This Year's Highlights

July 24, Carl Blackwell Lake

Cold, stiff wind from north, cloudy. lake slighly murky, 82°, thermocline at 25 feet.

We've had a hard time finding fish the last few weeks and I'd heard so much about the good fishing at Carl Blackwell that Carla and I made a long drive to Stillwater to try it ourselves.

An almost unreal cold front had recently moved in and with the strong, north wind, it was downright chilly on Carl Blackwell. I was wearing my usual summer shorts, but was soon dragging out my rain jacket for a little more warmth - and this is in July!

After adjusting for the weather, we settled down for some serious fishing, but from 2 am until 5 am, had little success other than 3 catfish that I caught in 25 foot of water near the dam. We both might have done better had I not accidentally put on barbless circle hooks on most of our rods.

Carla brought it to my attention. Also the fact that she had already missed numerous fish.

My eyes must be bad! I never noticed.

I did notice though; there were a lot of fishermen on the lake, but none that I saw were catching fish, neither in the rough open water or in the more protected coves.

Our friend Paul and his son Blake showed up at the lake around 4 am and joined us in searching for hybrid. Around 6:30, Paul "got on top" of the fish and started pulling 'em in. I trolled our boat to where Paul was anchored atop a dropoff on a nearby point. I noticed that the dropoff fell from 25 feet down to 30 feet. Not a sharp ledge, but more of a gradual slope.

We quickly dropped our baited lines, but Carla and I couldn't catch a thing on our too-small-shiners and so we continued to sit, watching the fish showing up on our locator and hearing Paul and Blake hoot as they pulled 'em in. I even tried fishing artificials, but the fish ignored my offers.

Finally, I conceded and we took some of Paul's long-ago-offered shad.

We started catching fish.

Plenty of scrappy catfish, 1 to 2 pounds, and a few fat hybrid were pulled into our boat. In the meantime, Blake set a personal best with a 7-pound hybrid.

The thermocline was at 25 feet, but the fish were moving up from the thermocline and the 28 foot bottom to feed at 16 to 20 feet.

In summary, it turned out to be a really good day. Carl Blackwell is full of quality fish, doesn't have a lot of pressure and if it was closer, we would likely fish it all the time.


Friday, June 18, Keystone Lake

Stout wind changing from south to north, lake normal, murky, 78°, Biggest Keystone striper yet!

Carla and I were "reelin'em in" when Paul Schlosser, his son and a friend arrived in their boat. Their eyes got pretty big when they saw the nice fish we both were fighting. Paul yelled, "I can't find shad right now. Where do I get bait?"

We were all but out ourselves, so Carla gave him directions and he was off in a rush.

When he came flying back, we were still fighting fish. Paul anchored and threw out some of the tiniest bait you've ever seen. It was all the boat-dock had for sale. Paul, who usually shows me how to catch fish, couldn't buy a bite on those dinky minnows and it was getting dark.

On our insistence, he finally motored over, borrowed some of our bucktails and almost immediately caught a nice fish.

The evening was a rip-roaring success. We'd first arrived at our favorite point around 6:30 and anchored in the deep water. We let the north wind and white-capping waves wash us back over the point into 10 foot of water where almost immediately, the striper attacked the large shiners hanging on our downlines. We quickly switched to white bucktails (with red threading) and then it was a "fish on" almost every cast.

Our thumbs soon grew raw from lipping the struggling 5-pounders and we started using the net to land them.

By the time Paul had shown back up with bait, I had also caught ­ on a bucktail ­ a 10 pound 14 ounce lunker, my biggest striper from Keystone so far (we didn't get a picture). I think my biggest kick was holding that fish up for Paul and his crew to see when he came back.

Carla thought I got pretty wired and said I was near incoherent with excitement.

Sorry Carla, but it was our best striper fishing at Keystone yet. And you were kind of googly yourself.


Wednesday, 6-15, Keystone Lake

83° surface-77° at 20 ft, murky, thermocline set at 20 down to 30 ft, light wind from south, sunny-late evening, great fishing

We caught a lot of striper this time last year at Keystone, so when the boys said they were going swimming at the local rock quarry ­ Carla and I headed to the lake.

