Tuesday, March 28, 2017

All About Management






       About fifty years ago, while I was a student at School of the Ozarks, I met a true conservationist who had worked for many years for the old Missouri Conservation Commission in the forties and fifties. In the 1960’s he retired and became a teacher at the college. His name was A.R. Mottesheard. I took every course he taught, and one of them was a wildlife management course where he had students take 80 acres of land and draw up a management plan for the imaginary plot, which could be whatever we wanted it to be. 
 
       Mine was about two thirds timber and one-third bottomland along a creek that I was planting for small game, deer and turkey.  I thought to myself at the time that it was a real dream, because no kid as poor as I was would ever own any land whatsoever.

       I remember the wisdom of Mr. Mottesheard, who often said that conservation departments never really manage wildlife; their job was just to make the needs of the various species available, for breeding and raising young, for escape from predators and for an available diversity of plant life needed for food. He said that Conservation Departments were more responsible for ‘managing’ hunters, and managing the harvests of game, and making sure that hunters and fishermen took available excess without cutting into brood stock.
 
       I never thought I would be involved in the ‘managing’ of a tract of land to feed protect and propagate wildlife, but it is what I am doing now to make the Panther Creek youth project near Collins, Mo. an outdoor education center, a haven for birds and furbearers, turkey and deer, where there is a good balance as close to nature’s way as possible.  I am particularly interested in the propagation of quail and rabbits, and it seems as if those things I learned from Mr. Mottesheard are paying dividends.

       A quail flock of about 18 bobwhites from last February seems to be much larger this winter, and on this tract of 50 or 60 acres, there is a plan now to have plots of late winter food for them, good winter cover and escape areas.  I am beginning to turn my attention to the control of predators, as we have far too many of three species… skunks, possums and raccoons, all of them known to eat all the eggs of any ground-nesting birds they find. 
 
       The armadillo, a no-account illegal immigrant from way south of us, has established a foothold in the Ozarks, and I will completely wipe them out if I can.  I will pray that feral hogs don’t invade the place.  Right now, hawks are not as serious a problem along Panther Creek as in other parts of the Ozarks, but there are way too many otters, and I will eliminate at least three fourths of them if I can. Any of those predators in the above paragraph are a problem for rabbits or quail or both.

       As for deer and turkey, they are abundant on the Panther Creek tract I ‘manage’ but not much will hurt the numbers of either, unless the place has a year or two of no acorns.  There will be no logging here, so that shouldn’t be a problem.  I wish I had saved that big spread-out plan I fixed up for Mr. Mottesheard way back then.  I would like to see if I had any ideas as a 17-year-old kid that I could use now.

       But when you push through a small patch of milo and millet, and a dove or two takes to flight, and then you watch a cottontail feeding on clover at the edge of a big patch of sericea lespedeza, and hear bobwhites calling from a thicket between the timber and the creek at dusk, you feel good about working the land. I’m not looking toward a harvest of grain, as farmers must do, but toward creating something lasting for wild creatures, and young people who may see something when they visit that they will never have an opportunity to see in the pavement and concrete world where they have to grow up.
 
Did you know that bobwhite quail roosters often take over a hatching brood and stay with them for weeks until they mature, while the hen who laid the eggs goes off and mates with a new cock and brings off another clutch.  Biologists learned that by putting little transmitters around the body smaller than a dime, and following adult birds. If a nest of eggs is destroyed, the hen usually will lay another nest full, and some hatching occurs as late as mid-August. But… young quail hatched after August begins will have a very poor survival rate in the late fall if the weather is bad. They do not develop enough body weight and fat to survive if cold persists in October and early November.

If you see my old pick-up sitting in front of a flea market or antique store with my old Labrador in the passenger seat waiting patiently, I am not in there looking for dishes. Some of those places have mounted deer heads and antique guns and duck decoys… and fishing lures made in the 1920’s. It wasn’t too long ago that I bought three Outdoor Life magazines published in the ‘40’s for only ten bucks!

       I suppose if I had more money at one time in that billfold of mine I might actually go to Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops and look around, but honest to goodness, those high-priced sporting goods stores are boring after you’ve wandered the aisles of a flea market and spied a pocket knife just like grandpa used, and a genuine complete set of 1950 Ford hubcaps. 

       I’m just saying, if you are a grizzled old outdoorsman and you can’t go fishing, you might go look through some flea markets and antique shops. Call me if you find any good old wooden decoys!




      

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rain and Swap Meets

Caption… some of the kids who visited our Panther Creek getaway this past weekend.  The creek is very low, and water is becoming stale and dirty.  Rain is badly needed

      As I have been doing for a while, I will start things off with the master naturalist quiz.  Of the several species of hawks found in the Ozarks, which one is known to nest the earliest in the spring?
 
