Lake of the Ozarks – Part 2

Ozarks Attractions Abound Above and Beneath the Water, and Below the Ground Too

The clean water and fun to be found at Lake of the Ozarks is for kids too.

Leaving Alhonna Resort on the shores of Lake of the Ozarks was bittersweet. We felt we had only scratched the surface and we begged for more as we pulled away in our Chevy Tahoe. The Tahoe was made for this terrain. Every driveway seemed perpendicular along the lake, dealing with the tops of the hills that now surrounded the lake after the valleys below were flooded back in 1931. We were driving the 2016 LTZ version, a perfect fit for two couples with lots of luggage. Of course, with a third seat in the back, it’s also a great vehicle for the family. The 5.3 Liter V-8 VVT with direct injection and cylinder deactivation gave us the power we needed. We could have trailered up to 8,600 pounds had we wanted to, and the next trip we just might have a pontoon boat, fully loaded!

Our first stop for the morning was a breakfast that legends are made of. Kyle Stewart (no relation) who had put together an itinerary for us, recommended a place in Lake Ozark called Stewart’s. We were told to order their famous cinnamon rolls, as big as a “catcher’s mitt.” Sandy and I ordered one to split; Joe and Laurie Calvert split one as well. No exaggeration, they were bigger than a catcher’s mitt! More like a soccer ball! And they were delicious. I also ordered their famous pork tenderloin smothered in gravy (if my doctor is reading this, I did have plenty of exercise to work it off as you will read about). It covered the plate. Not your standard dinner plates, one of the big oval ones! Hash browns and toast rounded out the monster platter. Yes, I’m a food guy and I appreciate quality.

Bridal Cave, with calcite deposits that make stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws provide magical photo moments.

As we stuffed ourselves back into the Tahoe, we realized we wouldn’t need lunch. The next part of the lake we would visit was the area in and around Camdenton. The first attraction we came to was Bridal Cave (www.bridalcave.com), one of the largest caves in the state. Missouri has a wealth of caves and caverns, hitting the 7,000 mark just recently. When it’s all said and done, the Show-Me State will be number one when it comes to overall numbers within Missouri boundaries. This cave was cool – literally and figuratively. Calcite deposits with stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and so much more mesmerized the folks on the tour. There was a connection with Western New York where they announced the “Frozen Niagara” calcite formation. More than 2,500 couples have been married in Bridal Cave or renewed their vows – another connection with the Honeymoon Capital. This is a must see for the entire family.

Geologically speaking, Missouri is littered with “karst” topography, a landscape that is filled with sinkholes, caves, natural bridges, large springs and underground streams. Many of the caves in the state can be found on private land. However, there are many on public land, too. For example, nearby Ha Ha Tonka State Park – recently named by USA Today readers as the fourth best state park in the country – has 19 caves recorded within its boundaries so far (www.mostateparks.com). It was a beautiful park and we even hiked up a castle trail that took us up to old ruins on a bluff overlooking the Niangua arm of Lake of the Ozarks, a spot we would be fishing the next morning.

There is no admission fee to enter any of the state parks in Missouri. Here we visit the Ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

When we stopped into the Visitors Center at Ha Ha Tonka, we immediately found out that there is no admission fee into any of the state parks in Missouri, thanks to a dedicated funding source (with the exception of camping sites). The public land was just that, for the public to use. What a novel idea! With 88 parks in the state, they will be celebrating a milestone next year (2017) – 100 years of the state’s natural and cultural attractions. Pick up a copy of the state’s Parks Centennial Passport. Earn a stamp by visiting each of those parks and the first 1,000 people receive a prize. Five grand prizes will be up for grabs, too. Last year, some 19 million people visited Missouri parks (www.mostateparks.com).

