Monday, February 29, 2016


The Wind River Range

Pronghorn antelope along a sage-filled prairie

Single mule deer at the edge of the Wind River

What Jim Bridger would look like today if he hunted rabbits and lost his horse.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Brownies and Whities 2/22/2016

       Even in Canada, where one man can sometimes catch three or four hundred smallmouth bass in a day if he wants to, I have never seen so many smallmouth in such a small area as we found last week as the weather began to warm. But then, it is like that every year in February and March in some of my secret places.
       My old friend Alvin Barton came up from his home near Houston, Mo. where we went to school together.  Alvin and I fished the Big Piney a lot when we were kids.  There’s a photo of us on that facebook thing under my name that Gloria Jean takes care of. Alvin and I with a big flathead catfish, which I think was as old as we were, and we were about 17.
      Alvin, who still spends lots of time after bass on the lower Big Piney and the Gasconade, knows how to fish.  He’s good at it!  We used some special jigs to haul some good-sized largemouth bass out of deep water for me to take home and use for a fish fry or two that is coming up.  But for every largemouth, there were eight or ten smallmouth caught.  And while it is fun to catch those hard fighting brownies, I never keep one.
     Alvin was good enough with a rod and reel to catch a dozen bass before I landed one… a fact that doesn’t sit well with a grizzled old outdoor veteran like me. It prompted me to comment that between the two of us, we had caught a dozen nice fish in about 15 minutes. That gave my old friend a sudden fit of laughter that allowed me to hook into my first one.
   It was a gorgeous day, and the bass fishing so good no one would have believed it, so I won’t try to describe it.  There wasn’t one fish above three pounds, but that evening we must have caught fifty smallmouth from 12 to 18 inches on light tackle and a four-inch Rebel lure. 
       At the same time, male white bass were swarming around us and one of them would often intercept our lures before a bass did.  Those little males seldom reached twelve inches in length. On one cast I landed a smallmouth on the back hooks and a white bass on the front hooks.
       It is that way with white bass at the very beginning of the spawn.  Larger males will get there eventually and then the females, which are the largest of course.  Female whites are the line stretchers everyone goes after.  They are fatter and heftier.  It is a lot the way it is at times up at the local McDonalds or Burger King when you see a couple that has been married fifteen or twenty years and the fellow is skinny enough to hide a raccoon in his overalls with him in there too, and his wife is wider than a Frigidaire. It is that way with white bass spawining runs in the spring.
       Why then would a grizzled old outdoorsman like me take home a limit of those ten-inch male white bass?  I’ll tell you why. For one thing, if I use a little whippy light rod with an ultra-lite reel and light line, they fight like tigers. But with all the fish fry dinners I have coming up this spring, they are also a great fish to use to feed lots of people.  I get in late from a day of fishing and put a cooler full of them in a basement refrigerator with ice, and the next morning I filet them. 
       You can remove the fillets off of a male white bass in seconds, and when that is done, there is only one problem left to tackle… the thin layer of red meat just beneath the skin.  On a freshly caught white bass, that layer is hard to skim off and it ruins the taste of the meat.
       But if you put the fillets in a bowl of cold water and let them sit in the refrigerator for a few hours the meat hardens and you can use an electric filet knife to skim that red layer away in a second.  What you have left is a chunk of firm, white meat that you can fry whole.
         Thirty white bass creates sixty good, delicious fillets, and one man can only eat about five or six before he is satisfied, if you have plenty of beans and potato salad to go along with it and a big platter of fudge brownies awaiting.  If you don’t tell him different, he’ll swear those fish he’s eating are fried crappie!
       When I was young, I had to clean fish where I could, and sometimes cleaning a lot of fish was a mess.  Today I have my own refrigerator-freezer in my basement. My wife won’t even walk past it, let alone open the door!  Yeah, it is a little messy inside, because it is used to cool fillets and store freshly butchered venison and wild ducks and turkeys and squirrels and rabbits and whatever else I come up with. 
       Beside it I have an eight-foot aluminum table with two big sinks and running water.  I have to run a big hose connected to the bottom of the sinks out the basement door to drain them.  With a good light over the table and a big three-foot butcher board, I clean lots of fish in a hurry. 
       I put a layer of newspapers over the board, and filet a fish.  Then I put the fillets in the sink, I drop the carcass in a bucket and I remove the sheet of newspaper and put it in a garbage bag.  The next fish is taken out of the cooler and started without a bit of mess, on a new sheet of newspaper.
       It is difficult to explain it as well as photos will show it, and so I am putting some photos on my website which show how effectively a ten-inch male white bass can be turned into some of the best eating you have ever had.  Of course, you have to know how to use an electric filet knife to filet fish very well and that takes some learning.  But not much.  If I can learn something, you know it doesn’t have much to do with difficulty.  It isn’t math and chemistry or that sort of thing.
       Old time guides in Canada scoff at electric filet knives, but they are experts with a regular knife and those knives they use are kept so sharp that you can use one to split a butterfly wing.  In remote places, I use them too.  They are great when you have to eat a northern pike for supper on a wilderness lake because the walleye didn’t bite that day.  Northerns are great eating, just as good as walleye if you know how to use a filet knife to remove the Y-bones that are found in the meat.  But those guides in Canada, some of them close friends of mine, have never filleted a white bass.  I tell them that you can’t do it with a filet knife that doesn’t have a cord on it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

