Monday, June 30, 2008

What’s An Outdoor Weblog?

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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 plus some solid fishing or hunting experience and 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 human emotions. My feelings on a wide variety of things is never far from the surface nor am I adversed to speaking my mind.

You’ll almost always feel my love 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 November, 2003, and then only because some piece of crud hacked my website. My archives are available to one and all, and I urge readers to dust off some of them and see what you’ve missed.

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 tales.

I invite you to walk with me when we go 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 or Platte lakes, a bluegill outing to Arbutus Lake, and we can trudge through the January snow in search of cottontails and snowshoe hares.

Do you feel up to laying flat on the ground as 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 ready-to-fall golden leaves?

Does any upland gunner fail 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 for60 of my 68 years, and I eagerly await each new season and every new adventure. You ask me: why do you write a daily weblog?

I write because I have a strong need within me to do so. There is a deep driving need 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, and watch idiotic game shows on television 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 and my Book Review. These sites can be accessed from my Home Page. Take care of each other, and mentor someone about fishing and hunting.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/30 at 02:03 PM
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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ol’ Dave’s Not Handy With Tools

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There are many things your writer may be, but a handy man I’m not. My tolerance level for all things mechanical is low. In fact, I don’t tolerate mechanical things that doesn’t work as they should.

Mind you, me and tools are a dangerous combination. The height of my anger and frustration levels are off the charts when things stop working for no apparent reason.

I buy a car, and it’s expected to run. We do our part by getting oil changes every 3,000 miles. We take our rides in for scheduled maintenance, and put new tires on long before the need-to-do-so phase arrives.

So this morning I jumped into my fishing car or hunting car (it’s either one at the appropriate times of year) to move it out of the way of the lawn mower, and it wouldn’t start.

I seldom really get angry but a personal weakness is when an expensive item stops working for no apparent reason. You’ve seen those film clips where a person takes a sledge hammer to his vehicle.

That could be me but I’m smart enough to control my anger, but the frustration level is there. I’ve never done anything really stupid, but the temptation is there when mechanical item prove obstinate.

Never had the urge to be a shade tree mechanic or a person who makes a living wrenching. I know what hammers and screwdrivers are, have a minor working knowledge of a hack saw and wood saw, but beyond that, my knowledge level about using tools falls apart. I suspect my knowledge level is on the same plane as my want-to-know level.

Once, far from port on Lake Michigan, the motor conked out. My buddy didn’t even know what a screwdriver was so he was of no help. We’d boxed a number of chinook salmon, and all of a sudden the motor died.

I was smart enough to have two batteries aboard. One to start the outboard, and another for my marine electronics and downriggers.

I knew it had to one of two things (I hoped): it was either electrical or we’d run out of gas. The gas was no problem, and the gas line from tank to motor was fine. I was getting a spark, but still it wouldn’t start.

Stupid me, I ran down one battery trying to start the engine. Failing that because the battery soon ran out of juice, I switched batteries. That battery soon ran down without turning over the motor.

Now, I had a 50 horsepower Evinrude on the stern, and decided to try hand-cranking the motor. Ever try to start a big engine with a starter rope? No?

Well, don’t. I was in my 30s, in good shape, and began pulling. Then the rope would be wrapped around, and it would be pulled again. Nothing happened.

We drifted aimlessly along on a soft breeze as other boaters steered clear of us, apparently assuming we we fighting a fish. The engine sat idle, and we drifted some more. I thought about putting a line out, but we weren’t moving fast enough to make a FlatFish work.

No power meant the marine radio wouldn’t work. Several hours into our drift, a buddy’s boat was spotted and I waved him over. He came along side, and I explained our predicament. He asked about a fuse.

Fuse? What fuse? He explained that engines have fuses, for what reason I’ve forgotten, so he jumped aboard, pulled off the engine cover, and showed me my fuse. You got it. It was blown.

He jumped back into his boat, located his spare fuses, and came back aboard. He took out the bad fuse, put in a new one, and then he took something out of his boat I’d never seen in any motor vessel.

A pair of jumper cables were attached from his boat battery to mine. I turned the key and the engine roared to life. It was amazing.

This business of engines was all rather baffling to me. The lessons learned from that episode forced me to have the right fuses aboard, and when all else fails, check the fuse. And to carry jumper cables, and not be stupid.

