Tuesday, April 27, 2021

A Bass in the Evening

      Usually by the first of May all over the Ozarks, top-water fishing for bass becomes the best way to fish, at least for me.  So I found me a nice little cove with water about the perfect color, and a little stream flowing in at the end. It looked to be a good place to fish a top-water lure, late in the evening, and I meant to try it.   There was a nice little rock cliff not far away, some timber sticking up out of the water nearby, and no one there but me.

      I had something swirl the water behind the lure once, but for a half hour or more I didn’t get much other action than that.  But I ain’t one to give up!  And then, the lure landed just right in a spot next to a fairly good-sized sycamore sapling out a couple of feet from the bank, and a bass sucked it under.    

      There wasn’t much commotion, nothing like the demolishing,  ‘jump out of the water” attack you sometimes see from a marauding bass looking for an easy meal later in   the summer.  This one just pulled it down and took off with it, and I set the hook when he did.  All I had to do was keep the bass out of all that brush, and I had casting gear with line strong enough to do that.

      The fish lunged and struggled and broke water once, but it wasn’t a fight he was going to win.  Eventually I brought him up alongside the boat and got my thumb in his mouth and wished someone was along to take a picture.  A good photograph could have made that bass look five pounds or better, if it was taken right.  And honestly, he was almost four and a half pounds, give or take perhaps a half-pound.   I have no doubt at all he was almost four and a quarter pounds.

      But I turned him loose, and fished awhile longer, as the dusk came on and the water was calm and the evening was still.  I caught another bass which also fought hard, but wasn’t half as big.  I put that one in my live well, because it was a Kentucky bass.  It would be eaten soon, and that would make me feel a little better about using all that high priced gas just to go fishing.

      It was getting dark back at the little gravel road where I left my pick-up, and when I backed my trailer down into the water to load the boat, two ladies drove up and prepared to catch some catfish.  They seemed very pleasant and they were both very nice looking ladies, or so they seemed to be in the late evening light, which has a tendency to make us all better looking.  As I grow older, I notice that older ladies are nice-looking now than they use to be!  Many of them though, seem to be harder to get along with.

      “You know,” one of them said as I prepared to leave, “you look a little like that guy who writes the outdoor column in our newspaper.”

      I came close to telling them I was, maybe even bragging a little bit about my fishing ability, but thank gosh I didn’t.  The other one made a nasty comment about that column I wrote some time back, the one about how you can tell a female bass from a male bass by their disposition, and how big their bellies are in the spring. It was something I meant to be humorous and light-hearted.  It was plain she didn’t much cotton to my kind of humor.  So I told them my name was Bill Smith, and I was a little shorter and younger and more sensitive than that no-account newspaper columnist.

      “I’d like to run into him just once,” one of them said, “I’d tell him a thing or two about his ideas concerning women.”  It was a precarious situation.  Somehow, I had let one of them get between me and the pickup, so I groped around in the live well and hauled out that Kentucky bass and asked if they’d like to have him.  It quickly diffused the situation, and they were all smiles. 

      I told them I thought it probably was a male bass, and deserved to be filleted and fried.  And then I got out of there in a hurry.  But they don’t realize that if either of them had just said they liked that column and got a good laugh out of it, I might have hung around awhile and helped them catch a few catfish.  So you see ladies, it pays to have a sense of humor!  


      While I am at it, we are going to have a big sale and fish fry here on Lightnin’ Ridge on Saturday, June 5.  You might want to join us then so put that date on your calendar.  I will tell more about that in weeks to come. Anyone can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com.  I am looking for good stories for the summer issue of my outdoor magazine.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Two Gobblers




I started guiding turkey hunters in the early 1980’s, an offshoot of growing up guiding fishermen on the river. An outdoor writer has to learn to supplement his income when he is raising a family, and I found out there was a lot of money to be made taking turkey hunters on two or three day trips, camping somewhere in the mountains of Arkansas and showing them an experience like they had never had.


