Sunday, August 09, 2009

Fixing A Ladder Stand Must Wait

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A start was made on my tree stand project today. The 15-foot ladder stand was put together early this morning by a fumble-fingered guy whose digits are better suited to a computer keyboard than to tools necessary for putting stands together.

By the time the job was about over, a friend returned my utility trailer. Two coffees later, the outdoor thermometer was growing hot and humid.

Then we had to go to Home Depot to buy two doors. Load them into the Suburban, drive them home, and now the day had become hot and sticky. One rain storm after another swept through with occasional gusty winds.

Ninety degrees is just too hot to move a ladder stand through the woods and into place, get up on a step-ladder, and start securing it to a tree. It’s a job for early morning when the temperature in about 60 degrees.

My Atomic clock registered 86 degrees at 3 p.m., and I’m not about to have a heat stroke putting up a ladder stand on a day like this. I could kick myself for not doing it in May, but I’m as prone to making dumb mistakes as anyone else.

So, here I am with a bit of time on my hands. I hie myself off to my basement, which is nice and cool and conveniently has a 17-yard archery range, to shoot a dozen arrows. Not bad, but one flier. Turns out it had been nicked by another arrow which caused it to fly a bit sideways.

A half-hour chat with a friend, and we firmed up several details on an upcoming trip, and it was back to the archery ranges for some more shooting.

Today was a jumble of activities. We have just less than seven weeks before the bow season opens, and this afternoon found me in a cool basement sharpening two-blade broadheads. Sure, this job could have been done some other time, and it probably will be done again just before the opener, but it seemed a good idea to do it now.

I have two bows, and take turns hunting with them. One is set at 55 pounds and the other at 60 pounds of draw weight. Whenever I practice, I shoot both bows, and each one shoots to my required point of impact.

Why hunt with two different bows? Actually, it makes perfect sense to me but fails to impress other hunters. I use the slightly lighter draw-weight bow when hunting from a tree stand where the shot is taken sitting down. The stand is small, and it’s difficult to move much so the weight was cranked down to suit the increased difficulty of pulling the heavier weight.

If I’m to hunt from a ground blind or an elevated coop with a level floor and no risk of falling, I use the 60-pounder.
There is my logic ... for whatever it may be worth.

Each bow has a slightly different feel, and I enjoy shooting two different bows during the season.

A guy wrote today about a special book. I went searching for it, and although I know where 99 percent of my books are, there are a few that seem to fall through the cracks. There isn’t much value to this book, but the challenge of tracking it down was there. A hot-day hunt in a cool place.

I looked upstairs, downstairs, on the book shelves, in cardboard boxes and plastic tubs, and I spent two hours looking for the silly thing. And all this time a nagging thought kept pestering me: the book is right under your nose and you are not seeing it.

Finally, I gave in to my instincts and looked closer at the books in front of my nose. Nope, not there. Look again, slide some books sideways, and I spot something behind the books. I reach back, feel a book and there it is. Never claimed to be the sharpest knife in the book-seller’s drawer.

As you can tell, today held no major accomplishments although I did pull together some material to be donated to a historical library. When the late Gordie Charles died more than a year ago, he gave me all of his major papers and other things. I could keep what I wanted and donate what I didn’t need.

Over a number of years, three people have donated their books and written papers to me for research purposes. Ben East of Holly was the first. Russ Bengel of Jackson was the second, and Gordie Charles was the third.

There is a certain logic in giving books and papers to someone who will use them, and who will then donate them to someone else who will use it.

Tomorrow I’ll probably make the donation to the library in the name of Gordie Charles, and I hope he approves of my actions. I’m certain he will.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/09 at 04:38 PM
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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Dreams Of Robert Traver Are Still Alive

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Trout fishermen who have read my many pieces on John Voelker (Robert Traver) always ask for more. Voelker, who passed away many years ago, wrote words that touched the lives of countless trout fishermen.

This man was the Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula and the Bard of Frenchman’s Pond, and trout anglers loved him and his written words.

He died while driving his beloved Fish Car. His magical typewriter and green-inked letters were stilled forever on that day. However, in my mind and that of many of his adoring fans, he lives on in their thoughts.

“Death is just one small part of life, and we are as inevitably linked to it as we were to the umbilical cord at birth,” he told me during one of a series of interviews two decades ago.

As Man measures time, Voelker led a long and fruitful life. But now, his cheerful grin, twinkling eyes, short but snappy one-liners delivered around a Parodi cigar or a tin cup of bourbon old-fashioned, are now nothing but grand and wonderful memories.

I wish, oh how I wish, I could turn the clock back 25 years and relive some of the memories of our days together. He was a one-of-a-kind writer.

However, the legacy of this man who became so famous as the author of the novel and subsequent movie “Anatomy Of A Murder” lives on because of his writings, trout fishing philosophies and his nurturing of the Upper Peninsula’s secret places that live deep in our heart. His fishing thoughts will endure through his many writings which are eagerly sought after and cherished by those who live to fish for wild brook trout.

“Death doesn’t scare me,” Voelker told me several years before his death during a fishing visit to his beloved Frenchman’s Pond. “But living with ill health is something that scares the hell out of me. I’m still as active as ever and feel good, but when the day comes when I can’t cast a fly to one of my little speckled beauties (brook trout), then and only then will I consider moving on.”

Life for Johnny Voelker was one of law, trials and administering justice on a county and state level. When his best-selling novel, written under his pen name and based on a true story, was published in 1956 it became an instant success and was made into a 1957 movie starring Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick and countless other famous movie stars.

It paved the way for what was to become his life’s work: trout fishing and eloquent writing about it.

“This is the house Anatomy of a Murder built,” Voelker told me on our first meeting while he escorted me through his home office. “Anatomy brought me security, and more important than money, it gave me the chance to fish when and where I choose and as often as I want.”

And invariably his fishing holes were remote trickles of running water or beaver dammed and secluded ponds in the central Upper Peninsula. It was on those ponds and streams, and through his written words, that he could cast a lifelong spell over anglers who love trout fishing in wild places.

Voelker could put into words the inner thoughts that few trout fishermen can express. He could draw word pictures of rising trout, the slash of a brookie to a fly, and the mystery of what trout fishing is all about. He taught millions of anglers that trout fishing was much more than a limit catch or a lunker (which he usually detested because they ate his smaller brook trout).

“Catching a limit or a big fish is no more a part of trout fishing than love making is to creating children,” he once said. “There’s so much more to trout fishing than catching them but many people never learn to appreciate the difference.”

He lived to fish and to write, and prospered on good friends and good bourbon. Voelker thrived on a daily habit of cribbage, and hated to lose. I once had him down two out of three games in cribbage, and then lost the next two sets to give him a best three-of-five victory.

He gloated momentarily, and then a hatch came off on the pond outside his fishing cabin. He promptly celebrated the event (the hatch and my loss) by catching and releasing a 10-inch Frenchman’s Pond brookie.

This back-of-beyond pond was his Holy Water, and his cabin on its banks, was his chapel in the pines; a place for spiritual renewal and a oneness with nature. To reach it was to travel near-vertical roads with his old Jeep Fish Car leaning against gravity on a back-woods two-track, then a short stop to pick mushrooms, and then talking about what was right and wrong in the world of trout fishing.

He cherished good friends, and didn’t like people who acted stupid. Whenever he found a kindred spirit who loved trout, and who fought to protect the fish from exploitation, he was generous to a fault. Those people who were pompous, or who put themselves above trout and the game fish’s environment, were discarded faster than a well-worn fly line.

