Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Silence Is Not Golden In The Turkey Woods

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The silence was almost overwhelming. My wrist clock had ticked its way past the time when all the little tweetie birds bring the woods to life with their calls.

This silence extended at least 10 minutes past the time when turkey gobblers greet the dawn with a raucous gobble. The silence was deafening. No bird songs, no gobbles, and certainly no whine of mosquitoes in the 3o-degree temperature.

My philosophy is to wait for the first gobble to speak up. So, I waited and waited before trying a soft and somewhat hesitant yelp to see if it would trigger any excitement. I was the lone voice crying in the wilderness, hoping to find someone out there to play with. A car went by on the nearby road but my tentative pleading brought no response.

Henrietta and Jakie, my two turkey decoys, were picked up and I gathered together all of my calls and hiked a mile through the state forest to another spot where I’d had success in previous years. I found my favorite spot, put the two dekes out, let the woods quiet down and called once.

The silence was deafening. Normally I love the silence of nature, but when turkey hunting, the sportsman looks for a bearded bird that shows some measure of enthusiasm. My box call was chalked again to improve its tone. and gave forth with my most enticing yelp ever. It was greeted with even more silence.

Did all the turkeys in this area disappear overnight? Not hardly, and I’ve experienced this phenomenon before. After two or three days of bumping into hunters, and seeing one of their buddies fall from a well-aimed arrow or shot-string of pellets, the birds get close-mouth. They couldn’t say beans if they had a mouthful.

I tried a third spot, and it was more of the same. I tried to slowly move my way through the many calls in my vest, and no one wanted to talk. To me, making turkey conversation, is the highlight of the hunt. I’d rather call a gobber in to someone than shoot the bird myself.

On the long walk back to the car I moved into an area that just looked right. The sun was well up and welcome on this cold morning, and there was a wooded area with a small bog pond on it. The tiny pond was surrounded by tall maples, a perfect spot for roosting birds. The area was examined from 300 yards away, and not seeing any birds, I moved in closer and began to call. The nearby field was empty of birds, and two thick woods had been eased through, and there were no strutting birds. Not a bird in sight.

Thirty minutes was spent there in a hopeless gesture of making this day into something it would never be. Not in my hunting area, at least.

Two other hunters were met in a local grocery store later in the day and I know both well. We stood in the doorway yakking about the absence of gobbler music. The walk back to my car seemed an overly long one, and for some reason my groceries felt heavier than usual.

That’s how spring turkey hunting is. Hunters can expect two, and hopefully three, decent days out of a full week of active hunting. When the good days show up is as unpredictable as a politician’s promise, and the only recourse is to hunt hard every day because it will be a year before our spring turkey hunting season rolls around again.

That, my friends, is a long wait.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/30 at 05:51 PM
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reinventing The Salmon Wheel, Again.

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The Department of Natural Resources wants to return us to an era we’ve already visited. It’s a place where we lived for many years, and then wisely left it behind. Now, due to unnecessary pressure to help bolster tourism in a state with a floundering economy, the Natural Resources Commission may soon tell the DNR to take us back in time.

Years ago, the limit of salmon (excluding pinks) was five fish. Alewife numbers were high, salmon numbers were high, and people wanted to catch fish ... lots of them. Some charterboat skippers made a great living during this bygone era of big fish and huge mounds of fillets.

Skippers would take a charter out at dawn, have four fishermen limited out with 20 big salmon in two or three hours, head for shore, grab a quick lunch, take another charter out at noon. They would be back to the dock by 3 p.m. with another catch of 20 fish, and then head back out and fish until 7-8 p.m. They also would come to the dock with a heavy catch.

Day after day, year after year until Bacterial Kidney Disease (BKD) showed up and began killing Chinook salmon. Alewife numbers plummeted. Limit catches were still being made on a daily basis, and as a few years passed, anglers who booked those charters came to expect a limit catch. The skippers were getting pinched up, trying to produce fish for the monster they had helped create. Many couldn’t meet the demand and fell by the wayside.

Some skippers, wiser than others, began preaching the rationale of a quality outdoor experience rather than the limit-catch concept. Some private fishermen voluntarily began backing away from keeping five fish.

Just about the time this took place, walleye fishing got a jump-start, and anglers figured if they couldn’t limit out on salmon they would switch to walleyes. After all, at that time they could catch 10 walleyes in Lake Erie. That fishery was booming while our salmon fishery had fallen on hard times.

In a matter of two years, walleyes dethroned the salmon, and quickly became the king of Michigan’s game fish.

The walleye fishery is still going strong but with reduced bag limits. The salmon fishery has rebounded some from its lowest point, but now anglers may have the opportunity to catch five salmon again. This philosophy begs the question:

Does anyone need five salmon? Do we need to promote bulging fish boxes holding 200-plus pounds of fish? Does the purchase of a Michigan all-species fishing license mean we should expect to fill a portion of our freezer every year with Chinook or coho salmon fillets? Isn’t three fish per day enough for anyone?

Personally, I feel three salmon is more than enough. Both coho and kings are cyclic to some degree, and one year the fish are big and chunky and the next year they are smaller. It happens, and anyone who has spent time on a boat knows this. So are we supposed to make up for the small-fish years by allowing sportsmen to take five salmon per day?

There’s no way people can quickly eat their way through 10 fillets from five salmon. One medium to large salmon fillet will feed four people. How often do people eat fish? For most of us, it’s once a week or less. That means that a one-day five-fish limit would fill their dinner menu for months.

If the DNR and the NRC, its governing body, have their way we will once again revisit the age of gluttony on Michigan’s share of the Great Lakes. Can the Great Lakes support this kind of over-indulgence? Is this a wise use of our natural resources, and does the full-limit mentality mean we must travel this route again.

Three salmon is enough for anyone. A five-fish limit places an unnecessary burden on charterboat skippers and fosters a return to the greedy five-fish mentality. We’ve been to that place in time where bulging fish boxes were an obvious sign of greed and gluttony.

Do we need to revisit that era? I don’t think so.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/29 at 06:18 PM
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Monday, April 28, 2008

Calling In A Bunch Of Turkeys

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The scene was one of widespread pandemonium. Kay and I had eased our way into a woodlot, set out a hen and jake decoy, and waited patiently for the day to dawn.

The gobblers and hens were up, awake and greeting the pre-dawn pink glow in the easter sky. One gobbler roared like a freight train going through a tunnel, and the sound seemed to shake the earth. Kay was waiting patiently, and then a hen started cutting. The same gobbler joined in, and then five other gobblers sounded off.

What’s a guy to do? I yelped once, and all six gobblers exploded with blast of loud calls. The hens kicked in, and I yelped softly once more, scratched around in the leaves like a feeding bird, and watched as one hen pitched down to the ground 75 yards away. A longbeard rattled the air with a double-gobble, and I cutt and yelped back at him.

Again the birds gobbled their brains out and we could see them lift off their roost branches and head for the ground.

“They’re coming,” I whispered to Kay. “Get ready for a shot.”

An old biddy hen started cutting, and sassing at me. It took only a moment to realize these gobblers were henned-up, and there was no sense in being shy. Calling like you’d work a single bird wouldn’t impress these turkeys. Aggressive calling techniques were needed.

