Friday, February 29, 2008

Not Everyone Can Be A Muskie Angler

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I stood atop a boat seat (I was wearing an inflatable life vest), and cast a big spinnerbait to the edge of a weed bed, when a long shadow slid from the weeds and fell in close behind the lure.

This Intermediate Lake muskie had its sinister snout two feet behind the lure. I knew if I stopped the retrieve, the fish would lose interest and disappear into the depths.

It takes a bit of timing and some practice to stop reeling and start the lure going through a figure-8 or a J-shaped lure movement on a short line near the boat. The fish sank into the water, and seemed to hover four feet below the boat.

Back and forth, around and around, I kept the lure going fast enough to make the spinner blade turn over, and still the muskie didn’t move. My arm was getting tired but I continued the movement. As long as a muskie is nearby and somewhat interested, it pays to keep trying.

That fish soon tired of the spinner and swam off. I’ve caught muskies to 36 pounds, and this fish was all of that. It was a good bit over 50 inches in length, and I guessed her at 38 although she could have hit that enviable 40-pound mark.

Folks, a fish that size, is the catch of a lifetime. That is, if you can get the thing to strike. I took off, fished another area for two hours, eased back to where I’d seen her, and cast a jerkbait and a spinnerbait.

The jerkbait, a big black Suick plug, was worked hard around the weed bed. I fished the deep side, along the edges and the shallow sides, and then switched to a spinnerbait. I like black hair-bodied spinnerbaits with a big orange or orange-black blade, and it was what had interested her before.

I pitched that spinner, worked it over and beside the weed beds, cast to little holes or lanes in the weeds, and ripped it viciously through the early June weeds, but nothing worked. I snapped on a big Red-Eye spoon, and starting pitching it out, letting it sink, and brought it wobbling back to the boat.

She snaked out of the weeds, and again fell in behind the spoon. This time, just to make it seemed different to the fish, I speeded up the retrieve to make it look like an injured minnow trying to get away.

That muskie was all over the lure. A savage strike, and an even more savage hook-set, and just to be doubly sure, I slammed the hooks home again. The fish headed for deep water off the weed bed, and we fought a hard and spirited battle.

Twenty minutes later, her surges slowed, and although she was a heavy fish, she used her power wisely. She finally rolled on the surface 10 yards away, came reluctantly to within five feet, rolled again, opened her mouth and the lure fell out.

Sure, I was a bit disappointed but one doesn’t (or shouldn’t) fish just to land the brute. Half or perhaps more of the fun, is locating a big fish and getting it to strike. Some of the Canadian waters can produce big muskies on a somewhat regular basis, but in my case, fishing a heavily fished lake is tough work. Big muskies don’t come easy around here.

Finding the fish is sometimes the easiest part of this equation. They are notorious for following lures, but frankly, I’ve hooked more fish that I didn’t see than those I did. But still, we go through the motions of a figure-8 or a J-stroke when muskies near the boat, and sometimes it works. Most of the time it doesn’t.

Fooling a big muskie is like calling to a longbeard gobbler. The excitement is in finding the fish, and hopefully fooling her into striking your lure. You’ll note that I keep referring to muskies as “her.” That is because most truly large muskies are females.

Changing lures is a necessity, and if a fish follows one lure, try it again two or three hours later. If it doesn’t produce a fish sighting soon, switch to a different lure. Muskies, like people, like some variety.

Muskie fishing is an addictive thing. The big fish are hard to catch, and they never come easy, and fooling one is the biggest part of the game. Bringing one to the boat also is part of it, but most people who deserve to be called a muskie fisherman, return these big fish to the lake.

We have about two months before the Lower Peninsula muskie season opens on the last Saturday in April except on the Lake St. Clair and Detroit and St. Clair rivers later on. The Upper Peninsula muskie season opens May 15, but thinking about it keeps my muskie thoughts alive.

Catch-and-release muskie fishing is what keeps these fish healthy. And the only way they grow is to be hooked, gently handled and released. And hopefully, we can get a return bout with them on a future trip.

Catching a small muskie is much like a young kid kissing his sister. There just isn’t much kick to it. But hooking a big old muskie girl is great fun, hard work, and once we succeed, an angler has accomplished a most difficult feat.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/29 at 02:57 PM
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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ethical Turkey Hunting

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Ethical turkey hunting means hunting honestly and legal. It also means using fair-chase hunting practices.

For instance: it isn’t considered cricket or proper to pot a gobbler from a roost tree, before or after dawn. Granted, some people might get away with it but it is unethical and illegal. It’s something that just isn’t done.

Most hunters, if they knew someone was watching, would never shoot a treed gobbler. It’s just not an honest way to hunt. So, if we always believe that someone may be watching our every action, we follow the rules.

Ethics are legal and moral standards by which other people judge hunters. Shooting a gobbler from a car window is not ethical nor is it legal. Shooting one from someone’s front yard, running out, grabbing the bird and racing back to the car is not only unethical but illegal as well.

I had a chance several years ago to cheat. A huge gobbler was working my way, slowly but surely, and the minute hand was ticking slowly down to the end of shooting time. A soft little whining yelp teased the bird and he paused to gobble, dance and all it did was slow him down even more.

The gobbler had a beard that tickled the ground, and it looked as big as a wide paint brush, but he was 55 yards out. Three minutes of legal shooting time was left, and I hoped he would get a move on, and take several fast steps closer. He could then dawdle along for another five yards, and be within range before shooting time ended.

He took two or three steps, stopped again, went into a semi-serious strut, folded up his wings, and stood at 45 yards. It was now down to seconds: 10… 9 ... 8… and finally my watch said shooting time had ended. Five seconds later the bird quickly walked to within 25 yards of me, stopped, and stood broadside with his head up for a full minute.

Could I have shot? Absolutely. Did I shoot? The answer is no. Who would have known if I had cheated by less than a minute?

That answer is simple. I would have known, and every forkful of breast meat would have stuck in my craw like a broken piece of glass. I couldn’t have eaten that bird if I had violated ethical and legal codes of hunting conduct.

There are certain things ethical hunters will not do. Shooting a gobbler before legal shooting time starts is a serious breach of ethics and hunting laws. Dumping a gobbler after shooting time ends is equally wrong. Killing one with a rifle is illegal in this state although legal in others.

The advent of 3 1/2-inch 12 gauge shotguns and the heavy 10 gauge magnums with ultra-full choke tubes have made longer shots possible. I watched a gent unload one shot at a gobbler that would have kept coming had he not shot at 80 yards, and the bird flew away with the guy chasing it with two more wild ill-conceived shots.

“I think I rocked him,” he told me, somewhat proud that he may have buried some pellets in a bird that got away. I had told him to wait until the bird was 35 yards out, but he shot at over 80 yards and tried to convince me the bird was within range. Was it an ethical shot, or a Hail Mary shot? The latter is my thought.

There’s no excuse for ultra-long shots. Allow the bird to approach within range, take your time, and when his head comes up, shoot. If the bird approaches, his head and neck tucked down, don’t shoot. Birds often will go out of strut, straighten up, and lift their head after gobbling. The chance of wounding a bird is high until the head is straight up.

It’s unethical to call to a bird if you know another hunter has been working it. Common sense, which plays a major role in hunting ethics, dictates that the newcomer should hunt elsewhere and find a different bird. Never get into a calling contest with another hunter for a bird.