The hunters I took were wealthy, most of them lawyers or doctors, men who made a lot of money and didn’t have enough time to experience the outdoors on their own. In those days when I lived in Arkansas, I made much of my income guiding those kinds of outdoorsmen on float-fishing trips, fall duck hunting trips or turkey hunting trips in the spring. They paid well, and a few were a pain in the neck. But most were great people.


One of those was an Oklahoma neurosurgeon, Dr. David Fell, and he was a super guy. He was a real joy to hunt with because even though he had never killed a gobbler, he didn’t seem to be that concerned if he didn’t get one. Truly, he enjoyed being outdoors. He joined me in Texas County in Missouri many years ago to hunt gobblers in the morning and float the Big Piney River where I had grown up in the afternoon, fishing for bass and goggle-eye. Back then there were probably 3 times as many gobblers in the woods as there are today, and the morning of opening day found us with several gobblers sounding off around us.


One in particular was gobbling constantly, but slow to move. Within an hour, a mature gobbler came by us within easy range, but he never gobbled at all. Dr. Fell was so consumed with the one we were hearing that he didn’t even see the other. In two hours, that noisy gobbler had moved from 200 yards away to about 75 yards, but though we could hear him, we couldn’t yet see him in the underbrush. I kept hearing another hunter on another ridge, trying to call the gobbler we were working. He was using a diaphragm call, and he was too loud, way too anxious with it… doing too much calling. Still, I think the gobbler might have been quicker to come to my call without the competition.


Finally the old tom was within forty yards, strutting in full view and Dr. Fell dropped him. He was elated. Within minutes, the other hunter showed up to admire the fallen gobbler. He was about 14 or 15 years old, the eldest son of one of my old school mates. They lived on a small tract of land nearby.


  Dr. Fell was so tickled with his gobbler he headed back to Oklahoma anxious to show it off to his friends. I intended to spend the night on the river and hunt a little the next morning. But I kept thinking about that kid, so about dark I drove out to his home and gave him one of the calls that I make, a little western cedar box that it only takes ten minutes with a hot glue gun. I showed him how to use it and told him to quit using that diaphragm. “Save it for turkey calling contests,” I told him with a laugh. He looked puzzled.


I started to leave, but I just couldn’t. I knew he hadn’t ever killed a gobbler in the spring, though he said he had killed a couple of young turkeys in the fall, illegally. So I asked him if he’d like to go with me in the morning. His face brightened like the sun had come back up.


There isn’t enough room here to tell the whole story, but the next morning about 30 minutes after we set up on a wooded ridge-top, I called in a nice gobbler, and the boy killed it. Oh yes, it would have been mine had I not brought him along. And maybe, if you are a young turkey hunter, you may not understand this, but if you are a grizzled old veteran hunter, you will… If I had killed either of those two gobblers in those two spring mornings, I wouldn’t have been nearly as happy as I was, driving back to my home in Arkansas without one.


I had another hunter to take to the Ouachita Mountains in a day or so, and I got paid well for a gobbler he killed just a few miles from the Fourche River. Still, the kid who never paid me a dime for that morning so many years ago gave me just as much as anyone ever did. I remember him lugging that big gobbler toward the porch of that old farmhouse, and some of his brothers and sisters waiting there for the school bus, jumping up and down with excitement. I can still see him, turning toward me with a grin as wide as that gobblers beard was long, and saying “Thanks Mister Dablemont!”


He’s a grown man now… I don’t know where. But I hope he takes some kid turkey hunting on occasion. And I’ll bet my best turkey call that he does.



Thursday, April 15, 2021

Memories of Long Ago Gobblers




Shot with a camera, died of old age.


       I won’t kill a gobbler this year because I don’t like seeing the declining wild turkey numbers throughout the Ozarks. So while I probably will not shoot any of them this year with my shotgun, I will call some up that I can shoot with my camera.  I have killed so many over the years in three states, that I just don’t care about killing any more.  There are enough great memories.


