Monday, December 31, 2007

Bringing Back An Old Tradition

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Forget the New Year’s Eve parties. I’m not even interested in the small home parties.

All the hoopla of another year ending doesn’t mean a thing to me. I’m in bed and asleep long before the Big Ball drops in Times Square, and the crowd of people go wild. I’m zonked out when all the bars empty out and the drunks hit the highways. It’s not a safe place to be on a night like this.

A bit of celebration was in order, however, and I did mine this afternoon. No, no drinking for me. I quit alcohol 25 years ago, don’t miss it, and prefer peace and quiet, solitude, wild nature and the sounds of silence. Loud people make my ears hurt.

Many years ago while guiding from 1967 to 1976 on the Platte and other rivers, I celebrated New Years Eve in a certain way and in a certain location. For many years my celebration took place on the upper Platte River, upstream from Haze Road, and it was just me and the river. The fish and I had a quiet celebration of another fine year of fishing, of living, and of taking care of one another.

I’m not really sure why this year-end personal celebration ended, or what caused it to stop, but it halted some 20 years ago. I’d thought about it for several days, and Kay was caring for our great-grandson who had gone through a much-needed kidney surgery three weeks ago, and is doing well. She planned to be on the road with Reece, and I hitched a ride. I planned for a two-hour celebration.

It would be enough. More than enough time.

No bells or whistles. Just me celebrating life and living, giving thanks for the good things in my life. and there was something about the upper Platte River that has been haunting me. This was a necessary trip, one of reunion with flowing water, and if a fish was hooked and landed, it would be a bonus.

Twenty-five years ago there were fish in the upper Platte River on New Years Eve, but not this year. I suspect it’s been a decade or more since there were steelhead in this section of river at the tail end of December. No matter, because I wasn’t there to catch fish. I was there to celebrate my many years of fishing the Platte, and the river was indeed kind to me in many ways.

Look tomorrow morning, and on the upstream side of the guard rail at the Haze Road bridge will be tracks. They are mine. I slipped into the river and worked very slowly upstream, scanning the shallows through Polarized sunglasses, pausing often to study the river. I came to the old cabin on the right, and the owners had added a second level to the building. It was there when I was guiding, and present even before then.

There, just upstream from the cabin was where a tree toppled into the river during a storm in the late 1960s. The top of the tree landed six feet from the opposite bank, and the current dug out a pocket under the tip. That spot, for nearly 10 years, would produce big brown trout on a daily basis. How big? They averaged eight to 10 pounds, but one memorable hook-jawed old male of 15 pounds sucked up an orange fly, and we kicked that river apart for several minutes.

He came to hand after a strong fight, and was landed, unhooked and released. One year. from mid-October through Halloween, that little pocket produced five (the legal limit at the time) brown trout. Most of these fish were released unless someone wanted a wall mount. Oddly, many anglers wanted coho salmon and weren’t interested in these bronze-golden fish with the big spots.

The tree and the brown trout are gone now, and further upstream I came to the spot where in 1963 I caught my first steelhead from the Platte River. The current had hollowed out a pocket under a shoreline cedar, and a buck steelhead and his lady friend were spawning. A local man made and sold Colorado spinners, and I had one knotted to my line. This was in the days before the single-hook rule, and I’d watched the lure maker cast to a spawning male. He never fished for the female, and his rod was a fly rod with an automatic fly reel and 10-pound monofilament. The spinner was knotted to the end of the line.

He’d stalk close. and begin casting. As soon as the spinner washed past the male’s nose, he’d lift it out and cast again. Cast, lift it out, cast again, time after time until the male hit it. That was what worked for that big male under the cedar, and I quit counting after 300 repetitive casts, and my arm and shoulder ached like a toothache, but somewhere between 300 and 400 casts, the buck hit. We fought it out, and I landed that fish. It’s cheeks and gill covers glowed as if they’d been painted with orange-pineapple ice cream, and a crimson sash streaked the lateral line, and even though it was my first steelhead from the Platte, it was quickly released.

Further upstream was a shallow gravel bar that was once covered with the spawning redds of thousands of coho salmon. Shallow pock-marked areas all held fish back in the good old days, but not today. I stood, the current gurgling around my ankles, and listened as a mated pair of Canada geese passed overhead, honking, and the sounds carried on the soft breeze with a touch of wildness. Back in the woods a ruffed grouse made that peculiar little noise they make while feeding, and thousands of memories of people and fish washed over me.

I sat on a snow-covered log, and drank in the glory of what had been and what would never be again. In that era, fall steelhead followed the brown trout and chinook and coho salmon upstream to feed on free-drifting salmon eggs. An accurate cast with a No. 6 orange fly would work. The fall steelhead would go crazy, tail-walking across the river, trying to rip off line on strong downstream runs, and each fish was a victory or sorts and another reason to celebrate the passing of yet another year.

Today’s venture brought back memories of another point in time. It was one of more fish than most modern steelhead fishermen could possibly believe, and it was a time when big brown trout were common, chinook salmon to 30 pounds and coho salmon to 18 pounds were caught. The river is no longer that way.

My two-hour memory on the river was filled with calmness, solitude, the chuckling sounds of river currents washing around sweepers, and a sad feeling of loss. I no longer need large numbers of fish, and many times one or no fish will work, but today was just me and the river. Not a fish was seen while covering a mile of river, and on any other day that might bother me, but not today. I was there to pay homage to the river of my dreams, one that nurtured me through the beginning of my writing and guiding careers.

And that is good enough for me. Happy New Year.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/31 at 05:55 PM
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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Great Admiration For Great Outdoor Writers

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There is a one-word statement that is often quoted after a famous outdoor writer passes away. It is: “Who?”

My outdoor education began when I was about 10 years old, and I began my personal subscriptions to Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield—the so-called “Big 3” outdoor magazines. Once an outdoor writer passes to his just rewards, that person is seldom remembered except by family or friends. Their name and fame was a fleeting thing.

I read each magazine in those days from cover to cover, and eagerly awaited the arrival of the next issue. Certain writers captured my fancy, forced me to probe my mind, and they made me want to learn more about fishing and hunting.

There were many of them through the mid-1960s that helped me develop an interest in outdoor writing. Some of those names have vanished with time as the author passed away.

Many were people whose outdoor writings captivated my imagination, and made me dream of far-flung fishing or hunting adventures. My early favorites, should anyone care, were men of great stature in the outdoor writing field.

Men such as: Erwin “Joe” Bauer, Havilah Babcock, Fred Bear, Nash Buckingham, John Cartier, Eugene V. Connett, Jim Corbett, Frank Dufresne, Ben East, Charlie Elliott, George Bird Evans, John Taintor Foote, Corey Ford, Arnold Gingrich, Roderick Haig-Brown, John Jobson, Bill Jordan, Elmer Keith, Tom Kelly, Dana Lamb, Arthur Macdougall, Gordon MacQuarrie, John Madson, Jack O’Connor, Larry Ramsell, Robert Ruark, Archibald Rutledge, Jack Samson, Edmund Ware Smith, Robert Traver, Ray Voss and countless others helped, in many ways to forge Dave Richey’s writing career.

Many, in the later years, came to be friends. Some like Corey Ford and Robert Ruark passed away about the time that writing became an inspiration, but was not yet a hobby or job.

I remember many discussions, in person and by mail, with Bauer, O’Connor and others. Some, like John Madson, were truly great writers, and I have dozens of handwritten and typed letters from Madson. His writing sparkled in a down-home manner.

The late Ben East of Holly, Michigan, was perhaps the finest copy editor I every worked with. Some of these men were more outdoorsman than writers, but the late John O. Cartier, was as good in the field as at his computer or with a red editing pencil.

Ruark, although we never met, touched me with his whimsical “The Old Man & The Boy” book, which should be required reading for anyone with an interest in fishing and hunting. It is warm, wonderful, filled with homespun wisdom, and Ruark died much too young as the result of far too much strong drink and a defeated liver.