I yelped with a loud and raspy “yowp, yowp, yowp” on an aluminum call, and followed the yelps with some purrs, whines and cutts. The old biddy was still yelping at me, and I began getting even more aggressive. Every time she would call, I’d call louder, harder and faster, and would call over top of her. It was easy to tell she was getting mad, and her calling became more urgent, and I stepped up my aggressive calling one more notch.

I’d rake my fingers through the leaves, hammer back at her, and all this time the big gobbler was hitting me with a series of gobbles and double-gobbles. Had anyone been nearby, they would have found it impossible to believe that turkeys could make so much bird music.

We spotted the snowball-white head of the adult gobbler at 60 yards. He would gobble, go into full strut, dance around in a little circle, stop, throw his head forward and make one of the loudest gobbles I’ve ever heard. I’d yelp softly, purr and whine, and then beat up on the lead hen with louder and more insistent calls.

I could see that Kay had her 12-gauge, 3-inch magnum, up and across her knees and cheek to the stock. The birds kept coming, and at 30 yards there were so many turkeys standing nearby, that it was almost impossible to count them. There was the big gobbler, six hens and five jakes, and all were sounding off in retaliation to my hard-core calling methods.

My method is pretty simple. I knew they could see my hen and jake decoys, and I was switching from a raspy box call to a sharp-edged aluminum call, and I’d often kick in a purr, whine and yelp with the diaphragm call, often using two calls at once. The tension was mounting, and finally they stopped at 25 yards. The gobbler rattled the trees once more with a deep and raucous gobble, and all of the hens kicked in. I whispered “Shoot that gobbler when I putt.”

I putted once with the diaphragm call, and the gobbler lifted his head as if on cue, and Kay shot. The other birds had stepped aside as they closed to 25 yards, and Kay could shoot without endangering another bird. Her gobbler went down, and never wiggled. The others burst into panicked flight, and I thought one bird was going to fly right into me.

We carried our gear out to the car, and I shouldered the gobbler. He had a nine-inch beard, and the weight was even more impressive. I walked the quarter-mile out with the bird in one hand and my shotgun in the other. I’m thinking this is the heaviest Michigan bird I’ve ever handled since the turkey season first began in 1965.

We drove home, and weighed her bird on accurate bathroom scales. It’s feet and lower legs, head and neck, were off the scales and the longbeard weighed 25 pounds. Friends, any Michigan gobbler over 20 pounds is big. A 25-pounder, though hardly a record, is a huge bird.

Kay had her fun taking this large bird, and I’m still tingling all over thinking about calling in one gobbler amidst a group of 12 wild turkeys. For me, shooting a bird is anticlimactic. The purest form of enjoyment from hunting wild turkeys comes when calling a gobbler to the gun for someone else.

Killing the bird is nothing more than the end of the story.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/28 at 07:57 PM
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Sunday, April 27, 2008

What I Like About Spring

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There are many unimportant things in life, but one I attach a great deal of importance to, is spring.

I hate the ordeal of spring house cleaning and putting up the screens and taking off storm windows, but smelling skunk cabbage and seeing the first trilliums peek up through a carpet of last fall’s leaves is a major happening. The trials and tribulations of most of spring’s never-ending rains are past (I hope), and although spring mud on back roads can be a hassle, I don’t getting my car filthy if it can help me track down a gobbler.

Spring brings more than its share of strong winds, but there is nothing I enjoy more than sitting along a river bank and listening to the wind sough through the branches. I rejoice in a warm spring day, those that offer a dose of spring fever, and they eat away at leftover winter stress.

One enjoyable spring chore is rigging out a boat for trolling. Mechanical work is not for me, but I’ll putter all day changing the lower unit gear grease in an outboard motor, replacing spark plugs and fine-tuning the engine for slow-speed trolling. For good fishing I’ll even get my hands dirty with grease. My wife shakes her head at my little idiosyncrasies

Such things become a matter of sorting out one’s priorities.

I enjoy watching bluegills spawn in skinny water, and like to watch red-wing blackbirds flying across a duck marsh. I like to see the trees bud out and the world green up in a renewal of life. The lilacs are due to bloom soon, and I know the flowers will attract the ruby-throated hummingbirds that bring me pleasure every year.

Overcrowding on our trout streams isn’t the problem it was before high gas prices, and I wait patiently for the many trout lakes to turn on later this month and next. More and more people have taken up fishing, which is good, but some people develop poor fishing habits, which is bad. I see too much selfishness on our lakes and streams, and too little compassion and consideration for the dreams and desires of other anglers.

I like solitude, peace and quiet on trout streams and dislike the crowded hustle and bustle that accompany trying to find a weekend place to fish. I love to cast to a specific fish that can be seen and dislike having to consider elbowing my way into what seemingly is the only spot on the stream to hold fish. In fact, I passionately dislike the latter situation so much that I’ll take a hike with rod and reel in hand, and if I find an open spot, I’ll fish. If I find just more and more people, I’ll drive many miles to achieve my oneness with the water by being alone.

I dislike junk fishing equipment and waders that leak. I enjoy my new insulated waders even though they look like dead marsh grass, and welcome the feel of a fine fly rod as I shoot line to cover a trout. I thrill each time to the soft but sibilant swishing sound a fly line makes as I make a back cast and power the line forward.

I dislike raking leaves and cleaning rain gutters or the junk in my yard that apparently falls from the sky with winter snow, but I do enjoy sorting through my fly-fishing vest. The thought of cleaning out the garage is appalling, but given the choice between hauling trash and cleaning three fly reels and four spinning reels, I’ll choose the latter every time.

For years I heated with wood and burned some 25 face cords of maple each winter. I always knew I should tackle the cutting and splitting of wood while the weather was cool but it always seemed more important to let other more meaningful chores get in my way. So, the result for about 25 years was to put off the wood cutting until the summer heat hit 90 degrees. And even then, if the browns were hitting offshore I could be tempted to put off this chore for just one more day.

Summer light-line trolling is fun, and productive, but there’s something about my first trolling trip each spring that leaves me breathless with anticipatory excitement. Spring can make fishing dreams come true.

My wife wants help with the rock garden she wants in that vacant area we call the front yard, and last summer I gathered rocks from five-pounders to some weighing over 100 pounds. But you see, turkey hunting starts tomorrow. I will help with the rocks as soon as the season ends. I promise, cross my heart.

But, between now and then, there are priorities in life to be handled. And if we are to live the outdoor life of fishing and hunting, priorities become very important, and I know where mine begin and end.

And it’s not cleaning out the attic. Gotta go because there’s gear to get ready for tomorrow’s hunt and it won’t take care of itself. See what I mean about priorities? The important things in life always come first, right?

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/27 at 04:15 PM
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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thinking Back On Other Trout Openers

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It was sometime in the mid-1980s when I made my rounds of six or eight trout streams on opening day for the Detroit newspaper I worked for, and it had to have been the worst trout opener in modern history.

I drove through high winds, heavy snow, and temperatures in the mid-20s. It wasn’t a fit day for man nor beast.