I once watched a big gobbler approach a highway, cross and head toward my hen and jake decoys. My set-up was 350 yards off the road, and the bird came off the road shoulder and out into the field. It then began to strut, gobble, and started working my way again.

A car came down the road, stopped when it saw the gobbler and pulled onto the shoulder. The driver leaned on the horn and startled the bird. It started coming again, and this time one nut-case yelled out the window while the other honked the horn. The gobbler lit out on a dead run, crossed a big field, and disappeared from sight.

Hunter ethics wasn’t the issue here but instead, it was a clear case of hunter harassment.

You know, I know, and poachers know that conservation officers are spread too thin and it’s hard for them to enforce all the laws at all times. So, if anyone will help police our ranks, it must be you and me. Ethics must stand for something, and if ethical behavior goes out the window, where will we be then?

Civilization must stand on a strong unshakeable foundation of common sense and ethical behavior. If we lose one, the other will surely follow. If both go, the world of hunting as we know it will falter and fail. 

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/28 at 08:06 PM
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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stocking Up On More Fishing Lures

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There are more tackle boxes in my basement storeroom that any sane man needs. Every one of them is almost overflowing with fishing lures, so why should I ever need more? A good question and one rather difficult for any sane man to honestly answer.

It’s a bit like fishing and hunting books. A man can never have too many good outdoor books, and I’m as guilty of buying more than I will probably ever need ... or can ever read from front to back. I try hard to read every book but some are just too dense for me.

There are three huge tackle boxes filled to capacity with just muskie plugs, and a smaller one that holds some smaller muskie lures. I’ve got some 10-inch and 11-inch muskie plugs and great huge bucktails and `spinnerbaits in the big boxes. However, every year I see someone with a Bobbie or Eddie bait or a Suick in a color I don’t have. I’m a sucker for muskie plugs, and am now looking to buy some old, used ones.

It doesn’t mean that the other guy’s oddly colored Suick hasn’t worked for him. It could, and there I’d be without one of that strange color that almost always fails to produce fish. This affliction of mine is a perfect example of a man and his money is soon parted. Or ... how about the one that states that the only difference between a man and a boy is the price of his toy. Muskie lures, now they are some pricey.

There are two more beastly huge tackle boxes filled with nothing but salmon spoons and big plugs. I own most colors of J-Plugs, Dardevles and other fishing spoons, but I keep bumping into newer sizes with different paint and tape patterns that beckon to me with eye that look deep into mine and seems to whisper “Buy me!” New lures or old lures in new colors seem to capture my soul. I’m willing to bet that I own at least 500 salmon spoons.

The eyes have it. I’ve been adding stick-on eyes to my lures for many years, and now more and more lures are being made with prominent and well-colored eyes. I think eyes make lures more appealing to fish. I have enough stick-on eyes to last me the rest of my life.

OK, how about Herring Dodgers? I have two smaller boxes filled with them. There are red ones, white and yellow ones, chrome plated, some home-painted a dull black color (don’t laugh because they work ... sometimes), half silver-half bronze, chartreuse models, and some with dazzling tape and some without. There are small ones, large ones, those of normal size, and Hoochies ... got me some of them, too.

If we’re going after lake trout I tote 50-60 different sizes, shapes and colors of cowbells and perhaps half that many different colors of P-nuts. Another tackle box is filled with various trolling weights for inland trout lakes, and some stainless steel needles to sew shiners onto my hook.

One tackle box is loaded with more Dardevles in a variety of colors although my best pike fishing comes with two color combinations—red with a white stripe and silver back or yellow with five red diamonds and a bronze back. There are other pike spoons and plugs in the box, and although most of my largest pike come on the two colors noted above, there are another two dozen other patterns to try when the pike start getting picky.

Oh my, I almost forgot. One box is filled with body baits like Rapalas, Rebels, FasTracs, Long A Bombers and other similar lures. They too are in an infinite variety of colors, and some have never been in the water but boy, do they look pretty.

Still another box is filled with wood FlatFish and Tadpollys from my guiding days when I used the drop-back method on the Manistee River below Tippy Dam or when trolling Manistee, Pentwater or Pere Marquette lakes for late-fall steelhead. The FlatFish come in two varieties: those with the tiny treble hooks or with two larger treble hooks. In that box are the hook hangers for the small trebles that I always favored.

I’m a big fan of vertical jigging on the Detroit, Kalamazoo, Manistee, Saginaw, St. Clair and Tittabawassee rivers, and there are two heavy tackle boxes filled with jigs from 1/2 to 1 ounce, depending on the depth of water and current speed at each location. Half of one box is filled with oodles of grub and twister-tail bodies. There also is a small handful of stinger hooks for when walleye try nipping off the tails of my minnows.

And as nice as freshly painted jigs look in their trays, I often scrape the paint off and use just the bare lead and a lip-hooked minnow. It takes a strong buy to carry my tackle box of leadhead jigs. In a strong wind, it could easily serve as a 40-pound anchor. I kid you not!

One small box holds nothing but Mepps spinners, and another holds nothing but weight-forward spinners like Erie Dearies. Another small box is nothing special except it contains lures purchased when I was 15-17 years old at the old Wanigas Fly Shop near Saginaw. The shop was owned by Art Neumann, a co-founder of Trout Unlimited, and it holds many small trout-size spoons that are no longer seen these days except by collectors.

Then there are some collectible Heddon lures that I normally leave home, and other scarce Creek Chub Pikie minnows, etc. And did I mention two small boxes of ice fishing lures? I’ve got a bunch of Do-Jiggers, Halis, jigging Rapalas, Swedish Pimples and other such lures.

So, do I really need several more lures? Probably not, but once one or two new lures catch my eye, I go into a feeding frenzy until I have them all. Many times, after such a cabin-fever purchase, I try the lure and take a dislike to its action, color or lack of fishing-catching ability. There are times when I give them to my fishing companions, with my compliments, of course. The lures sometimes work for them.

Someone once told me that fishing lures catch more anglers than fish, and I suspect that is true. However, gazing upon tray after tray of various colors and sizes of lures makes me feel good. I smile as I hit the hip, and I’m already thinking of explaining more lures to the lady of the house who feels I have 50 times more lures than anyone needs. She’s probably right, but only books and lures lead me to impulse buying.

Isn’t that right, honey? Hon-e-e-e?

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/27 at 07:21 PM
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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Winter Is Wearing On Me

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Is it me or is it the most recent snow and cold weather that has me feeling a bit peckish? Cleaning up messes in the driveway isn’t a problem, and my trusty snowblower can eat right through it. Pushing the snow off the decks was even easier.

What bothered me the most is the sheer inconvenience. After all these years living up north, you’d think I’d be used to winter and all the snow. It’s just that this year seems so much different in so many ways.

I’m most of my way through cleaning and preparing my turkey hunting stuff, and I next need to check out my shotgun. I know ol’ Betsy shoots No. 5 copper-plated shot best at 30 yards, but year after year I try No. 4s and 6s just to see if anything has changed.

Mind you, nothing has changed over the many years I’ve owned that Remington Model 870 with the long barrel. The shotgun has done me proud on many turkeys in this and other states. Trying it with different sizes of shot, if nothing else, is repetitive but it prepares me for that one shot.

