Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Love Affair With Smallmouth Bass

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Whenever a smallmouth bass smashes my lure, it renews an old belief that this game fish is a back-alley scrapper.

Here is a barroom brawler, and if this fish was human, you wouldn’t want to meet it alone on a darkened street when it’s in a bad mood.

I’ve seen my share of brutes on the beach, in bars, and swaggering down the street. They exude a massive level of testosterone, and that’s the feeling I get whenever I do battle with a sizable smallmouth bass.

An angler enters the fishing arena with this game fish knowing one thing: the smallie will try his best to ring your bell.

They expect you to pack a lunch because they plan on giving you a hardnosed scrap that lets an angler know that here is a fish willing to mix it up, and if you’re not careful, he’ll eat your lunch as well.

A day on Green Lake several years ago was a good example. A lure was fished along the edge of the steep dropoof where the Little Betsie River flows out of Duck Lake and into the north end of Green Lake. Bass and trout often gather off this dropoff in the spring.

This five-pound smallmouth bass had about as much class as one of our modern-day wrestlers. He swam into the picture, hammered the lure, and bolted into the air once he felt the hook. His tail kissed the water, and then it bounced into the air and tail-walked across the surface. Class, sheer class.

He dove, swam under the boat, and jumped on the other side, and if fish had very many brains, he could have been accused of trying to foul my line in the motor. He was steered clear, and we drifted into deep water and still the fish raged on.

Steady rod pressure eventually took its toll, and the fish, sapped of strength, came reluctantly to the boat with blood-red eyes staring at me. My thumb went into his mouth, my fingers curled under his chin, and I lifted the fish into the air for a closer look while the lure was wiggled loose.

I admired the fish, and received a baleful stare in return, and it was eased back into the water. This bass gave me a tail-salute, and splashed water in my face before boring toward bottom and away from the boat.

There are many things to like about smallmouth bass. I used to spend after-dark hours casting River Runts and other wiggling plugs near dropoffs, over submerged slabdocks, and smallies seemed to love feeding after the sun went down. It was great fun hooking them in the darkness, and not knowing exactly what you were hooked up with until it began jumping.

It didn’t take me long to realize that smallmouth bass feed avidly during the day. Find the right spot, and fish it properly with the right lure, and smallies seemed eager to please.

They are a noble fish, and willing to stand toe-to-toe with a daylight angler, and the joy of this is being able to see every jump they make in an effort to get away.

It’s been my great good fortune to fish for and catch smallmouth bass all around the country. Some of the Shield lakes in Ontario, besides producing muskies, also produce some great smallies and most are of good size.

I’ve fished the upper Mississippi River 75 miles north of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, and have found those river fish as eager to please as those found in lakes along the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota.

Many dandy smallmouth bass have been caught from Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River. Countless smallies have slammed my lures in the Grand River below Lansing, and in the Tittabawassee River below Midland. I’ve caught some in the Kalamazoo and St. Joseph rivers, and Grand Traverse Bay is a good bet right about now. An overlooked spot is Little Bay de Noc off the Stonington Peninsula.

Lake Erie has a wonderful smallmouth fishery around the Bass Islands, and I’ve caught some great bass in the St. Lawrence River while muskie fishing. I’ve seen some smallies smack a 9-inch muskie lure. That is a fish with an appetite and an attitude.

Fish like that have juice flowing through their body that many other game fish seem to lack. It makes them fearless, and they are willing to take on all comers.

Tired of trolling for salmon, and long to fish with a rod and reel in your hands all the time, then grab one with six-pound line, and some diving lures, and give bronzebacks a try. You won’t be disappointed. Smallies bring the fight to you, and that makes them a wonderful game fish.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/26 at 04:34 PM
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Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Come-Uppance In The Quail Fields

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Once upon a time, a long piece ago, I had a problem. A big-head problem.

Somebody told me I was a good wing shot and I believed them. It went to my head, and for a few years, back in the 1960s when pheasants were common in southern Michigan, and southern states--especially Alabama, Georgia and parts of Mississippi and South Carolina--seemed overrun with quail birds. Opening day of the pheasant season back home, and a few years hunting the burned-over piney woods and pea fields of the south, made me something of a bore.

Mind you, in those days, my vision was keen, my hand-eye coordination was sharp and my reflexes quick, and I was able to shoot upland birds with the best of them. My problem was I knew it, and if there’s anything I can’t stand now, is someone who brags on themself. Back then, if you didn’t believe I could shoot a shotgun, just ask me and sit back for a lengthy one-sided chat about my shooting prowess.

The pheasant numbers in those days were astounding. A two-rooster limit was easy, and I always killed my two birds right after the 10 a.m. opening. No problem, not sweat, two shots was all it took.

I did well on grouse and woodcock as well although these little scamps were a bit tougher to hit than a long-tailed cackling rooster, but I took my shots as they came, and more often than not the birds would drop as the the shotgun barked once or twice. I lived a life of praise for my German shorthair and his ability to sniff out any birds in the area and then pin them down with a soft-footed, sure-as-death-and-taxes point, and he never bumped a bird.

The birds held tight, as if they were tied to the ground, and the shots were close and fairly open. Life was good, and I began believing I was a fair hand with a shotgun.

I went, on invitation, to a massive Georgia plantation to hunt them little-bitty quail buhds, as many of my southern friends call them. These “buhds? were bobwhite quail, and they seem as plentiful as our ringnecks back home. I got in fairly late, had a drink or two with my host, and explained that I was a pretty good shot when shooting over steady-to-wing-and-shot dogs.

He nodded sagely at some at my less than bashful praise of my shooting ability. He said he had a perfect hunting partner for me but I’d have to reign in my enthusiasm a bit.

“You’ll be huntin’ tomorrow with Ol’ Billy,” he told me. “He’s gettin’ up in years, and he’s lost a step or two. Hopefully he won’t slow you down too much. He’ll be bringin’ his lame pointer.”

I shook and howdied with Ol’ Billy the next morning at breakfast. He was so typical of many rawboned men of the land. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he talked, and his hunting attire was a pair of ratty bib overalls, a light flannel shirt, and a pair of old boots that should have been replaced years before. He eyed me up and down, taking my measure as I took his, and he proved to be a man of few words.

“Ready?”

“Yep!”

We loaded his gimpy old pointer in the bed of his pickup, stowed the unloaded and cased shotguns behind the front seat, and we headed off to hunt.

He got out, stretched his back a bit, muttering something that sounded like “lumbago,” and waved his hand at the limping old dog, and he moved off in front of us. “You take the first shot,” he said, softly. “A covey of buhds always hold over in yonder corner of the pea field. Me, I’d druther hunt the singles and don’t bother shootin’ the covey rise. Is that OK with you?”

It was, and soon the pointer had some birds pinned. He walked in ahead of the dog, flushed the quail, and everything seemed to change about him and his dog after that initial flush. The dog, still a bit stiff in the slats and unsteady on his feet, locked up on the closest bird.

“Take him,” Ol’ Bill said, but I declined, saying that where I come from the dog owner always took the first shot. He nodded, loosed a thick stream of tobacco juice at a grasshopper, and walked in. The quail punched into the air, and the man shot fast and accurately, downing the bird.

We went after the next bird, and he said “I’ll back you up.” The bird from from a thicket next to a fence row and I shot too quickly. “Boom” came Ol’ Bill’s shot, and the bird dropped. We walked over, he pocketed the dead bird, and he patted the lame dog on the head, and we went over to where the dog was half-leaning against a tree on point. “Take him,” he said,"I’ll back you up on this bird.”

Blim-blam came two shots as the bird rocketed out from underfoot, and both were missed. Bill didn’t miss with his one shot. The pointer made as good a retrieve as was probably possible, and stood there on wobbly legs waiting for his master to send him off in search of another bird.