      By the way, any master naturalists who bring their master naturalist certificate from the MDC to our swap meet this coming Saturday at Brighton can get a free spring issue of my outdoor magazine!

      And another piece of good news… for anyone who might have outdoor stuff to sell, we still have three tables available free of charge.  Even if you have only one or two items to sell, maybe an old shotgun, a tackle box full of old lures, a minnow bucket, a hunting knife, whatever… bring them and find me and I will put those items out and sell them for you.  If you have a boat or canoe for sale you can set those up in the parking lot.  We already have a 50 hp Evinrude and a 22 foot antique river johnboat to sell.

      I am often asked if I have any of my late Uncle Norten’s handmade sassafras paddles for sale, and I am going to bring one this Saturday to put on a silent auction.  It is one he made and signed about ten years ago.  I am going to use the money for our Panther Creek Kid’s place, and I know he would like that.  I have told vendors who are coming from a good distance that they can stay overnight at our Panther Creek place at no charge.  Anyone who needs a room needs to call me so I can save one for them.

      I am tickled that Chuck Duren is coming.  He is a great woodcarver from Stockton, but he has quite a past.  He played basketball at the University of Missouri in the fifties. One of his teammates was Norm Stewart, and Chuck was the starting center there for two years.  Chuck played four games against another center for Kansas by the name of Wilt Chamberlain, then went on to sign a baseball contract with the Milwaukee Braves, playing on a minor league team with Tommy Aaron, Hank Aaron’s brother.

      I am hoping it rains Saturday, to ensure a greater turnout.  The rain makes it so that folks aren’t out fishing or tending to their garden and they are more apt to spend the day with us.  But of course the main reason I am hoping for rain is because we have a terribly bad short-term drought going on in much of the Ozarks. Our creeks and rivers are drastically low and fish need a good rise to give flowing shoals enough water for a successful spawn.

      It is ironic that a lot of rain at the right time can really hurt the spawn of crappie and bass in our lakes if they rise too quickly and too much.  But our streams are in bad shape, becoming choked with algae and slime that was never seen in Ozark waters fifty years ago. 
 
      Spring floods often clean out our streams for a while, so we need them now worse than ever.  But you know the slime and pollution is going to be a problem in the dead of summer.  With the low water we have, it is worse than I have ever seen it in early spring.

      There is little use talking about changing things.  Populations and progress take the forests and the waters away in great chunks now, and the fact that we are going to increase our numbers by the hundreds of thousands in coming years seals the fate of our wild places. For a billion people to survive here, forty or fifty years in the future, you cannot preserve big trees and clear waters filled with fish. And certainly, kayakers and canoeists don’t really need clean water, they just need fast water. Seems like we are heading toward a time when droughts or floods are all you can have.  That has been the story in past years.  I have seen our Ozarks rivers at the lowest point they have ever been and then at the highest level they have ever been, IN THE SAME YEAR, several times since the late ‘90’s.

      The Ozarks, once a sponge for the heavy rain, now has become a brick.  The hills hold far less storm water as forestland shrinks, and we increase pavement and concrete and make heavily-grazed hard pasture on once-timbered slopes that soaked up rain.

      With modern technology that makes
entertainment so diverse and easy to obtain, people that treasure wild things and wild places will be scarce in future years.  What those few of us find so wonderful in the unmarred creation of God will not be necessary at all to people who come after us.  Find a youngster today who would give up their little technology boxes for the chance to hunt squirrels or learn to fly-fish.  See what I mean?!

      I look at the world today and realize that indeed there is a steep cliff ahead of our racing civilization that no one can see. Men have grown into something different that they were created to be, casting aside things like common sense, faith in God and a belief in honesty and integrity. Find that stuff in Los Angeles or New York or Chicago. 
 
      If indeed there is a God, some say, why would watch the evil that is taking over and just let it pass. Wouldn’t it bother Him to see the wonder of his creation destroyed so easily and so quickly?  The future will tell, and none of us will see the awfulness of it unless that little fat moron that runs North Korea gets impatient with his bombs.  Then who will worry about clean rivers or forests, unless we can find caves in them?

      I guess what you have to do is enjoy one day at a time, try to get as far as you can away from it all by retreating to the wildest corners of the earth where it still seems like God is watching, and there is still some of that in the Ozarks. We need to be thankful for what is there, and the fact that the concrete and the pavement and the worship of money, and most of the problems it creates are a good distance away.

      It is a good way to find happiness and peace and contentment.  If only there weren’t any ticks!


   To find out more about our swap meet on Saturday you can call me at 417 777 5227.  Or you can send an email to my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, at lightninridge@windstream.net and have her send you a map on how to get there.  Remember, it is free to the public.  Biscuits and gravy from 8 to 9 and then lunch at 11.  Come and visit with me there and you will find some bargains, I am sure.


