Thursday, August 6, 2020



          After months of having no distributor for our magazine, The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, we now have obtained a way to put the magazine back on the news-stands in major stores.  But the best way to get the new Fall Issue we are publishing, is to call our office at 417-777-5227 and receive it via credit card, or send a check for six dollars to LROJ, Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.  You can subscribe to the next 3 issues for $18 if you wish.  The fall magazine has some great reading, 96 full color pages.  It is good to know our magazine has a future again, hope you are a part of it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Finland's Best

         If I had to pick a half-dozen lures to take with me all the time no matter where I intended to fish, one of them would no doubt be the celebrated floating Rapala. While we were in Canada a few summers ago, my wife lost one of my Rapalas to a hungry smallmouth, which came up from deep water to engulf it only a few feet from the boat. The drag was set properly, but when there’s only a few feet of line out, the drag doesn’t always keep a four- pound fish from breaking a four-pound line.

         She said that she would get me another one for my birthday but I don’t know if I came out ahead that way. If she hadn’t lost that lure, I could have got one for my birthday and then had two! Believe me, you can’t have too many Rapalas. These are unique lures that have never gone through the rise and fall that most lures have experienced. They have never stopped appealing to fish and fisherman alike.

         There’s quite a story behind the Rapala. And by the way it is not pronounced like most of us pronounce it.  The lure was first made in Finland by a man named Lauri Rapala back in the 1950s.  Say Rapala, like you would say ‘spatula’.  Believe me, no one likes to have his name mispronounced… no one knows that better than me, with a name having a long ‘a’ pronounced almost always incorrectly, with a short ‘a’.

         Lauri Rapala’s whole family worked to make the lures, each one handmade and tested in a tank before it was sold. There was a small clothing store in Duluth, Minnesota whose owner was the Minnesota Finnish Consul, and he brought in several of the lures to sell. In 1959, a Minneapolis fisherman named Ron Weber went through on his way to Canada for a fishing trip and he bought several of them. He was amazed at the way fish engulfed them, and when he got back to Minnesota, he ordered 500 from Lauri Rapala. He then started the ‘Normark’ Corporation here in the U.S. just to import and sell the new lure. But Lauri Rapala didn’t mass produce the lure, and in the early days, there just weren’t enough to meet the demand. “There are so many of you,” Rapala told Weber, “and so few of us.”

         My uncle Norten was guiding on Norfork Lake in the '60s when the first Rapalas were seen there. He told me that some docks acquired a few and refused to sell them because they could make so much renting them on a daily basis. The lures were rented to customers who paid a deposit of ten dollars in addition to the rental cost of five dollars per day.  If you lost the lure, you didn’t get the deposit back, and ten bucks was a lot of money back then.

         The casting reels back in the fifties and early sixties were filled with braided nylon and most of them were old Shakespeare and Pflueger casting reels, incapable of casting any light lures. So there were few small lures used, you wanted the big ones, about ten inches long.  One of my uncle’s clients could only throw the Rapala 15 or 20 feet, so he would back-paddle away from the lure while the angler would play out the line until they were a good distance from the lure.

         Then the fisherman would wiggle and dart the lure slowly across the surface, and the bass would go after it as if they hadn’t eaten for a week. Eventually, everyone copied the Rapala, and today you’ll find imitation floating minnows from two inches to twelve inches, used for everything from bluegill to muskies. The Rebel Lure company has long made a very good Rapala imitation, but when you are using a true Rapala, you are using a lure that just can’t quite be equaled. And I don’t know any species of fish that can’t be taken on a Rapala of one size or another, either a floater or a deep-running version. And they make a pretty good birthday gift for avid fishermen!

         I go over to the nearby lake in the summer with a little switch of a rod, light line and a small Rapala lure, and walk along the bank, or run my boat along just fifteen feet or so out away from it, and catch a tubful of small green sunfish and other panfish to use for summer trotlines.  The catching of a freezerful of catfish filets starts with that little short Rapala.

         But on any Ozark river, above or below a swift flowing shoal the last two or three hours of the day, an ultra-lite spinning reel with four pound line, and a four-inch silver Rapala will catch Kentucky and smallmouth bass one right after another.  Most aren’t really large, but two pounders aren’t rare.  And every now and then, standing out waist deep in that cool current, you hook a bass that makes you think you might not get that Rapala back. In such a case, I wouldn’t even think of letting Gloria Jean use one.

Please  visit my website,, and write me at box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email

Thursday, July 23, 2020

How not to be a Victim

Larry Dablemont column  July 20, 2020      
       About three years ago I sat in the Jefferson City offices of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Enforcement Chief Larry Yamnitz. Missouri citizens need to know his direct words to me. “No conservation agent can enter your home, barn, shed or vehicle without a search warrant. They can only do so if you give them permission.”