The bait I bought was too small, but there wasn't time to catch shad. So we took what we had and headed to our favorite striper hole where we stopped and put out 4 downrods. It didn't take too long to find a small, tight grouping of striper on the bottom at 25 feet. We caught three striper on the miniscule bait before the fish mysteriously disappeared as they so often do.

I spent the next half-hour searching for the fish, trolling up and down the area in 30 to 50 feet of water. There were a lot "marks" above the thermocline showing on the locator, but they looked to be the slim marks of gar.

Finally, I told Carla that we were going to move up onto a point nearby and fish for sandies. I figured the water to be too warm on the shallow point for striper though.

So we raised our bait to about 8 foot and slow-trolled towards the point.

In 9 feet of murky water over the point, I told Carla, "It looks like a lot of fish are under the boat."

Carla, "bless her heart", said, "I TOLD YOU we should of looked here earlier."

My rod doubled over into the water.

I grabbed it and it broke.

My light action graphite rod had snapped "clean off" just above the reel.

Carla reeled for me as I held the broken rod and we finally pulled in a beautiful 6.5 pound striper.

My personal Keystone best!

Down went another rod...then another. The action got hot and hectic.

Broken rod parts, unbaited rods, nets ­ everything scattered all over the boat. And still we pulled in fish.

I quit trying to bait rods and started throwing a bucktail. I immediately caught several nice striper.

By the time the fish moved out, we had caught 12 to 15, the biggest two weighing 6.5 pounds and the smallest around 3 pounds.

It was one of those evenings! And we couldn't wait to tell the boys what they missed.

Best of all, Carla said, "Danny, you truly are the Striper King now!

Worst of all, she said, "Don't you tell ANYONE where they're at."


Friday, June 4, Beaver Lake

water 73°, up 10 foot, no wind, no clouds

Carla and I had decided we would set back and let the boys pull in all the fish this Friday morning. And that included our son's friend Morris, who had joined us on this trip to Beaver Lake.

We left our isolated cabin ­ located in a valley of steep wooded hills just outside Eureka Springs ­ and headed to Beaver Dam where our striper guide Joe Farkas picked us up at 5:30 and just before dawn.

After a chilly boat ride, he set us up at a location near "point 6". Any further up this lake and we'd have ran into murkier waters caused by the past month's record rains.

Joe quickly ran out 4 freelines (no weights) suspended about 20 feet below balloons. He also set 2 freelines straight from the boat, and 2 more that he attached to planers. All were baited with 4 to 5 inch shad that he'd caught at Grand Lake.

He handed me a spinning rod with a top water lure and told me to watch for surfacing fish, saying that they had been finding some topwater action lately.

We settled in to wait as the boat slowly trolled 50-60 yards from the bank and over water that was anywhere from 160 to 60 feet deep.

Minutes later, Kyle grabbed a rod that had doubled over. A good one. Kyle ­ always the calm one ­ kept his composure as Carla filmed the event and after a few minutes he had the fish at the boat's side.

15 pounds! A new record for Kyle.

Yes, Kyle had forgotten his new Arkansas fishing licence at the cabin (nothing unusual there), but we gave him partial credit for the fine looking catch.

We released the striper for someone else to experience. Joe was worried about the fish surviving, but watching the sonar, we saw the striper quickly move down the screen before disappearing near 60 feet. I was surprised to see how small the fish's trail was on a sonar set at 60 feet and made a mental note to remember what I had seen.

The day ahead held promise. Except for one thing. The wind.

What little we had, died. The lake was soon glass smooth and the sun began to bear down on us. We shed our jackets.

We were still optimistic, but the fish were finicky. You could tell the fish were there, the bait would get nervous, but other than a couple of five pound fish pulled in by Jared and Morris, most of the fish wouldn't hook up, but would instead, just mouth and release the bait.

Joe was watching the lake, seeing a few shad being chased and noticing a lot of surfacing fish, but he said that most were carp. Joe had caught some good fish lately, but the lack of wind was a definite minus.

We gave it a few hours, but eventually gave in to the reality that this was not the type of day to produce good fishing.

Joe was a good sport. He cruised the lake between points 5 and 6 to several spots looking for fish. And after that failed ­ took us on the scenic route up into Clifty creek to a place where the 3 teenagers could jump from a cliff into the cold, clear water.