I checked the upper Manistee and one of its branches, the mainstream AuSable River and its North and South branches, the Sturgeon and Pigeon rivers near Indian River, and one or two others, and the fishing was nonexistent. No insect hatches, no calm river currents, no nothing.

My story was filed from on the road to The Detroit News, and I reported dismal fishing conditions. It was like writing about a funeral. Not much good could be said for the day.

Another writer for another newspaper wrote a canned story that told of sunny skies, temperatures 40 degrees warmer than they were, and bountiful hatches of Hendricksons, Blue-Wing Olives and Black Stones.

The story was so phony that people were angry when it appeared the next day. A news man at one of the Detroit television stations, who happens to enjoy opening day trout fishing, reported that two Detroit-based writers had two different stories on opening day. He said only one was accurate, and it was written by me. I felt somewhat flattered for doing my job properly.

Today’s trout opener didn’t feature any snow but it did offer high-velocity winds, the aftermath of last night’s major thunder storm, and a deluge of rain overnight. That was good for preventing further wildfires in the Grayling area, but it wasn’t much good for fishing. There is something very unpredictable about the last Saturday in April, and we have again seen the proof of how trout openers can be good, fair or downright awful.

Having said that I remember other trout openers. On another such day, I wound up my checking of rivers and the anglers who were on them that day, wrote my story on battery power, but didn’t have enough juice to left to post my story to the paper. I recalled a young friend who lived near Thendara Road east of Grayling off M-72, and went to visit with him in hopes of a good chat, and the use of his phone and electricity.

He wasn’t home but his mother was. I introduced myself, told her of my problem and she invited me in. I set up my computer, hooked it up to their electricity, and she allowed me to use their phone. First and last time I ever had to beg for a place from which I could send my story to the paper.

Another time, over 50 years ago, I was fishing near Wa Wa Sum on the AuSable River with Max Donovan, an old friend from my boyhood hometown of Clio. He’d had part of one leg amputated years before, and with his “peg leg,” as he occasionally called it, he waded that stretch of river with agility and strength.

At mid-afternoon, the Hendricksons came off and Max was in his glory. He’d flick casts into current seams, behind sweepers, and he was like a machine. He caught all of his trout on a No. 14 Adams, claiming “the Adams is the best fly of all. It can match many different hatches, and it’s a fly that always produces.” He proved his theory that day, and even gave this tow-headed kid a bedraggled Adams to use and I caught a few fish as well.

Once, on the trout opener on the Sturgeon River, my old and late friend George Yontz whispered to me of a hole that he said was full of silvery rainbow trout from Burt Lake. I knew the hole well, understood how it had to be fished, and luckily found it free of people.

The fish were there, and I was on the attack, and hooked one high-jumping steelhead after another. I was young back then, filled to overflowing with a sense of my angling skills, and set out to prove it to those older anglers who wouldn’t help me when I asked. It was perhaps one of the last days of my life where I kept and killed five steelhead.

I walked into the tackle shop at Yontz’s Hillside Camp with a stringer with five steelhead, and all of the old-timers were there. Yontz could estimate fish weight better than any man I’ve seen before or since.

“Six pounds even,” he said, before laying it on the scales. He pegged it perfectly. “Four-and-a-half pound” was his next guess and he was off by an ounce. The other three weighed 3 1/2, 4 and 5 1/2 pounds.

My face wore a sappy smile as the old-timers looked at that catch in amazement. The best any of them had done was two fish of three and four pounds. One or two of them had been skunked.

“Where did you catch them, Dave?” asked the best angler (other than Yontz) of the bunch. I got a bit smart-mouth with him, and said “in the mouth” or “in the river.” They knew why I was hassling them, and later, it seemed a hollow victory as I lay in bed and cussed myself for killing all five fish to prove that I’d arrived as a steelhead fishermen.

Oddly enough, today was the first time I’d thought of that opening day story in many years. So I dusted if off, put it forth with all of my ugly teenage warts showing, and it was one of my finest openers.

One could only hope for something half that good today, but I always expect the worst and am never disappointed when we have a day like today. It makes one more grateful when the Fishing Gods smile. May one and all enjoy a great day, and unlike that mouthy teenager of many years ago, I urge people to keep only what they can eat and return all the rest tomorrow to live to fight another day.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/26 at 08:10 AM
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Friday, April 25, 2008

The Times Have Changed, & Not For The Better

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My, my, my, how times change. The last Saturday in April always was a day that every trout angler eagerly awaited. We counted down the days to the last Saturday in April when trout anglers could fish anywhere—beaver ponds, designated trout lakes, the upper reaches of streams, steelhead streams, jump-across creeks, etc. That changed some years ago.

The DNR, hoping to simplify their tangled fishing regulations, added the Lower Peninsula muskie, pike and walleyes seasons (with certain exceptions) in the Lower Peninsula with the trout season, and suddenly trout shared their special opener with these other species. People suddenly had a last-Saturday-of-April choice—muskies, pike, walleyes or trout and it became a no-brainer.

Trout are more subject to high water levels, cold air and water temperatures, rain, snow and wind plus other natural phenomenon. State anglers found themselves with an earlier walleye season, and trout fishing, though still popular for many people, had lost some of its appeal. I look for a moderate turn-out tomorrow for trout fishermen, but with high gas prices, many people will fish closer to home.

There are those trout fishermen who were happy to see these seasons lumped together. It took some stress off the trout streams, and gave dedicated anglers more trout water to fish with fewer people to compete against. The crowds of wader-clad anglers had disappeared. However, when those clad in vests and chest-high waders disappeared, so did their money.

I can’t say trout fishing has significantly improved with fewer anglers afield, but one thing is certain in the northern trout country. There are fewer people around to spend cash.

Fewer people equate to fewer dollars jingling into northern cash registers. Some fly shops or businesses that depend on the sale of trout fishing tackle have suffered serious financial losses. Some fly shops have shut their doors, others have been sold, and the sad result is the northern businesses that once depended on this spring shot in the arm, is no longer getting it.

The bottom line is easy to figure out. Walleyes are tasty to eat, and the same is true of trout, but in many cases the trout are more difficult to catch. Fishing time these days has been reduced, people are worried about jobs and benefit losses, and job security is not good as businesses fold. The upward spiral of gasoline is taking a bigger bite out of our paychecks, and as gas prices soar, other goods have become more costly to produce and to buy.

So ... people who once fished for trout are not traveling as far north as they once did. They head for one of the walleye hotspots, fish nightcrawler harnesses or jigs, and consider such fishing trips to be their weekend outing. And, truth be told, walleyes are much easier to catch.

This doesn’t mean that catching walleyes can’t be fun, because it is. But those things that have always attracted anglers to trout water are still there but increased gas prices are tethering people closer to home.

There’s no doubt that former hardcore trout fishermen will miss the Hendrickson, Blue-Wing Olive and Black stone fly hatches. No doubt they also will miss pulling up their waders, donning a fly vest bulging with fly boxes brimming with bucktails, dries, nymphs, streamers and wet flies, but that how it is now for most people.

Granted, they will miss the murmuring hiss of water washing around the edge of a sweeper or the soft sip as a trout nibbles a dry fly off the surface. They undoubtedly will miss casting big dries to jumbo brown trout during the Hex hatch or ripping big streamers hard and fast through darkened pools and runs after the Hex hatch ends.