There have been times when I could put a capital S on the word stupid.

There are other examples of mechanical things in my life that have gone wrong but I refuse to belabor my ignorance any further. I buy a car, and put gas in one end, oil in the other, and when the ignition key is turned, I expect to hear a running motor.

My boat problem was solved by someone else, and I suspect the car problem also will be fixed by someone else once we get it started and take it in for service. Chances are the problem is one of those head-slappers where I should have known what to do but didn’t.

Duh!

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/29 at 02:47 PM
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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cultivate Your Hearing & Seeing Senses

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A hunter’s five senses are of great importance, and of the five, the two most important for bow hunters are hearing and seeing.

Kicking back on a summer day and letting your senses adjust to your surroundings is great practice. Crawl up into a tree stand, fasten the safety harness, and let your senses open up to everything around you.

Learning to see (I mean to really see) is an acquired talent that is coupled with good vision. Most people seem to expect deer to look like they do on a calendar photo. That pose is seldom seen with wild deer.

You know what I mean. Stiff-legged, body as taut as a bow string, head held high and ears swiveling. A deer, unlike a human, can swivel his ears. You and me will hear out of the right or left, of possibly both eats at the same time, but we miss some of the more subtle tonal qualities found in the woods.

Most hunters who do well in the woods hear the lower tones. I can’t keep up with multiple conversations, but can hear the muffled tone as a twig breaks when a deer steps on it. I can hear the light shuffling sound of feet moving through damp leaves, and a deer walking through leaves as dry as corn flakes, sounds like an explosion of noise.

However, many hunters tune out the various sounds of a deer. They jump if a deer snorts nearby, but such a snort doesn’t bother me. You see, it’s not that I expect it but have trained myself to unconsciously absorb the loud sound without making any movement.

I find myself tweaking my brain into straining out the obvious sounds such as cars on the highway, a plane flying overhead or even the startling flush of a nearby ruffed grouse. My attention is focused on listening for muffled footsteps, the soft rattle of leaves or the tiny snap of a twig.

It’s an acquired art that only you can develop. It’s the same with seeing things while out in the woods. Most people study nearby terrain much too quickly. Many hunters really don’t know how to see what lays in front of them.

Seeing means looking as deeply as possible into the brush. Look for horizontal lines in a vertical tag alder run. Look as deep into a cedar swamp or tall marsh grass as possible, and anything that moves in-between you and your distant vision, will immediately be seen as movement. It’s then you really begin to see.

Carefully sort out the tag alders. A buck can stand for 30 minutes in an alder run, but eventually you may see the flick of a tail, the twitch of a nose, or the slow turning of an ear. Often it is those minute movements that catch your eye, and allow a hunter to thoroughly focus in on the area. It may still be hard to pick out the motionless animal, but learn how to do it right, and spotting deer before they spot you becomes not only possible but probable.

These two parts of bow hunting can be learned. The hunter must learn how to listen and look. It is not a talent acquired overnight, and it requires constant practice. Doing it on a winter day is a bit easier than during the summer or October because of the contrast of deer hair against white snow. Heavy vegetation during the summer months can conceal some movements, making it more difficult to spot movement.

Practice a bit now, and then again during the fall, and by the time hunting season opens in October, you’ll be amazed at how much more you hear and see than before. Gaining a familiarity with listening and looking will allow a hunter to make great strides in their ability to hunt successfully.

And best of all, with practice, acquiring these arts can be accomplished. Once learned, and practiced during all four seasons, it will put you far ahead of many hunters.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/28 at 01:05 PM
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Friday, June 27, 2008

Simplicity Rules My Bow

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Bows are a personal choice for most hunters and target archers, and the choice is as important as the color of their new car, the toothbrush they use or their politics and religion.

There are several things in life that one never does. They never insult another man’s wife, spit into the wind, criticize another person’s bird dog or child, pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger, or tell another bow hunter what to put on their bow.

All I can do on this personal weblog is tell you what I do. I’m not here to influence your judgment or tell you what is right or wrong. All I can do is lay out the three basic scenarios, and let each bow hunter decide for themselves on how to trick out their bow.

