By Larry Dablemont
The Joplin Globe
If there’s anyone who ever remembers seeing this kind of rain in the Ozarks in late July and early August, I would like for you to tell me when it was.
In some areas we have had more rain in two weeks than we normally get all spring. It ruins some of the fishing I look forward to all year, and that is the stream fishing you can find in the Ozarks during the peak of the summer, using buzz-baits and an assortment of topwater lures.
Rivers have to be fairly low and clear for that kind of fishing. Spring fishermen have sort of abandoned the streams, tired of being bitten by horseflies and having to pull over shallow shoals. But where there are some deep waters fed by a little current, there are some good fish to be caught — smallmouth, Kentuckies and largemouth. Not so far this year though, every little stream looks like the Mississippi.
I don’t know that it’s all bad, but these floods badly damage some of our rivers, washing away exposed banks, putting gravel and silt in deep holes and downing big trees that clog up the channels. Maybe it brings better nesting success when murky water backs up into vegetation and stays there. And not all waters are muddy. Big reservoirs like Stockton, Bull Shoals and Norfork have water that is normally a little too clear in the summer for me. Just a little bit of color doesn’t hurt bass fishing.
If you know how to work a Zara Spook, and you find places where the lake has backed up into bushes and small trees, even briar bushes, you may come across a big lunker bass feeding in shallows around and beneath them early in the morning and late in the evening. If you fish in that kind of flooded cover, you’d better have heavy line on a casting reel with a little spine in the rod you are using.
When I was in college at School of the Ozarks, a friend and I went regularly to Table Rock Lake to fish Clevenger Cove, which was owned by the school. We had an old aluminum V-bottom boat tied up there, also owned by the school. We would spend the night in an old abandoned farmhouse there and fish at very first light back up in the cove.
On one late summer morning when Table Rock was high, there were flooded briar bushes or multiflora rose or something like that back in the very end of the cove. I was using an old Shakespeare casting reel and braided line with three feet of monofilament leader. I had on a big floating Rapala. In those days there weren’t many of them, and they were expensive. Obviously I didn’t buy it; someone had given it to me with a broken bill, and I had repaired it somehow.
Anyway, that still, hot morning in August I cast it a little too far, and it landed just past that bramble bush in about four or five feet of water. I gave it a little jerk, knowing I needed to get it past the brush. I didn’t. The bass that came up and engulfed it was bigger than any I had ever seen in my 17 years. My old fiberglass rod had never bent so intensely. But there was no getting that huge bass out of the underwater mess between us, and I only got to feel the fight for a short time. The bass got my Rapala, and I never forgot it.
I caught a couple of bigger bass in time, as my equipment improved somewhat. But I will tell you this. If I was fishing Bull Shoals or Norfork tomorrow at daylight, I would go back up in a creek somewhere where some fresh rainwater was flowing in, and I’d fish one of those big, long floating Rapalas just like I did back then ... beside the brush, not behind it.
Right now, because of the heavy rains, these clear Ozark waters are likely cooler in the top few feet of water than you have ever seen them, and there is surely more oxygen in those August waters than we have seen since Hillary wore a bikini. Those two things, temperature and high oxygen content, might make it a great time to catch a really big bass, like I did long ago in Table Rock.
If you know how to work a large Zara Spook effectively, and that isn’t easy to do if you are an inexperienced angler, it is another great lure for big bass in August. That summer topwater fishing does indeed end as the sun climbs, and before the dusk as it descends, but on dark, rainy cloudy days, any good topwater lure may do the job, even the buzz-baits we love to use.
I believe that topwater fishing for the next month in those reservoirs at night would also be extremely productive, if a fisherman would stay with it. At night you need something noisy, like a big Hula Popper or a replica of the old Lucky 13s. But as years go by, no one fishes the lakes at night with topwater lures as much as it was once done. Spinner baits and jigs with pork catch more fish.
Squirrels are working hickory nuts around my office like they don’t have anything else to eat.
I think I’ll find me a good hickory ridge-top and sneak along it some quiet morning with my .22, looking for young squirrels to put on my grill. You can pause and listen and hear them gnawing on hickory nut hulls, and then see the bits of hulls falling through the branches in bright sunlight.
It is a hunting method our early ancestors loved in late summer, when they first came to the Ozarks. But you have to be good in the woods to sneak along so quietly that you can see and hear the hulls fall. So intent on feeding, the squirrels won’t notice you if you move slowly and quietly. But make some noise, and you may never see him in those green branches.
If you have tried them on a grill, cut them up and marinade them and try it.
MDC interview scheduled
I have arranged with the Director of the Missouri Department of Conservation to conduct an interview with him in early September.
Bob Ziehmer has consented to answer some hard questions, and I respect him for that. He could just have easily said he was too busy. But we’ll have a good talk and I will try to get answers to the things I see as poor wildlife and forest management on MDC lands, illegal behavior of some of the department’s agents, and improper spending. If any of my readers want a situation called to his attention, or have a good question they would like posed to him, they should send it to me before Sept. 3.
Once again I want to urge Missouri outdoorsmen to attend our big free outdoor get together here in Bolivar on Oct. 12. We have plenty of room for the vendors, artists and craftsmen we wish to assemble.
And lo and behold, I am on Facebook. The ladies who work for me have our Lightnin’ Ridge Publishing Company on there also. I am going to try to find it myself.