When He Gets Home

 Larry is in Wyoming sorting wildcats...well actually he's fishing and hunting in Wyoming.  He intended to post photos and a piece on white bass fillets before he left...but he ran out of time.

He will be back sometime this weekend and will post when he returns.

Mrs. Wiggins
Executive Secretary   :)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Raptor in a Redbud - 2-15-16

You can see in his eyes his contempt for the bright sunlight. He looks like I do when I am awakened in the middle of the night


       I had my pickup parked overnight out in the woods on Lightnin’ Ridge, loading some firewood.  The next morning when I started it, a little bird flew out from beneath.   Bolt, my Labrador, nearly caught it, but it escaped him and flew up in a nearby redbud tree.  I got some good photos of him.

      He looked to be only a tiny little screech owl, about six or seven inches high.  I hear him and his family often at night… their weird little wavering call, really not much of a screech, but more of a wail.  I’m sure he got beneath my pick-up after a field mouse. As daybreak came he was confused about the sky becoming so low and he just hopped up on the transmission to roost.

      Over at our lodge on Panther Creek, where we have a big back porch enclosed in glass windows with screens, another owl problem. I found one of the windows broken, and I swear, you can see the outline of a large owl with wings spread, in the remaining glass.  I think he just sat in one of the high trees and saw a rabbit playing around in the moonlight in the bushes beneath the porch and he made a swoop at it in which the window became a problem.

      How do I know for sure it was an owl?  Apparently he liked the porch well enough to roost for a time on the rail of a bunk bed.  Beneath it I found a regurgitated ‘pellet’ which owls are known for.  All of the owls, eating a diet of meat, are known to be unable to digest and pass hair or bones or feathers.  So they pass the meat through their digestive system and cough up ‘pellets’ of indigestible material.  In that pellet left on the floor, there was mostly fine hair, but I could see a little mouse tooth in it as well.  An owl pellet usually is about the size of a rabbit’s foot but weighs very little.  You can find them in the woods under an owl roost on occasion but owls usually do not keep roosting in one spot, like turkeys often do.

      Barred owls and screech owls are easy to call into trees right above you if you can imitate them.  I have called up lots of them, both species.  Not so with the great horned owl, which will answer, but seldom comes in close. The reverse is true of the great gray owls way up north that seem to be about half tame.  Once I called up a pair of them and we enjoyed watching them hooting away in a big pine above our camp on a Canadian Lake.  Then it got complicated.  They just kept on all night long, keeping us awake. 
      If you think about it, owls really do not have a predatorial enemy.  They get to where they aren’t afraid of man because we don’t shoot them anymore, though I would have liked to have shot those great gray owls that night.  