They will miss the smooth silky skin of a 10-inch brook trout, the hooked bottom jaw of a large male brown trout, and the rambunctious jumps of a fly-hooked rainbow trout. It may take a few years but trout fishermen will come to miss the silky whist-whist-whist of a fly line being false cast and then allowed to curl over and delicately settle a fly on the surface.

We’ll miss the quiet conversations held alongside a river with a fellow fly fishermen, and instead, find ourselves smack in the middle of a pack of trolling boats catching walleyes on heavy line off planer boards. Don’t believe it, just look around. Trout anglers, who once made up the majority of fishermen in this state, have fallen a rung or two down the ladder. Walleyes are king for most people.

Walleyes, however, aren’t stream trout that have been wised up by the constant temptations of our feathered offerings.

One question that bothers me is whether the fly shops where trout fishermen once gathered in large number will be able to hold on and ride out the rough years before the cycle reverses itself. How long will it take for fishermen to tire of hooking big walleyes, hauling home limits of walleyes, before it dawns on them that fly fishing was a fine and noble practice.

It was a pastime where stealth and accurate casting paid off. It was an era more of a one-on-one duel with trout, and more often than not the fish would win. It’s said the hardest thing about walleye fishing is finding them. Finding a nice trout is rather difficult as well, but finding and hooking that fish is a monumental challenge that is missing on walleye waters.

I, for one, will be on a trout stream tomorrow. There will be many midsummer days when I can cast or troll for walleyes, but for this one day in late April, any time spent fishing will be with a fly rod in my hand and happiness in my heart.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/25 at 06:33 PM
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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Late-Season Steelhead Action

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It should come as no surprise to most steelhead fishermen that the run is not over in most streams. Anglers feel the fish begin their run, and end it on a somewhat regular schedule that has most Great Lakes tributaries devoid of steelhead before the regular statewide trout season opens on Saturday.

Go ahead. Believe that if you will, but you’d be a good bit off the mark this year.

Let’s face it. Our weather patterns are changing. Call it global warming or simply the thoughts of my simple mind. The fact remains that spring came about two weeks later this year than normal, and if anyone cares to take notice, there are still some steelhead in certain rivers. Lots of steelhead in a few streams for those anglers with enough gumption to go looking for them.

My longtime fishing buddy Mark Rinckey of Honor and I visited two widely separated locations on the Platte River today, and caught silvery steelhead in both spots. The fish were difficult to spot because of a gusty northwest breeze that kept the water surface ruffled, but that made little difference to us. We knew the fish were there and didn’t need to see them.

Rinckey barbed a nice steelhead on the second or third cast as he rolled a spawnbag along bottom. The fish inhaled the bait, spun in midstream and began jumping. Mind you, the river temperature was about 57 degrees and these fish were silvery bullets that ran and fought hard and jumped often.

Bam! Up the fish went, trying for altitude. Splash. Bam! Up the fish went again. Three more times in a row saw that silver steelhead bounce into the air like a kid on a trampoline. We were using four-pound monofilament, and there was little room for mistakes when hooking and playing these fish, and it took him 10 minutes to corral and release that fish.

I was up to bat next, and felt the tap-tap-tap of a fish pecking at my spawnbag. I dropped the rod tip, reeled up the slack, and set the hook when I next felt the fish pluck at the bait. Back came the rod in a salute to the fish, and this one chose not to jump. It ripped off 30 yards of line, rolling in the current, ran upstream past me and held steady in the current.

Such battles work against the fish because they are fighting both current and rod pressure. Tiring, it wheeled and barreled downstream past me and paused to fight in a small pocket of eddy water. A bit of pressure, and the fish came close and was gently led up onto a gravel shingle next to shore. I reached down, twisted the hook free, and the 8-pound male swam back into the current and was gone.

We hooked several more fish, and lost four. We landed five steelhead, and kept a pair of small ones for dinner and released the big spawners. We seemed to have exhausted our first fishing location so we began prospecting. We checked two different spots, found fresh footprints of other anglers who had fished the area while we were working over the first spot.

We checked another spot, and although it had some suckers mixed in, there were several steelhead. I had a steelie hooked for about 10 seconds and the hook pulled free. Bait up again, and keep casting.

Rinckey saw a big fish drift out from under a brush pile and then it disappeared. He kept fishing, cast after cast to the same location, and soon the fish came to the spawnbag. He hooked it just as I had a good pull from another fish, and this one of his provided him with a back-alley scrap that lasted another 10 minutes. My fish was on and gone, almost that fast.

It took a bit of running up and down the river to keep the fish out of brush piles and log jams, but in the end, Rinckey won the battle and eased a big steelhead up to shore. He held it up for a photo, bent over and released the fish to fight again.

People can believe the steelhead runs are over but one thing I learned during 10 years of guiding steelhead fishermen is they don’t read the so-called rule books about when to begin or end their spawning runs. One female Rinckey landed still had eggs tight in the skein, and it was probably two weeks from spawning.

Should the weather turn cold, and the run sputter along, it might be possible to find mint-silver fish in Lake Michigan tributaries during the second week of May. Most people will be trolling by then, and we may still be out fishing for fresh-run steelhead. I’ve seen it happen just often enough over 50 years to not discount that possibility.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/24 at 08:21 PM
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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Looking Ahead To Saturday’s Trout Opener

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Dave. the fortune teller, has dusted off his crystal ball, stared deeply into it with a glazed look in my eyes, and herewith has come up with some educated predictions for this trout-opener weekend.

Phone calls here and there, a handful of emails, and some personal face-to-face chats with trout guys, has provided me with some pretty solid information ... barring dramatic weather changes. Everyone thinks Saturday’s opener may be pretty good, and a few think it may be the best opener in years.

Barring high winds, rain, snow (gasp) or bitter cold weather, the 2008 trout opener should be pretty good. Not much rain in the forecast, but we may have some fairly fairly warm temps for the opener. If the wind doesn’t blow like crazy, we should be in good shape.

Most rivers are lower now than a week ago after all the rain and runoff, and water clarity is pretty good. A few rivers like the South Branch AuSable and the Betsie River may still be colored up a bit.

I can’t ignore the mainstream AuSable River from Grayling down through the flies-only water because it should be good. Some slightly higher air temperatures could produce some Blue Wing Olives, Hendricksons and Stone fly hatches. Wait until afternoon for the Hendricksons to turn on if it’s not too cold or windy.

The mainstream Manistee River from County Road 612 downstrean past M-72 and on down to the CCC Bridge should be productive. The Manistee River is colder than the AuSable and hatches may be a bit slower to get moving.

It’s a favorite of mine, I know, but the Sturgeon River and its West Branch in Cheboygan County could be good. The mainstream, if you’ve not fished it, is deceptively fast and has some slippery clay-bottomed areas. A few steelhead from Burt Lake may still be in the river.

The Clam River, downstream from M-66 near Cadillac is a good spot for brook trout but don’t take your limit. Fish for the pure enjoyment of it, and return your catch.

The possibility of some steelhead still exist in the Betsie and Platte rivers. There were still some fish being caught just below the old Homestead Dam on the Betsie. A few steelhead may still be kicking around the gravel bars near the Goose Road campground and near Veterans Memorial Park on the Platte east of Honor.