Answer to the quiz… the earliest nesting hawk in the Ozarks, as a rule, is the red-shouldered hawk.  They are similar to the red-tailed hawk, but they have a scream that has two distinct notes, while a red-tails scream is just one long note.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Good Reason for Change

 
           






               This week’s master naturalist question, for the hundreds of ‘master naturalists’ out there in the suburbs of who have their master naturalist certificates…  In actual weight, which one is larger, the adult gray squirrel or the adult red squirrel?  All of us who hunt squirrels and skin them and eat them, and send their tails to the Mepps spinner-bait company to trade for fishing lures, will know this one easily.








        In late January we cut a dead white-oak tree at Panther Creek because we were worried it might fall on one of the cabins, and a hollow limb had a litter of baby gray squirrels in it.  The mother squirrel came out of it like a streak of gray lightning, but we strapped the limb up high on a nearby live tree and left it.  Sure enough, she came back and moved the four babies to another hollow tree nearby.
 
         When you consider the fact that squirrel season does not end until the middle of February, you see what might happen anytime you bag a squirrel in February.  It is exactly why no one should hunt squirrels after mid January!  The rule-makers in Jefferson City seldom have ever been around squirrel hunters or woodcutters.  The reason most of us country people have had so many pet squirrels when we were youngsters is the fact that so often when our folks were cutting trees for firewood in late January or early February, there were squirrels with young ones inside those trees.

         Since it is a time when so many squirrels are bearing young, why in the world allow squirrel hunting then?  And yes, you can make the argument that it makes no difference if a small number of baby squirrels starve to death in a hollow tree during that time, but why permit it to happen at all.  Squirrel seasons should not ever run into February and I do not know of one competent or knowledgeable outdoorsman who would hunt them at that time of the year.  Only a greenhorn would do that.


        The same thing could be said about the ‘first of September’ opening of dove season.  Few dove hunters today know that there are still fledging doves in scattered nesting in early September who will die in the nests because the adults are killed.  I have seen young doves being fed in a nest on the first day of September here on Lightnin’ Ridge.

         I know… there aren’t many times you will see that, but still, it would be eliminated completely if the season were set back to September the 20th.  It makes common sense, but common sense hasn’t been prevalent in our conservation departments for many, many years.  The people in those agencies who grew up in the outdoors are no longer a majority.

         The truth of the matter is, young doves dying in a nest doesn’t make any significant change in the overall surviving numbers the next spring.  But who can feel good about such a thing.  Can anyone be so indifferent that they do not feel bad when they see a young fawn dead along the highway, or a baby rabbit being eaten by a housecat.

         I was taught a ‘reverence for life’ as a boy-- introduced to hunting at a very young age.  I see no reason why anything in the wild must die without a purpose to it.  Squirrel seasons and dove seasons cannot be changed to make dead babies less likely.  The one thing about dove hunting is, it is always too green and hot and dry in early September for hunting.  I am not going to be out there with a retriever that I think so much of, putting him through the misery of those early September days.  Early September is the best time of year to be fishing for bass with topwater lures anyway, and the best of the dove migrations will likely be at the coming of October.

         The crops which I put out in the Panther Creek bottoms are paying dividends now, and during the months of January and February when food gets the scarcest for wildlife.  I saw 14 deer in one of them just last night about an hour before dark.  And you will remember I wrote about the 51 turkeys I saw parade out of one back in January.  But what tickles me the most is rabbits and quail and varieties of songbirds that feed and take cover in those plots of varied crops.
 
         Not far from me is the most barren, lifeless tract of ground you will ever see.  It is the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Birdsong Conservation Area, which is planted and harvested each year by a tenant farmer who rents the ground and leaves it bare.  Such an arrangement is meant to leave a percentage of crops for wildlife. It is the place where five beagles couldn’t come across a rabbit trail a year ago.  Come by sometime and see what is left for wildlife there, under that idea of ‘wildlife management’ and what we do with a much smaller acreage at Panther Creek.  See the tremendous difference in both places.

        
         I hope that you have read or heard about the St. Louis Post Dispatch story about huge amount of money being paid to the MDC ex-director who resigned to go to work for Johnny Morris with the Bass Pro Shop dynasty.  If you can find that news story about how much money he is receiving from the MDC months after leaving there, you will be amazed.  It is hard to believe that a director who directs free labor and equipment for a ‘for-profit’organization, at no cost to anyone except Missouri taxpayers, can then go to work for that organization, making a huge salary, and still be paid a great deal of thousands of dollars by all of us through the MDC.
 
