Saturday, May 31, 2008

Superstitious About Fishing & Hunting?

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We’ve all seen the antics of baseball, basketball, football and hockey players. Each sport has their own little rituals.

Call the players superstitions if you will. The world is full of baseball players who refuse to step on the first-base or third-base lines or some other bit of foolishness.

Some baseball pitchers won’t shave the day they pitch, and I’ve heard and read of players who feel compelled to pull the right sock on before the left. Ben Wallace seems to wear his hair tight for one game, and big and wide for another. Who knows why.

Others use a certain color of toothbrush on game day while some won’t talk to a reporter if they pitch that day. The world of major league sports is filled with such idiosyncrasies. Some folks would call them superstitions.

We all know not to walk under a ladder ... but why? Then there is the black cat theory, and “step on a crack, break you mother’s back” song sung by girls playing a sidewalk game, back in the old days.

Some of these things border on being compulsive, obsessive or superstitious while others border on doing something based on something that happened in the past.

Years ago, when I fished Cheboygan County’s Sturgeon River, there were no beliefs based on superstition. However, if the fish were in the river, and a distant rumble of thunder rolled across the sky, it didn’t matter where I was at. I was on the move.

I’d make a mad dash for the car, and head for one spot. This certain hole didn’t look like much to me or anyone else, and most people ignored and never fished it, but by chance or luck I learned that if a steelhead was in that hole just before the rain fell, I would catch it.

Why, I have no clue. But it paid off for me so many times, that it became a ritual. If I could smell rain, I headed for that hole, and sometimes would get only one cast before the rain began to fall. That one cast would hook a steelhead nine out of 10 times.

For many years, my trademark was a red Jones-style hat that I wore. It was with me on more adventures than I can remember, and whenever I was wearing it, we’d catch fish. I decided after Kay and I were married that it looked better on her than me, and she began wearing it and my luck continued to hold even though I would switch hats. As long as one of us wore the hat, the fish bit and the game moved.

Is this coincidence? Is it luck? Or is it a figment of my imagination? Who knows or cares, because I’ve never tried to root out the reasons why things work or don’t work. If wearing that hat led to better catches and more photos for a full-time free-lance outdoor writer, why not wear it. Why step on the third-base line if you don’t have to?

Years ago I had some skin-tight Gortex rainwear. I began wearing it in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains while hunting mountain lion. There was a great deal of walking in deep snow, and a lot of sweating, and I wanted something that would keep me warm and dry without wearing long underwear, jeans and other clothing. It worked perfectly, and my lion was shot with a bow at six paces as it was bayed on the ground.

That rainwear was like a lucky rabbits foot for several years until I took it to the Northwest Territories’ Little Martin Lake for a Central-Canada Barren Ground caribou hunt. I wore it on that hunt, killed a caribou bull that at one time was No. 9 in the world. My guide wanted the rainwear, I wouldn’t give it to him but gave him a hefty tip. He happily took the money, and helped himself to the rainwear when I wasn’t looking, and then I began shopping around for something else that would work.

Do I consider myself superstitious? Nope, but some good things happen when certain types of equipment are used. I own a pre-1964 Winchester Model 70 in .264 Magnum. I used to handload my own ammo for that rifle, and it can shoot straighter than I can hold it. I’ve killed plenty of game out to over 400 yards with that rifle, and although my handloads are now made to perfection by a friend, that rifle has been with me on many fine hunts.

During my 10 years of guiding fishermen, a Shakespeare Black Beauty fiberglass fly rod was the main tool of my trade. It was a sweet rod, tough as nails, and over 10,000 (that number is correct) big browns, salmon and steelhead were landed with that rod. Several years after I quit guiding, I took an old client fishing, and hooked a big Chinook salmon.

I heard a soft ominous creak in the rod as I led the big fish to shore, and once the king was unhooked and released, I headed for the car. My buddy asked where I was going, and I told him I had just retired my favorite fly rod. That rod now hangs in a special place of honor, where it is rightfully recognized as one of the most fish-catchin’est rods in history.

It’s a funny thing though. I don’t catch as many fish now as I did when I used that old fly rod, but I blame that not on the rod, or bad fortune, but on my poor vision. We all need a good excuse at times.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/31 at 02:33 PM
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Friday, May 30, 2008

Remembering More Dangerous Bear Enclounters

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I was looking through an old pile of Outdoor Life magazines the other day, from the decade that I wrote stories on a regular basis for them. One article was about a grizzly bear attack that I covered for the magazine.

The subject was a man who had most of his face chewed or ripped off by a grizzly bear, and he lived to tell his story. The magazine flew me to Salt Lake City where the interview was conducted at a major hospital.

He lost one eye, his nose and one ear, and the bear literally ripped his face off. He’d had over 1,000 stitches when I did the interview, and he had more plastic surgeries scheduled. He was swathed in bandages from his head to his shoulders, and had numerous other wounds on his arms, body and legs.

That got me to thinking about the number of black bears I killed while mopping up a messy job of shooting by other people. Years ago, when bear hunting meant going into a sporting good store and buying a license. There was no need for a lottery draw in those days.

One such time was for a bruin that had been shot in a hip, breaking the leg bone. The hunter was frightened of the situation and asked if I’d help. I said I would it he agreed to stay behind so I didn’t have to listed to his jabbering.

He gladly agreed, and I went after the bear with a 3-inch magnum 12 gauge shotgun stoked with five No. 4 buckshot. I saw the bear at 40 yards, and hit him. He went down, got up, came running at me, and four more shots were taken with the last one at six feet. It finally killed the animal.

I’d read stories as a kid about African hunters shooting a leopard or lion, and then having to dig them out of thick cover and kill them at close range. This was pretty heady business for me, knowing full well I’d never go to Africa. I’d have to settle on killing wounded bears that other people had severely injured.

Another bear led me on a two-day hunt that covered a small swamp bordered on one side by a tiny creek. I had lost what blood trail had existed but found where the bear bedded down three times. Finally a drop of blood was found near the creek. I followed it slowly up a steep hill.

My shotgun preceded me, and bent blades of grass pointed out the path taken by the bruin. I’d just topped the hill when I spotted the bear three feet away. It moved and I shot, and this sorry mess was over.

Bears have provided me with some hair-raising thrills. People talk about brown bears, grizzlies and polar bears, but more people are attacked by black bears each year than most people think. Black bears are most common, and I’ve had some close encounters when armed and unarmed, and it’s a thrill most people would prefer to live without.

Only once did I go after a wounded bear with another person, and it was a friend whose skills were legendary. We got that bear, but every other time I’ve done it was alone. And that was the way I wanted it.

Frightened people talk, make noise, and generally get in other people’s way when some serious work has to be done. Wounded bears often are shot at spitting distance in thick cover, and I didn’t want anyone nearby for fear they would create a greater hazard than already existed. Close-range shooting with a shotgun or rifle can be risky business, and it is made all the more dangerous by a person with nerves rubbed raw by being close to a bear.

I’d move slowly if the going was tough, stopping often and looking around. Of the six wounded bears I’ve dispatched, none had injuries that would have been immediately fatal. All were moving, and often the dirty work was done within an hour of sundown. It meant moving fast and quiet, getting close enough to the animal for a deadly shot. Of those six, only the one required more than one shot.