I, like thousands of other people, will be checking the DNR website soon. If we have no luck with the 1st or 2nd turkey hunts, we can always buy an over-the-counter tag for the third hunt. I’ve done well on that hunt at times, and done rather poorly at other times.

I don’t mind sharing the woods with others, but an episode several years ago makes me leery about hunting that third season, especially once the morel mushrooms start popping and pickers are in the woods.

I’d spotted a gobbler cross the road in from of me as I drove a two-track trail. I went around the corner, parked, eased out and loaded my shotgun. I walked in far enough off the trail so my car wasn’t visible, sat down and called once.

The bird answered with a strong gobble, and I kept still. A minute later the bird gobbled again, and I coaxed a soft yelp from my box call. He gobbled, and then double-gobbled, and appeared to be off to my right.

I sat motionless, and when the bird didn’t gobble again, I figured he was on his way. Five minutes later I could hear a rustle in the fallen leaves to my right, and then it stopped. He’s circling, I thought, and knew I’d have to let the bird circle around to get in front of me for a shot. Another soft noise behind me, and I’m thinking this bird is in close and tight to me.

Don’t move a muscle. Forget about the root pushing into my butt. Don’t move and let this gobbler keep looking for the hen.

“Hey,” came a loud voice from behind me. “What are you doing out here with a gun. You, there on the ground, what are you doing?”

I replied that I had been turkey hunting until he arrived and started hollering at me. He said he’d heard a turkey gobble, so he walked over to see what was happening.

So, what can you say. He didn’t apologize for ruining my hunt nor did I apologize for startling him by sitting on the ground with a shotgun in my hands. I emptied the firearm, and walked off.

I’ve spent days during the third hunt when the birds don’t call, and I’ve had days when the mosquitoes were overly plentiful. I’ve had other days when gobblers come running at the sound of a lonesome hen yelp. Many people I know consider it the best time of all to hunt gobblers. According to popular thought, all the hens have been bred and the gobblers are looking for lovin’ in all the right places.

These thoughts go through my head even as I realize that my turkey hunting won’t happen for nearly two months. I enjoy calling for people, especially those with a first or second-season tag. I don’t take them onto my private property or property that I’ve leased.

It may seem selfish, but if first- or second-season private-land tags won’t be made available to Region II private landowners, then no one hunts it. I’m at a loss why special interest groups can keep Region II free of private-land turkey tags when they are available in Regions I and III.

See what I mean about getting a little peckish. Don’t mean to be that way but Region II hunters are getting shafted by the DNR who listens to special interest groups, instead of managing Region II fairly, for one and for all.

So, having mouthed off a bit, it’s time to think of more pleasant thoughts. Gone are my turkey thoughts, and now I’ll start getting my steelhead gear ready in hopes of an early run. Don’t know how early it will be with gobs of snow on the ground, but one can always wish. Ah well, I’ll probably be a bit disgruntled tomorrow about something else.

It happens all the time with old curmudgeons like me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/26 at 06:42 PM
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Monday, February 25, 2008

Is Spring On Its Way?

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I spent some time today outside listening to turkey talk. It was an immensely beautiful day to listen to the birds off in the distance.

Company came, and my youngest son and his children showed up. We had a good time, and spent some time talking about the upcoming turkey season.

It’s been my personal philosophy to teach kids to hunt. My oldest grand-daughter, at the wise old age of 19 years, was asking me about turkey hunting. I took her out several times for whitetails with a bow, and although she didn’t shoot a deer, there were opportunities.

“Are you interested in turkey hunting,” I asked. She allowed as how she might be, and I allowed as how I might be talked into calling up a gobbler for her. That is, if she wanted me to.

That’s when the questions started. And that’s what I love about teaching children that really want to learn.

“Are you ready to shoot a gobbler if we go hunting,” I asked. “We’d be sitting on the ground, and the bird would probably be within 25 yards. The heart-pounding action comes as the bird gets close enough to walk in front of the shotgun. Do you want to kill a gobbler?”

“You’ve always told me that there is more to hunting than killing,” she replied, nailing me to the spot.

“That’s true,” I said, “but calling a bird in close enough for a shot can spook the bird if they spot any movement. A spooked bird may not come to me again or to another hunter. You don’t have to shoot if you don’t want to, but turkey hunting is altogether different than bow hunting for whitetail deer.”

“I’d like to shoot a gobbler,” Jessica answered, “but I don’t know whether I can or not. It’s the moment of truth when I must choose to shoot or not shoot that I can’t answer right now.”

This was as good an answer as any she could give. I wouldn’t want someone to shoot a big gobbler if they had problems with doing so. I also don’t want to put enormous pressure on her, nor do I want her to think that I’ll be upset if she doesn’t shoot or if she missed a bird.

“Look, honey,” I said, “you have nothing to prove to me other than your willingness to go hunting. A turkey gobbler may show up, four or five might show up, and I just want you to be prepared for what happens during a turkey hunt.”

She faced her moment of truth last year with a big doe at 10 yards, and she was at full draw, and she later told me she wasn’t ready yet to release the arrow. She is a good shot, but I’d rather see her wait until she was fully confident of her abilities, before she shoots an arrow.

The same principle applies while turkey hunting. Where we bow hunted from an elevated and ground stand, we’ll be sitting outside with our backs to a tree, and willing that gobbler to come our way.

Sitting inside elevated or ground coop for deer is one thing. Sitting out, on the ground, and calling to a bird and watching him come—quickly or slowly—is a bit of heart-pounding excitement. The heartbeat races, the mouth gets dry, and the breath is sucking in and blowing out as hunters hyperventilate, and it’s never easy to sit without moving while a gobbler closes the gap.

“Do you think I can shoot a gobbler,” she asked. “Will I have to shoot a lot to get ready? How would I have to dress? Do you have a shotgun that I could use? Would you call for me?”

Of course I would call for her. I’d have a shotgun for her to use, and she could wear the same camo outfit she wore last fall.

“I’d love to take you turkey hunting,” I said. “You’d have to shoot a shotgun enough to get accustomed to the recoil. The big secret to killing a gobbler is to wait for the gobbler to walk in front of your shotgun, and keep your head down on the stock while aiming and firing, and you cannot move.

“A knee jerk, any twinge or twitch, stiff muscles, sore butt, all of it has to be ignored when a bird is coming. They have eyes like an eagle, and hear very well. Any movement at all will spook the bird.”

She is eager but somewhat apprehensive. Trying to allay her fears of making a mistake isn’t easy, but it’s my opinion that she has what it takes to shoot a gobbler once she sees a bird or two close enough to shoot. No one is a natural-born turkey hunter.

We all come to turkey hunting without prior experience. That’s where an older person can exert some influence, calm the hunter down, and be there for congratulations when they do everything right. Or to offer heartfelt condolences when it doesn’t work.

After all, as Jessica reminded me, hunting doesn’t always mean a kill.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/25 at 04:11 PM
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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Why Do I Love Turkey Hunting?

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A reader asked that question today in an email. I had to think long and hard in order to present my actual thoughts, and then, I only have space for some of them.

It would be easy to say I hunt turkeys because it is fun. That would be an oversimplification of a known fact. Of course it’s fun or I wouldn’t do it.

Besides that, why do I love turkey hunting? There are so many reasons, and here is just a small sampling of why it appeals to me.