Joe Bauer began writing while a game warden in Ohio, and he became most known for his superb outdoor photographs, his many books and his constant parade of feature articles in The Big 3. He was quiet almost to the point of being bashful, and was hired to teach writers for that magazine how to shoot great photos. His humble “I don’t know how I do it” was the truth, but after listening to him talk for two hours, me and many other people came away with greater knowledge of taking prize-winning photographs.

Most of the really good writers were reticent about discussing the fame and glory of their work. Others barked and bleated if things didn’t go their way, and still, they did some things that others wanted to learn.

There are many tales of the late Elmer Keith. He was fairly small, wore a big cowboy hat, disliked Jack O’Connor intensely (the reverse was also true), but many are the tales of Keith’s exploits. He once saved a woman’s purse after a man snatched it from her hand. Keith is said to have pegged several shots with his six-shooter around the culprit, who wisely dropped the purse and fled. Keith tipped his hat, gave the woman her purse, and walked off.

These men were heroes of a sort to me, and meeting them (most of them), was a high point in my life. I met Ted Williams, baseball’s last .400 hitter years ago, and I showed no more hero worship for him than for the outdoor writers noted above. I simply admire their skills at their chosen jobs, and in truth, the angling or hunting writer was more real to me than someone like Williams.

The point of this discourse is that reading today’s outdoor writers offers a peek into their lives. You can learn from the true outdoor writer, one who spends time in the field, and learn very little from the indoor-outdoor writer, who writes about fishing and hunting but doesn’t do it.

Fishing and hunting, as we know it, will gradually lose some of its luster. It will never entirely die out, but people will become more diversified, and parcel ever smaller amounts of time to these pastimes. So, if you love fishing and hunting as I do, read as much about it as possible now.

And offer a word of occasional thanks to those who toil so you can better enjoy the outdoors. Many of my favorite writers are long gone, and one day, some of today’s favorite writers will also be gone.

Let them know you appreciate their efforts. Doing so after they have passed on, as is true with some of those people mentioned in tonight’s blog, is a belated attempt to reverse an earlier error of omission.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/30 at 05:49 PM
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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Some Lame Muskie Fishing Excuses

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I’ve chased muskies in many locations across the northern midwest. Most of my muskie trips have been in Michigan, Wisconsin or Ontario, and I’ve sampled the pleasures of these great game fish in several other states as well.

I fished for, caught and lost muskies in Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, New York and several other places. Michigan is a given. I’m always fascinated with the excuses anglers come up with after losing a fish. The bigger the fish, the larger the excuse.

Someone who is a known angler, and is trying to protect his sterling reputation, may call a lost fish “a professional release.” Another one may call it a “long-distance” release.

We’ve heard all the common excuses. People have been known to blame too much sun for weakening their line, and one guy offered up the excuse that storing his reels with heavy monofilament near the furnace said nearby ozone weakened his line, which caused him to break off on a big fish one day in Ontario’s Lake of the Woods.

Anyone who has cast all day with big jerkbaits or spinnerbaits speak of having a sore arm and wrist from the tiring repetitive exercise of continuous casting. They blame their missed fish on a weak wrist. “My wrist didn’t have enough strength left to set the hooks,” they would say

There are thousands of reasons why people miss muskie strikes. The major reason is they often are asleep with their eyes open. They’ve become a zombie, lulled into daydreaming by continuous inactivity and they begin nodding off while fishing. They come back with some hair-brained excuse such as:

I laid my rod down with the lure in the water to fire up a smoke. (A good reason to quit.) Many people are midway through a cast, and as the lure leaves the rod tip, they notice the snap swivel is still open after switching lures. Guess which cast the muskie will hit?

You’ve noticed the line is frayed, and figured: “Hey, the fish aren’t hitting. I’ll make another cast.” Again, that’s when muskies hit and when anglers lose the lure and the fish. Sometimes, though not often enough, the muskie isn’t hooked. He opens his mouth and the lure bobs to the surface, giving anglers time for a spiffy quote. “Boy, look at that. She gave my lure back.”

I was fishing Tomahawk Lake in Wisconsin one time, and my buddy and I were working a weed line. I was working a jerkbait, and he was buzzing a spinnerbait, when a muskie was spotted behind my jerkbait. The fish smacked it as it rose to the surface, and I set the hook.

The fish didn’t have the lure, and it came sailing out of the water at my friend’s face who was turned slightly away. I stuck out my hand to keep the big Suick from hitting him in the face. That buried two hooks in my hand, and I muttered some not-nice words while he pulled the hooks out. We poured some iodine in the wounds, put Band-Aids on them, and went back to fishing. Muskie fishermen have to be tough.

Another guy and I was fishing at night once for Northern muskies in a Michigan lake, and there can be a coincidence between casting after dark and getting a backlash. He was working on what appeared to be a huge backlash (professional over-run), and his muskie-size Jitterbug lay idle on the surface 20 feet away. He pulled on one of the loops, and it twitched the lure and the line, and the Jitterbug jittered on the surface. A big muskie slammed that lure, gave a vicious yank, and the line broke.

So who is going to believe a guy who says a big muskie hit while he was untangling a backlash? No one except someone who has had it happen to them once or twice.

I was fishing on a trolling boat on Michigan’s Lake St. Clair for muskies, and we were using Homer LeBlanc’s tried and true method of keeping all lures in or very near the prop wash. One rod on each stern corner is a “down” rod, and it has a heavy weight to keep the lure about six feet behind the boat and in the bubbling prop wash.

I was bored, and decided to hold the rod instead of leaving it in the rod holder. I was looking around at all of the lines when a muskie hit my lure and nearly yanked me overboard. The fish took out 50 yards of line and stayed deep, the sign of a big fish. We eventually brought in all lines, and stopped the boat so I could properly fight the fish.

Fifteen minutes went by and the fish stayed deep, and then the line started to rise in the water. The fish rolled on the surface, and we’d already landed a 30-pounder and this fish was bigger than the earlier one. It stayed 30 feet behind the boat, and then it rolled on the tight line, and the hooks fell out.

How big was it? Thirty-five pounds, probably, and it could have been even heavier. I looked around, everyone looked at me, and no one spoke until I broke the silence.

“How can someone have a muskie on for 20 minutes only to lose it right behind the boat and just out of netting range? It must have sprung the hook or broke off a hook.”

Yeah, sure, everybody looked away and we began setting lines again as I checked the lure. There were no sprung or broken hooks. The whole secret to this muskie fishing game is to come up with an original excuse that no one has heard before.

It never works but it always makes us feel better.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/29 at 06:18 PM
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Friday, December 28, 2007

Gut Instincts: Trust Them!

A lifetime spent fishing and hunting has put me in some perilous situations. Some were caused by my stupidity, and some were the results of events that were beyond my control.

That said, it follows that some situations have been somewhat dangerous. A couple were downright deadly. Over all these years, my gut instincts served me well when the good turned bad and ugly
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Once, many years ago, some friends and I were hunting those big European hares in southern Ontario. The beagles were on a hot track but the wind was blowing up a gale as I leaned against a dead elm tree trying to follow the chase.

I kept listening, and occasionally there would be a bawl from a hound, but the jackrabbit detoured around me. The wind continued to howl, and I was considering a move when a gut instinct told me to move ... fast. It was as if God put his hand on my shoulder and started urging me along.

I found another spot about 20 yards away, and with a loud crack, the crown and 20 feet of tree trunk gave way and crashed down where I had been standing. Divine intervention? I’d love to think so, but it could have been my gut instincts. Whichever, it was a scary situation, and one that could have been deadly.

Once while bow-hunting wild boar in Tennessee, our guide said the dogs had a boar bayed. We’d have to take a shortcut, and it was across the face of a cliff. He told us not to look down and hang on to the cable that had been pounded into solid rock to provide a hand-hold..