Next stop was our accommodations for the evening – Old Kinderhook (www.oldkinderhook.com). If you are looking for quality in the way of lodging, golf, fishing and dining options, this facility was top notch. The golf course is ranked second in the state and our fishing guide was none other than Casey Scanlon, a Bassmaster Elite Series Pro who lives on the lake. If you want to treat yourself to something special, this place was amazing – really! After checking in, we enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve had in a long, long time in the Trophy Room – fine dining at its best. Accolades came pouring out after that meal from all four of us.

Old Kinderhook offers quality lodging, golf, fishing and dining options, this facility was top notch, so was our 2016 Tahoe LTZ.

Bright and early the next morning, Scanlon picked Joe and me up at sunrise to fish the lake. This is his home waters and he won the Bassmaster Open on nearby Table Rock Lake a few years ago. Originally from Kansas City, he’s been fishing the Elite Series for five years now. In fact, he had just returned from the Elite Series event on Cayuga Lake in New York in June – just a couple hours from where I live.

BASS Elite Angler Casey Scanlon with a nice bass from Lake of the Ozarks.

“This is a great body of water to fish,” said Scanlon, as he reeled in his first fish, a largemouth, just five minutes into the trip. For this time of year, large rubber worms on a jig head was a favorite enticement. “The lake is over 90 miles long, great for largemouth and spotted bass. My favorite time is November and December when spinnerbaits and top waters work the best. April and May is also excellent when suspended jerk baits will dominate as a favorite technique. To give you an idea about how this lake fishes, it consistently takes 20 pounds or more per day to win a tournament here. There are lots of three and four pounders here and you can catch fish up to and over 10 pounds. In fact, two 10 pounders have been weighed in already this year. Fishing has really been great this season because of the added water flow coming through the system due to the heavy rains earlier.”

Almost on cue, Calvert’s rod doubled over and he fought a monster under Scanlon’s Nitro Bass Boat. When it finally came to net, it was over four pounds – Joe’s personal best. After a couple of quick pictures, we released the fish to fight another day.

Primary forage in the lake for these bass is gizzard shad and is the preferred food source. There are also threadfin shad. An underrated fish in these waters is walleye … and no one fishes for them. If someone came in here and targeted walleye, the potential is very good. Night fishing could be a way to approach old marble eye, but there may be some competition. Because the lake has turned into a recreational playground for watercraft during the middle part of the day, some bass tournaments are now being held at night to deal with the mid-day turbulence and to battle the summer heat. Heat index during the hottest part of the day would hit over 100 degrees and one day it hit 108. It didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves though.

Back to the hotel for breakfast and check-out. Again, we didn’t want to leave. Next stop on our Ozarks experience was Holiday Shores Resort (www.holidayshoresresort.com), another quality experience but entirely different from the other two accommodations we sampled. Owner Lori Piedt runs an excellent operation, featuring 26 cottages overlooking the lake at Osage Beach. Again, the facility was well equipped as a one stop shop for families to enjoy the waters of the lake or relax in the uniquely-shaped cottages. Every cottage has an outside deck with a grill and one night we cooked up burgers as the sun set. What a relaxing time.

Holiday Shores offers visitors the opportunity to rent one of its 20 covered and fully electric boat slip at a nominal price. There is a boat launch available for guests if you bring your own boat or jet ski. They also rent paddleboards, paddleboats and chill rafts. There is a swimming pool or you can take advantage of a swim dock in the lake. Our last part of the trip will wind down next week with a personal best largemouth bass! Check out the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau’s website at www.FunLake.com; 1-800-FUN-LAKE.

Bear Awareness Dawning in Missouri

The Largest Wild Mammal in the “Show-Me State” Should Not Be a Source of Fear, but Deserves Respect

Hundreds of bears like this healthy adult male roam Missouri’s Ozarks. A few have ventured as far as the Iowa border.

Eugene Gerve was awakened by the furious barking of his dog one May night.  When he shined a spotlight into his yard in Webster County, Missouri, he was startled to find a 300-pound black bear a scant 15 feet away, rapidly emptying a cat food dispenser.

