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

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

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 write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at

Monday, July 14, 2014

First Float Trip

Alex, left and Ryan, right, learned many things on their first float trip.
Ryan proudly displays a smallmouth
Spud is looking for a new home...his previous owners moved and didn't have room for him

I believe this to be a grey shrew because I have seen many shorttails and none of them were such a light grey color, but grey shrews are not supposed to be found as far up in Missouri. They are usually found in Oklahoma and Arkansas. I could have known for sure by counting its teeth, but it wouldn’t open its mouth.

I took my grandsons on a float trip in search of hard fighting smallmouth bass, fishing a section of the Niangua River gained by private access where the canoe rental people do not operate, where we could have a little solitude and some good fishing.

It was their first long distance float trip, and we had to wait for it to quit raining before we could start. Ryan is eleven years old and Alex is eight. Casting lures is not their strong point, so I knew we would have a difficult time catching the wary and elusive brown bass, and perhaps an even greater difficulty in landing them after we hooked them.

My grandsons can do things on a computer that I don’t even want to learn. With modern technology, they are akin to Einstein. In the outdoors they are lost. But my grandfather taught me, and it seems that I am derelict in my duty as a grandfather if I do not teach them.

It is mind-boggling to realize that when I was Ryan’s age I was working alone in my dad’s pool hall, and paddling fishermen down the Big Piney River in a wooden johnboat on Saturdays making up to a couple of dollars a day.

I had some help. Their Aunt Christy, my middle daughter and a competent river runner, went along in a kayak to help. Most kayaks are not of much interest to me. But last year we traded advertising in my magazine for a twelve-foot Nucanoe kayak and I grudgingly admit it has surprised me. It won’t haul nearly as much as my 19 foot Grumman square-stern Canoe, or my 16 foot aluminum johnboat, but it is a great little craft for only one person, or perhaps one person and a kid.

I got some paint and camouflaged it after I got it, and though I hate that long double bladed paddle the beginners use, I kind of enjoy slipping along with one of my sassafras paddles, learning to use it on very shallow streams where my other boats are too large.

I knew the morning rain would likely slow down the fishing and it did. It slowed it down to a crawl. But I had forgotten that for two little boys on their first full-fledged float-fishing trip, it doesn’t take much of a fish, nor very many of them, to provide a lot of excitement.

It is best of course to give young anglers lighter tackle and topwater lures. With lures that go under the water, Alex would have lost forty or fifty. It was difficult enough retrieving lures cast over logs sticking up out of the water and limbs way up above the water.

But the boys had a great time, and caught some very small smallmouth and small largemouth, as opposed to the large largemouth and large smallmouth I hoped to see. And they swam, and had a picnic, and had a ball. We will go again soon, but I can tell you what we are going to do first… we are going to go out in the lawn and practice casting. I am talking about lots and lots of practice.

I have posted some photos of that float trip on my website that you might enjoy seeing, and you can view them on a website which editor Sondra Gray takes care of, if you do computer stuff. The place to see them, and some other interesting photos, is

Christy got a great shot or two of a little silky gray shrew, about the best shrew photos I have ever seen, and I have a picture on there of a beautiful male golden Labrador that needs a good home. Each week you can see new photos of the outdoors on that website.

I am worried about how the fishing has declined on that stretch of the Niangua. We floated past some people camping on the bank and two young boys in an old boat were running a trotline. They took two smallmouth off of it, about 13 or 14 inches long and they kept them. I wish somehow we could get people who fish our rivers to return the smallmouth, keeping other fish to eat.

One writer suggests it is local people that are causing the decline in fishing, and they certainly do their part. I once saw two Amish boys and one adult fishing on the Niangua that had kept a big stringer of smallmouth, some of them only 10 inches long, and none larger than 13 inches. But it is everyone, not just local people.

With the tremendous increase in fishing pressure along our rivers in the past ten years or so, we are just drubbing smallmouth to death as the deep holes fill in and water quality keeps declining. Leadership on saving smallmouth, which should come from our conservation department, is non-existent. Someday we had better protect smallmouth, or we won’t see any of the larger, more efficient brood stock left.