         But that has happened, and there isn’t a thing anyone can do about it. If Al Capone had been so invincible and untouchable, he would have become President! I urge everyone to read the letter I sent to Johnny Morris in my spring magazine asking him to show all of us what he is doing in the field of conservation for common working class outdoorsmen of this state, so I can put pictures of that work in my magazine.

         I will put the news story and that letter on my website this week.  If you care about conservation, and if corruption in a state agency concerns you at all, please read it on your computer, or someone else’s, at larrydablemontoutdoors. Every Missourian needs to know what has happened.  It is the second time an MDC director has been hired by Morris, after securing a large sum of money for Bass Pro Shop.  Last time it was 2.5 million dollars.  And after leaving the position of MDC director and going to work for Bass Pro Shop, that man received a one hundred thousand dollar gift from all of us through the MDC as a consultant fee.

         When I wrote about that, the ex-director, in a fit of rage, called me on the phone and made physical threats.  Keep in mind that in many of the newspapers I write for in major cities, this cannot be printed.  That is the kind of power these folks possess.


The answer to the quiz is a tricky one.  Red squirrels are tiny little rascals found way up north, much smaller than grays.  Our Ozark fox squirrels are commonly referred to as red squirrels, but they are not.  Fooled you on that one didn’t I?

  
         There will be about 30 underprivileged kids spend the weekend at the Panther Creek retreat this coming weekend, free of charge. What an experiment it is going to be.  If you’d like to join us and actually spend next Saturday helping us make it a great day for them, just call me, at 417-777-5227.  My email is lightninridge@windstream.net.

        

Monday, March 13, 2017

An open letter to Johnny Morris… In response to News Release



This week from the St. Louis Post Dispatch:


JEFFERSON CITY • Robert Ziehmer left his job as director of the Missouri Department of Conservation more than seven months ago, but his paychecks from the state haven’t stopped coming.
        According to state payroll records, Ziehmer already has received more than $87,000 from the state for doing no work. And every two weeks, he gets $5,800 more. And, despite working for a foundation connected to outdoor retailing giant Bass Pro Shops, the former chief of an agency that oversees fish and wildlife qualifies for state health insurance coverage. Lawmakers who are reviewing the proposed state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 have begun raising red flags about the payouts to Ziehmer, which were not disclosed when he departed last year after nearly three decades at the department.
         “I don’t approve of it,” said Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, who chairs the House Budget Committee. “It seems like something that should not have happened.”
         The payouts to Ziehmer come as the Legislature and Gov. Eric Greitens are crafting a budget that could reduce services to thousands of low-income seniors and disabled people and will not offer raises to state workers, who are the worst paid in the nation.
According to documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch, the money is the result of a separation and release agreement between the former director and the Missouri Conservation Commission, which oversees the Missouri Department of Conservation.
         The agreement appears to address concerns by the commission that Ziehmer might take legal action if they tried to push him out of the top job after six years at the helm. It remains unclear why that may have occurred.
         “To ensure an amicable parting, the parties wish to compromise, resolve and settle, finally and forever, any claims and causes of action that were or could have been asserted by the employee against MDC,” the agreement notes.
The agreement allows Ziehmer to be paid for his accrued leave and receive health insurance from the state until his paid leave time runs out. Fitzpatrick estimated that could come in May, which would give Ziehmer almost an entire year of his salary. It wasn’t immediately clear from the documents how the deal might affect Ziehmer’s pension.
         In the agreement, both sides said the pact should not be construed as an admission of liability or wrongdoing.
“MDC expressly denies any such liability, wrongdoing or responsibility,” the agreement notes.
         Marilyn Bradford, chairwoman of the commission, signed off on the agreement. She did not immediately return messages Friday.
Unlike other state agencies facing funding cuts this year, the Department of Conservation budget is not being reduced, largely because it receives its funding from a special tax approved by voters in 1976. The one-eighth of one percent sales tax collected by the state is dedicated to conservation efforts. The agency’s budget is expected to top $154 million next year.
         The department is not controlled directly by the governor. Rather, the governor appoints four commissioners to six-year terms. The current board, which approved Ziehmer’s separation agreement, was appointed by former Gov. Jay Nixon.
         Ziehmer, who signed the agreement on June 1, 2016, now works for the Johnny Morris Foundation, an organization with $63.8 million in assets connected to the Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro Shops.
         Ziehmer, who could not be reached for comment, was the eighth director of the conservation agency since its founding in 1937. In that role, he was paid $140,000 annually to oversee a staff of 1,450 full-time and 500 hourly employees.
         During his tenure, he led restoration activities for elk, prairie chickens and other species, and oversaw the renovation of fish hatcheries and shooting ranges.
         Soon after Ziehmer’s departure, the Conservation Commission selected former Department of Natural Resources Director Sara Parker Pauley as the first female director of the Department of Conservation.