It isn’t something I’d do now because my vision is so poor. Back then I could see well, and there is a major adrenalin rush when the wounded animal is first spotted. Then it means staying downwind and trying to get close to the animal without spooking it.

Doing this nasty business was not fun but whenever I went after a bear it was because the hunter couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. It meant putting an animal out of its misery as quickly as possible. I never advertised my services, never went looking for this kind of work, but for many years I was in the area where bears were being hunted.

I did it because someone had to. Otherwise, a frightened hunter may walk away from the problem or wait until the next day and not be able to find the animal.

This string of memories came back to me like a recurring bad dream. This wasn’t Africa and it wasn’t a wounded leopard or lion at the end of a blood trail, but they were wounded bears and potentially dangerous animals that had to be put down before they were lost or lived long enough to become a danger to someone else.

It wasn’t fun but it offered some hair-raising adventures. And trust me, they were adventures I’ll never forget.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/30 at 04:59 PM
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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dealing With Close-up Bear Encounters

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Bear hunting is a special brand of outdoor adventure where, in rare circumstances, the hunted can become the hunter. It’s when the tables are turned on a sportsman, and things can get very interesting very quickly.

It doesn’t happen often with black bears, but when one attacks, it’s never good news. A grizzly will maul and bite a human, often inflicting horrible injuries, but the person often lives.

Black bear, even though they are the most common of all, are perhaps the most dangerous of all bruins. Their attack may continue until the human is dead. It’s happened many times across North America, and in many cases, the human doesn’t survive such encounters.

I lay no claim to being a black bear expert, but have hunted bruins, photographed them, and have had these animals approach to within three feet of me over 40 years. Each experience is something to learn from, and one hopes it never happens again.

I’ve never been truly frightened of a black bear, even when they’ve come within spitting distance on a dead run. Knowing some things about bears can help people cope with the animal if things turn sour, and an angry bear is only feet away. What you do may truly affect the outcome of the encounter. The majority of such encounters happen during the summer months when boars are breeding sows or when a sow is moving during daylight hours with her cubs.

Once while photographing a black bear in Canada’s Northwest Territories I was downwind of a foraging bruin. It turned, looked in my direction, and I took a photo with a flash attachment. It startled the animal, and it came walking slowly toward me.

I talked to the animal in a fairly soft voice. I kept my voice level, and it approached close enough that I could have reached out and touched it, which I knew would have been a serious mistake. The animal continued to circle, and as it moved around me, I turned with it and continued to face and talk to it. The bear got downwind of me, caught my scent, and circled back on the same path as before and slowly walked away.

One important thing in bear encounters is to keep a clear head. Don’t scream at the animal, and realize that a wild bear can sense anxiety just like a mean dog senses fear in a human. Watch the animal, and read the messages it gives you.

Know this: bears, and especially a sow with cubs, will often make a false charge toward a person. They can walk, trot or run, but you’ll hear teeth clacking, deep growling, and then the bear stops at 15 to 20 feet.

It is defending its turf and its cubs, and a slow dignified retreat while facing the animal can usually put an end to the whole business.

The trick is to stand your ground until she stops. Step backwards slowly for a step or two, and talk softly to the bear. If it does nothing, take two or three more slow steps backwards. This allows the animal some space, and allows it to save face. Its enemy is retreating to avoid what could be a deadly confrontation. Just don’t make any quick movements, and pay attention to your footing. If you fall down, it could trigger an attack that would be difficult to defend against.

Watch the bear. Keep a level head, and don’t crowd the animal. If it comes toward you, turn with it as it moves, but watch its head because the body will follow the head. Study its actions intensely. A bear that becomes increasing agitated has gone from being a curious to a deadly animal.

A bear that approaches within 15 to 20 feet and stops, its ears laid back against its skull, clacking its teeth and growling, is a dangerous animal. A bear that does that, and begins stomping its front feet against the ground, has become truly dangerous. Back up and try to defuse the situation with a slow retreat.

Do not run. Never, ever, run from a bear because it’s like running from a mean dog: the chances are it will trigger a charge. Black bears can outrun a horse for 50 yards. A human can’t run that fast. Running triggers aggressive behavior.

A full-blown charge with foot stomping, growls, ears laid back, and clacking teeth is something that will stir your guts into liquid, and give your mouth a coppery taste. This is no time to lose your head and do something incredibly stupid. The key here is to keep you wits about you.

Continue to face the animal but try a slow-movement retreat. Chances are the bear doesn’t want to force the issue, but this posturing can be a prelude to a mauling and death or just a close call. In many cases, the humans movements or lack of them may act as a catalyst that triggers an attack.

Saving face is no different with a bear than with a barroom bully. Sometimes the issue can be resolved without incident; other times, it can only be resolved with force. A man alone, unarmed, is not capable of fighting a faster and stronger bear. A few instances have been noted of a bear-man fight, including one here in Michigan years ago, and they are the stuff of wild tales ... except many of them are true.

Few people will ever face a false charge, and even fewer will come to grips with a full-blown charge. Those who face the latter (and it’s difficult to determine one from the other until an attack occurs) and live to tell the story are a rare breed in today’s society.

I’ve faced four (two from the same bruin), and all were defused after several troubling minutes, but the best advice is to stand tall, make yourself look as big as possible, talk (don’t scream) to the animal, and give the bear a chance to save face without injury to it or you.

Backing away or stepping aside when a bruin is very close can leave you with a wildly beating heart, a dry mouth and your life, providing you do everything right. The chance of a bear attack anywhere is remote, but it pays to have some knowledge of what to do well before such a need is within 10 feet of you and still coming..

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/29 at 05:42 PM
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Day A Trout Pond Died

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Luzerne Pond once sat nestled between low hills, down in the bottom of a valley, and decades before a dam had been built across Big Creek, and slowly the pond took shape.

I came to know it back in the mid-1950s, and it long had been a favorite of my angling-hunting mentor, Max Donovan, of Clio. He fished it often from his AuSable River long-boat, and occasionally we fished it from a canoe, but the river boat provided us with a stable fishing platform with a built-in live-well.

The late 1950s and through the 1960s and 1970s was the highlight of my young fishing career. Me and Max would paddle out onto the pond, and ghost slowly along over the gin-clear water. We seldom fished the pond during the day, but we prowled its waters relentlessly after dark.

We often fished without any light, but on occasion when the fish forgot to feed, we’d shine a light into the water. The browns would be there, the large and small ones, but none would want to feed. We never solved the riddle of why one night can be so much better than the next evening.

Max was a hemophiliac, and I supplied the brawn while he handled the brains department. We each began with a fly rod with a No. 4 Muddler Minnow or Doodle Bug knotted to a 3X tippet, and a spinning rod with a two-inch shiner minnow threaded on a double-hook rig. One or the other usually produced good sport.

We’d shove off, and within minutes Max would be flailing the water, and if any browns were to be caught, he often would hook them on the Muddler Minnow. In the darkness of this valley, the air turned cold once the sun went down and the fishing heated up and it was easy to hear the sizzling his of a good fish plucking a natural off the surface. We fished more with our ears than our eyes.