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I was carrying 25 pounds of camera gear in a backpack, and my bow in one hand. The guide led the way, and once we were committed, there was no turning back. I began walking the foot-wide trail across the face of the cliff, and it made a dogleg to the left and then I noticed the safety cable pigtailing over the cliff. Sixty feet below was a tiny stream with about three inches of water.

“Just stay on the trail, keep your feet moving and I’ll grab you at this end,” the guide said. I made the tricky passage but felt like trying to kick his butt, which would have been a bit mistake. “OK, just one more shortcut and we’ll kill that big gray boar.”

I followed him to the end of the trail and a bit oak tree grew straight up and through the break in the trail. “This one is easy,” he said. “Just jump and land on that sturdy limb. Rock the tree-top back and forth, and when you get close to the other side, jump onto the trail. The Indians used this route for centuries. Watch and do what I do.”

He rocked the tree, and when the top came close to the other ledge, he jumped. “That’s great but you aren’t wearing a backpack and carrying a bow.” He smiled.

I got myself positioned on the limb, made sure nothing would snag my backpack and throw me off balanced, told him to grab me and the bow when I jumped, and began moving the tree-top back and forth. It was 75 feet to the ground if I missed the jump, and I felt encumbered by all of my gear. The tree-top got to within three feet of the other ledge, and off I went, sailing through the air, and landed safety.

Twenty minutes later I shot a 300-pound boar with my bow, and he asked if I’d do both shortcuts again. I said “Never!” and that is where the conversation ended. I never hunted with the guy again either. It was one time I ignored my gut instincts, took the dare, and managed to survive. My mind was screaming “Don’t do it” both times, and looking back at it, there’s no way I tackle either shortcut again.

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Another time, while bow hunting elk in Colorado, we were crossing the spine of the Rockies late at nigh in strong moonlight. There were sheer drop-offs on either side but the game trail seemed well worn and safe.

We reached a spot where we had to cross a shale outcropping that pitched off with a free-fall of 2,000 feet. We had to cross 20 yards of shale to reach the “shortcut” my guide said ended near his truck. My neck hairs were standing on end. This didn’t look or sound like much fun.

“Stay upright, keep your balance and keep moving,” he said. “I’ll go first, and once I’m across, you come directly toward me. Got it?

I had it but didn’t like it. He crossed easily enough and it was my turn. One slip, and a 2,000-foot plunge would ruin my day. I started across, and halfway to the guide, the shale slipped under one foot. I lurched a bit to get straightened up, and managed to keep my feet moving.

The trip across that shale was scary but I made it to the other side, and the guide was reaching out for me when I got close. It was a shortcut, and saved another two or three miles of mountain hiking in the dark.

I’ve learned to trust my instincts in outdoor situations, and they have done well by me. Getting tuned in to nature, and knowing your personal capabilities, has kept me going. However, if my instincts scream at me “Don’t do it!”, I turn around and find another route.

Two outdoor rules have always paid off for me: Don’t mess with Mother Nature, and never second-guess your gut instincts.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/28 at 06:37 PM
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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fishing & Hunting Books: An Investment

It has become very obvious in the last 25 years that people who fish or hunt often are well-schooled, have graduated from college and are accustomed to learning new things in their leisure time.

Many anglers and hunters strive to stay well informed. They want to read things they can learn from, and over many years, I’ve worked with many people to help them build an excellent outdoor-related fishing and hunting library.

It’s no brag, just fact: I have collected fishing and hunting books for more than 50 years, and am in the midst of compiling a major bibliography of fishing and hunting books published in the English language. This research book is only half finished, and the bibliography features some 1,300 typewritten pages that list between 25,000 and 30,000 titles.

It covers books on all types of fresh and salt water fishing, muskie fishing, waterfowl hunting, turkey hunting, decoy collecting, Atlantic salmon fishing, trout fishing, fly casting, and much more.

I know what books are out there, I know what is needed for a research library for an angler or hunter, and I’m accustomed to doing research. A teacher friend wanted an obscure book to show to his class, but didn’t have the book and couldn’t find it. He knew the author’s name and book title, and asked for help. I found his book within 15 minutes.

It’s not always that easy, but I’ve spent years searching for some rather obscure book titles, and this is a service some people need. They need help determining which books to buy, learn how much the books will cost, and then hire someone to do the search work.

Others need to have their present collection checked out, and determine its value for an estate sale, for insurance purposes, or to determine what the value is for a gift donation. I perform such appraisal work on a fee basis determined by what a sporting book collector needs to have done.

And work is the right word for doing appraisals. It is a long and time consuming task.

Of the two, I most enjoy working with people who are just beginning to establish a collection of books on their favorite fishing or hunting topic. I’ve worked with some to build their collection of muskie fishing titles, and helped others who collect deer hunting or turkey hunting books, and some who specialize in Atlantic salmon, tarpon or trout fishing. One thing I don’t do is stray out of my field of fishing and hunting titles.

Finding books for clients can be easy, very difficult, nearly impossible, or a thrilling challenge. The challenge topics are the most fun because it is like hunting for a diamond in a coal pile. It’s dirty work but look how much fun it can be when you find one.

I just found 12 muskie books for a client. When we spoke, and I told him of my find, he sounded just like a child at Christmas. He was pumped.

Before we start I try to sit down, or next best, via email or a phone call, and discuss what the client wants to accomplish in a particular genre. I’ve helped a few collectors locate some very scarce and rare African hunting books, but each collector is different in his or her wants.

But find a key book, and their joy is similar to taking a first-time trout fisherman out and putting him or her into a 10-pound steelhead. It’s fun for me and for them.

There is, as is true with all types of work, some expenses involved. Doctors and attorneys have been good clients, and their busy fast-paced work life doesn’t leave much time for looking for books. They give me a list of titles, or ask me to prepare a list, and I go to work.

I’m helping a muskie-book collector finish up his collection. Many of the books are reasonably common; some are hard to find; a few are most difficult to locate, and two or three are nearly impossible to find.

There is a general theme to my advice for budding book collectors. Try for the hardest books first. They are very difficult to find now so get them while they are still available on occasion, and fill in the collection of lesser valued books as time and money permit.

Many people I’ve dealt with provide me with a value guide that tells me how much they can spend over the period of a year, and I begin looking for key books within that price range. In every genre, there are cornerstone books that are very important acquisitions. I always suggest a new collector decide which books they want first (with some advice from me), and we work toward that goal.

I’ve learned that although there are many who are interested in deer hunting, there is a plethora of titles to choose from. I determine which authors and titles are most collectible.

Books—good books—appreciate at 10-12 percent yearly, and sometimes as much as 15 percent for a few books. I would never suggest collecting fishing or hunting books as a means of making money, but only a fool would ignore the fact that good books increase in value while poor books do not.

My thought is to help a new collector pursue this hobby with an eye toward acquiring very difficult books whenever possible. I urge them to enjoy the books while they are alive, and when they pass on, the books will probably be sold in an estate auction. I can lend assistance in planning ahead to this unfortunate day when the beloved books will eventually pass into someone else’s hands for a tidy sum of money.

Planning ahead is what makes precision collecting not only a hobby, and provide good reading while allowing the sportsman to acquire more angling and hunting skills, but in the end, provide loved ones with a significant investment.

I buy fishing and hunting books, sell them, and will help collectors get started or improve their collection.

If you are interested, drop me a note at < >. I’ll be happy to help.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/27 at 06:38 PM
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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Waiting For The Right Weather Conditions

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Someone once said the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Mine were indeed honorable, and I’d planned to hunt whitetails this evening.

That is until the raw northwest wind picked up, and began swirling. My spot at my buddy’s place is in a long and narrow swamp, and the wind must be perfect even when wearing Scent-Lok clothing otherwise the deer nail you the instant they cross your scent trail..

I had my old underwear ready to go and outerwear from several years ago to put on over it and my other clothing, but it just seemed like I would be running a risk of spooking the animals. One thing I’ve learned about this area is there are no second-place winners.

