Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pheasant Hunt 09

Thursday morning I set out for central Kansas on my annual pheasant hunt with long time friend Mike Conroy and members of his family. Leaving here at 8:00 I met up with Mike's father big Mike in Fort Scott around 3:00 and we proceeded to Ottowa to join Mike and the rest of our party before heading to La Crosse. The little town of La Crosse, Kansas was our home base from which we hunted Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning. Friday morning started cold and windy and due to malfunctions in guns, gloves, fingers, and aim the first couple of opportunities came and went with no birds to show for it. We finally shot a couple of quail and then a pheasant which hit the ground running. Despite a fine brace of hunting dogs including Luke the beagle, Jack the German shorthaired pointer, and of course Finn the Boykin Spaniel, we were unable to locate this pheasant that had fallen in a thick stand of Indian Grass. After searching for a while we continued our hunt and things continued to be slow as we flushed a number of hens but had very little luck finding any roosters within gun range. We focused our efforts on WIHA land which is leased by the state of Kansas from landowners for the specific purpose of adding hunting opportunities for the general public. This program has allowed thousands of hunters the opportunity to hunt a variety of game in areas that are otherwise devoid of much public hunting ground. This has obviously had a positive impact economically to areas that other times of the year have little or no outside visitors. As we drove through small towns and down county roads we saw hotel and restaurant parking lots full, and trucks filled with hunters from places as far away as Ontario. We continued to search out fields to hunt and were finally able to put a pheasant in the game bag. As evening began to fall over the Kansas prairie we found a farmer outside his barn and after talking with him we obtained permission to hunt a large field of milo stubble. This field quickly yielded the second rooster of the day, and before the hunt was over, two more pheasants were added to our total. Day one ended with a meager total of 4 pheasants and 2 hard earned quail. Day 2 would begin optimistically with a large field of native grass surrounding a cut milo field. While this looked like perfect pheasant habitat, after completing the drive we had only one pheasant and a few quail to show for it. This was rather disappointing as we had added to more hunters and two more dogs to this days hunt. We decided to pay our friendly farmer another visit and again were given permission to hunt his fields. This time he decided to join us and showed us several new fields, but once again the hunting was slow and only one more pheasant was shot. We decided to move on with a few more fields being hunted and only one more pheasant and a few quail hitting the ground. It is not unusual to see big numbers of pheasants flushing out of range, or having lots of hen flushes throughout the day, but in our case we were just not seeing many birds anywhere. Following a lunch of ham and salami sandwiches we decided it was time for a change in strategy. We decided to shift our efforts to the north hoping to find more birds, and the rest of the day was spent scouting for new, and hopefully better places to hunt. As we drove the dirt roads we spotted a group of hunters, and observed pheasant after pheasant flushing in front of them, a good sign of things to come we hoped. Just down the road we found a good looking field of grass and our small party of three decided to give it a try. We took a quick hike around the field and kicked up nothing, deciding the pheasants must be running around our small line. We then joined back up with two others and hunted a cut milo field just before dark. In this field I was rewarded with a rooster flush directly to my left, and was fortunate enough to drop it with my first shot, ending the day on a high note. Day two ended with a beautiful Kansas sunset, and a meager harvest of 4 pheasants and 4 or 5 quail. Day 3 would break slightly warmer than the previous two, and we headed out before dark to a field where some of the guys had seen 20 or 30 pheasants flying in to roost the night before. Unfortunately for us, another group had beaten us to the field and we were forced to scramble to another location before legal shooting light. We found a nice half section of CRP grasses and could hear the roosters cackling in the pre-dawn glow of the prairie. Quietly we entered the field and began the final push with 10 hunters and 4 dogs. Quickly several hens flushed and a covey of quail got up prompting several shots but no connections. As we continued across the field pheasants continued to flush wild, with only a few hens flushing within range. My dog Finn had several good flushes on hens, and picked up a few flushes on several of the quail that had set down in front of us, but we were able to hit only one quail, and had no good opportunities on roosters on our first pass. As we watched a small mule deer buck bounce up the hillside in front of us we excitedly planned our next pass through this vast field of native grasses. Finally we were seeing birds, and although shooting opportunities were few, like most hunters we were happy to finally be seeing a good number of pheasants. The next pass would only bring us a few hen flushes, and as we lined up for the third and final pass of the trip, we sent several hunters down to "block" the field in an attempt to catch any roosters that might try to flush wild on us. I walked the far left side on this pass, and following several close encounters with pheasant hens, a rooster made the mistake of taking flight within gun range to my left. I quickly spun and shot, dropping the rooster to the ground, Finn had seen the pheasant fall, and was immediately on its trail as it weaved it's way through the clumps of Indian Grass and sideoats. After a short chase Finn collected our prize and as I wrung the roosters neck he got the final laugh by spurring me in the pinky leaving me with blood running down my hand. As we approached the blockers another rooster was harvested from the other end of the line, and a large covey of quail erupted in between all of us. I hit the ground as I feared for my life, but everyone was careful in their shot selection, and 4 more quail were added to our tally. Two of these quail were retrieved by Mike and Matt Conroy who along with the rest of the hunters and dogs spent 10 minutes or so chasing two winged quail around in circles until they could be pounced upon. By now it was nearly 9:00 and with a long drive ahead of us we decided to leave the rest of the birds for next time. This one field had yielded two roosters and five quail, as well as many wild rooster and hen flushes. Finally we had found what we had been looking for, but like most times, about the time you figure them out it is time to head home. Despite the low number of birds being harvested I think everyone enjoyed our time afield, and thanks to the WIHA program put forth by the state of Kansas with a little planning this type of hunt can be enjoyed by anyone. At about $45 per room, double occupancy, and good inexpensive restaurants, if you make reservations early a successful Kansas pheasant hunt can be enjoyed by anyone for very little money. If we had been a little smarter and shifted our hunting area sooner we might have even come home with enough pheasants for a Thanksgiving feast.

P.S. Trout are biting good right now, while I was hunting we had Hargrove and his guys down catching fish after fish, including a 19 1/2 " rainbow, and a 30" BROWN!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

If Woodpeckers Were Deer. . .

As I sat in my deer stand opening morning listening to shot after shot, I felt as if I were the only person in Ozark county not having any luck. Following three hours of listening to what sounded like a Fourth of July fireworks show, all I had to show for it was a distant doe sighting, and a sore rump. Don't get me wrong, I had a wonderful time watching squirrels, mice, chipmunks, lizards, vultures and lots and lots of woodpeckers. If woodpeckers were deer I would have to get another freezer. I wonder if I went woodpecker watching if all I would see would be deer, might be worth a try. Saturday evening my hunt went much better. While I didn't shoot anything I had opportunities to harvest a forkhorn, a nice young 8 point, and a doe. I didn't take the doe as she was being pursued by the 8 point and also by a larger buck that I was never able to get a good look at. All in all a magnificent hunt that culminated in the doe being chased directly under my stand by the 8 point buck, neither of which had any idea I was there. My good friend Reid joined me for the opening weekend hunt, and he too drew a blank on opening day, although he saw several does, and passed on a spike which he brought in with his grunt call. Day two would prove to be a different story. Rising once again at 5:00 a.m., Reid and I enjoyed some coffee as we dressed for what would be a deadly morning. After careful strategizing we decided on which stands would give us the best opportunities and proceeded to them with the caution of a young Cherokee Indian on his first buffalo hunt. Slipping silently into my stand I eventually found a comfortable position and sat watching and listening for any sign of deer activity. A heavy fog greeted us Sunday morning and seemed to slow the deer's movement until it lifted. It was well after 8:00 before I saw my first deer, and nearly 9:00 before I had two does within range. I was hunting on the edge of some thick woods and the deer were staying back about 40 yards from my location with trees and shrubs blocking my view. After watching the deer for 30 minutes they disappeared only to return a short time later. As before, I watched the larger doe through my scope waiting for a clear shot through the woods. Eventually the doe stopped in a narrow opening between two trees and with my heart pounding I was able to take a shot that found its mark putting the second deer of the morning on the ground. As Reid drove by my stand I flagged him down and told him I had taken a shot but wasn't sure if I had hit it. As I approached his truck I noticed a big doe in the back and congratulated him on the first deer of the year. We went to the house, put on some cooler clothes and Reid, Amy and I went to see if we could find my deer. I thought the deer was about 60 yards from my stand when I shot so we started looking in that location but found no sign. We continued crossing back and forth further from the stand and I soon spotted the deer down on the forest floor. Relieved to have found my deer, we discovered that she had only gone about 30 yards from where she was shot, and I had misjudged the distance from the stand considerably. Now that the deer were recovered we field dressed the deer down by the river, and have enjoyed watching eagles swarming the offal yesterday evening and today. Today as I fed cattle and took care of the third coon I have trapped in the barn in three days, I saw deer everywhere. I guess there are plenty left, and like always they know they are safe in the campground and along the driveway.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veterans Day Float (Thank you Vets!)