*It is the only spring hunting sport for an upland game bird. It’s just one more reason to get fired up when the season is still two months away. It is something to look forward to.

*I love the areas where gobblers are found. Open fields, rolling hills, open upland woods, tiny wood lots, pine plantations, near the edges of lakes and rivers, and sometimes in my own back yard although I’d never shoot one there.

*There is something about the majestic look of an adult gobbler at a distance. There is something awe-inspiring about a turkey that Ben Franklin thought should be our national bird rather than a scavenger like the bald eagle. I agree with Ben on that one.

*I enjoy scouting for gobblers. The car or truck is the best scouting tool a turkey hunter can own, and close behind that are binoculars and a spotting scope. They enable you to poke holes in cover and spot an unseen bird without being seen.

*I like the magic of turkey talk. I’m not good at it but yet I can call turkeys. I practice whenever possible, but never seem to get enough practice. My wish would be to be much better with a diaphragm than I am.

*Studying turkey patterns is every bit as interesting as studying the travel patterns of whitetail deer. Turkeys have feeding areas, strutting zones, dusting areas, roost sites and much more. The savvy turkey hunter knows where these spots are located, what time of day the birds move to them, what time the hens part company for a while from the gobblers, and what time they meet before flying up to roost.

*There is an awesome beauty to the features on a mature gobbler. Turn the bird this way and that, and allow the sun light to catch the back, breast and tail feathers just right, and you’ll see colors you never knew existed.

*I love turkey hunting because the thrill is not in the kill so much as in successfully working a bird within shotgun range. Their eyes are like a man with 10-power binoculars, and they spot movement easily, can hear extremely well, and they quickly react to danger. The hunter doesn’t have to kill a bird to have had an exciting hunt. Fooling the bird is the true test; killing one is anticlimactic.

*The thrill comes with a rapidly beating heart, fast heavy breathing, and a dry mouth. Some folks get the shakes as a gobbler approaches through the woods, an upraised head turning from red to snow-ball white to blue and back again is a miracle of nature. The sight of a snow ball bobbing through the woods is a thrill I’ll never tire of.

*It’s the explosive gobble of a longbeard that grabs me, shakes me hard, and tells me to pay attention to this wild sound. It’s something as old and raw as nature can be, and the gobble and double-gobble of a lusty old Tom is a true explosion of air and sound. A hard roaring gobble can be heard for long distances, but the bird can shut off the sound machine as quickly as he turns it on.

*I thrill to watching orange shafts of light shooting up into the air from the rising sun while listening to this eruption of sound as a gobbler calls to his hens. Watching night disappear, and listening to a longbeard greeting the dawn and the other birds, is something I never tire of.

*For me, fooling a gobbler and getting him to approach within shotgun range is what turkey hunting is all about. I want to listen to a gobbler approaching from behind, spitting and drumming, and know that he is close. Sitting still is the only option, and having the patience to allow the bird to take his time to circle out in front is an adrenalin rush. And perhaps that is what turkey hunters are addicted to—the rush of adrenalin coursing through our body.

*I love the dance of the wild gobbler. It is a little two-step, turn one way and then the other, spreading the tail fan partly open and then opening it up completely is a thrill to watch as the bird pirouettes in tiny circles. Watching a gobbler stick out his warty-looking head and blasting your ears back with a hard gobble, and seeing it up close, is much of why I hunt these wild birds.

All of these reasons, and many more, are important to me and could be used to describe hunting the spring gobbler. Hunting means just what it says—to hunt—and not all hunts must end with a kill.

Sometimes, just being there and seeing some of these things being acted out within shotgun range, is plenty good enough for me. It is a wonderful and very addictive adrenalin rush.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/24 at 03:52 PM
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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Always Trust Your Hunting Instincts

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It may be quite some time before we start really thinking about deer hunting but this is a key tactic to remember. Second-guessing yourself ruins more chances for a shot at a whitetail buck than anything else other than getting winded or being seen moving by an approaching buck.

The following problem happens every year to bow hunters. They have a choice of two spots to hunt where the wind is in their favor, and on any given day, both stands can produce.

The big question is: which stand will be the better choice? This is a situation where a hunter must learn to trust his hunting instincts.

But we waffle back and forth. This stand or that stand? Our instinct is to sit in Stand A because over the years it has produced bucks for us, and the way the stand is set up, the bucks approach from the side giving us a broadside or even a quartering-away shot.

On the other hand, Stand B also has produced bucks but we often have to wait for them to turn, and the deer often arrive within minutes of the end of legal shooting time.

This exact same situation faces me every day. I have nearly a dozen stands scattered around on my land and other properties I hunt. All are productive or they are pulled and placed elsewhere. I can hunt wherever I want on my ranch so the only person I can argue with is myself.

I’ve learned to solve this problem. I don’t bother flipping a coin for Heads or Tails, here or there. I ask myself one simple question: What does my gut instincts say?

Weighing the pros and cons of a stand location, and trying to argue the fine points of each one is mostly a waste of time. Pin yourself down, ask yourself the hard question: which one turns me on tonight?

If your gut instincts say Stand A is the one, than any further deliberations usually means more wasted brain cells and time. Get up the tree or in the ground blind, sit down and wait for a buck to show up for his date with destiny.

There are times when various circumstances may force further deliberation. If you are hunting late afternoon and early evening, and the stand faces west, looking into a bright setting sun can make shooting a buck rather iffy.

However, I prefer facing or quartering west in the morning and facing or quartering east in the evening. Although this isn’t always practical or possible, whenever it is, I follow this philosophy so the rising or setting sun is behind me. It also helps to light up the deer and make them much easier to see.

A gut check is always in order when the choice is a ground blind or tree stand. Mentally, so no one will see you, raise your hand if hunting from high in a tree bothers you. A check of your gut instincts will tell you that the ground blind is the better choice.

People who quiver when hunting from a tree should stay on the ground where they belong. Fess up to the fear, if it exists, and head for the ground blind. Choosing a ground blind over a tree stand is a gut-check situation, and it never pays to second-guess yourself. Besides, I’ve never heard of someone breaking their back or neck by falling out of a ground blind.

Hunting instincts are a great thing. It takes some time to develop them, but after a period of years while hunting in a wide variety of situations, most hunters learn to pay heed to what their instincts tell them.

I’ve trusted mine for five decades, and it’s amazing how often your gut instincts will help you shoot a deer. Pay close attention to what these instincts tell you, and don’t start to second-guess them.

Remember in high school and college when exams were taken? A multiple-choice question with three or four choices. Almost invariably, your first choice was right. If you marked that as being correct, and then began second-guessing yourself, you would promptly erase that answer and choose another. Most times the second choice was wrong.

It’’s not much different when deer hunting. Listen to what your body and mind tells you, and if there is a shadow of a doubt in your mind, it’s time to make your first choice your final choice.

Very seldom will you make a serious mistake in the deer woods if you follow this philosophy. 

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/23 at 04:21 PM
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Friday, February 22, 2008

What Is A Bow Hunter?

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What Is A Bow Hunter?

The above title is a question that has often been asked of me, and it’s always a very difficult one to answer. A true bow hunter is a combination of many things, all of which are upstanding and good.

A bow hunter is ...

*A person who revels in nature, loves the outdoors, seeks a difficult challenge, equals the odds between hunted and hunter as much as possible, and who is finely tuned to the ways of the game we seek.

