Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Politics and Patience




I don’t want to make anyone real awful mad here but I can’t tell you the name of one politician that I would want to go fishing with.  The whole bunch of them seems a sorry lot to me and I put them all in the same sack.   But then, what do I know about politics?  I only know about fishing, and if I had caught any fish this past week I’d be writing about that! 


       I once shook Harry Truman’s hand, and I have to admit that I was impressed with him, even though I was only about 7 or 8 at the time.  I also liked Ronald Reagan a lot. I can’t remember much about his presidency, as the hunting and fishing was extremely good back then and I was in the woods quite often.  But I really liked Ronald Reagan in those western movies he made after he got out of politics.


 I have read some things about Teddy Roosevelt that makes me think he was a lot like me, since he liked to hunt and fish so much and float rivers, and did some outdoor writing.  He and I looked very much alike too. But of course my favorite president will always be Abe Lincoln, who had two things no president or even presidential candidate will ever have again… he was poor, and he was honest.  Earlier in my life I too was poor and honest, and as a matter of fact I am still relatively poor, and I am being honest about that! Mr. Lincoln hunted and fished too, and split his own firewood, just like I do.  Almost no one knows this, but Abraham Lincoln wrote lots of poetry.   I have published some of it in my spring issue of the Ozarks magazine I put out.  His poetry rhymes really good and makes sense, unlike much of what that Browning woman wrote.  It is also said that Lincoln was an expert marksman and he never used a scope.


       My favorite politician was Davy Crockett.  He and I were so much alike that it is just amazing, except for the fact that he did get into politics, becoming a Tennessee congressman. Every man should be allowed one mistake in his life! My cousins and I watched Davy Crockett on Walt Disney when we were kids, and if you think I wasn’t influenced by him, you should know there is a big sycamore along the Big Piney river with the inscription carved in it… “L. Dablemont kilt a groundhog here.”


       There were no bears in the Ozarks when I was a kid, which wound up being an unfortunate thing for that groundhog.


       Crockett was loved by his constituents, just as I am loved by my readers, except for a few ladies who got mad about that article I once wrote concerning female bass.  Crockett was for the downtrodden and forgotten poor country people he grew up amongst.  He sacrificed his political career to stand against legislation which would take land away from the Indians the government had promised to them through treaties only a few years before.  That makes him a better man, in my mind, than anyone you will find in congress today.  He was honest, and he thought of others before himself, and he would not put money above all else.  Those traits are not found in people in political office today.  I think I am a little like that.  Once when I was a teenager, I refused to spend the day putting up hay, so I could spend it fishing for smallmouth in the Big Piney.  And consider this… I very often worked as a guide for float fishermen for only fifty cents an hour when I could have made 75 cents an hour mowing lawns.  Mr. Crockett would have approved of that kind of thinking.


       Davy Crockett said, “to heck with politics if it means I have to go back on my word”, and he rode off to Texas and into history where, as I understand it, he went down fighting a bunch of illegal immigrants from Mexico.   I would have loved to have fished and hunted with Davy Crockett, or Abe Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt, and I would have paddled any of them down the Piney in my wooden johnboat free of charge. Wouldn’t you love to vote for someone today with just a whisker of the character all those men had.



       I never saw a stretch of winter weather like we just went through, but what we are going to see in the future will be worse. Birds and wildlife need help and they get it up here on  Lightnin’ Ridge.  I hope you have been helping them too. I have been told that it is illegal now to put out corn back in the woods for squirrels and turkeys, because deer might eat it too and for some reason that isn’t good.  But I do it anyway.  You are not going to get caught doing that if you follow the rule, “Always place corn 200 yards from where a game warden can get to via pickup.” I worry about what that three weeks of ice and snow and Alaskan temperatures did to quail and wild turkeys.  I have seen a decline in turkey numbers over the past eight years that is way past ‘alarming’.  If there was a way that state conservation agencies could cut back season lengths and gobbler limits from two to one, and eliminate the youth season, where more illegal hunting takes place than the whole rest of the year, and still make the money they want from sales of turkey tags, then maybe we could begin to turn wild turkey numbers around. They had better do something!