The Pere Marquette River and its many branches may be a great bet. The possibility of some big browns and steelhead exist in the mainstream, and these fish shoot up the tributaries as well. If the weather stays warm, look for some decent hatches.

One of the most overlooked rivers in the state is the Rifle Rifle in its upper stretches. The water near Lupton and Rose City are good bets. This river gets some unheralded steelhead runs, and those areas where Klacking Creek and other creeks enter the river are good bets for browns. The upper river has always produced some good brown trout action at times.

The East Branch of the AuGres River, just above and below M-55 near Tawas City is always a good bet on and after the general statewide trout opener on Saturday. I’ve seen some nice native trout come from this section and some steelhead as well.

The Pine River flows into the backwaters of Tippy Dam, and the Pine is a great stream to canoe and fish for trout. There are some tough stretches with fast water and sudden turns, and canoeing here is not for the novice. Look for some good native brown trout fishing. Know where the private land is located because many landowners do not allow trespass.

Some fishermen could care less about wading a river. They prefer fishing inland lakes, and Michigan has a wealth of good trout lakes. Local to the Traverse City area are Crystal, Duck, Elk, Green, North Lake Leelanau and Torch lakes. Higgins Lake in Roscommon County is always good, and I heard of a big lake trout from there last year.

The weatherman, if he can keep a promise, is calling for a rather nice weekend. If we can get some 65- to 70-degree weather, we should have a good time.

Me, I’ll be fishing two or three jump-across creeks, and may target some brook trout. There’s something about crawling about an old cedar swamp with a small stream running through the woods, that appeals to me. Hopefully, some of the old streams that I once fished for brookies will still hold a few fish.

Time will tell.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/23 at 04:50 PM
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Brown Trout Action Poor: Lots Of Bird Life

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Michigan’s brown trout fishery on Lake Michigan has been slow for the past several years. But then, that is hardly a secret.

These game fish, like many other species, tend to be somewhat cyclic and somewhat nomadic in nature. They have good and bad spawning years, and after a bad year, it can affect the fishing for three or four years.

One hopes this fishery turns around a bit this year, but there are still some browns to be caught. Smelt, once an April staple of voracious Great Lakes brown trout, have declined so far that few people know where to find any.

Alewife numbers were good last year but brown trout numbers were down. Manistee seems to have the most dependable fishery while the East and West arms of Grand Traverse Bay has seen a major decline.

What was once an untapped fishery has sputtered and fallen on some pretty hard times. The once famous Platte Bay and Frankfort fisheries have come undone. Granted, a few fish are caught every year, including my nephew Casey Richey’s new state-record fish from Frankfort last May, but the numbers are getting lower and lower each year.

Having given readers the bad news up front, it’s time to say something good. It appears that there may be a few more browns this year, and it’s likely the fishery may make a slow and struggling comeback if the DNR plants some fish.

And, less you forget, Lake Michigan still holds some big brown trout. I know two or three anglers who often catch fish weighing 20 pounds or more each year, but their numbers have been dwindling as well. But they put in plenty of long hours without a fish.My friend, R.J. Doyle of Mecostaa, came up to fish and I joined him today.

We trolled off Frankfort with three other boats. Three of the four boats talked to us, and none of them had a strike. Neither did we. We weren’t able to talk to the fourth boat, but never saw a net in the air or water.

We did enjoy a bonanza of bird life today. We saw Canada geese, cormorants, goldeneyes, herring gulls, mute swans, mallards, scaup and a host of other song and water birds. The swans were their normal ornery self, the geese were constantly honking, lifting off the water in front of our boat, and it was a dazzling display of bird activity.

I digress. The two months after ice-out are normally the best times to fish for browns. Some are caught by casting spoons and spinners off the piers, and a few are caught in the lower part of tributary streams as anglers fish for spring steelhead. I caught a pretty brown this spring from the lower Betsie River where it flows into Betsie Bay.

Those anglers who catch a few big fish work hard at it. They spend many hours each spring and early summer trolling, and their fishing success has tapered off as well. However, time on the water and a willingness to experiment with lures, different lure colors, different trolling speeds and locations enable them to catch some fish.

For some years the charterboats would come into shallow water to troll for browns, and they caught some fish, but big boats often frighten the fish. The best boat is a 14- to 16-foot aluminum craft with a heavy-duty electric trolling motor. It allows the boat to troll very slow with FlatFish or faster with a Rapala, Rebel, Long A Bomber or FasTracs.

The charterboats often trolled with 10- to 12-pound line, and like browns everywhere, these fish tend to shy away from heavy line. The anglers who catch the most fish use 6-pound and occasionally 8-pound monofilament. Use a good swivel to prevent line twist, and tie the line directly to the line tie on the lure. A loop knot helps increase lure action.

Hotspots are off river mouths, near breakwalls and piers, near submerged rock piles in fairly shallow water, and top anglers fish lures 125 to 150 yards behind the boat. In-line planer boards work well to hold lures far out to the side of the boat.

The harbors are usually the best places to start. The river water is warmer than the lake water, and where the mud line or the area where clean and dirty water meet can be a genuine trolling hotspot. Today, the lake water was 42 degrees while the Betsie Bay water was 58 degrees at one point.

Fishing near the rocks on the inside of the harbor and along the outside pier edges are two great spots to try. Steer a slightly zigzag course, and a sudden change in course or speed can trigger a strike. The wind was kicking up waves outside, and most of the boats stayed in the harbor or along the color line where river water meets lake water.

Handle these fish with care, especially if it is big. Watch its head as it comes near the boat after a long battle. If the fish cocks its head to one side or the other, let the fish take line. Work him gently back, and the brown may make three or four short 10-yard runs.

Work him back slowly, and watch his head. Once the fish rolls over in submission, and can’t right himself, ease it to the net. If the brown trout looks like one of those big chinook salmon we used to catch, put the fish on ice and head for town and the nearest set of certified scales.

A friend of mine and his buddy caught a brown well over 30 pounds some years back, messed around on the lake for several hours, and the fish bled out in the cooler. It just missed the state record at that time. Had it been weighed hours earlier, the angler probably would have had a new state record. My nephew did everything right on Mother’s Day, and his 36 lb., 13 oz. brown trout is the fish to try to beat.

Me, and many of us who have caught big brown trout over the past 35 years, feel there may be a 40-pound brown swimming in Lake Michigan. Your chances of catching one are as good as mine. And, best of all, they are beautiful fish and make a lovely trophy.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/22 at 04:45 PM
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Monday, April 21, 2008

A Bit Windy On This Turkey Opener

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The feelers went out about 10 a.m. today, and the last man reported in about 7:30 tonight. The turkey opener wasn’t a very good one.

Pete reported in from Rogers City. Smitty called from Alpena. Bob touched base about noon from Mio. Then Jake called from near Flint, and Turkey Tom from Lansing reported in. Jimmy called in early afternoon from Traverse City, and The Turkey Girl from the Baldwin-Reed City area reported in. Only one gobbler was reported taken from north of Baldwin.

Their comments left a great deal to think about. The biggest complaint from everyone was the weather. Especially the wind.

