Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Woodpecker and The Walleye



    Rain crows came back to Lightning Ridge last week, and now the spring ensemble of birds is complete. There are a lot of species to see now, and an individual of one common species, acts way out of character.  A red-bellied woodpecker has been drinking sugar water from the oriole feeder and seems to really love the grape jelly we have out for the colorful orioles.  I think it is just one individual, and he has taken a liking to sweet stuff.  If you have seen any woodpeckers do the same thing, let me know.  


    Doves feed beneath the feeders in large numbers and nest all around us. Several species of colorful grosbeaks come and go. I believe that over a thirty-year period I have witnessed about 40 species of birds here.  The rarest involve one sighting of a road-runner and one sighting of a rare ‘pygmy’ brown-headed nuthatch that is not supposed to be within 300 miles of here.  On my pond, a few hundred feet from my porch, there has been a dozen species of waterfowl and water birds that you might expect to see around a pond, and a couple you would never expect to visit it.


    My pond provides fishing right out my back door, but Don Lewallen has the most phenomenal fishing I have ever seen just a hundred yards from HIS back door.  Don owns the Three Oaks Resort, which sets on a high ridge overlooking Norfork Lake just a little ways from the Arkansas-Missouri line. His boat dock sits over 50 feet of water, down a steep mountainside.  You go down there and back via tram, a cart on a track.  At night underwater lights attract baitfish, primarily threadfin shad.  And with those come crappie, bass, walleye, stripers, white bass, bluegill… you name it. 


      I paid him a visit the other evening and fished ‘til about midnight and caught four nice walleye, the biggest 21-inches long.  He has seen some caught there about twice that size. Down by the bright green LED light, which is about ten feet under the middle of the dock, we watched huge fish swim around looking for an easy meal.  Using the same small spoon, I caught walleye and nothing else… while Don caught 4 stripers, and one crappie.  He lost the crappie at the surface, and it was easily a 16- to 18-inch fish. While usually you   catch more crappie than any other species in the spring, that one was the only one there.  For an hour we could watch him swim around below us and he would come close to three pounds, I think.  Finally Don hooked him and I thought we were going to see a big black crappie, but he got loose. 


    One of the stripers Don caught, was about 8 pounds.  Some of his guests have landed much bigger stripers from his dock, up to 20 pounds.  He has owned the resort for ten years, and has some stories of strange things he has seen happen there in the years of night fishing.  I am telling those stories in my summer outdoors magazine which will come out in June.  There isn’t enough space here to tell it all.


  This column I write goes to many newspapers, in Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.  Quite a few of them cannot print what the Missouri Department of Conservation does not want known.  I can respect that.  Newspapers cannot print columns which cost them advertising money.  I am going to write about what is happening to wild turkeys in the Midwest and tell you the truth about what needs to be done, and the MDC won’t approve of what I am going to say.  So I will write it as an independent ‘letter to the editor’ and send it out next week, hoping newspapers will use it with a disclaimer that will keep MDC people from knocking on their door.  It will also be printed in the summer issue of my Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazine and in my computer blogspot which you can read at larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.  Men like me, who spend more time outdoors than in an office, will tell you that in most of the Ozarks, wild gobblers are a third of what they were ten years ago. What I am going to write has information from a retired old-time wild turkey biologist, and you will need to hear what he says. I know a solution to bringing wild turkeys back, and it is not in line with what state game agencies want to do.    Let your newspaper know you would like to read it… next week.


I am looking forward to my 20th anniversary celebration of Lightnin' Ridge Publishing Company, and we will have a big fish-fry here on this isolated ridge top on Saturday, June 5 which you are invited to.  We will also have a big sale on that day with more than 1000 items for sale.  If you are interested in attending, get directions, a list of sale items and other info by calling my office at 417-777-5227 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com  Of course you can always write me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo.65613












Wednesday, May 19, 2021

In a Small Creek




         It isn’t much of a creek in the summer, but miles above where it flows into an Ozark lake, you can find it bank full in the spring.  There are lots of those kinds of creeks in the Ozarks.  They don’t have spectacular bluffs but there are rocky outcroppings along the deep-water sides and out from those there are some deep holes even in the dry season. 