It is already obvious that the decline is significant. Twenty years ago on that stretch of the Niangua, it was nothing to catch smallmouth in the twenty-inch range. I once caught and released a five-pounder there, and I can recall catching or seeing caught, a dozen smallmouth in one year over four pounds. All were released. Now, they seem non-existent.

There is one way to know for sure if the big fish are declining as much as I think they are. A friend and I plan to go to a secluded spot where the habitat is good, camp on a gravel bar sometime in August when it gets really hot and the stream is at a low point in water flow, and fish with a jitterbug after dark below the shoals. If they are there, you will catch them that way, around midnight or one or two in the morning. My suspicions are that the big fish aren’t there any more. We’ll see.

I received a call from a landowner after I wrote the piece last week about “deer management.” He told me that saying landowners today manage the deer is far from accurate. “None of us manage deer any more than we ‘manage’ rabbits or squirrels. They are just there. We can control their numbers by allowing more hunting, but there has been no interest in managing deer in forty years. You do not need to.”

“I wish we had as many rabbits as we have deer,” he told me. “Deer are thick, and they are hammered every now and then in the late summer by the blue-tongue disease. None of us pay any attention to the four-point restriction, because we bring the deer back to the barn and then it goes into the freezer. If you have any poaching to report, good luck. You can’t even get them to call you back if you leave your number.”

He’s right. The deer on my place do not need my ‘management’. And believe me, chronic wasting, or mad-deer disease, won’t make a dent in populations. The deer will just live with the disease, as they are doing in other states. But in a few years, when it is widespread, I don’t think many of us will want to eat venison anymore.

Still, when you hear the MCD or any news media talk about the disease, make note that you will not hear about the meat and bone meal diet the deer ranch people have been using for years, which created the disease and continues it.

I saw a humorous letter in a newspaper from a deer-ranch supporter saying that there is far more of a problem with mad-deer disease in the wild deer and elk across America and they spread it to the raise-deer-for-money enclosures. That is the dumbest statement I have ever heard. The disease spread from Wisconsin into Illinois because a deer rancher saw the disease in his captive deer, and released them all into the wild.

You can write to me at P.O. Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at

Monday, July 7, 2014

Deer Management???

These does are kept in an enclosure, bred to produce big bucks. Almost all of them came from other states, and the owner boasted he paid $20,000 for one from OHIO.

Though a gruesome sight, this buck, left to rot with antlers removed, is a direct product of the MDC's "deer management". Depredation permits often result in exactly this type of occurrence. So does the four-point rule now in place.
 For the Missouri Department of Conservation, it is easy to get a great deal of positive publicity, and radio stations carry their ads talking about their “deer management” meetings around the state. I don’t know what that costs all of us who fund them through licenses and the sales tax they get from us.

The biologists and crews who brought back our deer worked for the Missouri Conservation Commission 60 or 70 years ago, and they did a great job. Most of them are gone and forgotten, and today’s biologists do not have to do a thing to “manage deer”.

Deer in Missouri are “managed” by landowners! The MDC does little to help deer and saying they do amounts to telling something with little truth in it. A few years back, they were approached by insurance companies alarmed by what they were losing paying out for deer-car crashes. The idea was, “We have to cut down the deer herd to eliminate some of the accidents”. It was never considered that the number of automobiles on the road had tripled in twenty years or so, more of a cause than the increase in deer numbers.

At any rate the MDC decided they needed to go along with the insurance companies and they began to issue all the doe tags anyone wanted to buy over a large area of the state. It cut down the population all right, way too much in some pockets of the state. That was “deer management” in their eyes, and it was senseless. Landowners at that time were the only real managers.

Some of them refused to allow the killing of all the deer hunters wanted to take. Others went along with it. So there were places where deer were plentiful and other places where they really dropped way down in number. Landowners are still the management specialists.

For years and years, deer-raising farms increased in Missouri for the purpose of raising and selling big antlered bucks. They brought in deer from various states where chronic wasting disease was known to be prevalent. Those pen-raised deer had been fed meat and bone by-products to create those big antlers in a way that helped advance the spread of the chronic wasting disease, or mad-deer disease.