The day dawned clear, warm and sunny, with a strong breeze. I couldn’t stand sitting around, and went for a short drive. Two gobblers were seen in the middle of an open field, and they were trying to woo a hen that probably had already been bred. She purposely chose to ignore them, and if a gobbler got too close, she ran off 50 yards and continued to peck in an old corn field.

I drew a second-season tag, and was looking for photo opportunities today. The two gobblers were a good distance away, and not once did they gobble or strut. The wind was blowing hard at the time, and the two Toms headed for the timber and a break from the gusts.

Each of the callers sang a familiar refrain. Wind makes everything move, and turkeys are concerned about not being able to detect danger. They don’t spend much time doing anything but trying to spot something coming after them

Bob hunted near Mio, and talked with other hunters during lunch. A few birds were seen, but the turkeys spent much of their time out in the open fields where visibility was good. He had a chance to shoot a four-inch jake but turned it down.

“Hope my friends don’t tell me at the end of the season: ‘Don’t make the mistake; take the jake.’” he muttered.

The southern hunters saw more birds but many were very skittish. Jake was hunting between Flint and Lapeer, and saw one longbeard when it flew down at daybreak. “His beard was dragging the ground but he didn’t gobble from the roost or on the ground, and when he pitched down, he hit the field running and worked out into the middle, 200 yards from any cover. He strutted, and the hens joined him, but they spent all their time out in the open where visibility was good. No shots from down here.”

The Rogers City-Alpena area often produces some good early-season turkey hunting, but not today. There is a good chance of more wind tomorrow, and the possibility of rain. I learned long ago that with the early one-week seasons, a turkey hunter considers himself lucky to have two cool mornings with little or no wind.

It doesn’t help if those days come during the week when most people have to work. Times are tough, and some people I know decided not to apply for a turkey tag this year. His gasoline prices cut down on the ability of many sportsmen to scout as thoroughly as they once did. Now, many hunters are chasing gobblers near home.

Today is only the first of a week-long season in Area K, the state’s largest turkey management area. Me, I was manning the phone most of the day but covered about 40 miles doing a turkey patrol, and never saw anyone with a bird and saw only two trucks that may have held people who were turkey hunting.

Everyone hopes for slightly cooler weather with no wind. With luck, it will come sometime this week. The trick will be to sneak off on a hunt when the conditions are more conducive to listening to birds gobble and then try to work them in close. It’s why they call it hunting. For the strong of heart and will, the hunt will continue.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/21 at 05:27 PM
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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Are You Ready For Tomorrow’s Turkey Hunt?

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One must make some assumptions today. I assume that you roosted a big gobbler earlier tonight in preparation for tomorrow’s turkey opener.

We further assume you know which tree the bird will roost in, and which little wooded opening he will try into. For good measure, we’ll also assume the direction he and his harem of hens will take to reach the closest strutting zone after fly-down.

I told you there were many assumptions. And, if you think about it very long and hard, you will note such basic assumptions exist on almost every turkey hunt. Going blind into a turkey hunt is a great way to waste time.

Now, the trick is to get into place within 100 yards (give or take 25 yards) of the roosted longbeard. The question of the day is simple: Does the gobbler fly down into the field or into a wooded opening, and then walk into the field?

If the open field is close, it can affect where you choose a stand. If the bird lands in the woods, the hunter can set up in the woods, along the path they normally travel to get to the field or near the field edge.

There are hazards to setting up near the wooded opening. It is easy to bump a bird if you mistakenly get too close to the roosted gobbler and he or his hens hear or see you moving into position. They can and will bust out of roost trees at night.

Another problem with setting up in the dark is it is lighter from above, and the bird can see down into the woods better than you can see while sitting down in the woods. The fly-down may come so early (minutes before actual sunrise), and it can fly down and the beard may not be clearly visible. The gobbler may walk past a hunter gobbling like crazy, and it’s easy to assume this is a gobbler (which it probably is) but it may have lost its beard. It wouldn’t be legal to shoot a beardless bird.

I set up fairly close to the open field, and call once or twice to get the attention of the gobbler, and sit back to see what happens. Just remember not to face the east when you set up or you may be looking directly into a fiery sunrise and not be able to see the gobbler as he moves past.

The trick is to move 10 to 15 yards into the woods, sit down and be ready for a shot. The gobbler may twist off two or three lusty gobbles from the roost, fly down, gobble again, and then move out to strut without gobbling again. The hens will know where he is.

If preseason scouting indicates where the bird roosts, and it is a short distance (within 100 yards) of the field, I’d set up at the field edge. This provides perhaps the easiest and quietest place to sit up. Access to it is easier than walking blindly through the woods, and that is always a good thing.

There no need to be breaking tree branches at the last moment. If you’ve watched the birds walk out of the woods to the strutting area, once they move off across the field or back through the woods, find a key location, locate where you will sit, remove those broken stubs that stick your back or butt, clean away all dry leaves, and determine where you will put out the decoys (if you use them).

Prepare this location a day or two before the season opens but make certain the birds are gone before you do anything. Take care of your set-up area, and move quickly away.

Come opening day, I try to be in place at least an hour before daybreak. Sit back and relax, and don’t start second-guessing your spot. If it looks good by light of day, it should look good on opening morning.

Make certain you know how to get into the area without stumbling around. Turkeys are accustomed to hearing deer, raccoons and other ground-dwelling critters move around in the dark. A tiny bit of noise is acceptable but no talking.

Muffle box calls and push-button calls so they don’t squawk if you bump against a sapling or tree limb or trunk in the dark. I lay out all the calls I intend to use on a green or brown towel next to my left leg and within easy reach.

Enjoy watching the woods come alive, and be prepared for that first gobble of the day. Shooting a gobbler is anticlimactic to hearing the first few gobbles and watching a snowball-white head come bobbing through the woods as the bird comes to the call.

Pulling the trigger is the least of my concerns. For me, calling and fooling a gobbler on his turf is what the hunt is all about and what really turns me on.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/20 at 07:43 PM
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Saturday, April 19, 2008

One Day & A Wake-Up

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It’s one day and a wake-up for those turkey hunters carrying a first-season turkey permit. That one day should be spent doing a bit of last-minute scouting.

What seems to have become a natural turkey habit appears to be in full swing. The birds will go for a few days without gobbling much, and then there will come a day when they gobble their brains out. Anyone with a bent diaphragm call or a slate call that has got wet once too often can still call birds when they really get charged up.

Hunters on Monday, when the first turkey season opens, can hunt one of three basic ways. They can find a spot (normally located during preseason scouting), find a comfortable spot, and wait out the birds. They may or may not come, as seems to be standard turkey behavior, and it often works although waiting for birds to show up can be an all-day process.

Sometimes the birds will act like they’ve been acting for weeks, and steer a course directly to a waiting hunt. Other times, especially if they’ve been spooked approaching their roost site, the birds may switch roost locations. It pays to know if any other natural roosting areas exist in the area.

One thing to remember: Never get into a calling contest with another hunter. It’s one way for someone to get shot. I’ve heard many turkeys that sound like beginning hunters, and have heard some of those same birds turn out to be the real thing. It’s vitally imporant to use common sense, and hunt safely.