       Fifteen years ago, I took my good friend Dennis Whiteside, (who is an accomplished river guide and all around outdoorsman,) on his first   turkey hunt.  Dennis had never hunted turkeys because he always fished too much in the spring to give it any serious attention.  But he knew where to come when he wanted to learn about it. Shucks, it was me that taught him how to paddle a boat, though he won’t own up to it. 


       I recall that we went out on opening morning and just at first light I called up a gobbler which stopped and strutted in front of us for an hour, about 60 yards away, and then left with a hen.  Then we called up another one an hour later, which gobbled and strutted about 70 yards away, only to be ran off by another tom, which also went a different direction. 


       At 9 o’clock in the morning, Dennis complained about how it seemed I was really good at calling gobblers in to just outside of gun range, but not so good at calling them in to killing distance.  I was offended, of course, and reminded him that if it wasn’t for me he would still be fishing with a cane pole and paddling on both sides of the boat.  That really made him mad, and he said that if it wasn’t for him I’d still be fishing with worms for shade perch, and the two of us almost came to a point of shouting insults at each other. 


       But, we realized that yelling at each other in the turkey woods is counter-productive, and in about an hour, I sat him down in a brushpile and called up four big strutting gobblers. He was so well hidden he couldn’t see to shoot, but eventually one of them walked off a ways and Dennis got his first gobbler ever, a big red-headed tom with an eleven-inch beard and spurs about a quarter of an inch shorter than he has been telling everyone they were.  As a fisherman, he has developed some bad habits, and I don’t think the gobbler would have weighed forty pounds either!


       Those were the days!  For every gobbler we have in the Ozarks today, there were four or five back then.  Why in the world do we not have restrictions on seasons and limits now to help them come back some? I guess it has to do with money.  Hunters like me who hunt with a camera don’t buy turkey tags. And those who would balk at changes in limits and seasons might not want to pay as much for tags.  But if wild gobblers continue the decline I have seen over the last ten years, those who quit hunting them will stop buying tags too.



       I have had some calls about this Saturday’s trip to the wilderness area on Truman Lake where we might even hear a wild gobbler.  Some callers want to know if we will find mushrooms.  I can’t guarantee that but I believe we will. I have found quite few after last weeks rain. Regardless, I will teach people HOW to find them.  We will be hiking through one of the largest forests in the Ozarks.  Then at mid-day we will have a fish fry.  We still have some room so if you want to go you should call me on my office phone and leave a message.  It is 417 777 5227.  The day-long trip will leave from Wheatland Missouri that morning and there is a nice motel there.



If you want to get bargains on fishing lures, rods, reels etc. I want to tell you about a couple of places to visit.  Angler’s Tackle Box, owned by Mark Irwin, is located just to the east of Rogersville, Mo. Mark has hundreds of lures for 2 dollars each… top brands that appear to be to be brand new.  Some of them are 8 or 10 dollars in most outdoor stores.  His variety of fishing lures is outstanding.  I bought a half dozen Rapala lures there for 2 dollars each and a half dozen crankbaits for the same. He also has some antique lures, used motors etc.


       Then I found a place halfway between Clinton and Warsaw called Steve’s Rod and Reel Repair.  Steve is disabled and his shop is inside an antique store called Ginny’s Red Barn. It contains new and used rods by the hundreds and every kind of reel you could ever want to see.  The prices are so good that I bought a couple myself.  He has a lot of antique fishing gear too.  If you want to find bargains on rods and reels, or have your own gear repaired, go by and see him sometime.  You won’t believe his prices on high quality rods with reels to match, hundreds and hundred of each.


       Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com



Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Night Crawlers




An Ozark river ten inch goggle-eye…an increasingly rare fish.

    One of the ways I made money as a boy on the Big Piney was digging and selling night crawlers.   Those were earthworms that averaged from 8 to 12 inches long as big around as a pencil.  I got three cents apiece for them, but provided them free to the clients I took on float trips.  With a good potato fork in specific spots in the bottoms, you could dig a hundred or so in about 30 minutes. 