Make one mistake, and get busted, and it’s all over at that stand. The deer avoid it, move to another portion of the swamp, and work through some funnels before leaving his property. There wasn’t much breeze today, and those are the kind of hunting days that kill a deer-hunting location/

I’ve seen it happen before. A friend hunted with me last December, and a deer caught his movement as he climbed into the stand. He could see the deer 60 yards away, and well out of his effective bow range. Once he climbed into the stand, the winter air at the slightly higher elevation carried his scent directly to the deer.

The deer stood and snorted. And then they moved 50 yards and snorted again. He climbed down and walked out to his truck and waited for me to finish my hunt. His spot was then abandoned by deer.

Scent is one thing that I am cautious about. I move slowly to my stand, but I don’t try to sneak in. I’d rather walk along like I’m heading somewhere else, and then quickly get into my stand with a minimum of muss or fuss. No noise is the ideal situation.

This area is a narrow 80 acres, and for the most part, is a cedar swamp with some pines and birch trees. I scoped it out last summer, and put up my stand and then stayed away from it for almost six months.

It is a world-class spot in December after the firearm season ends. I hunt it when the wind has been right, and have stayed out of there when the wind is wrong. It’s common sense deer tactics.

The owner has two or three stands in place, and I have just one. There are days when he can hunt and I cannot, but that’s OK by me. I simply pick and choose my hunting days with care, and never hunt it on a bad wind.

So far this December I have hunted there four times. Each outing has produced deer sightings, and I haven’t been bumped by a deer yet. I’ve seen but one buck, and it was just a glimpse two weeks ago when we had a great deal of snow on the ground.

Three trails come together within 15 yards of my stand. There are tracks going both ways on each trail, and I’ve seen deer moving along each trail. As legend has it, there are two very nice bucks living in this swamp but I haven’t seen them nor have I spotted an unusually large track in the snow.

I’m hoping to get out tomorrow night if the wind cooperates. I may be able to hunt the weekend as well, and hope to huntNew Year’s Eve and New Years Day.

It’s never been my intention to over-hunt a stand, and I haven’t logged too many hours or days in this one. The deer here, as in most areas in late December, seldom move until the last 15 minutes of legal shooting time. The last time I hunted it I couldn’t leave because the deer were still milling about, and had me pinned down.

When shooting time ended, I removed my arrow from the bow, put it in my bow quiver and I sat motionless. The deer continued to mill around for 15 minutes before they drifted away to the east to work over a nearby farmer’s corn field.

So again, not because I didn’t want to, but I was unable to hunt tonight. This I will promise you: the owner has given me permission to put up one or two other stands.

Those will go up in the spring, and I’ll stay away from them all summer. When the season opens, I’ll have a good spot picked out for those days when the east wind blows. It’s tiresome trying to find a decent spot to hunt on an east wind, and if I sat out every east-wind evening, I wouldn’t be spending much time in the woods.

That will change next year.And new stand locations will be the key to success.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/26 at 04:32 PM
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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Winter Fishing & Hunting

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Don’t look now but the holiday fishing and hunting seasons are underway. There is a fair amount of snow, ice conditions in many locations are in good shape, and a sportsman doesn’t have to look far to find fish to catch or game to hunt.

The archery deer season is still underway, and although the animals are a bit spooky because of last month’s firearm season and this month’s muzzleloader season, the stick-and-string bow hunters have the fields, swamps and woods to themselves. Very few rabbit hunters spend time afield with hound until after Jan. 1 when the deer season closes.

The deer have become almost nocturnal, and often move during the last 15 minutes of legal shooting time. One exception to this rule would be just prior to a winter storm. A drop in barometric pressure, the first few snow flakes bending into a parallel-to-the-ground travel route on a increasing wind is a key sign to pay attention to. If you hunt near home, it’s easy to scamper for safety if the need arises. Those hunters who have a greater distance to travel should use their own judgment of how long to stick it out.

Once,some years ago, I sat in a tree stand with a 20-degree temperature. My stand was 20 yards downwind of a well-trod trail. The wind picked up noticeably, and it began to snow. Big, heavy flakes soon covered the ground, and it only took 15 minutes. An adult doe and a yearling doe moved through, and I sat motionless as the storm’s fury increased.

I thought I was done, but then came the unmistable sound of two antlers meeting. The sound came from behind me, and I suspected the doe fawn was entering her first estrus cycle, and the bucks were trying to establish dominance and breeding rights. The antlers rattled and clattered, and soon the bucks were within shooting range. They need to move five yards closer for me to see through the heavy snow to shoot.

Then, there they were. Their eyes had that wild look that antlered bucks get during the rut. They were only 12 yards away, and lowered their heads and charged each other. Each buck was pushing and shoving while using thick neck muscles to move the other animal. The stopped, panting in the near blizzard condition, and I arrowed the largest of the 8-pointers. The wounded buck ran off into the heavy snow, and disappeared from sight.

Then another buck, this time one with 10 points, walked out to inspect the scene of the battle. I had no bow tags left, but it didn’t stop me from doing a practice draw on the big, heavily antlered animal. My red-dot sight paused just behind his front shoulder, and I went through all of the motions without an arrow on my string. The buck vanished into the storm, and I climbed down, took my bow to the car, grabbed a four-foot piece of thick wood doweling and 10 feet of sturdy rope.

I took the blood trail, and 60 yards away, found the 8-pointer. He was quickly field-dressed, and his head and antlers were securely tied to the wood doweling, and he was easily skidded through the snow to a nearby two-track. I ran 300 yards through the snow to my truck, drove back to load the buck, and then had to find a place to turn around. The snow made it difficult to see the trail, but we slowly eased out of the woods. A late-season buck is an accomplishment.

Bunny hunters seldom get too worked up about unleashing their beagles until after the archery deer season closes. They do keep track of where bunnies seem to move, and that where-to information is carefully stored away for later use.

This also is the time when predator hunting becomes popular. There are few red foxes in this area simply because coyotes and fox don’t get along. A coyote, whenever possible, will chase down, kill and eat a fox. Most predator hunting these days is done with a predator call although many sportsmen prefer to run them with hounds. A third alternative is the spot and stalk method. Hunters drive slowly down secondary roads, and if they are lucky, will spot the animal. Once they locate the coyote the stalk begins.

Some stalk-and-shoot predator hunts are successful, but many fail. Each failed stalk is filled with wildlife lessons, and it is nowhere close to being easy. Every coyote taken with this method is earned.

This period between Christmas and New Years Day, and the next 60 days, offer an abundance of magical days afield in the snow. Grab a pair of webs (snowshoe) if the snow starts getting deep, and continue hunting.

Best outdoor wishes to everyone.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/25 at 07:47 PM
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Monday, December 24, 2007

An Early Christmas Gift

Sixteen years. It’s a long time for a father and daughter to be estranged.

It’s been so long ago that neither of us can remember what drove us apart. It had to be something of major importance for two people to not get along.

I’m the father in this situation, and my daughter and I had not spoken or seen each other in 16 years. It was a total breakdown in a father-daughter relationship. And for what?

Many attempts at reconciliation were made over 16 years. Many times I tried to speak with her, and each time I came away with an aching hole in my heart. I suspect she felt the same way as well. Two stubborn people, both unwilling to let go of the baggage that was dragging us down.

My daughter, much like her old man, is stubborn. It was a nasty time in both of our lives. She wouldn’t accept my apologies for whatever triggered her anger. Most of the time she lived in Florida but I had no address or phone number. When I had her address and phone number, my words seem to fall on deaf ears.

I wracked my brain trying to figure out where the wheels fell off our relationship. I could think of two or three times when I stepped in and tried to counsel her so she wouldn’t make a mistake when she was much younger. Now, at 41, she no longer needs or wants my old-fashioned views. And that is OK by me.