Yesterday was a another gorgeous day in the Ozarks, and on a day where we all were thinking of brave grandfathers and fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, granddaughters, grandsons, cousins, nephews, nieces, and second cousins twice removed, Amy and I decided to honor them by taking a float down secret creek. Secret creek refers to one of the many tributaries that feed our lakes and rivers here in the Ozarks. Following high water these streams can provide some of the best and most exciting floating available. Unfortunately you never know what you are going to get on these waterways until you are on them. Many times if these creeks are big enough to show up on a map they can be floated at times of high water. The particular creek Amy and I found yesterday was one we had been on before but this time we would float a longer section as we were granted access on private property. As we put in on this crystal clear stream we were soon mesmerized by the shear bluffs and boulder strewn riffles of this hidden gem. The valley was much narrower and riffles much sportier than anything you find on the main float streams of the Ozarks. As we darted through rapids, and bounced off boulders we were surrounded by unspoiled wilderness. A large family of otters played on the banks as we floated by, and a flock of turkeys was seen flushing in the distance as Amy shrieked from a near capsizing. A few mysteries also remain following this float. Two ducks were seen feeding in the distance and as we approached they dove never to be seen again. At this same spot Amy also swore she saw a big goldfish swimming around, and as we rounded the bend we saw something in the bushes Amy firmly believes was a wombat (might be time for an intervention). Floaters must also be cautious as these untraveled waterways are often filled with fallen trees often lurking unseen around a sharp bend. With little information available about many of these creeks, if you decide to try it you may end up having the float of a lifetime, or you could end up dragging your kayak around trees and over shallow spots all day long. Regardless of what the float might bring, it is definitely exhilarating floating new water for the first time, and the sound of water rushing around boulders as it drops through narrow canyons is sure to get your heart pounding as you approach unseen obstacles waiting just around the next bend.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bucks and Beards

What a wonderful strech of weather we have had ever since the last big rains! The river did come up big (nearly to the top of the boatramp), and those of you who like to camp on gravel bar right need to bring some gravel next time you come, as mother nature is trying to make a new island in that spot. The last few days the river has gotten back to a fishable level and yesterday and today we had some fishermen float from Kelly to Sunburst catching about a dozen fish per person per day with a 17"rainbow and 18" brown being the two braggers of the trip. Most were caught on rubber legs with a few being taken on crayfish patterns. Rifle season is almost upon us in Missouri and with that I have been busy moving stands and planning strategy. I have bowhunted only twice with no luck and have discovered most of our deer are hanging out in the campground where we have created a refuge from hunters. This is great for the deer but not so good for me (the hunter). I also drive past 3 deer that bed within 15 yards of our driveway at least 3 times a day and they just smile as I go by. Lucky for them I am a sporting fellow, and also have a freezer full of Inky! The rut has really gotten under way and we have seen a nice little 6 point chasing does up and down the drive, like most bucks I see he'll be good next year if no one shoots him. My trail camera captured a nice little 8 point that should be a great deer next year (good luck my friend). The trail cam also has been taking shots of a group of about 5 gobblers that I wish would walk by my bow stand (wouldn't fresh wild turkey be a treat on Thanksgiving). I am excited about our neighbor not allowing any deer hunters on his place this year as it had gotten out of control over the past few years with more and more people hunting. They would always take anything that walked by so little bucks were always on the menu. While I don't go out specifically looking for big bucks, with the abundance of does (which are much better eating) I don't understand why anyone shoots those small and medium size bucks just to cut off their antlers and throw them in a box in the garage. I have only shot 3 bucks in my life, the first deer I ever shot was a little spike, and the other two are on the wall (not my wall unfortunately, maybe someday Amy will understand). Good luck to any of you deer hunters out there, and if you can come down and fish it looks like the next few weeks should be ideal (you might have to drag me out of my deer stand to get shuttled). Maybe you should call Riverside!
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rain Rain Go Away!!

Once again I sit here in a chilly house wishing the rain would stop. The entire month of October has been rain for three days, half a day of sun, rain for three more days. After a while this starts to get old. Normally this is a month we can tackle a few new projects and get all of our cleanup done before the winter sets in. I can usually work in a little fishing and bow hunting into the mix also. I have managed a few fishing trips, although water has been high and fishing tough, and have sat in a deer stand a grand total of one time. Yesterday turned out nice and I was able to get a few projects done such as cleaning out gutters, getting limbs of roofs, throwing away the ladder that broke in half while I was on it cleaning out gutters (yes it hurt, but luckily I was on my way down, only up on the third rung). I unfortunately haven't had a chance to clean out the chimney so I have yet to light a fire for fear of burning the house down. With only baseboard heaters in the house we rely heavily on wood heat to keep our heating bill from being outrageous. My elbow continues to bother me so I have tried to take it easy so it will heal. Hopefully I have enough wood stock piled to get us through until I can begin cutting some more. I have taught myself to fly fish left handed, but with chainsaw I think I will just wait to heal, or I may have to learn to fish no handed. We hope today and tomorrow's rain will not lead to a big flood but always must remember how big this river can get. The pictures posted are of the flood we had the spring before last (taken after the water had receeded several feet), one of the many hundred year floods that seem to happen every 5-10 years. I'm not as worried about global warming as global wetting, I guess climate change will effect the earth in many different ways at different times, at least no hurricanes this year!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Relaxation comes to those who farm and fish

As torrential rain loomed in the forecast yesterday, I felt an overwhelming need to try my luck before the river became unfishable. Unfortunately a number of events tried to prevent me from my relatively simple goal. First of all I had scheduled the demise of our beloved steer "Inky" for yesterday morning so these proceedings took a few hours out of my morning, and while providing a lovely meal of fresh liver and onions it cut in to my precious fishing time. An unseen consequence of Inky's butchering was the violent reaction Richard had to the loss of his pasture mate. At first Richard just bellowed and made pitiful sounds, a reaction to the smell of blood on the ground, or a sadness he felt to the loss of his friend, that's for you to judge. I really don't know, but what I do know is this perceived sadness soon changed to rage, and Richard decided he no longer wanted to be fenced in. After breaking free once, Amy and I were able to coax him back into his pasture where he remained for most of the afternoon. Fast forward to 1:00. With Amy getting ready to head to the chiropractor and the kids in school I slipped on my waders, tied on a hot flash and began walking down the hill to slippery riffle. As I approached the river with trout on my mind I heard Amy yelling from the deck to come back to the house. I quickly returned to the house slightly out of breath, and was informed that the school had called and Molly needed to be picked up as she was sick. With Amy headed to town I loaded a booster seat in the van (yes the same van that transports the drunks and fishermen to the river) and headed to Dora to pick up my sick kid. After picking Molly up I returned home eagerly awaiting the return of my beloved wife hoping she would be here in time for me to continue my fishy conquest. Fast forward to 4:30. Amy returned from town and graciously allowed me to suit up and head to the river for an hour or two of fishing. I stepped into the water eagerly casting to a riffle that I was sure would be teeming with hungry trout. After about 10 minutes of futile casting I was able to coax a tiny rainbow to bite my fly, and while this may seem insignificant I was thrilled as I have slowly been improving my left handed fly fishing technique and now am starting to catch fish. (The tennis elbow I am suffering from has not been improving much so I decided to start fly fishing left handed which is much like starting over. Amy and I fished on Wednesday from Patrick bridge to James and casting and catching quite a few browns improved my confidence in my off handed presentation.) I continued fishing for 10 or 15 minutes to no avail and decided to change to a smaller beadhead stonefly nymph that friend and local guide Kyle Kosovich had given me earlier in the week. Another 10 minutes passed when my line was suddenly shaken by what I perceived to be a better fish. My assumption was correct as he swiftly ran downstream upon feeling the hook pull in his mouth. This run was stopped in it's tracks as the fly line rudely wrapped around the reel handle and held fast. Fearing my line would snap I frantically worked to unwrap the line and allow my opponent a chance to run and wear himself down. I accomplished this task and was then faced with fighting a good fish offhanded, with my reel still set up for my normal left handed retrieve. Prior to catching this fish I had simply been stripping in the smaller fish as there is really no need to get them on the reel unless they are big enough to take some drag. This fish was big enough and I struggled mightily to get him on the reel where I felt confident I could then fight him. After getting him on the reel he continued to run downstream in a series of quick short bursts which I countered by flipping my fly rod over and reeling with my right hand. I soon realized I wasn't gaining any ground, discovering I was actually panning line out to him by reeling this way. I changed the direction of my reeling and brought him toward me ever so slowly. Throughout this process my unseen quarry continued making run after run forcing me to rethink my tactics. I flipped my rod back over and held pressure on the fish using my good arm, anytime he would let up I would quickly switch to my bad wing, bracing the rod with my elbow and quickly reeling in as much line as possible. Once he began resisting I would again switch back to my left arm to continue the fight. This circus went on for several minutes until this hard fighting rainbow finally began to give up. As I brought the fish to hand I was delighted to see one of the most colorful rainbows I have ever caught, and while not the biggest at around 17" it was one of the hardest fighting trout I have ever caught. After snapping a quick picture I began casting again and after a few minutes heard Richard bellowing and carrying on again. Hoping the wily bull had not flown the coop again my fears were realized when I heard Amy yelling my name at the top of her lungs. As I emerged from the river I was amused to see Amy on the mule chasing around our herd sire in hopes he would return to pasture. As she was doing this she informed me that there was someone here to talk to me, and to my chagrin it was a longbearded Ozarkian deer hunter looking for his deer stand that he believed I had stolen. I did in fact have this deer stand but it was given to me by my neighbor who had found it on his property. Needing another stand, I had promptly put this one up along a deer trail I felt looked promising. While this man was chasing me wondering about his stand, I was chasing Richard who by now was chasing the dogs who were also being chased by Amy, it looked like my fishing might be over. I sent this man to the neighbors house, as he still believed he had permission to hunt there, and I assured him when he returned I would take him to get his stand. While he was gone Amy and I attempted to coax Richard back into his pasture, which I doubt would have held this Edwin Moses of the bovine world anyway. Richard continued to get more upset, and this normally gentle Dexter bull quickly took on the persona of legendary bucking bull Red Rock. As we discussed our next course of action, ZZ Top in camo returned for his deer stand and confessed that while he was given permission to hunt the neighbors land years ago, he had not been back in contact and assumed this was a lifetime deal, which it was not. After delivering some firewood to some nice ladies in the riverhouse I took this man to get his stand and sent him on his merry way. As I headed back to deal with Red Rock I was stopped by fellow fly fisherman Steve Farr who generously handed me a much needed adult beverage. After consuming this tasty brown ale I concluded that Richard would probably be okay enjoying a night of freedom either staying close to the barn, or heading up to be near his ladies on top of the hill. This morning Amy found Richard up by the mailbox and was able to reunite him with his beloved herd of Dexter cows. I thought this time of year was supposed to be relaxing.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Amy's first hunt

A few days before the close of teal season Amy and I left the kids with my beloved mother-in-law Valerie and packed up the Subaru with guns, ammo, and two smelly Boykin Spaniels. My father-in-law Danny has a nice farm with a 20 acre pond that sees some duck activity from time to time. I had taken Eli here to fish two weeks prior, and we saw about 2 dozen blue wing teal in their normal feeding area. We arrived at the pond about 5 that evening with a few decoys and several fishing poles. We fished our way down to the end where the teal usually congregate, and after catching a mess of fish for dinner we threw out a few mallard hen decoys and headed back to the cabin. That evening we enjoyed a healthy dinner of fried largemouth bass from the pond, fried coral mushrooms from the woods, fried zucchini from the garden, and cold beer from the Busch family mixed with a little bloody mary mix to class things up. The next morning we awoke just before dawn, enjoyed a cup of coffee, and proceeded to our spread. We tucked into some small trees along the edge of the pond with dogs at our side and watched dawn break over the glassy water. No ducks seemed to be flying that morning but we enjoyed watching a pie-billed grebe swim amongst the decoys, and did see two wood ducks fly in at the opposite end of the pond. Scratching the idea of shooting any teal that morning, we proceeded to shift tactics and try to shoot a few doves that we had seen feeding in a newly planted wheat field. As we approached the field about 15 doves took flight and landed in the tree line bordering the field. We snuck in and took position in some brush about 20 yards from where we had seen them take flight. After 10 minutes or so a pair came flying by, and I dropped one with my first shot, while leaving the second one unscathed. Finn the wonder dog did not see the bird drop so I took him over to the field and sent him in the direction of where the bird had fallen. After a little searching he soon found the dove and happily brought it back to me. Amy and I decided our set up was not a good one, so we crossed the field and hunkered down in the treeline on the opposite side of the field. After a few minutes I spotted a dove in the distance and told Amy that one was coming, and as I was telling her it was a little out of range I was rudely interrupted by a loud BANG echoing from her 20 gauge. This dove was not impressed and continued on his merry way. Not long after another dove came in flying directly toward us, fearing it might land on Amy and peck her eyes out I quickly jumped up, dropping the unsuspecting flyer with my first shot. The momentum of this swift flying acrobat took it across a hogwire fence blocking the path of retrieval for both the wonderdog and myself. With Finn only weighing 40 pounds or so, I decided to pick him up and put him on the other side of the fence and then try to direct him to where the dove had fallen. I spent countless hours with Finn as a pup teaching him to retrieve with hand signals and he has learned that when I point my arm one way or the other that is where he is supposed to go. This works well, but a spaniel does not "line" as well as a Labrador, as they seem to think they know where to look better than you do. By directing a dog over and over again to their reward, they eventually decide to trust you over their instinct and will improve on their lining skills. Unfortunately Finn still thinks he knows best, and while he will follow the signals for a distance as soon as he picks up another scent he quickly turns, and starts to hunt himself. I forgot my whistle that day, so after stopping and sending him with voice commands for what felt like forever, I finally got it through his little pea brain where the bird was and he picked it up and returned with it like he had done a splendid job. I wouldn't have one any retriever titles with that performance, but I ultimately got the bird back to me without having to climb the fence. By this time it was starting to get late, and our stomachs were starting to growl so I decided to go get the mule and bring it back to get Amy. I hadn't walked 15 yards when I heard several shots followed by a string of words that would make a sailor blush. Amy is acting like a seasoned dove hunter already!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Coral Mushrooms are up!!!!

For those of you mushroom lovers out there, one of my favorites is making its appearance a bit early this year. The coral mushroom is one that even I can find, and finding enough for a nice side dish is seldom a problem during good years. Here at Sunburst we find them on our hillsides and up on top of the hill in the wooded areas growing in rocks and on soil directly in the leaf litter. Most of the time the mushrooms are at least as big as a pool ball, and often as big or bigger than your fist. The ones around here range in color from the pale ones in the pictures to a bright yellow with an orangish hue. Look around closely once you find one, there are usually more nearby and finding clusters of two or three is common. The first time you eat them go lightly as some people may experience a little gastrointestinal distress if too many are eaten (I know how you like me to mention your name in my blog Valerie). To cook them Amy usually deep fries them cut into bite sized pieces rolled in flour, or they can be mixed with eggs for breakfast or cooked in spaghetti sauce or cream of mushroom soup. Unlike morels which can be tricky to see, finding corals is as simple as taking a walk through the woods and looking around. If they are growing in your area at that time they will be hard to miss. Good luck with your mushroom finding, and as always be sure you know what kind of mushroom you have before you eat them. We have several books and were just discussing whether a mushroom Amy found today is a chantrelle or not. We weren't sure so in the trash it went.

Real Housewives of the OC (Ozark County)

Now that things have calmed down a bit here at the ranch and we are working normal hours for a retired couple in their late 70's, Amy and I have had time for some recreational activities OZARK STYLE. A couple of Amy's friends and her like to get together once a week for a little girl time. This started with a movie watching experience on Amy's birthday and has quickly evolved into a cornucopia of hillbilly activities. One morning they sheared a couple of our sheep which was long overdue and came up with a new slogan for our business. Sunburst Ranch, where the women are women and the sheep are scared. Looking at the haircuts they gave those sheep, they should be scared. The next week they decided to take to the woods for a squirrel hunt. I fixed Amy up with a .22 and instructions on how to use it, and off she went in pursuit of her quarry. With Jessi shooting a .410 and Sherri and Amy shooting .22's they came home with 2 squirrels, both shot with the .410. They also came home with a new understanding about how game can seem to disappear when you are trying to hunt it. All of you hunters out there know exactly what I am talking about, and it is nice to have a wife who now understands that while you might have deer in your front yard every day, when you go to hunt them it is not always just a matter of walking out and shooting something. Amy's thirst for blood led us to the discussion of purchasing a gun for her that could be used for all kinds of activities. We soon decided on a 20 gauge semi-automatic shotgun and several days later went to pick up her new Charles Daly youth model (I think he must import them because they are made in Turkey). That afternoon we took the gun out and patterned it on a cardboard box, and gave Amy her first taste of shotgunning. She was a crack shot at 30 yards, but unfortunately rain spoiled our chances of shooting any clay pigeons that afternoon. The next day with both kids at school I set up my thrower in the front yard and out we went to shoot a few clay pigeons. Amy's first shot at a moving target. I started by throwing a few birds with Amy just tracking them with an unloaded gun to get the feel for what she would be doing. After a few of these it was time for the real deal. Now I have shot a fair amount of clays and realize that it is not always that easy, and with her only shooting a shotgun once and never at a moving target I was hoping she would at least hit one or two so as not to get frustrated. I carefully placed the bright orange disk on the thrower and held the string in anticipation of Amy giving me the signal for the throw. PULL! she yelled and soon the disk was zooming through the air anticipating a safe landing out in the freshly mowed grass. BANG! Amy pulled the trigger and to her delight the clay pigeon exploded, the result of expert instruction I am sure. "Son of a B*I*@H" I shouted not believing what I had seen. I was hoping she would hit some, but this would really put the pressure on me. I proceeded to throw more clays for her, and when she remembered to load a shell into the chamber she hit over half of the clays that I threw for her, otherwise her gun went click and she cussed and I laughed (at least 4 times). With this outing being a success Amy decided her next girls outing would be a clay pigeon shoot in our front yard. The girls came over, all packing heat, and commenced to shooting clay pigeons. I was fortunate enough to be the trap master, and enjoyed watching their hits and misses, while using this as an opportunity to train Finn with some retrieves around gunfire. By the time we were done the girls were shooting pretty good, and Finn was sitting steady to shot, until I would send him after a thrown retrieving dummy. Let this be a lesson to you when you come down next time. The real housewives of the OC all have guns and they know how to use them. Stay tuned as my next installment should include Amy's first teal/dove hunt.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Peculiar Story

A group of rafters from an unnamed Missouri town (town's name in title of Blog) joined us this weekend for an end of summer campout. They set out for the settlement of Dawt Mill late Saturday morning with three rafts and 13 souls. We only had three groups going to Dawt on Saturday, and after picking up all of our canoes we were waiting for the rafters to call us so we could end our day at Dawt. Late that afternoon we received a call from the Ozark County Sheriff's office saying they had found a person walking up the road from James Bridge who said his canoe had sunk and he was walking back to Sunburst where he had rented it. Knowing we had already picked up all of our canoes we thought they must be mistaken so we chose not to go searching for this lost soul. Finally around 7:15 Kevin and I decided to head to Dawt as we knew the rafters would be in soon as daylight was beginning to fade. When we arrived the drunken rafters were arriving wet, cold and drunk after a long day on the river. When I asked how the float trip went I received mixed results with some saying awesome, and others saying they would rather not talk about it. After taking some photos on the hood of the bus with Kevin, we finally got everyone into the bus and returned them to their campsite for the evening. The next morning a group of them came in and said that they thought they had lost someone on the river yesterday and wondered if we had any suggestions. We called the sheriff's office who had not seen him, and the other outfitters we called were unaware of any extra campers lurking around their campgrounds. With little to go on these bedraggled campers broke camp and set out on a search for their missing man. After several hours we had still heard nothing and assumed they must have found him wondering the streets of the OC (Ozark County). Later that morning the phone rang and with this call the mystery would be solved. It turned out the missing rafter who had had a falling out with his group, took to the highway to return to the campground. He was subsequently picked up by a good Samaritan and somehow ended up in Howell County. While in Howell County this good Samaritan who was not so good, was pulled over by the cops, and taken in for DUI. This leaves our lost rafter once again without a ride and no place to stay. This problem would quickly be solved as the sheriff's office ran the rafter's information and discovered he was on probation and was not supposed to be drinking. He evidently could not hide his intoxication and found himself spending the night in the company of Howell County's finest. He used his one phone call to call his "friends" and tell them he would be receiving a free transport back to his home jail in a few days so they need not worry about his whereabouts. Peculiar!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Sunburst Stimulator