         They are isolated; with difficult shoals this time of year when the water is high, which become shallow riffles after a month of little rain.  But they are peaceful, lonely little waters where you can pretend it is 100 years ago.  No canoe renters are found along them, no beer cans, no hollering. 


         So the other day I gets to thinking that I might find a few nice bass in some of those creek eddies, now about right to float with the water conditions we have.  I put my shortest johnboat in at a low water bridge, fixin’ to float a few hours and take some pictures and cast a few spinner-baits and come out at a farm crossing maybe 3 or 4 miles down the creek.


         Did I get a surprise when I got there!  The normally murky waters found in the spring were crystal clear, and you don’t fish anything above an eighth of an ounce in spring-water, which is what I seemed to be floating through.  So I put up the spinner bait and went to my light spinning gear and a 3-inch long Rapala and in the next 2 hours I did indeed have a great time catching a few little bass about 12 or 13 inches long, bending that light rod like they were lunkers.


         Then I came to a hole maybe 2 miles above the lake and made a cast whilst enjoy the sight of two old geese trying to get 4 goslings to hide from me.  The little ones were about the size of mallards, with longer necks of course, still a little bit downy and yellow colored.  Momma goose slid down beside a log and flattened out with her head on the ground, and shortly the gander and the goslings did the same.  I took some photos, leaving my lure out several feet from my boat.  In the middle of my photography, there was a commotion on the water where my lure had been and something took it under, nearly jerking my rod and reel out of my boat. 


         I grabbed it, and my light rod just bent over with the weight of the fish.  What a fight it was, and I won.  I pulled a 15-inch white bass into the boat, a female with a bulging belly, five inches across.  I looked down into the clear hole I had drifted into and I could see a dozen more of them, swirling around in a mass of ready-to-spawn white bass.  I backed the boat up quietly, got out on the bank and started catching them, working that little topwater lure on the surface, nailing a hard-fighting white bass on about every third cast. 



        At one time I caught five of them on five consecutive casts.  As it grew later in the day, after stringing my limit of the hard- fighting white bass, I caught another 20 or so and released them.  About a third of them were males, and there were plenty of big hefty females.  Cleaning them later I found that some of the females had not deposited their eggs but were reabsorbing them. That seems to be a normal occurrence in the spring.


         Everything I caught was above 12 inches and I landed some that were 16 inches long. You really can’t say that the hardest fighting fish for its size is a smallmouth, though they are what I would rather fish for than anything else.  You catch a sixteen-inch white bass and the struggle to land it, and the length of the fight, will equal that of a 16-inch smallmouth, especially in flowing current. 


         The white bass that day were situated in two holes that were about 8 or 9 feet deep, with a little bit of flow.  They likely spawned that night or in nights to come.  At night, I am sure more of them arrived because I went back the next day and caught 30 or 40 more of them. 


         White bass will easily move up a tributary but it is done at night in clear water, and they can swim over a shoal in only four inches of water. I have watched them spawn in clear shoals at night and it is something to see, the water glistening with silver bodies, turning sideways in flowing water, releasing eggs by the thousands, with males beside them fertilizing those eggs, which then roll in the current over the gravels.


         Their migration in large streams can go for miles and miles.  I am sure the ones I found in that small creek had traveled 8 or 10 miles to spawn. There were good shoals downstream for spawning, but it seems that where they were, was something perfect for them.  How long will there be white bass there? I think they will be up that creek for another couple of weeks, some coming and some going, if the rain doesn’t keep the creek too high and muddy. 


         But I doubt if I get back there.  I am going down into Arkansas soon to fish for other species.  You might say I have other fish to fry.


I have a new book out this week for those who are interested.  E-mail me at lightninridge47@gmail.com or call my office to find out how to get a copy.  The number is 417-777-5227.


Saturday, May 15, 2021

An Enticing Skirt, A Deadly Blade



It was two o’clock in the afternoon before we got to the lake, and it was up a few feet, as I expected it to be. The water was a little murky, but there was still a foot or so of visibility in it. That’s about perfect for a big spinner-bait. If you fish small spinners and light line, clear water is fine, but if you are after a brawling, broad-sided bass, and the spinner blade is about the size of a spoon you use to serve mashed potatoes with, a little bit of murkiness in the water is fine.


