Last year in October I went down to Bull Shoals Dam and built a wooden White River johnboat in conjunction with an event which Bull Shoals State Park has been sponsoring for several years. It is known as the “Dutch Oven Cook-Off”. Dozens of cooks bring their Dutch ovens and make stews, chili, meat, cakes, cobblers, bread, etc. Then the best of those Dutch oven delicacies wins awards. A Dutch oven is a big iron kettle with a heavy lid, and while the contents cook from the coals below, the lid is made so that coals are also heaped on top of the kettle, or oven, and cooking comes from both top and bottom. It is said that the earliest Ozarks settlers depended on those big iron kettles and that unusual way of cooking. Last year when it was all over, visitors were given the opportunity to sample all the varieties of foods cooked, and I am here to tell you folks that if I have forgotten anything about last October, that Dutch oven food isn't it. Unbelievable… you need to come and sample it yourself. Of course, I intend to bring that 21-foot johnboat along with dozens of photos from the days when they were used on Ozark rivers, and old trotline spools, gigs, traps, rods and reels and lures from those days back 70 or 80 years ago. If you want to join us as a vendor, you should contact Bull Shoals-White River State Park by phone at 870-445-3629 or by e-mail at email@example.com . This year, people who want to display and sell outdoor gear such as turkey calls, lures, rods and reels etc, can obtain a space for only 10 dollars, and set up right along side us. It will be a great time, I hope you can join us. I will be giving away free copies of the October Lightnin' Ridge outdoor magazine and also will have my own outdoor books for sale, including the one on Ozark rivers, “Rivers to Run”. Last year in this column I told readers they should come to Bull Shoals and make a weekend of it, or perhaps a week. There is so much to see and do, trout fishing on the White River below the dam, and bass, crappie and walleye fishing on Bull Shoals Lake. The fall colors should be at a peak, and you need to tour Blanchard Caverns in the National Forest to the south an hour or so, which is surrounded by some of the most beautiful wilderness campgrounds and creeks you have ever seen. There's the Buffalo River in that same area, and the mountain music capital of the Ozarks, Mt. View, Arkansas not far away. In addition, there's also some great fishing on Norfork Lake, only thirty minutes or so away. Norfork is known for its walleye and striper fishing. At the west end of the dam is a beautiful State Park Visitor Center, and down on the White River, Jim Gaston's resort has a museum and restaurant combined that you have to see to believe. But as I said, don't miss the food cooked there in those Dutch ovens. If you are a Dutch oven cook, you need to get involved in this. You might win first place. Put it down on your calendar and be there to eat some great cooking, and help me work on that wooden johnboat, at the park pavilion only a few hundred yards east of Bull Shoals dam.
I wrote last weeks column from Lake of the Woods in Northwest Ontario, Canada, and when I wrote it, we had caught lots of fish, but mostly smaller than I remember from ten years or so ago, when we would stop through and fish Lake of the Woods in early October for a few days on our way to northern Manitoba to hunt ducks and geese. The same old places I fished back then were still good, as that afternoon, after sending my column, Gloria Jean landed a huge smallmouth bass. It was about 20 inches long, but I think it would have weighed five pounds. It was the fattest, widest, thickest smallmouth I have ever seen in all my years of fishing in Canada. She was using a light-action spinning outfit with 6-pound line, trying to catch averaged sized walleye for supper when she hooked it, and thankfully her drag was set properly. Sure enough, as the week progressed towards October the fishing improved. We must have caught a hundred or more walleye while we were there, and the last few days we caught several from 15 to 19 inches. I also caught some of the biggest yellow perch I have ever seen, up to 14 inches long. They aren't sought after much, but when you get bigger ones that aren't wormy, they are better eating than anything else you can catch, including walleye, which is a close relative of the yellow perch. One afternoon at Lake of the Woods I fished with a young guide who is Tinker Helseth's son-in-law. His name is Byron Walker, and while I have fished with several guides on Lake of the Woods, I think he is the best. He has a super personality and attitude, and he is talkative and enthusiastic, full of stories. Only 39 years old, he seems to have the experience of someone much much older. And he really knows the east half of that giant lake. Every reef and cover that is so hard to find if you are new to the lake, he knows about. It is wise to fish that body of water, where you can easily get lost because of all the bays and islands, with a guide. Byron has a big safe boat which he can use to guide three or four fishermen at a time, so a party of visitors can split the cost and it winds up being very economical. Prices are tremendously high in Canada, we bring our own gas in plastic tanks and groceries. A ten-pound bag of potatoes in the local super market was nine dollars, and we saw whole frozen chickens priced from 24 to 28 dollars. A loaf of wheat bread and a small can of beans were both four dollars, and gas was six dollars per gallon. The cost of boat or outboard labor is one hundred dollars per hour. An eight-day fishing license can be from 35 to 75 dollars, depending on how many fish you want to bring home, and if you give their bank a hundred dollar bill, you get back ninety-five dollars in Canadian money. Fifteen years ago, you would get back about 140 in Canadian money for 100. You can hunt grouse, moose and huge whitetail deer in October around Lake of the Woods, and fish too, just by contacting Byron. He has a U.S. cell phone, 863-202-6414. If I hadn't been so impressed with him, I would never give that number. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org In our November issue of the Lightnin' Ridge Outdoor Journal, we'll have an article with beautiful color photos about this recent fall trip to Lake of the Woods, and tell about fishing with Byron. But the gist of the story will be how you can go there and fish successfully in a group of three or four, on a budget. There's a trick to it, and I will tell you in that story how to do it even if you are un-rich… like me