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.

No comments: