A Welcome Memory

“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority. ” E.B. White / Letters of E. B. White

At 66 years of age I still prefer primitive camping in my one man tent. I prefer to leave the conveniences of the modern day world at home. Right, wrong or indifferent if I am going to take a camper filled with the luxuries of home then I would rather stay home or just stay in a motel.

I set up camp on my property in Frank Clay, Missouri. It is 12.65 acres filled with oak, hickory, and walnut with patches of sassafras and cedar sprinkled in. There is abundant wildlife, deer, squirrels and turkey.

It is so quiet and peaceful you can hear yourself think. It is my safe place when I can’t go to the river. It is another place I can go to rid my mind of all the negative energy that I let in. Only positive thinking allowed.

The sun is starting to sink in the west so I get busy setting up camp. Once done I start a fire so I can get started preparing supper.

Sweet taters, corn on the cob and Cornish hens. No finer eating than food prepared in Dutch ovens. Once done cleaning up it is time to sit and relax around the campfire.

As I sit in my chair reflecting on my day I hear the lonesome bawl of a hound in the distance. There is a chance of rain in the forecast. There is a cloud bank in the west. I can just make out the sound of distant thunder. Lightning is visible as it dances among the clouds illuminating the night sky. What a glorious light show to see. Absolutely breathtaking.

As I become engrossed in the show Mother Nature has so graciously provided for my entertainment I lose track of all time. A breeze begins to move down the ridge into the valley and arouses me from my thoughts. The lightning and sound of thunder is closer. I can smell the scent of rain carried in by the breeze. Rain is close.

The wind begins to blow hard across the woodlands I quickly go to work putting my fire out and securing anything that might blow away. J wind is blowing hard enough my tent looks like it is dancing.

I can feel the mist from the rain against my face. I crawl into my tent and settle in not knowing what to expect from the approaching storm. The first raindrop lands on my tent and is soon followed II many more. My tent is being pelted by the rain that is now a downpour but the wind has slowed. I can only hope that it stays dry inside the tent. I love to listen to the sound of the rain upon my tent. I don’t know how long I lay there listening to the rain before Mr Sandman came to visit.

A Night of Solitude on the River

It’s 2 am and I am alone on the river. There is no moon and the night sky is black as ink. I hear the crackle of the campfire and the sound of the river as it makes its way across the rocks in the shallow rapids before finding its way into deeper water. Bam! A beaver slaps its tail on the water warning others that there is an intruder in their domain.

Yip! Yip! Yip! I can hear the coyotes on the other side of the river making their way along the river bank. The lightning bugs illuminate the darkness with their blinking tails. As a child they reminded me of airplanes against the night sky with their blinking lights.

The bull frogs had been eerily quiet tonight but the deep bass croak of a bullfrog begins to resonate throughout the river valley followed by the scream of a screech owl.

With the soothing sound of Mother Nature’s symphony I begin to relax and I let my mind wander. I wonder if there was someone camped on this very spot 250 years ago. Perhaps a Native American or a settler. Were they fishing or just passing through? Were they in search of a place to settle or were they making their way to the mighty Mississippi? How much different it must have been. No litter or tires along it’s banks. How clear the water must have been. Were they as mesmerized by the beauty of the river as I am? Did they enjoy the peace and solitude? Were they alone too?

I am brought back to the present by a ruckus behind me. I turn around and in the darkness I could discern five figures in the darkness. It appears to be a mother raccoon and her offspring. She seems to be scolding one of the youngsters. Maybe it had ventured too close to me and she was worried about its safety. They soon moved on in search of food.

I readied my bedroll and crawled inside it as the desire for sleep won over the marvels of the nighttime. I lay looking into the night sky watching for a shooting star but there would be none tonight. The smells of the river were crisp tonight. The smell of the river and the campfire were the most prominent and complimented each other. I begin drifting off playing the days events back in my mind. At the same time I wondered what tomorrow would bring. Would I catch my personal best smallmouth or would it just be a day of photography? As sleep began to overtake me I was one with the river rooted in my safe place. A place of peace and tranquility. A place to recharge my soul and mind and cleanse my spirit. Life is good. I am on the river.

Bennett Spring State Park

Bennett Spring State Park is located in Lebanon, MO. It is comprised of 3216 acres and the spring pumps out 100,000,000 gallons of water daily. A trout hatchery is located within the park providing the rainbow trout that are stocked each night. The number of trout stocked depends on the number of people fishing the day before. There is a dining lodge that serves delicious meals daily, cabins and there are 5 campgrounds that range from primitive to full RV hookups.

I arrived on the evening of June 28 and spent time familiarizing myself with the park. I did a little fishing but to no avail. They blow the siren at 6:30 a.m. and anglers begin their quest for rainbow trout.

The next morning I was ready to go but found the banks and water filled with anglers. I fished the fly and lure zone. I hung one that got off about 5 feet from me. By the end of the day I was the king of catch and release. I caught them and they released themselves before I could get them on the stringer.

I talked to a gentleman that had limited out in 45 minutes. Daily limit is 4 rainbows. He was using what they call glow balls. So off to the store I went to buy some.

The next morning I was ready for them. I started at 6:45 a.m. and had caught my limit by 8 a.m. The glow ball had worked its magic.

Another popular lure was a rooster tail.

On this particular day the rainbows weren’t fond of the rooster tail. They had Zone 1 where you could only use flies. In Zone 2 you could use flies and lures. Zone 3 was soft plastic and natural bait.

However I did limit out this morning.

Bennett Spring

The park was well kept. The only real complaint I had was that Zone 3 the plastic bait/ natural bait area was 90% shallow fast moving water which made it extremely hard to fish. That area was definitely short changed. Zone 1 flies only was the best of the 3 zones. Ample space for fishermen. Zone 2 is nice but every morning fishermen are parked in the water about every 4 feet.

If you are going to go to Bennett Spring I would recommend that you learn to fly fish and get you a good fly fishing rig. If you want to start fly fishing they rent fly rods and reels and even waders.

Abounding Excitement

“Camping: The art of getting closer to nature while getting farther away from the nearest cold beverage, hot shower and flush toilet.” Anonymous

I awoke at 5:00 a.m.excited that I was finally afforded the opportunity to go camping for the first time this year. Finally a weekend without rain.

I was headed to my property in Frank Clay, MO. I arrived a little after 10 a.m. I began the task of setting up camp. I soon found out that the seed ticks survived the winter. It was far worse than in years past.

I decided to take a break and parked myself in a chair. The woods were quiet except for the sweet sound of song birds. A donkey began braying in the distance and some Bluejays began fussing at one another.

When camping, time seems to move at breakneck speed. I dug out the lantern and readied it to bring light to the darkness of the coming nightfall. I gathered wood and started a fire.

“The fire is the main comfort of camp, whether in summer or winter.” – Henry David Thoreau

I settled into my chair and turned my attention into enjoying the glow of the fire. I pulled out my journal and began recording the day’s events. A donkey began to bray just east of camp. It was such a sad sounding bray. A whip-poor-will began sharing its song. To the north of camp a pack of coyotes began yipping playfully and the woodland insects began their nightly symphony. As I sat watching the flames of the fire dancing around, my eyes signaled it was time to turn in for the night.

Morning came early for me. I awoke at 4:00 a.m. and even though still half asleep managed to find my way out of the tent. I was met by temperatures in the low 50s. I added some kindling to the fire to rekindle it’s flames. I grabbed the coffee pot, added water and Cameron’s Highland Grog coffee grounds. I placed the pot on the fire and sat back and waited for the finished product. Caffeine! I need caffeine.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced the taste of camp coffee and if you haven’t I am here to tell you the flavor is in a league of its own. My childhood friend David Tripp has always been fascinated with the flavor of my camp coffee to the point he has mastered the technique and become a master at brewing camp coffee.