  Remember that if you want to get a copy of my spring outdoor magazine, I need to hear from you by the first of March.  The printer mails them out shortly after that date. You can call my office to get one or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com  The mailing address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. Phone number is 417 777 5227.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Hole in the Ice and Frozen Fish


My cousin John McNew on a southern Iowa farm pond.. with blue gill and crappie

In days of yore I went ice-fishing in February, with a couple of Wisconsin friends who had access to an ice-fishing shack out on a frozen lake.  It was a little city of a dozen shanty’s that looked a bit like Ozark storage sheds. Most had pickups parked behind them… a little scary to someone who was accustomed to weak ice at the best; back in the Ozarks. Inside was a good-sized hole in the ice and chairs and a heat stove up off the ice.  All around the hole there were rugs and chairs and the fishing rods were only about 2 or 3 feet long.

Thanks to the stove, we stayed warm, and about every ten minutes one of us would haul in a respectable crappie or walleye.  There were a couple of northern pike caught too, 18 or 20 inches long. I wouldn’t say it was the best fishing I ever had in the north country, but it was fun, and I went back a couple of times just so I could be with those friends doing something that seemed ridiculous when I first heard about it.  

I’ll bet that ice was 2 feet thick, and every 30 minutes or so someone had to dip out ice to keep it from refreezing in the augured out hole.

Then a couple of years later, it was a really cold winter in southern Iowa and I joined two of my cousins to fish a couple of Iowa ponds on which there was a layer of ice that didn’t look all that strong.  They laughed at me when I tied a rope around my waist and tied the other end to my pick-up bumper next to the pond.  I wasn’t taking any chances because I had seen those two get into some fixes at times, ever since we were kids.

They had a gas powered ice auger, those short rods and mealworms for bait that looked to be about the size of rice grains.

We were bundled up enough to not get cold, and built a warming charcoal fire right out there on the ice in a big bucket with sand in    the bottom, which seemed a sort of dangerous thing to do… but it didn’t melt the ice.  And we hauled huge crappie and bluegill out of that ice hole, one every few minutes.  In just a minute or two every fish laid out on the ice quit flopping and in time we had 40 or 50 of them.  

We ate them that night and I don’t think I ever tasted panfish that were that good.  Everyone says that about fish caught through the ice, even the northern pike.  Both my cousins, brothers who smoked heavily and drank enough beer to fill a nice pond in southern Iowa, died when they were only 59.  But they knew how to have fun, and we hunted and fished in southern Iowa for a lot of years.  In February, there was nothing to hunt, so we fished through the ice.

I would give anything to do it again, just about anywhere.  And I am thinking, with what is happening now in Missouri and Arkansas, and Kansas that it might just be a good time to try it.  All I have to do is fix up one of my old broken rods to be about 3-feet long, and find someplace that sells mealworms!

I want to remind everyone who likes to read my outdoor magazine that our spring issue will be out in March.  If you want to get a copy sent to you, they are still mailed from our printer for 5 dollars each, but the list of people to get a copy has to be turned in to them the first week of March.  If you miss that first mailing, we have to add 3 dollars in postage.  So call my secretary, Ms. Wiggins, if you want to get the cheaper price. The number is 417 777 5227. She can also help you get a copy of the other magazine, Journal of the Ozarks, the same way. You can see the magazines and my 10 books on my website, www.larrydablemont.com You can send the five dollars by mail, Lightnin’ Ridge, Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. And you can send the five dollars by mail, to Lightnin’ Ridge, Box 22, Bolivar, Mo.  Don’t nobody get to thinkin’ I live in town.  I live out in the country ten miles from town, looking out across a wide river valley through the oaks and hickories that grow high on my ridgetop, where it is always ten degrees warmer in the winter and ten degrees cooler in the summer, and wild birds and other creatures play in the snow around the corn feeder.  Right now I have to go split some more farr-wood for the cook-stove so I can boil a rabbit for supper.