There isn’t a doubt in the world that the disease was created in cattle, and eventually deer and elk, by feeding the animals meat by-products. Cattle and deer were not meat eaters, and it went against natural law.

Still, the MDC sat by and watched those out of state deer come in, and approved it. Today, chronic wasting disease has spread from those penned-deer facilities to our wild herd in north central Missouri, and there is no stopping it. It will eventually spread to all wild deer throughout the state.

Today’s deer management meetings are a result of MDC fears that many hunters will stop hunting deer, and it will cost them a great deal of money. The bottom line is… these meetings are an attempt to reassure everyone and keep them buying permits

What they do amounts to managing hunters and hunting in a way that maximizes what they make from the sale of deer tags. The idea of installing a rule that you can only shoot a buck with at least four-points on one side throughout most of the state comes from the idea that you can convince non-resident hunters they can find more ‘trophies’ as a result of it. That, they were sure, would bring about the eventual sale of many more non-resident tags as high as four or five hundred dollars each. More money!!!

That four-point rule is one of the most useless laws they ever put in place, and it turned lots of deer hunters into violators. It is hard to tell some farmer his grandkids can only shoot a buck the MDC approves of on land the farmer owns and manages. Thousands of hunters ignore it even today, as they should.

Another form of management comes with the regular issuance of ‘depredation permits’. I don’t know if there are records of who gets such permits or how many are issued each year, but I have been told by employees of the MDC that at times it is something done not so much as a result of deer damage but for those with “good connections” who want to get rid of some of the deer on their land.

If some large-scale landowner with those good connections claims deer are damaging his crops, or his fruit trees or whatever, he can acquire, free of charge, a large number of tags that he alone can give out to whomever he likes.

According to a hunter I talked with, the Joplin airport was issued a number of such tags to eliminate the danger of deer on the runways, and he boasted of a huge buck he had killed there. He told me he was one of a few selected hunters given the opportunity to hunt there by airport authorities.

The information I received from the employee of the MDC was that at times, those depredation permits are given out to one landowner by the dozens, and sometimes, large numbers of does and smaller bucks are killed and just dumped somewhere. There is no doubt that at times, depredation permits are needed, but in each case the situation should be looked at and evaluated. I am not sure today’s field biologists have the special knowledge to decide such things. It is too often a matter of politics.

Our deer population is sufficient, but there are big differences in those populations here and there around our state. Making a statement about the overall deer herd doesn’t take those differences into account. Trying to come up with numbers of deer in one county or another is pure silliness. There is no way to do that, but the MDC gains credibility with the news media by doing things of that sort.

I had to laugh when a media specialist a couple of years back in Springfield told the local television stations and newspaper that the Ozarks’ turkey reproduction was up one percent from the previous year. Think about that! No one had the slightest idea but landowners who watched the flocks. In truth, they were likely up by 25 percent or better at that time.

The news media in our state never questions those people, they just report what they say and keep any questions or criticisms quiet. That’s why, if you went to a “deer management” meeting, with a suggestion or an idea, no matter how valid it was, you wasted your time. Get ready to watch chronic wasting disease spread, as a result of the MDC’s ‘deer management’.

And notice this! Whenever chronic wasting disease is talked about, whether by the MDC or our news media, the unnatural meat-and-bone-meal food given to herbivorous deer to produce big antlers, is never discussed or even mentioned! It created that mad deer disease and continues, I suppose as part of “deer management”.

This column cannot be printed in Missouri’s larger newspapers, even in “Letters to the Editor” section. You will see no photos or articles casting the MDC in a bad light on Ozarks’ TV stations or in our largest newspaper. That huge bureaucracy, operating on a budget which has approached 200 million dollars, controls those media outlets. People need to think about that before they buy into everything the MDC wants them to know.

