Friday, April 26, 2019

A Bad Time for Outdoor Decisions

         I have trouble this time of year!!  It drives me nuts trying to make a good decision about what to do tomorrow.

         My daughter Christy and I found about 50 nice morel mushrooms yesterday and she and Gloria Jean cooked them for supper with about two-dozen white bass filets. Two days ago I caught the white bass while hunting turkeys. That is, I boated up the river to a spot where wild turkeys rake the leaves along a pair of long wooded ridge tops. I had an old gobbler thundering his passion (what one outdoor writer referred to in place of the term ‘gobbling’) and coming to me slowly.  But it was all ruint when a stupid jake flew across the river and came up the hill behind me perkin’ and puttin’ and carrying on.

         I have seldom seen a jake gobbler (yearling) as big and pretty as he was, long legs, a four or five inch beard and a head of turquoise, white and blood red. I look at him and I calculate 18 pounds, which should amount to about eight or nine pounds of smoked turkey breast and wings. Let me say here that I get downright aggravated at these hunters who throw away turkey drumsticks just because they are full of ligaments. Boil the meat off the legs and throw away the bones and ligaments and you have some great dark meat to make a stroganoff dish or wild turkey and noodle soup.

         I see it this way… any hunter who throws away turkey legs cause his wife won’t boil the meat of turkey drumsticks, ought to get a new wife, learn to cook it himself or quit hunting wild turkey altogether.

         Anyway, I shot a nice six or seven inch diameter tree just this side of that beautiful jake’s head and he ran off.  So I went a couple miles up the river and caught some white bass, which some of you folks think aren’t much good to eat just because you don’t trim the red meat off the filets. I know there are a lot of daytime crappie fishermen who would rather catch crappie in the spring but I would rather fish for spawning white bass because one of them that weighs a pound and a half will outfight a six-pound crappie. If you want to enjoy a bent-rod, line-straining tussle, fish for white bass.

        Daytime crappie don’t get me too excited and I will tell you why… even though you probably wasn’t going to ask. I catch plenty of crappie, a whole year’s supply, in April and May, at night. At night with a pair of bright, submerged lights, we haul in the crappie and a few walleye with them, from lakes with clear water like Stockton, Bull Shoals and Norfork.

         If you have a pontoon boat on which you can spread out a sleeping bag and sleep late at night, you surely can get yourself a limit of crappie, and big ones too… 11 to 13 inches on Stockton, up to 15 or 16 inches in Bull Shoals and Norfork.

         Sometimes on my pontoon boat, I get out there about sunset and fix up some supper, set up a soft chair and fish straight down beside my lights with minnows or threadfin shad until one or two in the morning, feeling guilt at times because fishing shouldn’t be that easy.

         And in the dark, you can’t hardly tell my old ragged pontoon boat from a brand new one that I couldn’t begin to afford. And the crappie don’t seem to look down on old fashioned, somewhat poorer fishermen like me when they are assembling beneath those lights.

         But in late Aril and early May, when I was 12 or 13 years old, I hadn’t never seen a crappie or white bass, and didn’t care to. ‘Cause that’s when my dad would load up our old wooden johnboat and we would head for the upper half of the Big Piney River to fish for goggle-eye. Back then there was no wild turkey hunting to distract us, and though bass season was closed on the river, we’d hook some big old slab-sided smallmouth on regular occasions and turn ‘em loose figuring we get ‘em again in the summer and fall.

         The goggle-eye, which city folks call rock bass, were usually 9- to 11- inch fish back then and they would spawn in reasonably swift, flowing water at the end of shoals, usually no more than three or four feet deep. We used only one lure for them in the spring, hairy black or brown little jigs with bumble-bee bodies and a small spinner. The were called “shimmy-flies,” a fore-runner of the little plastic lures known as beetle spins, which began to appear in the 80’s.

         Back then goggle-eye were plentiful. Below one shoal you might catch 12 or 15 of them in a spot the size of a bathtub.  On down the Piney a ways, we would set trotlines for flathead catfish that would regularly weigh 20 or 30 pounds and every now and then, bigger.  And that is why I am so gosh-awful disgusted about spring… decisions, decisions, decisions.  And you might not believe this but I haven’t even mentioned the most Ozarkian method of spring fishing of all.  I will talk about that in next week’s column.  If you haven’t done all these things in the past few springs then it is likely easier for you to get through April than it is for me. I am looking forward to mid-summer when it gets up into the nineties so I can sleep awhile during the day and go bull-froggin’ and jitterbuggin’ in the cool of the night.

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