Of course we used minnows and crawdads and hellgrammites too, but a night crawler was the best bait a kid could get if he was after rock bass, the Ozark river species we referred to as goggle-eye.


      Old-timers in the pool hall often said you could start catching goggle-eye when oak leaves were “the size of a squirrels ear”. My grandpa was a trotliner and he always said when the oak leaves were the size of a squirrels ear the flathead were really active.  Of course you could catch all species before then but that’s about the time, in early April, that my dad and I would float the river before the spawn, using small spinner baits we called shimmy flies.  Those were the hottest lures there were in early spring when the water was clearer than normal.  Shimmy-flies were made by a fellow named Varney from over around Salem Missouri. They were small spinner baits with brown- or black-haired jigs wrapped around a yellow and black core that looked a lot like a bee’s body. If you hopped ‘em over the substrate of the right places in the river you could catch big goggle-eyes, from eight to ten inches long, 20 or 30 a day. 


      I had a cousin by the name of Dwain McNew, who was a year older than me.  His dad had a farm on the river and when I was 13 or 14 he and I roamed all over the bottoms there, after goggle-eyes and black perch mostly.  Actually, black perch, were known to most local folks as green sunfish. Back then they often got just as big as a goggle-eye.  One of my granddad’s wooden johnboats was always on the river down at the Sweet ‘tater eddy and we’d paddle it upstream past the mill eddy nearly to the paw-paw bottoms and then back down river through the Ginseng hole to the McKinney eddy.  We fished that mile or so of river with old fiberglass rods, casting reels made by Pflueger and Shakespeare and South Bend, all with braided line and a two- foot monofilament leader.  Most fishermen called that clear leader line ‘cat-gut’.  My dad protected his shimmy flies, and well he should have.  Dwain and I would have left a lot of them on submerged logs and snaggeldy rocks in water too deep to get them loose.  We did fish some old Lazy Ikes and Flatfish lures, but when we wanted to bring in a big stringer, we took the potato fork along and dug a coffee-can-full of big fat night crawlers.  Then we looked for root wads and log-jams, where goggle-eye and largemouth hung out.  Smallmouth hid beneath and around big boulders, and they liked the night crawlers too.  But there weren’t as many bass as there were black perch and goggle-eye.  They were really plentiful.  Then there was the nemesis of the night crawler fisherman pesky little long-eared sunfish we called punkinseeds.  They were thick as tadpoles in a spring branch, and could take a night crawler off a hook without getting caught.  When you did hook those tiny-mouthed pests, there were never any big enough to eat. 


      The Piney had so much water back then, and deep holes where big rocks protected all kinds of river life.  Today I can show you where they were, but most are partly or completely covered by sand, silt and gravel. The deeper waters where smallmouth and goggle-eye and flathead are found are still there on lower portions of the river, but more rare today than I ever would have believed, in that day of plenty.  If you didn’t live in that time, you would never believe that most Ozark creeks and rivers have about 25 to 30 percent less water today.  But there isn’t 25 to 30 percent less goggle-eye today in the streams of the Ozarks.  It is more like 60 percent less. I wonder if they can ever come back, if maybe our conservation folks would just try a rock bass catch and smallmouth catch and release program for about 3 years.  I try to convince all the folks I come across who are fishing any Ozark streams in Missouri and Arkansas to release ALL smallmouth and rock bass, but there are still so many local folks that you just can’t reach with that message.  And I understand them.  While I seldom eat fish anymore I recall how happy dad and I were to take home a stringer of fish from the Piney for supper.  BUT, back then there were about 5 percent as many fishermen fishing the river and that’s what makes the difference.