       I printed what he said. Some of my newspapers would not print that story. I do not know why so many people believe otherwise. I got two letters this week from Missourians who made the mistake of greeting a ‘game warden’ at their doors and allowing them to come in. One was told by an agent that he was following up on a tip he got over facebook. When the ‘tip’ didn’t pan out, the agent noticed a rattlesnake skin on the resident’s wall. He decided that since there was no proof he bought it in another state, it was illegal, and he confiscated it and wrote the guy a citation. Because he let the agent in, he wound up paying a $200 fine. If he had refused to let him enter, since there was no warrant, he would have saved his rattlesnake skin and $200.

       Yes, he is mad enough to bite nails, and yes he could have hired a lawyer and had the case thrown out.  But what every agent knows is that few people will hire a lawyer for $500 dollars and spend much of a day in court to save $200.  And so they come to your door with a smile and say, “Would it be okay if I come in and talk to you about something?”

       That happened to a young man with a family in northern Missouri two years ago by the name of Henshall.  The friendly agents confiscated five deer heads he had killed on his land on technicalities. Basically he couldn’t prove he wasn’t guilty… and if you open your doors to agents whom judges won’t give a search warrant, you won’t be able to prove you aren’t either.  YOU NEED TO SPREAD THAT WORD! DON’T LET THEM IN!

       My new book, “The Truth About the Missouri Department of Conservation, will be published this year, about 10,000 copies given away to Missourians free of charge. No one can accuse me of making money from it. It contains the stories of hundreds of outdoorsmen treated in such a way, many of them opening their doors to agents who should have been turned away or having their barns or vehicles searched illegally. The latest story involves a lady by the name of Sally Denton, who found 3 baby raccoons and called a licensed wildlife rehabilitator named Leann Tapscott who lived four hours away. She headed for the woman’s home. An agent by the name of Alex Walker who had been on the job for only nine months, found out about the baby coons, and got there first.  He took them out in Ms. Denton’s front lawn and shot them in the head.  Ms. Tapscott heard the gunshots as she was driving to Ms. Denton’s home. Now because of all this, Ms. Tapscott is in danger of losing her wildlife rehabilitators license which the MDC controls exclusively.

       Larry Yamnitz has retired. The man did a good job and tried to change things, but many agents beneath him ignored his directions. His replacement is nothing like him.  What is coming in MDC enforcement involves a complete loss of rights of every citizen. I never dreamed it could get this bad, with agents violating rights, breaking laws and dealing in stolen ‘confiscated’ goods. Even losing a one million dollar lawsuit filed against a pair of agents has not changed the MDC.

       Yes, they paid out a million dollars and the two agents still work for them.  One has been promoted.

       As an ex-agent recently told me in a letter to be published in my upcoming book, “There are many men and women working as agents today who should never be given a badge and gun… I know, I have worked with them”.  The book contains stories from many old time conservation agents and other employees.  I cannot wait to publish what ex-agent Rick Vance has told me, what long-time employee Ed Webb did to fight them.  But that book, like this column, cannot be mentioned in many newspapers, because publishers actually fear what the MDC can do to them financially.  I don’t, despite the threats I am receiving. That book will tell the stories of many who have been targeted and victimized.  If you open your door to a friendly smiling agent who does not have a search warrant, you are going to be one of them.

        If you do get to read this somewhere, ask yourself why it cannot even be printed as a ‘letter to the editor’ in many publications, much less as an independent column I give away.

Read more on my blogspot, larrydablemontoutdoors or my website,  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at


 Larry Dablemont column   7-18-20        

         Most reservoir bass fishermen fish deep in the summer, trying to lure a lunker by bouncing jigs over ledges and rocks.  But if you want to fish a topwater lure, there are places and ways to do it even in the heat of the summer.  It's easiest when you can concentrate your efforts toward those waters where bass can be found in 6 or 8 feet of water or less.

         In large lakes, where low oxygen levels and water temperatures force bass deep, you'll be wasting your time fishing topwater lures, unless you find schools of bass herding shad to the surface, or fish before sunrise or after sunset.   Some lakes have a lot of schooling bass activity during the heat of the summer, but they are usually not very large fish, and they don't stay on top very long.   Often, bass are found in tributaries leading into the lakes, where there is inflowing cooler water, and higher oxygen levels. To get up into those tributaries, and fish some fairly small holes, you may need a boat and motor you can pull over a shoal every now and then. Some of the holes are deep and clear, but after dark in the mid to late summer, bass in those waters become very aggressive.

         Smaller, shallower lakes hold bass which are entirely different in habit that those in big deep Ozark lakes.  A private lake large enough to launch a small boat can provide great topwater fishing at night, especially if it is spring fed.

         But perhaps the best topwater fishing is found on Ozark rivers which become fairly clear in the summer and yet maintain some current; and that includes rivers like the Spring, the Elk, and even Shoal Creek. I've caught bass after dark in dozens of small streams, and there's one topwater lure that I have caught more largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky bass with than all others ......... the jitterbug.  Jitterbugs are easy to fish, you crank them back with a slow, steady retrieve producing that bloop~bloop~bloop action on top. When bass hit them after dark, you hear it, then feel it.