“Life is too short to waste on fools,” he said. “Brook trout are a barometer of Man’s future, when pollution, over-fishing and man’s wanton land grabbing and over-utilization threaten these delicate game fish, we will soon find ourselves on a perilous path of self destruction.”

Heavy thoughts, but, oh so true. Voelker was seemingly possessed by eight or 10-inch brook trout, and he’d learned long ago that winning on trout waters was less important than how an angler played the game.



Johnny Voelker played the game very well. He lived for trout, loved them, and fought for their natural reproduction and their environment in a manner other anglers would be wise to adopt before it’s too late.

His rich legacy will live on in the memories of millions of unknown friends. His words and deeds touched all trout fishermen deeply, and among those people whose lives he personally enriched, he will be missed.

I toast your memory, old friend, and miss our all-too-infrequent visits.

Note: I have numerous fiction and fishing titles by Traver, and many are signed by this great writer with his real name and pen name. Go to Scoops Books at < daverichey.com > and scroll down to the T’s. Copies of all of his books currently in stock are available while my supply lasts. Email first before sending money. Deals with other buyers may be pending.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/08 at 05:41 PM
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Friday, August 07, 2009

Tree Stand Problems

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Anyone who lives near Traverse City understands my problem. Its weather and health related.

We all know that the chains or straps that hold tree stands in position on trees should be relaxed just a bit in the winter or early spring as the tree grows to prevent chains or straps from having the tree grow around what holds it to the tree. Two of my stands on my land were positioned too close to a new neighbor, and I wanted them moved.

My immediate area received 216 inches of snow last winter on my land. Those were measured inches. And then I had serious surgery on my left eye during the spring and recuperation during the summer, and here it is August and I wanted the stands moved.

The decision was made without thinking too much about it until today. I climbed the tree while a friend helped keep it erect to the tree and steady, and started to unfasten the cable and fancy lock that kept somebody from stealing the stand. The stand was one of two that are locked to trees.

Here’s the problem. Some guy approached me at some show a few years ago, wanted some of my books and had some cables and locks he was willing to trade. It seemed a fair deal to me so I got two heavy cables and a stout lock in exchange for books.

The rigs worked perfectly. They had been in place for four years, and each winter I’d loosen them an inch or so, and as the tree grew, I’d tighten them up if necessary.

I went to take the first stand down, and couldn’t find the key. I’ve got about three dozen lock and chains that I use to anchor my stands to trees. All are locked with case-hardened locks and chains. I don’t want some thief putting a five-finger discount on my equipment.

Mind you, I have a massive key collection and there is one each for every lock on every tree stand, seat or ladder I use. Some are lightly painted different colors to match locks painted in similar colors. It does save time rather than having to go through 24-36 keys trying to find the right key for the right lock.

The key to this lock appeared to be missing. So, I went through every key again, doing my best to avoid trying the same key twice. I tried each key right-side-in, and then upside down, and that didn’t work.

Down I’d come, unhook my safety harness, walk to the house, find some other keys, and walk back to the tree. Crawl into my harness, up the tree I’d go like an aging monkey with bad knees and weak ankles, and try again. Another failure.

Back home, go through a lifetime’s accumulation of keys, get those that might work, and back I’d go to repeat the process. Again, I met with failure.

I had to get the lock off the cable before I could get the stand down. A hacksaw was tried on the lock and it was made of stainless steel. The blade slipped on the metal. I didn’t want to cut the cable, but in the end that was all that could be done. I took the lock into Traverse City to a lock company, and had them remove the lock. They couldn’t open it.

So I’ve got one of two stands down out in the woods that need to be moved. I’ll set up the stand that came down today, get new chain, and fasten it down so the chains don’t rattle like an angry ghost. Once done with that stand, I’ll get the other one down, and then stay away from all of the stands until opening day.

The thing that ticks me off is the lost key. I protect my stands, never loan out my keys to anyone, and if necessary, will walk a long distance to get a different lock and chain. But my keys are kept in a safe area and away from children.

I’m not a happy camper when two days of work on tree stands is lost because of a missing key. Add to that the damaged to two cables that may or may not be in any shape to be repair, two ruined locks and all the wasted time.

This time, I’ll lock them up with keys I’ve used before on locks that have never failed me. It’s not going to alleviate the problem, but hopefully it will save a day or two of frustration in the future.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/07 at 06:49 PM
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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Fly-Rod Memories Are Priceless

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Make no mistake about it. What we’re talking about tonight is nothing more than a cheap fiberglass fly rod and reel from many years ago.

It’s an old Shakespeare Black Beauty fly rod, 8 1/2 feet long, and made for a seven-weight line. The old automatic fly reel and an early Scientific Anglers seven-weight Air-Cel fly line is common. The rod and reel isn’t anything special to look at but it holds a special place in my heart.

I bought it early in my river guiding career which extended from 1967 through 1976. That rod landed literally thousands of brown trout, Chinook and coho salmon, and steelhead. Fish up to a 38 1/2 pound Chinook back in the early 1970s when those game fish had broad shoulder, tremendous girth and a kick-ass attitude. It wasn’t uncommon to have for one those big kings to take me a half-mile down the river.

Often there would be a dozen big fish (usually over 20 pounds) hooked and landed in fast currents. The rod and reel was with me daily through 10 guiding seasons, and some fishing on my own when I didn’t have a client in tow. The rod performed admirably, which is more than I can say for the automatic fly reels. Two of them blew up on me, and springs and other sharp objects came flying out of the side of the reel.  Both times I got some cuts on my hands and arms as the coiled spring began twisting about under great pressure.

The rod and reel became a legend in its own time. I turned down $100 on several occasions for a rod that probably didn’t cost me $20. People believed, deep in their soul, that the rod would make them a better fishermen. One of my guides offered me $100 on two or three occasions, back in the day when he was guiding for me, and I turned him down.

That rod and reel suited me. Taking hold of the dirty cork handle was like putting my hand in a soft leather glove. It just felt good and it felt right to me. It stood up to the torture of constant contact with big fish, long runs and hearty jumps. It was tough when it became necessary to steer a big fish away from a log jam, and the fish ran upstream, it worked miracles in making the fish fight heavy river current and the strong bend in that black fiberglass rod.

Here was a rod and reel around which legends became known. We were the first three fly-fishing salmon guides on the Great Lakes tributaries, and we were busy on a daily basis. My rod, although my favorite, would perform its special brand of magic for other people. I never liked to loan my rod and reel to a client, but on occasion, it became necessary.

Every angler who was privileged to handle a fish on my rod always returned it at my request after they landed a big fish, and they always commented of how smooth but strong the rod appeared to be. They could put some muscle to a down-bound salmon, and the rod took more abuse than any other rod I ever owned, and that number is high. The longer I owned it, the less often I let people fish with it. If anyone was going to break it on a big fish, it would be me, not them.

It was my hope that it would last my final season. I never kept track of the fish I caught on it when I didn’t have a guide trip, but I once figured it handled somewhere between 7,500 and 10,000 big fish in fast water, fish that ran upstream, swapped ends and rampaged downstream like an out-of-control power boat heading toward Lake Michigan. The rod produced big fish wherever I went: on such streams as the AuSable, Betsie, Boardman, East Branch AuGres, Elk, Little Manistee, Manistee, Muskegon, Ocqueoc, Pentwater, Pere Marquette, Two Hearted, White and many other streams on both sides and on both peninsulas of the state.