“Dog’s a bit shaky now,” Ol’ Billy said. “Let’s take us a rest for a bit, and let the dog’s back legs and hips rest for a bit. I can only hunt him a couple of hours, and one day I’ll have to carry him out of the field.”

We sat for 15 minutes before Ol’ Billy offered up that quail were pretty small targets when compared to those big long-tailed rooster pheasants that seemed to lumber into the air at a slower pace. I agreed that this was a fact, and I knew and he knew that we were discussing my bragging and poor shooting.

“Never pays to brag too hard on a man’s dog or his shooting ability,” he said, putting a fine point on the topic. “That there pointer don’t look like much, but other than my truck, a shotgun cabin and this here 20-gauge sibe-by-side, I got much. That dog helps me when it comes time to shoot because his nose is always pointing at the bird. I know where to look, and he finishes his end of business with a broken-down retrieve. It an’t purty but it works.”

We chatted another 15 minutes, and never again touched on the topic of my bragging and shooting. I learned something else that day: Never bet against an old-timer dressed in bib overalls and carries a beat-up side-by-side shotgun. That gent can probably shoot more game with two shots that most can with three from an autoloader or pump shotgun.

More than 40 years have passed since that hunt, and I wish I had a photo of that old man and his broke-down pointer. In a handful of words, he set me straight without offending my sensitivities, and in doing so, taught me a lesson I have never forgotten. Never brag too hard on yourself because there are some people out there, who can, with quiet efficiency, show you how that game can be played.

It’s not much fun being on the back end of that joke. 

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/25 at 06:12 PM
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Friday, July 24, 2009

Any Book Or Magazine Collectors Out There?

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A weird thought crosses my mind on occasion. I wonder if there are any fishing or hunting book collectors or outdoor magazine collectors out there.

If so, for God’s sake, raise your hand. The worse thing about being a writer is it’s a very lonely job. It’s just me and my computer, and writing to a mostly silent audience. Oh sure, on occasion, people will write with their thought on a topic I’ve covered, but folks, this is the communications business I’m in and that you share by reading what I write.

That means I write the stuff, and when everything works right, the readers responds. The idea is that they tell me what they think. In a perfect world, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. As we all know, especially here in Michigan, very little is perfect at this point of time. I hope my daily written commentaries will at least make some folks feel better for a few minutes about the lack of jobs and the low pay.

To help me pay for putting up a daily column for almost six consecutive years, it’s necessary to raise some money to help pay bills. Contrary to popular thought, outdoor writers are not and never have been paid big money. We pay our own benefits and insurances, and are taking our financial lumps just like you folks. Mine has always been a free website with no charge to my faithful readers.

I keep this dog-and-pony show going by the occasional sale of fishing and hunting books and old outdoor magazines. My question for this evening is, whether you collect fishing and hunting books or outdoor magazines? It can be a simple “yes” or “no.” If you wish to volunteer additional information about any particular books you might be looking for, that would be great. Conversations must start somewhere. I’ve giving each a written invitation to respond.

If you want to discuss outdoor books, that’s even better. It would be great if you want to share with me what your true interests are. I don’t sell my list of who contacts me. I dislike getting junk mail probably worse that you do because the junk stuff often numbers over 100 items daily that I must discard.

I’m interested in the communication part of this. I want to hear from you, and want to reply to your comments and thoughts. Communicating means we both must travel a two-way street of give and receive. It doesn’t always mean you must just read something that I write and forget it. Tell me how you feel about things.

I don’t need an ego stroke, so don’t bother. I’ve been in this business of outdoor writing since 1967. That is a long time, 42 years worth, spent writing and selling to every one of the major outdoor magazines and most of the minor ones as well. No brag, just fact, but I’ve sold every story I’ve ever written. Granted, with some stories it may have taken 50 tries to get the thing sold, but I’ve done it.

I’ve written 24 books, written well over 14,000 blogs and more than 10,000 newspaper columns and illustrated features for The Detroit News, back in the days when newspaper knew what they were and weren’t trying to be something they aren’t. I don’t need pats on the back for all of my award-winning pieces, and I don’t need someone pounding my back in congratulation when something turns out to be great.

The same “silent” readership that sits on their hands rather than putting them to a keyboard, and without some input from my readers is one sign of apathy. I write what I please. I’m tickled if you like it. Outdoor copy is supposed to do two things: entertain and inform. I want you to read some of my things and hope they make you happy or sad. I want you to read my stuff, and think “I’ve had that same experience.” I want my readers happy.

A weblog is much the same as a magazine or newspaper column. I can write about what I feel, see, do, etc., in the outdoors. I try not to get too bogged down in natural resources issues, but none-the-less, I write such columns when there is such a need. Hints from readers are always welcome, but send your hate mail somewhere else. I got my share of it from the newspaper readers who would argue about anything, and call me names in the process. I just turned 70 two days ago, and haven’t got time for crabby people.

I had a letter from a guy last night that wants to be an outdoor writer, and he asked for some advice. I gave it to him, free of charge, knowing if he was going to make it in this business as I have, he’s going to have to work harder than he’s ever worked before. This outdoor writing business is a buyer’s market, and those magazines that are going to make it will continue to ride the backs of the outdoor writers to keep them going at a very low rate of pay.

Am I crabby tonight? Not in the least. I just want to hear from people. Tell me what your outdoor book interests are. Advise me if you have any fishing or hunting books or old outdoor magazines printed before the 1950s. Tell me what you like to read, what you’re not interested in, and be broad minded enough to realize that I’m catering to a widespread group of people with different tastes.

Bass fishermen like to read about bass fishing, steelhead fishermen like to read about catching these silvery bullets, and deer hunters can’t seem to get enough stuff about hunting whitetails. I do all these types of fishing and hunting, and write about all of them, but must present a broad mix of fishing and hunting stories so everyone can get their share of interesting topics. That said, c’mon, it won’t hurt. Set down to the computer and tap out a short or long message.

Talk to me. Tell me what I can do to make this award-winning website even better. You have to play some part in the direction this website is going to travel, and sending me notes is the first step.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/24 at 02:37 PM
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

A New Decade Has Dawned

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A new day dawned in my life yesterday. I turned 70 years old.

It was, as far as I could tell, the only change there was. Some of the same old aches and pains of a misspent youth still exist. Check my face in the mirror, and you’ll see my face is as ugly as ever. The beard and hair is still white or very gray, and other than about 20 unwanted pounds I’d like to give to someone, I can see no other changes.

So what’s the big deal about turning 70? So far, none that I can see.

I can still fish and hunt, and one major problem with fishing comes when wading streams. My depth perception is terrible but it has been for several years. Each year, either in the spring or fall, I put on a one-man demonstration on how how to wade. I lose track of the bottom depth, stumble or stub my toe, and do a pratfall or a face-first splash into the river.

It’s always good for a few yucks from the bystander. There goes ol’ Richey again, stumbling over his feet. Face-first this time. Yuck. Yuck.

I crawl to my feet, take a deep bow in acknowledgment of them noticing the precision of my movements. No sense getting mad over something over which I have no control. Give the crowd a laugh. They probably need it more than I do.

Other than that, yesterday didn’t feel one bit different than if I was turning 69, and starting backwards. The fact is this fear of aging is a matter of mind over matter.

People who fear getting older begin to age quicker, I feel, than those of us who really don’t give a rip.

I can’t walk or run as fast as I once could. I can still climb the same mountains I scaled at the ages of 50 and 60. It just takes a bit longer for me to get there. Conquering mountains or steep hills is a matter of pacing myself. If you get tired, stop and take a breather. I’ve had numerous mountain guides want to race this gray-haired old goat of an outdoor writer to the summit. I refuse to play that silly game with some 25-year-old kid.

Can I shoot a bow or rifle as good as I once could? Probably not, but I haven’t lost much in that category. A few years ago I shot a very nice mule deer along the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and it was a long shot across a side canyon. I found a scrubby little tree, sat down. adjusted my hold on the tree so my rifle laid across my wrist in stable fashion, and put that buck on the ground. A one-shot kill.

