Monday, November 28, 2011

Eli's First Deer

Some may think that 8 years old is too young for a child to become a deer hunter. Most who live in the rural Ozarks would argue that 8 years old is getting a late start. Either way, this year Eli finally talked me into letting him pursue his quarry armed with more than just a BB gun. Being somewhat skittish of loud noises from a young age I had my doubts about Eli actually enjoying the firing of a high powered rifle. Being rather frugal I decided to borrow a rifle from a friend this year to make sure Eli would take to the sport. Friend and fellow campground owner Craig Pettit offered up his .221 fireball (which his son had used the previous 2 years) for Eli to use this year. A week before youth season Eli and I met Craig in his campground for a little target practice, and to see how Eli took to the shooting. After getting set up with a rest and using several cushions and a block of wood to get him up to the proper height the young prospective hunter was ready for his first shot. Ear muffs secured upon his tiny head, crosshairs were centered on the target. "Gently squeeze the trigger when you are right on the red dot" we instructed. The shot rang out along the river valley, and Eli was up quickly. Turning away from us, Craig and I feared he was going to take to the hills running after his first shot. As he turned toward us we were relieved to see and smile on his face as he was ready to examine the target. Half and inch to the right of the bulls eye at 50 yards was his reward, and the groundwork was now set for what would turn out to be the demise of a careless doe. Throughout the week leading up to youth season we spent time target practicing and talking about shot placement. A ground blind was placed in the woods for our hunt, and Eli was even able to watch several deer in his scope one evening on the shooting range.

Finally opening day was upon us, and we met the morning with much anticipation. I had moved the ground blind the previous day to a place we had seen deer crossing on the previous two mornings. They had crossed about 30 minutes after sunrise so we decided to get to the blind 15 minutes before it began to get light. After watching the woods come to life as light filtered through the oaks we were startled by the warning wheeze of several deer back behind us. With the wind at our favor, and no windows on the back side of the blind, the deer must have noticed the blind and recognized it as being something out of place. I was afraid of this, but knowing the deer traveled this route I couldn't resist the temptation to try this spot. Unable to find a good spot to conceal ourselves in this area we relocated the blind to a new spot for the following hunts. Walking to the blind that evening we quietly watched as a lone doe passed in front of us unaware of our presence. Too far for a shot from the small caliber rifle, but a good sign. That evening was uneventful with the typical sightings of squirrels, and a chipmunk that nearly came in the blind with us, but no deer. Day 2 was met with renewed hope due to our new blind placement. Just as the day before we again heard the blowing of several cautious deer behind the blind, but no deer were seen. Fearing Eli was beginning to get discouraged I was happy to see the evening hunt was still a high priority, although I was starting to wonder if success would elude us. After getting settled in the blind once again, we sat quietly for a while and I could see Eli's thoughts were beginning to wander. Armed with the Ipod touch for a distraction, I encouraged Eli to play a few games while we waited. Another hour passed and then I spotted it. Coming slowly toward the opening in the woods where we were set up a doe grazed slowly along the path. I pointed out the doe to Eli and we readied the gun in case we were awarded a shot. I had placed a bench and some blocks in the blind so Eli would have a solid rest from which to shoot. As the doe slowly came into range the gun was steadied on the blocks and Eli firmly pressed it to his shoulder. At 30 yards Eli easily got the deer in his scope and I instructed him on relaxing and making a good shot. As he slipped the gun off safety I urged him to put it behind her shoulder for the shot. "What's a shoulder" he replied. My heart sank, what had our week of training done, the time spent aiming at my archery deer target, watching live deer through his scope, had he learned nothing? Slowly I talked him through this and felt he understood, I then told him to put it on her shoulder and when he was steady he could shoot. No sooner had I finished my sentence than BANG he had taken the shot and the deer was gone. I had seen the deer buckle at the shot and knew he had made a good hit, but being unfamiliar with the small caliber rifle I decided we would give the deer some extra time, just in case. We walked back to my in-laws cabin told the story to the family and watched the video I had taken. After 30 minutes we were back in the woods and while finding no blood we found the deer down not 30 yards from where it was shot. After field dressing and hanging the deer in the barn youth season had come to a successful end.