It was a rarity among cheap fly rods. I tried a good bamboo fly rod on salmon just once, and the first fish I hooked broke it apart within seconds of the hook-up. My last guiding season ended the same year as my first marriage and my magazine writing career career blossomed and my income doubled. It was time, I thought, to give my old Black Beauty fly rod a well deserved rest.

One year, in about 1979, a book salesman for Stackpole Books who was selling my steelhead book, came up to fish with me. I’d fished with him often, and we both looked forward to a day on the Platte River together. We’d caught a couple of 10-pound coho salmon, and then I spotted a big king and his lady friend nestled in tight beside a water-logged tree trunk that had been in the river for years. I offered the chance at that fish to my friend, who declined, saying he wanted to see the Black Beauty in action just one more time on a big fish.

I cast to that male hundreds of times. I changed fly types, from attractor to imitator patterns and back again. Hook sizes where changed, going up from a six to a four of from a No. six down to an 8. The fish wasn’t responsive. Time after time the fly swung past its nose, and finally after a marathon session of casting, the buck salmon moved forward slightly and intercepted the fly. I can still see the fish as he grabbed the fly and my hook-set was hard and forceful.

That big fish, which weighed at least 28 pounds, lasted a long time and took me far down the river. I stayed as close to it as possible, and whenever it stopped to sulk, more pressure was applied. It jumped two or three times, and we fought a back-alley, bare-knuckle slugfest that made me think again of the wonderful rod I’d come to love.The fish finally rolled up on its side, its mouth open in submission, and I started leading the fish to a sandy shoreline.

Deep down inside the rod came a groan like an old man gritting his teeth from the pain in an aching hip joint. I don’t know if one or two or more fiberglass fibers had finally given out, but I took all pressure off the rod, grabbed the line above the fly and eased the big salmon into shallow water, I grabbed my needle-nose pliers and eased the hook out of the fish’s mouth, grabbed the old warrior by the caudal peduncle, and helped it face into the current until it gathered enough strength to swim away. I took the rod apart gently, walked back to the car, and laid my old friend to rest on the back seat.

That night, in a private little ceremony with just me and my rod, I put the rod back together and hung it on the wall where it still hangs, a champion rod if ever there was one, and a beloved friend that had stuck with me through a arduous guiding career and through a portion of my life that had been experienced but shall never come my way again.

Once I’ve fished around my last bend, and caught my last good trout or salmon on a fly, that rod and reel will be given to the young man who became a fantastic guide, and who offered me $100 when that was a bunch of money during an era long ago. I hope he hangs it in a place of honor in his house, and like me, gazes fondly upon that rod and remembers when salmon and river trout fishing was much better than it is now. He will remember, and I’ll be happy that this wonderful part of my life will be transferred into the hands of a good friend who deserves this honor.

And when all is said and done, the memories of that rod and the fish it helped land, will be with me forever. Those memories are priceless.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/06 at 07:09 PM
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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Bear On The Trout Stream

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A fishing buddy was doing some river fishing on the Manistee River between Mesick and M-66 a number of years ago. He was knee-deep in the river, and working a big streamer fast through a deep hole, when a black bear stepped out of the brush on the opposite shoreline.

The animal studied the solitary angler, and the man looked at the bruin, and sized him up as a 250-pound adult boar. The animal glared at him, and walked back and forth along the far shoreline. It seemed he wanted to cross so my friend waded downstream 100 yards, and the bruin matched him, step for step.

He was trying to give the animal some room, and the bear seemed more interested in him. There was no huffing and puffing, or growling or clicking teeth. Just a determination by the animal to keep up with the angler.

He was a little leery about the bear’s presence for several minutes and finally decided to start fishing again. He cast his streamer near a brushy tangle on the opposite side of the river, and the bear became upset by the nearby splash.

The animal began walking back and forth a bit in what he felt was a determined effort to chase the man away. He decided that it might be best to wade back downstream to his take-out point and his car.

It was a quarter-mile down the river, and he fished a bit as he waded along. He stopped two or three times along the way to work his fly through a deep hole, and the bruin again stepped out of the brush and made a big show of pacing around on the far bank.

The bruin continue to keep pace with the angler, and at one point it stepped down to the water in what he interpreted as another attempt to scare him by wading in the shallows. The animal waded out far enough to feel the strength of the current and backed up to shore.

He said the bruin’s ears then went back, and he knew the animal was getting upset. The angler picked up his pace, and the bear did the same. He was parked on a dirt road near the bridge but his car was parked on the other side of the river.

He reached the path that went up the bank and would take him across the bridge, and he looked for the bear but couldn’t see him. He stopped atop the bridge looking down the other bank, and soon spotted the animal.

It was 50 yards from his car, and as the angler explained it, he began walking toward the parked vehicle. The bear had the angle on him, and began walking back and forth in an agitated fashion. He said he knew better than to run, but was fearful the animal would come up the bank after him.

He began talking to the bruin. They were nothing words, but human talk so the animal would know he was a human. As he walked slowly, and talked in a moderate tone of voice, he took apart his fly rod and dug in his pocked for his keys.

He said he didn’t feel unduly threatened by the bear but admitted it was a troubling experience. He was 20 yards from the car and the bear was down from the road about 10 yards, watching him.

The man kept talking and walking, and soon he was at the car. He unlocked the door, tossed in his fly rod on the back seat, and took another look down the hill. The bear was still intently watching him.

He slipped off his waders, put on his street shoes, and still the animal looked up the hill toward him. He slammed the trunk lid down, and the bruin didn’t move.

He said it was as if the bear had escorted him from his domain. He never snarled nor growled, and his neck hairs never went up.

His only sign of agitation was the back and forth pacing along the river bank. The angler sat down in his car, backed his car around, and drove up to a point where he was just above the animal.

It looked up at him, the angler looked down at the bruin, and the bear turned and walked off through the trees, possibly to a waiting sow. The angler drove off, and felt relieved that it was nothing more that a slightly scary incident.

There used to be a bruin that lived along the Laughing Whitefish River in Alger County, and anyone who ventured into his domain was escorted off the river and back to their vehicle. Mind you, that was at least 30 years ago, and this animal behaved in much the same manner.

So much for another case of some odd black bear behavior.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/05 at 05:16 PM
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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Start Pre-Season Scouting Now

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One person could call it whetting your appetite. Another might say that watching deer right now is like having an itch you can’t scratch.

Nonetheless, going out and watching deer before sundown is just one way to keep yourself involved in this bow-hunting scenario. Of course, we can’t be afield with a bow an arrow except for target practice, but it’s easy to leave the bow home to avoid any possible hassles with DNR or other law enforcement officers.

I’ve found sitting in my vehicle at the edge of the road can be a superb way to scout for deer. If you own private property, sit on a high hill, and use a window mount and spotting scope to study deer at 300 to 400 yards away.

Do this often enough, and suddenly you’ll be sucking air as a genuine dandy whitetail steps out and offers a good view of his antlers. Study the deer from as many angles as possible so it can be recognized later, and study where that animal came from and what time he showed up.

I often know where the animals will come from, and turn my truck sideways, and I have a window mount for my spotting scope. If the binoculars can pick up the deer, and your vision is good enough to count the tiny bumps on his antlers, stick with them.

However, there are many occasions when a quality spotting scope is required. The spotting scope allows a hunter to zoom in on the rack, check it for any irregularities, and it’s possible to obtain a more accurate assessment of the animal and his antlers.

