By Larry Dablemont
What were you doing the first weekend of October, 60 years ago? I remember that weekend well. I was only a few days away from turning 13, and I had purchased a guide’s license at the courthouse for a dollar. But with Dad’s old wooden johnboat and grandpa’s hand-made sassafras paddle, I could take folks on a fishing trip down the Big Piney River and haul in 50 cents an hour.
Most of the time I could make more than that hunting golf balls at the golf course, off in the weeds or the timber, where the folks who weren’t real good at golfing often lost them. I could sell the good ones for a quarter apiece to Shorty Evans, who was rich, and most any day I could find 4 or 5 an hour.
But I always chose the river when I could and I built up a pretty good clientele of city fishermen, because my Uncle Norten, guiding on Norfork and Bull Shoals lakes, advertised for me. But on the first weekend of October sixty years ago I took a local fellow by the name of Joe Richardson and his wife Kate, on a float trip down the Big Piney River. Joe was a fine person and he became a life-long friend and supporter when I grew up and became an outdoor writer! I took him and Mrs. Richardson on many float trips in the future, from which came other good stories.
In a long deep shoal with big rocks and gently flowing water known as the Ink Stand, Kate caught the biggest smallmouth I have ever seen taken from an Ozark stream. I believe that it was close to six-pounds.
Like a good guide, I pulled the johnboat to the bank, and got out in waist-deep water and grabbed it when it tired a little. You should have seen the Piney back then. Today it flows about 60 percent of the water it carried then, and so many holes, including the Ink Stand, have filled in with sand and gravel.
Mrs. Richardson gave me the lure she used that day, a Heddon River Runt, black with white rib-stripes. On Saturday morning, October 2, I am going to place that lure and a photo of Mrs. Richardson and I (taken in 1961), in my Big Piney River ‘mini-museum’. We have set that up in the Houston Chamber of Commerce building along Highway 63 at the northeast corner of town.
I have one of the old wooden johnboats my grandfather fashioned there on display, and the very first aluminum river-boat built in the Midwest, (serial number 0001). It was made for the old Missouri Conservation Commission in 1952 by a man named Appleby, who founded the Lowe Boat Company at Lebanon, Mo. I can tell you quite a story about that boat!
Inside we have an eight-foot display case with items used by old-time rivermen on the Piney a century and more ago and a few rare objects found along the Piney that bluff-dwellers used thousands of years ago. One of those is an ivory pendant, the only ivory artifact ever found in the Midwest.
I will be there on Saturday morning by 11 a.m. and then go over to the Emmett Kelly Park at noon and bring the two boats with me. The park is only a few hundred yards to the south, where, from noon to about 3 or 4 p.m. my old friend Wesley Lindaman and I will fry fish, complete with coleslaw and baked beans and a birthday cake. It is all in an open-air pavilion, where it is safer for those who are worried about COVID.
BUT—I need to know who is coming, or I won’t know how much fish to bring. It will be fresh, Wesley and I are going to catch all the fish a few days before. So please phone my office and tell me if you are coming, how many and when. Or email me. I need your name, where you are from and a phone number, in case inclement weather causes us to call it off. The phone number is 417-777-5227 and the email address is lightninridge47@gmail. com.
That is the day Houstonians are celebrating homecoming, and there is a lot going on, but anyone is welcome to our fish fry, no matter where you are from and there is no charge. It is sort of a birthday party, and Wesley and I will fry fish for you when you get there. If you have never seen my magazines, I will have free copies for you to take home with you. Hope to see lots of folks who read this column.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.