*One who seeks his or her game on a one-on-one basis, and who strives to get close enough to deliver a quick and certain death from a well-placed arrow.

*A person who masters accurate arrow placement, and one who spends long hours testing personal mettle against a whitetail buck that is more attuned to its surroundings than we are. This person shrugs off rain, forgets about windy weather, and laughs at a snow storm. Deer hunters hunt deer, and weather conditions are meaningless. We become one with the weather, and use it whenever possible, to our advantage.

*A hunter who thrills to the small things, and takes brief moments each day to savor the wildness of the animal being hunted and the land where such game lives. We don’t live for the kill; we live to have had the opportunity in this free society to hunt in a well regulated and legal manner.

*Someone who knows that getting close to game means knowing and playing the wind, studying the habits of deer, knowing how and when to move, and being one with his bow and the land. He or she finds more love in the act of hunting than in the act of killing although the two are ever-entwined and a respect for the game we hunt is most important.

*One who enjoys the fine feel of a smooth bow, the effortless drawing of the string, the smooth feel of a carbon arrow, and the “whisst” of a arrow leaving the bow. It’s the silent but straight flight of an arrow, and seeing the broadhead hit where we aim.

*Having the knowledge of deer habits that allow us to defeat the most important protections that deer possess: the sense of a deer hearing the faint whisper of clothing against rough bark; a flicker of movement as a hunter comes to full draw prior to a shot; or the deer’s sense of smell that allow them to pinpoint a careless human presence.

*More than just someone who takes but gives nothing back to nature. A bow hunter is more than a person dressed in camo clothing with a hunting license in his pocket. We are caring, giving folks, who pursue deer with a passion. We are superb hunters because we must be to get close shots at 15 to 20 yards. We are the supreme hunting predator, and we take pride in our accomplishments without having to brag.

*It is teaching our children, and our grandchildren, this ancient art of bow hunting. What we do is a time-honored tradition, and it is a way of life for us and for others who will follow the bow hunter’s creed.

*We, as avid bow hunters, are above-average in our hunting skills. We rely less on luck, and work hard to elevate those hunting skills that allow us to succeed. We hunt, not because our friends do, but because we must. We need to hunt and we must hunt in order to achieve these skills, and it is through long hours of practice that we become proficient.

We are bow hunters, and we are most proud of it.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/22 at 04:15 PM
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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Remembering The Thrills Of Turkey Hunting

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Everyone knows I am a turkey-hunting addict. Deer hunting may be what I enjoy most, but the only reason is because turkey hunting seasons don’t last long enough.

It’s possible to hunt whitetails during October, November, December and January 1. Turkey hunting is much different.

Even if you hunt the whole season as has happened in the past, a hunter will get in about six weeks of hunting. It’s a far cry from three full months of deer seasons. And when I can’t turkey hunt, I buy used books on turkey hunting to read. Contact me at < > if you have any turkey books to sell.

My turkey hunting often allows me to pass up a bird or two early in my season, and I’ve been known to pass up several gobblers that provided easy shots only to end the season without a bird. Why, you ask?

It’s rather elementary. By not shooting the first, second or third bird, it allows me the maximum time in the field and the greatest potential to experience everything turkey hunting has to offer.

Shooting a gobbler, whether a jake or a longbeard, is not why I hunt these keen-eyed birds. I hunt them for the intense satisfaction that comes from making the most of my opportunities.

That means there are more opportunities to fool a gobbler.  More chances to listen to a big Tom gobble and double-gobble back at me, and more opportunities to watch the blue-white-red head of a highly charged gobbler move through the fields and woods in my direction.

Three years ago I was hunting a strutting zone 10 miles from where I live. Any bird that came to me would have to cross an open ridge, walk down the hill, and cross another 200 yards of open field to get within shooting range.

The gobblers greeted the dawn from their roost trees, and behind me were some hen turkeys. Once the first gobbler sounded off, I held off from answering him. He gobbled again, and then a big gobbler sounded off with a double-gobble.

I gave a soft yelp, and that livened up the hens several hundred yards behind me. The gobblers sounded off again, and I answered softly, and sat back to wait. The hens began calling, and I was perfectly positioned in a strutting zone where gobblers and hens would meet.

Ten minutes later the gobblers stood atop yonder hill, gobbled again when they saw my two hens and one jake-decoy. They were spread out like soldier, and began their advance on my position. They would stop and start, and I’m mentally urging them to hurry before the hens arrived and possibly led them away.

The three longbeards and one jake started running when I made scratching sounds in the dry leaves like feeding birds. My shotgun was up and laying across my knees, and I was set up properly. It took those gobblers 10 seconds to cross the remaining 100 yards.

The lead gobbler ran up to poor Henrietta, my battered and bedraggled hen decoy, and knocked her off the stake while the other gobblers went after the jake.

Poor Henrietta was laying flat on the ground with the large gobbler astraddle her, and the other birds were working Jakie over in a bad way. I watched this fascinating performance for another 10 seconds, and since it was now late in the season, the gobbler stood erect with his head up to survey the second, and a load of 3-inch magnum No. 5 copper-plated pellets took him down.

The other gobblers stopped, saw the Big Boss Bird laying on the ground, and took off. I heard the hens flush behind me right after the shot, and the birds were gone.

I’ve called in two different gobblers on seperate hunts over the years when my wife shot them with a bow. It was pretty exciting, and each bird went 10 feet straight up into the air as the arrow drove through them, and both fell dead on the ground.

Turkey hunting is exciting. Shooting the bird is anticlimactic, and the hunt lives on long after the bird has been eaten and other thoughts of the hunt have faded away. Calling in a big gobbler, watching him approach, and then offering a shot is what triggers intense feelings in an addicted hunter.

The shot is nothing more than the final act in this outdoor drama. Sometimes the gobbler wins, and sometimes he doesn’t, but what counts the most is the actual hunt. This is a pastime where the hunt is far more important than the kill.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/21 at 07:22 PM
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Many Things Pique My Interest

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The outdoors is much more than just fishing and hunting. There is a vast store of information about various aspects that I admittedly know too little about, and I take pride in my knowledge of many other topics. And feel bad about my ignorance on a variety of other matters.

For instance: one glaring error in my outdoor education is my knowledge of bushes and trees. Sure, I know what aspen, beech, birch, cedar, maple, oak and pine trees and their leaves or needles look like, but throw an oddball tree my way and ask for an identification, and I’m as lost as last year’s Easter egg.

I started thinking today about a question one of my kids asked me more than 30 years ago. David asked: “Dad, have you fished every lake and stream in the state?”

The answer then and still is “no.” I’ve fished a good big number of them over my half-century-plus of prowling this state, but there are many I haven’t fished and may never try. Time is against me or most people who would try to accomplish such a daunting task. I once knew I man who have fished over 300 inland trout lakes in this state, and even more astounding was that he had caught a limit from each late but this is another story for another day.

That thought and other similar ones brought me to today’s topic. Someone e-mailed this morning, and asked if I knew the largest inland lakes in the state. By sheer good fortune, I knew the five top lakes in terms of size, and could even name them in order; Houghton, Torch, Charlevoix, Burt and Mullett lakes. Beyond those five, I was lost and began doing some quick research.

An obscure DNR booklet named Michigan’s 20 Largest Inland Lakes was found in a file cabinet, and the topic proved fascinating. Fifteen of the lakes are in the Lower Peninsula and five are in the Upper Peninsula.