Look for width between antler beams. Count the number of tines, including brow tines, and then assess the approximate length of each tine. Look for mass at the base of each antler, and mass around each beam between antler tines. This will give you some idea of just how big the buck really is.

Many bow hunters are accustomed to shooting smaller basket-rack bucks, and this is fine if it satisfies you. It’s still important to know what you are dealing with. Some Quality Deer Management areas have different restrictions for number of antler points.

It’s critically important to know what you may be shooting at in October once the bow season opens. A sneak peak now can tell you if the bucks in your hunting area meet the QDM requirements. It’s not fun to get a ticket for thinking a buck had six point an inch or more long only to learn, once the deer is on the ground, that the one tine you thought was an inch long was only a half-inch in length.

Such unwitting mistakes should, and often are, at the discretion of the conservation officer. Personally, I’ve always felt the three-inch minimum for a spikehorn is crazy. How can anyone tell if an antler tine is three inches or 2 7/8 inches? Or, in a QDM area, a buck may have three well defined points on one side, two well defined points and one marginal point on the other side. If the marginal point doesn’t measure an inch in length, the person is subject to a ticket for shooting an illegal deer.

I know a young man who made that mistake two years ago, and got a ticket. He could see the point but it proved to be only 3/4-inch in length. He got wrote up.

This is not about me being angry with the DNR for ticketing a young kid. It’s about studying deer ahead of time in your hunting area, and having a good idea what bucks are available. Study a buck several times, and that nubbin that looked one-inch long two weeks ago may soon change into a half-inch-long point.

This is where the use of good optics can help keep a person from making a serious mistake. Buy a spotting scope and the best binoculars that are affordable, and spend time in the woods bringing whitetail bucks up close.

Study the deer intently, and after you watch enough bucks, and study their actions and travel routes, you’ll find that the old heart doesn’t seem to beat quite so hard and slowly the anxiety of seeing deer doesn’t get a hunter as shook up as before.

All that can happen as a result of preseason scouting. Imagine that! And just think; there is almost two months before the archery season begins. That will give you ample time to perfect your scouting skills.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/04 at 05:01 PM
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Monday, August 03, 2009

Coho Zombies

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Coho Zombies

By

John McKenzie

The night sky revealed a small sliver of a pale yellow moon as low-drifting clouds rolled inland off Lake Michigan.  I walked along the gravel banks of the Platte River until it disappeared into the Big Lake.  A steady breeze pushed light choppy waves against the shoreline.

As I waded out into the darkness, flashes of bright light caught my attention, revealing the silhouettes of many statue-like fishermen standing waist-deep in the water. They were in a line spread out about ten yards apart for as far as one could see, on both sides of the river mouth.

The constant flashes of light were anglers recharging their glow-in-the-dark lures.  After a dozen casts the lures would grow dim, and needed to be fired up again by a disposable camera flash.

Tracers like shooting stars could be seen as the anglers cast the glowing lures far out into the darkness.  A long cast, then retrieving the lure slowly was a sure bet.  The wobbling motion of the lure passing through a big school of migrating salmon proved to be more than the fish could tolerate, triggering jarring strikes and the most frenzied shoreline fishing of the year.

“Fish On!” came the haunting cry of the late-night salmon fishermen.

A pinkish line on the eastern horizon gave a clue to dawn’s arrival. The low-layered gray clouds were being pushed in by a cold northwest front, and it told us that September had settled on her throne once again.  The wee light of morning displayed leaping and rolling salmon wherever one looked.

Sometimes a dozen fish or more could be seen out of the water at once.  Big coho and Chinook salmon would catapult out of the water in a silvery spray and crash back into the surface leaving wakes on the water and shivers of frenzied excitement on the faces of patient fishermen. They knew their turn was coming.

Anglers who return year after year to the same place where literally thousands of salmon and trout gather to begin their spawning runs, each angler having his own favorite lure or fishing technique and all were, destined to hook and battle fish both large and small.

The fish, mostly fully mature and silvery strong, feed well before entering the river.  The schools in large “pods” travel back and forth around the river mouth, offering anglers an excellent opportunity to harvest the reddish- orange fleshed fish that are as beautiful as a rain-washes sunrise.

I edged into position among the fishermen and a long cast sent a watermelon Little Cleo out to do its job. Time had taught me that a slow retrieve worked best and after a few turns of the reel handle, the drag began to sing its lovely song.  Twenty to 30 yards of line peeled off into the darkness.

This was a big fish for certain.  Probably a Chinook, however the thoughts of possibly a really big coho passed through my mind as I leaned back into the fight.  Several runs later a silvery 22-pound Chinook female slid into the net, and the stringer was readied to do its job.

The action was coming fast.  Anglers on both sides of me were netting fish.  The one-eyed beam of the head lamp usually indicated a fish had been played close to the angler and the quick raise of the net and a silvery flash signaled another victorious end to a late-night battle.

With my stringer tied off on the rod holder I readied for another cast.  It was getting lighter now and the fishing boats poured down the river and out into the bay.  It was hard to turn the reel handle, the anticipation was feverish.  As I reeled in my lure almost to my rod tip a fish grabbed it and made a vicious run that snapped my line.  In total disbelief, I gathered the limp line and tied on a new snap swivel.

It was first light now and I switched from a glow lure to a minnow-colored Krocodile.  Several casts later I wondered if I should have switched colors when a fish struck and fought hard.  The “morning hatch” was on.

I could see well now, and salmon were breaking the surface everywhere.  Looking behind me to the shoreline I could see that anglers had been arriving steadily for the last couple of hours as the beach was lined up shoulder-to-shoulder.

A large school of “Jacks” (juvenile salmon) had moved along between the shore and the sandbar where fishermen were standing.  Jack salmon sometimes travel in a mass and this school was in tight to the beach and on the feed.  I saw half a dozen fish on at once with fresh catches up and down the sandy shore line.

A spawn bag on a single hook with an extra-large split shot to hold it down was the top producer, and the action would stay furious until the school moved out into deeper water.

My stringer now held a 22-pound Chinook. Three “jacks,” two coho and one small Chinook, all around three pounds.  This left me working on one last fish to make the five-fish limit.

I put on a black and white “Cobra”, one of my favorite lures.  A few casts later and I was leaning back into the fight of another “September Silver.” This fish fought hard as the true champion coho do, and after a blue-ribbon battle, I slid the net around a 14-pound male coho.  A bright silver fish, as hard as a rock and as silver as a new dime.  This is the best time of the year for surf fishing for salmon.

Now with a limit of fish, I was content to watch the other anglers and assist with the net whenever I could, and it was great fun to just absorb the September morning.  The fishermen had stood tall against the waves and the long, dark hours, knowing that the mid-morning sun would push the salmon pods out in the lake and the action would die-off until evening.

There they stood, all lined up, statue-like. These anglers were Zombie-like, enjoying every second of the “morning hatch,” always ready to rare back with a retaliatory hook-set in response to a vicious strike.

Yes, this was September at her finest.  The faithful return of schools of migrating salmon and the enduring “Coho Zombie.” just as it should be.  And as it will be for as long as there are fish to catch and oxygen for diehard anglers to breathe.

September is a season of lines and lures, waves and sky, and drags that sing their siren song, and men like me who turn into Zombies once the sun goes down. We can’t help it; the lure of salmon has a relentless pull that brings us back, time and again, to do battle with these great fish.

The Crying Log

Today the Krocodiles and Cleos had done their job.  As if on cue, the morning sun pushed the salmon pods far out beyond reach of casting fishermen.  The morning hatch had ended and thoughts of breakfast took priority over fishing.