The kids had fun and Kyle had his new record. All in all, it was a pretty good trip.

Most fish marked today were in the 25-35 foot range over much deeper water. We saw several groups of 2 or 3 fish, but Joe said that they weren't really schooling yet.

After our trip, I took a long much-needed nap back at the cabin, Carla shopped in Eureka Springs and then we headed back to the lake where we spent more time that evening fishing. This time, it was for the perch hugging the bank under the cliffs near the dam. Morris bought some goggles and concentrated on diving and looking at fish in the amazingly clear water.

Carla, Kyle and Jared caught a lot of perch but Morris claimed to have "noodled" a perch bigger than anyone else's.


May 8, Skiatook Lake

Water clearing, up 1', 15-20 mph wind from south, good hybrids

Carla and I took Mom fishing this late Saturday evening in celebration of Mother's Day and Mom's Birthday. And yes, Mom enjoys fishing. She even brought the rod Carla purchased for her as a gift.

And Carla brought the video camera she bought as a gift from me.

We started this fishing trip by "dragging" balloons and downlines baited with shiners around the Skiatook dam area. The stout wind made it difficult - both for keeping the boat on course and for recording video.

Mom told a few funny jokes to break the monotony, but after catching only a couple of dinks (small fish) in an hour's time, we decided to move to a calmer ­­ but perhaps more fruitful ­­ location.

We joined a group of boats trolling the flats of Dad's Creek just out from some onshore oil wells. The water was in pretty good condition, even though there had been a lot of rainfall recently. Murky, but not muddy. I suspect though, that this usually sparking clean lake is still mighty dirty further north where the spring floods originated.

I started marking fish in 15-20 foot of water off the point just about the time Mom hung a good hybrid on one of our trailing balloon rigs. As she wrestled the fish to the boat, close to where I could grab it, ­ a bigger, badder hybrid grabbed my baited downline.

I was trying to reach her fish and grab my bent rod at the same time and for my effort ­­ received a painful line-cut on my outstretched finger. My fish was fast peeling line from the reel.

With Carla's help, we finally managed to land both fish. Wo took the usual pictures and then released them for someone else to catch.

Mine was probably 4-pounds and I'll give Mom credit for a 2 and a half pounder.

Okay...maybe 3 pounds.

We put our lines back in the water and trolled back towards the hot-spot. I started throwing a jig with my ultralight rig and immediately hung a fish. Carla was indignant. Earlier, she had wanted to throw my ultralight and I told her, "No, it won't handle a big hybrid."

So, I let her pull it in.

Nice crappie.

It doesn't get much better than that.

And it didn't. About dark, the fast-moving hybrid disappeared. If we'd started in the right spot, we'd have caught a bunch....but that's how it usually goes.

I have a feeling these fish will be heading upstream in the very near future and we'll be following.


April 3, Chouteau Bend

water 57°, murky, "Carla catches a big spoonbill".

Just mention the spring white bass run at Chouteau Bend and my family's competitive nature appears, each one fiercely determined to outdo the other.

This year, my wife Carla, our two teenage sons Kyle and Jared and I arrived at the "Bend" on a beautiful, spring morning. We put the boat in at a little river hollow called Mazie's Landing. It was our first visit at this boat launch, even though it was on the upper reaches of my childhood stomping grounds of Lake Fort Gibson, located in northeastern Oklahoma.

Mazie's Landing is a small cove, sheltered and hidden from the main river by tree covered hills, which on this day, trapped the sweet scent of hickory smoke emanating from a screened-in cooker located strategically near the docks and boat ramp. Near this cooker was a small, but handy country store for those needing bait, gas or even a smoked sandwich.

After unloading the boat and paying our $2 launch fee, our first task of the day was negotiating a way to the main river. It took some doing and I felt quite silly trying to find a passage, but we finally motored through a shallow and narrow creek that meandered out to the channel.

It was soon apparent, that just like last year at this time, the upper river was filled with boats of all kinds, the fishermen all feverishly reeling and yanking, everyone trying to snag big paddlefish or what is locally called "spoonbill".

