Friday, August 31, 2007

Choosing A Walleye Lake As Summer Turns To Fall


The Labor Day weekend is officially under way, and for thousands of people, that means a day on the water. The larger boats sneak out of the harbor and into open water to take their chances finding Chinook and coho salmon.

It can get mighty crowded at all of the Great Lakes salmon ports over a holiday weekend. Beat the sun to the water, and get into the flotilla of boats off Point Betsie, the Herring Hole or West Platte Bay, and you’ll soon get a good idea of what holiday fishing is all about. If a lifetime of fishing and hunting has taught me anything it’s to leave the salmon fishing to the tourists on Labor Day weekend.

Most bodies of water will be wrapped up in boats over the lengthy weekend, and the inland lakes and harbors are no exception. Some salmon have moved into the harbors and the Harbor Patrol officially begins this weekend. It’s when people troll side-by-side inside the harbor, and a hooked Chinook salmon may be landed easily. More often, the fish will tangle the lines of two or three boats and everyone is screaming at each other. It’s a time to sit on the piers and watch the people holler back and forth. It’s more fun to watch than to participate in.

Other fishermen favor a more sedate way of fishing and turn to one or more of the local walleye lakes. For solid recreation without the frenzy of fishing or navigating the harbors, many anglers turn to Long Lake near Traverse City, Lake Leelanau at Lake Leelanau, or Platte Lake near Honor. The bite isn’t quite what it was two weeks ago, but anglers can still find decent sport while fishing these lakes.

*Long Lake holds a large number of tasty walleyes but very few fish of size are caught. Some of the key locations are around the islands, and not too far from the launch site. Trolling with a nightcrawler harness and a bottom bounced in 25 to 30 feet of water is a productive way to fish because it allows anglers to cover more water. Look for gravel and sand bars, sharp dropoffs and points that extend out from shore to deep water. Fish the edges or tops of submerged structure.

Some anglers prefer to troll with planer boards and Hot ‘N Tots, Wiggle Warts, Wee Warts. and similar plugs. Use care with planer boards on this lake because it is loaded with speedboats, water skiers, and personal water craft. It can get crowded in certain areas, and planer boards may not be seen by a fast-moving boat until it is too late. A boat that runs afoul of your planer board line will cause a serious break from your fishing plans while re-rigging takes place.

*Lake Leelanau is one of my favorites but I find it to be a hit-or-miss lake. All walleye lakes fall into that category, but in my experience, this lake seems more susceptible to slow days. Of course, weather and barometric pressure plus heavy boating traffic often has something to do with fishing success, but I must confess that good catches are quite common.

Look for walleyes to be near the aforementioned dropoffs, sudden breaks in bottom contour, points, and the gravel and sandbar edges. Summer fish often suspend off the outside edges of weed beds, and lures trolled along those edges can result in some grand sport. The trick, whether here or on some other walleye lake, is to locate the fish. Find them, and walleye fishing suddenly becomes much easier.

*Platte Lake is the new kid on the walleye roundup of lakes. It’s been planted with ‘eyes for several years, and the the fish have responded in numbers and size. This lake, somewhat like Lake Leelanau, can be iffy at times. As a rule, the several times I fished it so far this year, we’ve caught fish. The poorest outing was three and the best day was seven walleyes for three hours on the water.

Trolling with planer boards and wiggling plugs seems to be a favorite for many anglers. Most of the fishing is done in 35 to 40 feet of water, and most of the fish being caught are suspended about 15 to 25 feet down. Don’t be surprised to catch some big channel catfish. Some of these big cats that can weight up to 20 pounds are caught by trollers.

Another key method is trolling crawler harnesses slow and right down on bottom. Fish the 25 to 35-foot depths, and when applying a crawler to the harness hooks, leave some tail dangling out behind. Insert the top hook in the tip of the nose, the second ring through the breeding collar, and the third hook a bit further back. An inch or more of tail beyond the bottom hook will produce the best results.

Take plenty of nightcrawlers because yellow perch can be pesky at times. If they nibble off the tail, the chances of a nice walleye hitting the harness goes down in dramatic fashion. If you have a hit, and miss the fish, reel in and check the bait. Most often the tail of the crawler is gone, and it’s necessary to bait up again.

Salmon may be bigger than walleyes, and fight harder, but the toll that crowded fishing puts on an angler takes some of the fun out of it. If I wanted to fish all day, I’d be on Lake Michigan 30 minutes before sun-up, and I’d troll for salmon for two hours. The lines would be pulled, and I’d head in and make for the closest walleye lake of choice. That way it’s possible to catch several kinds of fish in one day with a minimum of aggravation.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/31 at 05:17 PM
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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Trail Cameras Fill A Deer Scouting Niche

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I’ll admit that I’m slow when it comes to taking up new trends. Others often climb onto a bandwagon two or three years before me, and I’m not certain whether that is a good or bad thing for me. Over many years I’ve learned that patience can be the best teacher.

