Tuesday, August 15, 2017



         It is not the change in climate that will destroy our nation, but the change in people!
         In my last column I talked about the new requirement the MDC has handed down concerning the mandatory checking of all deer taken the opening weekend of the gun deer season in some of the states counties.  Hunters ARE NOT required to check their deer any other time, only on the opening weekend.  As to what happens if you call in to check a deer on opening weekend, November 11 and 12, and you do not take it to a local CWD checking station, I don’t know… you might receive a citation.  Anyhow, this is mandatory in 25 counties, and at the end of this column, I will list them all.

         I talked with wildlife regional supervisor Debra Burns who grew up in a town in Massachusetts, and now works out of a Kansas City office, and she assured me that when hunters bring bucks to the check stations, they WILL NOT HAVE ANY DEER HEADS CONFISCATED or kept.  She cannot assure me however that if you have killed a very big buck, some agent might not look you up at a latter time and take your antlers or mounted deer head as a result of some violation they say you committed.

         Some supporters of the Conservation Department doubt me when I say this is an ongoing effort by enforcement agents to gain through confiscation the larger deer antlers taken in the Ozarks.  But while you won’t be able to see this, you should realize that no does or small antlered bucks are ever confiscated.  Doesn’t that say something about what is happening. Have small deer been confiscated..ABSOLUTELY NOT. 
         I am going to attend the meeting held in Humansville on August 22, because the MDC constantly refuses to say if people have died in the Ozarks, and other parts of our state, from that awful disease.  I want to hear them either avoid that truth or confirm it.

         The white oak acorn crop in my back yard is not going to be anything like it was last year.  And this week’s nature question for the master naturalists scattered around the Ozarks…  Available acorns from white oaks and black oaks always depend on factors like late frosts in the previous spring.  True or False?

         Last year the acorns on my huge 300-year old white oaks behind my office were as thick as tadpoles in a mudhole, but this year they are just average in number, maybe a little less than average.  Acorns are about the most important winter food for a variety of wild creatures, and no matter how many there are, they get scarce in January.  But if the fall crop is abundant, deer and especially turkeys, go into the bottleneck of harsh winter with a little more fat, and a little more ability to survive through to spring.  In years of lean acorn availability, turkey and quail especially will suffer in late January and February.  So will many other larger bird species and small mammals.

But the thing is, while I see my acorn crop as less than desirable, it is a local or regional thing.  Someone with big white oaks a hundred miles in any direction may have a better production of acorns, and some may have less.

         It strikes me that in the Ozarks, there was a time when all country people knew all about the acorn crop because it was important to them, especially in a time when free-ranging hogs were raising little pigs out in the woods, and their main food was acorns.

Today I would be willing to bet that excluding all the master naturalists out there, 99 percent of the overall population of all suburbanites have no idea what each years acorn crop is.  But white oak acorns are the one forest food which can keep you from starving in the winter.  They are very bitter, but if you boil them several times, and pour the darkening water off until the boiling water is finally clear, they can be ground up to make a kind of bread, or eaten whole.  Yes, I have eaten lots of them, but I prefer to roll them in cinnamon and sugar, something you aren’t likely to have if you are starving.  Knowing this, should times get hard and you choose to go live in a cave in the wilderness you might remember to take an axe, fishing hook and line and cinnamon and sugar.

         The other evening I saw a television show entitled “Naked and Afraid” while I was trying to find the cardinal ballgame.  I think it was about two people, one man and one woman, who were set out in the wilderness ‘neked’, and were offered a lot of money to survive a few weeks.  Before Gloria Jean caught me and made me switch channels, I could discern that the two of them were worried about food.  Must not have been any acorns.  Any how it occurs to me that if I was out there with that beautiful blond lady that was running around looking for grubworms and lizards to eat, I wouldn’t be worrying about food, I would be concerned with keeping my hair combed and my belly pulled in so I wouldn’t look fat. And the only thing I would be afraid of is eating worms and snails. I would be collecting acorns!!

The answer to the acorn question….  False,-- this years black and red oak acorns are affected by conditions in the spring of 2016 while 2017 acorn crops depend on what conditions exist in the spring of 2017.

         I leave you with my conviction that while it is alright to be naked, you should never be afraid, and almost surely, if you are afraid, you should certainly not be naked.
I don’t know what channel that show was on, but will try to find it, as it is a great nature-oriented television show.