I lost track of the number of browns I netted for Max, and not quite as frequently, he’d do the same for me. I remember a five-pounder was as big as we ever landed, but once he was convinced he’d hooked a true trophy fish.

The fly stopped as Max worked it slowly across the surface in fits and starts, and he set the hook. The fly line buzzed off his reel, and soon he was down into his backing before I got the river boat under motion. We slowly caught up, and out went more line.

“What do you think?” Max asked, a disembodied voice from the stern. “Should we shine a light on him?”

“I don’t think so, Max, not yet,” I offered. “You know a sudden bright light really fires them up. Fight him as long as possible, and when it is close enough to the boat to net, we’ll light him up and take a good look.”

Max fought hard, and it never broke water. After what seemed to have taken 30 minutes, the bulldogging bruiser was on the surface less than 10 yards away.

“I figure its one of those big hook-jawed males we’ve seen occasionally,” he muttered, now carrying the fight forward.

“Could be, Max, but he hasn’t splashed around on the surface,” I said. “It’s not fighting like any brown trout either of us has ever caught. Get him a few feet closer to the boat, and I’ll turn on my head lamp and we’ll check out this dude.”

The boat would move sideways a bit, and Max couldn’t take it any longer. “Light him up,” he yelled.

I picked up the net, flipped on my bright head lamp, and six feet away was a big beaver. The light hit him, and we could see the No. 4 fly hooked into his hide, and he wasn’t happy to see us.

The beaver slapped his tail on the water, dousing both of us, and then dove under the river boat, and the leader broke. “Great fish, Max,” I said. “Too bad you lost him.”

Another time a brown bat nailed his fly as he was making a false-cast to dry out his fly, and we got him unhooked without having to handle the creatire. It flew away into the darkness, and we were happy to see it gone.

Our nights often were filled with prolonged struggles with fly-hooked browns, and when the flies failed, we’d toss minnows and work them slowly through the water. The browns were beautiful, well marked fish, and often we had the pond to ourselves.

One day in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the Luzerne Pond Dam went out in a spring freshet, and the dam was never rebuilt. What we had known as superior trout habitat was nothing but mud flats with the tiny stream still flowing through the middle.

Such spots were an item of great importance during my youth, and almost until I was 40, and when it went out, I shed a silent tear for what had been and what would never be again. Gone were the big and smalls, and one suspects many of them found their way down Big Creek and into the AuSable River west of Mio.

Max passed away many years ago, and now, well over 20 years after his passing, it is impossible to drive past Ma Deeter’s where a sign still stands, stating: This is God’s County, Please Don’t Drive Through Town Like Hell.

I never do. Going back now is like a wake for what had caused the death of a brown trout pond of legendary proportions, and it means knowing full well I’d never see it again except through my mind’s eye and that is good enough.

It’s easier to remember The Pond in its prime than to remember the day when the damn dam broke, and all of my childhood and much of my adult trout-fishing dreams and memories died with it.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/28 at 05:16 PM
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fishing Tournaments Help Improve Fishing Gear

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Fishing tournaments fall into a love ‘em-hate ‘em category. There is no middle ground among anglers.

Comparing modern fishing tournaments with those of 30-40 years ago is like comparing a low-end Ford to a big-ticket Ferrari. It is impossible to do.

Today’s angling competitions offer much that can benefit fishermen. Granted, there are still some do-nothing fishermen who epitomize the slob angler, but such people are few in numbers.

Many of the top bass and walleye pros are college-educated and aware of the value of this resource, what it means to the angling public and what must be left to ensure that future generations will have quality fishing in the years to come.

There is some fame and glory that comes with winning a major tournament, but some tournament pros fish because they enjoy the competition, catching fish and because they have become very good at it.

There isn’t much prize money to be made in tournaments unless the angler places in the top six or eight spots in each contest. For many, tournament fishing is a money-losing situation. For many, it is an ego stroke paid for with had-earned money, time off work and busted dreams.

These anglers go fishing, have a good time, and enjoy butting heads with each other to place high in the standings. When it is over, they shake hands and part as friends.

One can ask: how does tournament fishing help the average weekend fisherman?

It’s you, my fellow anglers, who benefits from these people and their tournaments. It’s us who gain the most from the efforts of professional anglers. How so, you ask?

Those who fish professionally are our first-line defense against shoddy fishing equipment and poor workmanship. It’s because of these angling pros that we have:

*Kill switches: Many high-power bass or walleye boats have such switches to prevent the operator from being tossed overboard, only to have their boat circle around and cut them into mincemeat. And it you think it doesn’t happen, think again.

A man I fished with on Lake Sam Rayburn in Texas years ago hit a stick-up about a year after he and I fished together, and he was thrown from the boat. It circled around, ran him over, cut him in half and people cried because of the tragedy.

*New rods and reels: Many new features have come about because of suggestions made by professional anglers. They often fish daily, and soon learn about rod or reel defects. The mistakes are corrected before you ever buy the new gear.

*Line: New monofilament lines have evolved because of special needs. Soft lines, limber lines, small diameter lines, World Class lines, colored lines, super braids and the new synthetics have evolved through the efforts of bass and walleye pros.

*Electronics: Some of the finest liquid crystal and chart recording graphs, Loran-C, marine radios, GPS and other such electronics were developed because of the needs of professional anglers or the military.

*Lures: New lures have been discussed and developed by manufacturers, tested by bass and walleye pros, and eventually marketed to us. Many new plugs are made just to meet specific angling needs.

All of this is fine, but I can hear someone asking: how about all the fish they catch? Don’t you think catching those bass or walleyes will upset the balance of the lake or educate the released fish?

Nope, I don’t think so. A bass or walleye has a brain the size of a very small pea, and it is not capable of logical thought. In two days or so a hooked and released fish will not remember its temporary problem. Much of their life is ruled by instinct, not remembered cases of being hooked.

Modern bass and walleye tournaments now have more than a 95 percent live return rate. Fish are caught, kept in aerated live wells, briefly weighed, given a bath in protective chemically treated water to retard any possible infection, and returned alive to the lake.

So, I feel the good of modern angling contests far outweigh the bad, and anglers can now reap the many benefits made possible by researching tournament pros.

I am friends with many touring pros, and each one is concerned with the natural resource. And why wouldn’t they be? The lakes they fish help keep them in a job, and job security is having a lake filled with a good spread of three or four year-classes of fish and a healthy forage base.

You don’t find that in an over-fished lake.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/27 at 07:18 PM
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Monday, May 26, 2008

A Casual Meeting On The River

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

The animal stared at the angler, and the man stared at the bruin, and sized him up as a 250-pound adult boar. The animal glared at him, and paced back and forth along the shoreline. It seemed he wanted to cross so my friend waded downstream 100 yards, and the critter kept pace with him.That wasn’t working

He was trying to give the animal some room, and the bear seemed more interested in him. There was no huffing and puffing, or growling or clicking of teeth. Just the determination of the animal to keep pace in the direction the angler traveled.

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

The animal began walking back and forth a bit in what he felt was a determined effort to chase the man away. He decided that it might be best to wade back downstream to his take-out point where his car was parked.