I went to a farm auction the other day and the owners were moving into town. They had a beautiful golden-colored Labrador male name Spud, which I brought him home with me. I’ve raised Labradors for forty years and I know good Labs. Spud is a good one, sweet tempered and calm. He needs a good country home where he won’t be penned up or chained as per his owner’s request.

Call us about getting information on the Journal of the Ozarks magazine or the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal we publish, and we will help you to get a copy. The office number is 417 777 5227. My email address is and the mailing address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613, and the website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Where the Fish Are

  Summer walleye are deep... fishermen have learned to troll special walleye rigs, or to fish vertically in the depths off of points or underwater humps

Hanging on with a mouthful, the little nuthatch thinks his belligerent 
show ran everyone else away from the feeder.
I spent a day down at Bull Shoals and Norfork Lakes last week, and I am astounded by how clear the water is. Bull Shoals had a turquoise look to it that I have never seen before, but I believe you could see a quarter on the bottom in 25 feet of water.

Both lakes have changed so much since my grandfather fished them for catfish, and my Uncle Norten guided bass-fishermen there in the early 1950’s. Today, both are walleye lakes, and Norfork is likely the best striper fishing in the Ozarks, though Beaver Lake would claim to be just as good.

I often tell beginning fishermen who want to learn how to fish for a particular species, or fish a particular lake, to find a good guide and spend the money to learn from them and catch fish at the same time. Right now, mid-day fishing on either lake would seem to me to be very tough. I am sure that most bass, crappie and walleye are very deep much of the day.

Walleye and crappie likely stay deep all the time, while bass move into shallower water for brief periods all summer long, and then begin to surface late in the summer as they gather and feed on schools of shad. Stripers and whites spend time in all levels of a lake during the summer, and you can have some unbelievable fishing in July and August on very calm days when they push shad to the surface in open water and may stay after them for an hour or so.

The reason a guide is worth every penny of his fee is because he is out there day after day and has learned all the tricks. On both lakes, there are guides who specialize. Bill Struthers has a business between Yellville and Peel, Arkansas, renting cabins and guiding for nothing but walleye on Bull Shoals Lake. With him, you will likely catch a limit of walleye even on bright summer days, but they will be deep, and his techniques may be different than anything you have ever done. He came from up north somewhere and spent years fishing for walleye in all kinds of waters.

Steve Oloman is a guide on Norfork Lake who guides for all species, but I think he likes fishing for bass and crappie better than anything else, while Tom Reynolds fishes Norfork for stripers and hybrids only. There are guides on both Stockton and Pomme de Terre who take out crappie fishermen at all times of the year, and they keep busy with crappie to a point they don’t guide much for anything else. On Truman Lake, there are several guides who guide only for catfish.

You wouldn’t have seen such specialization forty years ago, but I suppose it works. When it comes to the species they guide for, they really learn it all. We list a bunch of guides and resorts in my outdoor magazine each issue, so it isn’t hard to find someone you can learn from.
Still, there are great ways to fish in the summer if you can’t afford a guide. On Lake of the Ozarks, where boat docks decorate the shores by the thousands, crappie and bass like to hang in deep water under those docks. On most any clear lake like Bull Shoals and Norfork, I would bet you can still catch big bass just like they did in the old days, by fishing at night with a jig and eel or a big spinner bait.

The spinner is a great lure to fish off of bluffs where ledges stick out and bass hide beneath them. It doesn’t seem to work very well in the middle of the day, but at night if you drop a big jig and eel or a pulsating spinner bait slowly down over those ledges, you just might catch the biggest smallmouth or largemouth you have ever caught.

Late and early in the day, and during the night, fishermen have luck fishing for Kentucky bass out deep off the long rocky points, just by using live crayfish on just about any of our Ozark lakes. I think more fishermen who want walleye, catch them by trolling some kind of night crawler rigs along those points where there is deep water on either side. And don’t forget that as the first light of day comes to the lake, or the sun fades below the horizon, you still can catch bass back in those coves by fishing some kind of topwater lure. There are many you can use, but I like two especially… the large Rapala or Zara Spook. Next week I will talk a little about how to catch summer panfish.