         I want to remind all of you that you can acquire any of my books or magazines with a credit card simply by calling my secretary, Ms. Wiggins at 417 777 5227.  If you want to get a description of what my 10 books are about, she can send that too.  Email me at lightninridge@windstream.net or write me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A News Flash From the MDC

       It is not the change in climate that will destroy the United States… it is the awful change in people!

       The Conservation Department is holding a meeting at the Humansville United Methodist Church on Tuesday evening, August 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. to discuss Chronic Wasting Disease (mad-deer disease).  CWD infected deer have been found in St. Clair County, so now the Conservation Department is requiring all deer hunters to check their deer at a designated site in 25 different counties. IF YOU DO NOT DO IT YOU CAN BE CITED AND FINED! 
       This is some more flailing around by one of the most inept conservation departments ever. It is a useless endeavor and attending such a meeting is a waste of time. They have made an attempt to evade the truth at every turn. The letter sent out says, “CWD is an infectious disease which affects the deer family.” They have never ever, in any communication, mentioned that it can and has affected humans as well.  There have been many, many documented deaths from this awful disease over the past few years. In humans though, it is called Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease.

       Twenty years ago the MDC could have prevented the spread of this disease by doing what Colorado’s conservation department did… closing down all elk and deer pen operations in the state, where the operators were buying deer from other states, trying to get rich on huge antlers grown by feeding bucks MEAT BY-PRODUCTS, against every rule of nature. Deer are not and never have been carnivores. The disease was spread through that feed, and those operations would sometimes just release sick deer into the wild.

     When a weak and dying buck was found near my home a few years ago that I believe had CWD, the landowner called game wardens in that county and they never came to look at it or sample tissue from it.  I have never seen nor heard of an agent or biologist come to look at a sick deer and many of my readers who have reported sick deer say the same thing.  WHY?

        I got this letter only a month or so ago from Lucas Yeggy in Dent County…
       “I’ve seen what you have written concerning about sick deer (the mad deer disease. I have seen lots of sick deer for years and have pictures of many of them. The MDC has always said I am wrong about all the sick deer. I have had bucks hang around in the yard and when the kids go’s out and play they just lay there. I have posted in the papers about it and the MDC tries to have the photos pulled. I have enclosed the photo of a very sick deer. For the third year I have been seeing deer like this one on my game camera. I have sent these photos to MDC and they have blocked me and deleted he pictures.”

       If your newspaper doesn’t have the space to use Yeggy’s photo, you can see it on my website, larrydablemontoutdoors, or in the summer issue of my magazine, the Lightnin Ridge Outdoor Journal, on many newsstands now. If they have such an interest in doing what is best for deer and deer hunters, why doesn’t the MDC come to investigate sick deer found by the public. Of course they are very worried about the loss of revenue from dropping deer tag sales and I think controlling that loss is a main purpose of what they do.

       But there is one thing I will pass on, and I will have more to say on it in later columns… IF YOU HAVE A REALLY LARGE AND VALUABLE SET OF ANTLERS ON A BUCK, DO NOT TAKE IT TO A CHECK STATION, OR YOU WILL LOSE IT. It will be confiscated. In my fall magazine I will print a lengthy article about what has happened to so many who have had big deer antlers confiscated for drummed-up minor charges against a hunter.  I hope all deer hunters will read that article.

       For years, the enforcement division has lied about destroying the antlers taken from some poor hunter who lost his deer as a result of a false charge. THOSE VALUABLE ANTLERS ARE NEVER DESTROYED! I found out recently that many of them are given to a craftsman who puts together antler chandeliers. Some wind up in the home of commissioners or high-level employees or places like Bass Pro Shops. Other sets of big antlers are sold, some for thousands of dollars, to wind up on mounted heads found in offices and galleries of well-connected people. One southwest Missouri conservation officer has a shed just for confiscated deer antlers, which he has boasted about being his retirement fund.
       When you check your deer by phone this fall, notice they want to know the circumference at the base and how many points. Want to see if I am on to something? Report your buck as an 18 pointer with a large base. Then wait for the agents to visit you. Or call and say you have found a monstrous buck in the ditch along the highway and ask if you can have it? See how long it is before an agent gets there. If you report hitting a fork-horn with your vehicle, you can keep it with the proper paperwork. They have no interest in seeing it.

