Monday, May 21, 2018

Family Bonds Through Bird Hunting

Bird Hunting Bonds a Family Bill Cooper For 3/28/18 I always enjoy watching families have fun together in the outdoors. The time spent together is often some of the greatest moments of their lives, simply enjoying outdoor recreation activities together. Few other things in life bring families closer together than relaxing and having pure
uninterrupted fun in the outdoors together. Recently I had the pleasure of following along and filming a father and his two sons as thy enjoyed their first pheasant hunt together at Wil-Nor Outdoors near Dittmer, Missouri. The trio concentrated on the guide’s instructions as they began their hunt, but as their hunt unfolded they laughed , and enjoyed one anothers company immensely. The stylish Brittany, Filson, that hunted and pointed birds for them proved to be the focal point of their fun together. Matt Frederickson had recently retired after 25 years of service with the Missouri National Guard. His youngest son, Joel, attends high school at Eureka. His elder son, Nathan, is a sophomore at West point Military Academy. Matt’s patience and concern shown to his sons, while going over gun safety measures with them, proved especially refreshing. Father knew what he was talking about and his sons payed close attention, as if hanging on to every word he had to say. An obvious bond of love and mutual respect emanated from this small tribe of hunters. Ken Bruggerman, a tall, lanky, very fit 82-year-old Wil-nor guide added a final touch of elegance to the hunting party. Ken spent his work life as an educator and school administrator. He loves working with dogs and people. His eyes twinkled as he released Filson from the dog box. The frisky little bird dog bounced around to meet everyone and scurried away to the first bit of cover in search of the first pheasant of the day. A dog, especially a well trained bird dog, works magic on a hunting party. Like a circus clown, a bird dog full of boundless energy grabs everyones attention immediately. Too, as if on cue, everyone makes their individual comments about the dog. “Beautiful dog.” “Look at him go.” “He loves to hunt, doesn’t he?” Excited comments echoed through the brisk morning air as the guys followed Filson to the first food plot of milo and big bluestem. Anticipation and excitement filled the air as the hunt began. Within minutes Filson stylishly locked down on point. Bruggerman eased closer to Filson to get a feel for where the pheasant might be hiding. He quietly waved the trio of hunters to move closer to the dog on point. Once he had the guys positioned for the best shots on a rising bird, Bruggerman moved in for the flush. Filson leaped skyward in an attempt to snatch the brilliantly colored rooster pheasant out of the air as it went airborne. Bird hunters are often spellbound by the magic of the moment. A bird dog on point, the anticipation of the flush and the forthcoming shots fired, all collectively, create a hang moment frozen in time as if picture perfect. Pheasants, however don’t pause for human kind hang time. The Frederickson trio broke from their shroud of amazement a milli-second to late. The cackling, fleeing pheasant had gained considerable distance before the first shot was fired. Other shots rang out, seemingly speeding the rooster’s ascertained getaway. “That bird’s headed for the next county,” Bruggerman laughed. Among the raucous laughter of the Fredericksons, I heard comments about speedy birds and slow reaction times. It’s the common spell that gets every bird hunter, especially at the beginning of a hunt. Everyone brushed the misses off and vowed to do better on the next bird. The opportunity came quickly as Filson pointed again, before everyone had time to regain their composure. Nathan manned one side of the food plot strip by himself, while his dad and brother manned the other side. They had all escape routes covered. Bruuggerman once again moved in behind the pointing dog to flush the pheasant. The bird leapt skyward, almost perfectly vertical as it cleared the big bluestem grass, which stood seven feet high. It caught the wind and and picked up speed as it flew over Nathan’s head. In the hurried excitement, Nathan fumbled the safety on his shotgun, giving the fleeing pheasant an increased chance of escaping. Nathan recovered beautifully and fired at the fleeing bird. A tuft of feathers floated on the morning breeze. “I hit it, I hit it,” Nathan chortled proudly. The bird sailed to the nearby woods 150 yards away. “You hit it,” Bruggerman said to encourage the young hunter. “We’ll find that bird when we circle back. Filson will find it for sure.” Filson wriggled through the thick cover of the food plot, coursing back and forth in his attempts to pick up the scent of another pheasant. He bounded out of the cover, ran 30 yards down the side of the food plot and immediately swapped ends as he caught the scent of a bird as he ran by it. His body trembled with a solid point. Another brightly colored rooster vaulted out of the tall grass as everyone approached. Joel swung his shotgun smoothly and fired as the bird reached 30 yards. It tumbled out of the air in a cloud of feathers. The entire hunting party yelled their praises. Joel enjoyed his proud moment. Both Frederickson boys downed pheasants before dad finally connected with a solid shot. Joel and Nathan gathered around to poke fun at Matt and sincerely congratulate him on his first pheasant of the day. They had jelled as a family unit, tight, proud and committed. I held back a bit as the Fredericksons walked towards the next food plot in a tight group. Undistinguishable chatter echoed across the field. Family happiness filled the moment.