The second method is to revert to Plan B—try a new area. Sure, you’ll miss the early morning turkey wake-up period, but it’s always worth taking the chance. If no birds sound off, and none are seen, haul butt for a different area. Sneak in as silently as is possible, get in place and try calling. Don’t get too aggressive about calling at first but let them know you are around. If they are within hearing, they may pay you a visit but it could take two or three hours for them to work toward you.

The third choice for opening-day turkey hunters is the run-and-gun program. I did a good bit of this last year, and it works almost as often as it fails. This hunting method has more holes than Zwiss cheese when it comes to giving gobblers a chance of spotting you as you move. A moving hunter is always easier to spot than a motionless one.

This method means just what it says: you run and hopefully gun. Settle into a wooded location, allow things to quiet down for a few minutes, and begin calling. Start out soft and low, and after a few minutes, try being a bit more aggressive. If that doesn’t bring about a response from a gobbler, give it the high and hard calling method. Sit for 10-15 minutes to see if anything shows up, and if not, get up on your back legs and head out to the next location at least a half-mile away.

Try switching calls at each location. A diaphragm and box call can be used at the first location, and a box call and slate can be tried at the next spot. Try working with a different box or slate call, and don’t overlook the push-button calls at another spot. They’ve worked for me on many occasions. Just don’t stick with your favorite call and use it at each new calling location.

Give each location about 10-15 minutes, and have your next spot in mind before you start moving. Crossing open fields is a chance that must be taken, and it’s often when hunters are spotted by birds. Moving through wooded areas, especially if last year’s leaves are very dry, could mean that moving along the edge of the woods and is the grass might provide more silent passage.

A quality pair of binoculars is important. Glass from higher hills, ridges, and stop often to glass ahead. Often, a moving hunting will stop in or near heavy cover, and glass before calling. This may reveal birds moving your way.

Sit down quickly, size up potential openings through which a shot may be taken, and sit still. One soft call may light a fire in a gobbler, and he may sound off. I ditch my decoys when running and gunning. More often then not, I find myself not having time to put out decoys. Birds may be seen at 100 yards, and you must pick a spot and get into it without being seen. If time permits, move some of the leaves away from your butt and feet to prevent making any noise.

Don’t call if the birds continue to move toward you. If a shift in position is needed, make it when birds pass behind trees that will block their view of you. Remember one thing: If you can see the birds, then they can see you regardless of the camouflage being worn. Make just one mistake, and your chance for taking a spring gobbler may be over.

Use tomorrow wisely, and try to put birds to bed without them knowing it. Roosting time just before dark is when you’ll know where the birds are located. Don’t try to get too close and spook them. To do so is to ruin your hunt, and trying to get too close will only spook the birds away.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/19 at 06:28 PM
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Friday, April 18, 2008

Where Are The Great Lakes Smelt?

One of the great mysteries of the past 25 years is the seemingly near extinction of Great Lakes smelt. They aren’t extinct but one couldn’t prove it by comparing now against the successful spawning runs of yesteryear.

My first year at The Detroit News as their full-time staff outdoor writer came with a hire-in date of April 21, and a night or two later I went smelt dipping.

It was at Point Pelee, on the Ontario side of Lake Erie. Smelt back then assaulted tiny trickles of water flowing into the lake, and possibly millions of smelt would hit the beaches like an infantry battalion storming one of the Pacific islands during World War II.

Ontario residents could use seines to take smelt at that time, and two or three good men on a seine would get so many fish with one swipe they couldn’t lift the net from the water. Nonresident visitors to the popular Ontario netting site were limited to the use of hand nets.

That was fine because anyone with a dip net could take more smelt in two hours than could be eaten in a year. My first visit found me through netting after two dips. I had 50 pounds of smelt, and some of my new coworkers at the paper asked me to bring them some smelt for dinner.

I did, and kept about 10 pounds for myself. A few days later I was dipping smelt at the old Singing Bridge on US-23 near AuGres. It was the usual rowdy crowd; people getting drunk, eating live smelt, puking their guts out, falling into Lake Huron, and in general, making complete idiots of themselves. I love watching people make complete asses of themselves.

Again, two dips that night produced more smelt than I wanted but some neighbors were hungry for a mess. I divvied up my catch among three families, and all were happy for the fresh fish.

Smelt seemed to hang around for four or five more years, and then it was as if someone flipped the off switch. Smelt disappeared from Point Pelee, from the Detroit and St. Clair rivers near Detroit, and some key locations like the old Singing Bridge (years ago it hummed when a car crossed over it) and the AuSable River mouth showed signs of decline.

Next came Lake Michigan. The big runs off the Platte River, Otter Creek and the Frankfort piers tapered off, and two years later people who once dipped at Saugatuck and South Haven complained of few fish.

I heard of a few good dipping nights on Lake Superior near the Keweenaw Peninsula, and some tiny streams that enter Lake Michigan near Manistique provide fair dipping. But, when compared to great spring nights of 25 years ago, smelt numbers have plummeted.

I hear tales there are lots of smelt in the Great Lakes, but if so, very few are spawning in tributary streams. Where have all the huge smelt schools gone?

It’s a good question, and no one has an answer. Many blame it on alewives that eat tiny smelt. If that is so, what caused the crash of alewives in Lake Huron? That lake is nearly barren of forage fish before alewives invaded the Great Lakes decades ago.

I’m just an outdoor writer who tries to keep up with things. Many smelt disappeared before zebra mussels appeared, but many more have disappeared since their arrival. Are the lakes too clean to hold smelt? Is there too little forage for baby smelt to feed on? Are smelt in a state of slow depletion. Can the ever-unpopular cormorant take the blame?

Many dippers have taken smelt over the years, but in the early 1980s when smelt numbers were high, they were high everywhere. When they crashed, even where netting wasn’t popular, they seem to have vanished.

Smelt dipping (or as some hardcore drunks called it –– smelt drinking) when a run of fish moved in, the cry went up: “The smelt are running!”

Seldom is that cry heard these days. No one seems to have a handle on the topic, but many suspect changes in water quality, the accidental introduction of foreign exotic species such as round goby, etc., and others feel smelt numbers are a cyclic up-and-down thing.

Smelt numbers seem to be down somewhat in inland lakes where they were introduced about 100 years ago. Winter smelt fishing can be great fun on Green Lake near Interlochen, Crystal Lake at Beulah, Higgins Lake near Roscommon and other scattered inland lakes, but even on the inland lakes, the numbers seem down and the fish much smaller.

One thing is certain: few areas attract huge smelt numbers anymore. A few diehard dippers still go out, and measure their catch as successful if they take enough fish for one meal.

If this is a cyclic phenomenon, I hope it gets it out of its system soon, and allow smelt numbers to rebound. And then, perhaps if enough old goats like me are still around, we may once again thrill to the dippers’ rallying cry: “The smelt are running!”

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/18 at 05:03 PM
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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Aluminum Or Carbon: Choose Your Arrow

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There are several arrow companies in North America, and there once was a day when the only shafts a hunter could find in an archery shop were made of aluminum or wood, and many traditional archers made their own arrows. Aluminum shafts were all I used.