It was a quarter-mile downstream, and he fished a bit as he waded along. He stopped two or three times along the way to work his fly through a deep hole, and the bruin again stepped out of the brush and made a big show of pacing back and forth on the opposite bank.

The bruin continue to keep pace with the angler, and at one point it stepped down to the water in what he interpreted as another attempt to scare him by wading in the shallows. The animal waded out far enough to feel the strength of the current and backed up to shore.

He said the bruin’s ears then went back, and he knew the animal was most upset. The angler picked up his pace, and the bear did the same. He was parked on a dirt road near the bridge but his car was parked on the other side of the river.

He reached the path that went up the bank and would take him across the bridge, and he looked for the bear but couldn’t see him. He stopped atop the bridge looking down the other bank, and soon spotted the animal.

It was 50 yards from his car, and as the angler explained it, he began walking toward the parked vehicle. The bear had the angle on him, and began pacing back and forth some more. He said he knew better than to run, but was fearful the animal would come up the bank after him.

He began talking to the bruin. They were nothing words, but human talk so the animal would know he was a human. As he walked slowly, and talked in a moderate tone, he took apart his fly rod and dug in his pocked for his keys.

He said he didn’t feel unduly threatened by the bear but admitted it was a troubling experience. He was 20 yards from the car and the bear was down from the road about 10 yards, watching him.

The man kept talking and walking, and soon he was at the car. He unlocked the door, tossed in his fly rod, and took another look down the hill. The bear was still watching him.

He slipped off his waders, put on his street shoes, and still the animal looked up the hill toward him. He slammed the trunk lid down, and the bruin didn’t move.

He said it was as if the animal had escorted him from his domain. He never snarled nor growled, and his neck hairs never went up.

His only sign of agitation was the back and forth pacing along the river bank. The angler sat down in his car, backed his car around, and drove up to a point where he was just above the animal.

It looked up at him, the angler looked down at him, and the bear turned and walked off through the trees, possibly to a waiting sow. The angler drove off, and felt relieved that it was nothing more that a slightly scary incident.

There used to be a bruin that lived along the Laughing Whitefish River in Alger County, and anyone who ventured into his domain was escorted off the river and back to their vehicle. Mind you, that was at least 30 years ago and this animal behaved in the same manner.

It is just another case of some pretty odd black bear behavior.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/26 at 01:00 PM
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Making & Keeping Our Memories

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Many tangible and intanglible things are accumulated as life passes in front of us. We begin our life naked and squalling, and if we live long enough, our busy lifetime of travels through the outdoors will leave us with an accumulation of priceless baggage. Many of these are not valuable from a monetary standpoint but remain priceless because they produce fond memories.

Our baggage consists of the odds and ends and other accumulations of momentoes and memories from a lifetime spent on the water and in the fields; in the marshlands and woods; on the ground and from a tree stand.

This baggage is both mental and physical; things that can be held, looked at, and reminisced about. Memories can be found everywhere for a packrat like me, and I keep them around for many good reasons: every mounted animal, bird or fish, every hat, my bows, firearms, fishing rods—all have stories behind them. Those stories bring me life and great joy as I look back over all of these things.

For instance: on the wall between my mounted fish is a Shakespeare fiberglass fly rod. I used it every day during my 10 years of guiding brown trout, salmon and steelhead fishermen on most of the rivers, and the stories that rod could tell would be wonderful. Over 10,000 salmonids were caught with that rod, and it was finally retired in 1979 after I landed a 30-pound Chinook salmon. I heard a muffled creak as the brute of a fish was beached, and after removing the fly and rolling the fish upright until it could swim away, I retired that rod and it now hangs in a place of honor among some of the fish it helped me catch.

My junk room (basement) has over 300 different hats hanging from the rafters. There is a unique story behind every one, including one from Detroit’s Homicide Squad that states: “Our day starts when yours ends.” There are hats from Alaskan hunts, fishing trips in New Zealand, product hats worn on one hunt or another, and hats from friends who know I collect them. However, the only hats I keep are those with a fishing or hunting tale hanging off them. I could spend hours studying this worthless hat collection that has provided over 50 years of fishing and hunting memories.

Whoa. Here is a signed copy of Robert Traver’s (John Voelker) “Testament Of A Fisherman.” It was signed by him on Feb. 1, 1982 and states: “To my fellow writer and fisherman, Dave Richey, with all good wishes.” It’s worth very little except to me because I valued my friendship with Voelker and often think of him even though he passed away years ago. I look at his Testament, read it at least once each week, and it’s a priceless memento.

It’s been my privilege to belong to the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA), which I joined in 1968, and on my office walls are my writing awards. Four stand out: OWAA’s prestigious Ham Brown Award and their Excellence In Craft Award, Michigan United Conservation Club’s Ben East Award For Excellence In Conservation Journalism, and the Michigan Outdoor Writer’s exalted Papa Bear Award for Excellence in Craft. There are many other writing awards, but these four remind me of my 40 years spent writing outdoor copy for my valued readers.

The hours spent the other day while sorting through some of my life’s baggage was fun. There was a box containing all of my fishing and hunting licenses from my teenage years to now. I have most but not all of my earliest fishing and hunting licenses from this state, and some date back to the 1950s. It takes a few minutes but eventually a thought will reveal a heralded moment of fishing from a 1957 fishing license, and those old licenses still have the required Trout Stamp attached. One license held a stamp of Michigan’s old Fish Car that was used by the Department of Natural Resources to carry trout to northern streams for stocking.

I was never one for fancy, expensive gear. I look with fondness at my Shakespeare Model 1810 reels, the 2052 Ultralight reel, a pair of hand-crafted fiberglass rods from Wanigas Rod Company, my collection of Trout Festival badles, and empty shotgun sheels with the beard of a turkey that was killed with that shotshell. I have knives, some that I bought and others that were given to me by my twin brother, and each little item triggers a grand and wonderful thought that begs to be brought to the light of day, even if for just a moment or two.

One man’s baggage is another man’s treasure trove of outdoor memories. Such is true with some of my bear, deer and turkey patches. My lot in life is to record as much of our fishing and hunting heritage as possible, and to present it in a way that others can enjoy. Take a moment now, and think about some of your little pieces of life’s baggage and what joys they have produced over the years. I look at some of the old waterfowling books given to me by Michigan’s last market hunter, and Russ Bengel’s cheerful face pops into sharp focus. The memory of this kind and wonderful man, and what he did for Ducks Unlimited, is a story that deserves to be told once again.

We can travel through a life of fishing and hunting, and retain some of our memories. Because, if nothing else, those thoughts will spark a fire in sportsmen. That fire will blaze up into a full-blown recollection of a memorable day or event in our lives that must be remembered long after our ability to hike the hills and wade the streams has ended.

Those memories are what keeps us alive and sane in a world give to high fuel costs, world-wide anger, terrorist factions, an ever-rising cost of living, and through it all, when times get tough I have fond memories to fall back on. Isn’t that wonderful?

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/25 at 03:16 PM
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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Greeting The Bass Opener

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The big largemouth bass finned slowly over an ankle-deep spawning bed carved from a marl-based bottom on a small inland lake.