      My grandpa shot quite a few great horned owls back in the 1930’s because there was a fifty-cent bounty on them.  You had to bring in both feet to collect it.  Back then they were a heck of a problem for Ozarkians because chickens were seldom put up at night, they just roosted around farm houses where they were an important part of farm produce; eggs for breakfast, chickens for Sunday dinners.

      You might enjoy that owl article I wrote in the February- March issue of the Journal of the Ozarks magazine.
        Which brings me to a somewhat sad place.  “The Journal of the Ozarks”, which I started a couple of years ago to take the place of the old ‘Ozark Mountaineer’ magazine, comes to an end with this issue.  But only the title is ended.  It will continue under the guidance of three of my friends who will be publishing a full-color magazine entitled, “Ozark Hills and Hollows’.  Because I love the Ozarks, and its history, so much, I didn’t want to see the Ozarks Mountaineer magazine end forever, so I kept it going with many of the same writers for quite awhile.  And it will keep going now as an even better magazine under that new name.  I will keep writing Ozark articles for the publication so I still get to be part of it, but I missed a good fishing trip and a good hunting trip in the past month because I had to work on the magazine, and I can’t let that happen again.  With spring approaching I am very happy to pass this on to the folks who can do so much better at publishing it than I can.  So that final issue of the Journal of the Ozarks is out this month on newsstands.   It might be a collectors item some day, so get your copy just in case.

            I wrote awhile back about the rancher who throws plastic from his hay-bales in the Pomme de Terre River. We are making plans to float the stream soon to clean up the unbelievable mess he has created.  We have only to wait for rains to bring the river up a little. 
      The float will cover a lot of miles, and there will be boatloads of white plastic now adorning the stream in thousands of fragments. At mid-day we will stop for a   fish fry dinner at the riverside ranch of Jim Hacker, where Jim and local employees of the Department of Agriculture will talk to everyone about what they have done to protect a couple of miles of the Pomme de Terre.       The rivers of the Ozarks can be helped a great deal by a program which is paid for by the USDA, in which wells are drilled, and cattle are watered from those wells and kept out of the river by fencing.  The buffer strip is planted in grasses and trees to stop erosion, and Hacker’s place is the best example I have ever seen of the success such a project can be.  You have to see it to believe how well it works for all involved. 
      Landowners with riverside property who are interested in seeing the results of this, and learn how the same thing can be done on any stream, should make arrangements to at least join us for dinner, even if they choose not to join us on the river clean-up.

      When I first wrote about this awful plague of white plastic on a beautiful Ozark river, I got response from all over, and we will likely make it look like rivers are suppose to look.  But the Missouri Department of Conservation apparently can’t do a thing about what this man is doing.  They just don’t consider it their job!!   Well whose job is it?  If I got caught throwing trash off a river bridge, would anyone have the same attitude?  Can just anyone throw trash in the river or is just a few allowed to?

       I talked to Enforcement Chief Larry Yamnitz, and asked him to perhaps send MDC people along to help clean it up and do something about this littering on a big scale.  He said he would look into it and get back in touch with me.  That was about two months ago and there has been no further word from him. 
      No one from the area or the county where the Pomme flows has contacted me.  I don’t think folks in this Polk County area see the stream as the treasure that it is. Apparently, with the lack of local interest in the river itself, this will just go on forever, and I will try to keep cleaning it up. 


Monday, February 15, 2016

Just A Bent Hook and a Chunk of Plastic -- 2-9-16

                        Reverend Gene Eidson on Long Creek in February

       On the southeast fringe of Tablerock Lake there is the Long Creek arm, coming in out of Arkansas, flowing north.  At one time I think it may have been the best fishing in the Ozarks.  Clevenger Cove, running into that arm as it widens into a large expanse, was a place I fished as a college kid and we hardly ever went there that we didn’t catch lots of bass, and big ones.  Then, it was a beautiful, natural place, a field on one side and timber on the other, and plenty of fish cover.  Development has ruined that special place. It looks like hell now. 

