February 28

   Wednesday a week ago:  What the hail?!  We had torrential rain and it hailed for awhile.  It cleared up in time for my afternoon lab, but it was still very cold.  We took a short field trip and saw only 7 bird species, none of them new.  One of my students fell down and got covered in mud.

   I had brought in our gecko to use in class.  I was taping it for a peer review and had really set up the old dog-and-pony show.  The recorder stopped after 5 minutes, so that was a waste.  

   That night we had thunderstorms.  Hard to sleep through that.  Thursday we had high winds that knocked down signs and trees all over.  I set up to tape my morning class, again bringing in extra props and giving my best lecture ever.  When I played it back, the recording had no sound.  I gave up.

   Friday was meetings and meetings.  

   Saturday morning I got up at quarter to five, and with brief preparation, left for St. Louis.  It snowed for a good way down there, but there was no appreciable accumulation.  I found the place for the photography seminar with no trouble.  It was by a national-level speaker, Nancy Rotenberg.  Missouri Nature and Environmental Photographers only does this every other year.  The talk was basically, Zen in the Art of Photography, which had a lot of appeal for me.  I met a lot of photography maniacs and learned a few things from them.  I was invited to go to dinner afterward with the speaker.  We ate at an Italian restaurant, Cicero’s, which was very good.  I got to know a couple of the members.  Very nice people, no bad attitudes.  Our waitress was a white girl with dreadlocks, which is always a bit strange.  I just wonder how, if ever, she washes them.  I went to Pacific, MO after that and stayed at the disComfort Inn.  Very tired.  The next day I stopped at Shaw Gardens and took a little hike.  It was really cold and not much was moving.  I didn’t stay long.  

   The plan was to meet the other guys for fishing at Lake Taneycomo in Branson.  I drove down interstate 44, which should have been easy, but it was windy and hilly, not a good combination for the Li’l Egg.  Missouri is such a strange and wonderful place.  About every other exit had an adult bookstore.  However, there were also frequent billboards with variations of the message “Pornography Destroys.”  No wonder I’m such a wreck.  About 10 a.m. I was hoping to stop and get some coffee.  I missed an opportunity for a Hardee’s through inattention.  Then I saw a sign for Panera Bread.  Gourmet coffee!  I exited and followed the sign that said 3/4 mile.  I went two miles and turned around.  I was looking hard both ways and didn’t see it.  I continued down the highway, and stopped for an Arby’s.  The one in Quincy has fancy coffee.  I found the place and walked up to the door, only to find it locked.  Closed on Sunday mornings.  I was reduced to seeking the nearby McDonald’s for their rotgut coffee.  

   I stopped at a Taco Bell in Springfield just before I reached the original Bass Pro Shops store.  This is “The Mothership”, with the wildlife museum and lots of other extras.  I dropped off a couple of reels at the repair center and browsed the catalog outlet store for bargains.  I found a pair of hiking shoes.  After all the discounts, I think I paid about 1/3 their original price.  They are extremely comfortable, well designed and constructed. I had never heard of Garmont before, but it turns out they are a serious Italian outdoor footwear company.  If you want to see the slickest web site I think I’ve ever seen, visit them (http://www.garmont.com/eng.html).  I think they didn’t sell because they were so damned ugly.  Orange accents never go over well in shoes.  I also got a pair of fishing pants for cheap, and a set of bunny-thumping blunt arrowheads at the main store.  Then it was on the road again to Branson.  I checked in at Trout Hollow Lodge (http://www.trouthollow.com), and went down to the dock to fish.  It had been a couple of years since I was there, and I couldn’t remember exactly the rig we had used to catch trout.  I tried a medium sized bullet weight ahead of about a #6 baitholder hook covered with three balls of Powerbait.  We hadn’t caught any off the dock last time, so I wasn’t very optimistic.  However, before too long, I had one on.  Naturally, I forgot to photograph it until I had put it back in the lake, but I didn’t forget with the second one.  I had another before the rest of the group got there.   
   After they arrived and unpacked we went down and fished for an hour or so.  I caught four more, and Lowell caught a couple.  Here’s the evidence.

We had dinner at the Farmhouse Restaurant, as we did for EVERY meal while we were there.  Must be a thousand restaurants in Branson and we have to use the same one each time.  Food’s good, anyway.  

   Monday morning we got out on the river in our rented pontoon boats, motored upstream and began the drift.  The upper dam was letting lots of water through (and presumably making lots of electricity), which created quite a stiff current.  I wasn’t having much luck at first, but started hitting them good once I got the hang of it.  I caught 17 fish in the morning, including a couple of rainbows around 14 inches, and my only brown trout.  I didn’t measure it, but am certain it was bigger than 14, but less than the required 20 inches.
   I bemoaned our lack of a net in our boat because when I lip-grabbed this guy, I found that browns of this size have really big, pointy teeth!