The next week was spent eating backstraps cooked on the grill (twice) as well as deer tacos, deer chili, and deer meatloaf. With each meal of venison that Amy served you could see the pride Eli took in providing for the family. I could not have been more proud, and was probably more excited than Eli when he finally achieved his goal. I spent the regular firearms season "hunting horns" with Eli in a buddy tree stand, and while we could have shot many does only a few bucks presented themselves. One decent 8 point came in behind us not offering a shot, and the bucks that did offer a shot Eli decided he would let walk since I told him they weren't big enough to put on the wall. We will have one more chance with a late youth season in January, but even if we don't get out during that time we have had a successful year in which Eli learned to become a responsible deer hunter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Shocking with MDC

This week the Missouri Department of Conservation is conducting their yearly trout sampling on the North Fork River. I was fortunate enough to be asked to join them for their first day of sampling on the upper stretch of trout water. We put in at Kelly Shoals and they went upstream to Lamb Shoals where they started the sample. Hundreds of rainbows were sampled with the biggest being about 22". We also sampled smallmouth which showed up in mass with good numbers of fish between 12-17 inches. We ended the sampling just below ROLF where we got the biggest fish of the day a 26" brown. Several other browns over 20" were also sampled, as well as quite a few bows between 15-18". The young of year rainbows were few and far between, which does not surprise me considering the low water we had last winter during the rainbow trout spawn. It was a fun, yet backbreaking day, clipping fins and measuring fish. Gives me a new perspective on how many fish are in this river, and how few I catch in relation to what is there.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fishing at Sunburst (fantasy Island)

Here is some video I shot around the island here at Sunburst Ranch. I hope to do more of this on the river so you can get your river fix even in the winter!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Nice Day at Dry Run Creek

The kids had last Friday off so Eli and I decided to head to Dry Run Creek for a few hours. For those who are not fishermen, Dry Run Creek is an area below the dam at Norfork Lake that is reserved for children or handicapped people. It is full of trout and has been landscaped with the best interest of the fishermen and fish in mind. This is a great place to introduce a child to fly fishing, and Quarry Park is located just across the highway so Mom or Dad can fish after the children are worn out. I am trying to include a link to video from that day, but having a little trouble. I couldn't get a direct link, but if you copy and paste this next line to your address bar it will take you right to it. Sorry I'm technically challenged.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wonderful Weather for Whites and Wise

Thursday morning I received a call from friend and guide Brian Wise wondering if I had time to go chase some White Bass over on Bryant Creek that afternoon. We have been trying to put together a trip like this for years so I said sure and hopped on the mower to quickly finish up the remainder of this weeks mowing. A 1:00 rendezvous brought me to Tecumseh where Brian met me, leaving his truck and trailer at the ramp and hopping in for the ride back up to his boat. We arrived at Cook's Landing and after loading the boat and drinking a beer we warmed up our casting arms briefly before setting off for more productive waters. A drift through the mill pond rewarded us with a few carp and walleye sightings but no takers. We eventually floated down through a hole or two and after switching up streamers Brian found the one they had been looking for. Naturally it was one of a kind, and the only one we had so I proceeded to watch him catch several keeper whites and a nice largemouth before we jumped back in the boat and headed downstream. Being the gentleman Brian is he lent me his rod as we drifted through the next hole and I was finally able to get the skunk off with the smallest white of the day. Proceeding downstream we witnessed groups of whites spawning in the shoals but those fish were interested in only one thing and it wasn't eating. Below the spawning shoal we found the fish that were willing to bite staging up in a short run and Brian pulled several fish out while I managed one on a white zonker and one on a prototype streamer that may end up in production later in the year. With a nice stringer of fish in the boat we set out toward the forks as the sun sank towards the horizon. We rounded the bend toward Tecumseh and saw fish breaking the surface near the bank. I masterfully delivered the perfect cast (not hard with splashing white bass all around) and was rewarded with a nice sow to end the day. This was the first time I had pursued whites without my spinning gear along as a crutch and I must say it was much more rewarding than throwing swimming minnows at them. Thanks mainly to Brian I ended up taking home ten nice fly rod whites some of which were fried last night with fresh morels, and a few which made a wonderful fish sandwich for today's lunch.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Legend of "Happy Ending"

