Friday, May 29, 2015

1902 - Confluence of the Osage and Niangua River

This is an amazing pre-Bagnell Dam picture of the joining of two major rivers, the Osage and Niangua, from 1902.  These rivers now feed the Lake of the Ozarks and in 30 years time from this photo, this farm and land will be underwater.

The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bull Shoals Striped Bass Sets Missouri Record

Photo Courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation
Bull Shoals Lake is located largely in northern Arkansas but has a sizeable portion in Missouri. It is a very popular lake due to it's pristine environment, excellent bass fishing, and cold, clear water.

This striped bass is a new Missouri record for a "pole and line" catch, which presumes it was caught on the Missouri side of the lake. The bass officially weighed in at 65lbs 2oz, beating the previous record by almost 5lbs.  At nearly 50" long, this is a true river monster. Lawrence Dillman of Rockaway Beach, near Branson Missouri, gets bragging rights for this one.  On May 21st, he fought 45 minutes to haul this fish to the bank, caught on minnow bait using a reel with only 20-lb test line. That took some skill.

I can only imagine hooking into one of these while in a kayak.  That would be a ride.

MDC article

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Summer Season Begins - Let's Play Safe!

As Memorial Weekend approaches I've taken the time to update the page "How Safe Is the Lake of the Ozarks" to reflect the recently released U.S. Coast Guard report for 2014, and while nationally there was a small increase in fatalities across the U.S., and an actual drop in fatal accidents statewide in Missouri, an analysis of data from the Missouri State Water Patrol shows a startling increase in fatalities at the Lake of the Ozarks last year.

The fatality rate* for the Lake of the Ozarks has soared from 5.6 in 2013 to a nauseating 18.0 for 2014.  Nationally, for 2014, the number of registered vessels in the U.S. dropped by nearly 210,000 boats (a trend that has been happening for many years), while the total number of deaths stayed virtually the same. The effect of fewer vessels was to increase the national fatality rate to an average of 5.2, up from 4.7 in 2013.

Statewide, Missouri fatal accidents dropped from 16 in 2013, to 13 in 2014, but sadly Lake of the Ozarks contributed 9 of those 13, including a highly publicized incident involving Water Patrol when an incarcerated passenger fell overboard and drowned.  [On a personal note, as a Coast Guard veteran who spent three of my four years on ships involved in maritime law enforcement, search and rescue, and aids to navigation, this incident angers me mightily.]

Nine deaths on the Lake of the Ozarks in 2014, not counting injury and property damage statistics. Has the lake become more dangerous?  Possibly, but it is more likely to be an anomaly than a trend as some years will inevitably be worse than others, and numbers don't always tell the whole story.  For instance, statewide 2013 saw the fewest accidents in five years with 111, but had the second highest fatalities with 16.  The year with the fewest fatal accidents, 10 in 2012, had only one fewer total accidents than last year's 142.

Nothing has inherently changed to make things more (or less for that matter) dangerous on the waters of Missouri than in past years, but it is a very sad statistic to see and does nothing to improve our lake's reputation.  Hopefully this year will be better, but it is up to everyone to stay safe and make it happen.

Please enjoy, and play safe!

* Fatality Rate is a ratio of the number of deaths per 100,000 registered vessels used by the U.S. Coast Guard to assess boating risk.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Straightline Canvas

I'm going to give a shameless plug to one of our local businesses, Straightline Canvas.  They restored a head piece on my 1989 Sea Ray Pachanga which had completely rotted out from the inside and could not have been an easy repair to do.  The piece is made of shaped wood and built strong enough to accommodate supporting a man's weight while hopping into the driver's seat (yeah, I still think I'm 30).  Although the upholstery itself was in decent enough condition, the entire underlying support had to be rebuilt by hand.  It's now fixed and looks great.

They did an excellent job and I'll be looking to them for any future upholstery needs.  Thanks!

Location map link.


Friday, May 15, 2015

What Is the Meaning Of "Lake Levels"

The importance of lake levels extends far beyond just how "full" the Lake of the Ozarks is at any given time, it also establishes private property rights and project boundaries.  In short, lake levels establish boundaries between water and land, what is owned privately and what is considered managed by Ameren UE through federal licensing.

Lake levels are referenced to sea level, but what exactly is sea level?  The planet's oceans are not all the same height, for instance the absolute height of the Pacific Ocean is higher than the Atlantic Ocean, so it is important to establish exactly what "sea" we are using as a baseline reference. For the Lake of the Ozarks "sea level" was established by the "Mean Gulf Level" from Biloxi Mississippi.

The Gulf of Mexico is a large sea, typically differentiated from an ocean by being near and adjoining land, usually partially enclosed by it.  The gulf is certainly a large enough body of water to be influenced by tides which means establishing a single average (mean) level must be done by tidal stations, distributed over a large area of coastline. Measurements at these stations are made using vertical benchmarks positioned on land and therefore must take into consideration that the land itself also moves vertically over time.  Globally this effect can be quite pronounced as, for example, the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico is typically in a state of subsidence (sinking), effectively raising sea levels, while the Gulf of Alaska is rising, lowering sea levels, due to less weight on the land from melting glaciers (isostatic rebound).