Gerve is one of a growing number of Missourians who have learned to take bears into account, whether they are at home or at play.  The new awareness results from a black bear restoration program conducted by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission in the 1950s and 1960s.  The program’s success guaranteed that bears – who can’t read signs – would eventually cross the state line and repopulate their historic range in Missouri.

They began doing that at least as early as the 1980s and more likely in the ‘70s.  Interestingly, Missouri probably would have gotten its own bear population without Arkansas’ help.  DNA studies strongly suggest that bears in Webster and Douglas counties, which has Missouri’s highest-density population of the animals – are genetically distinct from Arkansas bears who probably stem from a remnant population that survived near-extermination in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Wherever they came from, the Show-Me State has an estimated population of several hundred black bears.  Although they are much more common south of I-44 than in the northern two-thirds of the state, there have been confirmed sightings all the way from the Arkansas border to the Iowa State line.  So no matter where you live, hunt, fish or camp, you might encounter a bear.

Bears are least likely to run afoul of humans in the fall, when “hard mast” food items – mostly acorns, are abundant.  Spring and early summer are another matter.  Bears are lean and hungry after their winter fast, and there’s little for them to eat besides grass and tender young vegetation.  Things ease up a bit as summer progresses and berries and other “soft mast” become available.  So the time you need to be most concerned about bears is from now until nuts start falling.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts about living with bears.

AROUND HOME 

Gerve’s experience illustrates the main point to remember for preventing bear problems at home.  Bears are not finicky eaters.  Berries, roots, small animals, carrion, pet food, grain bins, bird seed, garbage and barbecue grills all are equally enticing to their sensitive nose.  So it’s important not to leave these where bears can get at them.  If you live north of the Missouri River, you probably don’t have to invest in bear-proof garbage cans, but it would be wise to keep containers of bird seed, pet or livestock food in locked buildings.

IN CAMP

You need to adjust your attitude if you travel south of the Missouri River to float, fish, backpack, camp, hunt or picnic.  If possible, keep coolers and other food containers locked in vehicles when unattended, along with trash.

When float-camping, bring along bear-proof containers, such as sturdy coolers with sturdy latches.  Army-surplus ammunition cans are available in sizes large enough to accommodate all the non-perishable food you need for a couple of days.  Never bring these containers or anything that smells like food into a tent or soft-sided camper at night.  Hunger sometimes overwhelms the natural shyness of black bears enough to try to snatch food from under the nose of sleeping people.  A slight miscalculation can result in a bear grabbing a camper’s foot instead of a hot dog.

When you are fortunate enough to bring fish or game back to camp, show the same caution with the harvest as you would with store-bought food stuffs or garbage.  Don’t leave gut piles or other offal lying around camp or in the water nearby.  Keep them far from camp or put them in trash bags and keep it where foraging bears can’t smell or reach them.

BRUIN FACE-OFFS

Even if you observe the foregoing cautions, you might end up face-to-face with a bear.  I incurred such an event!

It’s important to remember that black bears are naturally afraid of people.  Thousands of years of fighting losing battles with humans have removed most of the aggressive black bears from the gene pool, so when confronted by a human, 99.99 percent of black bears run away (unlike grizzly bears, which don’t live in Missouri).  We will get back to that 0.01 percent of black bears in a minute.

Black bears and people end up face-to-face in two ways.  One is when a bear is lured close to people by the promise of food.  A bear that is rummaging in garbage, raiding a cooler, or guzzling nectar from a hummingbird feeder generally heads for the high timber when a human shouts at them, honks a horn or bangs pots and pans – all from indoors and at a safe distance, of course.

If a bear ever fails to hightail it when humans appear, call the nearest Missouri Department of Conservation office, conservation agent or law-enforcement agency for help.  Bears are protected in Missouri and shooting one just because it showed its face where it isn’t welcome can earn you a hefty fine.  If imminent loss of safety is involved, that’s another story.