That’s no brag, just fact. One might wonder just how far it was. It was between 350 and 400 yards at a 10 percent downward angle. Deep shadows had purpled the top of the canyon calls and the shadows were much darker at the bottom. I knew my Winchester pre-1964 Model 70 in .264 Winchester Magnum, and where to hold on that heavy-antlered buck.

The crosshairs settled in on the proper spot, and a breath was eased in, let out, and as the reticle settled in, a gentle squeeze of the trigger sent the custom-loaded 140-grain bullet on its way. It seemed to take five seconds for the bullet to impact on the mulie, and for the sound to bounce back to me. There was no need to hear the bullet strike because I was watching through my Swarovski scope, and saw the deer go down. The guide was impressed.

Would being younger have made me a better shot? How does one improve on perfection? Don’t get me wrong: I’ve made my share of memorable misses but there were extenuating circumstances, such as shooting into the sun when it was impossible to achieve a better angle from which to shoot. In such cases, I’d much rather miss than wound and lose an animal.

So, the old dude can still shoot and can remain on his feet most of the time while wading. What, at the age of 70, no longer can be done. My back hurts after three or four hours on the seat of a small boat where I can’t get up and stretch my back and legs. That problem isn’t new, and has been a major part of my life since 1970 when I broke my back during a fall in northern Ontario. So my back has been sore ever since. No major change there.

How about other aches and pains. Ah, my feet hurt some but the more I walk the better they feel. So it’s unreasonable to assume that this is a major problem.

All in all, my health seems good. I’m not a young monkey any more when climbing a tree, but them, I never was great at it. The bottom line is that I can do every I could do 10 years ago. Perhaps I’ve lost a step or two, but I don’t miss it ... if that has happened.

One thing that is different from 20 years ago is I’ve come to enjoy the outdoors even more than I once did. A beautiful sunrise or sunset still captures my imagination and fills me with awe. I still marvel at the northern lights, the gurgle of a little brook trout creek, or the more robust current found in deep spots on the Betsie River.

The joy of hooking and releasing a fish, or making a clean kill on a nice buck, is still a part of my life. Adrenaline is still as addictive as ever but I’ve learned to harness my reactions to the situation and the adrenaline coursing through my body. Being 70 doesn’t mean I’m washed up by any stretch of my imagination, and I look forward to many more years of writing about fishing and hunting.

Let’s hope the same thrills will be there when I turn 80. That would be something neat to experience, and let’s face it, the 42 years of my life spent as an outdoor writer has simply been one wonderful adventure after another. This, my friends, has been the best years of my life.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/23 at 04:10 PM
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Love A Rainy Day

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I love a rainy day because it gives me an opportunity to search through those old and dusty cardboard boxes filled with “junk,” as my understanding wife occasionally calls these hiding places for little bits of forgotten folk art. I can assure you, 99 percent of this stuff is not junk. A far better word would be a lost or forgotten treasure that suddenly surfaced again.

Very little of this stuff is valuable, but all of it is interesting. One thing that pulled my chain today for a half-hour was an old 1984 press release celebrating the 50th anniversary of the widely known Federal “Duck Stamp.” This stamp is required of all North American waterfowl hunters.

The first Federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp, as it was called in 1934, cost one dollar. It was drawn for the Federal government by Jay “Ding” Darling, the Des Moines Register’s editorial cartoonist, a man whose time had come and he was ready for it.

Darling led the campaign that convinced Congress to authorize an annual Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp, and his cartoons stuck a painful barb in the hides of greedy marsh and swamp drainers, fillers of duck nesting ponds, greedy politicians, and others who would destroy this natural resource.

Habitat loss, railed Darling, was a major problem, especially with wild ducks. Some of those early stamps, especially Darling’s first ever stamp, are worth thousands of dollars for one that has not been canceled by a hunter writing his name across the stamp front. According to old statistics 635,000 of these stamps were sold the first year, and those dollars went into preserving and purchasing waterfowl habitat.

As of 1984, famous waterfowl artist Maynard Reece had won the duck stamp contest five times—in 1948, 1951, 1959, 1969 and 1971. Twenty-three years ago more than 119 million federal duck stamps have been sold.

Waterfowl have been featured on these stamps every time, except for one. John Olin’s black Lab—King Buck—was featured on the 1959 federal duck stamp. Olin was the president of Winchester/Western for many years, and owned Nilo Farms. Nilo is Olin spelled backwards. That stamp of King Buck was a big hit with hunters.

It’s been said that winning the Federal Waterfowl Stamp contest can and will make the artist a millionaire. Not from the stamp sales, but from sale of other work. It boosts an artist into the upper echelon of waterfowl artists, and their future drawings sell well.

Proceeds from the sale of these “federal duck stamps” continue to help provide better and more waterfowl habitat, now and into the future. They are available from U.S. Post Offices across the country.

My twin brother George was the lure collector in the family. If I ever had anything of any value, George would trade me a book I wanted for a lure he wanted.

I found an old Super Duper lure today, rattling around in the bottom of a box, and can remember buying my first one in 1956 from Wanigas Rod Company in Saginaw. It was touted as being one of the best trout lures every made, and demand for these “clothes pin” lures was strong. They looked like a metal clothes pin, and their shape is apparently what provided the trout-catching action.

Rattling around in the bottom of another dusty old box was filled with old outdoor magazines was a 12 gauge brass shotgun shell. It was a rather nice find although there is little demand for them these days except as a collector’s item. I have two of these brass shotgun shells.

Talking of old outdoor magazines I found about 1,000 old timers ranging from the 1950s back to the early 1920s. I love the art work on those old covers, and there is a rather brisk trade among avid sportsmen for such magazine covers. Another of them are listed in Scoop’s Books, which can be accessed from my Home Page. Go ahead, take a peak at fishing and hunting history.

Sadly many of the old covers are cut off the magazine, and the cover is matted and framed for use as a wall decoration at fishing and hunting lodges. Many lure collectors buy these old mags to search for ads for specific lures. Some lures were in and out of business in less than a year, and a magazine advertisement is collectible in its own right. Some of the color covers also have lures visible in the drawings, and such covers are a delight to the lure collectors.

I’ve found several knives stuck in stumps from when a hunter apparently shot a buck, cleaned out the deer after cleaning his handles, and struggled off dragging the deer. Often, the knife was left behind in all the excitement of a successful hunt.

One of those knives was found today in another box. It had once been a pretty knife, but the test of time spent out in the elements had dulled and rusted the blade and turned it into an object best thrown out with the trash. But, I kept this blade for what it had been, not for what it was today. I know what it’s like to lose a good hunting knife, and I hope anyone who has found one or two of mine did so before the were ruined. It’s my hope they care for my knives as I care for those I find.

Stuff in a box may be junk to one person but it may be a treasure to a pack rat like me. And that is especially true on a rainy day.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/22 at 09:04 PM
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mixing Up The New & The Old

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In the old days (before graphs and other sonar rigs) we used two- to six-ounce sinkers, heavy mono and tied the line to a capped Clorox bottle. A bottle would be at one end of our trolling run, and the other would be at the opposite end.

That left a lot of bottom structure that might have several humps and bumps in it, along with a few indentations, a weed bed or two, some submerged points and the result was we had many chances of getting hung up on bottom.

Then came dumb-bell shaped markers with a heavy weight. Toss it out at one end of the trolling pass and another at the opposite end, and the results were much the same as with the one-gallon jugs. We learned, and used markers every 50 yards, and it was an improvement because they were brightly colored and more easily seen.

Next came sonar units, liquid crystal and paper graphs, and fishing became a little bit easier. Electric bow-mounted trolling motors allowed us to stay pinned to the hotspot, and we could work it until the fish hit, stopped biting or took off.

