Thursday, February 24, 2022

No Danged Luck


Uncle Norten and I were fishing in February for whatever we can catch

       When I am fishing in February and March, I like water just a little bit above normal, with not so much mud in it, or floating debris.  I like it green colored and gently flowing, enough so that the boat doesn’t drag on the shoals and I want it to stay right where it is until all the walleye and bass and crappie have brought forth a good spawn. This time of year I would rather be somewhere listening to spring peepers, intent on seeing my topwater lure slurped under and my rod bent to the breaking point by a white bass or hybrid.


       That being said, nothing ever works the way I want it too.  I feel like I was born on Friday the 13th.   I could dig up a safe in my back yard and it would be filled with confederate money.  I could get stung by a bee or bit by a copperhead just looking for a four-leaf clover.   I ain’t never had no danged luck!!


 Last week, the fish were so hard to find I don’t know if I remember enough about what one looks like to write about it.  Honest to goodness, I fished hard for two hours and never got a strike.  I was using a new five dollar lure which a company representative had given me, and finally, when I was just going through the motions of casting without much hope of hooking anything more than underwater snags, a huge fish of some kind came up beside my boat and savagely slashed at my lure, missing the hooks and somehow breaking the bill off of it.  I don’t know what it was, I never saw it. I suspect it was a walleye or maybe a hybrid. But it swirled the water and nearly jerked the rod from my hand, so it wasn’t something insignificant.  And yet, what I got from it was nothing more than a ruint fishing lure!


I don’t want to give the appearance of someone who is ungrateful however for a nice day spent outdoors, all alone with no other fishermen anywhere in sight.  I know that on such days many of you readers are at work somewhere and would like to have been with me.  But you should rethink that.  As unlucky as I am, you might be in danger of getting a hook in your ear or having a dead limb fall on the boat, or having your best lure broken.  If you worked all day that day I was out fishing, you had something to show for it in the result of a paycheck.  I have never had a paycheck!  And if this weather doesn’t change I may have to start writing about mushroom hunting or bird-watching or politics.  My freezer doesn’t have any ducks in it now, and I haven’t had fresh fish in two weeks.


Don’t forget that on Friday evening, March 4 we will be meeting in Houston Mo to talk about the idea of a museum concerning the old days of the Big Piney river and people who lived in it’s watershed.

I need everyone who has any interest at all to be there.  We will begin at 6 p.m. at the Savor restaurant across from the Hospital, and I will have Fred Hoppe along with me.  Fred and I will be eating there about 5 p.m.  He is a world-renowned sculptor who owns 4 different museums.  See his website, just his name on the Internet will get you there.


I think what I am planning will surprise you. For more information, call me at 417-777-5227


Friday, February 18, 2022



My biggest walleye… from Manitoba

         I never caught a walleye when I was young because the Big Piney, where I grew up, didn’t have any.  That seems strange to me now because so many Ozark streams have plenty of those glass-eyed fish also known in parts of the Ozarks as Jack Salmon. Just out of college I went to Arkansas to become an outdoor writer for the Arkansas Democrat newspaper, and in there was a lot of talk about the big walleye tournament that began each February and went on through much of April at Greer’s Ferry Lake. Except it wasn’t so much the lake they were fishing, it was tributaries to it, like the Little Red River.


         How could it be that any fish in Ozarks waters began to make a spawning run in February?  I began to study the walleye closer with the help of two guides at Greer’s Ferry, Dickie Bailey and Big Ed Claiborne.  Those two guys seemed to know everything about the fish.  Both had caught a dozen or more over the years between 18 and 21 pounds.  I found out that just a few degrees increase in water temperature of the Little Red brought walleye from the depths.  They might not be there until the middle of the month but when they came the walleye specialists would fish the deep holes of the Little Red and other tributaries at night, and the favored bait was bluegills.


         Those who fish for walleye in Norfork and Bull Shoals and Stockton Lakes don’t seem to do things like they did in Greer’s Ferry.  Over the years we have had great success in all 3 of those lakes during the post spawn periods of April and May, under submerged lights, when you catch several species including big walleyes fishing deep beneath the lights with big minnows or threadfin shad.


 A guide by the name of Frank Saksa who is one of North Arkansas’ best, introduced me to February fishing years ago on Norfork lake, on a reasonably warm moonlit night when he caught a limit of walleye on suspending rogues, all between four and five pounds, just casting gently sloping rock or gravel banks which went from shallow to six or eight feet within 20 yards or so.  I didn’t catch a one that night because I was in my boat fishing a big topwater lure in the middle of that same cove for stripers or hybrids.  I landed an 18-pound striper and a couple of big hybrids, but when it was all over I kinda wished I had been with Frank.



