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WILTZ: Would Ed Lemmon 'pull our legs' just a wee bit?

Though I enjoy watching TV anglers fish in exotic places for species I've never caught, I also watch the TV fishing shows to learn of techniques that might work well on my home waters. I watched such a program last night, and I'm anxious to try i...

Though I enjoy watching TV anglers fish in exotic places for species I've never caught, I also watch the TV fishing shows to learn of techniques that might work well on my home waters. I watched such a program last night, and I'm anxious to try it in the Fort Randall Dam tailrace.

The TV anglers anchored their boat in the fast water beneath a hydro-electric dam I didn't recognize. They were after catfish, and the action was furious. They fished vertically using three-way swivels. One line came from the rod, a second line held a large sinker just off of the bottom, and the third line held a spinner, much like the spinners we use with bottom-bouncers, with a strip of cut bait attached to the hook.

The TV fishermen used meat strips cut from suckers. I'd probably use strips cut from a skipjack. They did nothing more than hang on to their rods. The catfish did the rest. Why am I so sure this technique would work? It is because I used to use a very similar technique on Fort Thompson tailrace walleyes.

I was getting ready to put my boat in the water at the Big Bend Dam one morning when a guy came in with a limit of 3-8 pound walleyes. I asked him how he'd caught them, and he readily explained how he did it. As his rig was still in the boat, I had no reason not to believe him.

For a rod and reel he used a paddlefish outfit -- something that most everyone had back then. To the heavy line from his reel he attached a three-way swivel. The second line was tied to a very heavy sinker. He used much lighter line for the sinker in case he had to break it off. The third line was a leader of monofilament tied to a floating Rapala. He said it was extremely important to be in the tailrace early in the day when the generators first kicked in.

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Instead of racing up toward the face of the powerhouse and drifting down, he began downstream and trolled very, very slowly toward the powerhouse. His technique worked very well for me. If there was a downside, the walleyes were bigger than eatin' size, and the heavy equipment took the fight out of the fish. Before you try this and perhaps judge this technique to be slow, remember that today's Big Bend tailrace doesn't hold the walleyes it held in the late 1960's and early 1970's.

* * * * * * * * * *

One of my favorite books that deal with South Dakota history and lore is "Boss Cowman," the recollections of Ed Lemmon edited by Nellie Snyder Yost. A second Lemmon book, "The West As I Lived It," was compiled by my good friend Phyllis Schmidt. On page 119 of the Schmidt book, I came across some interesting, if not amazing information, under the heading "Wild Game in Dakota, in 1880."

Lemmon talks about the area at the mouth of French Creek on the Cheyenne River, and goes on to say that this country was alive with antelope, deer, bear, elk, mountain sheep, buffalo, and ibex. What? Ibex? He then says, and I quote, "I expect this last animal's existence to be disputed by some, for I had never heard of ibex anywhere on the North American continent until I saw these little animals, somewhat similar to antelope, with almost straight flat horns."

After seeing the ibex, Lemmon asked Sprague, an old-timer from the area, if the animals in question were a species of antelope. Sprague said that they were ibex, not antelope. The men then got out a dictionary, looked up "ibex," and found an exact picture of the animal. Lemmon then went on to say that the Badlands, from the Hot Springs area to the Pierre-Black Hills Cheyenne River Crossing, or about even with the present town of Scenic, was the only place the animal was found.

In hunting the ibex, Lemmon had this to say.

"We found them a very easy game to hunt, for by approaching from the windward side one could get within easy six-shooter range, and as I recall they were practically extinct by the time we moved to the Moreau River range in 1888." Lemmon also discussed the ibex as table fare.

Did wild ibex once roam South Dakota? In fairness to Ed Lemmon, he documents just about everything he says with names, dates, and locations. In my opinion, he portrays the life of a cowboy with accuracy and realism unequalled by any writer. The same is true of his portrayal of American Indians of the period. So, did Ed Lemmon really see and hunt wild ibex in what is today's South Dakota?

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I believe that Lemmon may have seen ibex-like animals, or the remains of ibex-like animals, but Lemmon himself questioned whether the animals were ibex or just some sort of antelope. Being an "old-timer" gives Sprague some credence, but I question his zoology credentials. If ibex were indigenous to South Dakota, wouldn't we know about it today?

I've had another thought. What if Lemmon, the prankster, is exploiting his creative imagination? The Badlands were virtually littered with oreodont fossils, a sheep-like animal of the Oligocene Age. No doubt Lemmon continually stumbled on these bony relics that we can still find in the Badlands today. (Don't pick them up!) Since the bones were there, why not create a story around them?

*I'd like to know your thoughts on Lemmon's ibex. See you next week.

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