         Two years ago in late summer, a friend and I flew into a small Ontario lake and camped for one night to see if Canadian bass would hit a jitterbug. In that area, largemouth peak at just a little under seven pounds. We found that they were suckers for a jitterbug, even before it got dark. The first bass, about 4 pounds, engulfed a jitterbug at 7:30 p.m.  It didn't get dark until about 11 pm., but when it did, the action just got hotter. We caught dozens and dozens of bass on topwater lures, and almost all ranged from three pounds up to six.  Big bass continued to nail the jitterbugs until 8:00 the next morning.

         In most large Ozark reservoirs  in late summer white bass or stripers will begin surfacing chasing shad and provide great topwater fishing.  You can find them on days when the water is calm and shad are massing.  They go on summer feeding frenzies and push shad to the surface on and off for hours at a time. Anglers who find this happening need to have lures they can cast for distance, because you can spook these fish with a wake or motor trying to get close.  When you find surfacing summer fish, whether its blacks, whites or stripers, you may find enough action to make your arms tired. But it should be pointed out that it takes more luck than knowledge to find them at times.

         One of the best topwater lures for deeper water, or for surfacing blacks, whites or stripers, is the Zara spook. It's a fairly old lure and it isn't  easy to use. But a Zara spook is large and easy to cast.  It is most effective for bass when it is slowly jiggled and walked, to cover as little distance as possible with the greatest amount of disturbance on the surface. Anyone can learn to use the lure with some work, but spook-fishing can indeed get into some work.

      You may have some topwater lure in your tackle box that will produce great results in a certain body of water at a certain time. The only way to find out is to go out and try it.  There are few methods of fishing that are easier to do than topwater fishing.  But sometimes the best time to fish a topwater lure is when it is the hardest to night.

My website, is up and going… check it out.  You can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 OR email me at

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The shirt off my back

I still have this shirt, acquired when I was in college at the age of seventeen, and nobody can have it!

         Down at the pool hall when I was a kid I heard some front bench regulars talking about the funeral they had went to. They said of the fellow being laid to rest that he was a guy who would give you the shirt off his back.  I thought about how I would like to think they will say that about me at my funeral, if I was lucky enough to have one---  Some kid who lived the life I lived on the river could never be sure of that.  But I thought how great it would be if I was referred to as “A kid who would give someone the shirt off his back.”  And what do you think happened to me a week or so later when I was down on the river baitin’ my trotline?  Here came two fellows in a canoe and the one in the back had no shirt on.  He was getting sunburnt something terrible and it came to me than that the Good Lord had given me the chance to do something of significance maybe for the first time in my life, and I could tell the old-timers at the pool hall what I had done.

         It isn’t that I am selfish or vain… I never have been neither.  I recently pointed out to a friend of mine that today I give away lots of fish to elderly folks I know on a regular basis.  But he pointed out that I don’t like to eat fish, and asked how many times I had given away a wild mallard, or a wild turkey or a batch of mushrooms.  He had me there… I have always been a bad one to put a dime in the offering plate when I had a couple of quarters in my pocket.  Well that’s the way it was when I was a kid anyway and had some quarters.

         “Fellers” I said to that shirtless canoeist as they pulled into a nearby gravel bar long ago, “ You are obviously in need of some good sunburn lotion or a good shirt.” With that I just pulled off my shirt to give it to him.  It was one that had a Houston Tigers logo on it. I guess it was a little faded, but for cryin’ out loud there weren’t no holes in it as I remember. It was one of my favorites!

         He thanked me for the offer and told me I could keep my shirt… said he had his own shirt in the canoe, but just wanted to get a suntan. He added that mine looked a little small.  That was back when I hadn’t got very muscular yet.  They went on down the river, and I muttered under my breath that I hoped they didn’t catch one good fish the whole day. I felt guilty about that afterwards. I don’t know if it will ever be said of me, “ol’ dablemont would give a feller the shirt off his back”! I have often looked for that opportunity but never had the chance to do it.

         But I would do that if the opportunity arose, and I think it should be noted as something I would like to have said of me at some kind of memorial service by someone who isn’t a relative.  It might be a stretch to figure someone would be there who ISN’T a close relative of mine.  But it doesn’t matter.  I know, and the Good Lord knows that I’d give most any shirt I have to someone who didn’t have one... Except for the one my daughters gave me a couple of years back for fathers day.  That one doesn’t have a stain on it.

         Thought maybe some of you readers might enjoy this little poem I wrote the other day when I sat on my screened porch and began to sweat for the first time this year and recognized that the spring of 2020 is now a thing of the past…

I was glad to see the spring come, I hoped it would last awhile.
The hatching birds and flowers, always makes me smile.
The breeze is warm, the fish will bite, and wildlife will be lively.
But then before you turn around, summer will arrive.
And there’ll be snakes and ticks and heat, that hangs on like the plague.  “Cause spring’s a fleeting young beauty, and summer’s a mean old hag.