The Striper and The Trout

Back in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, we would fish in the Long Bottom area of Bull Shoals all night long, under submerged lights. At that time we would catch all species of fish, and a number of big rainbow trout, some up to 5 or 6 pounds. Many of them had gashes across the body, and at that time it puzzled me. It doesn’t anymore. 
The lake had big stripers in it and I can tell you with no doubt that stripers are death on trout; their favorite food, even above shad.  It finally came together one night when I was on a KMOX- St. Louis radio station outdoor program. There was a fellow on with me by the name of Tony Albright who owned a resort with guide service on the Missouri arm of the lake south of Theodosia. Allbright passed away in recent years.  Back then he was touting his fishing service for great striper fishing on Bull Shoals where he and his clients were catching huge stripers. Tony really had it figured out, and caught huge stripers up in the 30 pound range. Of course the stripers came from fish stocked long ago in both states, they do not spawn there on any regular basis except when heavy rains raise tributaries and kept them high for a long time in the spring.

Down the lake from that long bottom area about a mile, the Arkansas Fisheries department had several giant net pens that were full of trout, kept there and fed all winter, then released in April as the water began to warm.  In the deeper parts of the lake, there was water that stayed cold all year long… a perfect situation to grow big trout, with the lake full of their favorite food, gammarus (fresh water shrimp) and small threadfin shad.  

In time the big stripers declined thanks to Allbright’s very good job of promoting ways to catch them.  As a result, the fisheries department in Arkansas began to contact boat docks in the Arkansas side of the Bull Shoals, which is about 75 percent of the lake, and giving them smaller winter net pens to attach to their dock, filled with 7- or 8-inch trout.  Dock owners would feed them the food the game and fish department would supply and in the spring, after several months of feeding, the trout would average twelve or thirteen inches in length.  When released, thousands of them swarmed out into the lake and fishermen bought trout tags and caught good numbers of them.  I guess the Arkansas fisheries people and the Missouri fisheries people got along fairly well back then.  That isn’t the case now.  There’s some grumbling going on.

Missouri has effectively caused the trout program in Arkansas to be worthless, with plans to release up to a half million stripers in their side of the lake, to be continued each year.  They have made these plans without consulting with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission or taking into account Arkansas’ trout program.  I have been told that Missouri’s fisheries people think the stripers will quickly grow to giant sizes because of the trout still living in the lake giving them such a fine food source.

On Bull Shoals during the month of December, I came across two young University of Missouri students, who were trying to find transmitter-fitted stripers that had been released in that Missouri side of the lake.  Apparently the fish had gone into Arkansas because the two fisheries students were not finding them.

Last week some animosity on the Arkansas side of Bull Shoals was beginning to show.  The Missouri Department of Conservation had contact an Arkansas resort on Norfork to reserve rooms and cabins for two months, so a crew of Missouri University students could fish all spring with Arkansas guides to catch stripers out of Norfork. In Norfork they do actually have successful spawn during some high-water spring rains.  The resort owner said ‘no’ to the proposal and some guides are saying the same thing.  A local resort owner who is a good friend of mine says the whole thing shows a lot of gall from the MDC.  “The Missouri fisheries people want to take our Norfork stripers and take them to Bull Shoals where they can destroy the Arkansas trout stocking program.  Folks down here don’t like it.”

He went on to say that the striper fishing in Norfork still is good, but there are few fish caught that exceed ten pounds now.  “It seems that bigger stripers are rare,” he told me.  “And for the last few years, thousands of stripers have died in the lower part of the lake.”

I will write more about that striped bass die off in a future column, and tell you how all of a sudden, you can catch Norfork Lake stripers way up in a Missouri tributary from a canoe or kayak or from the bank.  Now what a story that has become!