Editor's note: this story has been updated to correct the year voters approved a tax for the Missouri Department of Conservation. 
Kurt Erickson • 573-556-6181
@KurtEricksonPD on Twitter
kerickson@post-dispatch.com
This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Windmillers



My daughter Christy on the Buffalo River in one of my Kayaks

       Two good questions for master naturalist out there this week.  How many species of cedar trees are growing in the tri-state region of eastern Kansas, northern Arkansas and southern Missouri?  If that is too easy, how about this multiple choice question…  Of the hawks found in our area, which one is generally known to nest earliest in the spring--- the Cooper’s hawk, the red-shouldered hawk, the sharp-shinned hawk or the woodland gossett?


       I believe that a kayak is best considered a water-toy, as you might consider a plastic air mattress found in swimming pools. My Uncle Norten, upon seeing one years ago, commented that he would rather fish from an inner-tube in a farm pond. 
 
       I have often used one of the best kayaks you can buy. I own seven different kinds of fishing and hunting boats and three kayaks. I have two different-length kayaks made specifically for sportsmen, one twelve footer, and one ten. I camouflaged them with brown, black and green paint, and the ten-footer makes a heck of a good lay-out boat for duck hunting.  
       I don’t get out in that thing in the dead of winter and paddle it to a remote spot where I wish to hunt ducks. I put it in my 18-foot War-Eagle boat and take off across lakes or waters like Stockton, Truman or Bull Shoals, to duck hunt out of it. In the big boat I carry my shells, shotgun, camo-material, Labrador and decoys. The little kayak won’t hold half of that, but when I get decoys set, and my Lab comfortably in place and hidden along the shore, I can set the kayak out against a log or tree and cover it, set down flat in the bottom of it and be fairly low and comfortable and hidden.
                                           
       Yes, I have hunted ducks on small streams with the longer one
because it can easily be made into a floating blind, but I do not use it on bigger streams because I much prefer a 16-foot metal johnboat
called a Lowe Paddle-Jon, made on the order of my grandfather’s wooden johnboats. 

       Remembering back several decades, those wooden johnboats he made were better than anything I have ever used on a stream because they floated high, they were quiet and they were so stable you could walk along the top of the sideboards without tipping them much at all. The square-sterned canoes above 18-feet in length are fairly stable too. I have a 19-foot square-sterned Grumman canoe and if you float rivers in it, you have to be a real greenhorn to tip it. 

       If you fill any of the river floating craft I use with water, they won’t sink. Those aluminum canoes and johnboats have Styrofoam floatation in the ends and under any enclosed seats. 

       Kayaks won’t sink either. If they fill with water, you just get wet, but you can still windmill them to the bank. I do not call it paddling… it is ‘windmilling’ using great long shafts with a blade on each end and I am sure you have seen the way they are maneuvered.
         That’s what is so objectionable to me. The young people who get them to fish from are windmillers. They cannot quietly and unobtrusively go along any waterway because of that. And when I am floating along some small stream and a caravan of them come by in red and yellow kayaks, I just paddle to the side and let them pass until they can’t be heard and the river is peaceful again.

Christy on Pomm de Terre Lake
       A kayak isn’t made for big waters and should never be used on the larger Ozark lakes. My daughter Christy, with all the different types of fishing boats I have, still goes out in that larger kayak and fishes a local lake in the summer. I tell her that it is not made for that kind of use, that larger motor-powered lake boats do not and should not have to watch for her, it is her responsibility to not put that thing where they operate. 
 
       She stays in a small area along the bank and seems to enjoy fishing from it, but I instruct her to not give her last name when she talks to someone out there, as it would cast a shadow on the whole Dablemont clan if someone knew we have a kayaker amongst us.

       I am progressive enough to use those kayaks of mine where they make sense, and give me a good option, but I DO NOT use those windmill paddles and never will. I have made myself a seat at the back of mine and ballast in the bow, and I use my sassafras paddle to slip along quietly in small waters. I can hunt squirrels, ducks, deer and turkey from it, but only on little streams, never from a large one like the Niangua or Gasconade or lower reaches of any main river. Why do I never fish from one?  Because I have never seen the time that a kayak gives me a better advantage as a fisherman.

       I didn’t buy my kayaks, I obtained them years ago by trading advertising in my magazine, and made sure that they were the best available.  But I must admit they are tremendously expensive. Right now, all kayaks, canoes and aluminum johnboats are expensive. But my river johnboat and square-sterned Grumman, when I first began as an outdoor writer, were only a small percentage of the cost they are today.