        If you kill a big-antlered buck, don’t put a picture of it on facebook, or in the newspaper or you will make yourself a target.  Again, my magazine this fall will have stories from readers who have been antagonized by agents who try to get the antlers.

        This goes to show the power the MDC has, because no large scale TV or print news media anywhere will investigate this or even mention the possibility it is happening. And this article will go to over 60 newspapers in three states, but some will not print it.

       That meeting in Humansville will be useless as far as changing anything in the spread of CWD.  NOTHING CAN BE DONE TO SLOW IT.  But that meeting will be an opportunity to say with a loud voice, that the MDC has decided to force you to do what they say, as useless as it is, or else!!


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Open Invitation to A Canadian Fishing Trip Adventure with Me

Tinker Helseth
To anyone who wants to fish with me on the wilderness lake... Loonhaunt… plane leaves Nestor Falls Ontario on morning of August 12. The cost is $500 per person, and that includes the flight cost, lodge, boat, motor and fuel. I will come back on august 17, but others may stay until 19th. This is one heck of a bargain. Lodge is a big one, has big kitchen, lots of beds... lights are solar powered. Call me at 417-777-5227 if you want to go. I can take one to four fishermen. I know the lake well, know where the fish are and how to fish it in August. In addition, fishermen will get to meet a real Canadian legend… Tinker Helseth.

Google Tinker’s Place, Ontario Canada to learn more about Tinker, his lodge and cabins and to hear what others have to say about a Canadian Adventure.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Miracle on a Cedar Limb


         Sometimes you have to just figure that the Great Creator fixed something especially for you to see and experience.  I know most of my readers feel that way. Chances are you have felt His attention at some time or another in your life, maybe lots of times. The more time you spend outdoors alone, in a natural world, the more you tend to feel that way.

       Time was when I was young, I just lived to catch or kill something. A big fish, an unusual waterfowl species, a rooster pheasant or wild gobbler, I just couldn’t wait to get something wild and beautiful in my hands. When I did, I just couldn’t stop looking at it and marveling at the beauty of wild things.

       A lot of that longing to hunt and fish and explore was my heritage, my ancestors didn’t raise much stock to eat, wild meat was important. I never thought anything would replace a rod and reel or a shotgun and rifle in my hands.

       But that new Nikon camera I bought a few weeks back is something I intend to shoot a great deal more than my old model 12 Winchester. I got it out of the package, remembering my first camera when I went to work for the Arkansas Democrat newspaper just out of college as their ‘outdoor editor’. It was a big heavy black box which took only black and white pictures.

       The first month I was there, I won a little award of some kind for a photo I took. I nearly wore that thing out, and I still have some of the square negatives in my files that it created.

       When I went to work as a naturalist for the state of Arkansas a year later, I bought a 35 mm Pentax camera that indeed took color photos in the form of slide transparencies.  The state couldn’t afford a camera for me but they did pay for film and developing. I kept duplicates and I now have a few thousand old slides and prints that camera gave me. I have added to that hundreds and hundreds of color prints and when I want to find a certain photo, it my take hours to run it down.

       I sold hundreds of photos to magazines when I finally became a full time outdoor writer, and I think I sold more than 40 cover photos for various magazines. I learned that understanding the technology of a camera wasn’t as important as just knowing what would make a photo, and being out there where you could see things not normally seen. There was indeed money to be made from selling photos, but not only that, if you sent an article to Outdoor Life or Field and Stream, you had a much better chance of selling it if really good photos came with it.

       I have never been more than an amateur
photographer but my cameras have been professional, and this new one is something spectacular. I am going to have to find someone to help me with the instruction book to ever find out how to completely understand it.

       So three or four days ago, I just took a little walk down one of my trails to practice with it. Now remember that I have written recently about yellow-billed cuckoos, which are known as rain crows to us country folks. I have been here on Lightning’ Ridge for 25 years and never had a clear view of one, although each summer they nest up here, staying high in the foliage of big trees, as if they are trying to hide. You see one for a second and then they are gone.

       Walking down that trail with the camera and two lenses, a rain crow flew down and lit on a cedar limb I had trimmed along the trail. I brought up the camera and tried to see him through the lens. Nothing. The lens cover was still on! I took it off, and just chose a setting on the camera I thought would work, and clicked a couple of quick photos. 