While I enjoy living out in the middle of nowhere, sometimes simple things lead to big frustration. Amy has taken two trips to town in the last two days in an attempt to get a new cordless phone to replace the one that blew up due to a lightning strike. When you buy something new that doesn't work and you are 30 miles from town it really sucks! When you go back the second time and get another that doesn't work it sucks worse. When you also get an oil filter for the mule that is wrong that doubles your pleasure. When you take the old filter in to show them the second time and return with the wrong one again, you want to shoot the parts guy who swore it was the same filter. I guess I will take my second trip to town since May and see if I can come back with the right filter. If you are still reading this whiny blog you may wonder why I am telling you this. After Eli and I failed to change the oil filter on the mule, that frustration led us to the river for a little fishing before dark. While Eli picked flowers and threw rocks I slid out just below the island to see if any trout were in the mood for a little dinner. I picked this spot because it is the only place on our property to keep an eye on a 5 year old while having a realistic chance at bringing a few fish to hand, and bring a few fish to hand I did. As I tied on my new favorite fly (the golden hot flash) followed by a bloody mary dropper, I became excited as I noticed a little haziness in the water. I have found that the fish are more apt to ignore my tripping and fumbling around if the water has a little color to it, and tonight looked like it might just be perfect. Not long after my first cast I was slow to react as my indicator took several dives on successive casts. Daddy I need to go poop I hear from the bank. Luckily we were just down from the bathhouse so after a quick potty break back to the river we went. Just as had happened before, perfect casting technique (Eli is a witness) was rewarded with a sudden pause in the indicator and this time I was ready. I lifted the rod tip high and was met with a quick downstream run as I caught a glimpse of pink flash near the surface. After a quick battle I brought the 15" rainbow to hand and had Eli take a picture for posterity, promising him that he could reel in the next fish. Several casts later another rainbow was hooked and after reeling in the slack line I handed over the rod to Eli who courageously fought and defeated his first fly rod trout. Several other fish were caught and several were lost along with the bloody mary whose only trout was the first trout of the evening. While this was the only bloody mary I have ever owned I was not disappointed for this opened a spot on my line for my newest creation, the sunburst stimulator. This is a fly tied on a #6 hook with red and black chenille two short rubber legs at the hook end, and silver flash tied almost like hackle where the wing case would be. Once again I got bored when I was tying up my golden hot flash, and this new fly was the result. I tied this on as a dropper below the golden hot flash and went back to fishing without much faith in the little feller. As before, the fish continued to bite and a tiny streambred rainbow was caught as was a 10" brown, but each time I brought the fish to hand my disappointment grew as the sunburst stimulator continued to dangle from the golden hot flash that was nestled in the corner of each fishes mouth. Then it happened, as the sun faded over the horizon and fog settled over the North Fork, a perfectly placed cast was met with a violent flash beside a large boulder which had been the lunker's lair. I lifted the rod tip high and the pain in my tendinitis stricken right elbow told me this was not your run of the mill fish. I could see the a dark silhouette thrashing amidst the rocks in this run and new it had to be a brown. With no choice but to follow I yelled for Eli to circle around and meet me on a gravel bar just downstream. Skillfully playing this fish while talking Eli down to my location, I was finally able to bring a fat healthy 18" brown to hand. As I held the fish in the water I had Eli grab the camera out of my pocket and take a picture of me with my prize. Unfortunately Eli had taken the memory card out of the camera and the built in memory was full with pictures of Christmas from two years ago. We found one or two to delete, and amazingly the fish waited patiently as I gently held him in the current just knowing he would dash to freedom before we could get proof on film. Eli stepped back took aim and took the first picture in which I had no head - delete. Second picture a quarter head - delete. Third picture - half a fish -delete. Fourth picture -most of my head and good picture of fish, we'd decided we'd better not press our luck and headed home with proof. Unfortunately the picture did not capture the fly to which this lunker fell, but the excitement of catching an 18" brown was amplified many times over when I brought this fish up only to see that peeking out of the toothy grin of this broomtail was the red glow of the sunburst stimulator.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Things slowing down, fish heating up

Weekday business has slowed to a crawl which has allowed me to pursue a few other activities for recreation. Yesterday Amy's Dad and I planted a few acres of alfalfa for wildlife on his property, and I have been brush hogging some plots that are in need of replanting this fall. We have several acres of food plots here that I typically rotate year to year for birds and deer. Last spring I planted millet and sorghum in several plots and as it is now maturing, songbirds swarm out of it as you drive by, blue grosbeaks, indigo buntings and goldfinches seem to be the main visitors. I will soon mow some of that down and plow it which will bring in the doves, and then reseed with wheat and clover for deer and turkeys. These plots are down around the campground and because we enjoy watching the wildlife we don't hunt in the riverbottom.

Monday morning I received a phone call from Brian Sloss the owner of Eleven Point Canoe Rental who wanted to come over for an afternoon of fishing. He arrived at around 1:00 and since my shuttles were done I decided to join him. We both were a little apprehensive about the fishing prospects as a bright sun shone directly overhead. This apprehension was quickly put to rest as I quickly caught and released a parr marked rainbow on the far side of the island. As Brian worked down stream ahead of me he caught several small browns and hooked and lost several others. It seemed like red was the color they were after as I caught my first fish on a red soft hackle, and Brian was catching his on a Bloody Mary #10. Brian saw the beating he was giving me so he waded up and gave me one of his magic flies. Not long after I caught a 10" brown quickly followed by a slightly larger one. Disappointed with the performance of the hot flash, under which the bloody mary was tied, I decided to put on a yellow variation which I had just started tying this week. Not long after putting this on I hooked into a gorgeous 15" bow which took me for a ride all over the run just in front of the campstore. Not to be outdone, the original hot flash which Brian now had tied on caught the biggest brown trout of the day, a fat 14 incher.
After catching and releasing a dozen or more fish we moved down to slippery riffle where I had hopes of another dozen hookups. That was not to be the case but we did add another 4 or 5 fish to the count, mine caught on the golden hot flash and Brian's caught on a squirrel nymph. The squirrel nymph is tied with a yellow body and seemed to be working nearly as well as the bloody mary. We concluded that red and yellow were definitely the colors of the day so when you come down be sure to have an arsenal with plenty of those colors in tow. It did seem like the larger flies were catching larger, but fewer fish.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Good fishing despite the hot weather

Here is a fishing report we received from a fly fishing friend from St. Louis who was here this weekend. Thought you fishermen might enjoy hearing from someone besides me, fishing the same old fly in the same old place, a few more weeks and maybe I'll have some time to explore other parts of the river.

Justin and Amy,

Thanks for another great trip down to Sunburst. As always the hospitality is great and my buddies loved the setup down there. I am sure they will be coming again. We had a slow day floating from Patrick down to James on Friday afternoon, probably around a dozen browns on a Size 10 Red Fox Squirrel Nymph taken under a Pats. Saturday we we’re able to stay ahead of the crowd and had a nice day hooking a lot more fish. We fished from Lamb Shoal above Kelly to your place. We hooked several big ones and turned them but they got off early. Thanks again and looking forward to getting down there in Sept. & Oct. a lot after the crowds slim down. Talk to you soon. I attached a photo, not of a big fish, just one we caught. See ya next time!


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fishing Still Good!