Within the crystal clear waters flowing in front of Sunburst Ranch lurks a monster that only a few have been fortunate enough to see. Prior to April this fish had only been seen lurking amongst the shadows preying on unsuspecting baitfish and crawdads. Occasionally fishermen might see a flash and feel a quick tug only to be disappointed by a missed hookset or sudden breakoff. Last Friday this denizen of the deep would meet his match as gladiator of the fly fishing world Chris Conant would be treading on his territory. Armed with only a fly rod Chris would hook, and eventually bring to hand this legendary trout. A glorious trout wearing a suit of gold adorned with brown jewels and white accents had finally been conquered. My sharp ears were able to pick up the sounds of a skirmish occurring on this field of battle, and I arrived in time to witness the culmination of a vicious fight. I congratulated Chris on his victory and watched as the ousted king returned to his lair. Following this release Chris announced that his week long campaign would end now as no further battles were needed.

Fast forward five days and welcome the arrival of a new gladiator from the other side of Missouri. Kevin Keens had been on a successful week long quest throughout the state of Missouri in search of legendary trout. While a successful campaign had taken place, Kevin decided to go looking for one final battle prior to heading home. Several nice fish had been brought to hand that morning when a jarring strike reinvigorated our weary warrior. An epic battle ensued ending in a well earned victory for Kevin, albeit at least 100 yards downstream from the front lines. I was once again summoned to the river so record of this monumental battle could be burnt in film for further generations to enjoy. As this 23 1/2 " monster was released Kevin raised his fly rod in victory announcing this too would be the final battle of his campaign. As the only one to witness both defeated opponents I am left wondering if this could possibly be the same fish. One would think a king such as this would not fall prey twice in the same week, but the size of the fish and location thereof lead me to believe this could be the case. We will never know for sure if this is the same fish or not but we do know both were released unharmed and continue to prowl the run in front of Sunburst Ranch. Hopefully the next few weeks will provide more battles in his home waters adding to the lore of the fish we now call "Happy Ending".


As I sit here this morning with sore buttocks and shins the memories of a warm wonderful Sunday will hopefully remain fresh in my mind even as a cold Spring breeze blows everything else away. Somehow until yesterday I had not managed to teach my 7 year old son to ride a bike without training wheels. It seems like we took the training wheels off years ago, but a few quick lessons had gone unfinished. As I watched him play his DS yesterday morning something made me decide that today was the day. I asked Eli if he wanted to learn to ride his bike today to which he unenthusiastically replied sure, and off we went. Part of the reason I have been reluctant to teach him to ride is our lack of a good smooth surface on which to learn. This day we started on the gravel road in front of the campground and then progressed to the slight downward grade in front of the log cabin. This spot is on packed grass and is quite bumpy, but provided a soft landing for crashes, while the downhill start provided increased speed for easier balancing. Amazingly, within 10-15 minutes of me helping him to balance he was off and riding. We continued to walk to the base of the hill for easier starts, and within and hour or so he was taking off on his own, and swirving up and down the campground running into the fence twice, the truck once, and the four wheeler several times. The art of breaking still has not been mastered, but I have witnessed good form when bailing off the back of the bike just before big downhill crashes were to occur. Surprisingly I think I feel more beat up today than Eli does from bending over to help him balance and running along side him on those first solo flights. Looks like he may be more coordinated than his old man, seems like I remember more blood, tears, and frustration when I was discovering my freedom.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Winter's Big Project

We have been staying somewhat busy catering to fishermen this winter, but between relaxing and everyday chores we have found time to work on expanding the campstore. The addition will more than double the size of the current "showroom" and will be air conditioned. This new space should add to the available items in the campstore and will also house the highly anticipated Dead Drift Fly Shop. This will greatly increase opportunities for fly fishermen who venture to the North Fork River in search of wild rainbow and monster brown trout. I have been putting together a website for the fly shop and would encourage you to check it out at

I have done some fishing this winter and while the river is the lowest I have ever seen it the fishing has still been good. Lots of small rainbows caught on eggs as well as a few decent sized ones coming more often on nymphs. Great time to check out the river and see the bottom better than you have in the past. Bookings for the cabins and RV's are coming in hot and heavy (very few weekends available for the riverhouse all summer). Call early and often to ensure you get your favorite spot and shuttle time. Look forward to spring and another busy summer. Hopefully I'll have some more things to write about in the upcoming weeks and months, I've been uninspired as of late but plan on sharing some more river happenings as the weather warms.