It was opening day of the bass season under a bright sun, and the hen’s ovaries were swollen with ripened eggs, meaning she was ready to spawn. A two-pound mature male hovered nearby waiting to fertilize the eggs.

A nearby splash triggered a reaction from both fish. Every sound, every movement or splash spells danger to spawning bass in shallow water.

The fish, their muscles contracting for panicked flight to deep water, watched a shiny object bounce across the bottom. It rose several inches, only to fall again to the sand. Tiny puffs of silt rose as it bumped along.

The male bass, protective of the spawning redd, moved forward to intercept the object. The female backed away to let the male handle the problem.

The smaller fish flared its gills, sucked water through a large mouth and inhaled the object. The jaws slammed shut like a steel trap, and the fish turned to drop the object outside the redd.

The angler, sculling a canoe, spotted the bed and two largemouth bass finning restlessly over it. The hen, at five pounds, would be the best catch of the bass season, but he instead focused on the smaller male. Even if one male fish were caught and kept, the fisherman knew another male would soon replace it, reproduction would continue and the future of bass and bass fishing would be assured.

The bait-casting rod arched forward, and the jig ‘n pig sailed over the spawning bed to land 10 feet beyond the fish. The angler could see the bass react to the splash, but they didn’t dart off toward deep water.

He cautiously took up slack, raised the rod-tip and swam the lure inches closer to the redd. He lowered the rod, reeled up slack and inched it forward with a lift-drop movement as the male moved to ambush the intruding jig.

Another lift and drop, and one more, and the lure dropped into the spawning redd. The female hung back as the male slammed into the lure with the fury of a fish five times his size.

The male’s slashing strike always had been enough for the intruding bluegills, but this object fought back. He felt his head jerk, and the sensation of something unseen pull on his jaw.

The angler saw and felt the strike, and responded with a forceful hook-set. The bass pinwheeled into the air, twisting and shaking to free himself of the restraining force.

The rodtip fell to give slack line on the jump, and quickly jabbed back to the 11 o’clock position to keep a tight line after the bass landed. The male largemouth darted this way and that as the hen swam toward deep water.

It was a brief give-and-take scrap, but the relentless rod pressure gradually wore down the fish. The bass could feel his strength ebbing as more pressure forced him toward a shining object floating on the surface.

The fisherman kept the rodtip high and skidded the weakening bass across the surface toward the canoe. Another object went into the fish’s mouth, and the bass was instantly paralyzed.

A thumb was inserted into the fish’s mouth beside the hook, and fingers were cupped under the jaw to lift the bass from the water in a flurry of spray.

The angler turned the smaller-than-expected fish back and forth, admiring the sleek lines from every angle. Then he eased out the hook, lowered the bass into the water, swished it back and forth, relaxed his grip and watched the bass swim to freedom.

The fish felt water wash over him, and oxygen began flowing through his gills again. After the pressure on his jaw relaxed, he swam off to deep water in search of his mate.

The angler was content. Although it hadn’t been a big bass, the fish had hit hard and given a good account of himself during the scrap. But a battle with a nice opening-day bass didn’t mean as much to the angler as admiring and releasing the fish. The increasingly popular practice of catch-and-release had caught on with him, and he admitted its importance in ensuring quality sport for future generations.

The bass quickly recovered it strength, and a day later the female had spawned. The cycle for man and bass was ready to begin anew, and that is the glory of opening day.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/24 at 12:17 PM
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Friday, May 23, 2008

Making Excuses For Muskie Losses

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

I fished for, caught and lost muskies in Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, New York , Quebec and several other places. I’m always fascinated with the excuses that anglers, myself included, have for losing fish. Anyone can dust off an old excuse, and use it when the situation calls for one, but some of the most talented people have a new and unused excuse ready when the occasion calls for one.

Someone who is a known angler, and is trying to protect his sterling reputation may call a lost fish “a professional release.” Another one may call it a “long-distance” release. These excuses have been used so often they are used up.

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

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

Most muskie addicts I know use their whole body to set the hook, and not just once. My tactic is to pound the hook home at least twice.

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

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

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

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

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

Me and another guy were fishing at night for Northern muskies in a Michigan lake, and there can be a direct relationship between casting after dark and getting a backlash. He was working on what appeared to be a huge backlash (a.k.a., professional over-run), and his muskie-size Jitterbug lay idle on the surface 20 feet away. He pulled on one of the loops, and it twitched the lure and the line, and the Jitterbug jittered on the surface, A big muskie slammed that lure, gave a vicious yank, and the line broke. Fortunately, he didn’t have his fingers wrapped up in the 60-pound line.

So who is going to believe a guy who says a big muskie hit while he was untangling a backlash? No one except someone who has had it happen to them once or twice. “Never had that happen before,” he said, and it was a believable excuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/23 at 02:37 PM
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Global Warming: Do You Believe?

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All of this talk about global warming makes my head hurt. It’s been about 32-40 every night for the past week. So what?

How can this mean global warming? Global warming doesn’t mean that the entire globe is warming at the same rate. It does mean there are shifts in global weather patterns.

Things change. I hunt deer in the fall, and up until seven years ago an east wind was almost unheard of during October in these parts. All of a sudden, from one October to the next, we went from perhaps one October day of east winds to about 15 such days. What caused that dramatic switch, and why did the east wind blow for half of the month?

Don’t know? Don’t feel bad. Neither do I. but since that year we’ve had far too many east-wind days when deer hunting goes from being difficult to almost impossible. Perhaps it’s good because we seem to be seeing a few more decent to very nice racks.

Explain to me why the northern polar ice cap is melting at an unprecedented rate. Why is the ice pack shrinking? The scientists, who are supposed to know such things, say the overall global atmosphere has warmed slightly. The average person never noticed any difference of feeling warmer or cooler. These changes are so minute that feel a change is nearly impossible. but I do believe our climate is changing/

Some point to the snow fall in the Traverse City area last year. Some were talking of 150 inches of snow. Big deal, we’ve had more snow than that on many other occasion before I move here in the 1970s. I can look back to 1978 when we had a measured snowfall at my house of 250+ inches. It was a bit more than some folks experiences, and less with others.

However, we had a midsummer drought last year and the year before. Last year many farmers plowed their corn under in August and September because nothing, including hard rains, could save it. We needed rain, and didn’t get it at the right time or in the right amount.

Is the change in snowfall, rain fall and more violent storms a sign of global warming? It appears we’ve had more hurricanes and tornadoes across the United States over the past two or three years. It’s true that the United States is battered by hurricanes on an almost yearly basis, but in the number we’ve been having lately? There seems to be more twisters, and the tornado season seems (at least to me) to be starting earlier than normal.

Can we explain these weather phenomenon on global warming or just freaky quirks of nature? Take your pick.

I’d be first to admit that I don’t have all of the answers, and sometimes think I don’t have any answers to the weather riddle. What I do know is that our weather seems to be undergoing some changes. Wild fires create smoke; volcanic erupts spew ash into the air; and deep underground plates far below the earth’s crust start shifting, rubbing together and up on forcing themselves on top of or underneath other plates, and the result is a deadly earthquake.

