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

SWAP MEET UPDATE

 

 

        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