Remember that if you need to send me a letter the address is Box 22, Bolivar, mo 65613 or email me at  My new website is just 

Big Bullfrogs, Bright Lights

         I remember catching frogs from the river when I was only about 13 or 14 years old.  We used carbide headlamps like miners used, with polished globes.  My goodness, there are lights today that bullfrogs in the past would not believe.  And that’s what you have to have to catch a bullfrog by hand.  Blind him, and a bullfrog don’t know which way to jump, so you can just reach down and grab him.  But you can’t be indecisive about it.  You have to grab a bullfrog like you might go after a drifting hundred-dollar bill on a windy day. Many things shine in the light at night along our waterways, the eyes of spiders and insects, sparkling rocks, and other amphibians and reptiles, but when you learn what a set of bullfrog eyes look like, you have little doubt when you see a pair of them.  A big bullfrog's eyes looks a little like the headlights on a Model T Ford.

         Once you have him, the best thing to do is put him in a wet cloth sack... burlap feed bags were best but today they are hard to find. The men who once scoured the rivers and creeks at night, catching bullfrogs by hand as they traveled along either wading or boating, were true outdoorsmen and today they are really rare too, like burlap bags.  They came from a different time and training.

         Most of today’s froggers gig them, and that's a great deal easier perhaps.  You don't have to get into the weeds or get nearly as close.  But if you gig frogs, you need to know which ones are too small just at a distant glance, because you can't cull them.  A gigged frog will die in time.  The bigger the frog, the better the eating, and that's what most froggers are after.  Frogging may not be the greatest of sport; there are perhaps things to do that are more fun.  But frogs are as good to eat as anything!

         There are few people who do not relish fried frog legs.  A big bullfrog in Ozark waters may reach a length of 15 to 18 inches with their legs stretched out.  A twelve-inch frog isn't big enough for most, he isn't really a keeper.  Taking one of them home is like keeping a six-inch bass!  On a big bullfrog, you will find quite a bit of meat on the back and the front legs as well as the back legs, so skin the whole frog and fry all of it.  Cut off the head, cut off the feet, and then it will skin easily.  Remove the entrails and cut the sheath of nerve fibers in the inside of the small of the back.  If those are not cut, the frog will jump and twitch in the pan when you fry it, and it looks as if he is still alive.

         Frog meat is very white and firm, with a flavor all its own.  Frogs are very clean creatures, actually, though the water you find them in may look a little bit bad due to modern day pollution and algae growth.  If it gets too polluted, you won't find the frogs, and that's why so often you hear froggers say, "There aren't any frogs anymore!"  What they should be saying is, "There's not much clean water anymore."

         Bullfrogs eat lots of insects, and they do nail them with a long tongue.  That's why during the day you can dangle a hook in front of one with a little white or red yarn on it and they'll nail it.  Years ago when ponds had lots of bullfrogs and clean water, farm kids caught frogs during the day in such a manner.  But bullfrogs eat a lot of things, including smaller frogs, small snakes, worms, small fish and of course their very favorite food, the crawfish (crawdads).

         The bullfrog is highly favored by mink and coons and otters and bigger snakes as well, so they have to watch for lots of enemies, but only one enemy wears a headlamp!  One of his greatest predators is the great blue heron, and they are at incredibly high numbers right now in the Ozark waters.  There are too many of them, more every year. That has a lot to do with why there are fewer bullfrogs right now in small streams and lakes where there once were so many.  But froggers have a lot to do with that as well, as does the degradation of our rivers, increasingly tainted with herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer and becoming choked with algae.   Some ponds which were clean enough to swim in 40 years ago are now covered with slime.

         You'll find bullfrogs in future summers where you find plenty of big bullfrog tadpoles this summer.  And any place where there are bullfrogs, you'll find a few froggers in July.  And that's because you can't find anything much better to eat than a bullfrog.

         Please go see my website, and if you want to write to me, the address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. E-mail address is

Saturday, July 4, 2020

A Bait Dealer's Delight

The benefits of a healthy cricket on a hook...

       I have a bait box in my basement that is made for crickets.  Personally, I never used crickets, I always had minnows and night-crawlers and crayfish for most of my serious fishing as a kid.  On one occasion, I used a big grasshopper on my Uncle Roy's farm pond.  My cousin Butch and I had a pair of old cane poles, and I took the lead weight off the line and hooked the grasshopper so he would float and kick.  A big old hefty bass, (which was only about two pounds...but back in my youth, that was a dandy) came up and nailed it.  That was an exciting day.

