Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Under a Bright Light


         I am going to write about wild turkey problems during the summer as I had promised, but an outdoor writer can’t skip over the fishing that gets so good this time of year…  I went fishing at Norfork Lake last week and really bombed out.  An outdoor writer is also prone to tell about the fishing trips that go very well and not write much about the times he makes a thousand casts and reels back empty hooks or lures.  If you had been with me on Norfork last week you would have caught more fish than I did if you had only caught one.  

         I’ll start this story describing something that happened in the late seventies or early eighties.  There I was that morning just after daylight, on Bull Shoals Lake, motoring around looking for a good spot to fish top water lures for bass.  It was so foggy that May morning that the Navy couldn’t have used its radar effectively.  As I fished a cove not far from where I had left my pick-up, I really had no idea where my pick-up was. With that fog around me, I wasn’t sure which end of the boat the motor was on. 

         It was as quiet as it ever gets on that magnificent lake, but for an occasional splash of a fish somewhere, and all of a sudden, there was the slow drone of an outboard motor growing closer, and closer.  It wasn’t going fast enough to swamp me… I just wondered if they might run over me.  Back in those days I didn’t have much of a boat.

Finally these three guys motored up beside me and ask if I knew where they were.  I told them I didn’t know where any of us was.  I remember them well; there was Rob Morton, his younger brother and a young man by the name of Henson.  They looked as if they had been through a wringer, returning from a long sleepless night with stringers of all kinds of fish, bass, white bass, crappie, trout and walleye.  

         One walleye was a jaw dropper. It was about 3 feet long and weighed 16 pounds.  They had caught the fish during the night beneath a submerged light, using threadfin shad which were attracted to the light.  To make a long story short, when the sun came up and burned off the fog, I had gotten to know them a little and they had invited me to go along on their next trip.

 I did and I will never forget that fishing trip.  Until midnight that night, I caught nothing; jigging a minnow up and down beneath the boat and that bright underwater light.  About that time some shad began to flip around on the surface and in twenty minutes those threadfin shad had turned into a swirl and then a regular mass, circling that light like Indians circling a wagon train! You could hear them hitting the bottom of the boat, sounding like rain on a tin roof.  All I remember about the rest of the night was reeling in hefty fish, big crappie, several walleye and trout, and a bunch of white bass in the 3 to 4 pound category.  A shad net hanging down into that swirl gave us all the bait we needed, and when you hooked on a shad and dropped it down about 30 feet below, you had better hang on to your rod.

         I have fished that way from April to mid-June since then, from my pontoon boat on a half dozen different lakes, though the threadfin shad are not found in Missouri reservoirs. So let me switch to last week on Norfork Lake, the Three Oaks resort near Gamaliel.  Don Lawellen and his wife own it.  I met him years back when I was looking for advertisers with my magazine on Norfork.  Never fished with anyone I like better. Don has the darndest thing going for fishermen that I have ever seen.  His resort sits high on a mountain looking out over the beauty of Norfork Lake and his boat dock sits at the bottom of a steep incline below it.  You reach it by a trolley.  That dock sits over about 50 feet of water, with lights down in the water, and benches there where his resort visitors fish after dark.  The whole thing has to be seen to believed.  

         You don’t need a boat, you just fish from the dock and depending on the time of year and the time of night, you can catch crappie and walleye and hybrids and stripers and white bass, and a few black bass too.  I have fished there with Don and caught lots of them, even in the winter.  I count him as a close friend, a fellow who can tell stories enough to keep you awake well into the night, and I like to go there just to hang out with him on that dock.  But then, I like to catch fish too. 

          The folks fishing from his dock use jigs and spoons and little else.  I look down into those depths at swarming shad and want to use them for bait. Last week you could sit there and watch huge fish come to within 3 feet of the surface and not catch a darn one of them. At least I didn’t.  There were crappie and a couple of walleye and white bass that looked to be 4 or 5 pounds, and a dozen hybrids.  Fishing only a few feet from me, Don hooked several hybrids, lost an expensive spoon and landed two that were seven or eight pounds.  I have an answer to what I saw that night… I am going back with my pontoon boat, tying up to the end of his dock, setting out a bright light and a shad net, and fishing with nothing but threadfin shad!  That’ll learn ‘em!

         If you want to take a vacation soon that affords such good fishing even if you haven’t got a boat, and experience fun trolley rides from a mountaintop, call Three Oaks Resort and see if you can get one of those beautiful old cabins of his sometime this summer… or fall, or winter.  The fish seem to always be there. 


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