A friend suggested to me years ago that I try shooting carbon shafts. I’d heard all the old horror stories about shattered shafts and argued mightily against carbon. The friend told me there were excellent shafts on the market that flew as well as aluminum.

I tried shooting carbon shafts. They seemed to fly well on the target range, and the arrow speed was right up there. How would they work in the field? That, I thought, would be the big test.

I sharpened two Patriot broadheads, and took two Game Tracker carbon arrows out with a razor-sharp broadhead on the end. I wanted to shoot two deer, and learn for myself how they worked on a buck and doe.

It didn’t take too long before a doe walked past my tree stand, and stopped in a perfect broadside position. I had shot aluminum shafts for so long, it just seemed to be foreign to lay a carbon shaft across my BoDoodle rest.

The bow came back to full draw, and I made a smooth, well-aimed release. The arrow sliced through that doe like a hot knife through warm butter, and the doe ran 50 yards and collapsed. The broadhead had sliced through her heart.

Hmmm, I thought. That seemed almost too good to be true. I sat back in my stand and waited, knowing that a nice 8-point buck would be coming through 15 minutes before the end of shooting time.

That 8-point had been passed up many times, but he had scraggly antlers. I had a family in mind that needed fresh meat, and this would remove the buck from the gene pool while providing them with quality venison.

A hour passed, and the woods settled down from me shooting the doe. Soon I saw antlers coming through the brush. The other Game Tracker arrow was nocked and ready with a Game Tracker string tied behind the broadhead.

The buck stepped forward and stopped, facing directly away from me. He scanned the countryside as if sizing up the terrain and determining his next path of travel.

He moved around, and every shot he offered was a low-percentage shot that I wouldn’t take. I could wait for another day or two, but was keen to try this new carbon shaft. Eventually, the buck turned away again, and slowly turned to offer a perfect quartering-away shot at 20 yards without a twig or anything between us.

The bow came back again, and I aimed, and the shot was taken. The two-blade head exited behind the front shoulder on the opposite side, and the Game Tracker string spooled out with a double line. The buck ran 30 yards, fell, tried to get up and fell again.

Two perfect shots. The arrows performed extremely well, and I later checked both arrows. Both were perfectly straight, and I used them again later in the season to kill anaother doe on an antlerless deer permit.

Archery shops, based on numerous interviews over the past dozen years, estimate that 75 to 85 percent of their arrow sales now are carbon shafts. A few diehard hunters still buy aluminum, but most hunters now shoot carbon. They like the way these arrows shoot, right out of the box, and they like the down-range performance. Best of all, many people find themselves being able to shoot two or three deer with the same arrow. Clean pass-through shots do not hurt carbon arrows.

One of my hunting buddies performed a different kind of test with carbon shafts. He shot a 300-pound black bear, a dandy buck and a heavy beamed Quebec-Labrador caribou with the same carbon arrow. Three different animals with the same shaft, and he said the arrow was still straight and shot well but he thought it had earned retirement status.

Carbon arrows have taken over the bulk of the arrow sales. Should you shoot aluminum or carbon? It’s like choosing a blue or yellow toothbrush. If it works, use it, and many bow hunters have learned that carbon arrow shafts do work amazingly well.

But, some people are like me. They have to learn for themselves, and choosing aluminum or carbon is like choosing Democrat or Republican as a political choice. It’s a matter of personal taste, and I’ve made my choice with arrow shafts and politics.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/17 at 01:46 PM
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spring Music Of The Finest Kind

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Spring has a special form of music, and unlike a boom-box audible at high decibel levels for a mile or more, some of the finest spring sounds are made by wild turkeys.

There is a whole vocabulary of turkey sounds, and each has its own message from one turkey to another, from a gobbler to a hen or from a hen to a white-headed gobbler or from a hen to her poults.

Turkeys were slow to move into our particular area years ago, and even today, there are not a large number of birds in our immediate area. There are two or three small scattered flocks, and for the past three weeks, the woods have been alive with their calls.

Personally, I find the gobble to be the most stirring of all. This is especially true when a great big gobbler pussyfoots in behind you, sneaking along and roars out a gobble or double-gobble at the maximum noise level within 20 yards of your ear. It’s difficult to sit through it without jumping, and the hunter must be prepared for a close-up gobble at any time.

It’s quite easy to tell the difference between a jake and an older gobbler. The jake sounds like an adolescent boy when his voice begins to change. Sometimes the gobble starts on a high, squeaky note and gets deeper as it goes, or start out sounding almost like an adult bird before getting squeaky and breaking at the end. It is almost unmistakable for anything else in the woords.

There is no doubting the gobble of a large adult bird that is three or four years old. These bruisers have a built-in amplification system, and a hard gobble seems to shake the trees and the ground. It is a raw and primitive sound, startling in its clarity, and overpowering in volume.

What is really striking is to have several gobblers roosted in adjacent trees. The first bird to sound off is usually the Boss Man, the biggest gobbler in the area. There is a pecking order in nature, and all other gobblers defer to the largest bird even though other gobblers will try to run off with a hen if the opportunity arises.

A hen yelping is an engaging sound that immediately attracts your attention. She can yelp softly, at medium volume and loudly, as she determines. Hens also putt, cluck, cutt, purr and whine. Some claim there are even more sounds in the turkey’s vocabulary.

There is a drumming-spitting sound that gobblers make when they are near a hen. This sound doesn’t carry very far, but if you hear it, the bird is very close and any movement will spook the bird.

I called once to a gobbler while sitting on the ground. A hen came out, and stood within 20 yards of me in the open. The gobbler’s snowball-white head could be seen circling my position, and both gobbler and hen were looking for the hen that had made the call.

The birds were too close for me to call again, and I figured the gobbler would finish his circle, and head out into the field to strut and display for the hen. I was sitting motionless when I heard this sound for the first time.

It sounded like the gobbler was humming and spitting. It sounded something like a very soft “hmmmmmm-phhit!” The bird stayed directly behind me for 15 minutes, drumming and spitting, and the hen was getting agitated and the intensity of this sound seemed to intensify as his mood turned sour about the missing hen.

It didn’t seem to get any louder, but the intensity of it grew more demanding. I’m not sure that is the right word, but finally the hen turned, and walked within five yards of me, met up with the gobbler, and he quickly had his way with her. There was a violent rustling in the leaves, and soon she had been bred.

The two birds wandered off the opposite way, and I didn’t shoot a gobbler that day, but was witness to a turkey sound I’d never heard before. I’ve heard it many times since, and it always seems to be made by a large gobbler with breeding on his mind.

I can’t begin to recall how many times I’ve listened to gobblers and hens, and there are times when the hens get pretty sassy with a gobbler. Often, it the breeding is winding down, a gobbler will stay close to a solitary hen.

If a gobbler starts coming to a call, the hen may cutt, yelp and carry on, and I’ve found that making the same sounds as the hen will occasionally bring both birds to the gun. Hold off, wait until the birds separate, and give a soft cluck. The gobbler will raise his head and one shot is all it takes to kill a long-spurred, heavy brushed longbeard.

And most of the skill needed to work a gobbler is to duplicate the calls of a hen. It works for me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/16 at 12:30 PM
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