The first is to use a bare bow, no sights or other equipment or gadgets, and learn to shoot instinctively. It’s not easy nor is it difficult but it requires a great deal of practice.

The middle-of-the-road approach is a bare bow with a quiver attachment, a Game Tracker string tracking device and a red-dot sight or some form of sight pins. My personal preference is a clean bow. The fewer gadgets mean the fewer things that can go wrong when a shot is taken.

There is a small side issue for bows. Me and many of my friends remove the arrow quiver while hunting. A quiver filled with arrows with feathers or vanes is simply a problem waiting to happen when a shot is taken. Too many shot opportunities are missed when a hunter tries to swing his bow to aim and shoot, and the arrows sticking out of the bow quiver hang up in clothing or a tree limb and mess up your aim.

That again, is a matter of choice. For me, the quiver comes off, and is placed out of my way. It helps me get on target faster.

My bow, other than the obligatory arrow rest, has a red-dot sight and the Game Tracker canister. The bow is clean and responsive to my needs.

On the other hand, for them who like such things, a tricked-out bow can be a thing of beauty or as ugly as a dog’s breakfast. Sights are a wonderful thing, and hunters choose what they are comfortable with. There are seemingly hundreds of bow sights on the market to choose from.

Some sights have three, four or five different pins for different distances. All pins are stacked one on top of another like cord wood. The major problem with sight pins is remembering the yardage distances of each pin under the pressure of an impending shot at a great buck.

Let’s see now. The top pin is 20 yards, the next one down is 25 yards, and the third down is 30 yards. The next two are for 40 and 50 yards. Right? Right! It’s easy to forget, and use the bottom pin for the wrong distance, and miss the animal completely, or worse, wound it.

I used a single pin on my bow for many years. It was set to be dead-on at 20 yards. If the deer was at 30 yards, the pin was held just above the heart-lung area. A hold level with the top of the back would insure a hit out to 45 or 50 yards when my bow was set at 60 pounds of draw weight but I never took such long shots.

It became less confusing for me to use a single pin. And frankly, using a red-dot sight is very similar to taking a shot with one pin. Gap the deer by holding a bit higher when the animal is out at a certain distance. Learn what a different hold will do on a deer-sized target. Long shots are difficult, and it’s wise to remember that most Michigan deer shots are taken at 20 yards or less.

Many bows I’ve seen have a peep sight. The problem is a peep must be installed correctly or when the bow is back at full draw, the peep sight isn’t lined up with the eye. A peep makes it a bit more difficult to shoot accurately when the shadows in the woods get long, and hunters are straining to see an exact aiming point. This can be solved somewhat by buying a peep with a larger sight aperture, but I found them too difficult to use when shooting light and legal shooting time is just seconds away.

There are other things used to trick out a bow: stabilizers, a flexible finger that holds the arrow shaft on the rest but releases its hold when the bow is drawn, lighted sight pins, fiber optic sight pins and other paraphernalia.

Someone once told me about the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid, and it must have sunk in years ago. A simple bow, properly sighted in, and your choice of pin or red-dot, and that what works best for me. Anything else except for a removable quiver is excess baggage that most hunters really don’t need, but that is just this man’s opinion. It doesn’t have to be yours.

Just make certain that whatever you use works well for you. A bow hunter who is uncomfortable with his sight picture at full draw is doing something wrong, and some form of change is required to make things right.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/27 at 04:18 PM
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Superstitious Sportsmen

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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 them superstitions if you will. The world is full of baseball players who refuse to step on the first-base or third-base line 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 basketball 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 we’re not supposed 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 when people did such things rather than play with cell photos or laptop computers/.

Some of these things border on being compulsive, obsessive or superstitious while others border on doing things 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 a high lope for a certain spot.

I’d make a mad dash for the car, and head for one certain spot. This 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 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 then 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 Winchester 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 firearm, 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 on the Platte River.

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 and the fact I no longer wear that hat. We all need a good excuse at times

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/26 at 06:50 PM
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Can The Old Man Still Fish & Hunt?

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A man who has been reading my daily blogs for 3 1/2 years had a question. He wondered about my countless deer hunts, both here and elsewhere around the North American continent, and whether I could still fish and hunt.