I pulled the rod holder out of the sandy lake bottom, gathered my rods together and headed for shore.  Once on dry sand, I regrouped my tackle, slung the heavy stringer over my shoulder and headed up across the sandy beach toward the parking lot.

I was halfway to the tree line when I noticed it.  I stopped immediately and stared.  I was amazed it was still there. A log, a very large pine log that had apparently drifted about in Lake Michigan for years before washing up on this beach.

Perhaps a violent winter storm had pushed it up across the gravel and sand.  There it was.  I remembered back six years earlier to a September day when I first met the log.

I was en route to the river mouth to cast for salmon.  But the day wasn’t meant for fishing.  It was a day of reflecting and reminiscing.

It was a day of looking back on a piece of time when God had woven the lives of Two Brothers with mine.  A time so special that I wondered if our Father, Almighty God himself, could duplicate it again.

The loss of one of those Brothers that September 10th had brought me north to pay my last respects to an old and dear friend. And that warm sunny afternoon found me setting upon the log overlooking Platte Bay, and finding myself unable to hold back the tears.

I sat there and had a good cry.  I wept for the loss of a friend and a piece of time we shared that could never be lived again.

I knew George was in a better place and that we were left behind, perhaps for some reason. Now it seemed everything since that era has all been secondary to something else.

Although I’ve given it my all, and always will, I have set aside in special memory those special days which were woven together as only God can do—and has done other times --which are unparalleled to anything I’ve experienced since.

I’ll look at the log the next time I set out across the beach sand, heading out to battle pods of migrating salmon.

I’ll continue to wonder when I’ll set upon its trunk again.  And for whom. Who will die next and take part of my heart with them?

I’ll march straight out waist deep into Platte Bay and cast hard and reel slow until someone else has their turn on the crying log. Perhaps they will be mourning me. It happens, you know.

As so often happens, the ones who are stay behind will share similar memories of those who have gone before, and the crying log will remain in place to lend some solace the next time it is needed.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/03 at 10:13 PM
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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Bears Make Me Question My Sanity

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My vision no longer is good enough to hunt black bears. At least, not where they are hunted over bait as they slowly make their way to the bait just before shooting time ends.

I’ll miss it, but after taking more than two dozen bruins over the past 30-some years, I’ve had more than my share of close encounters of the best and worst kinds. Here are seven personal experiences that may make you question my sanity.

1. My closest call to total disaster came in Montana while hiking the mountains. It started to snow, and I headed back down the mountain on a faint trail. I spotted a fresh grizzly bear track in the mud, made some noise and went around a dogleg bend. There stood the bear, perhaps 20 feet away, and we eyeballed each other for seconds before he ran off.

2. Once while fishing at Great Bear Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories, I was photographing a bruin at close range, and the animal looked up just as the flash went off, and here came the critter at a slow walk. I talked to it as it circled halfway around me at a distance of less than three feet while I turned with it. He backtracked after getting downwind and catching my scent, and walked off without hassling me. Another close call.

3. Years ago when my vision was good, I’d go in after wounded bears when the hapless hunter was too frightened to do it himself but I always went alone. No noise and fewer distractions. I spotted the bear crossing at an angle, ran a short distance to cut the angle, and then had to shoot the hip-shot bear five times with a 12 gauge 3-inch magnum shotgun and No. 4 buckshot. The last shot killed the pain-crazed bruin at six feet.

4. I really shouldn’t count them but have walked into bait a stand, and walked to within just a few feet of a bruin on many occasions. The bruins would be there waiting for the dinner bell and showed up early. On one occasion the bear was on the far side of a log, and my bait was on the near side. He roused up when I put out the bait, stood up only three or four feet away, looked me over and walked away.

5. I hunted once near Higgins Lake, and somehow I got off the path on the way out of a swamp after hunting and seeing a bear that was just out of my effective bow range. I started out, realized I was off the trail, backtracked and found my trail in the dark, and I had an escort all the way to my car. The bruin walked within 20 feet of me all the way out. No growls, no gnashing of teeth or foot-stomping. He just acted as an escort in the dark.

6. Once, while hunting bears in Saskatchewan, a sow with three cubs gave me all the grief I wanted. I had settled into my ground blind when she began growling, snapping her jaws, and swatting nearby trees. She left the area where I was and walked to the bait, shooed her cubs up a tree and came for me at a rapid walk. I stepped out, started talking to her, and she turned and went back. The cubs started down the tree, and she whoofed at them, and came for me on a dead run. She stopped 10 feet away while I held my scoped 7mm magnum rifle on her chest, and talked quietly. She popped her teeth, put her ears back, and once she started stomping the ground with her front feet, I felt a charge was imminent. The safety was off, the crosshairs on her head now, and one forward movement would result in me killing her. I kept talking, and soon she backed off and so did I, and I grabbed my backpack and walked 3/4 mile out of the swamp with an enraged sow behind me.

7. I followed up on a wounded bear in Quebec once, and kept jumping it without seeing the animal. I’d take the bear a ways, and lose the trail. I went back to the lodge, rested for an hour, and went back to the last blood and could find no more. I circled around, found a tiny foot-wide creek that looked as if something had crossed there. I rolled a blade of grass between my thumb and fore-finger, and found a spot of blood. I followed it up a slight hill through heavy cover, one slow step at a time with the shotgun barrel leading the way. I heard the bear growl just above me, took one more step up, and there he was, less than 10 feet away. One shot with the No. 4 buckshot took care of this animal.

Some may think this is a large number of bears to shoot, but it’s wise to remember that six of them had been wounded by someone else. I’d rather follow and put them out of their misery than leave a bear, wounded by someone else, in the woods. They could live long enough to become a horrible menace to another person.

It was exciting work, and most of the wounded bears were killed within spitting distance. That kind of action will dry out your mouth, make the heart pound at a rapid pace, and cause you to wonder why you decided to do it.

Then I’d think of the wounded bear, and that would answer my mental question. Someone had to do the job, and I was there at the right (or wrong) time, depending on your point of view.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/02 at 06:53 PM
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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Rutting Bucks Are Unpredictable

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Yeah. yeah. Yeah. I know it’s not deer season, and there is still lots of time until the rut rolls around. But now is a good time to soak up some knowledge about hunting whitetail bucks.

One of the hardest deer-hunting things to do is predict the actions of a rutting whitetail buck in late October or anytime in November. The animals are very intense, somewhat erratic and flighty, and trying to predict exactly what they will do at any given time is like flipping a coin.

Heads or tails? Forward or backward? Right or left? A buck can do any of these things but the bottom line is a buck is going to head for where the doe is. That’s it! The doe is the engine that drives this train.

If that doe is in estrus, and shows herself to the buck, hunters know the buck will head her way. The next question is: at what speed? Will he move fast, slow or in the more common stop-go-stop, herky-jerky manner of rutting bucks? Who knows?

Shooting a rutting buck is a bit different than a buck at other times of the season. Young bucks are more predictable than an older animal, and it’s not uncommon for a young buck to stand motionless and get himself shot.

Rutting bucks, even when still, always seem to be in motion. Their body is moving slightly, the head is up and then down or sideways, and they often move when they first spot the doe. Hunters, especially those in a tree stand, may spot the doe before the buck does and can get ready for a shot.

Guessing a buck’s actions opens a hunter up to making any number of hunting errors. I once watched a buck dogging a doe across a winter wheat field to a hole in the fence. She jumped right through the hole without stopping. I thought he’d do the same and made my release as his nose entered the hole.