Just north of the highway 412 bridge we slowed the boat, tossed out a few jigs and started trolling, weaving in-and-out of other fishermen's snagging areas. Carla managed to land a few small sandies, but the action could have been better.

Moving on upriver, we reached a gravel beach where we had successfully fished last year. I tied the anchor line to a tree-snag and we floated just off from the bank.

The four of us started casting and dragging shiners and immediately started catching white bass - or what we call sand bass. Big "sandies", fat and ready to spawn. The fish were hugging the bottom and we'd catch one every other cast ­ over and over ­ and it would continue this way the whole time we were there.

The highlight of the day though was when Carla, sitting at the back of the boat, snagged a spoonbill.

It just took a second for all of us to gather at the back of the boat.

"Raise your rod!", "Give him line!", "Don't pull too hard!" and "Don't tell me what to do!"

It got pretty touchy. And when Carla finally fought it to the boat, it hit me that her big spoonbill wasn't going to fit in my too-small net.

I made a hasty grab at the fish's long bill and hung on for dear life. I almost lost the thrashing fish, but it eventually tired and I pulled it aboard for everyone to "ooh and ahh" over.

Carla grabbed the camera as Jared disentangled the hook and line from the odd-looking fish's long bill.

"Don't you want to hold it up for a picture, Carla", I asked.

"No, it's way too big," she replied.

And so I strained to hold the fish outstretched while she captured the memory to film. Then Jared tried to weigh the fish, but the scales bottomed out.

A nearby fisherman ­ I knew he had caught some spoonbill ­ estimated it to weigh between 30 and 35 pounds. Not a monster spoonbill, but a big fish of any sort to catch on 12 pound test line!

Unfortunately, Carla's catch wasn't a legal catch. Her hook would have to be barbless according to Oklahoma angling law in order for us to keep the fish. I returned the spoonbill to the water, which we would have done anyway, but the boys will always remind her of the law. In fact, Kyle half-jokingly requested that her spoonbill not be regarded as an official and perhaps unbeatable "family record".

"Okay Kyle, it won't be, but I'm afraid she's going to hold it over our heads anyhow."

An hour later, I too snagged a spoonbill - and on an ultralight reel loaded with six-pound test line. I thought, "This should be a family 6-pound test record".

The boys laughed as the fish sped off, quickly stripping the light line off the tiny reel.

"He's gonna spool you", said Kyle.

I yelled at Jared, "Raise the anchor," and off we went after the fish.

I gradually gained line back as the electric trolling motor pulled us up the river. Jared prepared for the landing by pulling on some sticky rubber gloves. Both boys and I huddled over the bow of the boat eagerly willing the boat on towards the behemoth (I hoped) fish.

Carla, of course, caught this rather unprofessional image on camera.

Suddenly, the fish turned and headed directly back. I reeled as fast as possible, but the line gradually went slack, then fell limp. The line had wrapped around the trolling motor and the fish had pulled free.

It was still great fun and I hadn't truly believed we could land the fish, but it was a memory none of us will ever forget.

One more note: Jared bought a snagging rod the next day. He's determined to beat his Mom's record if it's the last thing he does.


March 17, Pond,
air 76°, sunny, lots of crappie!

Kyle and Jared are on spring break, Carla's on vacation trying to sleep and the roofers are noisely hammering on a new roof to our home.

Carla gave up on getting any rest. She dropped the boys and a bucket of minnows off at their friend Morris's grandmother's house near Keystone where the three teenagers spent the afternoon slaying the crappie in a nearby pond that has finally warmed enough to turn the fish on. Most were small, but they caught a few good fish including one Jared called his biggest yet. A jubilant Jared said, "That's the first time I've caught that many in a long time."

How quickly Jared forgets last summer's sand bass trips.

Kyle couldn't understand why no catfish were caught at the pond. But then, Kyle has a hard time understanding anything when Jared outfishes him.

Morris left his cell phone in his fishing pants pocket. It got washed, but he called to say, "It still works."


Feb. 15, Saturday, Keystone Lake
"My Biggest Blue Yet", water 38°, clear, up 2.5 ft, slowly dropping; air 40°, cloudy, slight north wind, small front slowly moving in.