We have been experiencing unbelievable cool weather for the middle of July, and following a day of rain yesterday I was able to sneak out in front of the house for a little evening fly fishing. After battling the algae in the fastest part of slippery riffle, I realized I would have to lighten up my offering a little and fish higher in the water column. I feared this might keep the trout from finding my fly, but those fears were quickly laid to rest as I soon hooked up with a 7 inch brown. The department of conservation denies any natural recruitment of brown trout in the North Fork, and then says they stock nothing under 10 inches. Last night I caught several browns in the 6-8 inch range, and several rainbows that mirrored the size of those browns. Browns are stocked here in the fall, so they should be even larger than 10-12 inches by now. VERY INTERESTING. As a wise church lady once said, "you be the judge". Just as I was about to give up on catching anything larger than a minnow, my indicator took a sudden dive, and I quickly set the hook. I immediately knew this was no young of year trout, and as I adjusted my drag for the upcoming battle, I saw a beautiful cherry red rainbow break the surface just below me. I quickly got the trout into the shallows out of the main flow, and as I gently gripped it for release I was certain I had caught a fish that might reach the 18 inch mark. I held my rod to the fish noting where it fell in relation to my guides, and following release measured the marks to find out what I had really caught. This brightly colored healthy North Fork rainbow surprised me by measuring just a tick over 16 inches. If anything I usually underestimate the size of my fish, but the girth and color of this fish had me excited to the point that had I not measured it, I would be telling everyone of my 18" rainbow. Let that be a lesson to you, don't ever measure your fish and like everyone else you can tell me of the 20 inch brown you caught.

For those of you fishing the float from Hammond to Sunburst, we had a big group last week that caught and released dozens of nice smallmouth, some good goggle-eye, and several "20 inch trout". Above the spring they caught most on 4 inch plastic worms, and said many were caught just dragging the worm behind the boat. These guys grew up fishing Ozark rivers and know what they are doing, so reports like that assure me that there are plenty of smallmouth, many of which push the 15 inch mark, swimming in the waters of the North Fork.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I know many of you come year after year to the North Fork River because you have gotten fed up with the wild partying and huge crowds on some of the rivers located closer to the major metropolitan areas of Missouri. I fear that recent proposed cuts to the Missouri water patrol could lead to increased inproprieties on not only our river, but on other lakes and streams throughout the state. Our lakes and streams are natural treasures that without some supervision can become places unfit to take families for a weekend of recreation. As a group, the outfitters on the North Fork try our best to keep our campgrounds and float trips more family oriented than some other rivers, and while we don't always succeed, the loss of our single water patrol officer would certainly hurt our efforts. I hope you will read the attached newpaper article and contact the governor's office and whoever else you might know that could help. The state government of Missouri needs to rethink their priorities, and put the safety and well being of its' residents ahead of something such as the Tour Across Missouri. If the safety of our lakes and rivers is put in jeopardy the state will certainly lose more revenue than it would by cutting a bike race that comes around once a year. Read the article and you will know what I am talking about. Thanks for listening and if you can do anything we would certainly appreciate it, let's keep the North Fork River a place we can take our families and youth groups year after year without worrying too much about what they might see or hear.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Busy Times at Sunburst Ranch

It has been quite a while since I have had a chance to sit down and tell about what has been happening down here in the Ozarks. We have enjoyed full campgrounds the last few weekends as well as good water and good campers. Despite the campgrounds being full we have been continually praised for how quiet the campground has been, and how well behaved our campers have been. While our campground security guard (AMY) has a little to do with this, the real credit has to go to you campers, who while having a good time are usually respectful of those around you. It helps that we have so much repeat business and personally get to know most of our campers over time. For those who cause any major problems, we just simply don't allow them back (no camping for you!). Since I last wrote, I have enjoyed visits from my sister and her family (we actually rafted down the river one day and had a great time), two visits from my mother (thanks for the cookies), we had a wedding in our pavilion (complete with lights and beautiful decorations), and also a visit from my mother-in-law Valerie's family who all floated from here to Dawt Mill (there Valerie I got your name in the blog twice just like you wanted). The upcoming 4th of July weekend will be a little slower than most summer weekends so if you are looking for something to do give us a call, looks like a chance for early rain on Saturday but a nice somewhat cooler weekend after that. Most people can't believe the 4th isn't busy, but everyone calls for the weekend before and after the 4th trying to miss the busy weekend, making those two weekends our busiest of the summer. Just a reminder for any of you who like to rent cabins here, at this point on the weekends we have no availability for cabins until the end of August, we occasionally get cancellations, but keep that in mind when you are thinking about booking for next year, we get calls every day from people looking for cabins, unfortunately you must think months in advance to secure lodging for a summer weekend. I guess we'll try to build a few more sleepers before next year. Sorry about this rather boring informative post, but I think I dropped my creative writing bone in the river down at Dawt and it washed over the dam into the lake.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bode Miller has nothing on me!

I will choose to take the high road and not risk upsetting the fish gods by talking trash, but yesterday evening they had nothing that could stop me. The water is finally flowing at a normal level and is nice and clear, so I decided to take a walk down to slippery riffle for an evening of fly fishing. I started at my normal spot at the head of the riffle and worked my way down, skipping over the slickest part so as not to fall on my face again. I fished down my usual 75 yard stretch of water and picked up one nice 15" brown on a hot flash. I was a little disappointed as I had fished for 45 minutes with little to show for it. I had tried several droppers fished below the hot flash with no success, until I put on a jay yellow. That is basically a tiny white jig head with yellow thread tied around the hook shank. As I worked my way back upstream I picked up another nice brown on the hot flash, and then a 15" rainbow on the jay yellow. This particular fish I caught between about 5 canoes that were floating by (I couldn't hear very well but I think one young lady commented about how I looked like Brad Pitt out there fishing). I added one more 13" brown on the hot flash, and on my final cast of the day I landed a 12" rainbow on the jay yellow. The fish gods would test me on this fish. I had once again skipped over the slickest part of slippery riffle and gone above this point for a few final casts. After a several casts I finally placed the fly just across the main channel to the edge of an eddy where I have caught many fish before. As I put a large upstream mend in my line the strike indicator abruptly dove, and using my catlike reflexes I immediately set the hook. This rainbow quickly swam for the swift current and headed downstream, not realizing it was only a 12 incher I decided I should follow. As I turned to face the fish, the current dislodged my left croc, which was now being held between my two biggest toes, this led me to stumble down the river onto the slippery bedrock below where I had been fishing. This is not the first time this has happened so I knew to face downstream and bend my knees sliding down the rock much like Bode Miller skiing a black diamond in Aspen. For once this tactic worked and I was rewarded with another beautiful stream bred rainbow, and a fully intact tailbone. When all was said and done I had caught 5 fish in about an hour and a half, managed to keep my footing and somehow was able to get my shoe back on while fighting a fish in heavy current. I'd like to see Bode Miller try to get his ski boot back on in the middle of a downhill race, I don't think so Bode!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Calm after the storm, and goooood fishing!

The weekend following Memorial Day is typically laid back and slow at the Sunburst Ranch. We had enough action to keep us busy, but much calmer than last weekend. For anyone enjoying a half full campground and less crowded river this is a good weekend to come. From here on out we will start to get busier and busier until school gets ready to start around the second weekend in August. We had quite a few fishermen in this week and weekend. The Episcopalian men's group from the KC area covered much of the river from Wednesday to Sunday and reported good catches of smallmouth and goggle-eye from Hebron on down (thanks for the fried goggle-eye by the way). We had another group of that fished from here to Dawt on Sunday that said they had good action the entire trip. And then we had several of our fly-fishing friends from STL fishing from their drift boat. They reported good catches of both browns and rainbows, many of which were taking caddis imitations. The river is flowing wonderfully right now, and is in perfect shape if you don't want to paddle much. Looking forward to taking a couple guys way up river for a 3 day float this week, so we'll see what conditions are like up north.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wet, wild, wonderful weekend!