The buck stopped instead of coming through and the arrow sliced harmlessly through the air in front of his chest and stuck in the ground. The buck then jumped through the hole, sniffed the arrow and took off after the doe. He showed no signs of concern.

Some bucks act a bit more predictable and others do not. Study each buck for its particular quirks, and it helps to be at full draw when the buck comes into sight. If the buck takes two or three steps and then stops, shoot the instant he stops if it offers a high percentage shot.

Sometimes a buck will head into the brush on a doe’s trail, and stop before committing himself to the move. Be ready if he hesitates, but this isn’t something a hunter can count on a buck doing.

A buck tending an estrus doe will often grunt as he trails along behind her. Once the grunt is within bow range, come to full draw and be ready to shoot once he steps out. Often, a buck will stop just inside a clearing or wide spot in the trail to look around, and that may offer an opportunity.

Hunters who hunt along runways may find that an estrus doe will stop to browse on local vegetation before heading out to a farm field, and the buck may approach as she feeds. I’ve seen bucks stop where does have fed, but it’s not something a hunter can bet the farm on.

The one thing that decades of deer hunting has taught me is to be prepared for any eventuality. Rutting bucks can approach quietly or with noise. A hunter who sits with his bow hanging off a tree branch usually doesn’t have time to pick it up, come to full draw, aim and shoot. Be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.

All too often a buck moves past a motionless hunter without stopping. Of if he stops, it is just for an instant and then he is off again.

One trick that works on occasion is to wait until the buck is in a perfect spot, and then grunt loud, deep and guttural. “Baaahhht!” A harsh grunt may stop a buck for an instant, but it fails as often as it works. Of course, the hunter can’t grunt, raise the bow and shoot. He must be at full draw when he mouth grunts to stop the animal.

The Boy Scouts of America has a motto: Be Prepared. It works for BSA members, and it certainly will pay off when bow hunting rutting bucks. Hunters who are not prepared, both mentally and physically, often miss a golden opportunity.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/01 at 04:51 PM
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Rutting Bucks Can Be Unpredictable

Yeah. yeah. Yeah. I know it’s not deer season, and there is still lots of time until the rut rolls around. But now is a time to soak up some hunting knowledge about hunting bucks.

One of the hardest deer-hunting things to do is predict the actions of a rutting whitetail buck in late October or November. The animals are very intense, somewhat erratic and flighty, and trying to predict exactly what they will do at any given time is like flipping a coin.

Heads or tails? Forward or backward? Right or left? A buck can do any of these things but the bottom line is a buck is going to head for where the doe is. That’s it! The doe is the engine that drives this train.

If that doe is in estrus, and shows herself to the buck, hunters know the buck will head her way. The next question is: at what speed? Will he move fast, slow or in the stop-go-stop, herky-jerky manner of rutting bucks? Who knows?

Shooting a rutting buck is a bit different than a buck at other times of the season. Young bucks are more predictable than an older animal, and it’s not uncommon for a young buck to stand motionless and get himself shot.

Rutting bucks, even when still, always seem to be in motion. Their body is moving, the head is up and then down or sideways, and they often move when they first spot the doe. Hunters, especially when in a tree stand, may spot the doe before the buck and get ready for a shot.

Guessing a buck’s actions opens a hunter up to making any number of hunting errors. I once watched a buck dogging a doe across a winter wheat field to a hole in the fence. She jumped right through the hole without stopping. I thought he’d do the same and made my release when his nose entered the hole.

The buck stopped instead of coming through and the arrow sliced harmlessly through the air and stuck in the ground. The buck then jumped through the hole, sniffed the arrow and took off after the doe. He showed no signs of concern.

Some bucks act a bit more predictable and others do not. Study each buck for its particular quirks, and it helps to be at full draw when the buck comes into sight. If the buck takes two or three steps and then stops, shoot the instant he stops if it offers a high percentage shot.

Sometimes a buck will head into the brush on a doe’s trail, and stop before committing himself to the move. Be ready if he hesitates, but this isn’t something a hunter can count on a buck doing.

A buck tending an estrus doe will often grunt as he trails along behind her. Once the grunt is within bow range, come to full draw and be ready to shoot once he steps out. Often, a buck will stop just inside a clearing or wide spot in the trail to look around, and that may offer an opportunity.

Hunters who hunt along runways may find that an estrus doe will stop to browse on localvegetation before heading out to a farm field, and the buck may approach as she feeds. I’ve seen bucks stop where does have fed, but it’s not something a hunter can bank on.

The one thing that decades of deer hunting has taught me is to be prepared for any eventuality. Rutting bucks can approach quietly or with noise. A hunter who sits with his bow hanging off a tree branch usually doesn’t have time to pick it up, come to full draw, aim and shoot. Bear ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.

All too often a buck moves past a motionless hunter without stopping. Of if he stops, it is just for an instant and then he is off again.

One trick that works on occasion is to wait until the buck is in a perfect spot, and then grunt loud and guttural. “Baaahhht!!” A harsh grunt may stop a buck for an instant, but it fails as often as it works. Of course, the hunter can’t grunt, raise the bow and shoot. He must be at full draw when he mouth grunts to stop the animal.

The Boy Scouts of America has a motto: Be Prepared. It works for BSA members, and it certainly will pay off when bow hunting rutting bucks. Hunters who are not prepared, both mentally and physically, often miss their golden opportunity.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/01 at 01:01 PM
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Friday, July 31, 2009

Learning Fish Patterns Leads To Good Catches

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There are quite a number of great things that happen to fishermen as they start getting a bit older. They seem to get smarter.

That’s one good thing. It’s debatable whether we gain any intelligence as the years pile on but we do remember things. If we fish long enough and often enough, we’ll see a definite pattern in how fish move or react.

Granted, this doesn’t happen every time we go fishing. There are still days when we get skunked, but there also are days when we something developing on the lake or stream that we’ve seen happen in the past.

We kick back for a moment, analyze the situation, and suddenly, as if by magic, a thought pops in our mind. This exact situation occurred several years and, and when I did this or that, I caught fish.

I used to fish Manistee Lake at Manistee for August walleyes. The full moon period always seemed to be best, and I was there one night with a friend.

Again, it was a full moon and the water was still and it appeared we were the only boat on the lake that night. I shared a plan with my buddy.

“On many occasions during August we’ve anchored right about here, an easy cast to shore, and waited for the big walleyes to come in shallow, herd the alewives against the shore and cut them to ribbons,” I said. “Hold on, sit down and I’ll get us anchored fore and aft.”

That accomplished, I rigged him up with a River Runt Spook, added a similar lure to my line, and cautioned him against making noise. He was reminded that it was an easy cast to shore.

He told me he’d never fished after dark where you had to cast to a specific object, and I reminded him that all he had to do was cast straight out in front of him.

“Just make a medium cast toward shore when I tell you,” I said. “Don’t make a bunch of noise, don’t shine a light between the boat and shore, and don’t fool around. When the fish show up, they may be there for four or five minutes and then they disappear.”

We sat for a hour, and suddenly a sloshing sound was heard between us and the shore. The walleyes had arrive.

“Cast up toward shore, and reel just fast enough to make the lure wiggle. If the lure stops, a big walleye has it so set the hook hard.”

I delivered that message as I fired a cast at the shore. Two cranks on the spinning reel handle got the lure moving and it stopped. I set the hook hard, and was watching my buddy. His line went off the bow of the boat, behind the boat, and everywhere except between the boat an shore.

