Hot dang, I love February, all because of Valentines Day. Lots of our lady readers send me small boxes of chocolate candy! I say this hoping that you realize that a person can lie about one thing without really lying about everything else.
And I ain’t lyin’ when I say that the month of February can be a great month for fishermen. When the weather stays mild for a while and you have several days of warmth and warmer-than-usual nights, bass get very active and some of the best bass fishing I have ever enjoyed took place in the last three weeks of February. In addition, walleye begin their spawning run in February with the slightest warming.
A couple of years ago I went down to a small Ozark stream and there were two old timers sitting there with four lines out in the water, fishing a deep hole with night-crawlers. I sat down and started talking to them and found out they were fishing for suckers. They had four or five on a stringer and caught another one while I watched. They were the common yellow suckers between two and three pounds. Some of today’s fishermen wouldn’t know what to do with them, but they did. And anyone can catch them, with worms and patience.
“You can’t find a better fish to eat,” one of them told me. “But you can’t freeze them. You need to take ‘em home, scale ‘em, score ‘em and fry ‘em. We’re going to have a supper fit for a king tonight.”
He was right, but you have to know how to score a sucker and most people today don’t have any idea what that means. It is a matter of slicing the meat crossways all the way to the backbone but not through the spine, on both sides, so as to eliminate the presence of the fine bones found throughout the body. And when they are fried fresh in the winter, they are so good some fishermen would proclaim them the best tasting of all fish.
You need a few degrees’ change in water temperature in February to get some good response from fish. It is unlikely that you will see walleye and bass and crappie move toward shallow water when it happens, but they sure will become more active in the deeper water. That’s where you have to fish, and you have to do it slower than you do things as spring arrives.
I have had some great walleye fishing in February, up north where there are a great number of fish per acre. We caught them under the boat in deep water with jigs tipped with minnows, pulling the bait up off the bottom a couple of feet and dropping it again until suddenly the line would tighten and you knew you had a fish.
So I got the idea I could do that in one of the deep holes well up the Sac River as a warm week of February weather occurred several years ago. I worked that jig and minnow in a hole about 15 feet deep, a perfect spot for pre-spawn walleyes to gather. And finally, wham… I had one.
It was a dandy, and bigger than I ever dreamed might be there. He stayed deep and pulled line against my drag, bending that medium rod over like a reed in a strong wind. I was elated. This walleye was a monster! Except it wasn’t a walleye. After several minutes of playing the fish just perfectly I brought it to the surface. A darned drum, maybe 16 or 18 pounds. I think I ate him and pretended I was eating a walleye filet. I have to say that the meat of a drum isn’t bad; there just isn’t much of it. A drum has very white meat, but more body and head than meat.
Some of the best February fishing I have ever had was on the Gasconade River with an old boyhood friend of mine, Alvin Barton from Success, Mo. We caught smallmouth and largemouth all day in still, warm weather fit for light jacket, but not light tackle. The bass were active, but very deep. Maybe some of those big smallmouth we caught actually fought harder in February than they would in June.
If you are a hiker or a photographer, February may be the best month of the year, because the mountains of the Ozarks are shorter this time of year. What I mean is, the undergrowth is minimal and you can see so much farther. Every year I see a hundred photos of the places in the Ozarks where everyone goes. One of those places is the Hawk’s Bill Crag overlook on the Buffalo River and the falls at Lost Valley. If one picture has been taken there, there has been a thousand.
I spent twenty years exploring those Boston Mountains, Ozark Mountains and Ouachita Mountains and getting paid for it. I was reporting on remote natural areas in the state for the Arkansas Heritage Commission. I never followed any trail, unless it was a game trail. In February I found caves and waterfalls and natural bridges that few people had ever seen, miles from any roads.
When I would do the same thing in the summer I would get a better idea of the plant life, but you could walk right past a big cave or spring, or historical old home place without knowing it was there. I reached some of those most magnificent places via the rivers, and I could write a book on what I saw. I have old slides that show features I am sure no one ever photographed. On one occasion I stumbled across an active moonshine still! Try that if you are looking for adventure.
Let the masses travel those foot worn trails where a thousand feet have gone before them, but my advice to you, if you are healthy and active, is to go look for treasure in the hard-to-reach creek valleys and ridge tops and find pictures no one else has taken. Now is the time to do it, if you have good footwear and the knowledge of what you need to take with you to make your day enjoyable.
Leave your cell phone in your vehicle...it won’t work where I go. Of course we have fewer wilderness areas in the Missouri Ozarks, but again, if you want to see what is really there, get away from the easy trails that everyone sees and explore. And go slowly… do not get in a hurry.
The February-March issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal has been finished and printed. I hope you will find a copy, just to read our Common Sense Conservation section and the letters from our readers relating experiences that will surprise you.
Remember that you will have to look hard on some newsstands to find it, as we have a well-organized attempt by some people to turn it around and hide it behind other magazines. There are those, I suppose, who do not like what we print about the Missouri Department of Conservation. If you can’t find it, just call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, who recently got a raise and has promised to work harder. Our office number is 417 777 5227.
And remember that if you want a table at our big outdoorsman’s swap meet, you had better let me know soon. By March, I expect all of our tables to be spoken for.
To see some of the photos I took years ago back in the Arkansas mountains, visit my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com
Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or send those boxes of chocolate candy to that same address. Or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org