       You know what is a wise thing to do--- buy used boats. My Grumman canoe has been used hard and often, but still it would last a new owner a lifetime. If you are looking for a kayak, get a used one, and camouflage it so you don’t look like part of a carnival coming down the river. Keep the thing off of big waters, because if you are in a lake, large boats are not going to slow down to a no-wake situation just because of you and your kayak. They shouldn’t be expected to. And always know that you are going to be observed wind-milling that thing along by every living creature in your watery path when you are on a river, way before you get there. 
 
       I grew up slipping along the Big Piney in my dark gray or green wooden johnboat trying to just blend in and be a part of the river. I have seen times when I would float past wood-ducks or deer or mink that didn’t know I was there.  Many times, kingfishers would alight on the blind attached to the bow when I was hunting. Rivermen paddled a boat from one side, and could float for the whole day without taking the blade from the water. You don’t see that anymore, it has become the day of bright colors, banging aluminum and windmill paddlers hurrying down the river as if they were fleeing from something.

       It would be great if they could all have been taught how to do it right, and to have reverence for that stream instead of seeing it as some sort of natural waterslide where yelling and hollering is part of the ride, and banging paddles are just made to make you go faster.


       The answers to the master naturalist questions… there are no cedars here; our red cedars are actually junipers. Cedars are found in the Holy Land and countries nearby. The ‘woodland gossett’?  I just made that up.  It sounds good though. 
       Once when I was just a kid, and took two ladies from Chicago on a float trip, I told one that a goggle-eye she caught was a spotted river-flounder and she never questioned it. Old Bill Stalder, down at the pool hall, put me up to that and the front bench regulars really enjoyed it when I told them about it that night. The earliest nesting hawk, generally speaking, is the red-shouldered hawk.



     My spring magazine is here… best one we have ever put out.. all color and 96 pages. To get info on obtaining a copy a copy or too ask about our upcoming free swap meet, call Ms. Wiggins at 417-777-5227 or email lightninridge@windstream.net

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Good Ending for February

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A river smallmouth like they use to be…






















 
This happens a lot in the spring, but not so much in February… a little white bass tries to take the topwater lure away from a smallmouth



         Some of the readers say they enjoy trying to answer these nature questions I have been throwing out there for the ‘master naturalists’ in the Ozarks.  I am not one of them; I haven’t been given my certificate.  But you should be able to answer any of these questions off the top of your head.  So far, I haven’t missed a one!!!
         This week’s question is an easy one.  Among the black bass, the largemouth and spotted bass are very similar, but there is one way to tell one from the other which has nothing to do with color or lines or spots on the body.  How can you distinguish them? What family do they belong to… the bass family, the perch family the sunfish family or the bluegill family.  Answers at end of column.



         That 80-degree day a week or so ago in late February helped me do something I have never done before.  I caught smallmouth bass on a topwater lure in February.  I caught a couple of the Kentucky bass and a couple of largemouth and 20 or 30 white bass on that topwater lure too.

         I was amazed.  I hadn’t expected anything like that.  Is this world going crazy, fish hitting a topwater Rebel lure in February?  What is going to happen next?  Will morels start coming up in January? Will snow geese migrate south in July?  Strange things are happening on this earth.  

         Old Bolt, my Labrador, and I like to get away in the middle of the week, away from the day-to-day goings on and the weirdness you encounter in town. Out where I am a part of the natural world, where it is a little bit like it use to be when only native Americans lived here, there is stability to go along with the peace and ambience that makes a man feel like something somewhere is normal. When May is about to become June and I can camp on a river gravel bar somewhere and wade out at the lower end of a shoal and catch smallmouth on a topwater lure that imitates a dying minnow, I am in seventh heaven.   But I don’t expect to see that in February, I expect to see it spitting snow and catching bass in ten or twelve feet of water on some hairy jig with a rubber crawdad.

         And so I am rightfully troubled, and so is old Bolt.  Still you forget there might be a problem when you wiggle that topwater lure a time or two and there’s a swirl where it use to be and you lean back on a bent-over rod.  The good-sized bass often don’t make much of a splash at all.  Of course these bass weren’t big old slab-sided frog-eaters.  The biggest brownie that afternoon was only sixteen inches long and I landed one seventeen inch largemouth.  Most were anywhere from thirteen to fifteen inches long.  But that is okay when you are using an ultra-lite spinning outfit and four pound line. 

         On that little outfit a fifteen-inch bass can make your drag sing.  When you fish as long as I have, you get to where you know if the surface lure attack comes from a black bass or a white.  I don’t know how to explain the difference but there is one.  Smallmouth take that lure and go down deep quickly, while white bass stay closer to the surface as they fight against the pressure of the rod. But they do fight! 