“It’s easy,” I said, trying to talking him through it. “I know you can do it because I’ve seen you cast before. Just lob the lure toward shore, but be quick about it because these walleyes won’t stick around long.”

I was into a big walleye, and got him up to the boat, got a firm grip on the line and lifted him in. He bounced on the deck of the boat, the hooks fell out and I fired another cast into the melee in front of us.

“Grab the plug, open the bale of your spinning reel, and throw the plug toward shore,” I hissed. “You may have time for one effective try.

My plug landed within inches of shore, and I reeled fast to get slack out of the line and to get the lure wiggling, and hooked another walleye. My friend was having an awful time, and as I fought the fish, the noise of feeding walleyes suddenly stopped. My fish came undone, and I urged him to calm down.

“I know where the fish are going and we’ll anchor within easy casting range of shore,” I told him. “You’re making more of casting after dark that you need to. Hook the line under your finger, bring the rod tip back to 12 o’clock, bring the rod forward and let the line slip off your window. Just relax, and you’ll catch a big walleye this time.”

This pattern worked and we had about 10 minutes to get into position and get ready. I kept trying to steady my buddy but I know it was no use.

The big walleyes showed up, splashed water as the alewives tried to flee the slaughter, My first cast was on target and I hooked another fish while my friend hit the water with his cast in every location except the right one.

The night fishing came to an end, and it was time to give it up. I had hooked three walleyes and landed only one but it weighed 11 ½ pounds. The pattern worked like it was supposed to, and the fish provided ample opportunities but sadly my buddy couldn’t cash in.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/31 at 04:47 PM
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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Screwy Weather Can Bring In Salmon

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It’s an old Michigan saying: if you don’t like the local weather, just wait 24 hours. It will change.

I’m not griping about the current weather. If it never got over 70 degrees I be happy. My body doesn’t function at the peak of its ability in very hot weather. Anything over 75 degrees is very hot to me.

It rained today, yesterday, the day before, etc. Not a great huge amount of rain but a cool rain, and that could be a good thing for river anglers who are looking for an early salmon up some of the spawning streams.

Am I ready? You bet. I’ve laid in my supply of bobbers for fishing spawn, spooled some 10-pound mono on a spinning reel with a smooth drag, gathered up a bunch of Mepps spinners, and checked my waders for leaks.

Rumors are flying about some Chinook salmon in Manistee Lake already, and if that is the case, the fish are in the Big Manistee River below Tippy Dam. There have been some boats doing the harbor patrol at Manistee and Ludington, and it won’t be long before the fish will move into the Pere Marquette River in good numbers.

The PM River below Baldwin is one of the best salmon bets in the state. It gets good Chinook salmon runs, some summer-run steelhead, and the fishing is as exciting as anything a river fisherman could want.

The upper portion of the PM has about six miles of flies-only water, but downstream below that are deep holes and gravel bars where salmon will spawn once the water temperature cools down.

The flies-only water is perfect for the wading or boating fisherman. It has deep holes and deep-water runs along the river bank, and those spots are where anglers can find good sport with big fish. I favor the dark-colored flies like the Spring Wiggler or any of the similar imitations that anglers use. Streamers can work well when fished deep in the holding water, and fished hard and fast past these resting fish.

Fly fishing is perhaps one of the most sporting ways to catch big fall-run salmon, and once a big fish gets into heavy current and used it to take the angler downstream, it’s always a question whether the fish or the fisherman will win.

Bobber fishing with a chunk of spawn and allowing it to drift downstream with the bait held just above bottom is a great way to fish. Experiment with depth by adjusting your bobber up or down the line until the bait just ticks bottom as it floats downstream.

Often, the bobber will stop if the fish takes it. Sometimes a king salmon will head upstream with the bobber submerged and that is always a sure sign of a fish. Reel hard, catch up to it, and set the hook hard.

Many times the bobber with dip down, pop back up, dip down again, and when the bobber goes completely under the surface, reel up any slack line and pound the hook home.

I’ve caught lots of salmon in early to mid-August, and if these cool rains continue to fall and it doesn’t get hot during the day, start looking for salmon. It can offer some great late summer action while fishing in shirt-sleeve weather.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/30 at 06:40 PM
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sweat Equity Is Needed

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Let’s face it, right up front. Putting in food plots isn’t something I do well. Being a gentleman farmer is new ground for me to plow even though I’ve been putting in food plots for eight years.

It’s a bunch of work, and work of a type that is foreign to me. I don’t own a tractor so I do something for someone who can do something for me. It’s a nice trade-off.

I’ve put in food plots both ways: spring and fall plantings. I prefer fall plantings although I believe the deer, birds and other critters get more vittles than from a spring planting. There is always a period of time after the snow melts before good forage is available.

So, two sides to the issue. My ground has been plowed, dragged, rocks removed from it (there is the back-breaking part of this job – picking them up), and it will be ready to plant in a week to 10 days. My planting in small plots is done simply by broadcasting the seed by hand.

Which seeds do I plant: Over eight years I’ve experimented with a number of different seeds, and often a combination of seeds. Frankly, I’ve found it difficult to grow things as well as I’d like.

My expectations often are exceeded by my disappointment. A few times I’ve been pleasantly surprised, although I’d admit that the deer come, munch on what I have to offer, and have been seen standing near one of my food plots as if biding their time until I plant and it starts to grow.

In years gone by, we’ve tried a mix of brassica, corn, Imperial Whitetail clover, purple top turnips, rape, rye, soy beans, winter peas, winter wheat, and others, I’ve found that planting one or two crops at the same time works fine, and gives the deer something that provides them with the nutrition they need to make it through the winter.

This year, in the three places I have food plots, I will be planting winter wheat mixed with rye in one location. Another spot will get a mix of winter wheat and white clover, and the third spot will feature a mix of winter wheat and canola. The latter crop I’ve never tried before but I’ve had people speak high of it as a good fit for a small food plot.

Will it work? Who knows until I try it.

What I try to do is plant things that my neighbors don’t plant. One neighbor often goes with corn and soy beans while another neighbor is going to plant a brassica mix along with a commercial blend of many different seeds.

I’ve found it somewhat difficult to get many of the clovers to grow but I’ve had a lot of weed competition in the past. Plowing up the soil three times before planting seems to greatly reduce weeds so I’ll try it and see whether it will come back in the spring. Meanwhile, the winter wheat will provide some food in the spring as everything else greens up.

The hardest part of putting in a food plot is over. I’ve moved a bunch of rocks, and it seems my ground grows rocks. It’s too bad the deer can’t eat them.

We’ve had plenty of rain so far this summer and the soil is damp in places. My hope always is to get the seeds barely covered with dirt, have a soft rain, and stand back and watch things start to grow.

I’ve often noted that I was born with two thumbs, and neither one of them is green. However, one important lesson I’ve learned over eight years is that the more you try things, the more often you’ll have some success.

It’s possible that planting crops is much like many other things. The more often you try, the greater the likelihood of it working to your satisfaction. And there is a great sense of satisfaction when your crop starts growing.

The sight of new growth in my food plots really tickles me. It’s then I know that I’m giving something back to nature.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/29 at 02:31 PM
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Taste Of Personal Ethics

Outdoor ethics are like laws and rules that no one can enforce except each individual. They are those hard-to-explain things that keep sportsmen from breaking fish or game laws if we think someone may be watching.

That’s fine, as far as it goes, but it’s a gross oversimplification of a very complex issue. And, these issues baffle many sportsmen.