Finally the coffee was done and I poured myself a cup and sat back in my chair watching the fingers of light from the rising sun overtake the night sky bringing dawn to the woodlands. I was awoken from my trance by the barking of a squirrel. I finally located him. It was a gray squirrel moving erratically on the limb of a white oak. He seemed upset to find this human invading its territory. After about 10 minutes he lost interest and moved on. Two geese flew just above the treetops honking noisily as they went. The songbirds began filling the air with their music. My stomach began to growl and I heated up the Dutch Oven so I could begin the preparation of breakfast.

I loaded the oven with bacon and the morning air was filled with the aroma of cooking bacon. I then fried some eggs over easy but because some dummy forgot the biscuits breakfast would only consist of bacon and eggs. Food always seems to taste better when cooked over a campfire.

After breakfast I sat back and reflected on the weekends events and finished my last cup of coffee. It was time to break camp, clean up and head back home.

As a side note I had a phone conversation with my childhood friend and fellow blogger David Tripp telling him about my camping trip. David is doing a story about Hank (me) and Randy (David) on his blog and is doing his own illustrations. I urge you to check his blog out and follow the adventures of Hank an Randy. https://davidtripp.wordpress.com/. and check out his website Recollections 54 The Art Of David Tripp http://www.davidtrippart.com.

Little Red Wagon

“If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there would be a shortage of fishing poles.” Doug Larson

For those of you who don’t know me, I live to fish. There is nothing as relaxing as sitting on the bank kicked back waiting to catch the new state record.

I do most of my fishing from my kayak. I can go a lot more places and I can fish water that I can’t get to on foot. However, there is a lake in Bonne Terre City Park they call Lakeview. It has a paved walking track all the way around it. At dusk lights come on to illuminate the track.

Well my dilemma was I had to park a long way from where I fished. I had to come up with some way to make it easy to pack my gear out there. Then it hit me. A little red wagon. I always wanted a wagon when I was a child and never got one. One day at a resale shop in Farmington I spotted one. At the age of 64 I finally got my little red wagon.

I took it home and started thinking what modifications needed to be done on it. Luckily all it needed was 2 rod holders. Once installed I was in business. It had seat belts installed to use on children and they work great to strap my gear down. It worked out great and it makes it a lot easier to pack my gear into my fishing spot.

“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” – Henry David Thoreau

Mother Nature and Respect

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Walden Henry David Thoreau

The definition of nature is the material world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities. It is also defined as the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations. One could say that nature is everything.

There is a saying “Stop and smell the roses.” Relax and take time to enjoy or appreciate the beauty of life. Stop stressing out, overthinking or complaining. My version is “Stop and drink of the beauty of nature.”

As spring draws near camping season comes into view. The weekend warriors who live in the cities and suburbs will begin their assault upon the campgrounds. They appear in the parks pulling their 30 foot campers loaded with all the amenities of home. I don’t think this is what Thoreau had in mind when he advocated that people leave their urban and industrialized areas to explore nature. He felt that “modern life” robbed people of their best selfs and that living in harmony with nature was essential. In today’s society the campgrounds are so overpopulated that they are nothing more than smaller communities of which they were trying to leave behind.

In Missouri the rivers and Ozark streams become heavily congested with weekend floaters occupying rafts, inner tubes, kayaks, and boats. Sadly the amount of litter left behind is mind boggling. Thoreau often wrote about the importance of preserving the wilderness and the importance of living in harmony with nature. His ideas are completely lost on the minds of the majority of weekend revelers. One can see the evidence if they float the rivers on Monday morning. Sandbars and gravel bars are littered with aluminum cans, trash, and an occasional tent. It doesn’t have to be this way. If you pack it in pack it out. It is that simple. My motto is is,”Leave it better than you found it.”