I urge readers to look at my website sometime, www.larrydablemont.com and also check my blogspot from time to time for photos and information I can’t put in today’s newspapers.  That computer site is larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com


Contact me by writing Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or emailing lightninridge47@gmail.com


Friday, April 2, 2021




        I need to tell folks that we aren’t going to be able to have our Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s swap meet in April because I haven’t been able to find a place large enough that will allow us to have the 1,000 people we are expecting in attendance… but we WILL have it this year, maybe in September.  I will keep you informed.  However… I will be taking folks out to my special wilderness area on Truman Lake, via pontoon boat, on Saturday, April 17.  At midday we will have a big fish fry on the lake and I hope to teach people how to find morel mushrooms that afternoon. I will also show you an area that is much like it was 200 years ago, with huge timber and a great variety of wildlife.  The hikes we take into the woods are not strenuous.  We start from Wheatland Mo at 9 in the morning and come in at sunset.  To join us just give me a call at 417-777-5227 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com   

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Savages in the Water

This large white bass has unbroken lateral lines on it's side






















This is actually a small hybrid... notice the broken lateral lines on it's side compared to the unbroken on the white bass



         The first thing I need to tell folks with this column is that we aren’t going to be able to have our Grizzled Old Veteran’s swap meet in April, but we WILL have it this year, maybe in September.  I will keep you informed.  However I will be taking folks out to my special wilderness area on Truman Lake, via pontoon boat, on Saturday, April 17.  At midday we will have a big fish fry on the lake and I hope to teach people how to find morel mushrooms that  afternoon. I will also show you an area that is much like it was 200 years ago, with huge timber and a great variety of wildlife.  The hikes we take into the woods are not strenuous.  We start from Wheatland, Mo at 9 in the morning and come in at sunset.  To join us, use the addresses or phone number at the end of this column.


         On the lower reaches of a small river I like to fish, the water was deep and clear and cold a few days ago.  I fished hard for an hour with no results.  Then I moved down into a quiet backwater of the lake and noticed it was getting murky.  After a hundred useless casts, I was about ready to head in.  At exactly 5:30, I became glad I had persisted.  He hit my lure with the ferocity of a bobcat on a rabbit!  And I landed, after a struggle I wasn’t sure my light line would survive, an 18 inch hybrid, a fish some call a wiper.  His daddy is a striped bass and his momma a white bass.  It was what I had come looking for, and finally my patience was rewarded. And I knew he wouldn’t be alone.  Three casts later another struck my lure with a savagery most fish don’t display.  I sat there until almost 7 p.m. disappointed to be reeling in white bass instead of the hybrids.  Remember when I wrote about catching a pot-load of fish a couple of weeks ago and I said none were above two pounds?  Well on this trip only a few days ago, I caught all my fish on that same lure and none were UNDER two pounds.  Many of the hybrids exceeded four pounds a little, but none made it to 5.  And truthfully, a four pound hybrid isn’t that impressive because I was after 8 to 10 pounders that would strip five or six feet of line against my drag on any run or several hard runs.  I have caught 15-pound hybrids from Norfork lake and 10 to 12 pound hybrids from the upper Sac River.


           I expect that where I will fish for them the next week or so, I will get some bigger ones.  But you don’t really complain about catching 18-inch hybrids on lite tackle.  When I begin to catch bigger ones, I won’t use six- pound line and a spinning reel, I will go to my casting reel and ten-pound line.   Hybrids are very strong, but in most waters they don’t run for the brush, they fight in the open water.  Brother, when they get in a river current, pound for pound they will outfight a smallmouth bass and put to shame a comparable-sized trout as well.  If you want to see the difference between a white bass and a hybrid, I have pictures of the two, side by side, on my computer site… www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.   Hybrids are a whiter fish with darker lines down the side and many of the bottom lines are broken.  A white bass’ lateral lines are not broken.


         It is unbelievable to me that for weeks I have been using a lure that I found back in the winter beach combing, as I do often in the dead of winter.  I know that I could catch fish on lots of lures when you get into them as I recently have, but it is hard to switch to something else when I am using this little crank bait that has caught six species of fish since the last days of February.


         By the way, my spring outdoor magazine and my spring Ozark magazine are printed and ready to mail now.  If you want a copy of either, just call my office to get information about the cost and postage.  The number is 417 777 5227.  Email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613