       Too far—then I remembered the telephoto lens in my pack and my shaky fingers worked to find the way to push the right buttons to change them. I knew it was not going to work. He could see me so well, just 15 or 20 yards away. But somehow I got the telephoto lens on, found him in the viewfinder and began to click the shutter. That rain crow sat there for at least five minutes, turning his head to give me different shots, acting as if he was modeling for me. When he flew away, I headed for my office; so happy my feet scarcely touched the trail. I stuck the little card in the computer and there were the very first photos my new camera gave me…  spectacular shots of a rain crow, something I thought I would never ever get.

       I really am inspired by those photos, and such a rare opportunity, and sometime in the future I am going to find my best 100 photos, taken over 45 years as a naturalist and outdoor writer, and publish them, with a page of information about what each one is and where it was taken. I think it will make a good book, because if there is a photo of a bird or animal or whatever, I don’t intend to just tell the facts about that creature that you can find in a dozen books, but I want to tell the story of my own experiences and observations and what I have learned that hasn’t been printed on some internet account!

       I am not sure that better photos than I ever taken aren’t ahead, with this camera I have. I am certainly going to be spending a lot of time on the river and in the woods with it. That is the secret to getting good photos, being where they are found as much as possible.
       It was only a short time ago that we obtained the ability to sell my magazines and books over the phone via credit card.  I can’t do it, being computer illiterate, but my secretary can.  Folks have been calling wanting information about my ten books, and that is one thing I can do.  We have made little sheets of info about each one and I can mail you all of those if you would like.  Just call and ask for those, 417 777 5227.  You can email me at lightninridge@windstream.net or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A New Book From an Old Naturalist

       Last week or the week before I asked if anyone could guess what bright red bird is commonly seen in the Ozarks during the summer besides the cardinal.  The answer is the summer tanager.  And if you occasionally see a bright blue bird that is smaller than a bluebird, with almost a metallic blue sheen, what is it commonly called?  Answer at the end of this column.

       I am proud to be publishing a new book on bobwhite quail which will be out this fall, written by one of the most knowledgeable outdoorsmen I have ever met.  His name is Michael Widner, and he was born and raised on an Ozark farm near Long Creek, north of Alpena, Arkansas.  He hunted quail as youngster, back in a time when quail were plentiful, and never could give it up, even as they became scarce.

       Lots of quail hunters just gave it up in the past 30 years, but there are some who love to work with dogs, who hunt declining coveys not to bring home a limit, but enjoy the satisfaction of bagging perhaps two or three birds and the opportunity to see a rare covey rise before a setter or pointer frozen on a beautiful point.

       I met the author when he was about seventeen years old, a junior at Arkansas Tech at Russellville, Arkansas.   I was only 22 at the time, just out of college and hired by the Arkansas State Park System to begin a new ‘naturalist division’ in four of the states largest and most visited parks.  I hired six young men that spring, and one of them was Mike Widner.  None had any more knowledge of the outdoors than he, and his grade point was about twice what mine had been, majoring in wildlife management as I had.         Mike had the purest Ozark accent I had ever heard, and he attracted park visitors like bees to honey.  They loved to hear him talk, and no one went on hikes with him, or attended an evening program he gave, that wasn’t impressed with what he knew, and what he taught them.  He was a true naturalist, an interpreter of the Ozarks natural world as good as any I have ever seen.

       A few years later, we worked together as naturalists on the Buffalo River for the National Park Service.  After a few years of that Mike applied to be a conservation agent for the Missouri Department of Conservation, and was accepted.  There after weeks of training, Mike graduated at the head of that class.
       He worked as an agent for a few months, but for some reason Mike resigned and came back to Arkansas.  He won’t discuss the reason why, but I have a hunch he found out the job was not what he thought it would be.

       Back in Arkansas he went to work to achieve a master’s degree in wildlife management and became the state’s wild turkey biologist shortly afterward.  Funny thing about that, when Mike and I were young, there were lots more quail than turkeys.  One spring when we were working for the state park system, he and I floated the Big Piney River, where I grew up, and camped for several days on a gravel bar, fishing and hunting.  Mike killed his first wild gobbler during that trip.  There were many, many more to follow.

       I know that Mike learned an awful lot about wild turkeys in Arkansas, through a dedicated study of the birds in the wildest parts of the state.  He used small radio transmitters attached to wild turkeys captured with cannon nets, and tracked them all through the year.  Turkey hunters in the Ozarks of Arkansas say the numbers of wild gobblers have steadily increased over the years. 
       I think Mike had more to do with that than anything else.  He retired a few years ago and has turned his attention to bird-dogs and quail hunting, and thus, this book, which covers fifty years of learning and experience in the field.  I can’t wait to get it out to all those who are so disappointed in the demise and steady decline of the greatest of all game birds.  You are going to learn a lot about the bobwhite quail.