Take trail cameras or trail timers. Call them what you will, but I got a Bushnell TrailScout 3.0mp last year. Dad took ill, and there was no time to be putting out a trail camera and looking at photos of deer and other critters. My life was obviously filled up with caring for my father, who lived with us, and upon his death at age 94 in mid-October, I’d missed all of the preseason scouting.

And then there was the funeral, and after that, settling his estate, and putting everything in order. It was November before any thoughts of bow hunting whitetails started scratching away at the back of my brain. It was telling me to relax now, take a break, and go hunting.

We did, but mid-season isn’t necessarily the best time to be putting out a trail camera. So, the TrailScout sat on a shelf in my basement for the rest of last season. At last, the camera was placed along an active runway some time ago and it is taking some good photos.

The Bushnell TrailScout offers infrared night vision, full color images and high resolution photos. It comes with a 64mp card which means fewer battery changes, more photos, and greater clarity of images, especially after dark. It has a backlit LCD, digital imaging which eliminates noise and a built-in security system.

The date, name and time is stamped on each image to provide me with a better idea of when the deer start moving down this particular trail. The passive infrared sensor senses game at a distance of 30 yards. It runs on four D batteries.

Can this trail camera take the place of putting down boot leather? Of course not, but it can be taking photos, day and night, while I am off checking another location. I’ve used it just enough to know that I should have two of them which would allow cameras to cover two areas while I cover one. At the end of September I’ll feed all the information into my mental computer, think about it, and between personal visual scouting and what the TrailScout shows me, I can make sound judgment calls about which of several trails my wife and I will hunt on Oct. 1 when the archery deer season opens.

I mentioned earlier about not following the horde and making snap decisions. I’ve never been a follower, and I can honestly say that there have been a few times when I was right. Other times, like now, I was a bit slow on the draw. I can only plead extenuating circumstances.

I’ve examined a good number of photos from my Bushnell TrailScout, and like what I see. There are not an overabundance of deer in my area, but each year there is a decent buck that passes through. Sometimes he stays a spell during the rut, and other times he is like a circuit preacher in the old west.

There have been a few bucks, a number of does and some fawns moving down this particular trail. There are a couple of six-pointers, a couple of eight-pointers, and a spikehorn and forkhorn. Some are starting to work my brassica and purple-top turnip food plots, and by moving my one TrailScout around, I’ve also photographed some different deer in an Imperial Whitetail Clover food plot.

Deer are catholic in their appetite here, and they also are traveling to my neighbor’s soy bean field and two nearby corn fields. The deer have plenty to eat, and my neighbor also is using two trail cameras to size up the animals feeding on his land.

I feel bad to have waited so long to try one of these cameras. There is always a sense of impatience now when pulling the card from the TrailScout and plugging it into the computer. There’s always a bit of wonder about whether the big buck will show up and offer a great photo opportunity. It happens on occasion, but it’s great fun just checking out the local deer herd.

Next year I’ll add another TrailScout to my preseason scouting efforts. My Daddy once told me never to invest in something that eats while you sleep. In this case, the investment is something that works while I snooze.

Anything that can enable me to sleep while it records the passage of whitetail deer along some favorite hunting trails is a good bet, and it makes good sense.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/30 at 05:56 PM
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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How Times Have Changed

It may be my age, but some things never seem to change. Those I can handle, but what is more difficult to accept are those changes that defy logic and make absolutely no sense when a change takes place.

I have in my pocket a jack-knife. Not just any old blade with no history. No sir. Mine is a Remington two-blade folding pocket knife.

It’s been in my pocket every day for many years, and before it was a red-handled Case fisherman’s knife. Mind you, I don’t collect knives but I’ve acquired some of them over the years. They are very handy things to have around.

This knife that keeps me company every day is slightly less than four inches long. It is older that my 68 years, and who ever owned it before me, used it well, took care of it, and the two blades seemed to have been used on an equal basis. Both blades are slender and thin, and in the days when this blade was made, they used steel that could be easily sharpened to a razor’s edge.

I disremember how old twin brother George and I were when we first got a jack-knife of our own, but it seemed like a rite of passage for boys in the 1940s and 1950s to get their own knife. They were taught early on some valuable lessons. The first one my father hammered into our heads was that a knife is a tool, and it was to be treated as such.

Second was that dull blades cut more people than sharp blades. If you think about it, a dull knife when whittling or field dressing a game bird or a deer, doesn’t do a good job. The sportsman forces the knife to work, and it hangs up or slips, and the user has a nasty cut. A sharp knife blade cuts easily, and does the job for which it was intended.

I mentioned carrying a knife in my pocket at all times. Several times I’ve gone into schools to give a lecture on writing, and never thought of the knife in my pocket. I’m surprised I didn’t trip every alarm in the building.

It was my mistake, but going back to my childhood, every boy in my class and a few girls had knives. We carried them in our pocket, and no one every considered the knife to be something to be used to kill another person. We grew up when the mentality of the times didn’t include school slayings.