       My Uncle Norten, the fishing guide who worked almost all the Ozark lakes, caught an eleven-pound largemouth bass from Clevenger cove in 1960 and a ten- pound largemouth farther up the Long Creek arm a year or so later.

       I remember catching the biggest string of white bass I have ever seen in a little cove down close to the Long Creek boat dock, back in the early 80’s when I lived in Arkansas only a few miles from the Creeks headwaters.  That April evening just before the spring turkey season, a friend and I were fishing for black bass, but in an hour or two at dusk we caught at least six whites above four pounds and a dozen or more over three pounds.
       I remember that the fellow who owned the Long Creek boat dock liked to eat crawdads and he had crayfish traps out in the deep water in front of his dock, which he kept baited with chicken necks.  I don’t ever remember seeing ‘crawdads’ that large anywhere in the Ozarks, and he caught enough to have a good crawdad meal quite often. But this column isn’t about those things.

       There was a preacher from Harrison by the name of Gene Eidson, and he didn’t fish for anything else but crappie.  About this time of year, even with ice frozen along the edges of the lake, Reverend Eidson bundled up and brought home the crappie, in an old aluminum V-bottom boat with a 20- horse motor.  A preacher back then didn’t make a lot of money and Gene Eidsenwasn’t about that anyway.  He was serving Jesus without a concern about what it gained him monetarily. God and his congregation and family came first with him. Crappie fishing was second. 

       I wasn’t a member of his congregation, but he read my columns and thought I needed to be taught something about fishing in February. Raising a family on the meager income of a free-lance writer, wasn’t easy and Eidson understood.

       “Don’t go spending a lot of money on crappie jigs,” he told me.  “Come over to my place and I will give you some.”

       In his basement we talked fishing.  “Get that eight-pound line off your reel,” he said, “go to four-pound line and the kind of rod that would bend nearly double if you caught a four-pound bass.  You have to feel crappie with your rod tip… they don’t jerk it.”

       Eidson said we were going to go up to Long Creek and catch February crappie...I’d need to dress warm.  I was skeptical because there in his basement there wasn’t a crappie lure anywhere with hair on it.  He would sit there for hours with the flimsiest little gold hooks, bending the shank just below the eye.  Above that bend, he squeezed on a 1-16th ounce split shot.

The surprising thing was, color didn't seem to matter… 
and they were this easy to make
       With a hundred hooks and split shot ready, he would get out a big handful of plastic worms and cut them into one-inch sections.  He had a box of hundreds of pieces of plastic worms, and he would string them on those bent gold hooks.

       “If I lose a dozen a day,” he said, “its no big deal, it only amounts to a few pennies.  But these hooks, as weak as they are, bend easily so if you get hung up, they usually straighten before your line breaks.”

       With him that cold February day, I couldn’t help but be amazed at what I saw.  He trolled slowly up to standing cedar trees in all depths of the clear water, and never made a cast.  He would drop those little plastic chunks down amongst the branches, carefully maneuvering the line with his hand, then lifting the rod tip to bring up a struggling fat crappie, most between 10- and 12-inches long.

       We constantly were moving, from one submerged tree to another, catch a couple or three and then moving on.  Me, I caught more limbs than crappie, but the hook would bend, I would straighten it and keep fishing.
       For every crappie I caught on that first trip, Reverend Eidson caught five.  But as the morning went past, I began to watch what he was doing, affecting the jigs action with his hand and rod tip, so that it wasn’t just sitting there, it was hopping and quivering and dropping, making those crappie think they were watching a tasty morsel of some kind rather than a chunk of colored rubber.