What follows is that list, ranging from No. 1 to No. 20, the county or counties where the lakes are found, their size in acres, and the miles of shoreline (which includes islands) around it.

*1. Houghton Lake is in Roscommon County. It has 20,044 acres and has 30 miles of shoreline.

*2. Torch Lake is located in Antrim and Kalkaska counties, and has 18,770 acres. There are 40.8 miles of shoreline.

*3. Lake Charlevoix is in Charlevoix County. It has 17,260 acres, and the shoreline covers 56 miles.

4. Burt Lake is in Cheboygan County. It covers 18,120 acres, and the shoreline measures 30.1 miles.

*5. Mullett Lake also is in Cheboygan County. It has 16,630 acres, and the shoreline measures 31.6 miles.

6. Gogebic Lake, the Upper Peninsula’s largest inland lake, is found in Gogebic and Ontonagon counties. It covers 13,380 acres, and covers 34.4 miles of shoreline.

7. Big Manistique Lake, rests in Luce and Mackinac counties, and it is tied for 7th place with 10,130 acres. It has 26.5 miles of Upper Peninsula shoreline.

8. Black Lake in Cheboygan and Presque Isle counties, also has 10,130 acres. It has 18.7 miles of shoreline.

9. Crystal Lake in Benzie County is one of the state’s most beautiful lakes. It has 9,711 acres and 20.8 miles of shoreline.

10. Portage Lake in Houghton County was one of the last strongholds for sauger in this state. Fisheries biologists feel the sauger have become extinct. The lake has 9,640 acres with 55.9 miles of shoreline.

11. Higgins Lake in Crawford and Roscommon counties has 9,000 acres. It has 21 miles of shoreline.

12. Fletcher Floodwaters is located in Alpena and Montmorency counties. It has 8,970 acres with 24.7 shoreline miles.

13. Hubbard Lake is located in Alcona County. It has 8,850 acres and 19.3 miles of frontage on the lake.

14. North and South Lakes Leelanau in Leelanau County covers 8,320 acres. It has 40.2 miles of shoreline.

15. Indian Lake is found in Schoolcraft County. It has an even 8,000 acres with 16.7 miles of shoreline.

16. Elk Lake in Antrim and Grand Traverse counties has 7,730 surface acres. It measures 25.8 miles around the lake.

17. Michigamme Reservoir is located in Iron County. It features 7,200 acres but has 78 miles of shoreline.

8. Glen Lake in Leelanau County includes the east and west basins, and covers 6,285 surface acres. It only has 17 miles of shoreline.

19. Grand Lake in Presque Isle County. It covers 6,660 acres with 35.5 miles of shoreline.

20. Long Lake in Alpena and Presque Isle counties has 5,652 acres. It has 25.3 miles of shoreline.

As I told my son, I haven’t fished all of Michigan’s inland waters. However, I have fished each of the Top 20 inland lakes on several occasions and have never come away skunked.

Keep this list handy, and it can settle any type of bar bet or solve discussions with other anglers. It also provides a very good reference to some of the top fishing lakes in the state.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/20 at 07:53 PM
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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

No Brag, Just State The Facts

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A boast sometimes rankles other people, especially when two or more anglers are on a trip together. Almost always, one of the people is big on himself and wants everyone to know it.

Most people could care less what people have done. The trick is to be courteous and helpful, and if asked, answer the question as well as possible without bragging yourself up.

For instance, I know how many deer I’ve taken over 55 years. It’s really too many, and I seldom bring up the topic. I’ve been fortunate to have deer hunted in many states but choose not to constantly dwell on myself and my deer-killing deeds.

On the other hand, I dislike being in a conversation that is being monopolized by an ego-freak who is determined to quote numbers, sizes, the width of a rack which invariably is larger than anyone else has taken. After a short time, the egotist discovers he no longer is preaching to the choir. They’ve left.

I mentor younger outdoor writers. All are making or have made many of the mistakes I made when I started, but in my case, there was no one to teach me the difference. I struggled, made more mistakes, and trust me—when I tell people how to avoid making these mistakes, there is not a word of a brag to it. I tell them about my mistakes and how long it took me to correct many such errors. They learn fast.

A friend stopped by yesterday, and he is looking forward to drawing a turkey tag. He wanted some calling advice, and I told him I am not a good turkey caller. I also told him that many, many hunters can call ten times better than me, but I can call turkeys. No brag involved when I downplay my miniscule calling skills, but others can associate with my lack of such because they have their own foibles. Some of these beginners are far better callers than me.

I showed him a couple of tricks I’ve learned, told him how I do it, and repeated what he’d been told before. Don’t call too much, don’t call too loud, don’t move and be patient.

Years ago, I gave my twin brother a five-minute lesson on turkey calling. I took my gent out, and the bird I tried to call came in behind us, stood there drumming and spitting, and we couldn’t get a shot. My brother was hunting a mile away, and we drove over just in time to watch him call in and kill a gobbler with just five minutes of instruction.

He got a well deserved pat on the back. My gent was disappointed for a bit, but he shot his gobbler that afternoon.

The lesson to all of this is that bragging long and hard on oneself is boring to others. If I’m asked, I’ll answer a question and quickly turn the conversation back toward them.

Beginning anglers and hunters need to boast a bit over their successes, and it’s OK. But if you’ve shot 100 bucks with a bow, it means that you’ve hunted far more than most people. It also means, if you dwell on that number without teaching, those people often think you are lying, boring or a game hog.

None of which may be true. I’m a good deer hunter and a good steelhead fisherman, and have spent 55 years at both endeavors. Unless a person is blind or stupid, it stands to reason that they have learned something along the way. Share the knowledge with others but spare the bragging.

Forty years ago I drove to New Brunswick to fish Atlantic salmon with a guide. I sought his advice on which salmon flies to buy, and he pointed them out. I sought his advice on which fly to start with, and he picked one out for me.

Two hours into fishing, my guide said softly: “Begging your pardon, sir, but I suspect you’ve washed that fly long enough.  I’d suggest a change to a brighter pattern.”

He didn’t have to dwell on the fact that I should have changed flies earlier. He offered a suggesion that I gladly accepted, and when I hooked a 10-pound salmon on a brightly colored fly, he didn’t claim any credit for it. I’d been the one to choose the fly, and luckily, it produced a fish.

He could have bragged about his knowledge and skills, but instead, offered me a pat on the back for “choosing” the right fly. I had no clue what I was doing, and it was his suggestion that made that cast a success.

Even today, I enjoy giving credit to him for me catching my first Atlantic salmon. He poled the boat into position, told me where to cast, how long a cast to make, and all I did was manage to land the high-jumping fish once it hooked itself on the strike.

Stow the bragging, and if possible, share your knowledge with another person without trying to make yourself look important. I labor in a business where there are more egotists than I ever believed possible, but I check my ego at the door when I leave home. It works for me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/19 at 07:17 PM
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Monday, February 18, 2008

Fixing Up My Turkey Decoys

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All together now. Those of you who are tired of late-winter storms and nasty weather, raise your hand.

Look around, and spot all those folks with their hands in the air. Does it make you feel any better? No, I didn’t think so.