Now, a knife in school will probably earn the student a one-year loss of school privileges. Knives rate the same punishment as carrying a firearm to school. It’s my belief that firearms do not belong in school, and sadly, neither do knives. Gone from our schools is the old-fashioned corporal punishment that was swiftly doled out when a student stepped over any improper line in school. Sass a teacher, and someone would tan your tail with a ping pong paddle or something even worse.

I never felt fear from other students or my teachers. If I behaved properly, no one bothered me. If I did something wrong, it wasn’t long before a teacher or the principal would be coming my way to mete out a just and proper punishment. Students soon learned that corporal punishment came at school, and then we’d be reported to our parents who would tan our hide. That no longer happens, and in some schools, the children run the school instead of the authorities. In some schools, teachers live in fear of their students.

How did our schools, our children and our school administrators, reach this sorry position? It’s a question I can’t answer. It would never be my intention to strongly support a return to corporal punishment, but in many cases the children rule their home while their parents wonder where the wheels fell off their parenting program.

About 1949 when I was 10 years old was about the time I got my first knife. It was a prized possession, and I had enough brains to keep it in my pocket. Occasionally I’d sharpen a pencil with it, but the knife was not flashed around nor was it concealed. It was openly used, and when the pencil had a fine point on it, the knife was folded up and returned to my pocket. I took care of this tool as my father took care of his tools.

So now we have a police presence in many of our schools, and still kids find ways to smuggle firearms into schools to shoot fellow students and faculty. Extremists blame the firearms. Instead, all blame should be focused on the person who was pulling the trigger. The firearm is made to function properly. It can’t think, and yet people would have all firearms and knives outlawed from our society.

That is senseless. Some parents need to spend more time with their kids rather than act as if the school system is an eight-hour baby sitting facility. People will one day learn that how our children are brought up, and how they react in school, plays a major role in how the child behaves at home or at school.

Criminals have no problem finding firearms, and less anyone think differently, if someone is determined to do great bodily harm to another person, baseball bat, hammers, screwdrivers, etc. could be used. Removing knives and firearms from society is foolish and is far from being enforceable. What is needed with our children is to teach them how to behave themselves and how to treat others with respect.

It’s hard to do when so many single-parent families are scrambling in an effort to earn enough money to support their family. The kids get too little attention, hang with the wrong crowd, and when the trouble starts, it’s too late to instantly change things.

You know, I look at my pocket knife and what I see is a two-bladed folding knife. Nothing more than that. I was taught to take care of it, to use it properly, and to know that if I misbehaved, my parents could and would take it away from me. I believed that would happen, and it’s the main reason my knife stayed in my pocket where it belonged.

I now have some sorry thoughts for those children who will never have a chance to carry a knife. It’s rather sad to think that we’ve come to this sorry state of affairs.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/29 at 05:34 PM
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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Running The Backroads Of My Memory


Today was one of those late-summer days when it seemed more productive to travel the back roads of my memory than go outside to work and sweat. I found more fun remembering some of my past deer hunts. Two come to mind, and both happened years ago when I lived near Clio.

This was shotgun country, and although I hunted it some with a bow, it seems that most of my interest was taken up with the Nov. 15-30 firearm deer season. A buddy—John McKenzie—and I would work those back roads, especially those dirt roads and they offered us a glimpse of deer tracks, and we’d begin covering a block of about 10 square miles each. We checked all the locations where deer crossed the road from one section to another. We’d meet at a certain spot at a certain time, compare our notes and by then we would have a good handle on where the deer were moving.

Mind you, this was in that period before tree stands for bow or firearms, but at a time when center-fire rifles were illegal in this area. The .22 rimfire magnum was legal in those days for deer, and I saved money all winter to buy me a Winchester Model 61 .22 rimfire magnum for the following season, and made the last payment on the rifle three or four months before the opener. That year was a big disappointment because the Natural Resources Commission decided to outlaw the .22 mag for Region III deer hunting. I still have that rifle, and have used it since for woodchucks, raccoons, opossum, fox, crows and coyotes.

Anyway, after this short digression, McKenzie and I had our deer patterned. This was still in a day when people allowed others to hunt their land. We would touch base with landowners in key areas, get permission to deer hunt although they always told us they had never seen a deer near their home. We’d know where the bucks would be on opening day, and would flip a coin to see who would be the deer-driver and who would take a stand.

We knew where to find the deer, and knew how they would travel when one of us made a short stop-and-go, zig-zag downwind drive through a narrow woodlot. Tracks in the croplands adjoining the woods always gave us fresh prints, and that’s where one of us one would be standing. We’d be downwind but within shotgun range of the deer’s exit route.

The driver would give the stander time to get into position, circle around, and move downwind slowly with many zigs and zags, and frequent changes of direction. We’d stop suddenly, pause to let our scent drift downwind to the deer, and then move in the opposite direction to keep upsetting the buck’s idea of where possible danger would come from.