       Widner won’t pull any punches.  Like me, he is disappointed that the quail means so little to state conservation agencies.  We both have seen young biologists come into their jobs with no experience in the field, just the basic knowledge of the outdoors and wildlife gained from books and classrooms.  Trouble is, almost no one educated in natural sciences now are country people from any kind of rural background.  Today’s biologists and conservation leaders, born and raised in a suburban setting, may have never hunted, or spent even minimal time in the outdoors.

     I have seen the opportunity to bring quail hunting back to the Midwest through the knowledge and experience of people the conservation Departments ignore, and if you want to read all about, be sure to order my Fall issue of   The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal.  You will be amazed at the outstanding quail hunting I have found right here in Missouri, and how it can be enjoyed by anyone. 
       Mike Widner knows where to find the best of it, in parts of Kansas and Oklahoma, but he says that eastern Arkansas seems to be as close to old-time quail hunting as he has found anywhere.  But there is a way to bring the quail hunting experience back.  It will take money to do it, and the MDC has that money, if they will just use it for something to make better hunting for the common, ordinary people they have ignored in the past, the people who pay a tax on everything they buy to provide millions for the MDC to waste. 
       This state’s Conservation Department has become as corrupt as any state agency I have ever heard of.  They rape our public areas and get away with it because the large scale media is in the hip pocket of the agency.  They will not print the truth about what is going on. They help hide it!

       Each year, contract loggers take millions of board feet of lumber from the big trees on public owned land managed by the MDC , and fence rows and thickets and small game habitat are bulldozed so that the department can turn larger acreages over to tenant farmers, who give back thousands of dollars for the harvest of crops.
       Enforcement agents are becoming thugs, concerned with making targets of innocent people, and incompetent biologists flail away with something of a trial and error attitude.  I will have more about this in the next column and I hope you will look for that.

The answer to the first paragraph question is the indigo bunting. 
Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65612 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net   Call our office to acquire our summer magazine or any of my books… 417-777-5227.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Purpose For Little Fish


       A grandfather who has lots of grandkids can put them to a great advantage if he loves to fish for catfish.  That’s because you need lots of bait for trotlines and limb-lines, and small sunfish are just about the best bait you can get. And kids love to catch ‘em. My grandfather only had one grandson living close and it was me.  And you will never see a kid more enthused about seining creeks for chubs or catching sunfish on a willow pole. 
       By the time I was 12 I held the record for the most green sunfish caught by a grade-schooler in the whole Midwest.  We ate some of them… the ones that got up to 8 inches or so in length.  But grandpa didn’t want those, he was most interested in ‘black perch’ which is what he called green sunfish, about three or four inches long.

       If you don’t know what a black perch is you ought to be ashamed of yourself. How are you going to teach your grandkids anything important?? In the Ozarks, black perch (or green sunfish) are no doubt the most numerous fish in any waters; lakes, rivers or ponds.  They have a mouth like a bass, larger by far than that of a bluegill or long-ear sunfish.  At times in the spring and early summer they are beautiful in the oddity of their markings and colors.  And in the worst looking little muddy farm pond, when nothing else will survive there, green sunfish may outnumber the tadpoles!  Put three or four in there this spring and next year you may have a hundred.

      At such small waterholes on most every Ozark farm, they get way too populated, and therefore are stunted.  If you toss out a little hook and worm underneath a bobber, you can catch dozens of them, and grandpa and I thinned the crop of them in many a farm pond.  But of course, they were abundant in the deeper holes of small creeks, and that was more fun.  There was also more shade, and cooler, cleaner water to swim in after the bait bucket was full.

       But when the sun was setting over some Piney River ridge, and night came upon the Ozarks, the green sunfish fulfilled its most important purpose.  We used them as bait for the trotlines set in a deep eddy where big flathead catfish lurked.  It wasn’t that there weren’t other good trotline baits, small bluegill and long-ears, (punkinseeds) were also good, but you could see why they weren’t as good as black perch.  The latter lived longer in a bucket, acted up more when they were placed on a big trotline hook, and thumbed their nose at a fat hefty flathead, which made the whiskered fish madder’n heck, so grandpa said.