February for Stockton Lake Crappie and Walleye

Stockton Lake - A Sleeper Crappie and Walleye Destination Bill Cooper Crappie and walleye fishermen are a dedicated lot and often fish for these favored species in the cold weather months. However, if duty and reponsibility kept you off the lakes and streams over the winter, don’t despair. You can still get in on the crappie an walleye action at Stockton Lake. Kris Nelson, owner and guide of Tandem Fly Outfitters on Stockton Lake, in western Missouri, says that Stockton is an underutilized fishing resource. Stiff winds and pelting rain greeted us as Kris swung his big SeaArk boat into open water. We had launched at Stockton Lake State Park in the shelter of a well protected cove. Our only consolation at the moment was the fact that temperatures had soared into the fifties, after a long spell of bitterly cold temperatures. Kris had guided a trip in 8-degree weather just the week prior to our fishing trip. We were braving the elements to pursue walleye, best known for it’s culinary qualities. The delectable fish is known by most as a northern species and pursued heavily in Michigan, Wisconsin and surrounding states. “The Missouri Department of Conservation does an excellent job of stocking Stockton with walleye,” Nelson said. “I’d say it’s the best walleye fishery in the state of Missouri.” Nelson and his wife, Amanda, own Stone Creek Lodge on Stockton Lake. They have a dozen or so clean, comfortable rooms along with a pizza and tackle shop just a stone’s throw up the hill from the lodge. It’s a perfect combination for anglers visiting Stockton Lake. John Bishop, Kris’s business partner, joined us for the day. He bounced into action as soon as Kris motored into a cove sheltered from the wind. “We’ve been catching crappie like crazy in here for several weeks, Kris said. “We’ve been catching limits in an hour or so. I want to check on them before we start walleye fishing.” Kris maintains the latest electronics on his boat and as soon as he walked to the bow of the boat, he pointed to the Lowrance unit and said, “look at this Bill.” I didn’t know what I was seeing, but Kris indicated the blob on the screen was a huge ball of shad accompanied by an equally large ball of crappie. John stepped to the front of the boat and dropped a Shad Daddy bait rigged on a jig head into the chilly water. He halted the jig at about 25 feet. Seconds later his rod arched and he swung a fat crappie into the boat. “I’ll grab the video camera,” I said as Kris snatched a Lew’s crappie rod out of the rack and joined John on the front of the boat. By the time I dug the camera out of my bag, the guys had a double on. “I think you’ve found them, I teased. “Ooh, they’ve been here for some time,” Kris retorted. “My clients caught limits here yesterday.” What happened over the next thirty minutes was some of the best crappie fishing I had ever witnessed, but that is another story. We really had walleye on our minds. “We gotta stop this and catch some walleye,” Kris said. Thunder rolled in the east. John checked the weather radar. “It looks like we are on the edge of some heavy stuff, John said. Lightning flashed to the north. “I think we’d better head for the shelter of the dock,” he said. We quickly racked our rods and Kris fired up the big boat motor and sped towards home base back at Stockton State park. When he swung the Sea-Ark into the main channel, we were greeted by big waves and a dark curtain of heavy rain bearing down on us. I was especially grateful that Kris ran a big boat. Rain blew at us sideways as the boat easily cut through the rolling waves, providing us a safe and comfortable ride back to the dock. “It would have been impossible to find the dock in that squall without the electronics,” John pointed out. We all relished the cover of the boat slip and checked our phone messages and e-mails while the squall blew over. Twenty minutes later, we were water borne again. I fully expected walleye to be in a different location, but Kris swung the