One year I was on the receiving end of one of McKenzie’s one-man drives. I knew where the buck would come out but also knew I couldn’t shot back into the woods because that is where my friend would be. I’d have to wait until the buck pulled out of the woods and began crossing the field. I was in the right spot, and could see the buck coming.

He was moving slowly, and when McKenzie would move to the right he would be going to the left. The buck was always moving away from his scent, and as long as the he was moving slowly, the buck would drift from side to side to avoid the human scent. He had to be on the opposite side of the woodlot when the buck came out in front of me. The buck jumped a big fallen log at the edge of the woods, offered me a clear shot, and a 3-inch magnum load of No. 4 buckshot sent him tumbling to the ground.

That particular year was 1972 when the DNR offered its first deer patch to cooperating hunters. That enabled me to obtain the very scarce 1972 patch that is the cornerstone of any collection of deer patches.

A few days later, after a dandy snowstorm that covered the ground in a totally different area, I was able to return the favor. McKenzie took up a stand near another narrow woodlot. The snow told us that deer had moved into the woods and had not come out. Once he was stationed in a prime ambush location, I slipped around and came slowly downwind toward my friend.

The wind was swirling a bit but the downwind path we needed to carry my scent down to the bedded deer was perfect. I began moving downwind, and heard a deer get up in front of me out of a clump of dogwood. The deer wasn’t seen, but he now knew I was dogging his tracks.

My downwind zig-zag movement took me past his bedding area, and I could see the spray of snow as the buck leaped up and ran off on a downwind angle. I stopped near his bed, and moved to the right in the direction the buck had gone. I cawed like a crow just loud enough for my buddy to know the buck was moving, and I moved almost to the edge of the woodlot, stopped for 20 seconds, and cut back over to the other side.

Again, the sounds of a buck in rapid flight could be heard as two or three twigs snapped. I cawed again, cut back that way, and knew the buck had to be within 50 yards of McKenzie. That buck and I played out this scenario to its obvious conclusion, and after one or two more direction shifts and pauses, I heard his shotgun cough once.

I knew the buck was dear because he never missed, and based on the size of the deer’s hoof prints, it was apparent this was a larger than average buck for our area. His buck, a nice 10-pointer with heavy beams lay dead in the snow just 25 yards from where he had been standing.

In some ways I long for such days again but if we tried to hunt that area as we did 35 years ago, we’d be in big trouble with landowners and the law. We never damaged the property of others, and never shot near buildings or livestock. We offered some venison to the landowner, and it was always refused but the offer was made. Now, the police would be all over trespassing hunters.

Those years was a point in time for us, and one that we may never see again. And we both lament the fact that what once was possible is no longer a viable option in this day and age. It makes me wonder what changes the next 35 years will bring, and I suspect they won’t be nice for legitimate hunters.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/28 at 02:32 PM
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Monday, August 27, 2007

The Betsie River Mouth Is A Mess


Had anyone stopped after crossing the M-22 bridge over the Betsie River last Friday, the sight might not have been much fun to watch. A big chinook salmon, trying to make his way upstream through the very shallow water, ran himself aground trying to get to slightly deeper water upstream of the bridge.

The 15-pound male had come out of Lake Michigan, through the harbor and into Betsie Bay, and tried to make his way across the skinny water near the bridge. He succeeded only in swimming into the muck, mud and sand. There he lay, fully exposed to the avian predators and it didn’t take long for the herring gulls to find his sorry carcass. The feasting began as the birds pecked out his eyes, and then began tearing huge strips of flesh off the hapless salmon.

Two salmon met a similar fate while a friend of mine watched. The other fish commited the same mistake, and run himself aground. The gulls descended on him and ripped him apart with their sharp beaks. Mother Nature can be a cruel old girl.

There is a very basic problem here. The water where the Betsie River flows into Betsie Bay between Frankfort and Elberta is almost dry. The fish can’t move upstream into deeper water right now, and it’s questionable whether we will have enough rain to flush out this shallow spot to allow salmon and steelhead to move upstream.

Apparently some people have waded across the river just downstream from the M-22 bridge, but you couldn’t pay me enough money to risk my life doing something foolish like that. Sand and muck from when the Thompsonville Dam washed out over 20 years ago has collected there, and the extremely low water spreads out and prevents fish from moving upstream. The bottom can be very soft, and a wrong step could place an angler in great peril as they begin sinking deeper into the muck. Ma Richey didn’t raise any dumb kids.

No water means very few fish this fall. Each year for the past several years has seen the lower Betsie River filling up as more muck and sand washes downstream. The force of the current isn’t strong enough to wash out this bottleneck, and fishing success has suffered.

So who among us will dig out this big plug and allow the water to flow downstream in a normal manner? The DNR hasn’t got the money, and if they did, it would probably get spent on something less important. Mike Bradley, who owns a nearby marina, got caught in the same trap several years ago and had to have his marina dredged out. The cost ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Do we sit around, wring our hand and do nothing? There are dredging firms in Frankfort that could do the job, but it is a long, tedious and very expensive process. Should we sit idly by and wait for enough rain and high water to open up a new channel? Who knows how long we’d have to wait.