The "Mean Gulf Level" was established by the Mississippi River Commission near the end of the 19th century, well before Bagnell Dam's construction.  As time goes by, and the relative sea level changes due to geological processes and rising sea levels due to climate change global warming*, it may become necessary to re calibrate what "lake level" actually means.

* 2017 Blogger's Note:  I see no point in trying to appease the climate change deniers, least of all by mincing words. It may be climate change in a general sense of the topic, but the actual trend is for a warmer planet, and that is the cause of rising sea levels. The world might be a better place if we stop getting our opinions from social media (this blog included), news outlets, or politicians. Try understanding at least some of the science of a warming planet for yourself rather than just pointing out that it still snows in the winter as evidence to the contrary. #thisshitisgettingold

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Another Mountain Lion - Laclede County 2015

A mountain lion was euthanized by state police after being struck by a vehicle on I-44 in Laclede county Tuesday May 12th, near the Gasconade River bridge at the 144 mile marker.  The animal was a subadult male (meaning it was not fully grown) weighing approximately 130lbs and untagged. Further investigation shows it was not someone's pet or zoo animal and apparently had a taste for raccoon.
The mountain lion troopers had to euthanize on I-44
Photo Courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation
Laclede county is due south of Camden county and where the lion was struck is about 50 miles southeast of the Lake of the Ozarks.  It is likely the animal came from the bootheel of the state where sightings are more common, such as in Reynolds county near the National Scenic Riverway. There have been two official sightings in Pulaski county (another neighboring county) in the past 12 years but this is the first documented lion in Laclede county.  It is my conjecture that the lions are using the Gasconade River basin to migrate. The Missouri Department of Conservation still maintains there is no "breeding population" of mountain lions in Missouri but this is the 54th incident since they began documenting them in 1999.

MDC maintains a team of biologists to investigate mountain lion incidences when involving public safety or "substantial physical evidence".  The Mountain Lion Response Team was established to help track activities and observations and evidence can be submitted to""

Thursday, May 07, 2015

How Big Does My Boat Need To Be For The Lake of the Ozarks?

It's a common question asked by folks who have never actually been to the Lake of the Ozarks and only know it by reputation for big boats and big waves. While there is technically no limit to the size of boats on the lake, typically they are less than sixty feet in length due to dock restrictions, but you don't need an open ocean capable boat to get around on the water.

Safety is really what we're talking about when asking the question of what is a properly sized boat for the lake. Being tossed about due to rough water isn't fun and certainly not safe. Over the years the solution has been a steady increase in the size of boats being purchased. Throughout its existence boat sizes on the Lake of the Ozarks has been an arms race of sorts with boats seemingly getting larger every year. In the 1960's my father's 18ft Mark Twain was considered a good size boat and got around just fine.  In the 70s he purchased a 22ft Sea Ray that provided a decent ride, but immediately regretted not buying the 24 footer. After the 80s (thanks "Miami Vice") a boat needed to be in the +30ft range if you wanted to go fast and smooth as the proliferation of very large (+40ft) and slow cruisers meant a dramatic increase in the size of waves. Larger boats mean larger waves, and larger waves means boat owners buy larger boats, with the vicious cycle continuing to this day. Still, you don't need a 38ft Cigarette or 35ft Donzi to enjoy the lake, but it helps. The question of how big of a boat is big enough to handle the Lake of the Ozarks has no simple answer but depends on many factors such as pilot experience and skill, time of year, type of boat, desired running speed, and number of passengers.

Pilot skills: The Lake of the Ozarks attracts different kinds of boaters, from rank novice to race experienced experts, and while any boat can be piloted safely even in the worst conditions, not all pilots have the skills to pull it off. Likewise, a large boat under the control of an inexperienced pilot is no guarantee of safety or comfort.  If you have a relatively small boat (<30ft), on a busy weekend, a novice pilot can easily get themselves into trouble and hurt someone, while an experienced one can make it safe and relatively comfortable.

Time of year:  From mid-September to early May boat size is mostly irrelevant as the lake remains calm with room to maneuver and roll through the occasional big wake.  In the summer however weekends can be relentlessly rough with congestion making it difficult to smooth wakes out over distance.  Holiday weekends even more so.  My definition of a properly sized boat is one that doesn't cause injury to passengers just because it is underway at cruising speed. The lake can be rough, but it needn't be dangerous if boat size matches desired boating style.

Style of Boat:
Fishing boats, less than 26ft in length, are often flat bottomed and at no time in the summer, except in the early hours or weekdays, is it comfortable to be making speed on the lake in one. Small fishing boats in calm coves are common enough but are well advised to stay away from the main channel.

Pontoon boats are popular for their ability to carry many passengers comfortably, but are relatively slow and struggle in rough water if not equipped with a middle pontoon ("tri-toon") and a properly sized motor. A 24ft pontoon with only a 60HP motor may be fine on Lake St.Louis, but at the Lake of the Ozarks it is a bit under powered, and will likely run into difficulty on busy weekends in the main channel.  For a period of time, "deck" boats were replacing pontoons as the barge of choice but developments in pontoon/tritoon design and open cockpit style runabouts have long since passed them over.