   After lunch the current had slowed way down.  I only caught three fish all afternoon.  Lowell had the hot hand, and was reeling in one after another.  We saved the big ones and cleaned them.  The limit is 4, so we were fairly selective.  Turns out they plant about 50,000 fish per month.  No wonder there are so many!  The limit has gone down from 5 to 4, but the size has gone up a lot.  They used to be about 8-10 inches on average.  This time they were averaging 11 or 12 inches.

   Sunday morning the current was running high, and my technique was, once again, effective.  I caught 20 more fish.  Lowell and I saved the big ‘uns for the fillet knife.  We hit the road, and Lowell rode with me back to Canton.  Everybody stopped at a certain buffet for lunch.  It was a great trip, not only for the fishing, but for the fellowship as well.  I have to say a little about everyone who went.

   Carl Schmidt is the guy in the foreground.  He’s either a rebel, or he can’t read.  Carl and I enjoy exchanging barbs, but it’s all in good fun.  He’s a great storyteller, which makes him good to have on a trip like this.  He’s probably the most gung-ho for fishing.  When everyone else was done on Monday night, he and Jim Behn (background) stayed on the dock and kept fishing.

   I had never met Jim Behn before, though he lives in Canton. Here he’s holding a nice brown trout.  He’s pretty quiet, and an accountant.  On the first morning he caught about the f
irst 3 fish.  I noticed he was using a little lift-drop action on his rod.  After I copied his method, I started killing them.  Later I learned he had taken half a year off from work and hiked the entire Appalachian trail.  This is the accomplishment of a true man.  I quizzed him about this at some length.  My estimation of him went up by about 5 notches.  
   Lowell I spend a lot of time with and write about in this blog nearly every week, but he still shows new sides to his character.  We were roommates at Trout Hollow.  The first night someone had left the bathroom light on.  He said, “Do you think we should shut the door to keep the light out?”  I said, “No, they’ll turn it off in a minute, and you might not want to provide any resistance to the diffusion of air.”  Immediately, I followed with a large eruption of gas.  I died laughing, but was more impressed that Lowell didn’t kick me out of the room.  That’s tolerance.
   I have known Jim Upchurch for years, but never spent much time with him.  Turns out he’s a pretty mellow guy.  He has some interesting stories to tell as well, in his own soft-spoken way.  One of the things his business does is to write technical manuals.  “Clean the machine with a greasy rat” will now be a classic.   Here he is, apparently the new spokesmodel for Trout Hollow.

   Tom Wiltshire was the Master of Ceremonies for this event, and began the tradition a few years ago.  He’s an accomplished fisherman, and very tolerant of my antics, even when I called his vehicle the Ford Foreplay or Foreskin.  [It’s actually a Freestyle].   Sorry, Tom, no picture!
   Joe Dieker is also a skilled fisherman.  In fact, he taught me how to use a baitcasting outfit, which is now my preference.  I copied his Slug-go method for bass when subtle presentations are required, and it has been deadly.  He added considerable life to our little party, getting in little wisecracks every now and then. 

Here’s Dieker, in a very cool hat.

   If you were paying attention, you noticed that we had two Jims and two Joes on the trip.  I said we shouldn’t allow two guys with the same name on the same boat.  Too confusing.

   I took advantage of the very people-tolerant Great Blue Herons all along the lake, photographing them at every opportunity.   

Lots of them were standing around like this.

With much practice, I managed to get a few in flight.

I don’t get many mammals, so I couldn’t pass up this woodchuck.  I said to him, “Punxatawney Phil is a liar!”

   Wednesday (this morning) I had to take Savannah to the orthodontist.  I dropped her off, went to the office, fed the fish, watered plants and returned.  She bore the good news that the braces come off in just a few weeks.  Much rejoicing followed.  I’ll rejoice more when they’re all paid for.  We made an obligatory stop at Hardees; breakfast for her, second breakfast for me, and I took her back to school.
   I spent the rest of the morning doing paperwork, writing this, and catching up on email.  I spent the afternoon cutting yet another truckload of wood.  I cut until I noticed a pool of oil on the ground.  The cap for my bar and chain oil reservoir had fallen out.  With some hunting I found it.  It’s a good thing I stopped then, as I had the largest load I’ve ever hauled with the truck.  I worried about getting stuck in the field, but it was just dry enough.  Once home, I fired the wood furnace and cut up the longer logs.  We’re heating with wood again.  
   While I was gone, Savannah started track season.  With new shoes, she developed new blisters, so she’s hobbling around.  Stacey had an early morning fire one day, and spent a few days recovering from that.  We are all glad to return to life as normal. 

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