Frankly, that’s essentially what river fishermen have been doing. A few fish get through, but not many. This low-water problem has been ruining the Betsie River for nearly 10 years. How long do we wait before sufficient rain and snow melt in the spring will wash the plug out and send it farther out into Betsie Bay where ultimately it will create a similar problem again?

The Betsie River has a great reputation, but very low water has tarnished its wonderful image. Many anglers are learning something I preached 40 years ago. If you want fish when conditions are ugly on your favorite stream, head for one that has an upstream dam on it. Locally, the closest such river is the Manistee. There, anglers can crowd in, cheek to jowl, with other fishermen and fish above or below the coffer dam.

The Manistee has a steady and more reliable water flow. The water stays the same, day after day, and it allows fish to move up through Manistee Harbor, through Manistee Lake and up the river. There have been salmon (not many but some) in the Manistee River for nearly two weeks. A good heavy run will push more fish upstream.

A good heavy rain, in my opinion, still may not do much for the Betsie River. It will require a huge continuous flow of water for weeks down the river to clean out the river mouth, and it’s doubtful whether that is possible. What hope is there for the Betsie River? Good question.

Barring dredging of the river mouth, only higher water will work. The Betsie, when the water is higher and flowing properly, has a “surge” that is something to see. The water backs up, and then it overcomes the force of lake water in Betsie Bay, and the river water will surge into the bay. Each surge would last about fiver minutes and that was when the fish would hit.

Then the water would reverse itself, and begin backing up, and suddenly it would surge downstream again. This back and forth movement of the current kept the mouth open. It’s been several years since we’ve had that surge effect, and with each new year, the water level seems to go down and down.

What is needed is higher water in Lake Michigan which would make the water deeper in Betsie Bay. That higher water will bring (we hope) back the current surges, and that will help clean out the river channel.

Until then, more salmon will suffer the same fate as the two fish last week. The salmon will continue to try running upstream because that is what they are born to do at this time of year, but running upstream will only cause more of them to run aground. That plug of muck and salmon below the M-22 Bridge over the Betsie River has becoming a death trap for our chinook salmon.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/27 at 02:51 PM
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Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Time To Scout For Deer Is Now


Most deer hunters have conducted a cursory on-and-off scouting routine this summer, but it only means a casual effort to keep track of a buck’s comings and goings. Most summer deer are very regular in their daily movement to and from bedding areas to food sites and back again.

The intensity of our September scouting can pay big dividends or it can be a gigantic waste of effort and time. One thing is certain: make any mistakes in the field now while scouting, and your fall hunting efforts may be in vain. Mistakes in the month prior to the bow season opening on Oct. 1 can be costly, and once committed, they are like the rifle bullet that cannot be called back.

High trees or hills overlooking evening food sites or where bucks leave the fields or at dawn when the animals head for bedding areas are perfect for long-distance glassing of deer movements. The most important thing is to be in positioned long before deer begin moving, sit still and watch the wind while checking distant areas for deer through binoculars or a spotting scope.

The key to a successful bow hunt is to learn the exact spot where deer leave heavy cover and enter the feeding fields in the early evening or where they enter the wood en route to their morning bedding area. Pinpoint accuracy in determining entrance trails into a food site in the evening or back into the woods in the morning is important.

Watch those deer, and know the precise point where a buck enters the field or the woods. The word “precise” means exactly what it says. A 20 or 30-yard mistake in locating the entrance or exit route can mean the difference between success and failure. These spots may be easy to spawn but don’t make the mistake of crowding them more than once.

My preference is to watch deer for at least a week or two, pin down their daily movement, note the precise time each day of when they leave the cover, and slip into the area and find a tree downwind of the trail. Move back at least 100 yards from the field, and look for a good tree for a stand. Move up the tree, haul up the stand, lash it in place with a strap or chain, padlock the stand to the tree to prevent theft, and crawl down.

Pay special attention to your scent, and try not to brush against trees, low-hanging limbs or brush. Pick a way to your tree with compete attention to detail, and find another way out of the woods that can be traveled without leaving scent behind. This will give the hunter two ways into the stand and two ways out. Try to position the stand downwind of where two or more trails meet.

My preference is a conifer, and pick a cedar or pine that offers an open spot for a stand without having to cut big branches. Use some pine or cedar boughs to block off any open area behind the stand, and brush it in to avoid being silhouetted against the sky. Part of the overall scouting routine is finding just the right tree for a stand. A tree stand is no good if deer don’t travel within 20 yards of it.

Preseason scouting is a very serious part of an archery deer hunt. It can be fun, but use care to do it right and avoid making any mistakes. The better job of tree stand placement you do, the greater the possibility of taking a nice buck on opening day.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/26 at 04:57 PM
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Saturday, August 25, 2007

There’s Green In Those Fall Food Plots


Gold miners years ago screamed “There’s gold in them there hills. Today my cry, although not nearly as vocal but just as heartfelt was: “there’s green in them there food plots.”