He asked my age and I told him I’d be 69 years old on July 22, and he asked if there were things I couldn’t or wouldn’t do hunting and fresh-water fishing again.

It forced me to explain once again the lack of vision in my left eye, and the diminished quality of right-eye vision. I told him about the Crohn’s Disease which affects my digestive tract, and having broken my back twice years ago. All have had a long-term effect on my health.

I told him a stress test two months ago found no heart problems, but I’m troubled by asthma and hay fever. I can’t run a half-mile on snowshoes as I once could.

I can still walk all day on snowshoes, and can ride all day in the saddle on a western hunt without falling down at the end of the trail. I carry perhaps 30 more pounds than I once did, and am trying to get it worked off.

He wanted to know if I still hunted. I can and do hunt, and can still climb a mountain providing no one wants me to race them to the top. I tell them “go ahead. I’ll get there, slower than you but if you find an elk, I can shoot that critter with a 7mm Magnum and make a one-shot kill when I get there.”

I can walk the nasty country where Alaskan moose are found. I can hold my fire on a young bull busting brush on his way to my call. I can make a stalk on elk, deer and moose, and get within easy range of most of them.

My C.P. Oneida Eagle bow and its internal red-dot sight is perfect for my vision problems. My bow shooting range is 20 yards or less, and I can’t remember the last buck I missed at that range. The red-dot aids me in focusing the internal red dot on the target, and shooting a nice buck is no longer a problem.

Sure, my vision isn’t the best but I own many rifles of different calibers, and with a scope it’s possible for me to kill deer, elk or moose at 300 yards with every shot. I can adjust my scope to accommodate my vision at that particular moment, and when the crosshairs settle in and the trigger is squeezed, the animal drops and dies.

I killed my mountain lion with a bow after a long and really rugged hunt. I killed my muskox with a bow and pin sights years ago when I could still see well. I have three record-book caribou and the muskox, and don’t hunt for trophies. Skill and good fortune got me within easy shooting range of each one.

There have been more bear taken than I like to think about, and it’s doubtful I’ll hunt bear again. Again, as the sun goes down and the swamp darkens, I can’t see the bear and don’t know if I could follow a faint trail for a half-mile out of a dark swamp.

The bears don’t scare me after dozens of close experiences with them, and I’m not afraid of getting lost. With only one working eye, though, I do worry about falling and running a stick in my good eye.

I can wade a trout stream, tell you where the fish should hold, and make a reasonably accurate cast. However, if the water is waist deep it’s difficult to see the bottom, and on several occasions, I’ve provided belly laughs for others when I trip and go swimming.

It’s still possible to run a boat but I must be off the water at dark for the same reasons I must be off the road when it gets dark. The lack of sunlight makes it difficult to see.

I can still, on a good day, drop a No. 12 Adams in front of a feeding brown or a sponge rubber spider on top of a bluegill spawning bed. I can’t tie that Adams to a No. 4, 5, 6, or 7X tippet on my leader. Frankly, four and sometimes six-pound line is very difficult for me to see and tie.

Any wishes? Oh sure, I wish I could have taken a Dall sheep, grizzly bear and a bigger mulie than the dandy I shot on the Kaibab along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon years ago, but it no longer matters. I have a boatload of outdoor memories.

So, to answer the question: Yes, I can still fish and hunt, and I enjoy it more than ever before. Sunrises and sunsets are more important to me now, and killing another deer or some other critter is less important with each passing year.

I can still do it, and I do fish and successfully hunt, but it’s not as important as it once was. What is important is the opportunity to be there, and to see the game and hook the fish.

And frankly, as more and more people grow older, many stop fishing and hunting. Not me. I just find the need to kill as meaning less than the opportunity to be afield with bow or firearm in hand.

That is what’s most important; that, and spreading the word of good fishing and hunting to my readers.

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/25 at 12:01 AM
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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Love Smallmouth For Many Reasons

imageWhenever a smallmouth bass smashes my lure, it renews an old belief that this game fish is a canny back-alley scrapper.

Here is a barroom brawler, and if this fish was human, you wouldn’t want to meet it alone on a darkened street when it’s in a bad mood.

I’ve seen my share of brutes on the beach, in bars, and swaggering down the street. They exude a massive level of testosterone, and that’s the feeling I get whenever I do battle with a smallmouth bass.