      But I never did use a cricket, not even once that I can think of.  Bluegill fishermen swear by them though, and if I remember right I have seen bait shops with large containers just filled with crickets, and they were selling them for a respectable price.  I bring this up because all of a sudden, here on Lightnin' Ridge, there are crickets everywhere in my sheds and even in my basement.  If they are indeed good bait, and someone would buy them, I may get rich!

       There are black ones and brown ones, small ones and big ones, and I'll sell a dozen for a quarter, obo.  Obo means I'll take any respectable offer, but I'd like to have a quarter a dozen.  It sort of reminds me of the time my dad sold my old 1950 Ford when I was a kid still too young to drive.  He told the guy who came to look at it that he was asking $100 dollars for the car but he would take $50.  I always wondered why he didn't just say it was $50 dollars and be done with it, but Dad said it was the way you conducted financial made someone think they were getting a better buy than you wanted to give them. 

       So although I want a quarter per dozen for my crickets, if you'll come into the basement and help catch them, I will sell them to you for your best offer.  It is really hard to get them out from underneath my pool table. If you are a bait shop owner, and will promise to catch a hundred or more, I will pay you a quarter to come here and help me catch them, then we'll work the rest out on a commission basis.

       I notice that it is really hard to step on a cricket. I guess crickets have especially well-developed reflexes, because they are very good at jumping when your foot is only a few inches above one.  I realize what I must have looked like, trying to stomp several crickets at once which were faster than I was. Rap stars may have gotten started in cricket-infested neighborhoods.
     On a more serious note, in a recent column I asked the Corps of Engineers to respond to a problem about seeing fish entrails and carcasses all over a popular launching ramp known as Fairfield on Truman Lake. I did so after I saw a man get out of his pickup as he launched his boat, slip on a slimy clump of fish entrails and fall hard on the concrete. The Corps didn’t much like me writing about it… they never contacted me at all even though I asked them too.  I wanted to get their side of things, as they apparently feel that dumping of fish carcasses at a launching ramp is not something they are obligated to do anything about. Three different people who live in the area responded pretty much the same.  They told me about a very efficient fish-cleaning station at a big recreational vehicle operation and store a half-mile away where local R.V. owners and other area fishermen leave carcasses and entrails in a big tub.

       The man whom I saw emptying the tub at the launching ramp said the campground owner sent him there each evening to do it.  The Corps went to him and asked him about it and he said he had nothing to do with it.  Of course when I asked others, they said he did.  I guess the Corps Ranger who looked into it didn’t ask anyone else.  But the official word from them is that the campground and storeowner has nothing to do with the problem.  Anyhow, I am pleased to announce that I used that ramp a few days ago and there were no carcasses or entrails to be seen anywhere.

       Apparently the situation is this:  It is against the rules on Truman lake to dump live alligators, cottonmouths, dead dogs or cats, human bodies, household garbage or junk vehicles at the ramp.  But as for fish entrails and carcasses it is questionable.  If you get out of a vehicle to launch your boat and fall because the ramp is a little slick with dead fish, that is your problem.  You need to be more careful.  If I ever get any Corps people to talk with me, I will give their side of the story.

An Old, Old Knife

         I try to always do the right thing. But it hasn’t always been that way.  I stole a candy bar once when I was five or six years old, but nothing since!  Grandma and Grandpa McNew would go into town on Saturday morning and I would tag around after my grandmother when she went from store to store doing her weekly shopping.  At the dime store I would always spend the nickel she gave me on a candy bar of some sort.  It would take a good ten minutes to decide which one I wanted and then on the way back to the farm I always, ALWAYS, wished I had got one of the other ones, instead of what I got.  So that one time I just put a candy bar in my pocket and paid for second one, just in case I decided later I had picked the wrong one.

         Grandma found out what I had done, and she made me feel like I was awful by explaining the results of being a thief, how it might make God mad at me and lead to a life of depravity.

         I did not however, steal that knife which is the subject of this column.  It was a beauty once, with the head of a bugling elk carved in the bone handle and really good steel, about 10-inches long.  When I was 19, Dad gave it to me; said he had found it in his old garage where we always cleaned fish and game.

         It was in the early summer, so I figured it was perhaps left in my johnboat by some of the city folks I had taken on weekend float trips that spring. In my lifetime I have lost maybe 30 or 40 different knives.  But that one I did not lose. I likely misplaced it a time or two but always refound it.

         Back in April it was laying on my fish and game cleaning table in the basement when Dennis Whiteside, my old friend I have known since I was in college at M.U., saw it and said he had one like it when he was just a teenager. Later it came to me that before Dad had found it, Dennis and I had floated the Big Piney during the winter hunting ducks.  The knife almost surely was his, so the next time I saw him I gave it back to him, a knife now old and tarnished, back in the hands of its original owner.

         But I did it with regret.  That knife had been with me a long, long time.  It was one of very few I hadn’t lost somewhere along the line and it crossed my mind that I should just keep it.  But then my grandmother’s words came back to me… a life of depravity and God frowning on my selfishness.   So Dennis took the knife home with him, and there I was, sort of semi-knifeless, though in truth I have many others.  They aren’t old antique treasures as that one was.