The old saw about “misery loves company,” certainly applies to the weather since our brief thaw. Today with a few lazy flakes of snow drifted down from a pewter-gray sky, feels colder than it is and it’s clear we were lulled into a sense of an early spring. That’s what we get for thinking.

What happened is that Michigan does what it does best: the weather conditions can change on a moment’s notice. Warm, cold, sunny or snow.

The bad thing about the thaw was it didn’t last another few days and get rid of the ice. So, instead of a more positive outlook for steelhead fishing, we are faced with another several days or a week of hard ice and snow, frozen driveways, gusty winds and little else.

It’s days like this that set me to thinking about things that need to be done. One thing that really needs to be done is to make certain my 12-gauge 3-inch magnum 12 gauge is on target. Kay’s Remington 870 pump with the tightest choke possible must be sighted in again to prevent a miss. It sounds like a weekend chore if the wind doesn’t blow too hard.

I remember a rip in one pocket of my turkey hunting vest that allowed a turkey call to fall out last year. I went back the next day to look for it, and sure enough, there it was.

It was right near where the car had been parked. I could still see my tracks, and they were six feet from the box call. Sadly, someone else found the call before me and ran over it with a front tire. So now that hole is sewn shut so such accidents won’t happen again, at least not the same way.

I did a thorough examination today of Henrietta and Sweetheart, my two fold-up hen turkey decoys. Now, Ms. Henrietta is a big flirt, and on more than one occasion a big gobbler has lit into her, flattened her to the ground and attempted to have his way with her. One shot finished the would-be assault.

Her daughter appears to be a bit too worldly for her tender years, and she seems intent on following in her mother’s brazen footsteps. Their attitudes toward longbeards is downright sinful, and their reputations seems just one step from the gutter, but they do seem to have their way with some gobblers. A few longbeards have avoided the two naughty ladies.

Henrietta, her sides slashed by the sharp hooks from elderly gobblers, has been sewed and stapled back together again, and she looks as if she was in a car wreck and went through the front window. Sweatheart has been taken advantage of by lustful gobblers, and I often pair her with Jakie.

Jakie has been in numerous brawls with big gobblers, and has yet to win. I must admit the young lad isn’t much of a fighter, and once watched two adult gobblers put the spurs to his tender young body, and he has been knocked off his stake, been skewered by a stake two or three times, and been pecked about the head and body by hens.

My trio of turkey decoys should be replaced but doing so is much like puttng down a family pet. The two girls and the little jake have been on numerous hunts with me, and other times I carry them in the game pouch of my vest when I decide not to use them, but going out after a hillside monarch without them is like a day without sunshine and warm spring breezes.

These decoys have been through the turkey wars, and all look like they got in a knife fight and were the only ones without a blade. Only once have I seen turkey decoys that looked worse, and they had been folded and carried for so many years in the game pouch, they wouldn’t open up to look like a bird. Once, a hunter run a full load of No. 5 shot through Jakie while a lusty big gobbler stood defiantly on the back side of the decoy. The hunter killed the big Tom and ripped Jake in a bad way.

The shape of these decoys is horrible. The head and tail of his decoys faced west, their middle was flat and creased and faced east, and one had a neck that made the head look like a useless appendage. I told him to stick his decoys back in his hunting vest and never show them to me again.

My decoys may look pretty rough and a bit tattered but they still carry a certain degree of charm. They can toll in a gobbler from several hundred yards, and when I’m ready to go, so are they.

One can’t ask for more from two battered hens and a crippled jake decoy. They work well which is why I probably won’t replace them this year. They’ve earned my trust. and even though the girls are lusty things, all three work hard to maintain a warm place in my basement to rest while cold winter winds blow.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/18 at 01:15 PM
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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Any Chance Of An Early Steelhead Run?

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A pronounced snow melt took place today, aided by an all-day rain, and more raom and snow is due over the next few days. This early run-off will swell steelhead streams and there may be some flooding on some river, and if we get a big gusher there is a good chance some fish will move upstream.

When the best fishing may occur is a guessing game. This run-off water is very cold, and probably isn’t much above 33 or 34 degrees. It may raise the water level, but it certainly won’t raise the water temperature until several days of warm weather passes. There isn’t any warm temperatures in store for us this week.

The burning question for most fishermen is: Will this winter run-off trigger a steelhead run? It’s difficult to tell, but one thing is for certain. If the run-off is slow to moderate, and the weather stays warm, it could stimulate a small run of a few fish. I don’t think that will be the case. There may be a few fish, but cold air and water temperatures seldom trigger a big run.

As I stated a week or so ago, the major steelhead run will not occur in those streams with a connecting lake until the ice goes out of the lake. That means Platte and Loon lakes on the Platte River, Betsie Bay on the Betsie River, Manistee Lake on the Manistee and Little Manistee rivers, and others must start losing their ice before major runs kick off.

I’ll grant you that some steelhead will precede the ice-out on some lakes, but most runs will occur once those lakes start losing their ice. I’ve seen some steelhead push upstream to the spawning gravel above Honor on the Platte River when Loon and Platte lakes start sending ice down the river.

Before the massive ice-out occurs, a few fish may move upstream but it’s hardly anything to get very excited about. In many cases, those same fish have wintered in the connecting lake, and as the ice begins to melt, they start their upstream journey to the spawning grounds.

Can these fish be caught? Absolutely, but in super-cold water, it requires a certain finesse. Light line (four-pound or even two-pound mono) is needed if the water is gin-clear, and anglers have a variety of baits to choose from.

Corn borers, wax worms and wigglers are three that work very well in cold weather. Spawnbags also work although, in my opinion, the grubs or wigglers seem to produce better results in the early days of open water on the rivers. Once the water temperature reaches 36-40 degrees, spawnbags seem to turn fish on.

Grubs and wigglers can be fished under a bobber set just right so the bait drifts downstream with the current. An alternative is to tie a tiny 1/32-oz. ice fishing jig on the line, and bait it with a grub or wiggler. Orange jigs seem to work but a variety of other colors have also produced for me.

Bait up and cast across and slightly upstream, take up some of the initial slack, and then feed slack line into the drift so this offering moves downstream with the current. Once it gets through the best of the fish-holding area, reel up and try again. Cold water makes steelhead sluggish, and the bait must be right down on bottom to produce a strike.

Try adjusting the bobber, and each hole or run will require an adjustment of the line under the bobber. Some locations require only two or three feet of line under the bobber while other areas may require eight to 10 feet. Keep lengthening line from bobber to bait until the bait starts hanging up on bottom. Move the bobber up or down in three-inch increments until the bobber floats freely and the bait doesn’t hang on bottom.

Bobber fishing is fun because it gives an early indication of a strike. In some cases, the bobber will pop under suddenly, and a lift of the rod tip will set the hook. Other times, the bobber may jiggle but not go under the surface, and it can be a small fish or a lunker. Set the hook whenever the bobber stops moving or dips below the surface.

Early-season steelhead requires fishing the hole or run from various angles. Their metabolism is slow because of cold water, and the more often a bait is drifted past their nose, the more likely they will finally strike.

Don’t expect fast fishing. On early days of spring, when the water remains very cold, hooking and landing one fish in a day can be good. Granted, there are a few early days when fishing can be hot, but the wise angler realizes that the odds are against that happening.

A bit of luck never hurts.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/17 at 07:38 PM
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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sitting Still Is An Art

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Anyone who has bow hunted more than one day or has hunted spring turkeys knows the importance of sitting motionless and quiet. Knowing that, and doing it, are two entirely different things.