My idea was avoid widening the chasm between the two of us. I didn’t want to interfere with her life. At 68, all I wanted was to know she was safe and still knew her Ol’ Man still loved her and that she loved me. It didn’t seem too much to ask.

We went out last night to a Christmas Eve party at Kay’s sons house. We had a good time, and when we returned home, the answering machine was beeping. It was my long-lost daughter calling. I called the number she had left, and received no answer. Fifteen minutes later she called from her home in Jacksonville, Florida.

I was so happy to hear from her that I felt like crying. I fought off that urge, and kept the conservation on a non-personal level. There were no harsh words, no fingers of blame being pointed. There were no recriminations. It was a 15-minute conversation that was light and refreshing, and kept both of us upbeat.

We talked a tiny bit about the old days. and her son is up visiting with us now. She asked if he was behaving himself, and I assured her that he was. I wanted to know more about her life, but wouldn’t ask. There was a concern whether she was OK but felt a phone call answered that question.

She told me that she wanted to be part of the family again, and I told her she always had been, but I would certainly love to see her. She said she was working on that part, trying to convince herself that the family wasn’t mad at her for pulling out of our lives 16 years ago.

I’m not into pleasing, but asked her to come home. Please come home.

She choked up a bit, as did I, and she said she would be back in touch soon. It’s something for an old man to look for, and it was the best Christmas a father could get. We closed off the conversation with a mutual “I love you.” And those three words came from the heart of both of us. It’s a start, and we now have something to build on over the future.

And that is the greatest Christmas gift of all.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/24 at 09:40 AM
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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tip-Up Tactics For Northern Pike

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The spool was slowly turning. It would move three or four inches and stop, only to start slowly moving again.

The pike was in no big rush to go anywhere. He had the big sucker minnow clamped between his toothy jaws, and would have to stop to turn the sucker around to swallow it head-first.

Eventually the line stopped. Nothing happened for several minutes, and we were wondering if the pike had stripped the sucker off the wee treble hook. Then the line started to move again, and the tip-up was moved out of the hole, laid aside on the ice and out of the way, and when the braided Dacron line came tight, I gave it a hard jerk.

The northern responded in typical fashion, and raced off on a short run, slowed down and I began bringing the line in hand-over-hand, laying it on the ice so it wouldn’t tangle on the next run. The fish was two-thirds of the way back to the ice hole when it switched directions, and raced off on another 20-yard run.

Two hard runs against tension was sapping the pike’s stamina in the cold water, and the next time the fish came to the hole, I positioned his head directly under the ice hole and brought him up and out with a mighty splash.

The fish, at 15 pounds, was all green with those beige kidney-shaped spots along the side, and it was a handsome pike. It was my third, and largest, pike of the day. The other two weighed nine and 11 pounds.

There are all kinds of new tip-ups on the ice but my old standby—the wooden variety—still work good enough for me. I’ve used them for about 50 years, and all I have to do is put new line on every two years.

I’ve seen some of the finest winter tip-up pike fishing available over the years. My method works well for me and should work for you.

I use 30-pound braided Dacron line on the spool and run one end of the line through a big white button, tie the Dacron to a husky black barrel swivel, and an 18-inch length of 20-pound clear monofilament runs from the swivel to the hook.

A heavy 2-ounce sinker is attached to the hook, and the line is slowly pulled through the two buttonholes, and when the weight touches bottom, the button is slid down the line until it reaches the water. Up that rig comes, the weight is removed, and I favor a No. 12 treble hook. One point on the treble is buried deep into the tissue behind the sucker’s dorsal fin, but not so deep as to hit the spine.

A Rubbercor sinker is attached to the leader 12 inches above the bait, and it is slowly lowered toward bottom. I stop the downward plunge of the bait, put the button and two coils of line back on the spool, set the tip up into the ice hole with the side opposite the flag facing into the wind. This helps prevent those aggravating false alarms called wind bites.

The sucker is now swimming 9-12 inches off bottom. I favor setting tip-ups along the outside edge of a weedbed where pike often cruise. The fish often swim near bottom, but because of the positioning of their eyes, I like my bait up off bottom a little so it is easily visible..

I often throw slush into the ice hole to prevent a bright beam of sunlight going down into the hole on a sunny day. All of my holes are augered at one time so there is less noise while fishing, and I often auger two or three extra holes so the bait can be moved if necessary.

“Flag Up!” is the tip-up fisherman’s cry when the orange or red flag pops up when a pike grabs the bait. I know people who thunder across the ice, making too much noise, but I walk to the tip-up as quietly as possible. There is usually plenty of time, and study the twirling spool.

Waiting is the most important part of tip-up fishing. Try to set the hook before the pike turns and swallows the sucker, and you usually donate the sucker to the fish and never hook him. Wait for the spool to stop, and then wait some more for the spool to start turning again.

Set the hook hard, and there are two ways to land the fish. One method, if fishing with a partner, is to walk backward away from the hole while holding the line. The fish will come partway, stop and start swimming away. Walk back toward the hole, and make the fish earn every inch of line it takes out. Allow your partner to land the fish.

The other method is to hover over the hole. This is more of a give-and-take method. Lay the line on the ice so it doesn’t get tangled up in your feet. Braided Dacron is pretty tough, and seldom will the line break from being on the ice.

Either way, once the pike is under the ice hole, bring it slowly to the bottom of the hole, and bring it straight up and out onto the ice.

Some of my best pike fishing near Traverse City where I live is on Boardman Lake, Manistee Lake at Manistee, Portage Lake at Onekama, and Skegemog Lake northeast of Acme. The latter lake also produces the occasional muskellunge.

Ice-fishing fun reaches its peak when a big northern pike powers away from the ice hole. The first two runs will give the angler an indication of its size, and a husky pike is a prize catch on any winter day.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/23 at 08:16 PM
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Saturday, December 22, 2007

HUNTING RAIN-SOFTENED LAKES

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Ice gives ice fishermen two different options. One is to ask questions of bait-shops and local anglers before venturing out onto the ice.

Let’s face one important point, Any who spends time on the ice has probably seen some fall three. I’ve gone through three different times. That I sit here on the computer every night writing blogs means I survived. It also is a gut-wrenching event,

It almost means that a person should always be prepared for such an accident. Most people feel about good through to falling out of a tree,

People believe it only happens to other people, Anyone with some intelligence can see how such accidents and do happen. For many it means a bitterly cold bath but they survive the incidence.

Michigan’s weather is amazing. Last week’s cold temperatures made six inches of ice, and the this week anglers are being warned to stay off the half-frozen lakes and streams.

It’s well known that ice doesn’t freeze uniformly. Lakes that set down in a valley often freeze up first because cold weather settles, but those same lakes often are the first to get covered with water and slush during warmer weather, and then the ice becomes unsafe.

Large lakes are slow to freeze, especially those with deep water. Good examples of such waters are Crystal Lake near Beulah and Higgins Lake near Roscommon. Some of these lake may not go over (have safe ice) until mid-January, and then waters like Grand Traverse Bay at Traverse City may not freeze at all. If it does freeze early, it’s often goes out in mid-February, and thaw the thaw usually comes early. Be extremely cautious at all times.

As it stands right now, very few lakes in the northern counties have safe ice. A week ago, there was up to six inches on most lakes. Now, very few lakes have decent ice following the warm spell.

I passed by Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell at Cadillac today, and anglers were fishing Lake Mitchell 200 yards off shore but Lake Cadillac had only three shanties an no one was fishing.

What’s a person to do? First thing is to check with local bait shops to determine ice safety. The other thing people can do is stay off the ice until they are certain it is safe.

Me, I like at least four inches of ice. Six inches is even better, and I’m most comfortable with 10 to 12 inches. Some anglers have been going out on Saginaw Bay, but as prone as that ice mass is to breaking away from shore on a stout west wind, it pays be cautious.