All the modern electronics in the world do not make fish bite. We can have a paper graph (not many in use these days but I loved mine), and a depth sounder. We can have electric downriggers to put our lures at the depth our graph tells us the fish are holding, and we can check the surface and deep-water temperatures, and even a marine radio to check with our buddies to determine how deep, which lure and what color to use.

Has these improvement helped? Of course, but they aren’t a cure-all of fishing ills. They don’t automatically hit a nd stay hooked.

But for the most part, all the fancy stuff still doesn’t do diddly. We must still determine what the fish are hitting, and how best to present the bait or lure to that depth to elicit a possible strike. We can take it to the fish, but there must be something present to make the fish slam into the bait or lure.

The bottom line is that the best electronics can help anglers but the proper use of bait or lures is what causes fish to strike. Planer boards are used for muskies, salmon, trout and walleyes, to name a few, and anyone who has been on a walleye charter knows that there are times when all lures of the same model, and often of the same color combination, but two or three out of a spread will consistently produce a decent catch of fish.

All we do with the others is wash the dust off them by trolling them through the water. Hold identical lures with the same paint color over the side, and both lures will produce an identical action.

So why, pray tell, will one catch fish and the other one never gets a bump? Why can we switch rods and positions, and the same lure continues to produce while the other does not?

I get curious about some of the oddest things. Look back, those of you in your sixties, and remember how we used an anchor or hond-held marked rope with a five-pound lead weight to determine the bottom contour. We would triangulate these positions with three shoreline locations, and when done fishing that spot, we’d go back to retrieve our markers.

Now, we can punch in the way points on a GPS, and be on target every minute of the day. Has electronics taken all the fun out of fishing?

No, I don’t think so. Regardless of how many electronic goodies we trick out our boat with, and how often we use them, they are still incapable of making fish bite.

Granted, we can locate a school of perch with some type of sonar unit, ease a bow and stern anchor to bottom. We bait up with long-shank hooks directly over the fish and use wigglers, minnows or soft-shell crabs. We ease our baits to bottom, keep the line tight, and if the perch are in a mood to bite, they will. If they choose not to hit, nothing we can do will make them pull our string.

We can use a sonar unit on the Detroit River to find rocky humps and the big walleyes that hover nearby in mid-April. We can vertical jig minnow-tipped jigs and stay directly over those fish, and pound the baited jig into bottom, but it still doesn’t always make them strike.

It’s said that presentation is everything in fishing. That is close to being true, but without the human element: the lift-drop of the jig; the proper retrieve; the certain something that muskie fishermen put on the jerkbait to make it dance—all of these things are much more important than the electronics we use.

The first magazine article I sold was to Sports Afield in 1967. It paid the princely sum of $400, and I used that money to buy one of Lowrance Electronic’s “little green boxes.”

Did I catch more fish? Sure did, but I was fishing more and learning how to tell the difference between fish near bottom and bottom. It was fun, but in the long run, had I fished salmon at the proper depth (near the surface that first year in 1967) I still would have caught fish. No electronics were needed.

The human touch and the ability to think things out is what helps us catch fish. Our electronics aid in certain ways, but in most types of fishing, the human element is more important when it comes time to catch fish.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/21 at 04:08 PM
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Monday, July 20, 2009

How Lead Shot Is Made

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Quick now. Answer this question: how is lead shot for shotgun shells made?

A few years ago I toured the Winchester shot tower facility to see how lead shot is made. Terry Kessmann, manager of the shot tower, gave me a guided tour. I could look but could not photograph the process.

“Olin’s shot tower is seven stories high, and its function is to transfer pig lead ingots into lead shot for shotgun shells,” he said. “Ingots weigh 70-100 pounds. The process of forming shot from No. 12 (smallest) to 000 buckshot (the biggest) is done by pouring molten lead through a screen from a great height. This technique has been used by Olin since 1922.”

He said the mechanics of making shot of various sizes is quite simple until a hunter considers that Winchester uses 75,000 pounds of lead daily. A crucible capable of heating 15,000 pounds of lead at once is used as workers manually feed lead ingots into the crucible.

“Three types of lead are used,” Kessmann said. “Six percent, four percent antimonial lead and soft lead,” he said. “The lead is heated to 400 degrees before it is poured into the shot pans. The proper shot pan size determines the bulk of the shot to be made.

“A No. 6 pan produces mostly No. 6 shot. The molten lead runs through small holes in the shot pan in teardrop form. It begins to form into a round pellet after falling a short distance. The lead shot falls about 200 feet, and solidifies before it hits the well of water.”

He said the lead shot is then elevated from the water well to a water box on the second floor by means of chain-driven buckets. The shot enters the water box where water is drained away and graphite is added. The shot then goes through a steam dryer into a storage tank, and then to a dry elevator that delivers it to a shot distributor on the fourth floor.

“Our sorting table rejects imperfect shot, and they are fed by gravity to a scrap tank on the first floor or returned to the seventh floor to be melted again,” Kessman said. “Imperfect shot like doubles, oblong shot or shot of improper size goes through the melting process again. Perfect shot rolls over the sorting tables, and is gravity fed to shot sizing screens or sizing tables on the second floor. Lead shot that passes this inspection is delivered to the sack sewer as a finished product.”

He said all shot is inspected by the second floor shot group leader and sack sewer. This insures that bagged shot meets Winchester’s criteria.

The entire process, from meltdown to sewed bags, takes 10 minutes and fewer than 10 workers are used. Winchester’s shot making processes and the packaging of component shot in various sizes is governed by customer requirements.

Each year when shotgun shell reloaders buy bags of Winchester lead shot to reload shotgun shells for hunting, skeet, sporting clays or trap shooting, they will know how it was made. It’s a fascinating process, and this basic method of making lead shot has changed very little over centuries.

It’s a bit of shotgun shell trivia that few people know about and fewer people have seen.  There are many little secrets to the process that I wasn’t told, but hopefully some day, I can return and watch shot be made again.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/20 at 05:00 PM
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Natural Resources Thieves

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A guy e-mailed me, and was looking for a scarce book. He wanted to buy a copy for sale, and I didn’t know where to find one for him. We traded e-mail three times, just chit-chatting, and he proceeded to tell me about a big buck he shot last year.

This guy has bought a couple of books from me over the years, and is as honest as the day is long in his daily business life, and wouldn’t think of cheating a friend. If he came to my house, and a $20 bill had fallen on the floor, he would pick it up and hand it to me.

He could have not said anything, put the twenty in his pocket, and no one would have been the wiser. But he’s not that kind of guy.

Except, he apparently cheats when hunting. If he has a good buck pinned down, and the animal walks past him 10 minutes after legal shooting time ends, he would still take the shot.

That’s exactly what happened last year. He apparently heard a buck grunt nearby, and he kept waiting for the animal to show up. The buck finally made his move, he said, 20 minutes after legal shooting time had ended.

“The buck was following an estrus doe,” he said. “She led him all over the woodlot I was hunting, and soon the doe came past my stand and I knew the buck was nearby because I could still hear his tending grunt. He was close.”

The doe moved on, and he said the buck stopped in the same spot. It stood there, and all he could see was its bone-white antlers. He came to full draw, aimed at where he thought the chest was, and let fly with an arrow.

The buck ran off, and he quickly lowered his bow to the ground, and climbed down. He left his bow at the tree, and took up the blood trail. The buck covered 200 yards before it died. It was a gorgeous 10-point, and he asked if I had killed a 10-point that year.

“No,” I said, the anger audible in my voice, “I did shoot a very nice 9-point and a beautiful 8-point two years ago, but then, I don’t break the law and didn’t shoot my bucks after legal shooting time had ended.

“You are an honest man in many other ways but you’ll cheat by shooting deer after dark. If someone called you a thief, you’d get madder than hell.” I told him/ “But a game thief is really what you are. I’m very disappointed in you, and wish you wouldn’t have told me that story.”

He didn’t realize that shooting game after dark is stealing ... from every citizen in this state, and from the state of Michigan. Will you or I or the state miss that 10-pointer? Most likely not.