Thirty years ago, on this perfect fishing morning, I would have been out in a Bull Shoals cove somewhere, casting a Zara Spook, trying to catch a big bass, or perhaps running a trotline, excited about the lunging power of a big flathead catfish.

This morning though, I sat out on my porch watching birds fight over a bird feeder. I am plumb ashamed of what I have become. There is a finch feeder, which holds food in a pair of long socks and it consumes much of my attention on an early summer morning. How can a red-necked, grizzled old Ozark outdoorsman like me wind up fascinated with a doggone finch-feeder? I don’t know what has happened to me.

Every morning, a whole family of goldfinches shows up to hang by their feet on those socks full of food. They get along quite well, the mother and father and three young ones, just hatched this spring as best I can tell. Then a little later there is strife and contention, as a family of tufted titmice show up. They are quarrelsome and belligerent, with a couple of them trying to hog the feeder and drive the others into the overhanging white oak limbs to wait.

Only one other bird uses the feeder, a little nuthatch. He comes alone, and gets his money’s worth at the buffet. A titmouse might chase him off, but he never goes far. This morning, he decided he was not going to be bullied or scared away any more. He came to hang upside down on the big limb from which the feeder is attached, and he put on quite a show. He hung there with his head pointed down at a ninety degree angle and spread his wings wide and slowly spun around in a circle, as threatening a pose as he could muster. I have seen him often, but never saw him try that. Anyhow, it did no good, as the other birds kept feeding and fussing with each other, ignoring him. He put on quite a show, and eventually had his turn. All that over thistle seeds!

The man who found the two newborn fawns beside a dead doe is Leon Wisdom from Bunker, Missouri. He and his wife took them and fed them and raised them to good health, then made the mistake of letting the state conservation agent know he had them. The agent came and took them and killed them. What kind of idiocy is it that makes the Conservation Department fear that those fawns might spread disease to the rest of the herd if they are raised and released? All that after they have allowed large numbers of diseased deer to come into our state, purchased by those people trying to raise record bucks on bone and meat meal food - which has brought Chronic Wasting Disease or ‘mad deer disease’ to our state. Now they are having get-togethers around the Ozarks to talk about ‘deer management’, which hasn’t existed for years. Next week, I will write about what “deer management” amounts to today and what they call “depredation permits.”

My website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors. My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. Email

Monday, June 23, 2014

An Afternoon Owl

Barred owls don't normally have much activity during daylight hours.  This one was just very lonely, I suppose.

The following three or four photos show what has happened to miles and miles of Missouri highways.  Notice the before and after shots. Why????

I have always been able to imitate a wide assortment of wild creatures, something I learned from my grandfather, who could just about duplicate the call of any bird or animal. I have called up a good number of wild turkeys by mouth. I never have really needed a turkey call. It is easy to call up bobwhite roosters from my porch in the summer time, pretty easy to get squirrels to bark at me by imitating the distress call of a young squirrel. Sometimes I can call in a buck deer in the fall by imitating a grunting buck, and at certain times of the winter, I can call in coyotes, foxes and occasionally a bobcat early and late in the day by imitating a dying rabbit.

Nothing is easier to imitate and call in than a barred owl or a screech owl, but it’s not so easy to attract a great horned owl. Last week I took my sister and brother-in-law and their grandson on a float trip, and about four in the afternoon a barred owl began to call from the woods away from the river. I answered him (or her) and in only minutes, the owl flew into a tree above us, hooting and laughing the way barred owls do. If you have spent much time in the woods at night, you know how two or three barred owls will get together and get all excited and begin that laughing sound they make.

Barred owls must be one of the dumber of our wild predators, as he sat there and looked down at me as the two of us had a hooting contest. Maybe he couldn’t see well in the daylight, but it is amazing that he couldn’t figure out the boat and its occupants had no resemblance to another owl. I took several photos as he sat there twenty feet above me, and you can see them on my website, given at the end of this column.