Outdoor ethics are those complex but unquestionable rules that sportsmen must follow whether others are watching or not. They are things we must endorse if fishing and hunting us to survive this century.

Want several examples? Consider these:

*I had six chances to arrow a big 10-point buck last October. He always showed up five minutes after shooting time ended. No one was within 500 yards of me, and no one would have known if I cheated.

No one, that is, except me. It would have ate at me like a malignant tumor until the taking of that big 10-point would have been reduced to a humiliating experience. It would have ruined my hunt as well as my perception of myself.

*One night last fall I climbed into my bow stand, tried to remove my wallet from my back pocket, and it wasn’t there. My bow license was home on the dresser in my bill-fold; I had a valid license but it wasn’t in my immediate possession so my bow was stowed away in its case.

The evening was spent watching deer through binoculars. It was a fun evening, even without a bow in my hands.

*A big problem with outdoor ethics is they are impossible to legislate and difficult for many people to understand. Only one person–you or me–can deal with these ethical situations whenever they arise.

*For instance: we shoot a rooster pheasant and it drifts across a fence on set wings and falls on posted land. Does shooting the bird give us the right to pursue it without landowner permission? Nope! The ethical sportsman would determine who owned the property, and make every attempt to gain permission to cross the property line.

What happens when it’s virtually impossible to track down the owner. No one wants to see the game go to waste. The next decision would be to contact the closest conservation officer. If he says you can’t cross the line, it still remains an ethical question. Cross without permission means breaking the law. Do you go or stay? Laws and ethics.

*We’re fishing flies-only water for trout and a stiff breeze puts down the hatch. Is it ethical to fish worms here? The answer, both ethically and legally, is no.

*Or, as I mentioned earlier about the 10-point buck, could I have cheated and shot? Sure, but I would to have had to deal with my emotions and my personal sense of right, wrong and/or my guilt.

*Mallards pinwheel down on a freshening breeze to spill into the bobbing decoys. It’s a perfect morning, and five minutes before legal shooting time, hunters in a nearby blind shoot and drop two hen mallards. Does that make it legal for others to shoot early?

The answer is an obvious “No” but some hunters would shoot any way, and be ticketed by a conservation officer.

Ethics prevent us from doing illegal or quasi-illegal acts. Hunters don’t shoot ducks on the water or grouse on the ground. We don’t snag fish, and we don’t keep undersized fish or fish over our limit.

Buying a fishing or hunting license is no guarantee of a full game bag, a trophy buck, a hefty creel or a brace of pheasants. The license only grants us an opportunity to fish or hunt during the legal season. It offers sportsmen nothing more and nothing less.

Ethical behavior is a topic as personal as the color of our morning toothbrush. It also serves as the bare-bones foundation on which our sports are built.

We are judged by our conduct, and those who wink at fish or game law violations or encourage any breach of ethical conduct, do themselves and others a great disservice.

If we can’t fish or hunt ethically, and within the confines of the laws that pertain to these pastimes, we should not be considered sportsmen.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/28 at 03:13 PM
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Monday, July 27, 2009

My Old-Fashioned Sense Of Justice

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It was something of an insult. I’m sure the reader didn’t mean it the way he said it, but it came across as a personal insult.

A reader told me that I have an archaic sense of protecting our fish and game from poachers. He chided me for being so concerned about the welfare of our poached birds, fish, fur and game.

He said I should let the DNR worry about it. They are trained to do the job, and if they can’t catch the poachers, too bad. I wondered whether he had ever picked up the phone and dialed the RAP Hotline phone number (800-292-7800) to report a poaching incident in progress.

I’m sorry but I don’t feel the same way he does. Poachers are basically opportunistic people, and break the law whenever they think they can get away with it. That line of thinking is dead wrong.

Years ago I did a newspaper story about a joker who was proud of being arrested more times than anyone else in the state for fish and game law violations. He boasted that he’d been arrested on one or more charges more than 50 times.

The guy is a bit younger than me, and I once figured up that he’d spent a few years in the hoosegow. Man, everyone wants to be known for something in their life, but being the state’s most arrested poacher?

Is that something to be proud of? I think not. One might think he has fish eggs for brains after having speared as many steelhead as he did during a long and largely unproductive poaching career.

A few weeks ago I wrote about anglers and hunters who really don’t care about the fish and game. It’s becoming even more prevalent by the day. Apathy is alive and well in the sense that poachers are seldom apprehended even though their family and neighbors know they are potting deer out of season.

Does this make them feel proud? It apparently must, because for them, outwitting the conservation officer is a big game they love to play. If they get caught, they pay their fine, and go right back to breaking fish and game laws again.

Apathy is running rampant as people shake their head and mutter: “Old Uncle Pete got himself another deer last night. Oh well!”

It makes one wonder why they don’t turn Uncle Pete in. Ten or more days in the slam might wake him up, but even that is doubtful. For most poachers, it is a game of beating the local game warden at their game. Trespass is a major problem throughout the state, and most poachers trespass on a regular basis.

Some poachers are ingenious in their willingness to test the game warden’s skills. They go out of their way to concoct ways to mislead the officer so they can operate in impunity.

Sooner or later, their worst nightmare comes true. The conservation officer steps out from behind a tree, and catches them red-handed with a freshly killed deer that was taken out of season or after dark.

Those who catch and keep more than their limit of fish are just as guilty as deer poachers. So too for those who put out 10 tip-ups during the winter, and when caught, shrug their shoulders, pay their fine and do something else that breaks our fish and game laws.

People dither, complain a bit, and soon everything blows over and they go back to the meat market in the woods. Family members, who could call and ask to remain anonymous, sit on their hands and wonder why nothing ever gets done. The answer is they are afraid to take that first step by making a phone call to the authorities.

Sad but true, there seems to be little improvement in the number of people arrested for breaking our wildlife laws. Conservation officers are spread too thin, and in some counties, there is only one fish cop to cover too much ground. If he is patrolling the north end of the county, and things are happening at the south end, the chance of the violators being caught are very small.

Our sense of protecting our fish and game tells me that this is a matter of education. We must start with the school children, and teach them that what Uncle Pete does to make his weekly beer money is a crime against everyone else in the state.

Children must learn that shooting game out of season, setting a web (small gill net) across a spawning stream, jacklighting a deer at night, and all the other things that poachers do, is wrong.

In days of old, when knights were bold, poaching of the King’s fish and deer in England, was a risky proposition that some poachers gladly accepted.

In some parts of Africa today, poachers are summarily dealt with. The law officers who try to protect the elephants and rhinos are both judge and jury, and the sentence is delivered immediately. A hail of bullets and a sudden death is what happens to many African poachers. Most don’t have the guts to do that again.

A snide and very impersonal remark? I don’t think so. Poaching is big business, and educating long-time fish and game thieves is a battle we seldom win. Caught, they are fined and may possibly serve a short prison sentence, and then return to poaching again.

Where is the justice in that? There isn’t any.

Of course, in this country, using some of Africa’s short and swift punishment would be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Poachers think little of our rights, but we must consider theirs when they are caught. A flaw exists in this argument.

Shooting poachers may be too harsh, but locking them up for a longer period of time and handing out much higher fines and restitution fees might make a difference.

It’s my thought that we must deal with this problem in a different way, and teaching our children that poaching is wrong, is just the first step. If the kids start ragging on the old man whenever he takes game out of season, perhaps knowing that the kids are watching would do the trick.

It’s certainly a good place to start.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/27 at 06:08 PM
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