boat into the very same cove we had left earlier. He and John began rigging rods. “Here they are, Bill,” Kris said, as he pointed at the LED dispaly. Groups of walleye were strung out on the bottom in 30 feet of water. Kris worked on cutting up a fresh shad, while John rigged a big, fat worm on a jighead. John yelled, “walleye on,” before Kris had finished cutting up the bait. “I think I will go with a worm rig,” Kris laughed. I joined them. Kris controlled the trolling motor to maintain the boat on a drift course that paralleled a long line of walleye strung out on the bottom. It was easy to feel the jig bumping the rocky bottom. The fishing method invovled slowly, but steadily, sweeping the rod forward and reeling up the line and repeating the process. “I’m stuck,” I muttered under my breath. “Oooh, that rock moved,” I muttered again. “Here we go guys,” I chuckled. “Good fish!” Kris slid the net under what had become the first walleye I had ever caught intentionally. I had caught them incidental to bass fishing. “What do you think about that, Mr. Bill? Kris asked. “I want to do it again!” I said. We were about to complete a drift when John hooked up again. “This one is bigger,” he said. On his next cast his rod arched. “Oh, this one is bigger, he said. Shortly after his third cast, he moaned, “I think this one is bigger.” The bite had really turned on. In short order we all had a limit of walleye in the boat. We had scarcely noticed the steady rain and heavy wind. “That’s the way it is when you are catchng wallleye,” Kris said. We paused for photos. “This is amazing,” I said. “We haven’t seen another boat all day.” “I’m telling you,” Kris responded.”Stockton Lake is the most under utilized fishing resource in the state of Missouri. It’s a real sleeper.” I believe him. The crappie walleye bite at Stockton Lake changes as spring and summer approaches, but Nelson can still find fish. To get in on the action, call Kris Nelson at 417-839-2762, or look him up on Facebook at Tandem fly Outfitters.

Learning the Basics of Fly Fishing

Learning Basics of Fly Fishing Will Help You Catch Trout Bill Cooper May, 2018 Fly fishing offers the ultimate in trout fishing adventure at Missouri’s trout parks. It is one thing to catch a limit of four rainbow trout on baits, or even artificial lures such as spinners, jigs and minnow imitators, but it is an entirely different ball game to fool trout into taking a tiny fly which a fish has judged to be a live, aquatic insect which it relishes as an easy meal. Thousands were attracted to the sport of fly fishing when the movie “A River Runs Through It” debuted. And rightfully so. The movie actors aptly portrayed fly fishing as a beautiful, artistic endeavor undergirded by religious fervor and personal reflection coupled with deep, mental aspirations and equally prevalent emotions. I have enjoyed the distinct pleasure of drifting flies to trout from the Appalachians to the Rockies and Canada to Mexico. Gorgeous scenery and breath taking views are often associated with trout fishing. I can vouch that the precepts are true. Likewise, trout fishing in the Show Me state takes place in some of the most spectacular scenic areas within its boundaries. The trout parks are no exception. Trout fishing need not be as complex as many people are led to believe. A little study and practice will put any newcomer to the sport in ready fashion. A 5-weight rod, line and matching reel are the basic equipment essentials and will handle most trout encountered in the trout parks. A weight forward, floating fly line will make casting a cinch. Add a tapered leader to the end of the fly line and you have the perfect mixture of equipment ingredients to cast a fly as easily and as far as is necessary in the trout parks. Maintaining the “ten and two” casting posture, as demonstrated in articles and videos on fly fishing, will go far in aiding your casting ability, increasing your success and bolstering your confidence. I found it particularly helpful to point my rod tip at