       Truthfully, horny-head chubs or small suckers up to a foot long, were grandpa’s favorite, but we never could get enough.  There were big minnows we knew as ‘doughguts’, which were excellent but you had to work hard with a seine to get them. As I grow older I realize why grandpa started preferring catching the black perch, it was hard work to man that twelve-foot seine.  You can’t seine bait alone.

So here we are at the best time of year for trotlining, and when I say trotlining, I am not talking about blue cat or channel cat, I am thinking about those forty- or fifty-pound flatheads.  Their spawning period, later in the year than most any other fish, is over, and they are hungry.  And while dead bait and cut-up bait and commercial baits will catch blues and channel cat, flathead turn their nose up at such offerings.  They want live bait! 
       So I am going to have to find a whole bunch of green sunfish.  I can get them from my own pond up here on Lightnin’ Ridge or at one or two stock ponds on my neighbors farm.   But the best way is to go out on the lake, take a little ultra-lite outfit or a long fly rod, and fish around the shallow rocky banks where green sunfish like to hang out.  You can wade out waist deep and drag a bait bucket behind you and fill it up in a hurry with punkinseeds, bluegill and green sunfish.  If the trotlines are set and ready, and the night is dark and maybe there is a little rain coming, that’s all you need to bring home a flathead catfish as long as your leg.

       I have found that in July and August, if a summer storm comes through and just adds a little water to a river, and adds a little color to it, the chances of catching a flathead on your trotline increase just about 43 percent.  In a lake, a summer storm may not affect it much, but it still will make flathead roam around more, increasing the likelihood of catching one by about 31 percent.  Those figures come from a lifetime of trotline fishing and the certainty that no one can say absolutely that they aren’t accurate.  I like to write things that sound really authoritative and no one can really dispute!!

       If there were more room here I would have more to say about trotline fishing and flathead catfish, but you could write a book on that.  It all starts with the little black perch, as grandpa always called them, and the fact that if you can fill a stock tank with about a hundred of the feisty little fish, you have a big jump on landing a catfish that you will want a picture of.

       I intend to do just that.  I have a tank six foot across and 30 inches deep and an aerator to keep the water fresh and I will eventually fill it with bait.  Then I will write a summer column telling all about the monster flathead I caught sometime soon.

       But what I need right now is a couple of somebody’s grandkids that would like to catch some sunfish with me.  Drop them off at my place and I will try to have them home in time for supper.
       You can call me if you want to get my summer magazine, as we have a few left over.  If you are a subscriber and haven’t gotten your copy yet, you should let us know.  In some places, they are delivered in about 3 days, but in Arkansas and Oklahoma it may be three weeks.  If your magazine goes through a large city in route to you, it may go home with someone who works for the U.S. Postal Service!  That is really costly for us because it costs nearly 3 dollars to mail out a magazine after that first shipment is sent.  The percentage though, of books and magazines we mail out that never arrive, is way too high.   Last month I mailed out 40 free books to a group of kids in Neosho Missouri, and the postage was just under 20 dollars.   They were lost en route, and the USPS says there is nothing they can do about it, even though they were suppose to have tracking ability on them, since they were sent via something called media mail.  I have learned over the years in my business that the main problem with the postal service is… they just don’t give a darn.

       Our office number is 417 777 5227.  Email me at lightninridge@windstream.net or write me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Advice for a Lunker Seeker

 In the middle of a dark summer night, another hefty brownie falls victim to a jitterbug.
       In this very column I am fixin’ to tell all you fishermen how to catch a five-pound smallmouth and three or four seven-pound largemouth on the same fishing trip, so if that interests you, keep reading.

       This is prompted by a phone call I got last spring. A fellow from a group calling itself ‘the smallmouth alliance’ called me recently and asked me if I was still guiding float fishermen on Ozark rivers.  I do that on a limited basis, and a friend of mine, Dennis Whiteside, guides river fishermen on a weekly basis, all over Missouri and Arkansas.

“I want to catch a smallmouth between four and five pounds, just once,” he said, “and I have been told you are the one who can help me do it.”

       Most readers know I come from a river family, and began guiding float fishermen who were mainly after smallmouth bass, when I was only 12 years old.  I was following in the footsteps of my grandfather, father and uncles on the Big Piney River.  Dad and Grandpa made the wooden johnboats and I put them to good use at a young age.