We as a whole need to learn to respect Mother Earth and what she has given us. Preserve the magnificent beauty of Mother Earth so that future generations can enjoy it. We don’t know what we have until it is gone.

“I love nature partly because she is not a man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.” – Henry David Thoreau’s Journal

MDC Once Again Under Attack!

The Missouri Conservation and Use Tax is once again under attack. ‘This money goes directly to support forest and wildlife conservation efforts. Out of every $8 of taxable goods one penny goes for conservation.

In the early 70s Missouri citizens petitioned to get the tax placed on the ballot. They succeeded, it passed and was implemented on July 1, 1977. Then in 1999 state officials attempted to divert the money collected to pay refunds to taxpayers to only have the Missouri Supreme Court rule that the money could only be used for conservation and not be considered part of the states total revenues.

When I was a child there were a lot of areas of Missouri where it was rare to see a deer or a turkey. I grew up fishing the Big River and bass fishing was mediocre.

In 1977 when the money was allocated to the MDC, things began to change. A little slow at first but soon things began to improve. Due to responsible conservation efforts game became more abundant. Hunters were allotted more tags to fill for deer and turkey. Bass fishing became more rewarding. Money started coming in from out of state hunters who wanted to take advantage of our good hunting. Out of state fisherman also traveled to Missouri to take advantage of our excellent fishing. New land was bought and more public hunting areas and river accesses were made available. New conservation areas were established. Other states began to take notice and implemented programs in their states that the MDC had created.

Now Republican Chris Dinkins of District 144 has introduced two constitutional amendments that could destroy the improvements that have been made. HJR 108 and HJR 112. She says it is in an effort to rein in the overgrown bureaucracy of the MDC and make the department more accountable to the people.

HJR 108 would give the voters the opportunity to change the Missouri Conservation Commission. Presently the commission has four members who are appointed by the governor. Her amendment would change that number to nine nonpartisan members. Voters would elect one member from the current MDC districts and the governor would appoint one member to the commission. I thought she wanted to rein in bureaucracy within the department but this would only add to it causing more bureaucratic red tape.

HJR 112, if passed by voters, would take two thirds of the money and pass it on to other areas in need. The Missouri Supreme Court has already ruled that the money could only be used for conservation and can not be considered part of the states total revenues. Lawsuits? I know the voters are voting on it but the voters passed it in the first place.

She points out that the MDC has a savings account balance of almost 100 million dollars. Sounds to me like they are being pretty responsible. Representative Dinkins that’s let me point out that a savings account is usually used for emergencies. How much of that money was contributed from the Conservation Sales and Use Tax and how much from the sale of licenses, tags, ammo, etc.? If the economy tanks the MDC could go through that money pretty quickly in an effort to keep its programs afloat. Did you ever think of that are better yet do you even care? She says the MDC continues to attack the civil liberties of this state but cites no references. If you are going to throw the sportsmen of this state under the bus at least tell us why? Since you represent Reynolds county I would be suspect it has something to do with the battle between feral hog hunters and the MDC. So your solution is to punish all sportsman of the state of Missouri?

I hope the sportsmen in this state takes a long hard look at what is going on here and the impact these two amendments will have on bird hunting, deer hunting, turkey hunting, fishing and all the other programs offered by the MDC. Are we going to stand by and let this destroy all the accomplishments the MDC has made since 1977. I for one hope not.

Is It Old Age?

The country is more of a wilderness, more of a wild solitude, in the winter than in the summer. The wild comes out. The urban, the cultivated, is hidden or negatived.” – John Burroughs

I am a lover of the winter. The beauty of Mother Earth covered in fresh snow causes the spirit within me to move and feel alive.

I turn 66 in a couple of months. My body is occupied by arthritis caused by years of abuse. The cold wind cuts through me like it never has before. It magnifies the pain within my joints and makes everyday life more difficult. I guess it was just a matter of time.