Despite rain off and on over the entire Memorial Day weekend the Sunburst Ranch faithful had no problems breaking out of the winter doldrums and curing that cabin fever. Memorial Day weekend brings out a little more party crowd that our normal two day weekends and this weekend was no exception. Even with a full campground throughout the holiday, noise complaints were contained to only a few spots in the campground. Our night security guard (Amy) was only called down once, and took care of a little noise problem on Sunday night, and although there were several other small incidents no one was hurt, and only one leg had to be amputated. It was great to see our old friends, some of which had not been down for several years. Campers joined us from as far away as Tuscon, Colorado Springs, Denver and Tampa to reunite with old friends around a blazing campfire. I would like to thank the majority of our campers who are respectful and courteous to those around them, as you make our job a pleasure. For those on the other side of the coin which were very few, you have already been added to the NO CAMPING FOR YOU list. I apologize to anyone unfortunate enough to have been camping next to someone not living by the golden rule. I hope everyone found our staff courteous and helpful, I think we have the best, hardest working crew around, and am thankful every weekend that I don't have to worry about them showing up and doing their jobs. The only complaint I had about our staff was that I was not a very nice person, and that is being dealt with from within. In my defense I think most people would agree that I am a very nice person (comments are welcome, however I probably won't publish the bad ones). In conclusion, thanks once again to all of you, you are the reason we can continually purchase new canoes, and upgrade our facilities. I encourage all of you to drop us an e-mail with any advice on how we can improve what we do, and look forward to seeing you all again later this summer.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fishing the Upper North Fork

With severe weather looming in the forecast, I decided Wednesday night I would take advantage of the last nice day of the week and head upstream for a little smallmouth and goggle-eye fishing on the upper reaches of the North Fork. After dropping Eli off at school, Amy took me to Hale's crossing which is 26 miles or so upstream of Sunburst. I would float from there to Hammond covering a distance of 14 miles. Putting in at Hale's I was happy to see the river flowing bank full, and although somewhat murky I couldn't have asked for better water conditions. The section of river before you reach Hammond can get much too low to be of much fun by the time summer arrives. Today this was not the case. I told my fishing buddy Finn (my loyal Boykin Spaniel) to load up, and he took his place in the front seat of the canoe. We quickly were forced to negotiate some rather treacherous rapids, which on this section of river are very narrow with sharp turns and often times guarded by fallen trees. This being said we came through the float unscathed, although there were several times Finn questioned my canoe handling skills. The fishing was just fair, I hooked and lost what felt like a nice smallmouth early in the float, and later brought a nice 12 incher to hand. I also broke off a 15" smallmouth by setting the hook a little to hard with 4 pound test. The goggle-eye (rock bass) did keep the action steady although most were only fat little 6-7 inch fish, big enough to make a meal if I was camping out, but too much trouble to take home. I also added several green sunfish, and longear sunfish (aka punkinseeds) to my creel. While my favorite smallmouth bait is a 4" worm, fishing by myself without an anchor made this type of fishing almost impossible with the river running fast. I caught most fish on a good old beatle spin. If you ever get a chance to come to the river when the water is really flowing, I would highly recommend a float on the upper part of the North Fork, you will see beautiful bluffs, lots of wildlife, and with any luck at all you should enjoy catching a mixed bag of colorful Ozarks fish.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


Yesterday as Amy was leaving to go pick up Eli from school, she ran up and told me to come quick she needed my help. Being a wonderful husband I quickly ran down to lend assistance for what I thought my be changing a flat tire, or jump starting her car. The problem I faced when I arrived on scene was a frantic robin hopping around between the grill and radiator of Amy's car. She informed me she had hit a bird while coming home from the grocery store, and miraculously it had squeezed through the impossibly small opening in the grill and had become trapped between the radiator and grill, where it traveled 20 miles before arriving at it's new home. There was virtually no opening for the bird to escape, and after pulling on the plastic underside of the bumper, I was able to push the bird out with the handle of a rake thinking this would free the bird and it would fly off to live a happy life. Unfortunately the bird was exhausted and had a broken leg, and after flitting a short distance collapsed in a heap on the ground. I quickly scooped it up and placed it in a pet taxi gave it some water and a few worms. The worms have disappeared so I guess it is eating, and now I suppose I need to devise a splint to see if it's leg can heal. What a waste of time to save a robin you might say, and normally I would agree, but don't pass judgement until one day the miracle robin of spring comes knocking on your grill.

I am a self-proclaimed bird nerd, and here at Sunburst I have catalogued around 80 species of birds on our property alone. Spring is a great time to see migrating warblers (or at least hear them), and marks the return of many birds that raise their young in the Ozarks. Last summer we had a pair of Summer Tanagers, Orchard Orioles, and Bluejays all nesting at the same time in a single white oak tree in our front yard. Some of the common birds of summer we see here at Sunburst that might be of interest include indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks, and eastern kingbirds (these are usually seen at the top of the hill sitting on the fence as you drive in). We occasionally see yellow billed cuckoo's, road runners, and all kinds of woodpeckers including the pileated woodpecker which everyone enjoys seeing. These are but a few of the many birds we see along the river, the next time you are down floating or camping be sure to bring your binoculars, you will be amazed at what you see. For all you other bird nerds out there, if you are interested in a list of all bird species catalogued here at Sunburst drop me a line and I would be glad to send you one.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This fly is so good a monkey could catch fish on it!!

As a fly fisherman I am always striving to find the perfect fly. The fly that is easy to tie, easy to use and catches every fish that sees it. I think I may have found it. I'm not going to say that it catches every fish that sees it, but I am convinced that it catches more fish than any other fly I have used. What is this fly, and where can I get it you might ask. Be patient my friends. Fortunately for me the only place you can find this fly is in the fly box of yours truly and in the mouth of an 18 inch rainbow trout, that broke off as I was unhooking it last evening. This tie is a modification of a simple rubber legged stonefly imitation that was taught to me by a young gentleman working at Hargrove's fly shop in St. Louis. After tying a dozen of these I decided to pimp them up a little. Then it was off to my laboratory to see if they were in fact an improvement. I have now tested this fly two different times, against several different flies including the original version of the rubber legs. Last night's test session proved to be a raging success as I landed 6 fish in just under two hours all in slippery riffle (the riffle in front of my house). Not only did I land 6 fish, but 4 of these fish were larger than 15 inches. (15 inch bow, 16-17 inch bow, 16-17 inch brown, and a big fat rainbow nearing 18 inches that still has possession of the magic fly). I caught several on the fly I have named the HOT FLASH, then took it off to see how other flies would stack up. After catching no fish on anything else I was stripping in line to switch back to the hot flash, when I caught a small brown, other than that fluke, all other fish were caught on the HOT FLASH. In addition to having a great test session, I managed to keep my footing and returned home as dry as when I had started. Fish Gods-4 Justin - 3 For those of you who camp and fish at Sunburst Ranch be sure to ask me about this fly next time you are down. I would be happy to give you one, and then sell you many more for outrageous prices. Better get here quick though because my time for fly tying is running out, and you better be sure that I'm keeping a few for myself just in case I have a few minutes to fish this summer.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Happy Birthday to me (I think)