But if we compound that 10-point by all the other opportunistic honest hunters who cheat by breaking our fish or game laws, how many good breeding bucks have we lost? And how many, pray tell, small bucks will do the breeding. Small bucks and small does beget small fawns which often do not have the genetics to grow large antlers.

He was angry and hurt by my comments, and mentioned he would never buy another book from me and I told him that was fine because I didn’t plan to sell him any and didn’t need his business. The truth of the matter is that I’m sure that others who have bought a fishing or hunting book from me over the years may have been guilty of a similar game-law violation.

I suspect that a few people who read this daily weblog may have broken a fish or game law on purpose at one time or another. They too rate my lack of trust.

The difference is that most people don’t say anything about their fish and wildlife crimes to me. My stance for many years has been the same when it comes to fish or game-law violations. I call the conservation officer or some other law enforcement officer if there is any evidence of wrongdoing. This guy is from out of state, and except for his story, I couldn’t prove a thing.

Do I enjoy registering complaints? Absolutely not, but some time ago I wrote about fishing and hunting apathy. That apathy runs rampant with opportunistic poachers when an opportunity presents itself. No one wants to rat out Uncle Harry for the late-summer doe hanging in the barn, and buddies, friends, neighbors and relatives refuse to turn in old Bob who picks up some extra beer money by shooting and selling deer to out-of-the-area hunters.

No one wants to gripe too much about ol’ Kenny, one of the best walleye anglers on the St. Clair River, who catches a ton or more of big spawning walleyes in April or May and sells them to restaurants for big money. He’s a bit hard up, you know, and needs the extra cash.

Well, Kenny can do the same thing as the rest of us do. He can get himself a better job or a second job, save some money, and become a legitimate, upstanding citizen rather than a thief who steals our natural resources.

E-mail me, and ask to buy a book but please don’t tell me about how you broke the law last year. I don’t want to hear that sad story one more time. I am less than sympathetic for those who get caught.

In fact, I always root for the conservation officer. Will that cost me a book sale now or in the future? I don’t know and don’t care but perhaps it will teach the poacher a lesson

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/19 at 05:24 PM
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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer: Bear Breeding Season

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Me and black bears have a long history. There have been a large number of close encounters with bruins over four decades, and some potentially dangerous confrontations took place. Some came during the summer breeding period but most of my bear encounters have taken place during the fall hunting season.

Bears are very curious animals and are among my favorite wildlife species. Granted, they can do great bodily harm and can kill a guy if they choose, and if the opportunity presents itself, but mostly they want to be left alone. They can be very curious, but after all of these years of making a full-time living as an outdoor writer, it’s been my pleasure to have crossed paths with bruins on many occasions.

My hunts began in the late 1960s. No permit applications were needed back in those days. A hunter simply bought a bear license and went hunting.

Those early hunts were fun because I sat on the ground, usually within 20 feet of an active bear bait, and hunting from tree stands had not become legal for bear or deer hunters. The first bruin I killed was with a bow at six feet. It wheeled, ran off into tall marsh grass, and I was right behind it, clueless and stupid in the middle of an Upper Peninsula swamp.

The animal went down on its back in the tall grass, and as I came running through, my right foot came down two inches from its open mouth as it let out a death bawl. My next step, I swear, covered 20 feet. That animal scared me silly under those circumstances. Circling back, the bear was approached from behind, but it was dead.

Another time I saw nine different bears on opening day of the fall bear season. A big bruin frequented the area but he wasn’t seen the first day although nine smaller bears showed up to feed. The larger bear came to me the second day, and offered an easy shot.

There have been some close scrapes with bruins including a stand-off with a sow with three cubs in Saskatchewan. Another close encounter came in the Northwest Territories as a foraging bruin was spotted and photographed from a distance of 20 feet. The bear approached to within three feet of me, circled all around as I stood my ground and kept turning to face the animal, and it never did anything except walk away. Its ears didn’t go back, its neck hairs didn’t go up and there was none of that teeth-gnashing business.

Another close call came when a grizzly was encountered in Glacier National Park during an early snow storm as I hurried down the mountain ahead of this violent fall storm that threatened to close the mountain passes. We eyed each other at 20 feet for what seemed like long minutes but the stand-off probably didn’t last more than 10 seconds, and the big bear ran off.

Another time, while hunting on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, my guide and I saw over 30 black bears on one mountainside at one time. We probably saw 60 different bears in one day, including one with a 22-inch skull that would have placed high in the Boone & Crockett record books.

That bear was not shot. I passed on it because the only thing that would have made the animal appealing to anyone was its huge skull. It had rub spots on both front legs like it had been wearing handcuffs, two huge bald patches were on its hips, and assorted other problems made that animal truly ugly. It was an old boar, probably in its last year of life.

I knew if I shot that bear the only reason for its death would have been the big skull. I left the bruin to feed after stalking within 60 yards with my Knight .50 muzzleloader. I didn’t need a record-book black bear that bad.

Outdoor writer/photographer Judd Cooney and I hiked into one of his bear baits in northern Saskatchewan several years ago, sat down 20 yards from a bear bait, and took photos. A sow with a pair of young cubs came to visit, and he asked if I wanted the sow to turn our way. I nodded affirmatively.

“Hey, bear, over here!” Cooney hollered. The bear backed up a step or two, turned to look our way, and I started shooting photos. Cooney repeated this exercise three times, and then the cubs came over for a visit. They sniffed my boots, crawled over our legs, and walked back to their mother.

Had either cub squalled once we would have had an irate sow black bear all over us. The cubs behaved themselves, as did we, and they soon wandered away to look for something else to do.

Hunting and being around bears all these years has been fun. There have been a few anxious moments when I’ve hunted down and killed bears wounded by other people who were too frightened to go after the animals. I didn’t want a wounded bear in the woods that could cause serious injury or death to someone unfortunate enough to get too close to it.

There has never been a problem during my encounters or when hunting down those injured animals, but anytime a person is within 50 yards of a wild bear, there always is an element of danger.

So far, I’ve been lucky. Now, with bad vision troubling me, my memory of those times when bears got too close, are still vivid. Each time provided an adrenaline rush that exceeds even that of when a big whitetail buck walks within bow range.

There is a magic to bear hunting. One only has to remember that this animal you hunt is fully capable of putting a person in a casket or a hospital bed. That, my friends, adds a bit of spice to the hunt.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/18 at 05:54 PM
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Friday, July 17, 2009

The Hunt Is What It’s All About

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Dawn was blushing the eastern sky with a blaze of fiery color when a drake and hen mallard slanted down over the treetops, lost altitude in a banking left turn and settled to the river in front of me.

One day soon, I thought last year while fishing a dry fly on the AuSable River, we may meet again during hunting season. Those thoughts carried me back to past hunts where I asked myself, once again, why I hunt.

It’s a question hunters quiz themselves about, but few can answer for others because hunting means different things to different people.

Some hunt to enjoy the whisper of duck wings ghosting over a marsh before dawn; others like the damp, musty smell of the autumn woods; and others seek the challenge of spotting and stalking wild game.

The challenge of pitting knowledge and skill against a wild animal is part of the reason, but other factors enter into the picture. For many it means the chance to enjoy eating wild game at every meal.

Perhaps the reason is knowing that the hunter’s role in conservation has always been one of keeping game bird and animal populations in line with food supplies and habitat requirements, and protecting them when it is required.

Michigan’s hunting seasons will soon begin in September and October, and they offer millions of licensed sportsmen the freedom to work the woods and fields, lawfully carry a firearm or bow and arrow, and peaceably follow a pastime as old as man himself.

Hunting means many things to me, as it does to almost anyone that shares my love of wild places and wild things. The out-of-doors has so much to offer, both to hunters and non-hunters.

Hunting has never contributed to the decline of any game animal or bird during modern times. Many times hunter license dollars and taxes on equipment have been used to increase game habitat, fund studies or offer protection to wild game during severe weather conditions.