       On Ozarks streams in my lifetime I have caught lots of four-pound smallmouth.  In those years gone by I have only landed two bona-fide five-pound brownies myself, one from Crooked Creek in Arkansas and one from the Niangua.  They were just a couple ounces over five pounds.

I think I had one on the Kings River in Arkansas once that would have weighed five pounds that I released in the early 1980’s.

       But when I was about thirteen, I paddled Joe and Katy Richardson down the Big Piney, and in a long stretch of shaded swift water that local folks referred to as the Ink Stand, Mrs. Richardson hooked into biggest Ozark river smallmouth I have ever seen. We had no net but I got out in knee-deep water and got ahold of its lower lip. I don’t know which of the three of us was more excited.  That was the only bona-fide six-pound smallmouth I have ever seen taken from an Ozark river by rod and reel.

       Grandpa and I caught one nearly that large one late summer night at a place called the Peaked Rock eddy, on a trotline.  Completely against his nature, Grandpa talked me into letting it go, thinking it was bad luck to keep a bass on a trotline if you were after 30 or 40 pound flatheads.  Years later, I wrote an article about that night and the big smallmouth I released.  Outdoor Life magazine published it, in 1974 I think.

       But that doesn’t answer the question of how to catch a four to five pound brownie in the Ozarks.  It can be done, but the odds are against it.  Our rivers are a shell of what they were 30 or 40 years ago when I regularly saw big bass taken during the day.  Those deep holes are filled in so much, and fishing pressure is so great that four pound smallmouth, say in a river like the Niangua or Crooked Creek, are probably five percent or less of the number found in 1974.  I know… I was there!   I probably saw those rivers, floated and fished them,  before smallmouth alliance members or today’s fisheries biologists were born.

      But I am sure that this week or next, even into August, I can catch a five-pound smallmouth or a few seven-pound largemouth.  I would do it on some little isolated lake up in the Lake of the Woods area of Northwestern Ontario.  I would take my tent and fishing gear and camping supplies and have my friend Tinker Helseth, a bush pilot from Nestor Falls, fly me in to those places where there are no lodges and no cabins and no fishermen.  He has one such nameless lake where he flew a small boat in, strapped to his airplane’s pontoon.  One day on that lake a friend and I caught about fifty largemouth that were all less than 2 pounds.  That night in the darkness we fished with a jitterbug and caught lunkers one after another.  None exceeded seven pounds by much, because up there, largemouth bass don’t get any bigger than that.  In Canada, largemouth and smallmouth seldom thrive together in the same lakes.  Smallmouth, which are an introduced species, take over and crowd out the native largemouth.

       There are many more small wilderness lakes today where you can find the smallmouth, and likewise, in the heat of July and August you most likely won’t catch any really big ones.  But if you will pitch a tent on a windy, barren rock point where the mosquitoes get carried off on any breeze, you sleep until after sundown, then paddle along the shores fishing that jitterbug.  If you can handle that kind of fishing until first light, which comes a little after three a.m., you have a better than 50-50 chance to catch that five pound, or maybe six-pound smallmouth.  To tell the truth, I would give my left ear to be up there in early August.  My left ear is of little value, since my hair covers it anyway!

       You have to use strong line and a steel leader, because sometimes a 30- or 40-pound muskie will target your jitterbug.  That happened to my dad once when I took him to Canada on a night-fishing jitterbug outing.  He said that when the musky clobbered the jitterbug along the shore in the twilight, he thought briefly that Canada might have alligators!  Dad didn’t land that muskie but he did catch smallmouth bigger than any he had landed on the Big Piney.

       In my summer issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge outdoor magazine, you can read all about fishing the jitterbug in the Ozarks at night, but it isn’t easy to do unless you are an experienced ‘casting-gear’ angler. Forget doing that with spinning gear.  It takes an effort most of today’s fishermen won’t make.  There are lots of things to hang up on in the dark, and some snakes and bugs, etc.  And big smallmouth at night concentrate in a certain kind of water you have to know how to find.

       So I told the fellow who called, to get back to me in the dead of summer and we’d go to Canada and fulfill his dream, if he can handle the discomfort of it all, and the cost.  If not we will camp on an Ozark river gravel bar somewhere, fish all night and pray for a miracle!

You may call our office to get one of my books or the new magazine… 417-777=5227. Or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO. 65163.