       Well, it has been a lot of years.  In February I fish for walleye and bass, and occasionally for brown trout.  I know that if the days warm up, I might go down to Norfork on a moonlit night and catch big old stripers on six-inch topwater lures.  I have a couple of light spinning outfits with four-pound line hanging on the basement wall that probably won’t get limbered up until March.  I don’t know where Gene Eidson is today but if you are acquainted with him, please let me know. I’m not going after crappie on Long Creek by myself, but I would sure enough go with him.

       The other evening I tried to organize the “fishing gear” portion of my basement, and it took five or six hours of effort.  There are about fifteen good rods and reels, both casting and spinning outfits, light, medium and heavy. And on Styrofoam sheets on two walls there are more than 500 good usable lures of all kinds.  My tackle box, now rearranged and holding some of everything, must weigh 25 pounds.
       When I lived near Bull Shoals Lake, I started spending an hour or two out of each duck-hunting, mushroom hunting, turkey hunting or fishing trip out of the boat, looking for arrowheads and fishing lures in the high water debris.  I have done the same thing on about every lake I ever spent time on, including ones in Canada.

       In a box in the basement some of those Canadian muskie lures I found are nearly a foot long, and there are a bunch of lures there only an inch or so long. Quite a contrast!  Most of those need hooks replaced, many are without any paint, but many are like they just came out of the box.  I had no idea how many there were in that drawer but they number over 300.  On my antique lure wall, honest-to-goodness rare lures from back decades ago, there are another 300, a dozen antique rods and 25 or so antique reels.

       So I will get to the point.  I have decided to try to bring the entire antique lure collection, or however much of it I can manage to the Outdoorsman’s Swap meet the last Saturday in March.  And I will see if I can get a large number of the other lures there too, the good ones ready to fish.  You can come and see one of the widest variety of fishing lures you ever have seen, and perhaps help me identify some I can’t name. 
       If I sell any… and it is hard for us fishing lure hoarders to do that… we will put the money into our account for the Panther Creek Wilderness Adventure ranch for underprivileged children and boys without fathers.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

When February is Worth Something

..  In February, Arkansas Game and fish biologists netted big walleye up the Little Red River that were stripped of eggs for  hatchery stock.  They didn't weigh them so I don't know how big this one was.

         Sometimes February is a pretty good month.  Except for Valentines Day of course, a day when men have to give away chocolate candy and never get to eat any.

         Sometimes February is cold and icy and useless for anything but rabbit hunting. Then sometimes it is reasonably warm and sunny and you’d think the redbuds would be about to bloom.  If you are a fisherman, you remember those times in past years when jonquils bloomed in mid-February and you heard the first spring peepers before George Washington has his birthday.

         It was like that a few years back when I floated the Gasconade River with an old high school friend in mid-February and caught so many big smallmouth I wore a hole in my shirt from the friction of my rod-butt against my rock hard abdominal muscles (belly).  We caught some hefty largemouth that day also.  

         They were all together in deep holes, just coming out of a long winter’s sleep, yawning, stretching and looking for something to eat.  We caught them on slow-moving jigs with pork rinds, like my Uncle Norten use to do in February and March on Norfork and Bull Shoals and Tablerock.

         When February thinks it is still January, and it is cold and contrary, I know where the trout fishing can be great, and that is down on the White River below Bull Shoals dam.  Usually, regardless of the weather, that month of February is the time to catch really big brown trout that weigh from five to fifteen pounds quite often.  

         They spawn in the White in the dead of winter and usually by mid February the romance is about over.  So they seem more eager to hit a lure than any other time of year.  You can white jigs, or the five- or six-inch suspending-Rogue lures and truthfully, the White harbors a bunch of browns in a 20- or 30-mile section that will exceed 20 pounds.  

         My good friend Jim Spencer, an outdoor writer who lives in the mountains south of the White River down by Calico Rock says that he caught a huge brown trout on that lower part of the White, and fought it for 20 or 30 minutes, finally losing it because his dip net wasn’t large enough to land it.  Jim said he thought the fish would have exceeded 25 pounds easily.