How many have we had so far this year? I don’t know for sure but there was one south of Michigan recently and extended down into Alabama, and numerous after-shocks. Does global warming have any effect on earthquakes? Don’t know, but quakes are just one more indicator that all is not well with this world we live in.

The recent quake has killed thousands of people, and it makes one wonder when the Pacific Rim will tilt off center and fall into the Pacific Ocean. I’m not an alarmist, and would hope that such an incident never happens. Then again, few people ever considered Mt. St. Helens blowing her top, but she let go in a monstrous explosion of ash, lava and rock.

We indeed live in interesting times, and our weather must be interesting because so many people talk about it every day. I’m just an outdoor writer with space to fill, and chose tonight to write a piece that pertains to many things, including global warming. Anyone who thinks our weather patterns aren’t shifting, and the weather isn’t changing, simply isn’t paying attention.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/22 at 04:46 PM
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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reliving A Steelhead Hotspot From 30 Years Ago

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Three decades ago, there was a place on the Little Manistee River that was almost like a second home to me. It had numerous shallow gravel bars where steelhead spawned, and rather than chasing after brook trout when a few months remained to do so, my son David and I returned to this hot spot from the late 1960s.

“If that’s where you want to fish today,” I’m happy to tag along. “Show me a place you haven’t showed me in the past.”

So I did. And he fell in love with it just as I did many years before.

The river, near the 18 Mile Bridge west of Irons, was running low and clear as we stepped into the river. Strongly felt was the old familiar tightening of water pressure against my legs as we began wading slowly upstream in a search for a late-season steelhead.

We poked along slowly, easing into the current, checking out gravel bars for the dish-shaped white overturned gravel from the fanning of a hen steelhead’s tail. The bed is slightly upstream from the white gravel at the tail-end of the bed. Some people wonder why these beds are white, and the quick and easy answer is this gravel has been turned upside down as a hen digs her spawning redd.

David, much younger than the old man, has speed to burn. I nodded for him to charge off in his personal quest for a lively steelhead while I walked slowly, stopped often, and looked for the nearly-invisible shadow of a fresh hen steelhead or the darker and blockier shape of a male.

I covered 200 yards, and stood motionless, looking near a fallen log that had toppled into the river. My vision, at best, is poor but I know what to look for.

First came the dark shape of the male holding in slightly deeper water along the edge of the redd. The water was four feet deep here, and I studied it for 10 minutes. The trick is to locate both fish before starting to fish.

Err at this point, and hook the female, and she will be gone. I studied the bed, both sides of it, and finally found her holding in position next to a log 10 feet downstream from the redd. The female was bright silver in the sunshine, and she was very close to being invisible. At first I couldn’t see her, but then I spotted her shadow, and then she became instantly visible. It’s a matter of knowing what to look for and being patient.

She was in an impossible spot to fish, even if I was stupid enough to try for her. The male held alongside the redd, and in a perfect location. My line was lengthened, and reading the current speed and depth gave me the ideal spot to cast. My orange yarn fly drifted downstream along bottom, and the fish moved away from it.

The fly was lifted out, cast again, and again the male moved aside and allowed the fly to drift past. Again and again I cast, and each time the male slid away, but he was becoming agitated, and on the 20th or 30th cast, he grabbed the fly and the hook was pounded home.

That fish ripped off on a downstream run, ran past the hen, went between two fallen logs, and wheeled in midstream, splashed out of the water in a corkscrewing jump, and ran back upstream. He took 10 yards of line upstream from me, rolled on the surface, and headed back down and turned. He bulldozed into a submerged brush pile in front of me, and in less than a second tangled my line and broke off.

I moved back up to shore, sat down, tied on another orange yarn fly, and rested the spot. It took 30 minutes before the hen moved back into her holding position, and 15 minutes later, the male reappeared. This time there was something different: an orange yarn fly was firmly embedded in the corner of his jaw.

It took at an hour for both fish to settle down, and I admired the day and the scenic beauty of this portion of the river. It seemed a great day to be alive. Upstream, I heard David talking to himself as a fish splashed. He was into a steelhead, and was telling the world about it.

My male with the decoration in the corner of its mouth lay beside the female, and she let loose a jet of yellow eggs as both fish rolled on their sides, mouth agape, and he fertilized the eggs. I got a good look at the hen, and she was flat-bellied and had successfully spawned.

She headed into a log jam and disappeared from sight. She would now rest, and I had no problem casting again to the solitary male. This time he was more eager, and grabbed the orange fly on the second drift but he’d learned his previous lesson well. He darted into the brush, twisted around, and the hook pulled free.

Minutes later David came back downstream. He had landed a nice male and released in, and said he had covered over a mile of river and had seen just those two fish.

Was it a perfect day? The answer was an emphatic “yes!”

The weather was wonderful, and we each found a male fish to cast to. David hooked and landed and released his big 12-pound buck, and I hooked and lost the same fish twice. It didn’t bother me one bit.

We fished several other spots, and never saw another steelhead. But, finding two males and hooking both of them, was just part of wjat made this a perfect day. Fishing a spot I hadn’t fished in more than 30 years was a bonus, and it was nice to know that fish still hold in the same locations as they did three decades ago.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/21 at 05:45 PM
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A Return To Yesteryear

Decades ago, there was a place on the Little Manistee River that was almost like home to me. It had numerous shallow gravel bars where steelhead spawned, and rather than chasing after brook trout today when I still have a few months to do so, my son David and I returned to this hotspot from the late 1960s.

“If that’s where you want to fish,” I’m happy to tag along. “Show me a place you haven’t showed me in the past.”

So I did. And he fell in love with it just as I did years before.

The river, near the 18 Mile Bridge west of Irons, was running low and clear today as we stepped into the river. Strongly felt was the old familiar tightening of water pressure against my legs as we began wading slowly upstream in our search for a late-season steelhead.

We poked along slowly, easing into the current, checking out gravel bars for the dish-shaped white overturned gravel from the fanning of a hen steelhead’s tail. The bed is slightly upstream from the white gravel at the tail-end of the bed. Some people wonder why these beds are white, and the quick and easy answer is this gravel has been turned over as a hen digs her spawning redd.

David, much younger than the old man, has speed to burn. I nodded for him to charge off in his personal quest for a lively steelhead while I walked slowly, stopped often, and looked for the near-invisible shadow of a fresh hen steelhead or the darker and blockier shape of a male.

I covered 200 yards, and stood motionless, looking near a fallen log that had toppled into the river. My vision, at best, is poor but I know what to look for.

First came the dark shape of the male holding in slightly deeper water along the edge of the redd. The water was four feet deep here, and I studied it for 10 minutes. The trick is to locate both fish before starting to fish for them.

Err at this point, and hook the female, and she is gone. I studied the bed, both sides of it, and finally found her holding in position next to a log 10 feet downstream from the redd. The female was bright silver in today’s sunshine, and she was very close to being invisible. At first I couldn’t see her, but then I spotted her shadow, and then she became instantly visible. It’s a matter of knowing what to look for.

She was in an impossible spot to fish, even if I was stupid enough to try for her. The male held alongside the redd, and in a perfect location. My line was lengthened, and reading the current speed and depth gave me the ideal spot to cast. My orange yarn fly drifted downstream along bottom, and the fish moved away from it.