         And while there were plenty of whites, ninety percent of them males, there were no really big ones.  In that spot twenty years ago I caught a lot of two-pound white bass, but it doesn’t happen now.  Fishing pressure for those white bass in that river which feeds the lake is likely ten times what it was just ten or fifteen years ago, an increasing. While you can’t hurt white bass populations, those prolific fish are the easiest of all fish to catch, and the big ones never get thrown back.  Nowadays, the twelve-inchers aren’t thrown back either.  I kept my limit of those smallish-sized whites, took them home and filleted them, skimming the red meat off each, ending up with two nice sized little hunks of white meat off each fish that fry up perfect.  Everyone else does the same thing, and that might be the reason that few bigger whites show up there in the spring.  You may hurt the number of three or four year old whites, but there will always be a million of the younger ones.

         Smallmouth aren’t like that. You can see the affect of heavier fishing pressure on the smallmouth.  Brownies up in that stream are easy to catch in the spring, and too many fishermen keep them. Where those three- to four-pound smallmouth I caught each March in that river were fairly plentiful ten years ago, they are declining rapidly today. We just cannot convince certain kinds of fishermen that the smallmouth should be released.  The day I fished, there were six kayaks up the river, something never seen twenty years ago.  Most are young people who just do not have much of a conservation ethic or much knowledge of those species. Some I have talked with do not know about river season or the length limit. Too many of them keep all the smallmouth they catch
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         That day I saw about twelve boats with two to four Mennonite anglers in each, from another county.  They had grouped together on a stretch of the river about only a few hundred yards in length, and they were there to catch fish to eat.  That is fine, but we need to get across to everyone who fishes that stretch, keep all the fish you want, but turn the smallmouth back. Keeping largemouth and Kentucky bass is no big deal, in fact the Kentuckies hybridize with smallmouth and that dilutes the genetics of the river smallmouth over time so I encourage fishermen to keep all of those.  But darn it, you have to know which is which!

         It is long past time for a few years of a “no smallmouth” policy on our rivers.  One of my friends attended a meeting that MDC biologists conducted concerning smallmouth in Ozark rivers and when he came back he was very discouraged.  “They have no clue,” he said, “young guys who know all they know from ‘studies’ they have conducted on one or two rivers. As fishermen, they have little experience.” 
 
         Those of us who have fished for river smallmouth for fifty or more years know how susceptible the big ones are in the summer, on the small to medium rivers like the Niangua and the Big Piney. We learned long ago that there are ways to catch every smallmouth above fourteen inches out of one river eddy in short order, at certain times of the summer. In many rivers, that is what has happened.  My friend has often said, and I agree, that smallmouth in our Ozark streams should be treated as an endangered species, as should rock bass, which now are probably at 20 percent of the number seen in the 1960’s. 

         You could allow anglers to keep smallmouth under 13-inches and be okay, but no one should ever keep one bigger. Smallmouth are a poor table fare, commonly filled with the little yellow grubs in most Ozark streams, and likely the poorest eating of any fish.  Kentuckies, which are not a native Ozark fish, could be kept in any number, if modern day fishermen can learn the difference in the two.

         Our stream habitat is deteriorating badly and fishing pressure keeps increasing.  Thinking there might be an answer to making the kind of smallmouth fishing I once saw in younger days where three-pounders could be commonly expected on any float trip is likely just a dream.



         Answer to quiz… The Kentuckies or ‘spotted bass’ have a very rough, raspy patch on their tongues like tiny teeth, while the largemouth’s tongue is smooth.  They are all members of the sunfish family.



Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Best Event of the Year



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   This week’s Lightnin’ Ridge nature question for all those master naturalists out there is… “Mountain lions do well when their number one food source, the white-tail deer is plentiful. Another mammal, which is steadily increasing, is a prey animal mountain lions would rather have than venison. Mountain lion numbers might rise in the Ozarks solely because of this animal.  What is that animal?


         It is likely the best time to discuss our spring Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’ Swap Meet, because the fishing is getting good and in the next few columns I am apt to be bragging about the fish I have been catching.  Believe me you are going to be amazed at all the big fish I am going to catch soon.  But on Saturday March 25, I will not be fishing.  I hope to be with lots of you folks at the Brighton Assembly of God church gymnasium where we will have about fifty tables of outdoor gear for sale at bargain prices. 
 
         Honest to goodness, at that swap meet five or six years ago I saw and antique fishing lure worth 60 or 70 dollars sell for three bucks!  And I saw an antique muzzle-loader sell for about half of its true value.  The thing about our swap meet is…there is no charge to get in and there is no charge for a table.  In this day and time, that is unusual.  There was a swap meet in Springfield recently where they charged 85 dollars per table and five dollars to each visitor who wanted to come in and buy something.  But we have a hard time getting tables for everyone who wants to bring something to sell.  So if you want to be a ‘vendor’ you need to contact me soon.