A few smaller lakes near Traverse City are good for bluegills and sunfish, and Spider Lake has been great. Nearby Platte Lake has very poor ice conditions, and the ice is very unsafe. The same holds true for Long Lake.

Lake Missaukee at Lake City has been producing great bluegill and northern pike catches, and the same can be said for parts of Houghton Lake near Prudenville. However, the ice conditions on both lakes could change quickly from good to bad ice. Extreme caution is advised now after two days of spotty rain..

Some fishermen were fishing parts Saginaw River a week ago but Michigan’s state budget couldn’t tempt me to fish that waterway right now. It could be producing the biggest walleyes in the state, which is a distinct likelihood, but I’ll wait for much safer ice conditions.

Burt and Mullet lakes in Cheboygan County should be producing walleyes and some perch, but again, conditions are bad. In-flowing and out-flowing streams make safe ice problematic. Warming weather hastens a sudden ice melt, and ice can turn treacherous.

Anglers would be smart to hold off for another week or 10 days, depending on whether we get freezing temperatures and night, and allow everything to stiffen up again. A second freezing (after a melt) usually doesn’t produce great ice.

Risking one’s life on inland lakes and rivers is not worth the effort. The best catch of game fish in the world isn’t worth taking chance. The safest and wisest thing to do is to watch and wait for good ice to form
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Local bait dealers know when the ice is safe and where the fish are biting. Keep track of conditions with a phone call or two, and don’t take chances. Going through the ice is a harrowing experience if you survive.

The worst case scenario—death by drowning or exposure—is the other possibility. Neither option appeals to me or other sane people.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/22 at 07:48 PM
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Friday, December 21, 2007

Unraveling The Mystique Of Steelhead Fishing

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It’s a well known fact. Ask any beginning steelhead fisherman, and they will tell you just how hard these lake-run rainbow trout are to catch.

Books have been written about them. I’ve written three books on the topic myself, and even though when pushed hard, I will admit they are hard to catch when they aren’t there.

My three books—Steelheading For Everybody, Steelhead In North America and Great Lakes Steelhead Flies—and the mystery notions that continue to that anglers don’t make these game fish so any easier to catch.

Such freaky notions are basic scare tactics to drive neophyte anglers away, but if an angler does not know the river, they can’t catch fish worth any degree of regularity. Locate some fish, as guide Mark Rinckey and I do with a great deal of regularity
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Any screwy suspicions about steelhead fishing is folklore in the minds of anglers. Be there, at the right time, fish properly and steelhead are not much different to catch than bluegills or yellow perch. One principle applies to these three game fish. Anglers must find the fish before they can taste the sweetness of success.

There are as many ways to catch steelhead as is true with any other game fish. All methods produce, but certain methods work best at various times of the year. Me, stalking visible steelhead on shallow rivers and casting flies to them is as good as it gets, and I made a living for 10 years guiding anglers to good catches using some of the following method.

The problem with this method is that people are in a big rush. They want fish now, and they bail off the river bank, go splashing into the clear river and spook fish off their spawning beds. And wonder why they can’t land the fish.

Forget about wading up or down the river, and spend your time on the river bank. Walk slowly, stop often and study the water. It’s a method a good bit like still-hunting deer, and try to rush the process, the fish spook. The deer run away and the steelhead swim away.

Slow down, and take your time. The toughest thing I had to do when guiding steelhead fishermen was to curb their enthusiastic impatience. This old method worked back in the 1960s and it still works now providing people follow some easily understood rules.

Stay out of the water unless you are casting to visible fish. Instead, walk the riverbank, stop, start and look for fish. Use any available cover and a successful stalk may require 15-30 minutes to move close enough for a successful and accurate but short cast.

Wear a billed cap, pull it low over Polarized sunglasses, and pause frequently. A mint-silver female is most difficult to spot, and sometimes all that can be seen is a shadow. Males are darker colored, and their gaudy gill covers and cheeks are easily spotted. Don’t look for the whole fish; often all you’ll see is a tail, a white mouth or a shadow.

Watch the fish and study them. If they are going on and off the bed, it means they are spooky. Relax, take your time, and wait until the hen starts rolling up on her side and the male fertilizes the eggs with a jet of white sperm. Remember this, if nothing else: don’t fish for the female; fish only for male fish.

Ease slowly into the water and move softly without splashing the water or crunching gravel underfoot. If the fish start moving back and forth, stop, remain still, and wait for them to resume spawning. Take you time, and ease gently into casting position. It can take a long time, and I’ve spent hours trying to catch a gaudy buck steelhead. This method requires constant attention to detail, great patience and accurate casts.

Study the water current and depth. The fly must be cast far enough upstream to be scratching gravel when it comes to the male. If the female hits the fly. do nothing. Hook and fight the female, and all the males will scatter. Hook a male, and it’s not uncommon to catch two or three fish without unduly spooking the hen or harming the resource.

The fly must ease past his nose. Set up a rhythmic casting pace; cast up past the male, strip in line as the fly drifts downstream, and once it passes the male, lift the fly out and cast again. Cast, strip line, ease the fly past his nose, lift it out and cast again.

The male will often move out of the way of the fly. This repetitive casting angers the fish, and they will often hit. Watch the fish’s head, and when it moves about two or three inches, it has the fly and is moving it out of the bed. Set the hook. If you wait for a hard strike, you’ll never hook a spawning steelhead.

Common courtesy has its place on a steelhead stream. If you spot an angler up ahead casting to bedded fish, walk wide around the area on the bank. Don’t wade down the river and spook his fish. If you are fishing to bedded fish, and see an angler coming, holler and politely ask them to make a wide pass around you and the fish. People with common sense will do; those who never had any brains or up bringing will ignore your request. A steelhead isn’t worth getting into a fight over, but I’ve seen days when I wish I’d taken those Charles Atlas course many years ago.

This is just one of many steelhead techniques but it happens to be my favorite, and in the future, we’ll share other methods that produce. But one thing to remember is to try to learn something new every day.

It’s hard to do, but trust me. Unspooked steelhead are much easier to catch than fish that have been dodging snag hooks, clumsy wading anglers, and people who care nothing about the rights of others. Too many want a steelhead at any cost, and as quickly as possible, but they have no clue about how to go about catching them.

Patience, fly presentation and timing are the three keys to success.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/21 at 08:47 PM
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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ice Safety: Think Ahead, Keep Your Wits, Save Your Life

imageCrashing through thin ice is one of the most gut-wrenching experiences possible. Once the breakthrough begins, fear and anxiety levels build.

The heart starts beating like an air hammer and the shock of entering ice-cold water takes your break away. Ice anglers must fight panic attacks in order to survive.

I know. I’ve gone through the ice three times. Once while running my winter trap line my feet plunged through river ice. My feet went down as I fell through six feet of water until they hit bottom and my body shot back up. Luckily, my head emerged through the ice hole and I pulled myself to safety.

I’ve gone through lake ice twice: once in three feet of water and once in eight feet of water. Each time panic rose but was fought back, and I escaped with just a dunking.

Ice travel by car, foot, four-wheeler or snowmobile, is a personal judgment decision. Winter ice has some unique qualities that can cause it to become unstable, and people who venture on the ice must use caution.

A fact to remember: Definite signs of pedestrian traffic do not always mean the ice is safe. Never take chances.

Most tragedies occur during early or late ice periods. Early-season anglers often forget that ice doesn’t freeze at a uniform rate. Late-season ice rots at an uneven rate due to water currents and the effects of sun and wind.

Prolonged freezing is needed to make safe ice. Heavy snowfall causes an insulating blanket over new ice, and can create treacherous conditions.

The following guidelines are just that: individuals must judge local ice conditions before travel begins.

One inch of solid ice is unsafe. Two inches will hold a single angler but calls for extreme caution.

Three inches is safe for several anglers spread out 10 yards apart. Four inches is safe for general foot travel. Five inches of clear blue ice is often considered safe for snowmobile travel providing sleds are widely separated.