I pulled a yellow and white skirt with two large gold willow-leaf spinners out of my tackle box, and I put a trailer hook on the main hook. I added a strip of white pork rind on the main hook below the trailer, so the trailer hook wouldn’t come off, and it made the whole thing look even more delectable.  When you get through with that you have about three-quarters of an ounce of lure to cast.  With that I was using an Ambassadeur 4500 casting reel and 14-pound line, on a medium-heavy graphite rod.  Of course, such a rig isn’t meant for enjoying the resistance of small fish. You are hoping to attract a largemouth of lunker proportions, and this time of year you are looking for him in brushy water, back up in a cove which is full of timber, attractive to bass feeling the coming of spring, and feeling hungrier as the water temperature rises.


And of course, I caught five bass in the first hour from 12- to 15- inches long. Those bass would have been great fun on a spinning outfit with eight-pound line but in the brush we were fishing, that kind of gear is too light. They were out away from the bank in six or eight feet of water, and to get to them, I was hanging up on occasion, then working to get that lure loose.


It happens that way when you fish a spinner-bait the size of a bird’s nest in that kind of water. You don’t just cast it and retrieve it. You vibrate that blade, you lift it and you drop it and you let it fall and flutter into water where there are logs and limbs.  You keep it moving, try to tantalize a bass, get him to rise up from the brushpile hideout where he lurks and come after that spinner bait. You use your rod tip, you feel your lure through places where you can’t actually see what is there.  I don’t know what a bass thinks that spinner-bait is, but you make him like the idea of eating it, by causing the blade to throb and the skirt to undulate. You make it look alive, like something with a fishy taste to it.


There are all kinds of spinner-baits today, and blades of a variety of colors and shapes. Apparently my gold willow leaf variety was what they wanted that day. I had just retrieved the lure from an underwater limb, and made another cast ahead of me, when between two upright trees, I felt it hit another limb.   I lifted it quickly and felt it stop and give just a little. Then in a split second I saw it move, away and down. I set the hook hard and the bass, only eight or ten feet from the boat, didn’t give an inch. Finally I had attracted a bass worthy of the gear I was using. He just stripped a foot or so of line against my drag, then came back below me, arcing the rod like a catfish on a cane pole.  It was fun… at times like that I remember why I like to fish for bass. 


No, it isn’t quite along the lines of dueling a four-pound smallmouth in a current below a river shoal, but a big bass with a mouth that will easily hold a softball, and a belly wide and heavy with eggs, will make you forget there is any work left undone at home. I fought him, and I won. Many times I have hooked bass of that size and they have won the struggle, but that time it was my turn. I hefted him, actually a ‘her’ and we took a couple of pictures. I released her later, in a small private lake near my home where she will soon spawn. The bass was a little better than 21 inches long, and I think maybe 8 pounds. You can guess it’s weight by going to my website (www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com) and looking at the photo. 


The lake was a place of solitude that day in midweek.  There wasn’t a boat to be seen, maybe because of rain and cool weather. Right now you can begin to catch bass on topwater lures, but the best topwater time will come later in the summer.  This is spinner-bait time and if you want to know what it is like to catch a big bass, a spinner-bait is the lure to use.


With the turkey season over, it is obvious that we have a major problem in the Ozarks with declining numbers of wild gobblers. Some of the letters I received in past days are from hunters who believe it is time to do something about hunting seasons and bag limits. No, now is not the time for that, two or three years ago was the time for that!  More about the tremendous problem of disappearing wild turkeys next week.



Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or e-mail me at lightninridge@windstream.net. 


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Brown Headed Bad Guys


         I put my pellet rifle out on the back porch last week, so I could kill two or three birds coming to the back yard bird feeders. Bet that causes some eyebrows to rise!


         The birds I shoot are brown-headed cowbirds. The reason I want these birds gone is because the hen of the species will go to open bird’s nests like those of cardinals, robins and doves and many others, kick out the eggs that are there and lay her own eggs.  Then whatever birds have made that nest will incubate and feed the cowbird fledglings.  So I eradicate all of the cowbirds that I can and I suggest you do the same.