An angler enters the fishing arena with this game fish knowing one thing: the smallie will try to wind your clock.

They expect you to pack a lunch because they plan on giving you a hardnosed scrap that lets an angler know that here is a fish willing to mix it up, and if you’re not careful, he’ll eat your lunch as well.

A day on Green Lake several years ago was a good example. A lure was fished along the edge of the steep dropoof where the Little Betsie River flows out of Duck Lake and into the north end of Green Lake. Bass and trout often gather off this dropoff in the spring.

This five-pound smallmouth bass had about as much class as one of our modern-day wrestlers. He swam into the picture, hammered the lure, and bolted into the air. His tail kissed the water, and then it bounced into the air and tail-walked across the surface.

He dove, swam under the boat, and jumped on the other side, and if fish had very many brains, he could have been accused of trying to foul my line in the motor. He was steered clear, and we drifted into deep water and still the fish raged on.

Steady rod pressure eventually took its toll, and the fish, sapped of strength, came to the boat with blood-red eyes staring at me. My thumb went into his mouth, my fingers curled under his chin, and I lifted the fish into the air for a closer look while the lure was wiggled loose.

I admired the fish, and received a baleful stare in return, and it was eased back into the water. This bass gave me a tail-salute, and splashed water in my face before boring toward bottom and away from the boat.

There are many things to like about smallmouth bass. I used to spend after-dark hours casting River Runts and other wiggling plugs near dropoffs, over submerged slabdocks, and smallies seemed to love feeding after the sun went down. It was great fun hooking them in the darkness, and not knowing exactly what you were hooked up with until it began jumping.

It didn’t take me long to realize that smallmouth bass feed avidly during the day. Find the right spot, and fish it properly with the right lure, and smallies seemed eager to please.

They are a noble fish, and willing to stand toe-to-toe with a daylight angler, and the joy of this is being able to see every jump they make in an effort to get away.

It’s been my great pleasure to fish for and catch smallmouth bass all around the country. Some of the Shield lakes in Ontario, besides producing muskies, also produce some smallies and most are of good size.

I’ve fished the upper Mississippi River 75 miles north of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, and have found those river fish as eager to please as those found in lakes along the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota.

Many dandy smallmouth bass have been caught from Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River. Countless smallies have slammed my lures in the Grand River below Lansing, and in the Tittabawassee River below Midland. I’ve caught some in the Kalamazoo and St. Joseph rivers, and Grand Traverse Bay is a good bet in coming weeks.

Lake Erie has a wonderful smallmouth fishery around the Bass Islands, and I’ve caught some great bass in the St. Lawrence River while muskie fishing. I’ve seen some smallies smack a 9-inch muskie lure.

Fish like that have juice flowing through their body that many other game fish lack. It makes them fearless, and they are willing to take on all comers.

Tired of trolling for salmon, and long to fish with a rod and reel in your hand, grab one with six-pound line, and some diving lures, and give bronzebacks a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/24 at 12:01 AM
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Monday, June 23, 2008

One Man’s Baggage..

imageBaggage is accumulated as life passes before our eyes. We begin life naked and squalling, and if we live long enough, our busy lifetime of travel in the outdoors will leave us with an accumulation of priceless baggage.

Most of these things are not valuable from a monetary standpoint but they are priceless because they produce fond memories.

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

This baggage is both mental and physical; things that can be held, looked at, and reminisced over. Memories can be found everywhere for a pack-rat like me, and I keep them around for a good reason: every mounted animal, bird or fish, every hat, my bows, firearms, fishing rods—all have many stories behind them. These momentoes sustain my life.

For instance: on the wall between my mounted fish is a Shakespeare glass fly rod. I used it every day during my 10 years of guiding brown trout, salmon and steelhead river fishermen, 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 in it as the brute of a fish was beached, and after removing the fly and rolling the fish upright and holding it until it could swim away, I retired that rod and it now hangs in a place of honor where I can look at it every day.

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.” Typical cop humor.

There are hats from Alaskan hunts, fishing trips in New Zealand, product hats worn on one fishing trip or hunt, and hats from friends who know I collect them. However, the only hats I keep are those with a fishing or hunting tale that goes with them. I could spend hours studying this worthless hat collection that has provided over 50 years of fishing and hunting memories.