Ten inches of ice will support cars with a two-ton gross weight or several snowmobiles. Twelve inches will hold a light truck, 15 inches will support a 2.5-ton truck and 20 inches will support a vehicle weighing eight tons.

Ice is flexible, and new ice is more resilient than old. A car moving across it at certain speeds set up a shock wave pattern. New ice absorbs shock waves but old ice does not. Ice travel by car can be an accident waiting to happen.

Drive at speeds under 10 miles per hour. Vehicles should be widely separated to diminish dangerous shock waves.

Those who drive on ice should be prepared to dive head-first from the vehicle if it breaks through, and almost anyone can dive six feet to land on safe ice far from the hole.

Carry these items in the event of a breakthrough: 20-50 feet of strong rope, life preserver and a sharp object for each hand to poke into the ice to pull yourself onto safe ice. A Styrofoam bait bucket will keep an ice angler afloat.

Use the buddy system, and never travel alone. Remain separated by10 yards. Solitary angers should realize that some air is trapped in clothing when they first plunge in but exaggerated movements will result in a loss of buoyancy and increase the chances of drowning unless rescued.

If help is not nearby, try to break rotted ice away to reach firm ice. Jab two sharp objects into the ice and slowly start kicking with your feet as you pull yourself onto the ice. Once up, roll rapidly away from the hole to safer ice.

Common sense is the ice fisherman’s best friend. Check local ice conditions before venturing out, avoid a river mouth or an area known for underwater springs, and don’t panic if a dunking occurs.

Keep your wits about you, don’t panic, be prepared for any emergency, and chances of survival on the ice are good.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/20 at 09:11 PM
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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Get Ready! She’s Warming Up To Sing.

imageShe’s tuning up right now. The distant sound hunters think they hear are those of a big woman vibrating her vocal cords in anticipation of this year’s final hoorah.

A week from next Tuesday will see the final stamp of approval or disapproval, depending on how each of us view the past deer season, be applied to the 2007 deer hunting season. The Fat Lady will start singing 30 minutes after sundown on Jan. 1, and another deer season will slowly creep over the threshold of one year and launch us into the next. And just think: there will only be nine months until the deer season opens again.

Meanwhile, the days of parties, getting drunk, having a mouth that tastes like a goat herd walked through it, are things of the past. We’re usually in bed long before midnight arrives.

Twenty-five years ago I decided to stop drinking and did. I dedicated my whole being to not drinking. I did the same thing several years ago about quitting cigarettes, and I have never smoked since.

As the year slowly draws to a close I prefer to remember people. Some like my 94-year-old father who died 14 months ago. I also remember brother George who passed away on Sept. 10, 2003, but there have been many other kind and caring people in my life who I miss dearly at this time of year.

Some key folks from my life have fished around their last bend, and some have hunted for their last time. For each, I cherish those memories we shared, especially those that are far more important than going to some silly party to get hammered and make a fool of myself.

The memories of those who have passed on are far more meaningful to me than getting sloshed. As an old drinking friend once wisely noted about New Years Eve: “Getting drunk on New Years Eve is for amateurs. The real drunks can and will get drunk anytime.

Wow! Now there’s a philosophy to live by.

There are so many old friends who have turned life’s corner, and are but faded photographs and fond memories. I miss the late Bernie McKenzie, who gave me a job in his sporting goods store in 1958 when jobs were tough to find, and I became the go-to guy for sighting-in deer rifles.

Then there were Bobbie and Max Donovan. Max was my mentor, and Bobbie was his younger brother. Those two, and G.V. Langley were always up to running fox with hounds. Both Bobbie and Max are long dead, and who knows about G.V. and Paul Duncan and Jerry Miller, three other dog jockies who often ran red foxes all winter.

There is Frank McKenzie, who has done a bit of outdoor writing, but he and his brother John are still good friends although I don’t see either one as often as I’d like. John worked for me as a steelhead guide many years ago, and he is still going strong.

Another who has moved on to where the steelhead always bite is George Yontz. He was another mentor my formative years of the 1950s on the Sturgeon River, and I miss him a great deal. His acts of kindness to me when I was a kid have not been forgotten.

Another who has passed, and I mourn his uniqueness, is Robert Traver. This legendary trout angler and Upper Peninsula author wrote under that pseudonym, but his real name was John Voelker. He set a writing example that others like me can only hope to emulate some day. He was the Bard of the Upper Peninsula, the Lord of Frenchman’s Pond, and he was full of fun, and a fan of the fly rod and tiny fly.

I miss the quiet strength and strong sense of purpose that was the late Russ Bengel. He was the last Michigan market hunter to pass on, and he hated shooting ducks and geese for the market at a time when making money was difficult. He regretted his market hunting days, and quietly donated millions of dollars to Ducks Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited of Canada. He donated money to make our wildlife habitat a better place for wildlife to live, and he was exceedingly kind to me.

Also gone but not forgotten are guys like Al Lesh who could always help me get a story on short notice. The legendary muskie guide Homer LeBlanc was another person who was a big help, and he had more stories than anyone I know and I honestly believe that all were true.

There’s my old friend, Herb Boldt of East Tawas, who is alive and kicking, and we fished and hunted together often over many years. We seldom have much chance to get together these days, and it is my loss. He helped hire me at The Detroit News years ago, and I’ve never forgiven him for it.

There are many younger friends, some I have fished or hunted with once and others that we haven’t seen each other for many years. Friends, after all, become the glue that holds many of us together.

There are people like Erwin Bauer, Gary Baynton, Lee Blahnik, Bob Brunner, Gordie Charles, Reece Clifford, Tom Coles, Boyd Crist, Emil and Steve Dean, R.J. Doyle, Ben East, Doug Esch, George Gardner, Jim Gauthier, Bruce Grant, Roger & Paul Kerby, Scott Kincaid, Bob Kook, Jerry Lee, Ron Levitan, Stan Lievense, Pat Marino, Arnie Minka, Art Neumann, Paul Nickola, Phil Petz, Claude and Matt Pollington, Bud Raskey, Jerry Regan, Rick Reed, Jim Riley, Mark Rinckey, Ken Roberts, Mark Romanack, Steve Southard, John Spencer, Al Stewart, Sam Surre, Walt Tilson, and John and Steve VanAssche. Any whose name I’ve missed, my sincere apologies for an unintentional error.

Some of these men are household names among sportsmen, and others are not, but I know that all have figured significantly in my life over a period of many years, and I cherish their friendship. And, I will be thinking of them, those alive and dead, when the large lady tips her head back to sing. it’s then I forget about deer hunting, and cherish long-standing friendships from the past and the present.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/19 at 06:55 PM
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mistaking Me For A Poacher

image Ten to 15 years ago I deer hunted on New Years Eve, shot a doe, and just as the arrow hit the animal, it turned slightly. It wasn’t a terribly bad hit, but wasn’t quite perfect. After following the trail for 50 yards, I decided to return on New Years Day to recover the deer rather than to keep pushing it farther from the road through knee-deep snow.

I returned the next day, followed the trail through the snow, and found the doe. As I field-dressed it, two snowmobilers came by and hollered “Hi, George.” My late twin brother often answered to Dave, and I often answered to his name, so I waved and away they went.

I was near George’s house, and decided after loading the tagged doe into my car, to stop by and wish him Happy New Year.

As my car nosed into his driveway, I spotted a Conservation Officer’s pickup ahead of me. I walked in, and George was hollering “I told you, I don’t know anything about a dead deer.”

The CO saw me, and pounced like a cat on a mouse. “What do you know about deer?”

“Quite a bit,” I said. “Do you want to know about the gestation period, how much protein must go into body growth and how much into antler growth. Food preferences? What do you want to know?”

“Don’t get smart. I asked you a question, and I want an answer.”

“I’m not trying to get smart, and I am trying to answer your question. What do you want to know?”

“I said I want to know what you know about deer. Answer the question.”

