By Larry Dablemont
Old time game warden Bland Wilson, who must have started his career in the 1940s, knew how to catch goggle-eye, or rock bass as many call them, in the winter. Unfortunately he told a few friends how to do it and they told a few of their friends and soon, everyone knew about it.
Bland was a good game warden, a man dedicated to catching real violators and not at all concerned about the petty technicalities today’s conservation agents are consumed with. And he was an outdoorsman. He had a big influence on me when I was young, and I would be on the Big Piney setting a trotline or fishing for smallmouth in one of my dad’s old wooden johnboats, unaware of a quietly approaching canoe, handled by a true riverman. Bland could sneak up on an Indian!
Sometime in the early 1960s Bland got to wondering where the goggle-eye went in the dead of winter, and he decided they concentrated on finding spring water, which was warmer than river water in January and February. So he went to the biggest springs on the Piney, a place called Boiling Springs, where water gushed and boiled out of a big cavern beside the stream, and he put a minnow on a hook and short piece of line at the end of a long cane pole, and stuck it back into that hole from which Boiling Springs boiled. In the blink of an eye, a goggle-eye nailed it. In short order, he had a limit.
Then the idea was to find those places where underwater springs gushed into the river, and there you would find winter goggle-eye. But Bland always knew he could get a limit of goggle-eye in the winter by visiting Boiling Springs. I wish he had told me and no one else. In time the hordes of goggle-eye deep in those springs and spring holes dwindled to a fraction of what they once were.
Dad and I always caught limits of rock bass in the spring, from the middle of April to the middle of May, when they were concentrating along deeper pockets below rocky shoals in the Piney. Rock bass was an accurate name for the little red-eyed panfish, which were fond of places where large rocks or big root wads gave them shelter. The river seemed full of them, and they are hard pressed today to a point where there are only a fraction of the goggle-eyes in any stream that you would have seen 50 years ago.
But also, the filling of our rivers with gravel and silt has reduced the deep holes and covered the rock that once gave them shelter and protection.
Right now, we should impose a two-year ban on keeping rock bass in the Ozarks, to see if that protection would help bring them back, and then we should also instigate a much lower limit on the bantam-weight fish, and a suitable length limit everywhere.
In time, we need to allow stream fishermen to keep Kentucky bass and largemouth bass and require all smallmouth to be released. Rock bass live much like a smallmouth, similar in many habits, so why not protect them for a while. They are too easy to catch and there are too many fishermen, numbers of anglers on streams increasing by leaps and bounds, while the fisheries decline. There are ways to find out if goggle-eye can indeed rebound. We need to do it, and the majority of today’s generation of stream fishermen, if they understood a need for it, would go along with that two-year plan.
Still, I am afraid the loss of good spawning water and the continued degradation of our rivers may be the reason we see the declines we have seen. We can change much of that, but we have to start now, and it would involve some bold leadership and some money. I don’t know where that might come from in this day and time. But if you love Ozark rivers and the wild creatures living in and around them, you know we don’t have forever.
Rain Crow tragedy
We had a real tragedy up here on Lightnin’ Ridge this past week. A young rain crow, also known as a yellow-billed cuckoo, flew into an office window and killed himself.
I don’t know how that could happen with a bird as elusive and intelligent as the rain crow. It could be he saw a reflection of himself and thought it was a female and wanted to impress her with his flying skills. But then again, and no one ever thinks about things like this but me. ... Who’s to say he wasn’t depressed, perhaps deeply bothered by the fact that some young lady rain crow had declined his idea of a perfect nest. Perhaps the love of his life had flown away with an older rain crow and he was left to face life without her and couldn’t.
If you think you are a wildlife photographer, go out and get some photos of a rain crow. In summer branches around my home I hear plenty of them, always forecasting a coming rain with their loud series of clucks. If it rained as often as I hear them, we’d be living in a summer monsoon.
But when you look for them, you just get fleeting glances. They hide behind large branches, and in clumps of foliage. Getting a picture of one of them has been more difficult for me than chasing down a roadrunner. And by the way, a roadrunner is in the same family as the yellow-billed cuckoo. I have only seen one of them up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, in the dead of winter. He ran across my gravel driveway on a 35-degree day, and I never saw him again. I think he either froze or was eaten by one of Wile E. Coyote’s cousins.
Common Sense Conservationist gathering
Well folks, mark your calendar and have nothing planned for Saturday, Oct. 12. That’s the day we are going to have the biggest outdoorsman’s get together ever held in the Ozarks.
It is the day of our Common Sense Conservationist dinner and annual meeting. All local CSC groups need to take note of it.
Right now we are finishing final touches on a Common Sense Conservationist website, and I will have more to say about that later.
The dinner will be served by Richard’s Hawgwild Barbecue out of Aurora, Mo., and if you have ever eaten at his restaurant, you know why he is heralded as the very best in catering barbecued meat with all the fixin’s.
The meal is all anyone will pay for. The rest of the day is free, and we have a 16,000-foot auditorium to use, courtesy of the Countryside Assembly of God Church, which acquired the building just outside of Bolivar this past year. This is a building you can put two basketball courts in, and we will allow outdoorsmen who want to set up a table and sell lures or old guns or that kind of thing to do so.
We are working with Sandra McCormick, who owns McCreed Art Gallery a few miles east of Bennett Springs, to set aside a section of the building for Ozark outdoor artists and craftsmen to display and sell their work. I will be writing more about this, because we intend to make it a really big event. All tables and entrance to the event will be free.
Most exciting thing I have ever been involved in, a chance finally to make our Common Sense Conservationist organization a strong and effective force in changing some things in the Ozarks. Time will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 12.