I seldom hunt with another person, but in the past when my kids and grandkids were young, they would go out with me. Most adults can’t sit still, and even fewer children can. I took my father bow hunting once, and thought I’d have to tie him up in the corner with stocking stuffed in his mouth. He wanted to talk and move constantly. Perhaps he realized early on that sitting still wasn’t for him.

One of my grandchildren was fidgeting when I whispered to him to sit still. He whispered back that he was sitting still.

Your idea and my idea of being motionless and quiet may not jibe. I’ve mastered the art of silent sitting, and have taken more black bears than I have fingers and toes. I’ve learned some of the tricks to sitting as motionless as a stone for long periods of time.

The first bear I shot was on Sept. 10, the opening day of the Upper Peninsula bear season, many years ago. It was well over 30 years ago, and tree stand hunting wasn’t legal. I sat downwind of the bait and six feet downwind of an active bear trail. My back was against a big cedar root-wad on a warm day.

Sometime later, I awoke from dozing and cracked one eye to see a black bear walking past at eight feet. The animal walked by, and a smooth draw and an clean bow shot took that bruin behind the front shoulder.

The bear didn’t go far, and the reason this tactic worked was because I was absolutely motionless when the bear walked by. I’ve since learned to sit without movement or sound, and admit that my nodding off in the warm sun made me motionless. The bear couldn’t smell me, I made no noise and wasn’t moving. The first dozen bruins I’ve taken with a bow, muzzleloader, pistol, rifle and shotgun were killed at a distance of 20 feet or less while sitting on the ground.

I’ve found one trick to being still is to be comfortable, and a hunter must learn how to relax if he hopes to be motionless. The first step is to remove anything that can cause discomfort while sitting. My only problem is I must remove my billfold from my back pocket. I can sit on it for 30 minutes before it becomes irritating.

Sit on the ground, and a root an inch under the dirt will put a crease in your butt, and you’ll start moving to get comfortable. I make certain if I’m in a tree stand that no branch stub is digging into my ribs or spine. A stone in the dirt under you butt will feel like a boulder after 30 minutes.

Check out each spot where you hunt. Remove offending branches or broken branch stubs. Many tree stands have uncomfortable seats because the seat is too low, and your knees are up under your chin and that makes for an uncomfortable sitting position. Just as bad or worse is a seat that is too high, and you must sit on the edge of the seat to keep your feet steady on the platform. This cuts off blood flow in your legs, and your toes and feet go to sleep, which always leads to movement.

Learn to get comfortable first, and then learn to relax your body and mind. I once meditated while in a stand, and although my eyes were closed and my heartbeat and respiration had slowed down, I could hear the rustle of bear hair against bracken ferns or the faint twig snap of a wandering buck.

This isn’t recommended for someone unaccustomed to meditation or other relaxation techniques. What works for most of us is to free our brain of all thought, to feel comfortable and relaxed, and to will yourself to be motionless. I’ve had bucks approach to within several feet without seeing any movement, and that is part of the secret. Keep your mind uncluttered by unnecessary details, and it’s much easier to remain motionless. I once had two wild bear cubs running back and forth over my legs. They had yet to fear human scent.

Fix your attention on a distant object, and stare at it. It will blur, come back into focus, and blur again. Stick with it, don’t think of anything, and try to become one with your surroundings.

This works for me and some other people I know, but it may not work for you without a great deal of practice. The first and foremost thing is to be comfortable. Once the human body is comfortable, start working on the mind. Learn to tune out buzzing insects, and remain calm.

Soon, with continuous practice, it will be possible to sit motionless for 30 minutes. Then start working on being motionless for an hour. If you can get up to two or three hours, many of your hunting problems will be solved.

You won’t be moving so you won’t be making a sound (unless you snore). Without movement or noise, the only thing you must worry about is being winded. Stay downwind of where bear and deer travel, and you will have removed most of the key things that spook wary animals.

Practice now, long before bear, bow or turkey seasons open, to sit motionless and silent in a non-hunting environment. If you can pull this off for two hours, and you follow the other rules of hunting, there won’t be a bear, deer or gobbler that will be safe around you.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/16 at 11:42 AM
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Friday, February 15, 2008

Snow Storms Have Deer Looking For Food

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The tracks looked much like black spots in the deep white fluffy snow left behind yesterday and last night’s snow storm. One by one, the deer had walked over a little knoll near my home, walking hrough thigh-deep snow to well concealed location where we had fed them last year.

They pawed in the dead clover and small patch of purple-top turnips, nosed around in the snow for some corn, and two of the deer walked through my back yard. We’ve often had deer in the back yard, but when they come this close during the winter, it is to munch heavily on our ornamental shrubs. Deer, like the several cottontail rabbits that live nearby, dine regularly on the shrubs. The rabbits tend to girdle the bushes.

I waded through the snow, checked out the food shortage situation, and as best as I could tell from the clues in the snow, there were five animals. Some tracks were larger, and the logical guess was a pair of does, two fawns, and one of last year’s young antlered buck had paid us a visit during the night.

They crowded around some shrubs where we had made a new planting of purple-top turnips last summer, and they had been munching on what remained of them and some Imperial clover. There weren’t any spots where the animals had laid down, so it appears they are still strong and moving out to periodically escape from their bedding areas in hopes of finding food in all the usuall locations.

I measured out two gallons of feed, slung the mix of carrots, corn and chopped-up sugar beets over one shoulder, and took it out to where the deer had been looking for food. None were in sight, and I know they will be returning at night, but I wanted to keep doing my little bit to help the animals make it through thid goofy winter.

My neighbor left some corn standing where it had been planted last year, and the deer have been in his field periodically but there isn’t much lfood eft. The clover that began growing last spring is now limp and appears dead under the heavy layer of snow. These animals were looking for something a bit more substantial than nibbling browse off the tree tops that were logged off 16 months ago.

The odd thing is there doesn’t seem to be any turkeys around. I added some corn to this mix of left-over deer feed in hopes some gobblers and hens will show up, but I haven’t seen or heard a bird since I saw a small jake a few days ago.

Feeding deer and turkeys during the winter months is a process that once started must continue until spring breaks. If the deer can make it this far for some recreational feeding, they should be able to make it through what remains of the winter.

This is a matter of continuity. Anyone who starts feeding must continue. To stop feeding in the middle of the winter, and head off for Florida, often delivers a death sentence to those animals that have become dependent on the daily hand-out.

Second-cutting hay is avidly eaten by deer and they do well on carrots, corn and sugar beets. If the beets and carrots are frozen solid, it’s questionable whether deer will get much out of the food when it it is eaten. It may require more energy than it will provide. I always chop up carrots and sugar beets into small pieces. A rock-hard beet taxes a deer’s energy as they try to gnaw on it or stomp it with their hooves.

If you find some carrots or beets are not being eaten, cut back on them and add more corn and hay. Spread it over a 10-foot by 10-foot area, and sometimes it pays to shovel away most of the snow in that location to make it easier for the animals.

Make no mistake about it, when the Hunger Moon hangs overhead and the temperatures plummet, some recreational feeding is better than having deer eat your ornamental bushes and shrubs. The food one provides probably offers more protein that some bushes.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/15 at 04:53 PM
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