Large cruisers, 40 feet or more rarely have any concerns over rough water to worry about regardless of speed, which is usually under 30kts. Bigger is better, but it causes issues for others. Large boat owners need to be cognizant of the severe wakes their boats are capable of putting out and the damage they can do.

A runabout, which can range from 16ft to 40ft is where speed becomes a critical factor. Assuming a boat in this size range is capable of getting on plane (the very definition of a runabout), how well it can handle rough water is mostly dependent on pilot experience and speed.

Speed:  If you want to go fast (+50mph) on the weekends, you're going to need a bigger boat.  I have a 27ft Sea Ray Pachanga capable of +60mph but wouldn't dare to try and get that kind of speed out of it during the weekend except in short bursts, it is simply too small. While the boat itself may be able to take the beating (it is a Sea Ray after all!), my passengers cannot. I've been in a 31ft boat that did just fine at that speed but most mono-hull boats running +50mph on the weekend need to be at least 33ft long or above in order to make good speed in the rough waters of the main channel.

Passengers: Many boat owners don't stop to think about passenger comfort too much.  If the boat ride isn't too rough on the pilot, then passengers should be fine, right? Wrong. Pilots have the advantage of seeing wave impacts coming and control over how they are attacked, with one hand on the wheel, and another on the throttle(s) they have added support and leverage to resist heavy impacts or rapid directional changes. Passengers on the other hand are mostly left to holding on to anything they can grab onto (including each other) and usually unable to see or pay attention to oncoming waves and brace themselves properly.

Don't overload your boat! Cramming your boat with more people than its carrying capacity allows is illegal and usually a recipe for disaster. Even pushing the capacity can be unwise if your going out for and extended boating day. Coolers weigh a lot. More people in your boat means more cargo, and both mean more weight that can result in your boat struggling in rough conditions.  To be safe, make sure you know your boat's operating capacity for specific conditions. For instance, while I can legally carry 9 passengers in my 27' boat, on a summer weekend doing so would be hard on everyone, including the boat.

Don't forget, if someone is hurt on your boat, with little exception you are required to report it to the Water Patrol.

Location: The Lake of the Ozarks is one of the largest commercial lakes in the U.S. with over 1100 miles of shoreline and over 100 miles of main channel and where you play can have a dramatic impact on water conditions and the type of boat that's enjoyable to use.  Generally speaking, the first 31 miles of the main channel (starting at Bagnell Dam) are the most popular, and thereby the roughest. The state park area where Party Cove is located makes it just as busy as anywhere else on the weekends, especially the short run from the Grand Glaize Bridge to the mouth of PC.  In fact, this particular three mile stretch of the Grand Glaize branch can be some of the roughest water on the lake during the weekends. Elsewhere, boaters far upriver past Hurricane Deck (above 35MM) or the Niangua River arms usually have a little less traffic, but this is offset by the narrowing of the main channel and the overall effect is virtually the same, rough water. While the lake can be rough anywhere and at anytime these outer reaches are usually a little more subdued. On the weekdays, even in the peak of summer, the lake is rarely congested and boating is very casual just about anywhere.

The idea that bigger is better, ride-wise, is the main reason the lake is as rough as it is today.  If a smooth ride is what you are after, get a bigger boat, slow down, or play on a weekday.

As for that 27ft Pachanga of mine? While it is a bit of a slog on the summer weekends to make speed, it can still handle the water with only the occasional bump or bruise, but it is certainly all the boat needed during the week.  I think I'll keep it for awhile longer... or until the price comes down a bit on that 35ft Donzi I saw on eBay last week.  :)

Friday, May 01, 2015

April 2015 Lake Levels and Discharge Graph

With lake levels rising as early April rains appeared, Ameren went ahead and generated a good amount of power despite the mild temperature.  Levels quickly fell back to within seasonal average for the middle of the month and began the expected rise to summer levels by the end.  The last day of April matched the five year average exactly.

Boating License Requirements

I often discuss safety on the Lake of the Ozarks but often fail to mention the requirement for boaters to have an operators license in Missouri.

The Missouri Boater Education Law went into effect January 1, 2005, stating anyone born after January 1st, 1984 must complete a NASBLA* approved boating education course and obtain an operator's certification in order to legally operate a vessel. This includes personal watercraft such as a "jet ski", or "waverunner".  This law applies only to Missouri public lakes excluding rivers, streams, and "private waters". For the purposes of this law, the Lake of the Ozarks is considered a public lake.

Out of state visitors may use their own state's boating license or certification if it came from a NASBLA approved course, but you must carry the proof of course completion and a photo ID on you while underway. The law applies whether you own or rent a vessel while visiting.

If you fall into the age group requiring a certificate, getting caught operating a boat without one is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by citation and a fine.  There is no stated exclusion for non-motor driven vessels such as sailboats, or even human powered vessels such as paddle boats, canoes, or kayaks (unless on a river or stream). Fortunately, most states within reach of the lake have similar laws so most visitors will either have one, or be excluded due to age.

*NASBLA - National Association of State Boating Law Administrators