In the meantime, I suggest that the MDC send some folks down to the AGF to discuss a way to make fishing better on both sides of each lake.  Obviously the MDC sees a way to make a lot of money from stripers in Bull Shoals or they wouldn’t be doing this.  Possibly they have some special striper tag in mind that would raise another million dollars.  But if they cooperated with the fisheries people in Arkansas and both sides decided to have big stripers in Norfork and add trout pens on the Missouri side of Bull Shoals, you could add to the coffers in the Missouri side by selling a special Bull Shoals trout tag, and a special striper tag on the Missouri side of Norfork.  But first the MDC should listen to Arkansas fisheries biologist.  That seems to be a reasonable and polite thing to do with a neighbor.


Monday, February 1, 2021

Horned Toads For Trout

       Years ago a fishing tackle company invited a number of top-flight outdoor writers to come down to the White River in Arkansas and go fishing. When they couldn’t get them all to show up, they called and asked if I wanted to come. The company was giving away their fishing lures free, and a day of trout fishing with guides. I thought there might be a good story there, so I went. I also never turn down a free fishing trip! The guide I met was a fellow by the name of Donald Cranor. He was a good one, and also a good story.


       He told me, “Rainbow trout aren’t the smartest fish in the water!” On the White, I caught those rainbow trout on a 5-inch-long suspending rogue lure with which we were actually hoping to catch a lunker brown trout or two.  I have caught some very nice browns on the White, lots of them in the 4 to 8 pound range, every one of them on a suspending rogue. I have never even seen one above 10 pounds but a guide like Cranor, who is out there everyday, sees quite a number of them.


       February is the time to catch big browns, and Cranor had seen quite a few of them, the latest a 17-pounder, taken on a white jig. He told me that he likes to get the brown trout on large minnows, which he thinks is the best bait when the river is full and flowing, as it is right now, and was then.  He prefers that bait because he can control how they drift and the client only has to set the hook and fight the fish. The rogues and white jigs get the most fishing time. Cranor says any novice can fish a rogue; you just jerk it and stop it, jerk it and stop it. And the white jig, especially efficient when the shad are dying in Bull Shoals and coming through the dam, is also easy to fish when the river is running high.


       Novice or not, I fished that rogue lure all morning, and I probably hooked and released a couple dozen rainbows, keeping my limit of five bigger ones for a wild game dinner that was coming up. Rainbow trout, no matter where they come from in the Ozarks, are grown in hatcheries and do not reproduce.  They are pretty much always going to be dumb, and ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent of them will be 12 or 14 inches maximum length. But they are good to eat, especially when you grew up eating bass and catfish.


       Guide Donald Cranor was a fine guy to get to know, and we exchanged hours of fishing stories seeing who could outdo the other. It was a draw, but I’ll relate one really funny story he told. Not too long ago, he took an Arkansas outdoor writer fishing, and put a big minnow on a hook, trying to help the writer catch a lunker trout. Sure enough, a hefty fish took it, and headed down over a shoal with the bait. Cranor said the writer let the fish take it for awhile, then jerked hard. The fish had swallowed the whole thing and had the hook down in his gullet, where there was also lodged a big nine-inch horny-head chub, a 10 or 12-inch sucker-like fish with little knobs on its head.  Apparently the big brown trout had just eaten the chub, and when the fisherman jerked that hook, he buried it into the chub and it came right out of the trout, with that horny-head on the hook. Cranor explained what an oddity it was, hooking that horny-head, and thus allowing the trout to get away. The writer, as many of today’s suburban outdoor writers often do, got things mixed up, and in his newspaper story allowed as how he had hooked a horned- toad in the big trout’s gullet, confusing a considerable number of readers.  Cranor’s own father called him and wanted to know what kind of big stories he was telling people! 

    “Arkansas ain’t never had no horned toads,” he said.


See my website, www.larrydablemont.com where you can see my outdoor magazine. In March we will publish the 68th Issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal and the 14th issue of our Journal of the Ozarks magazine.  You can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo, or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com