An overpopulation of any wild game results in death by starvation, surely a less humane way to perish than by a hunter’s arrow or bullet.

But the actual killing of wild game is something I’ve never been comfortable with although I’ve taken my share of bear, caribou, deer, elk, grouse, moose, muskox, quail, pheasants, rabbits, sharptails, squirrels, waterfowl and woodcock.

The tinge of remorse I feel doesn’t mean I am against hunting or ashamed of what I do, but it means I hold my hunted animals and birds in deep respect. My belief is that hunting plays a defining role in wildlife conservation. Man cannot be a sophisticated hunter without having respect and love for the wild game we hunt.

Hunting is a feeling, something described by many as a deep inner experience. Man, as the ultimate predator, holds the power of life and death in his hands.

This power means that we must know our equipment, know what it can do, and be skilled enough to place a shot so the animal or bird is killed cleanly, without suffering. It also means that hunters must know and obey hunting laws and respect the rights and property of others.

A hunting license gives no one the right to a full game bag, or a two-buck limit. It grants sportsmen the privilege to hunt ... nothing more, nothing less.

I hunt because I need to hunt. It satisfies a need within me to go afield in pursuit of wild game and enjoy the wonders of nature.

It offers me the thrill of an exciting stalk through thin cover, the fleeting glimpse of a wide-antlered buck, the explosive sound of a ruffed grouse thundering from an alder run, or simply the chance to hunt and be out with nature.

The taking of game is secondary, ranking far below the mental and physical experiences of the hunt.

The hunt, and not the kill, is what hunting is all about. And it is enough for me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/17 at 09:55 AM
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Thursday, July 16, 2009

The DNR Wants A Handout

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It’s an established fact. When times get tough, more and more organizations have a hand out for some free money.

Some folks can ill afford to give to each and every group. Most don’t want to, and still others find it distasteful when certain organizations come begging for a handout.

The Department of Natural Resources is the latest state departments to seek public donations in one form or another. Sure, there’s a carrot on the end of this stick, but the odds of winning this DNR game of chance seems pretty lopsided to me.

Here’s their gig. It’s called the Pure Michigan Hunt (PMH).  It was announced yesterday when license dealers across the state began talking about it. The PBH is a unique multi-species hunting opportunity.

“Individuals may purchase an unlimited number of $4 applications and the three winners may purchase one license for each of the following species: any elk, bear, spring turkey, fall turkey and antlerless deer,” said DNR Director Rebecca Humphries. “All these licenses must be purchased in the same year. In addition, the winners may pick a first selection at a managed waterfowl area during the reserved hunt period.”

She said an application is four dollars, and there are no limit to the number of applications one can make. The application period will begin July 27, 2009, and will continue through December 31, 2009. There is no limit to the number of $4 applications people may buy, and the winners will be drawn in January 2010. The item number for his license is 300, and the new PBH application can be purchased at any license dealer in the state.

OK, so it seems a bit chintzy to pick only three winners in the PBH drawing. Well yeah, it is, but it’s much better overall than doing as some states do and offer a Governor’s Hunt where people can bid on an elk or sheep tag or whatever. Those hunts are always won by the gent or lady with the thickest wallet. This DNR application is available to one and all, and almost anyone can afford the $4 application fee.

Granted, what’s to prevent someone with lots of cash from buying a thousand, 10,000 or however many applications? Logic, more or less, keeps that from happening. Besides, how many people will stand around long enough to apply so many times?

Let’s face facts, though. This is a revenue producing opportunity for the DNR. If that’s the case, why not do as I’ve suggested for 15 to 20 years, and demand that everyone who utilizes the outdoors in any way, must purchase a $5 User Fee License.

That means berry and mushroom pickers, nut foragers, bicyclists, cross-country skiers, hikers, bird watchers, backpackers, boaters and canoers … countless others who uses the outdoors for any purpose would have to buy such a User Fee License.

That would certainly level the playing field rather than the anglers and hunters paying most of the tariff to support the DNR. Five dollars in this day and age is not much money for the chance to spend all year outdoors and pursue any legal activity.

Many people would balk at paying money to watch birds, but why shouldn’t they pay? Why shouldn’t mushroom pickers pay for the privilege of walking through state lands in search of these edible fungi. If you want to hike from coast to coast, or ride a horse from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan, why shouldn’t you pay a small user fee for that privilege? The same goes for snowmobilers, dirt bikers, etc.

The fee should be earmarked solely for use by the DNR, and it must be protected from political raids as has happened so many times in the past. Tie this idea up with a pretty ribbon into a bow, talk it up, statewide, and we’d certainly have a few people who are against it, but many more would be for it if the DNR shows they can manage this large influx of new money.

In this scenario, everyone who buys a User Fee License will have a stake in helping to make certain the state DNR functions as it should: to protect the state’s interests in our abundant natural resources.

Personally, I like my idea better than the DNR’s plan to give three special hunts from a drawing of thousands of people. I think the Outdoor User Fee is an idea whose time has come.

If the DNR needs money, which it does, why must the fund-raising always fall on the shoulders of the sportsmen? The User Fee License makes sense because it will affect everyone who spends any time outdoors. And that means millions of people every year.

It could remove much or all of our state’s budget deficit, put more people back to work, and provide money for some long-needed projects that haven’t been completed because of a funding shortfall.

Don’t worry about the anglers and hunters in this little scenario. We already have licenses we must pay for to utilize the state’s resources. The time has come for other user groups to pay to play.

Let’s do it.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/16 at 06:56 PM
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Losing A Good Friend

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Death always comes somewhat unexpectedly, and usually without a great deal of advance warning, Oh, in the case of my good and longtime friend, there was plenty of symptoms that the patient was in a very bad way. It didn’t look good.

Those who knew the case felt it was just a matter of time. .A death, in addition to the passing of a loved one, is rarely without a great deal of expenses and emotional pain. It’s these ongoing costs that take a terrible toll on everyone involved, including the patient.

I’ve been a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America for 42 years, and me and my buddy became friends shortly after I joined OWAA, the largest outdoor writing group in North America. One could easily say that my friend and I grew together shortly after we first laid eyes on each other back in 1968.

Here was a well-traveled OWAA veteran, one who had been taken over the hurdles more than once.  I turned to my buddy for advice on knotty problems that all freelance outdoor writers had to face at one time or another during a long and active career.

Sadly, I can’t tell you how long my buddy had been around. All I knew was that when it came time for the latest news, ideas about upcoming conferences, the latest news from other members, my longtime friend was who I turned to.

It was here that fellow OWAA members came to meet my friend. My buddy was as comfortable to be with as a pair of well-broken-in leather books. There were no rough edges there. Each and every time we met was like greeting an old friend from the past after a very long absence.

I came to depend upon him. He was informative, shot through and through with solid information that would prove useful to me, good tips, what equipment other members felt was the best choice we could rely upon.

This death was something many of us had discussed, often behind closed doors and at open meetings, and something we all knew was inevitable. We knew our friend had run a long and strong race, helped bring countless friends up to speed on his health and that of other ailing colleagues. I’ll never forget the day when news of his demise came to my attention with all the subtlety of a wreching ball.

The old friend that many OWAA members like myself had loved, had come to the end of the road, and that news made me sad.

Don’t shed too many tears for my newly departed friend. His job, done every month without pay was to keep all OWAA members appraised of matters that concerned everyone, and believe it or not, when my friend’s death came about three months ago, there was no wailing and weeping. The death was accompanied by a bittersweet feeling.

You see, my friend was named Outdoors Unlimited, and was the monthly publication of OWAA. It was printed on paper and could be held in your hand and read with satisfaction. This monthly house organ for our writing organization has been replaced by a digital version, which for me meant the death of my friend and the birth of a new baby.