For the first time in my life I am actually looking forward to the spring temperatures that will usher my old friend winter out and let the warming air of spring begin to blow across Mother Earth.

It is partially fueled by my love of the river and searching for that elusive record bass. Camping on a gravel bar partaking of the delicious scents of the river. Engrossed in the tranquility and peace that soothes my soul and enriches my spirit. Gazing into the beauty of the night sky hoping to see a falling star. Listening to the nocturnal creatures that are found along the banks of the river as they go about foraging for food and warning others of the intruder among them.

Floating down the river in my yak experiencing the transformation to spring. Marveling at the beauty of the river influenced by the changing season. The redbud and the dogwood begin to paint the countryside with their blooms manifesting on the branches that were bare in the winter months. The warmth of the sun soothes my arthritic joints as I wonder who had been here before me.

Yes it is hard for me to imagine but I am actually looking forward to the coming of spring and saying goodbye to my old friend winter.

Ozark Rivers of the Past

“Only going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

If I could ever spend time with a person of the past it would be John Muir. He explored the wilderness in the 1800s. The majority of the time he was alone. Him and the creatures that inhabited the area.

His love for the mountains was comparable to my love for the Ozark rivers of Missouri. His books and essays were influential in my admiration and respect for nature.

I can only imagine what kind of experience it would have been to explore the Ozark rivers in the 1800s.

Many times when I am camped on a gravel bar sitting in front of a fire, I find myself fantasizing about what it would have been like back then.

I imagine what the water would have been like free of pollutants. River banks and gravel bars void of litter and unmolested by ATVs. A place not yet touched by the hand of man and his idea of progress.

Without the infringement of artificial light, created by near by towns and dusk to dawn lights, the stars had to have the appearance of magnificent diamonds in the night sky.

It boggles my mind to think one would probably not see another human for days or weeks. One would experience the true feeling of being alone. Lost in the magnificence of Mother Earth and Her beauty. I can only imagine.

The Ozark rivers of Missouri gives one an avenue to seek and find one’s inner being. A place to observe the true beauty of Mother Earth. A place to heal their spirit and cleanse their soul. To enjoy it one must clear their mind and become one with the river. Then and only then can you understand my love for the Ozark rivers.

November Day On The River

The weather in Southeast Missouri was exceptional today. It was in the sixties!!! When I heard today’s forecast on Thursday I started planning for today.

When I got to the Leadwood Access on the Big River the air temperature was 35 degrees. I started down river around 8:45 a.m.. I am guessing water temp was in the low forties. Water was clear and dropping.

I had decided I was going to use the Rapala floating minnow, Rebel medium Wee Craw and a jig with a crawfish trailer.

Started out wind was calm but picked up about 10 am. Beautiful blue sky with some cloud puffs. Lots of sunshine and the temp began to rise.

My float started at the Leadwood Access on the Big River located in Missouri. The fishing started out slow and pretty much stayed that way. I did manage to catch 4 but only got pics of three.

I caught a spotted bass that went 10 inches but when I put it on the board to measure him he slipped out of my hands and back into the water before I could get a pic.

Caught this spotted bass fishing the Eaton Branch of the Big River.

Caught this small mouth near the Eaton Branch of the Big River.

The beautiful fall colors of the Missouri countryside had fallen to the ground for the most part. I was a little disappointed. Maybe next year.

I caught two before lunch. Missouri streams can be tough fishing in late fall when water temps have become frigid and clear enough to see a crawfish on the bottom in 4 foot of water. It’s a shallow river for the most part. The stretch I floated probably had an average water depth of 4 foot.

Lunch on a gravel bar on the Big River. After lunch I couldn’t buy a hit. I had several small bass and perch follow the lure all the way to the boat but didn’t take the bait.

The last two bass I caught at the end of my float. I caught them in Owl Creek. It dumps into the Big River at the Bone Hole Access where my float ended.

If you are ever up for some good small mouth fishing I recommend the Big River.