         Then came the miracle, although a little one, I must admit… the proof to me that the great Creator approved of what I had done.  I took my daughter Christy fishing down on the river only a few days later and there in the mud was a beautiful 10-inch knife with a blade of fine steel, one that someone surely regretted losing, and one that I will regret losing when I do, sooner or later.  Then later in the day we stopped to fish from a gravel bar, and I found another knife made of stone, likely left there by some Ozark bluff-dweller who was using it to clean fish, or perhaps skin a muskrat or raccoon. 

         I thanked God again, because when I am in the woods, or on the river, I do that often.  I owe Him thanks because of all the complaining and griping I do in his presence when I lose a big fish or trip over a submerged rock and go sprawling headlong into the stream, or when I get a fishing lure hung in my ear, or my line gets all twisted.   If you are an outdoorsman, you know what I am talking about. I could go on and on because the bad things I endure makes up a long list.  I always feel like God could help, but don’t.  At times, He may even laugh a little at what is going on.  When He does help, or when I just feel like I could explode with the happiness created by the wonderful outdoor life He has given me, I thank Him. 

         If I knew who lost that modern knife I would return it.  And some might have a hard time understanding this but I would almost trade every knife I have ever owned if I could meet, on that same river gravel bar, the human being that made the latter one, hundreds or perhaps thousands of years ago.  Since we are now sort of connected by that river-worn stone utensil, who knows, some day I might.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Canadian cabin with 1985 note from Sam Walton

 sam lived only a few miles from me in north AR in the late 70's and one day i hunted quail with him and old roy, the setter. It wasn't a very good day as far as finding quail, and he didn't say a whole lot. But he impressed me as a common sense person. If he knew what his store was to become, i don't know that he would be happy about lots of it. if he were in charge, there would be changes made at walmart. 
this is a little cabin where i go in canada... the old cabinet has notes left from long ago...these two guys were there in 1985...sounds like Sam was anxious to get home. it is hard to believe believe, but 

Saturday, June 27, 2020


Dennis Whiteside with hard-fighting smallmouth

      We first fished together fifty-some years ago, when we were teenagers in college.  He was from the Current River country around Doniphan, and I had never been far from the Big Piney.  Today Dennis Whiteside is becoming a very popular guide for those who want to float the rivers of the Ozarks to fish for smallmouth or just see the streams before they are only a shadow of what they were.  I still guide a little on Ozark rivers too, but not nearly as often as he does.

      We spent a day on the river a few years back when I did something I had never done… I sat in the front of a canoe made out of something like plastic, or Kevlar or some such nonsense.  We floated not far from you, and the fishing was poor...until about 11:00 a.m. and then it got very good.

      The price we had to pay for such memorable fishing was something lots of folks won't pay nowadays.... we had to endure some mid-day heat that was pretty intense. But despite the heat, there are deeper holes in that river which have hungry bass, and we found them. 
      There was one spot where we left the canoe and I cast below a flowing chute into a deep pool with an old-time black Heddon tadpoly.  I was using a spinning outfit with six pound line, and I felt a strike... missed him somehow.  On the third or fourth cast, something solid nailed it, and I set the hook hard.  I felt the fish lunge deep, and cross the current.  I leaned back on him a little too strong and he snapped the line, taking my tadpoly with him.

      Because I was doing so much moaning about losing the old lure, Dennis came up with the crawdad-looking jig and told me how much luck he had been having with it.   I tied it on my casting reel, with 12-pound line, and began to catch fish on almost every other cast.  Some weren't so big, but some were, and I sat up in front of his canoe and had a ball.

      I am seldom in the front of a canoe or johnboat.  I kidded Dennis about how, when we were young, I taught him how to paddle.  But some people figure it out easily and teach themselves, and they become experts at running any river.  With the days and days that Dennis spends all over the Ozarks on many, many rivers, with paying clients he's about as good as you can get.

      He wanted me to go along that day in that 18-foot, plastic canoe.  He said that it would float shallow, and slide over shoals that an aluminum craft would not easily navigate, something like the old wooden johnboats once did.  It is a far different canoe than the narrow, unstable 17-foot canoes so common on our streams today.  Whiteside's 18-footer is much wider and more stable.  It has no keel, and while that makes it float shallow water a little better, Dennis says that makes it difficult to hold in a wind, less capable of holding a true course because of the absence of the keel.

      From that first experience I had in his canoe, I figure there will be no metal river-floating crafts made in future years, they'll all be made out of plastic.  I would love to see some small river paddle johnboats made out of the stuff, to see how they'd do.  Or, if the companies just knew to put two small plastic keels along the bottom, and square off the stern, they could make an 18-foot canoe that would be great for serious fishermen and rivermen like Dennis and I who want to carry camping gear, camera's etc, and want stability over all else.