Mind you, it’s just starting to grow and who knows how much it will sprout up between now and deer season, but it’s a beginning. The obvious cause is the rain we’ve had over the past four days. It hasn’t been too hard, and there hasn’t been too much, but we’ve had enough to get the separate plots of Imperial Whitetail Clover, brassica, purple top turnips and rape to start growing. Another rain would help even more.

This is a first for me. My food plots have always been planted in the spring, and they produced well. The deer, turkeys and other critters loved them. This year was a first for a fall planting that was put in in early August. Just in time to suffer through three weeks without rain. Our area rain fall is less than 50 percent of the yearly average.

We’ve had 10 inches of rain this year, stated today’s Traverse City Record-Eagle weather map. Folks, 10 inches of rain spread over nine month isn’t much. I hope the recent spate of rain doesn’t stop now it has started. There are some tiny bog ponds I know of that once had three feet of water in them but are almost bone dry now.

Hopefully some of our rain drenched the fire near Newberry in the Upper Peninsula. It also eases the hazard of wild fires in this and other northern Michigan counties. We aren’t worrying about the southern third of the state because they’ve had plenty of rain.

Now, my experience with fall plantings is zero. I talked to people, learned what I could about planting, and got my lime and fertilizer down fairly early. I then waited, and waited, for the rain to fall. It seemed to take forever, but it finally started falling. Two decent soaking rains, and two days of on-and-off sprinkles doesn’t seem like much.

The dirt had been as dry as unbuttered popcorn, and there wasn’t even enough dew to get anything growing. Farmers told me to quit worrying. The rain would come or it wouldn’t, and worrying wouldn’t help. So I sat back, checked the local weather on television and the newspapers weather map, scanned the sky three or four times a day, and went on about my business.

I’ll be the first to state that I’m not a farmer, but I have friends in farming and in the seed business. I spoke with the best sources I could find, bought the best lime and finest fertilizer for my soil, planted my seeds like an aging Johnny Appleseed, and set about waiting for things to start happening. For three weeks nothing happened but I just started to see green shoots poking through the ground today.

Will those green shoots spark an interest among local deer. Let’s hope so because there may be precious little corn for deer to feed on. Some farmers have plowed their corn fields under, and are getting their fields ready for spring planting. I’m not worrying about spring. This year, I’m hoping my fall planting pays off.

Each day now will be like watching one of my great-grandsons grow. Each time we look, the toddlers are an inch or two taller and have added two or three pounds of weight. Neither one is talking words yet but they can babble. The words aren’t far off.

Watching them grow is fun. It also will be fun watching the greenery grow. I’m fond of turnips on occasion, and a friend of mine has to fight with the deer to keep them from eating all of his purple top turnips. He expects them to leave a few for him, and if my turnips come in this fall, I’ll try to get some for the table before the deer eat them up.

Watching things grow requires patience. So does deer hunting, and I can wait for a good buck to meander in my direction. What I need to learn is how to wait for my crops to grow. Of course, I’ve been putting in food plots for only six or seven years but have been deer hunting for over 50 years. So, it will take a bit more time to acquire the patience of a farmer.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/25 at 06:04 PM
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Friday, August 24, 2007

Fishing Michigan’s Overlooked Salmon


We were bear hunting on Sept. 10-12, 1971, near Marquette, but for my late twin brother George and I, our hunts began about 4 p.m. That gave us ample opportunity to chase after Michigan’s most overlooked salmon.

I’d heard faint rumors about some strange looking salmon moving up some Lake Superior tributaries. These fish, known as pink salmon or humpback salmon, had been accidentally planted in Lake Superior when the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources emptied several rearing ponds of pink salmon in the mid-1960s and most of the pinks were airlifted to Hudson Bay to provide a possible fishery for the native people.

One rearing pond of pink salmon was overlooked, and the fish were subsequently flushed down a drain that led to Lake Superior. There they disappeared for a few years until they began turning up in some streams. Pink salmon spawn every two years, and although there are some three-year spawners, most humpies are odd-year spawners and this is an odd-numbered year.

George and I began fishing our way around Marquette and as far west as L’Anse, and we found pink salmon in almost every tributary we checked. Humpies have an odd habit: they usually spawn on gravel within a half-mile of the river mouth. We would get as close to the mouth as possible, check the gravel bars, and we kept seeing these little fish.

We were accustomed to coho and chinook salmon, and in 1971, both species were big and a 30-pound king was nothing. It took a few minutes of looking at these small fish to determine they truly were Michigan’s overlooked salmon.

We had hit the run at its peak, and one thing about humpies, they weren’t particularly smart. There also were a good number of fish, and we began experimenting. We were accustomed to catching the larger Pacific salmon on flies, and we figured they would work. I chose an orange colored pattern and George tried a yellow fly with silver tinsel ribbing, and it didn’t much matter. The salmon weren’t fussy.