The fly was lifted out, cast again, and again the male moved aside and allowed the fly to drift past. Again and again I cast, and each time the male slid away, but he was becoming agitated, and on the 20th or 30th cast, he grabbed the fly and the hook was pounded home.

That fish ripped off on a downstream run, ran past the hen, went between two fallen logs, and wheeled in midstream, splashed out of the water in a corkscrewing jump, and ran back upstream. He took 10 yards of line upstream from me, rolled on the surface, and headed back down and turned. He bulldozed into a submerged brush pile in front of me, and in less than a second tangled my line and broke off.

I moved back up to shore, sat down, tied on another orange yarn fly, and rested the spot. It took 30 minutes before the hen moved back into her holding position, and 15 minutes later, the male reappeared. This time there was something different: an orange yarn fly was firmly embedded in the corner of his mouth.

It took at least an hour for both fish to settle down, and I admired the day and the scenic beauty of this portion of the river. It seemed a great day to be alive. Upstream, I heard David talking to himself as a fish splashed. He was into a steelhead, and was telling the world about it.

My male with the decoration in the corner of its mouth lay beside the female, and she let loose a jet of yellow eggs as both fish rolled on their sides, mouth agape, and he fertilized the eggs. I got a good look at the hen, and she was flat-bellied and had successfully spawned.

She headed into a log jam and disappeared from sight. She would now rest, and I had no problem casting again to the solitary male. This time he was more eager, and grabbed the orange fly on the second drift but he’d learned his previous lesson well. He darted into the brush, twisted around, and the hook pulled free.

Minutes later David came back downstream. He had landed a nice male and released in, and said he had covered over a mile of river and saw just those two fish.

Was it a perfect day? The weather was wonderful, and we each found a male fish to cast to. David hooked and landed his and released the big 12-pound buck, and I hooked and lost the same fish twice.

The answer was an emphatic “yes!” We fished several other areas today, and never saw another steelhead. But, finding two males and hooking both of them, was just part of a perfect day. Fishing a spot I hadn’t fished in 30 years was a bonus, and it was nice to know that fish still hold in the same locations as they did three decades ago.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/21 at 05:43 PM
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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Itchin’ To Tangle With Bluegills

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It usually happens sometime near Mother’s Day. I get this terrible hankering to go bluegill fishing with a fly rod, but the timing and cold nights is conspiring against us. Mom’s Day is past, and two nights ago Gaylord got a dusting of snow. In mid-May. Can you believe it?

Bluegill fishing, once they move up onto their spawning beds, is about as easy as calling and hunting turkeys is hard. And frankly, as much as turkey hunting appeals to me, my hunt ended without a bird. The challenge of catching bluegills is wonderful, and I’m looking forward to the next two weeks.

Bluegill fishing is great fun. A person can wade the shoreline slowly, if the bottom is hard, and cast ahead to the saucer-shaped spawning beds. Or, as I prefer, casting to bedding fish from a canoe or small boat.

The fly rod, reel and line isn’t nearly as important as it is for trout, but a well-balanced outfit is fine. I favor a No. 5 or 6-weight rod and line combination, and a floating line is perfect. A seven-foot leader tapered down to 5X is perfect.

What follows is somewhat subject to personal choice. Years ago I fished with two flies: a Red Ibis and a No.14 Adams, and often it was possible to catch two ‘gills at once. Each would try darting off in different directions, and it was a hoot catching them this way.

Now, I do things a bit differently. A sponge rubber spider with twitchy little white rubber-band legs works fine, and my favorite colors in order of personal preference are black, yellow or green. They can be found in slowly sinking models and spiders that float on the surface.

I haven’t seen any of the sinking models in recent years although I suspect they are still around. The floaters work just dandy when pitched to a whitish dinner plate-shaped spawning bed and allowed to sit idly on the surface over the fish. Male bluegills are very protective, and they arrow up off bottom to suck that spider off the surface.

On occasion, if the ‘gills have been fished pretty hard, they may ignore the spider. If you happen on this situation, don’t worry about it. Jiggle the fly line a bit by hand, and a bull bluegill will shoot up to smack the spider.

Where the sinking rubber spiders (believe I only have one left) work best is for those larger bluegills that spawn in four to eight feet of water. Hold the spider underwater, squeeze it two or three times so it soaks up some water, and cast it over on of the deeper spawning beds.

Give it time to slowly sink, and twitch the spider a bit as it sinks. This makes the little rubber-band legs wiggle. This can be a good way to catch some of the larger bluegills in a lake.

Big pug-nosed bluegills are not available in an unlimited supply. Some lakes have nothing but small and stunted fish. A few lakes produce some palm-sized bluegills and sunfish, and such fish are capable of producing a great fight.

Three things endear anglers to bluegills. They are fun to catch, they are good to eat, and for their size, they put up a great fight. A 10-inch ‘gill that turns their flat side to the angle of the line is not a fish to be horsed in on a light tippet. Do that, and you’ll lose the fish.

An angler should never keep a limit of big bluegills. It takes some time for a ‘gill to grow to 10 inches, and these are the spawners. If you want fish, keep one or two nice ones and fill out your limit with five to seven-inch ‘gills.

Should you be fishing a lake filled with stunted bluegills, keep a limit of the little guys every time you go fishing. They are not big, and it may take 25 to satisfy a hungry angler, but keep catching and keeping and eating the small ones, and after some time, you’ll notice a slow increase of bigger fish.

Pitching flies to bedding bluegills is not the same as pitching a big dry fly to an angler-wary brown trout in a heavily fished river. But, bluegill lakes are often closer to home than some of the great streams, and catching them is a great way to spend a few hours on the water.

And try this. Take your children fishing. Get them involved in fishing at an early age, and when you are old and gray, perhaps one of them will take the old man fishing. That’s how this mentoring process works.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/20 at 05:23 PM
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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hunting The Late-Season Gobbler

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Many people think the only time to hunt gobblers is at the crack of dawn. Nancy and Roger Kerby of Honor do that early in the season when Nancy hunts, but Roger know better for the late season.

Both have day jobs, and Roger can occasionally sneak away from his welding job for a bit of hunting. Nancy, a nurse at an Empire doctor’s office, does the same whenever the opportunity to go out with her husband presents itself. She doesn’t call but she can shoot.

They got ready about 4:30 p.m., jumped into their camouflage clothing, and Nancy grabbed the shotgun. Roger always hunts the last season simply because it offers him more hunting time while Nancy likes the early hunts although if she doesn’t draw a first-season tag, she will hunt the late season with him. They find few hunters, and some cooperative birds late in May.

Roger hunts deer in Benzie and Leelanau counties, coyotes in the winter in Benzie and Leelanau counties, and gobblers in the spring in several locations in Area K. He knows what is state land, private land and what belongs to the Federal government as part of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore property when hunting Leelanau County. He knows where state forest lands are in Grand Traverse and Wexford counties as well.

Knowing the terrain is a key to successful turkey hunting, and he had scouted for gobblers often this spring. They cruised down some of the same roads he often travels, scoping out the state and federal lands they hunt in the fall, and it took only 30 minutes to spot a lone gobbler in an open field. Much of this land offers long-range spotting conditions, but the hardest part is moving in close enough to call to a gobbler.