           Two days later we floated a long, long, 10-mile stretch of river in my 19-foot square-sterned Grumman and I did the paddling. At the end of the day, I had landed one 20-inch smallmouth and a dozen between 15 and 18-inches.  The fishing was great, but we worked hard for it, and had to paddle through much of the water just to get there by dark.

      The big smallmouth, long but much too slender, was probably short of four pounds, but not by much.  It hit that jig before I had a chance to touch my reel handle, slammed it and took off with it before it began to sink.  I fought it for quite awhile and then released it, as we did all the smallmouth.  As the streams of the Ozarks decline in water quality and begin to fill in, smallmouth become fewer and smaller. If you keep one, you should be ashamed of yourself. Same thing for rock bass. If you want to eat fish keep the Kentuckies (spotted bass) and green sunfish (black perch).

      But I kept a big channel catfish, which hit a small plastic grub about mid-day, and strained the spinning outfit I had gone back to at the time.  It was a fighter, but I got over to a gravel bar and landed it.  I figure it weighed about six pounds, and when I guess the weight of a fish, you can bet it won't weigh much more than that.  "Some things never change", Dennis pointed out, thinking he had never seen me underestimate a fish’s weight.  I reminded him that much HAD changed in more than fifty years. For instance, on that trip, he caught nearly as many fish as I did!

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

A Different Kind of Bait - MDC fish regulations need an overhaul

       I spent a few days on Truman Lake a couple of weeks ago living on my camp-boat. It is a hard-topped pontoon boat, custom-built for me with no furniture on it and attachable canvas-type cover with screened windows and doors built in.  On board I have attached small cabinets and a big box that holds cooking utensils and sleeping bags and air mattresses.  It is a great way to live in something like a camper on the water. I have taken it to several lakes in the Midwest and Canada and it is a great way to get back into the far corners of any kind of water, and be there at dawn and at dusk when the fishing seems to be the best.

     Crappie were spawning on Truman that week, and it wasn't hard to catch a limit. But I wasn't there for crappie. I knew of a small tributary to the lake that rainwater hd swollen to full flow, and it was swarming with white bass. the largest of them were averaging 15- to 16-inches in length. they wee hitting topwater lures and fighting like they thought they were smallmouth bass. I would rather catch a 15-inch white bass on a light action spinning outfit than a half dozen crappie that size. I love to catch them, and I know how easy it is to remove the red meat from a white bass filet so there is nothing left but pure white meat and great eating.

         There was the roar of outboard motors out on the lake, but I fished the small tributary all alone, watching nesting eagles and birds of all kinds, catching and releasing dozens of whites, keeping only the biggest ones.

         Some folks don’t seem to mind fishing in a crowd.  The trout parks show you that.  But I just want to be off somewhere by myself when I am outdoors. I don’t fish where others are fishing. Each evening that week I would return to my camp-boat with a limit of hefty white bass, and often had 18- to 20-inch hybrids in that number too.  I would filet them, and eat quite a few, and put the others on ice.   Out in the middle of a nearby cove, I dumped the cleanings into the lake.

         White bass are not very good to eat if you don’t skim off that layer of red meat between the white meat and the skin.  It is a thin layer and easy to remove with a sharp filet knife.  Then there is a strip of red meat in the center of the filet which I also remove.  That strip is a lot like a six-inch nightcrawler, and I got to thinking what a shame it is that it is thrown away when it appears to be tough enough to use as bait.  Fish and game laws forbid the use of game fish for bait, except for small-sized sunfish.  But if you have pieces of scrap from any fish like that red meat strip, why not use it.

         One night I set a trotline out in the cove for an experiment. With only 18 hooks, I baited half of them with rib cages and the other half with the red meat strips cut from the filets.  The next morning, the nine hooks with the ribs held no fish, but the ones baited with the red meat strips held seven catfish.  There were three smaller channel cat, three- to five- pounds and two small blues that were six- to eight-pounds.  Then there were two big blue catfish, a 40-incher and a 36-incher, pot-bellied and big enough to be a handful to land. 

         Because it was just an experiment and I didn’t have enough ice on board my camp-boat to keep catfish anyway I released them.  I do not know if it would be considered illegal to use the red meat discarded from the white bass as bait but it shouldn’t be, as it is discarded anyway.  I would like very much to trail that red meat strip behind a jig while fishing for bass or walleye.

         So many fish and game regulations are useless and outdated. There should be an overhaul of many of them.  How ridiculous it is that you can use sunfish species for bait only under a certain length.  How the heck does anyone think some of these regulations are going to be enforced with the way today’s agents work?  If you bait a trotline with sunfish a half-inch or an inch too long, no agent today will ever know it.

         People who obey the silliest of the game laws only do so because they want to follow the letter of the law and it is good to do that.  But those who do violate them, probably know they aren’t ever going to be caught.  There is no way a conservation agent could cite someone using that red strip of meat from a white bass unless they took samples to a laboratory to prove it wasn’t from a sucker or a shad or sunfish.  And I wonder why a whole 15-inch yellow sucker is legal for bait and a red strip from the filleted carcass of a white bass wouldn’t be.

