite the law, I do not think you will ever, ever see anyone prosecuted for killing a copperhead.

We saw a bird last winter that I have never seen in the Ozarks. It was little tiny brown-headed nuthatch that I first thought was a mouse going up the side of a tree. There was no doubt what it was, I saw it clearly, either a pygmy nuthatch or a brown-headed nuthatch, one of the two. Neither are suppose to be in southern Missouri. I just saw it one day and then it was gone.

Now I think I have found something else that isn’t suppose to be in southern Missouri at all, a grey shrew. And this time we have a really good photo. It is the color of ashes, living under one of my storage sheds, a night-dweller which is nearly blind in the light of day. You can see it on my website and decide for yourself. The common shrew found here is the short-tailed shrew, which actually is a little larger than the one I found and my daughter photographed. I have seen many of them over the years but none this light colored or small.

Shrews are vicious little creatures, like a miniature weasel. They are amongst the tiniest of predatory mammals, and they eat anything they can catch and kill. A shrew can tackle a field mouse twice its size, kill it and eat most of it. If shrews grew to the size of a Labrador retriever, none of us would be safe.

As I go through my daily life I make up short poems for the situation. I stopped in a cafĂ© the other morning to have breakfast, and I gave the waitress my order. Then I added in good humor, “If my bacon is all floppy, it won’t make me very hoppy, and if my eggs are soft and runny, you won’t get any money.” She just looked at me as if bored, and walked away with my order. Later when I got ready to leave her a quarter for a tip, I asked her what she thought of my poetry. Without even smiling she answered in prose… “Men look really weird, when they have egg yolk in their beard!”

The website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net.