Jared had headed off on a new adventure, the setting of an animal live-trap. Kyle was still "sawing logs". Therefore, I headed alone to the lake, arriving at the boat ramp about 11 am.

I hadn't yet decided whether I was fishing for crappie or catfish. There were a number of boats on the lake and from all appearances, they were crappie and bass fishermen. Where were the catfishermen?

As I had hoped, the water at this Salt Creek arm of the lake is warmer than it was last week on the upper Keystone area. That's good. But the air was cold and the catalytic heater would certainly come in handy today.

Once on the water, I stopped first at the "oil well" point and the nearby drop-off where I immediately marked fish and bait in the deep water near the ledge. An hour later, and after no bites, I moved across the lake to the ledge at the mouth of Salt Creek.

I managed to catch a small striper, but the action was boringly slow.

I noticed our crappie brushpile in Salt Creek was being fished, so my next move was back across the lake to a ledge that I've always favored.

Nearing the area, I slowed to a troll and a lot of arcs showed on the locator. The fish were off the deep drop-off, milling 25 to 40 feet deep over the main channel next to the ledge. I quietly anchored in 52 feet of water and let the boat drift back nearer the ledge.

Although, there were a lot of fish showing on the locator, good sized one, they paid little attention to the large silver shiners swimming on my 3 downlines. I sat there warming my hands over the heater for probably an hour before a 3 pound striper pulled lightly at a line.

Next, a 10.5 pound blue pulled a rod down, providing a tussle and rasping a couple of my fingers when I was forced to "lip" the fish. The net was still stowed away, so I got it out just in case the next fish turned out to be monster-sized.

Topping off this action was a nice, fat, dark bronze sand bass. These three fish were all caught within 30 minutes of each other and at a depth of about 20 to 35 feet. My bait was offered a few feet over the fish's holding depth and on #3 circle hooks on which these fish pretty much hooked themselves. They didn't put up a huge fight as the water was just too cold, but at least they were findable and they were biting. Today, it just took patience and sitting on top of the fish until they decided to feed.

My 10.5 pound blue cat isn't anywhere near the size of Carla's personal best catfish, but I'm closing in on her. And since it's my personal best catfish caught on a rod, how could I not feel anything but satisfied with today's venture.

With my fish, I arrived at home, just in time to see Jared anxiously show up with his first live-trapped fur-bearing animal­he called it a wildcat, a caged feral cat gone wild.

Unfortunately, it was just a distant neighbor's very unhappy cat, but a fur-trapper has to start somewhere.


"With the Teenagers at Keystone Dam"

January 12, 2004

Jared and I joined Morris and Kyle last night at the money pit, where Morris lost half his striper tackle. Well, maybe not half his tackle, but at least three of his precious lures.

It was so bad that Morris asked that I not record this trip.

"Sorry Morris, I have to record our adventures, but I will do you a favor and hide your identity for the remainder of this story."

How did I do? I lost three lures to the "money pit" or what is called the Keystone Dam tailwaters.

The jagged rocks beneath the swift water were really chewing us up this night.

Jared was the only one who didn't lose anything. But then, he spent most of his time trying to build a campfire, which of course, smoked up the whole river basin and got my asthma to working. Wise man though, he didn't lose a lure.

One of the boys had been trying to cast past the distant turbine wall for quite a while. After many unsuccessful attempts, he finally turned to me for advice. Pulling from my vast experience, I reached into my overstuffed tackle-box, then wisely handed him a 3 ounce sinker. I said with authority, "Try adding that to the end of your line for a little more oomph. And put a knot above your weight. If you hang, that's where it'll break."

He tied it about two feet below his favorite lure. Then he picked up his sturdy rod and drew it above and far behind his shoulders. He stepped forward and powerfully launched this heavy setup as hard as he could towards the far wall. A powerful throw!


A look of utter disbelief crossed M___s's face as he realized his line had snapped.

"Dang it," I thought. It never works for me either.

We both solemnly watched as his sinker and prize lure thunked into the river, lost forever - iron turned to rust - or the river drains and some little guy picks it up out the rocks and wonders why he's so lucky.

It just goes to prove guys, Keystone Dam ain't no easy place to fish and sometimes it's just cheaper to stay at home. Isn't it M_rr_s?


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