         No one is going to use a crappie or walleye or bass for bait.  If you keep any of those fish, you do it to eat them, not use them for bait.  The remaining carcass of any fish ought to be used anyway it can be, rather than to feed over-populated buzzards! Or to pollute boat ramps. Plenty of anglers have learned that if you dump fish cleanings in a regular spot on any river or lake you will attract catfish. According to old laws, that is an illegal form of chumming.  In an earlier column (you can read it if you will scroll down), I about a kind of fish dumping that ought to be ended, but it goes on year after year.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Lady, the Bass and the Memory

Katie Richardson and me

         It was one of the most beautiful smallmouth i ever saw… a deep chocolate brown, with a bulging belly full of eggs, and a length of 23 inches.  I know it was bigger than six-pounds but no one ever weighed it that I know of.  The photo of that enormous smallmouth is old, and it has been in hundreds of newspapers and magazines that have told its story.  I have used it to assure doubters that I really WAS guiding float fishermen on the Big Piney when I was only 12 years old.  There I was standing beside a pretty young lady by the name of Katie Richardson, holding up that big smallmouth while my mom took a Polaroid picture. 

         A couple of weeks ago, Katie Richardson passed away in Houston Missouri, survived by her two sons Joe Jr. and Ross and her favorite fishing guide…me.  Actually I was likely her ONLY fishing guide except for Joe.  I took them on a couple of float trips that year on the Piney.  On the first trip I dumped Joe into the river because we came upon a long limb in swift water that Katie and I could duck under but he couldn’t.  He never held that against me! For all his life I knew Joe Richardson.  He would come to all my swap meets and sometimes recall float trips he had taken with me back when I was a kid with a wooden johnboat and a sassafras paddle. 

         The big smallmouth that Katie Richardson caught was taken in late afternoon from a long stretch of deep flowing water with lots of big rocks and a high steep hillside to the west that shaded the water by two p.m.  It was known as the Ink Stand, just above one of the biggest and deepest eddies on the Piney, the Henry Hayes hole.  I guess the big brownie had come upstream from there looking for doughgut minnows, and when she saw that dark-colored midget-didget lure that was wobbling along on the end of Mrs. Richardson’s braided line she made perhaps the only mistake she had made in twenty years of patrolling the Piney’s clear waters. You could see the fish was a monster, and about all Katie could do was hang on.  Joe kept telling her to just let the fish fight and keep the line tight.  She did it right.

         I had no dip net, so I crunched the back end of my johnboat on the gravel bank behind us and got out in the water about waste deep.  I made a grab at the bass when it came by me the third or fourth time and got it. It was a miracle that a hook didn’t get caught in my jeans causing her to lose it.  Miracles sometime happen. 
         That day Joe gave me the biggest tip I had ever been given as a river guide.  But Katie Richardson’s smile was worth just as much.  She was a quiet, sweet lady I never will forget, though I don’t think I ever saw her again after that summer until a few years ago when I visited her and Joe in a nursing home in Houston and you know of course, that the big smallmouth came up.  Joe died soon after and now Katie has joined him, a great reunion in heaven I am sure.

I hope to gosh that I go to heaven too, 'cause I’d like to take her and Joe on another float trip on a river like the Big Piney was then, but never will be again.
In the years since that old photo was taken, I have taken hundreds of couples on river float trips on dozens of rivers in Missouri and Arkansas, but none ever caught a smallmouth close to that one. 

Once, I once caught a smallmouth bass from an Ozark river that almost weighed six- pounds.  She was 22 inches long and I put that big fish back in the water with no way to weigh it. I know that it was almost six pounds, but not quite.  I have caught only 2 or 3 from the Ozark streams that weighed better than 5 pounds, but I have caught several in Canada. Someone like me never knows what a smallmouth weighs because I never keep one out of the water more than a minute or so for a picture.  Back when I took Joe and Katy and others in the 1960’s no one ever turned back a bass caught on the river that weighed more than a pound.  Folks ate fish back then.

         It’s funny but there are quite a few smallmouth caught in Canadian Wilderness Lakes that will weigh six pounds and they are like bulging footballs that never reach a length greater than 20 inches.  But few people who catch them realize they were not in those Canada waters until they were stocked there about 120 years ago.  Ozark brown bass are longer and never as round. They are as native to Ozark streams as mink and muskrat.  But there are about half the number there were back when I was a kid, paddling Joe and Katy down the Piney.
         What memories I have when I look at that photo of me standing beside that pretty lady and the big bass, not realizing then how fast 60 years would go by.  This week I am going to float a river not far from my home, catch a few smallmouth and think about the time Katy fought the big bass and won, at a place where dark waters flowed, a place known then as the Ink Stand.