“We are not communicating here. You keep asking the same foolish question, and I keep trying to answer it. Think it over for a minute, and rephrase your question and I’ll answer.”

He thought, and the light bulb suddenly flashed on, and he asked: “Did you shoot a deer today?”

He was told that I had not shot a deer today, and I asked what difference would it make if I had.

“We got a report that your brother shot an illegal deer,” he said. “How would you answer that?”

“If he told you he didn’t shoot a deer today, he didn’t shoot one.”

“Someone, either you or him, shot an illegal deer and was seen loading the animal in their vehicle. Any comments on that?”

Now, I’ve worked with many conservation officers over many years, and I have found that most of them are patient, not belligerent. This man was an obvious bully, and it was time to quit mentally sparring with him.

“What would make that an illegal deer if he or I had shot a deer today with a bow,” I asked. “If it will help your quest for answers to this problem, I will admit to shooting a deer with a bow. Last night!”

“Aha,” he said, as if uncovering a major clue. “Now we’re getting somewhere. I don’t suppose you have that deer in your vehicle right now.”

“You can suppose anything you wish but the deer is in my car, and before you feel the need to ask, you may examine it. It is legally tagged and wrapped in a tarp.”

“Why do you have it wrapped in a tarp. Are you trying to conceal it?”

My anger was growing. If I’d been trying to conceal it, I would have backed out of George’s driveway and left. That didn’t dawn on him.

“Do you want to examine it or not,” I said, unlocking the trunk. “I’m getting tired of you and your nasty attitude. Have a look.”

“UH-huh. Fresh blood. Arrow wound. Are you certain you didn’t shoot it today? This deer looks freshly dead.”

A deep breath was taken before trying, with all due respect that should be shown to any law enforcement officer, to make it clear enough so he could understand my meaning.

“Tell me, sir, when does the bow season officially end? No, don’t bother, I’ll tell you. Archery deer season expires tonight, Jan. 1, at the end of legal shooting time. You do know that, don’t you?

“So, if I hadn’t shot this deer last night and found it this morning, I would still have been able to shoot it today. Am I right? Well? Please tell me what law has been broken, and why you’re harassing me and George?”

He looked at the deer, me, his volunteer Conservation Officer, back at me and George, back at the deer, and starting walking away.

“No answers to the question? Next time, be sure you know the law before you get everyone upset like this.”

His parting words, almost as an afterthought but they lacked any conviction but offered him the final face-saving say-so, was: “You are free to go.”

I knew that when the whole fiasco first began. Fortunately, he retired, moved away from Benzie County, and we haven’t met since. And that suits me just fine. I actually have the utmost respect for conservation officers, but dislike bullies, regardless of who they are or what they do for a living.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/18 at 09:12 PM
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Monday, December 17, 2007

Never Take Your Vision For Granted

imageOperations do not scare me. They never have and probably never will.

There have been so many eye surgeries: nine on my right eye, the only one that works, and seven on the left.

It’s been a 30-year slugfest against glaucoma. My left eye has become sightless in the past several years. Obviously, there is great concern about further right-eye surgeries or vision loss but such thoughts do not rule my life. Of more concern is my thoughts about my 19-month-old great-grandson who just underwent surgery on one of his kidneys last week. The malfunctioning organ sent his blood pressure as high as 290/110 and he’s been in the hospital nearly six weeks.

This isn’t written specifically about me or little Reece. This blog is written in hopes that readers will have their vision tested at least once each year after turning 40 years old, and be checked for glaucoma. You may see well at this time and still be cursed with glaucoma. Most people take their vision for granted, which was hammered home years ago after undergoing my first eye surgery.

Before glaucoma came visiting, no one in the Richey family ever had glaucoma ... until me. We really didn’t know that it is the greatest sight robber of all. My father developed glaucoma late in life, and my twin brother was on the bubble for glaucoma when he died 4 1/2 years ago.

My vision was never great, and never was 20-20 corrected vision found in our family. My brother began wearing glasses in kindergarden, and thick glasses also covered my face, so it’s been glasses or contact lens from that day forward. My life, after the onset of glaucoma, has become one of eye drops and surgeries.

It was after my first glaucoma surgery 20 years ago that the idea of looking and seeing, and paying closer attention to things unseen earlier in my life, became so important. My glaucoma came on suddenly with headaches, blurred vision and preliminary tests were done.

And then came even more complicated tests as doctors determined that my intra-ocular (inner eye) pressure was four times higher than normal.

Glaucoma pressure at a higher-than-normal rate causes pinching of the optic nerve. The more the nerve is pinched, the more vision loss is noted. By the time they determined that glaucoma had set in, some of my vision had already been lost. My depth perception began to go, and stumbling over things became a problem, and peripheral vision was soon lost as more and more open doors suddenly jumped out at me.

The early surgeries helped, but the vision loss kept disappearing like a mirage. Outdoor walks, hunts and fishing trips with friends became more meaningful, and stopping to study the spring flowers and smell the roses, became much more important as time went on.

Soon those spawning salmon and steelhead that had been easy to spot in earlier years, were now very difficult to see, even with polarized sunglasses. More than once an improper step found me plunging into holes along the river bank, and on more than one occasion, my wader-clad boots would trip over a submerged log and we’d come splashing ashore through cold water like a beached whale.

My companions thought it was funny, and we laughed at my apparent clumsiness, but it wasn’t a case of being clumsy. It was caused by poor vision. No longer was the river bottom or a drifting dry fly visible. But no one laughed any louder than me. It was funny the first few times but the bloom is now off that rose.

The times spent outdoors have become more dear in recent years. It’s easy now to marvel at glowing sunrises and sunset, and although grouse hunting was always a passion, there were more missed birds than ever before. If they scooted out the sides, my peripheral vision would miss them. Once every 10 flushes a bird may be seen somewhat clearly, but that didn’t necessarily translate into a hefty bird in my game bag.

It’s still possible to hunt deer, and many folks ask why my bow range for bucks is 15 yards or less, and the answer is the animals can’t be seen clearly enough at 20-25 yards to make an accurate shot. Knowing my limitations, and hunting within them is my key to success. Give me a rifle with a quality scope, and there are no missed shots. The magnification allows me to place the bullet accurately, but one doesn’t walk around with a scope to his eye.

It’s become necessary to adapt to this problem. My lack of vision and my life has changed and my thought is to ask my valued readers to learn from my situation. Get your eyes checked once a year after the age of 40. Glaucoma damage to an eye is irreversible.

Hunting and fishing has been my life, and now it is slowly changing, and this points out that life holds no guarantees for any of us. My operations have helped save my right-eye vision. My life could be much worse. I can still fish and hunt but do so with certain personal rules I must follow, and follow them I do.

Much of my time is still spent outdoors. Winter days are spent tracking bunnies and squirrels around the house or wherever life takes me, and hours are spent watching birds from my kitchen window. It’s easy to drink up the outdoor sights like a 21-year-old chugging their first brew. Ice fishing has become a special pleasure for me.

My thought is to store up outdoor memories, to place pictures in my mind of things seen and done, and places visited in the past, and if my surgeries don’t do the job, there are countless memories stored to be relived in the future.

Don’t feel sorry for me, nor shed any tears on my behalf, and please, above all else, don’t pity me. My life has been one wonderful adventure after another. Day after day, week after week, and year after year for more than 40 years, the outdoors has been my private banquet table where it was possible for me to feast heartily on all sorts of wonderful and exciting fishing and hunting experiences.

Any upcoming surgeries will be just one more in a long line of adventure. Each new day is another adventure as time is spent looking forward to another new experience. Time will tell, but one way or the other, any future surgeries will happen. So, until then, my vast warehouse of memories continues to grow.

Never take your vision for granted, and live each day to its fullest, and suck up all outdoor memories like a new kitchen sponge. One day we may need them to flow vividly through our mind’s eye.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/17 at 04:23 PM
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