a stream side treetop when completing the cast. This approach keeps from lowering the rod tip too much, which results in pileups, poor casts and spooked fish. Waders are essential to fly fishermen. Their use allows an angler to position himself in the best spot to approach and cast to fish he has sighted or to spots that likely hold fish. Good quality waders go a long way towards keeping a fisherman dry, warm and happy. That combination keeps one in the water longer, which equals more casts and more fish. Choice of flies is a subject that draws as much attention as politics in an election year. Every trout stream is different and while all may harbor many of the same aquatic insects, each will have bugs special to that area. Studying the species of insects found at each park and the time of year and day that they are most prevalent will go a long ways toward increasing your catch rate. Find fly patterns that most resemble the insects you find and you will be in business. Google up fly patterns and you will be overwhelmed. Narrow your search to trout flies and the situation becomes more tolerable. Search topics like fly fishing Missouri’s trout parks and books on trout fishing and flies and you can quickly become an educated trout fisherman. Tiny jigs capable of being flipped with a fly rod are hard to beat early in the season when aquatic insects are less visible. King jigs makes a fly rod jig that are the best that I have found. I prefer brown and black, but they now make some very colorful jigs that produce good results as well. As warmer weather nears and more bug hatches take place, begin to use black ant patterns in number 18 and 20 sizes. Pale evening Duns in size 22 work for me as well. However, I carry three or four fly boxes stuffed with dozens of types of flies. Each seems to have its day, regardless of weather or bug hatches. I, do however, find myself relying on a half dozen or so old faithfuls throughout the year. I would never leave the house without several scud patterns. These dumpy looking patterns resemble freshwater shrimp and are relished by trout. I catch most of my fish on tan or pink patterns by drifting the flies at the edge of currents near rocks or weed beds. Freshwater shrimp like to hang out in such areas. Nymphs of any type are good throughout the water column. You’ll have to experiment to find out where the fish are feeding on any given day. Emerger nymphs are fished just below the surface of the water, imitating an aquatic insect struggling to break through the topwater film and emerge as an adult of its species. Other nymphs may fished from the surface all the way to the bottom of the stream. Bead-headed nymphs are one of my favorites. I prefer the Pheasant Tail and Prince nymphs in number 12 and 14 sizes. The gold bead head adds a bit of flash to the presentation and the forked tail may imitate a small crayfish. My favorite summertime trout fly for late evenings or early mornings is a Griffith’s Gnat in size 18. The grizzled little bug looks like it needs to be eaten by a trout and it often works. I like to fish it in the current in open, clear water. When fishing gets tough, I often bring a hand tied fly of my own into play. Trout park streams often contain offal from fish that have been cleaned in the streams. Other trout will feed on the remains, especially the white or pink pieces of meat and skin which wave in the current. I tie clusters of white and, occasionally, light pink feathers on a number 12 hook to resemble fish flesh. The feathers should be fluid enough to wave in the current. These flesh flies are best fished in riffles or just below them where trout wait for food to be washed their way. These patterns will work at both Maramec Spring Park and Montauk State Park. If you have never been fly fishing in these parks, Montauk has separate fly fishing areas while Maramec does not. Regardless, both parks offer excellent fly fishing opportunities. Grab that magic wand called a fly rod and orchestrate your own fly fishing dreams.