They climbed all over our flies, and most of them were of cookie-cutter size. At that time, the two-year-old fish weighed about two pounds. We probably caught 50 fish between us the first day, and then we had to scurry back to hunt bears. The second day we checked and learned there was no state-record for humpback salmon. We figured we were the guys to establish that record.

George caught one slightly larger than normal, and we’d cultivated a friendship with a nearby grocer and he would weigh our catch. George’s first attempt weighed a whopping two pounds, three ounces. Now the bar had been raised, and later the same day I caught one weighing two pounds, four ounces. Just before it was time to leave, George nailed one of two pounds, five ounces.

That evening, just before dark, I took a 350-pound black bear. I spent much of the evening scraping the hide of fat, and removing fat from the bruin before hanging it in a walk-in cooler. Early the next morning we were back on another salmon stream, and I caught one that weighed two pounds, six ounces on certified scales, and then George caught one that weighed two pounds, seven ounces.

That last fish was well documented on registered scales in front of two witnesses, and all the necessary documentation was obtained, and two weeks later it was official. George owned the first pink salmon state record, and he held it for several years before someone caught one of the three-year-old fish that made his fish look puny.

Mind you, I haven’t fished for pink salmon in several years. The last time was a small Ontario tributary off the St. Marys River near Sault Ste. Marie. We caught a few king salmon, and others around us caught some pinks while fishing from a boat, but we never landed a humpie.

So what does the future hold for Lake Superior pink salmon? It’s hard to tell. They have strayed into a few northern Lake Michigan and northern Lake Huron streams, and some are caught by open-water trollers, but few people spend much time fishing the rivers for them. And that is a shame because they are fun to catch on a fly rod and a reasonably light tippet.

Small spinners like a Mepps 0 or 1 brass or copper spinner seem to work well in those tannic-acid stained streams. Over the 36 years since we caught those first fish, and I wrote the first half-dozen stories for magazines about pink salmon, I’ve probably fished 40 streams for these fish. A few streams didn’t produce and I didn’t give them a second chance because there were too many rivers that did deliver.

From east to west, I’ve caught pinks from the Two Hearted, Miners, Sucker, Mosquito, Laughing Whitefish, Chocolay, Yellow Dog, Big Huron, Ravine, Rock and numerous other creeks. Look for the fish to show up anytime soon, and look for them to be in the rivers for about two to three weeks. Use light line, a fly or a spinner, and wear polarized sunglasses to spot fish working the gravel.

The male of the species derives its name from a distinctive hump on its back during the spawning run. Are they good to eat?

I love to eat fish, and have tried pink salmon on two different occasions. Both times the fish seemed to have about as much flavor as soft and soggy cardboard. So, my fishing for these fish has been confined to catch and release.

So what if they are not tasty. Anything that hits readily, and puts a bend in your fly rod, is fun to catch. And, if you give it a try, you may become the first kid on your block to catch a humpback salmon, and that’s always good for a conversation starter.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/24 at 03:18 PM
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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hunting Down Wounded Bears


My vision may no longer be keen enough to hunt black bears. At least, not where they are hunted over bait as a bruin slowly makes his way to the grub just before shooting time ends.

I’ll miss this exciting brand of hunting, but after more than two dozen bruins have been taken over the past 35 years, I’ve had my share of close encounters of the best and worst kind with these animals. Here are a number of personal experiences that may make you gulp several times.

1. My closest call to total disaster came in Montana while hiking back to a grayling lake in 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 in the trail. There stood the bear, 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 when the flash went off, here came the bear at a slow walk toward me. I talked to it as the animal circled halfway around me at a distance of less than three feet while I turned with it. He backtracked after catching my scent, and walked off without hassling me. Another close call avoided by not trying to run.

3. Years ago when my vision was still good, I’d go in after wounded bears when the hunter was too frightened to do it himself but I always went alone. No noise and fewer distractions that way. 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 to bait a stand, and walked to within just a few feet of bears. One was waiting for the dinner bell and showed up early. He 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. I finished baiting and left.

5. I hunted once near Higgins Lake, and somehow I got off the path on the way out after hunting and seeing a bear that was out of bow range. I walked out, realized I was off the trail, backtracked to the bait site, found my trail in the dark, and had an escort all the way to my car. The bruin walked within 20 feet of me all the way out. It was a big bear but didn’t menace me.

6. Once, while hunting bears in Saskatchewan, a sow with three young cubs gave me all the grief I wanted. I had settled into my ground blind when she began growling, snapping her jaws, and swatting trees. She left the area where I was and walked toward 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.

7. I followed up on a wounded bear in Quebec once, and kept jumping him without seeing the animal in the dense cover. 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 tiny spot of blood. I followed it up a slight hill through heavy cover, one slow step at a time with my 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. This bear was too close to me.

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 unsuspecting 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 do it.

Then I think of the wounded bear, and that answers my mental question. If I didn’t do it, who would?

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/23 at 05:36 PM
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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Bear On The Move


A retired friend was doing a bit of stream fishing on the Manistee River well upstream from Hodenpyl Dam. He was knee-deep in the current, and working a big streamer through a deep hole, when a bear stepped out of the brush.