        Of course, I started catching lots of walleye when I started going to Canada, but they seldom get bigger than 5 pounds there, at least for me.  Most all of that fishing is done jigging a minnow off the bottom, most of it in Northwest Ontario.  But I did get lucky once in Manitoba in October when I caught a genuine ten-pounder in the Red River, which most people think of as river for big catfish. We were there hunting geese and ducks, and got invited on an afternoon fishing trip.


         One of the best walleye trips I ever took was in early March with two friends of mine who lived in Wisconsin.  We went to a spot on the Mississippi river below a lock and dam between southern Iowa and southern Wisconsin, and drifted down the gently flowing river dragging half ounce blue and green jigs just off the bottom.  We’d drift a mile or so, then go back up and start over. There were several people fishing off a big dock just below the dam, and quite a few boats drifting with us, but the river was packed with walleye.  We caught a three-man limit between three and seven pounds.  They were pale, strange-looking walleyes compared to others from Canadian or Ozark waters where you expect a fish much more of a bronze color.


         And of course I have caught some walleye through the ice up north in February too, using mealworms and little short rods.  Doubt I will ever do that again, because at that same time, I know that in the Ozarks, bigger ones are heading from the depths of our reservoirs into the tributaries.  I wonder what is like nowadays down at Greer’s Ferry and the Little Red River where, by the way, a fellow by the name of Nelson, who often fished with Bailey and Claiborne, caught a walleye in the 80’s that is the world record.  Little better than 21 pounds I think it was.  But bigger ones than that will swim into that small stream between now and March.  Wish I could be there for a night or two. Maybe if gas drops a dollar or so…

         More about February fishing next week.  If you like to read, visit my website,   

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

A Master Sculptor


Bronze statues at WWII museum in Branson that were made by Fred Hoppe

         Last week I wrote about my dream to create a museum along Highway 63 between Houston and Licking, dedicated to the early history of the old-time Ozarks and the Big Piney River where I grew up. I was in Nebraska in October and on the way home I stopped at a restaurant in Lincoln. A man walked up to me and said he remembered me from 1978 when he was a taxidermist in Lincoln. 

         It’s a long story but back then I was guiding hunters and fishermen in North Arkansas and I had a fisherman out of Omaha who came to go fishing with me on Bull Shoals. He was a taxidermist by the name of Gary Bade. On that fishing trip he caught a five and a half-pound white bass.  Bade was so intrigued with that lake back then that he moved to Branson to be close to it.

         A couple months later I came to Nebraska and brought him some Ozark driftwood to use as bases for his fish. I brought enough for a couple of other taxidermist friends of his. One of them was a fellow by the name of Fred Hoppe. That was in 1978. I can’t believe he remembered me when we met again at that restaurant. 

         We had a lot to talk about. He became a successful museum owner and nationally-known sculptor. You need to go on Fred Hoppe’s website to see his bronze statue work as it will amaze you. I spent the afternoon at his gigantic warehouse where he has everything you can imagine for museums, including rows of antique automobiles, too much to even begin to list. 

Fighting Elk bronze statues by Fred Hoppe

         Hoppe owns two museums in Branson and two others in other states. The one most folks are familiar with is the military museum in Branson, where there are bronze statues of World War II soldiers, full-sized… about 30 of them… each with different facial features.

         Hoppe will be at our meeting in Houston on the evening of March 4, and we are going to float the Big Piney on March 5th. He is available as an adviser and a help in setting up that museum.

         Wherever we build this museum of the Big Piney and the Ozark people of Texas County, I believe it will, in a couple of years, draw several thousand people into the area and actually benefit many of the businesses in Licking, Houston and Cabool.

         Our meeting, Friday, March 4,will be from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Savor Restaurant, across the Highway from the Texas County Hospital just south of the junction of Highway 17 and Highway 63.

         The Big Piney-Ozark Museum, once finished will be free to all visitors, and it will be a structure of log and rock that will add beauty along the Highway wherever it is built.

         I think there are many who have historic material about ancestors that would like to share. If you are one of those people or even if you are not, please come to our meeting. Fred and I will be eating dinner at the Savor Restaurant at 5:00 if you would like to join us.

         I am also coming to Houston this coming Friday to the little mini-museum display we have set up at the Chamber of Commerce building on Highway 63 just south of Bushy Creek. 

         If you would like more information, call me at 417-777-5227.         

See my website if you know how to manipulate a computer.  It is and my email is

Next week’s column will begin the fishing season for  me, and I will write about early spring (and I mean February) fishing.