Cooper Recognized by Missouri House of Representatives for Outdoor Efforts

Cooper Recognized on House Floor as Outdoor Communicator Bill Cooper, of rural St. James, was recently recognized by 120th District State Representative Jason Chipman on the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives for 45 years of contributory service to the citizens of the state of Missouri as an outdoor communicator. Rep. Chipman noted Cooper’s long tenure of outdoor education and entertaining Missouri citizens through his media outlets about hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation, outdoor ethics and tourism. Representative Chipman presented Cooper with Missouri House of Representatives Resolution 1360, as a mark of esteem for him. The Resolution read as follows: Whereas, it is with special pleasure that the members of the Missouri House of Representatives pause to recognize an outstanding Missouri citizen who has distinguished himself through many years of excellence in the workplace; and Whereas, Billie Ronald Cooper, of St. James, Missouri, is being honored after forty-five years of combined service as an Outdoor Communicator, and Whereas, owner of Outside Again Adventures TV - Online, Billie Cooper graduated from East prairie High School in 1967, and went on to complete a Masters in Outdoor Education at the university of Missouri-Columbia in 1973; and Whereas, after serving as an officer in the United States Army, Billie Cooper returned to his true passion, which was working in and around the outdoors, as a full time outdoor writer and videographer; and Whereas, traveling from Alaska to the Yucatan to gather outdoor related material, Billie Cooper constantly immerses himself in the outdoors to find content for his web show, and has published over 3,000 articles, had eight years in outdoor radio, two years in outdoor TV, and five years in online outdoor TV; and Whereas, Billie Cooper has received many accolades for the work he has done in bringing the outdoors to life for people, including the Outdoor Educator of the Year Award in 2000 and the Outdoor Communicator of the Year Award in 2008: Now, therefore it be resolved that we, the members of the Missouri House of Representatives, Ninety-eighth General Assembly, join in extending our utmost appreciation to Billie Cooper for his unparalleled service to the citizens of Missouri, and his contributions to keep the general public educated and entertained about the world of hunting, fishing, conservation, outdoor ethics, outdoor recreation, and tourism in the State of Missouri; and Be it further resolved that the Chief Clerk of the Missouri house of Representatives be instructed to prepare a properly inscribed copy of this resolution for Billie Ronald Cooper, as a mark of our esteem for him. Offered by Representative Jason Chipman, District No. 120 I, Todd Richardson Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ninety-eighth General Assembly, Second Regular Session, do certify that the above is a true and correct copy of House Resolution No.1360, adopted March 22, 2016. Todd, Richardson, Speaker.

Legends of The Outdoors Media Duck Hunt

“Legends of the Outdoors” Media Waterfowl Hunt Held in SEMO Bill Cooper Garry Mason leaned into a stiff wind to pick up a duck decoy. Thirty-five mile an hour winds during the night had toppled dozens of decoys. Mason, the owner of the Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame was hosting his first “Legends of the Outdoors” Media Waterfowl Hunt in southeast Missouri near Kennett. Attendees included Ray Eye of “Eye on the Outdoors Radio,” 590 The Fan, out of St. Louis, Jerry Antley owner of Cedar Hills Game Calls, from Louisiana, Tommy Garner, Legends board member, of northwest Arkansas, Scott Davis, of “The Urban Sportsman TV Show,” out of Nashville and Bill Cooper, host of “Outside Again Adventures TV - Online,” from St. James, Missouri. Unusual weather for December, 70 degrees, and high winds greeted our hunting party as we rode through the flooded rice fields on Mason’s UTV in the dark. Mason delivered us to the blind and we quickly unloaded our mountain of waterfowl hunting gear and camera gear. Our party had convened to enjoy a duck hunt together and to promote Mason’s “Outdoor Legends Hall of Fame.” Mason established the “Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame” to recognize those outdoorsmen and sportswomen who, through countless hours of hard work and devotion to the outdoors, in both hunting and fishing, have played an integral part in setting the standards and guidelines for the rest of the world to follow. Bill Dance, Rowland Martin, Jimmy Holt, Harold Knight, David Hale, Eli Haydel, Earl Bentz and Charlie Brewer were the first inductees in 2002. Inductees for 2016 included Lucy Mize, Fred Bear, W.R. Sauey, Mark and Terry Drury, George Thornton, Fred Bear and Colorado Buck. The chatter of tens of thousands of ducks and snow geese filled the dark skies as we maneuvered