         We’ll open at 8:30 in the morning and close things down at 2:00 in the afternoon.  The church has a youth group that prepares coffee and biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and then hamburgers, pork sandwiches, potato chips, cake and pie for dinner. So therefore it is a great way for them to make some money for the activities they undertake.           And this year we are going to have a room set up with antiques and various things for sale which will help us with the Panther Creek Youth project we have set up for underprivileged kids.  You will be able to hear about and see photos of what that place is, basically a no-cost outdoor setting for those youngsters with a lodge and cabins on a 60 acre tract along Panther Creek.  And there will be lots of items for sale, which will go toward paying electricity, insurance and taxes there.

         Out on the main floor of the gymnasium I expect to have about 50 tables.  One of them might be particularly interesting to visitors who are into antique lure, rods, reels, etc.  I think Jerry McCoy, from Lakeview Arkansas probably knows more about those old, old lures than anyone in the Midwest, and he will be there to buy and sell antique lures.  But if you have some that you want to keep, Jerry can tell you what they are, when they were made and what they are worth.

         This year we will have lots of items for those folks who want to decorate a den or office or cabin with art.  We will have many beautiful wildlife paintings of deer, bear, elk, eagles, wolves, etc. hanging on the wall, 11 by 14 paintings in black wooden frames, for only ten dollars.  Already I have purchased a half dozen for my own home.  They are really something.  A woodworker, Harold Mitchell will be coming from my boyhood town of Houston, Missouri with handmade wooden bowls and other wood items that he sells for a great deal less than they are worth.  I saw his work several years ago and kept after him until he agreed to come to our swap meet. At his table, you will see some of the prettiest woodwork you have ever seen.

         Another woodworker comes from Galena, Mo.  Dale Olson has been to every swap meet we have held, and he makes things like birdhouses, bird feeders, jewelry boxes and many other things.  He has been a favorite vendor of ladies who come to our swap meet because he makes cutting boards that are absolutely beautiful on a kitchen counter, and priced below their actual value, on account of, Dale is a grizzled old outdoorsman like me who hasn’t been to the big cities much and doesn’t realize how good he is at this stuff. We will also have a fellow from down around Norfork Lake, who makes cedar cabin furniture and picnic tables, with his handiwork displayed outside the door.

         David Preddy usually comes from southern Missouri with tanned furs, mounted predator heads sitting on deer antler stands, fur caps like the earlier frontiersmen wear, and I think Vernon Myers will be there with a whole table of handmade knives.  In fact many tables have old antique knives, pocket knives like my grandfathers and the old-timers at the pool hall use to carry.  On those tables which just have a hodge-podge of outdoor items, you will also see good usable rods and reels, camp stoves, minnow buckets, bait traps, steel traps, old carbide lamps, lanterns and duck decoys.  There will also be vendors there selling turkey calls, duck calls and predator calls, with some archery equipment as well.

         Lure makers who produce modern day lures also come, for example the Criddly lure company from Pleasant Hope who makes all kinds of spinner baits, of all sizes and I use their lures often because I catch fish on them.  They are quite a bit different than other spinning baits.  Of course, me being a grizzled old outdoorsman like I am, you might expect me to catch fish on about anything, and I sure won’t argue that fact.  I have never once written about the lures I didn’t catch fish on, and I ain’t about to admit that ever happened!!

         I really want to contact ladies who do baking, and who make jelly and can pickles and relish, because we notice how much attention such a table garners.  We need that, because I don’t have time to make muffins and cookies and such.  What I do hope to do is make some of my handmade turkey calls, the ones I use myself.  Thousands of beginning turkey hunters have called up their first gobblers with my handmade calls, and while I know that I can’t prove that, I also know that no one can prove otherwise!!

         I just cannot get to all the other special things that will be there, but I intend to put up for bids one of my Uncle Norten’s handmade sassafras paddles and one of my grandfathers sassafras paddles made some time in the 1930’s.  The money from those will help with expenses at the Panther Creek Youth Retreat mentioned earlier.

         Remember that this event is free, there will be tables where visitors can set and relax and drink coffee and eat dinner and have conversation with other folks.  I’ll be there amongst ‘em, with my new spring issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge outdoors magazine and all my books, which I will sell as usual for about 2/3rds of the book store prices.  I have a couple of new ones, so now there are a total of nine.  My daughters and their mother will be there too, so this has become a family affair.  And the event gives me the opportunity to meet and talk to those folks who read this column.

         I cannot thank enough the Brighton Assembly of God church for giving us this opportunity year after year, and assistant pastor Mark Cross for all the help he gives us to make this work so smoothly.   


         The answer to the nature question… feral hogs!