The animal stared at the angler, and the man stared 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 shoreline. It seemed he wanted to cross so my friend waded downstream 100 yards, and the critter kept pace with him.

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 the determination of the animal to keep pace in the direction the angler went.

He said he was a bit preoccupied with the bear for five minutes and then decided to go back to fishing. He cast his streamer near a brushy tangle on the opposite side of the river, and the bear seemed to be a bit upset by this.

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 where his car was parked.

It was a quarter-mile downstream, 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 back and forth on the opposite 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 he bruins ears then went back, and he knew the animal was most upset. The angler picked up his pace, and the bear did the same. He was parked on a dirt road near a bridge but his car was parked on the opposite 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 pacing back and forth some more. 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. Nothing words, but human talk so the animal would know he was a human. As he walked slowly, and talked in a moderate tone, 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, and took another look down the hill. The bear was still 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 animal had escorted him from his domain. He never snarled or 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 him, 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 the same manner.

It is some very odd black bear behavior.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/22 at 02:02 PM
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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Lesson In Futility

Today's blog is an exercise in futility, and was written two weeks ago when anger and rage made me ornery. My computer and my daily blogs, is down.

Why, you ask, write this when it cannot be posted? It's a good question, and one I ask myself. Why punish myself by writing it when my web-host owner is in Mexico and he has no one tending to business when such a crisis arises.

Is this a crises? Damn tootin' it is. At least for me.

In November, I will have written a daily blog for four years. That means four years of daily blogs without missing a day. If I leave on an extended trip, the blogs are written in advance.

So what's the big deal about writing a daily blog. It's good mental exercise for me. It gives me a chance to write about fishing and hunting since it seems that few newspapers care any more about their traditional hook-and-bullet readers.

They saddle us with the non-consumptive pastimes of canoeing, camping, rock climbing, hiking, etc. I have nothing against any of these pastimes, but anglers and hunters pay the freight for keeping our fish and wildlife going while the non-consumptive users pay very little or nothing. It’s time they pay a fee for using the outdoors, just like anglers and hunters do.

Millions of newspaper readers are anglers and hunters, and the newspapers are giving us almost nothing in terms of good fishing and hunting coverage. The local newspaper -- The Traverse City Record-Eagle -- is a fine newspaper, and it once had a great stable of outdoor writers.

Men and women like the late Bruce Bischoff and Gordie Charles, plus Linda Gallagher, Don Ingle, Brad Patten, David Rose, George Rowe and others. They provided fine outdoor coverage on Thursdays and Sundays, and now only two people remain.

Two men now cover the outdoors. George Rowe covers the fishing and hunting with one or two stories a week. The other fine writer -- Mike Terrell -- covers the many non-consumptive pastimes although he occasionally does a piece related to fishing or hunting.

But that's about it for up-north outdoor coverage. After I left The Detroit News over four years ago, I quit buying the Sunday paper. It's impossible to have it delivered to my house so why bother, even after working 23+ years for them on a full-time basis? Why should I chase all over town to buy a newspaper.

So, it's one of the reasons I write a daily weblog on fishing and hunting. True, my computer is down and I have no clue when my web-host will decide to return home or work his magic from Mexico, so here I sit.

Am I mad? Of course I'm upset. Furious might be a better word for it. I'm mentally and physically geared up to write every night, and admit to getting a bit testy when something beyond my control takes my stuff away from me and my readers.

I've been averaging 550,000 to 850,000 unique hits each month, and when the computer develops a glitch, the numbers Stop. Do I care?

Of course. My idea is to continue writing my daily stuff every day, and post it with one or two color photos daily. When it becomes impossible to do so, and I can't solve the problem with my limited knowledge, steam comes out of my ears.

So, here I sit, twiddling my thumbs while the guy that could solve my problem is in Mexico without any apparent back-up. A problem develops, and apparently we must wait until he decides to come home to fix the thing.

Meanwhile, I get angrier by the day. I dislike like being mad.

I love being retired. I love writing outdoor copy that people enjoy reading, and I dislike bleeding all over the page as my frustration level rises.

So, bear with me. I'll be back up on line soon (I hope) and will be keeping you informed about my fishing and hunting trips and other things you'll never read anywhere in the newspapers.

Keep tuned. This fiasco won't last forever. And, to answer the question in the second paragraph, I have never missed a day after all this time and don't like missing one now. But it has happened and my frustration level is rising.

Once we have it fixed, there will be a backlog of daily blogs that will be posted, and you'll have plenty of things to read. Hang with me, and we'll be fishing and hunting together in the near future.

Posted by Dave Richey on 08/21 at 05:33 PM
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Were back online

We had a couple of bugs we had to get out of the new blog so we had to reinstall it again so we should be up now.


Posted by Dave Richey on 08/21 at 12:58 PM
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Posted by Dave Richey on 08/21 at 12:46 PM
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