to get set up in the pit blind before legal shooting hours began. Although temperatures hovered in the seventies, an Arctic blast bore down us pushing waterfowl southward by the thousands. Temperatures would plummet to single digits by the next morning. Hundreds of thousands of ducks had staged in the area over the previous few weeks. Southeast Missouri has become a Mecca for waterfowl over the last 30-40 years as agricultural practices have changed. Rice was unheard of as an agricultural commodity in the Missouri bootheel when I grew up in nearby Mississippi County in the 1950’s and 60’s. Currently, waterfowl stop over to feed on the abundant supply of waste grain in the thousands of acres of rice fields available. Mason finished his decoy straightening chores and climbed into the blind with us. His yellow Lab sat next to him. mason immediately began warming up on his Cedar Hills duck call. It was obvious that this was not his first time in a duck blind. Although he had been involved in competition calling at one time, Mason knew how to communicate with ducks. The occasional raindrop kept our crew honest about flashing faces towards the lightening sky. Ominous looking clouds streamed by in high tail fashion, combined with a loud cacophony of fast flying birds, with beaks pointed to the south, created an unusual scene in the wide open rice county of the Mississippi River delta. “Ducks dropping in from your side, Scott,” Mason instructed. “Shoot em!” Scott Davis is a big boy. He struggled up through the overhanging rice stubble and grass covering the lid of the blind. “Where are they?” he yelled. Jerry Antley fired to the front of the blind redirecting Davis ’s attention. A mallard hen crumbled at the report of Antley’s shotgun. Davis fired twice but had fallen behind the action. Laughter filled the blind as Davis offered up his best excuses for the misses. The “Geritol Gang,” as we were fondly referred to, collectively held over 300 years of hunting experience. “No new excuses in that speech, Scott,” Ray Eye chuckled. Mason blew his duck call with all the wind he could muster. “I’m sure those ducks are not hearing me,” he mumbled. “They are so high and the wind is gruesome.” Despite the wind and high flying birds, Mason continued to coax birds into the set. Two mallards broke into view over Davis’s shoulder. On his third shot, a fat greenhead tumbled to the choppy water. Mason’s Lab mesmerized us all as he danced through the frigid water on the retrieve. Ducks and dogs hold a special place in a waterfowler ’s heart. Ray Eye, Tommy Garner and I wielded cameras while the other trio of Mason, Antley, and Davis brandished shotguns. I felt fortunate after watching those guys trying to hit ducks with the fierce tailwind behind them. They gave new meaning to the term speedy ducks. People seldom laugh at cameramen. We three cameramen, however, enjoyed plenty of laughs at those guys shooting abilities. Plans called for us to enjoy two days of hunting in the Missouri Bootheel, then travel to Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee for a repeat performance. The 70-degree temperatures began clashing with the rapidly dropping temperatures closing in from the north. Tornado warnings were being issued. We voted unanimously to abandon the blind and regroup at another time. We retreated to the comfort of the lodge and enjoyed a sumptuous meal of barbecued chicken and ribs prepared by Brian Clark of Ray Ray’s Smoke House BBQ. Our party gathered enough material for articles, videos, and TV shows. Garry Mason is an unusual outdoor talent. My initial hunt with him proved a huge success. I can’t wait until we meet again.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


The Real Treasures of Turkey Hunting the Ozarks Bill Cooper for May 17, 2017 Early prospectors traveling through the Midwest discovered gold near the present location of Fredericktown, in the southeastern quarter of Missouri. In 1717 European Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac discovered lead and consequently named the La Motte mine and community after himself. He later became the Governor-General of Louisiana. La Mothe spent considerable time mining for gold as well, before attracting the attention of the French, who were intent on finding sliver. He found several veins of gold in Trace Valley along the banks of Captain Creek. Despite his eloquent writings to attract miners to the region, a Missouri gold rush never happened. Lead became the mineral of Missouri miners and is still mined in the region today. History lessons aside, the greatest treasures found in the Ozarks currently, are its abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, including the best turkey hunting in the United States. Missourians endured a penchant for mining and in the process acquired a taste for conservation and outdoor recreation. Consequently, they voted in 1936 to establish a politically free department of conservation, which is now regarded