It was that in-between time when the gobblers are off on a stroll and before they meet up with the hens at fly-up time. This bird was by himself, on the move, and they watched him for several minutes to determine his direction of travel.

“We got him figured out, turned around, and drove around the mile-square section,” Nancy said. “We knew where we could get into the timber, get fairly close to him, and with luck, call him right in.”

They parked the vehicle, uncased her shotgun, and loaded up, checking the safety and they headed off at a fast walk. Five minutes later they spotted the gobbler at a distance. He was still heading in their general direction, but had stopped to watch traffic on a nearby road.

Roger gave a soft yelp and the gobbler opened up like he’d been waiting for a long-distance phone call. The bird went into a strut, danced around in a circle, and gobbled again. He didn’t seem ready to head their way so they decided to duck into a nearby gully and try to move closer to him. He acted like he expected the hen to come dancing his way.

They dropped into the gully, and ran down it for 100 yards while remaining out of the gobbler’s sight. They finally ran out of cover, and stopped. The bird was still 150 yards away, and he was still at full strut, wingtips dragging in the dirt, but he wasn’t moving any closer.

Nancy got set up for a possible shot, and Roger climbed a hill just behind his wife, and they sat motionless watching the bird display. Finally, the bird decided perhaps the hen he had heard wasn’t coming, so he gobbled again. Roger stayed silent, let the old boy get himself worked up.

The longbeard gobbled, and still Roger remained silent. The bird strutted, his tail spread in a large fan, and gobbled again. He then double-gobbled, and his head was flashing red, white and blue.

Roger decided the bird might be ready for a little persuasion. He stroked out a soft yelp on a slate call, and it was immediately answered by another double-gobble. He stayed silent,and the bird gobbled again, and one more soft yelp got the bird lined up and headed their way.

He strutted, gobbled, and came 20 yards closer. Roger stayed silent, and the bird gobbled two more times, and took a few tentative steps in their direction. He gobbled yet again, and Kerby whined and clucked, and that did the trick.

The bird had his running shoes on, and came charging right up to within 25 yards of Nancy as she sat with her knees up and the shotgun to her shoulder. The bird stopped 25 yards away, his head tucked into his shoulders, went into a strut, and as his tail fan started down, Roger whispered “Get ready” and clucked softly.

The gobbler’s head shot into the air as he tried to spot the hen, and with one shot Nancy downed her gobbler. The bird had a 10 1/2-inch beard and weighed over 20 pounds.

“The neat thing about turkey hunting,” Roger said, “is working the bird late in the season. They don’t always come to the call as well as this one did, but when everything falls together, it is a wonderful afternoon in the woods. Too many people ignore the afternoon, and only hunt the morning hours. That can be a major late-season mistake.”

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/18 at 07:13 PM
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Saturday, May 17, 2008

What Do You Get From My Daily Blog?

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The above title asks a good question, and it’s been tossed my way for nearly five years by many readers. My answer is invariably the same: why not?

Anglers and hunters can understand a column, which is nothing more than a bit of self-indulgence on my part plus some solid fishing or hunting information. Columns are about what I think, feel, do, believe in, rant against, etc. The same thing can be said about a blog.

A blog (short for weblog) is a daily journal of sorts. It covers the wide range of my daily emotions, and how I look at things through a bleary and somewhat biased or jaundiced eye. You may sense a touch of anger, animosity, joy, sorrow or other type of human emotion. My feelings on a wide variety of things are never far from the surface nor am I adversed to speaking my mind.

You’ll almost always feel the love I have for the environment, the animals, birds and fish that we hunt or try to catch, and you’ll feel my sense of betrayal and delusion when some sorry dude levels perfectly wonderful wildlife habitat and then builds a shopping mall or hard-scrabble subdivision on it.

Readers will read my unabashed feelings on brook trout that invariably turn me on in their watery little trickles, and the litter that invariably turns me off when I must look at it. You’ll note, hopefully with a righteous indignation like mine, when I bare my soul about the destruction of an ever-decreasing amount of wild land.

Hopefully, you’ll share my glee when the DNR does something really great or get ticked off when they continue to do something utterly stupid like depriving you and me of the opportunity to obtain private-land turkey permits in Region II while granting such permits to people in the Upper Peninsula and southern Lower Peninsula.

My weblog runs daily, and I’ve only missed a few days since December, 2003 when it first began. There have been some lost days when a hacker ripped apart my entire website. Hanging such people by their thumbs wouldn’t be harsh enough treatment. My blog archives are largely intact and available to one and all, and I urge readers to dust off some archives and see what you’ve missed in the past.

You’ll share my pain when my beloved twin brother George died on Sept. 10, 2003. You’ll get as excited as I did when catching a 30-pound muskie, writing about the Christmas Tree Bomber, and other true outdoor tales.

I invite you to walk with me as we head into a bear swamp for a hunt, and what is even more fun, when we walk out in the darkness. Jump into my tree stand as we bow-hunt for whitetails, and whisper in my ear when it’s time to shoot a dandy buck or tell me to draw down on him and let up, giving him a life he could have lost had I shot.

Come along as we wade belly-deep into an area steelhead stream during those cold March days, and grab the net when we slug it out with hefty chinook salmon in the fall. Let’s take a walleye fishing trip on Long Lake, a bluegill outing to Arbutus Lake, and we can trudge through the January snow in search of cottontails and snowshoe hares. Come along for a July or August salmon trip on Lake Michigan.

Do you feel up to laying flat on the ground as early-season Canada geese hover overhead, honking loudly, as our belly muscles tighten and we lever our way to a sitting and shooting position. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t thrill to the loud and clattering flush of a ruffed grouse as the October dew dries on the leaves?

Is there an upland gunner who fails to rejoice to the towering flight of woodcock as they dart and twist ever upward out of the alders before quickly plummeting to earth before we can swing and shoot?

Calling predators with that high-pitched squeal of a dying rabbit is a heap of fun during the winter months as the coyote darts out of a thicket, and begins circling to a downwind location. We know a shot may be possible but it’s nerve wracking to watch the animal close in on a spot straight downwind. Will we get a shot or not?

Fishing and hunting has been a major part of my life for 57 of my 68 years, and I eagerly await each new season and every new adventure. You ask me: why do I write a daily weblog?

I write because I have a strong need to do so. There is a deep driving urge for me to write, and a need to share my love of fishing and hunting with my readers. I don’t have to write for the money although I wish this blog and website paid more; instead, writing about the outdoors makes me feel good, makes me feel whole and helps smooth out all the rough spots in my life.

You and me, we can go places and do things. We can discover new places to fish or hunt, and learn more about what pulls us ever onward to another wonderful outdoor adventure. People who stay indoors, watch idiotic television shows have my sincere sympathy.

Me, I’d rather be outdoors with a bow or rod in my hand and enjoying nature. How about you?

NOTE: Don’t forget to check out my Scoop’s Books. This site can be accessed from my Home Page, and it features over 400 books for sale. Take care of each other, and mentor someone about fishing and hunting.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/17 at 04:08 PM
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