         Migrating wild birds are here at Lightnin’ Ridge now; orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, blue grosbeaks and others.   All will nest here, including the yellow-billed cuckoo (rain-crow) which is still two or three weeks from arriving.  The only other thing I shoot at my place is black snakes, which climb trees, and invade bird houses and hollow trees to eat bird eggs or young birds.  Sure, if you have a barn or shed with mice, black snakes will help eradicate them.  But they will eat more baby birds and rabbits than mice, and they never pass up a turkey nest either. They are overpopulated almost everywhere unless they are controlled.  And that is the secret to “managing” any kind of situation.  Each person in charge of acreage in the country has to decide what they want.  If you want rabbits, quail, ground-nesting birds like meadowlarks, whippoorwills, killdeer, etc. you can’t have high populations of skunks and possums, black snakes, armadillos and raccoons.  Armadillos, not native to the Ozarks, should be eradicated any way possible.  But I can hear the suburban “master naturalists” protesting.  No, controlling those species I just mentioned does not mean eliminating them.  There will always be some of them, just not overpopulations. 


         What a mess we have now with raccoons.  They get diseases like distemper, which kills them slowly, and they still are very overpopulated all throughout the Midwest.  No coon hunters any more, and few trappers.  I am sure that if you are talking about ‘wildlife management’ you are not in agreement with the furbearer situation.  Good grief, coyotes are at all time highs and so are bobcats. 


         I got a Bachlelor of Science degree from the University of Missouri’s School of Agriculture in ‘Wildlife Management’.  I remember a time when management of wildlife actually was practiced, and a goal of wildlife departments.  Today that term is meaningless.  Young biologists do not come from rural settings today.  Many never hunted in their youths, have only the knowledge gained in classrooms.  And they are taught by instructors who do not have a country background either. My degree and the books were a small percentage of what I learned about the outdoors.  I grew up in the outdoors. 


         Endangered species is becoming a silly term. Do you think Eagles are endangered today?!! Cottontail rabbits are more endangered than eagles!  Whipporwills are more endangered than ospreys.  But who knows that in our state conservation agencies. What I have said about blacksnakes and cowbirds will cause some of the experts who live in the cities and talk conservation in city offices, will wince at what I say. 


         Here in the woods where I live, I heard a whippoorwill for the first time in ten years this week.  Whippoorwills and cottontails and quail are all at precarious populations, each perhaps ten percent of the number I saw in the 70’s.  ‘Wildlife Management’ nowadays amounts to figuring out where the money is, and for Game and Fish Departments and Conservation Departments, you can’t make money out of quail, rabbits or whippoorwills, so the attitude is…we can’t help them… and don’t you dare shoot a hawk or raccoon!


          If I get caught shooting a brown-headed cowbird or a blacksnake, by some conservation agent who doesn’t know the difference between a turkey egg and a goose egg,  I would have to pay a fine.  But come up on my wooded ridgetop and see all the birds I have here, including quail!


         And there are skunks and weasels and black snakes too.  It’s just that here, my degree in wildlife ‘management’ has caused me to ‘manage’ them.  I may do some more managing today if those cowbirds show up beneath the feeder.


         You can see Lightnin’ Ridge for yourself on Saturday, June 5 when we have a huge  (they always call yard sales ‘huge’) sale here and a noon-time fish-fry and dinner to go with it. You can hike the trails with me at 11:00 or on your own anytime you want. This place will show you what the Ozarks looked like years ago.  There are some 300 year-old trees here and lots of wild creatures I ‘manage’. If you come, the dinner is five dollars per person. 


         I am getting rid of a lot of my fishing and hunting gear and equipment, a brand new browning pump shotgun, a ford tractor and mower and tons of stuff which I may give away at the end of the day if it isn’t sold.  I have a map of how to get to this place, a high ridge overlooking the Pomme de Terre river valley about 10 miles north of Bolivar Missouri, and with that map a list of what we are selling to the highest bidders.  If you want to come, contact me to have that list and the map mailed to you.  I can do that if you send me your address or email address.  Mine is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or lightninridge47@gmail.com.  I hope to meet a lot of you readers that day.