The other way that bears and people end up in confrontations is surprise encounters.  A bear foraging for berries might not hear a hiker walking silently along the Ozark Trail.  Similarly, a bear has no way of knowing that it is approaching a deer hunter sitting in a tree stand.  In cases like these, it’s up to the human to defuse a potentially dangerous situation.  This is very important.  Please heed.

Missouri Department of Conservation Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer places a GPS tracking collar on a sedated bear. Information from the collar, along with genetic data from blood samples, will help the Missouri Department of Conservation determine how many bears Missouri has, where they live and where they came from.

Proximity is a very important consideration in handing bear confrontations.   Just like people, bears have a personal space inside of which they feel threatened.  Spying a bear 50 yards away, before it sees you, is a very different situation than looking up and seeing a bear that has just seen you 15 feet away.

In the first instance, the thing to do is to quietly leave the area.  If the bear notices you as you are leaving, it might stand up on its hind legs.  This is not a threat.  The bear is simply trying to get a better look at you and figure out what you are.  Don’t make eye contact, which bears perceive as aggressive.  Instead, speak in a calm, conversational voice (letting the bear know that you are a human) and slowly back away until the bear is out of sight.  Then quietly leave the area.

If you are uncomfortably close to a bear when you first see it, don’t turn and run or make any other sudden moves that might startle the bear.  Again avoiding eye contact, back away.  When surprised at close distance, a bear may feel threatened whatever you do.  In such cases, black bears often snap their jaws and stamp their feet.  This is the bear trying to intimidate you.  It is not a sign that it is about to attack.  If you back away without eye contact, the bear almost certainly will leave the area once it is sure you are not a threat.

It is not uncommon for black bears to make bluff charges to scare off a perceived threat.  This is incredibly frightening.  I have been bluff charged by a bear that I knew was restrained by a foot snare and I still fell over backwards in absolute terror.  The good news is that bluff charges are just that – bluffs.  If you do not react aggressively, the bear will leave after having given you a good scare.  If you are made of sterner stuff than I was, the best way to react to a bluff charge is to look away and stand still.  When the bear backs off, take your cue and back away slowly.

GOING TO EXTREMES 

Now we get to that troublesome 0.01 percent of cases where a bear turns aggressive.  These usually result when a female bear perceives a threat to her cubs.  Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have to get between the sow and her cubs to trigger a protective attack.  Just being too close for her comfort can be enough.

The best way to avoid this scenario is to make noise wherever you go.  A sow that knows you are coming will get her cubs out of your way.  If you see a bear cub, immediately leave the area the way you came.

A far less likely scenario is an encounter with that rare black bear that has lost its natural fear of people.  Such bears do attack people on very rare occasions.  However a bear attack begins, do not try to run away.  The best track-and-field athletes in the world could not outrun a bear on level ground, let alone in the woods.

The black bear experts I have interviewed over the years advocate fighting back if you are attacked.  Unlike grizzlies, which are not deterred by resistance, black bears have been repelled by small adults using nothing more than bare fists, rocks, sticks or whatever other weapons were at hand.

While I understand this, I also know that not everyone has the mental makeup to put up a fight in the face of an angry bear.  I honestly don’t know if I could.  If you find yourself unable to fight, then wrap your hands and arms around your neck and head and curl up in a fetal position.  In all likelihood, the bear will stop when you no longer seem like a threat.

If the attack continues for more than a few seconds, the bear might actually be trying to kill you.  At that point, you have no choice, but to screw up your courage and convince the bear that it will have to pay a high price for your life.

Having said all this scary stuff, I want to emphasize that more people die of bee stings, drowning, bicycle accidents, falls at home and infected hangnails than die of black bear attacks.

If you scour news media and historic records going back 200 years, you will be lucky to find a dozen cases of fatal black bear attacks.  These are wild animals that deserve tremendous respect, but they do not pose a significant threat to people.

Don’t let overblown fears provoked by Hollywood horror flicks keep you away from Missouri’s outdoors!