I wondered what would I do with all of my old Outdoors Unlimited copies. I bought two great huge plastic tubs, and gently laid past issues of my good friend to rest in a plastic coffin that would house his remains for as long as I shall live. I’ve received about 612 issues of this monthly newsletter, and Kay has received a copy each month since 1978, and there was another 376 issues that came her way, one each month.

These two tubs are very heavy and probably weigh about 150 pounds each when our yearly member directories are added. I’ve spent my share of time on the handles of a casket, and it took a big husky lad to help me store my friend where I can turn to him whenever past history is needed.

Do I like his replacement? A digital newsletter? The answer is no, but digital is much easier and cheaper to publish for our members but something is missing from my life. I can’t take a digital printout to bed and read before going to sleep like I could the 30-page monthly newsletter.

They say time will heal all wounds, and as it passes, we can learn to live without our old friend while remembering what he meant to all of us over many years.

I’m not too sure about my ultimate acceptance of the new. I find myself grieving for my old friend, and somehow it just doesn’t seem the same to read all the news on a computer. But then, as many newspaper have come to learn, it’s my hope that this cheaper way for my friend to do his job will finally become more comfortable with me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/15 at 07:33 PM
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

We Created Our Own insect Hatches

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Catching grasshoppers for bait was a hoot as well as a necessity when twin brother and I were teenagers. We’d walk or run through a dusty late-summer field, and up the hoppers would flutter, flying in all directions including back over our heads or into our face.

Half the time we wound up slapping each other with our hats as we both closed in on the same bug. That would lead to a few cuffs from each of us before, as if by an unspoken treaty, we’d stop committing mayhem on each other and return to gathering bait.

We both carried a Prince Albert pipe tobacco can, and would stuff our grasshopper catch into the empty tobacco tins and carry them in our shirt pocket. Some folks thought we might be puffing on a pipe or rolling our own smokes, but we just collected empty tobacco tins from a pipe smoker.

We mostly used our old and bedraggled floppy fishing hats as a tool to stun the insects, but it pushed such a wave of air ahead of it that the hoppers easily avoided the oncoming hat. We needed something different, and then tried fly swatters but they didn’t work as well as we had hoped.

We soon stumbled onto an old badminton racquet with some broken strings but it served our bait-gathering purposes. We weren’t playing badminton with it; we were using it to collect trout fishing bait. We just couldn’t be overly exuberant and take our best homerun swings otherwise we’d strain the grasshopper through the mesh, and our bait was literally turned inside out, which made it very difficult to put on a hook.

“He won’t have the guts to do that again,” said our father, who would sit in the car and watch his two sons collect fish bait with this rather bizarre and unorthodox method. No one we saw in those days ever had hoppers for sale, and even if they had, we didn’t have the money to buy any.

The trick was to rap the hopper just hard enough with the racquet to stun them, pick ‘em up and stick the bait in our Prince Albert cans. The can was of an ideal size, and depending on the day and the appetite of the local trout, one tin often lasted most of a fishing day.

If not, we’d repeat our bait-gathering operation again. It could be a very hot and dirty job during summer’s Dog Days, and the sight of one or two tow-headed boys carrying fishing rods and a badminton racquet on a trout stream made for a rather odd sight.

Back in the late 1950s, Ernie Schwiebert wrote a definitive book called “Matching The Hatch.” We not only matched the grasshopper hatch in those days, but our innovative fishing method actually created the hatch. It was so simple one wondered why others never tried it.

Too much work, I suspect. Chasing hoppers in the hot sun was a job best suited to young kids, not older people.

We were predatory young squirts back in 1952, and were always looking for an edge and were not above fishing with bait if necessary. My late brother George and I loved fly fishing, but there were times on the mainstream Sturgeon River in Cheboygan County, when very few fish were caught on flies.

What we knew about hatches could be stuck in our ear and there would be plenty of room left for a little finger. Our fly rod, a battered old creaky eight-foot fiberglass rod, was missing one lower guide. It was all we had. We knew enough to dry our fly line at night, but that was about the extent of our fly-fishing knowledge.

Our flies were gaudy Red Ibis’, Jock Scott, Mickey Finn and other such patterns from Japan. We didn’t own a fly big enough to imitate a grasshopper.

But we had a quick cure for that problem. We’d locate a spot near a grassy river bank where the occasional grasshopper would fall off a stem of grass or weed, and tumble into the water. If it was a hotspot, the hapless ‘hopper would be greeted immediately by the gaping maw of a nice brown trout looking for a quick lunch.

Many of these trout were in the 12 to 15-inch class, and a great catch for young teenagers. A few fish would measure 16 to 20 inches, and on occasion we’d hook a 24-incher, and it would promptly destroy the 4X tippet at the end of our leader and dash any dreams we may have had about taking a lunker brown trout.

This was a two-man program, and we were the two young men of 13 or 14 who could and did pull it off. We would create a hopper hatch the likes of which few brown trout had ever seen. None seemed able to completely ignore our man-made hatch.

We quickly learned that invention often comes about as a result of a specific need. We needed hoppers for bait, and it was up to us to gather and use them as efficiently as possible. Thus a plan was born.

One of us would be the fisherman and one was the hatch maker. The latter job usually fell to me while George handled the casting part because he was much more accurate at casting than me.

We knew most of the key locations for good trout, and I’d wade across the river upstream from his casting position, climb the bank and slowly and very softly, make my way downstream to a hotspot. George, in the meantime, had waded into position below and slightly to one side of where we knew a good brown trout lived.

I’d kneel in the tall grass and weeds along the bank and give the fish time to settle down from my stealthy approach and from that of my brother. We’d remain motionless for 15 minutes, not wading or changing positions on the ground, and then the hatch would begin.

I’d ease a grasshopper from the Prince Albert can, close my hand around it, shake it back and forth to daze the insect, and softly toss the addled hopper onto the river 10-15 feet above the suspected trout holding area. Ten seconds later would come the second dazed grasshopper of our hatch, and it might drift on downstream or be sucked under by a nice brown trout during a classic head-to-tail rise.

Another woozy hopper would hit the water 10 seconds later, and the fish would suck it off the surface with a slurp. I’d pitch out another, and the fish would inhale it. It usually didn’t take too long in those days to get the attention of a good brown trout.

Once four or five meaty ‘hoppers were sipped off the water came the unspoken signal for George to softly lob-cast a hooked grasshopper into the right location. The hopper would land with a tiny splash, drift a few feet, and the trout would rise and take it off the surface.

George would salute the fish softly to set the hook, and the pool or run would come alive with splashing water. He would delicately ease the fish out into open water, and fight a light-handed battle with the hooked fish. Sometimes it would break off, but often he would land a nice trout.

And then we would switch positions at another key location upstream or down from our starting point. I’d try to emulate his soft casts, and together the Richey twins cut a small swath through the local brown trout population. Many good trout were landed and released, and a few were chosen to serve as our evening meal when cooked over an open fire with some pork & beans and fried spuds.

Sitting on our heels, outside of our tent camp in the woods overlooking the river and cooking our own meals, seemed to be the greatest upbringing a kid could have. We were responsible only to ourselves, and we had to maintain a clean camp, make our own beds, air out our sleeping bags, do dishes and everything else.

You see, we were on our own. Our parents allowed us to camp all summer unsupervised on the Sturgeon River, and although George wasn’t there during much of the summer months because he was playing baseball back home, whenever he came up to join me during the late summer, we’d again create our own hopper hatch.

I came to know Ernie Schwiebert many years later and long before his death, but I hardly think he would have appreciated our matching the hatch method as we had practiced it years before his best-selling book was printed. So now, for those of you who have read his book, the above is the rest of an untold story about two teenagers and how they fished.

We didn’t match the hatch. We created it.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/14 at 05:02 PM
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Monday, July 13, 2009

A Great Day For A Walk

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It could have been called deer scouting but my preference would be to call this a good day for a walk. Not too warm, and certainly cool enough for an easy walk in the wood.