My birthday which falls on February 3rd came and went with the promise of a new fly rod and reel from my wife and her family. Naturally I was quite excited as I figured that with several people going in on this present it was bound to be a wonderful set up. Week after week passed with no real mention of the promised present. Finally I was told that several rods would be arriving with the fly fishing group from T. Hargrove's and I would have the opportunity to try them out and choose one. Chris showed up with a nice selection of Sage, Winchester and St. Croix Rods, and I found the 9' 6 wt St Croix Legend Elite to be most to my liking. After fishing with it for a day and catching and losing a dozen or more fish I decided this would be my trusty side kick along the runs and riffles of the North Fork for years to come. A few days later I received my Galvan reel in the mail and promptly put it on my rod where it will stay probably until I break my rod and have to send it in to be repaired. Excited to try out my new birthday present I headed out to my favorite run on the North Fork, which just so happens to be 30 yards or so in front of my house. Unfortunately for me the fish were not biting readily that afternoon and after foul hooking one small rainbow, I saw a little break in the current where the fish had to be stacked in like cord wood. As I slid my way into position to make the perfect cast, my footing gave way and down I went into the chilly water of the North Fork river, water filling my waders quicker than could be imagined (my wading belt helped very little as it hung by the door on my deck). I quickly sloshed to the house, emptied my waders, and warmed up in a hot shower. Fish Gods - 1 Justin - 0. This was far from the first time I had taken a cool weather swim in the river, but little did I know it would be the first of a continuing streak. Several days later everything looked perfect for another shot with my new birthday gift. Down I went to the same riffle, and as I was pulling off fly line preparing for my first cast, a 13" rainbow decided to grab the fly and hook himself, once again showing how skillful a fly fisherman I am. I took this as a good omen, and proceeded to fish for 30 minutes or so to no avail. I decided then that a change of scenery was in order. Amy was just coming outside and gave me a ride to the island at the upper end of the campground where I was sure my luck would change. I decided I would wade out and fish the opposite side of the island, where a few fish over the years have been fooled by my woeful attempts to catch them. As I fished from the top of the island down, I had a few perceived strikes but no hook ups, and grew excited about fishing the tip of the island as it grew closer. As I looked for a good place to cast I saw a little break in the current where the fish had to be stacked in like cord wood. After making several perfect casts to no avail I decided to retreat to the island and make my way back over to the mainland. Unfortunately the river had different ideas. I stood thigh deep in water facing current that would not allow me to move. After attempting to fight this current and having the gravel from my feet slowly washed away, I had a real Mexican standoff on my hands. The unrelenting persistence of my adversary finally won out and I was forced to stare the beast in the eye, and take the plunge. After a short refreshing float downstream, water filling my waders quicker than could be imagined (my wading belt helped very little as it hung by the door on my deck). I finally found footing on the bottom and made my way over to the bank. After breaking off my fly that had become hung on the bottom as I drifted, I emptied my half full waders, and took a long cold walk back to the house, where I once again warmed up in a hot shower. Fish Gods - 2 Justin - 0. Several days later the atmosphere seemed perfect for an evening of hookups along the banks of Sunburst Ranch. Amy and the kids were gone, and it would be just me and the fish all evening long. As I stepped into the river in front of our house I saw a little break in the current where the fish had to be stacked in like cord wood. As I spotted this honey hole, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my tail bone, and felt a cold liquid filling my waders quicker than could be imagined (my wading belt helped very little as it hung by the door on my deck). I quickly regained my footing, and managed to only take a moderate amount of water into my waders this time. This day, unlike the others was quite warm, and a little slip wasn't going to end my evening of fishing. I quickly regained my composure found a safer area to fish, and proceeded to make a few casts. I noticed quite a few brown caddis that looked to be a size 20 flying around so I quickly put on a pheasant tail nymph expecting to catch fish after fish. While this didn't happen I did fool one small brown, and began to see trout after trout rising to these hatching caddis flies. Naturally I had no dry flies with me but decided to go in search of some, after running around and finally locating a few elk hair caddis I made my way back to the river, by this time it seemed quite a bit colder than before. The fish were still rising constantly, although along an eddy across the main channel, and I was convinced I could get one of these fish to bite. After trying to no avail and getting very few drifts I felt good about, I decided that instead of trying to get closer to the eddy I would accept defeat, and head inside for a hot shower. Fish Gods - 3 Justin- 0. I know most of you have seen the movie Rocky, and this is the part of my tale that I hope will begin a big turn around, however only time will tell. Last weekend Kyle Kosovich of Longboat outfitters was back for a guide trip on the North Fork, and asked if I would like to take a short float from Sunburst to Patrick bridge on Saturday evening, to check out his boat and wet a fly. Naturally I was excited to do this, as I had wanted to see his longboat (a 20' wooden johnboat he had built himself) and see how it performed. The boat was more impressive than expected, it floated great, and Kyle handled it beautifully. The fishing was slow, although we did catch several fish, but most importantly my waders for once in a long while stayed dry on the inside. Fish Gods 3 Justin 1. This brings us to this weekend the final chapter in today's tale. David Stineman from Lawrence, Kansas was down for a weekend of fishing, and I decided to join him Friday evening in front of the house for a quick presentation. After about 15 minutes and one lost fish, we slowly made our way downstream and I entered the slick zone. Being extremely careful due to my poor track record of late I prepared to cast to a little break in the current where I knew the fish had to be stacked in like cord wood. As David peered upstream as if to say that looks like a good spot, I quickly lost sight of him and was staring at the clouds, once again feeling cold water enveloping my body. I quickly popped up although was unable to stop on the slick limestone bottom. I quickly shuffled my feet downstream trying to stop my forward momentum, and was once again greeted by the cold hand of the North Fork getting in my pants. I once again regained my footing and eventually came to a stop less than 5 feet from David, where I found him holding my fly firmly in his hand. Once David stopped laughing and I caught my breath, he decided to head upstream to fish where there was better footing, and I was left alone to fish slippery riffle all by myself. It was once again a warm evening, so I decided to fish a little longer, and was rewarded with 2 browns and a rainbow all caught on a modified size 6 Pat's Rubber legs we have decided to name Justin's Hot Flash (as I tie it with some flashabou in place of the rubber legs). For official scoring purposes I feel like this was almost a draw since I caught 3 fish in less than an hour, and only fell twice and slipped and slid 30 yards or further. I think I will reward both myself and the fish Gods a point, if anyone has an opinion on how this should be scored let me know. Fish Gods -4 Justin - 2. Only time will tell how this battle is going to play out, but one thing is for certain. I am sure glad I didn't get that fly rod on my birthday because it is a hell of a lot colder in that river at the beginning of February than it is this time of year.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Trout picture

I'm new to this blogging thing let's see if i can get the picture I promised in my last post to come through in this one.

Trout Fishing Nirvana

This past weekend of March 28, 2 groups of fly fishermen joined us at Sunburst Ranch. Despite the rain and cold everyone caught fish and several fishermen boasted of a career trip. Tom Hargrove of T. Hargrove's fly shop in St. Louis came down with about a dozen of his regulars and they enjoyed a weekend of consistent hookups of both rainbow and brown trout. I had the priviledge of fishing with Steve Farr in his drift boat on Monday, and we each had steady action all day long catching mostly brown trout between Patrick bridge and James bridge. The other group of fishermen were old college buddies from Missouri State that came from an area of Bella Vista, Arkansas to St. Louis to try out the trout fishing. This was their first time to fish the river and while the weather prevented them from floating they had two good days just fishing the water here in front of the campground. I have posted a picture of a 17" brown that Jeff caught right off the island on the upstream end of our property.

The water is flowing great right now and the fish are biting. Everyone stayed warm this weekend in one of our 5 cabins, which are still being rented at off season rates. We would love to have more fishermen down before the weather gets too warm, and the river gets busy. Thanks to everyone who was down for a great weekend and a fantastic fish fry we were invited to at the riverhouse.