as the model of conservation in the U.S. and around the world. The return of the wild turkey to Missouri is one of the greatest conservation stories ever told. From a remnant population of birds deep in the Ozarks, professional biologists brought the wild turkey from the brink of extinction to a population of 600,000. Hunters now harvest 45-50,000 birds each spring and can reasonably expect to do so into the foreseeable future. “Turkey hunting has become a spring tradition in the Ozarks,” said Joe Hollingshad, owner of Devil’s Backbone Outfitters in McDonald County. “I killed my first wild turkey when I was eleven 11 years old and I’ve been in love with them ever since.” Ray Eye, of Dittmer, Missouri has made a life-long profession of hunting, filming and presenting seminars about wild turkeys. His lively, entertaining seminars have been a key drawing card for hunters at the National Wild Turkey Federation’s annual convention in Nashville for well over two decades. “I can’t imagine my life without wild turkeys,” said Eye. “I have logged thousands of hours filming turkeys every month of the year, written books about them, aired radio and tv shows about turkey hunts and have hunted them in almost all of the 49 states that holds seasons.” The average Missouri hunter has access to what many call the best turkey hunting in the nation. All 114 counties are open during the spring season. “Hunters have a reasonable chance to bag a gobbler, particularly if they pay attention to the success rates in the various counties,” said Jason Isabelle, the wild turkey program leader in Missouri. Southern and Southwest Missouri, the heart of the Ozarks, has seen growing turkey populations in recent years. And, there is no shortage of places to hunt. The U.S. Forest Service owns 1.5 millions acres in the Ozarks, while the Missouri Department of Conservation owns close to another million acres and manages another half million, scattered across the state. The National Park Service administers 80,000 acres along the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, while the nearby LAD Foundation owns another 160,000 acres on the headwaters of the Jacks Fork and Current Rivers, most of which are open to hunting. Additionally, the Corps of Engineers owns tens of thousands of acres surrounding Corps lake project in the Ozarks. In total, Missourians have access to over 3 million public acres, most of which is in the Ozarks. Turkey hunting camps have become a part of the turkey hunting scene each spring in the Missouri Ozarks. Ray Eye has held annual media turkey hunting camps for decades. Others pop up annually. Brandon Butler, the executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, began his own turkey hunting camp during the 2017 spring season. “I was fortunate enough to acquire a piece of land on Sinking Creek in Shannon County,” he said. “It is a beautiful piece of ground and is surrounded by thousands of acres of public lands.” I enjoyed sitting around the evening campfire with Brandon and the other hunters. Four a.m. came early as usual. Strong coffee stoked our fires. Good luck omens passed through our hunting party as we headed to our chosen turkey hunting havens. My cameraman, Greg Long, and I called two Ozark Mountain gobblers to within 35 yards. Greg took one of them with a single shot. We were on the scoreboard. Our camp buddies told tales of close encounters with the ghosts of the forest. I had already enjoyed youth turkey season with my 12-year-old granddaughter, Jaydin and the first weekend of the regular season with my wife, Dian. We made memories that will be told in our family circles for decades to come. Ray Eye held his 2017 media turkey hunting camp on the North Fork of the White River at Joe Hollingshad’s Devil’s Backbone Outfitters. We hunted 1,700 acres of rough, rugged, well-managed turkey hunting country. Record rains and floods raged, but we caught a break in the weather and took three toms on a sunshiny day. Two of them sported triple beards. Eye acquires new products hitting the market for media members to test while turkey hunting. Mossberg supplied a selection of new shotguns, which performed flawlessly. Winchester provided their new Long Beard XR turkey loads. Their Shot-Lok
pellet packing and guarantee of twice the pellets in a 10-inch circle at 60 yards proved to be dead on. The triple bearded gobbler I shot at 40 yards never knew what hit him. No doubt, the lead for those shells came from Missouri mines. The people, the places, the experiences we all enjoyed throughout the Missouri 2017 spring turkey season became the real treasures of hunting wild turkeys in the Ozarks. Hunting wild turkeys in the Ozarks is pure gold.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Catch Crappie Now at Lake of the Ozarks

Catch Crappie Now at Lake of the Ozarks Outdoor Revelations Bill Cooper for RDN 2/9/17