No sense in breaking a sweat on a day like this. I won a pair of new boots at the recent Outdoor Writers Association of America conference in Grand Rapids last month. One evening supporting businesses provide some of the stock they bring with them to display to the members, and as names are drawn and called, the members would receive a promotional give-away item.

My name was called midway through the evening, and it was a gift certificate from Wolverine Boots, a Michigan-based company. I slipped them on, tugged the laces tight, and stepped out the door. This wouldn’t be a hard-charging land cruise to see how much land could be covered in a minimum amount of time.

It’s purpose was three-fold. One was to start breaking in a new pair of boots, another was to check the area for new or old deer trails, and the other was to get a bit of exercise by walking about my land for an hour or so. There were a certain number of locations I wanted to hike into, and see what kind of deer travel is taking place in each spot.

My first objective was to go to a couple of places where a food plot will be planted in about six weeks. The soil has been worked up, and it’s ready to be disced again and have some lime added. I’ll fertilize the areas a week or so before planting, and sit back and wait for some rain.

Most boots are stiff when first pulled on but these felt as if someone else had been wearing them for a week. Crazy thought, I know, but they were comfortable right from the start. When I filled out the form, it asked for boot size. I marked Size 9, and the model number, and within a week the boots were here. I tried them on for a quick check to see if they fit, and with one heavy pair of socks the No. 9 boots were perfect. Not loose, not tight, and there was plenty of ankle support for a guy with weak ankles.

Today was the second test, and I eased slowly and quietly through the woods. I stopped at one place that always holds a small amount of water after a rain. There were three types of visible tracks: small, medium and large. The one large track was probably made by an older doe t hat we’ve seen occasionally. The medium-sized tracks were probably those of does and bucks born a year ago, and the small sets were obviously imprinted by this spring’s fawns.

I back-tracked the deer to see where they had come from, and it seemed obvious to me they were a small family group traveling together. I’d seen a similar number and size of tracks two weeks ago after a hard rain. Their tracks to the water came from a low swale where they probably bed down each day and I decided not to go in there.

Moving slowly, I eased up a partially overgrown skid road used to bring the logs out after a select forest cutting a few years ago. Admittedly, my eyes aren’t good but I did find a solitary track, not huge but made by a deer weighing 150 pounds. It could have been the doe track near the water, but somehow that was doubtful. There were no other tracks with it, The track was followed until it left the trail and entered the thick woods where it would be impossible for me to spot tracks. I rubbed out the track with dead branch that came down during a wind storm, and I’d check the area again in another week to see if a single similar-sized track was found.

I slipped out to the edge of a field, and walked the high grass for 200 yards, and spotted two distinct deer trails coming into the field from my woods. The trick now would be to back-track about 100 yards into the woods and see if I could find another trail that joined up with this one. And then, hopefully a tree or pair of trees on the predominant downwind side would offer a possibility of putting up a stand downwind of the trail.

My woods are reasonably open with lots of hardwoods. Given the opportunity, I’d prefer to hunt from an evergreen but the only ones are in my front yard, and the odds of them paying off would be pretty slim. Two maple trees growing fairly close together looked to be a likely spot but they were only about 15 yards from the faint trail. Too close? We’ll see.

I’d need two or three more recons before determining a key spot. A couple of locations already have two stands made to serve me under two different wind conditions. There are three elevated coops, and they are fine when the rain or snow comes down hard, but my preference is to be outside, and those stands have to be right. I tend to doctor up my stands a bit to block out any holes behind me to prevent being silhouetted. It’s a bit more difficult to do with hardwood trees but just enough to break up my outline is good enough if the wind in in my favor.

Me and my new boots kept moving, looking at the ground and checking out the trees, and trying to figure out where the most deer traffic might be found. There aren’t many deer in my part of Grand Traverse County, and the cause is fragmented land parcels and high volumes of vehicular traffic.

Over more than 30 years of watching deer movements near home, one thing is perfectly clear. It’s possible to go two, three, four or five days in a row without seeing any or perhaps just one or two deer in a night, and then without any type of reason, the deer are back and come moving through. It means a lot of sitting very still, using care when leaving the blind, and being downwind and as scent-free as possible.

That shouldn’t be a problem this year. The boots are made with Scent Blocker material to help do away with stinky foot odor. Now, if I can just find the right spot during the next month, I should be in pretty good shape. That and a bit of luck, and being downwind of the dear may give me a look at one or two decent bucks this fall.

One can always hope.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/13 at 04:23 PM
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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Small Streams & Rain Turn On Trout

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Many years ago, as a kid, I always prayed for rain. As a youngster I had learned that when the skies open up, and it rains hard, it could produce some spectacular fishing action.

Many people who live around Traverse City know that when it rains, and the spring water level in the Little Betsie River rises, it washes worms into Green Lake. There have been times in the spring when the worms washed out of the banks of the swamp, and when they swept under the little bridge on Diamond Park Road, there would be basketball-sized wads of worms drifting down to the waiting lake fish.

I’d wade down the tiny creek, reach down into the water for my bait, and hook the worm lightly through the nose. I’d cast it out on 4-pound line without weight, and as it washed over the steep dropoff into deep water, a brown trout would nail the worm.

I seemed to have had that secret spot to myself until more people moved into the Interlochen Arts Academy, and soon I’d have others fishing there beside we. We treated each other with respect, and if the browns were biting, we’d catch a bunch of fish.

I can write about that little spot now because browns are no longer being planted in Green Lake. I suspect it would pay off with other game fish now, and two years ago I caught a 5 1/2-pound smallmouth bass there along with several others of lesser size.

The West Branch of the Sturgeon River was somewhat similar in its downstream reaches, and it was a veritable gold mine for trout. I could catch brookies, browns and rainbows there during a soft rain. If it rained too hard, the shallow stream would be pelted hard and most of the trout headed back under the river banks to wait out the storm.

The upper part of the West Branch of the Sturgeon River, several miles south and west of Wolverine, was a hotspot for brookies. One would fish between their feet in the little jump-across creek. The small brook trout would hold among the root wads, and the water was gin clear and very cold. A rain upstream seemed to put the fish on the prod, and it produced some spectacular fishing.

That area is now all built up with homes and no trespassing signs, and although it may still hold a few brook trout, it’s not worth the hassle of trying to stay in the creek and not trespass on someone’s land.

There have been countless other days when a good rain put the trout on the feed. I remember one evening right at dark when I waded slowly down the upper Rifle River near Selkirk, and was fishing a four-inch Rapala on a tight line as the stream grew dark and closed in around me.

The Rapala was flipped up tight to the far bank and rain drops trickled down my back, and I closed the bale on my open-face spinning reel. I took two or three turns on the reel handle, and a brown trout of great length and girth inhaled the lure and the hooks were buried.

This was a fish around which legends are made. It was well over 10-pounds, and even though I was using 8-pound line, it didn’t seem strong enough. That fish rolled on the surface, and headed downstream.

I’d been down this stretch many times and knew where to wade. I kept close to the fish, jacked him around whenever it seemed possible to gain some leverage, and we were still at it when we passed under a bridge in the darkness. Fortunately, I was able to steer him away from the bridge pilings.

We made it another 200 yards downstream, and by now the after-dark fight had covered near a half-mile of river, and the stream was barely lit by a quarter-moon. The wheels fell off this brown trout parade when he hung the line on a wood stob protruding just out of the water.

I eased out slowly. and had just reached the line on the wood, when the big fish made a thunderous splash near a shoreline brush pile. I knew he had woven my line around the drowned branches, and the line popped with a crack like a .22 rifle going off.

Me and rain have always been buddies on the trout streams. I knew that when the rain fell, worms and other critters would wash into the river, and it turns the stream into a smorgasbord of food for large fish. When it begins raining about dark, forget about watching sleep-robbers on television.

Grab a rod, some bait or lures, and head for the closest river. You might be surprised at what you may find.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/12 at 05:50 PM
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