Even in the relatively drab landscape of the Sooner state, beauty - and fish - can be found by those who know where to look

EDMONSON, Oklahoma — I'm sorry for missing my column last week. It's the first time I've missed the deadline in 2020, but I just wasn't able to get it done.

Last week I was activated with the Oregon Air National Guard and sent with a group of 50 amazing airmen to Josephine County in Oregon to man roadblocks in an effort to warn drivers away from the wildfire and keep looters out. COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - Luke Ovgard

Where we're stationed, we have no Wi-Fi or computers, and as the only officer on night shift, I've been pretty busy. Thankfully, my night shift counterpart, Master Sgt. Eric Harris, has been a rock star and helped me figure out what it's like to be on the leadership team of a field operation.

In a word? Busy.

Long nights and limited sleep have been tough, but five nights in, I was finally able to get a good night's sleep.

COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - The black buffalo wouldn't comply in Oklahoma, but smallmouth buffalo kept the author from falling asleep.Sleep

Some people are blessed with the ability to casually fall asleep anywhere and anytime. These people sleep on planes, cars and basically anywhere you can eat green eggs and ham. Time of day doesn't matter. They can nap, too.

I've never been this person. In order to sleep, I need to be tired, lying flat in a dark, quiet space and sleeping on a well-established schedule. If I drank caffeine within four hours or so of lying down, then no dice.

As you might have guessed, going to night shift and working roughly 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. is an adjustment. Even though I've learned to deal with the noise, weird hours and constant flurry of light, I still end up waking up to pee every morning just a little sooner than I'd hoped for. With the prostate of a much older man, I amble down the hall to the bathroom and then realize I'm now up for the day somewhere around 11:30 a.m. or noon.

I've never slept on a plane. Almost, once, on a 14-hour flight to New Zealand, but I jerked awake after about 10 minutes and powered through 30-some waking hours.

In my adult life, I've almost never slept in a car.

I've taken maybe a half-dozen naps since graduating high school — mostly when sick.

And I've fallen asleep during exactly two movies: "Friday Night Lights" (not nearly as good as the television show) and "Oklahoma."

COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - This flathead catfish was a nice surprise in the quest for black buffalo.Oklahoma

"Oklahoma." You know, the classic musical about white settlers who forced the repeatedly relocated Native Americans out of their last haven and wiped out the vestigial buffalo herds? Yeah, that one.

Perhaps the only thing more boring (and slightly depressing) than the musical is driving through western Oklahoma. It's a vast, dry nothingness. Not as monotonous as Texas, Kansas, Nebraska or Wyoming, but not exactly the scenic route, either.

I've made that drive several times before, but I'd never spent much time fishing. Until this year.

As this young man went west, he met up with a Facebook friend and local biologist named Colby Farquar in the southeasternmost corner of Oklahoma, where the landscape is beautiful and varied and an extension of the Ozarks.

Naturally, I was chasing new species of fish, and Colby gave me some intel on black buffalo just a little north of my route. He wasn't able to fish with me, but he brought me a bag of cattle feed. Now, when I'm low on sleep, I can be a bit slow-moving and capable of releasing some methane, but I'm not quite bovine.

Then he told me, "Trust me. It will bring in the buffalo."

Shrugging, I loaded it into a bucket, and we talked a solid half-hour before parting ways.

I set up on a back eddy and began chumming the oversize rabbit pellets while soaking a worm nearby. As the grain saturated and broke up, the magic began, and I started catching fish after fish. At first, it was just respectable channel catfish, and I landed half a dozen from three to seven pounds. I did get a couple of buffalo, but just the smallmouth variety.

As the watercolor sunset brushed across the sky, I caught fish after fish. More channel cats. Bluegill. Smallmouth buffalo. Even a little flathead. No black buffalo, though.

Black buffalo are relatively rare, but are faring far better than their hoofed namesake.

Detouring back to the highway, I drove into the sunset and knew that I'd sleep well that night. If catfish can be that active during the day, I have faith I can be active at night over the duration of my time afield.

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