The river we floated is in sorry condition, so low that you have to pull over shoals I floated through easily twenty years ago. Only a few people know how bad things are getting on our rivers and how much worse they will get. I do not know when water will become a critical issue in the Ozarks, but it will. A different generation of people will perhaps not care when our rivers are creeks, and our creeks are dry beds. I don’t know that we will need wild places in the future but I thank God he let me live in a time when there were woods and waters and wild creatures.

When I was a young writer, about 21 or so, I wrote two or three articles about the Big Piney River, where I grew up fishing, trapping, hunting and guiding floaters. Outdoor Life magazine published them. Joel Vance, who worked as a writer for the Missouri Conservation Commission back then, wrote me a note that I still have. It read, “Kid, if the Big Piney River ever dries up, you won’t have anything to write about.”

Well Joel, I did find some other things to write about over the years, but your note was prophetic. The Big Piney has just about dried up on the upper half, and the Little Piney flows no water at all most of the year. I would estimate that the Big Piney is about 60 percent the stream it was in 1960, and there are many springs I drank from along the river as a kid that have no water at all, at any time of the year. I think probably 60 percent of those springs are now totally dry, and the number may be higher than that. The same is true of all Ozark streams, but only the oldest Ozarkians know it, because only they saw the time when the springs gushed cold, clean water.

People can stop arguing about global warming, as the argument makes little sense. It is the lack of water across our nation we should worry about. But then again, I doubt anything can be done about any environmental problem we face, as there are ever-increasing numbers of people, and the land will be needed to feed them, more than any thing else.

We will raise thousands more cattle, hogs, turkeys and chickens on the land than ever needed before, and our timber will be needed for more construction than we can envision today. We cannot see the future, and I am thinking it is a very good thing that we can’t, because we can’t do anything about what the world will be in a hundred years. The thing to do is enjoy what we have today and be thankful for it. And when I get to someplace where I feel like I am the only person for a hundred miles, it recharges me, chasing away the sadness I feel when I see it all being destroyed somewhere else.

The Southwest Electric Company sent me a very terse letter saying that they had entered a contract with the Asplundh Company and would be using chemicals beneath power lines on private land to kill plants. I went in and talked to them and I was told that if I preferred they didn’t use the chemical, they would refrain from doing so. If you do not want herbicides used on your land, you need to tell them. If they don’t hear from you, they will use it.

They tell you it is not dangerous or harmful, but any chemical can be, and herbicides have been known to cause health problems. Killing agents are made to kill. I told the folks at Southwest Electric since there is such a small amount of my land beneath their lines, if they would notify me as to what might be a problem for them, I would take care of it myself.

I wonder how many tens of thousands of dollars the Asplundh Company will make from this, paid for of course by those of us who watch our electric rates rise, so that chemical companies can perhaps sell a million gallons of herbicide to be used across the Ozarks.

I won’t be voting for the big tax increase the Missouri Department of Transportation, (MODOT) wants in order to finance great new projects. That’s because I have see thousands and thousands spent on something as stupid as cutting cedar thickets and trees and bushes and wildflowers off roadside banks that had absolutely no reason behind it.

You can see some of the ‘before and after’ photos I took of that practice along highway 13, where they even went high above the highway past rock bluffs to cut, burn and bare the roadside. It serves no purpose whatsoever. Some of the cutting and butchering they did was so far from the highway it was ridiculous. Now the beauty of the roadside trees and vegetation has given way to stumps and rocks. If they spend tens of thousands on such useless and detrimental projects, why try to convince us how hard up they are financially.
Missourians should be give an voice in making our highways uglier for absolutely no purpose other than spending more of our tax dollars. I would write them a letter, but I don’t think “Modot Cares!” What Modot cares about is ‘getting’ more money, not ‘using it wisely’.

I think there are thousands of Ozark folks who would like to see the ground on the other side of the mowed ditches put into wildflowers and flowering shrubs, and cedar thickets, and the hardwood trees which present no problem for any traveler, left to grow. State agencies get to a point where the people do not matter, except for providing money.

When you see such useless cutting and grinding of all vegetable matter far up the roadside banks, you wonder why the leadership of such agencies are wasting so much money on unnecessary projects. See the photos of all this on my website,

My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 and my email address is