Crappie are the mot popular panfish in most parts of the country. Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks is chock full of the tasty fish and anglers can catch them any month of the year. “Sure you can catch crappie here at LOZ now,” guide Jack Uxa said over the phone. “You could have caught them all winter long, too, had you been here.” Lake of the Ozarks is a crappie producing machine and has been for decades. Two factors are key to crappie abundance there. A bountiful food supply in the form of slow growing shad is a major cause of the heavy crappie numbers, according to Uxa. Too, the abundance of cover in the lake gives crappie superb places to hide, feed and rest. “Lake of the Ozarks is home to thousands of boat docks,” says Uxa. “And many of those boat docks have brush placed around them put there by the dock owners.” Many dock owners are also crappie fishermen. Having a crappie bed right out the back door is a dream come true for many homeowners on the lake. It’s easy fishing. Build a dock, toss in some cedars or discarded Christmas trees and the crappie will come. “The sweet thing about those docks,” say Dale Goff of Rolla, “is that anyone can fish them. I’ve fished dozens of them over the years and caught thousands of crappie at Lake of the Ozarks.” Dock owners expect anglers to fish around their docks. However, anglers should respect the docks as private property. Stay off the docks and good landowner-fisherman relationships stay in tact. Both Goff and Uxa agree that winter time is a great time to crappie fish. “If it is above 35 degrees, I will be on the lake most weekends,” Goff said. “I love it. You will see a few die hards, but not many people like to fish in cold weather. You can have some good spots pretty much to yourself. To, you don’t have to fight the boat traffic that is so prevalent in the summer time.” Uxa spends in the neighborhood of 290 days a year on the water guiding fishing clients. “Summer time is just crazy,” he said. “I seldom get a day off. People who vacation here, or have a condo like to fish in warmer weather for the most part.” I met Uxa at the lake a couple of weeks ago to spend the day with him, both bass and crappie fishing. Temperatures were supposed to climb into the fifties by afternoon. It was late afternoon before that happened. Once on the water, Jack nailed a small bass on a jerkbait in a matter of minutes. Then matters got tough. I heard the old adage, ”you shoulda been here yesterday.” A stable wether pattern had hovered over the lake for several days, along with heavy cloud cover. “The fishing has been great for days,” Uxa said. “Now today, th cloud cover is gone and the wind is out of the east.” “Wind out of the east, fish bite the least,” I chided. “I don’t really buy into that theory,” Jack explained. “It is true to some degree, but we will put a pattern together as the day goes by.” Bass fishing was slow. Uxa watched his electronics for baitfish near docks. “Here we go,” he said an hour into the trip. “There’s a ball of bait fish a few feet out from this dock.” Uxa positioned his Nitro boat facing the corner of a dock. He grasped his chartreuse, plastic crappie jig, pulled a heavy arch into his rod and slingshotted the jig several feet back up under a dock. He allowed the jig to sink perhaps six or eight feet and lifted his rod tip slightly. Bingo. He swung the first crappie of the day into the boat. Crappie filets are heavenly and I wasn’t bashful about asking Ux to put some in the live well as I kept filming. Uxa methodically worked his way around the dock, flipping his Bobby Garland Baby Shad jig into openings between the dock floats. Crappie after crappie fell to his technique. “These guys are running smaller than yesterday,” Jack said. “I caught some dandy crappie yesterday. The stronger light of today may have run the bigger fish to a little deeper water.” I wasn’t complaining. He steadily added crappie to the livewell. I made plans for a crappie dinner as I filmed the fishing action. The bite slowed and Uxa moved on down the bank, with his bass rod in his hands again. The bass bite remained slow, but he picked up the occasional largemouth. Soon Uxa found another ball of shad near a dock. He traded the bass rod for the crappie rod and went to work on crappie once again. “Wow, look at this on the locator,” he said. “Those white spots are crappie.” The white spots created a blur on the LED screen. It was a big ball of crappie hanging at the edge of the dock. Jack was already swinging crappie into the boat. “Pick up a rod, Bill,” he said. “This is going to last a while.” Having a good deal of film footage laid down, I grabbed a rod and began flipping a jig towards the dock. It took me a few minutes to get the right depth, but soon I, too, slung one crappie after another into the boat. “I can’t wait to get these babies into hot grease,” I laughed. “Well, anybody can do this, Bill,” Jack said. You can Google Uxa under Jack’s Guide Service, or give him a call at 573-434-2570. Don’t tarry too long. His phone rang steadily while we fished.