         Some of the guides at Gaston’s resort tell me that there have been times in February when their clients could catch a dozen or more big brown trout a day, most of them twice the size of a normal White River rainbow trout.  The water has to be right, but not the temperature.  I don’t know what the high-water release out of Bull Shoals Lake has done to the brown trout fishing this year, but shucks, I would like to go anyhow.

         But you can’t talk about February fishing without thinking about walleye.  Here in the Ozarks, there isn’t a river anywhere that flows into a reservoir that doesn’t attract some big spawning walleye as early as the first couple of weeks in February.  The first time I saw that February walleye run was 35 years ago on the Little Red River above Greer’s Ferry Lake.  

Caught in the early 70's from Greers Ferry, this fish eventually became the world record.
         You may not realize this, but the world record walleye was taken near the mouth of that stream in February, back in the 1970’s.  At the time a fellow by the name of Nelson, who caught the big fish on a live bluegill, I believe, thought his 22 pound walleye, was a couple of pounds short of the record.

         A reservoir in Kentucky known as Dale Hollow Lake, was said to be the place where both the record smallmouth and walleye had been taken in the 1950’s.  No one questioned it, but sometime in the ‘90s, both records were discredited, simply because of old age!  One of the men who had been involved in the deception began to realize he was part of the big lie and he didn’t want to die with that on his conscience.  So he spilled the beans and both records were taken off the books.  That made Nelson's Greer's Ferry fish the world record.

Big Ed Clairborne was a friend from Greers Ferry who regularly caught walleye over 15 pounds                                                        

        During the years that they held a walleye rodeo on Greer's Ferry Lake in the 1970's, I fished there with fishing guides Big Ed Claiborne and Dickey Bailey.  I remember Claiborne telling me that if he could choose one way to catch a monster walleye it would be by using a five- or s9c-inch bluegill at night or early morning, up in the deep holes in the river. But it was illegal to go up the river and fish at night.

        The water was crystal clear up the Little Red most of the time and I went up there once with Game and Fish biologiusts on one cold February night. You could see those dull eyes of a half dozen big fisgh in the deepest eddies below floeing shoals. a few nights before they had shocked and collecgted eggs from a female walleye that they had photographed and released. They all said it was a 24- to 25-pound walleye, but that fish apparently lived out its life without being caught. you can bet that in Greer's ferry, and maybe in Norfork Lake, there are world record walleye today.

         Except for a walleye I caught and released in Manitoba, the biggest walleye I have ever caught was an eleven-pound, 30-inch fish from Bull Shoals.  A friend of mine landed a sixteen-pound walleye from Bull Shoals one April night, fishing under submerged lights with live threadfin shad.

         In the rivers around in my area, the walleye likely will begin to stage in mid-February, and spawn sometime in March, depending on the weather.  We almost always catch our best walleye late in the day while white bass fishing in one of those rivers.  

         I have some devices called bait walkers, that I bought in Canada, primarily used for trolling. Some of the Norfork walleye guides use similar rigs with night crawlers almost exclusively.  I have had these bait-walkers for years, and if February stays agreeable, I think I will try them, trailing behind a floating Rapala which will be only a foot or so off the bottom in those deep holes where they stage.  I don’t like trolling so well but if it works, it ought to make a great story. Where I intend to try it, big smallmouth also live. It is no secret that I would rather catch walleye to eat, but I’d rather catch a smallmouth just for the fun of it. It just might be that a four- or five-pound brownie will be waking up, yawning, stretching and looking for something to eat just when I drift by. 

         I am keeping track of everyone contacting me for our day-long trips to Truman Lake in March and April.  If I don’t contact you for a while don’t worry.  I’ll get around to it.  Same thing if you are someone wanting to get a table at our big outdoorsman’s swapmeet.  If you can, contact me by email to get on our list or ask for information.  That address is  . But old timers like me who hate computers worse than jet-skis and ATV’s, can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. I am going to put that information on my website quite often, www.larrydablemontoutdoors  . We are also going to have the Pomme de Terre River cleanup soon, so I will be contacting those folks who are on that list.