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 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 many writing awards. Four stand out: OWAA’s prestigious Ham Brown Award and the 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 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 teen-age 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.

One man’s baggage is another man’s treasure trove of outdoor memories. Such is the case 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 given over the years.

We can travel through a life of fishing and hunting, and retain most of our memories. Because, if nothing else, those thoughts will spark a fire in sportsmen.

That fire will blaze 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. Memories give us pleasure in this life.

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/23 at 12:01 AM
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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Remembering Why I Hunt With A Bow

imageIt’s only a little more than three months away. That’s when bow season opens, and waiting for Oct. 1 is becoming more difficult by the day. I look ahead to the opener with great anticipation.

I savor the cooler air, the autumn woods and knowing that soon the fall color will cover the entire woods like a paintbrush, and then it will cover the ground like a blanket. Bow season means different things to different people, and there are many blessings in each season and each day afield.

For me, bow hunting means sitting in a tree stand waiting for a buck. Shoot or don’t shoot—that’s always a major decision only each person can answer. Chances are I won’t shoot in hopes of making my time in the woods last just that much longer.

So, one asks, what does the upcoming bow season mean to me? It’s a bonanza of fall colors, ranging from gold through orange, purple, red and a brilliant yellow.

It also means the musty smell of the earth getting ready for winter, and the pungent odor of a passing skunk on a foggy night where visibility is minimal. It means sorting out the soft rustle of falling leaves, and identifying that distinctive sound of a deer moving slowly through dried leaves that crunch like old corn flakes underfoot.

It means continuous daily practice shooting at different angles and elevations with my bow, and taking test shots from elevated stands and at ground level. It’s hard to count the hours spent shooting from a cramped, sitting position to simulate an actual hunting situation. This is a big part of bow hunting, too.

It means fine tuning my bow and arrows for peak efficiency long before the season opener, unpacking, checking and repacking my backpack to make certain everything I may need is there, such as my compass, drag rope, knife, walkie-talkie or a cell phone, flashlight, extra broadheads and a spare spool of Game Tracker line.

It’s said that hunting is 90 percent anticipation and 10 percent participation, and getting ready for the hunt is a major part of our anticipatory sport.

Bow season means more opportunities to watch deer and to judge their reactions to foreign odors, movement and sounds. It means watching bucks, does and fawns at various distances while they eat and travel. It means learning what movements or sounds should not be made while drawing a bow to avoid scaring deer.

October is a month of ecstasy, and obviously something I look forward to with a great deal of fondness. My senses are heightened by being outside after one of the world’s most wary game animals, and I live for this month and worship at the altar of bow hunting.

You see, I bow hunt for many reasons, and killing a deer isn’t the major one. I love venison and shoot deer every year, but the thoughts of tender venison chops and steaks isn’t the only reason I hunt. It’s just one part, albeit a big part, of the overall package.

I hunt October whitetails to avoid the people pressure of other fishing and hunting seasons, and I hunt because it makes me feel good. October is the loveliest of all months, and the chance to hunt deer during the year’s most perfect month, is a major reason why deer hunting is so important to me.

The hunt and the month just feels perfect to me. It’s a shame we must wade through August and September to get there, and doing so only heightens our anticipation level. You’ll have to forgive me, but just thinking about the archery season has me so geeked up it’s probably a good thing I’m in my office chair rather than a tree stand.

I dread the day when deeply felt anticipation is no longer there. That’s the day I’ll know my race has been run, and it’s time to cash in my chips. That is indeed a sad and sobering thought, but like it or not, it is as inevitable as the changing of the seasons.

Which is why it is so important to live and love every day for what the outdoors blesses us with, and for the wisdom to know what bountiful treasures we have. Possessing that knowledge is a gift: share it with a loved one, particularly a child.

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/22 at 12:01 AM
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Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Great Time to Be Alive!

imageI was out in the woods today. It was just a sight-seeing walkabout.

Perhaps I’d spot a gobbler or two. Maybe I’d find one or two shed antlers, and perhaps I’d catch a glimpse of a whitetail moving off through heavy cover. I might just find a new trail that deer follow.

A few really late does still look heavy with fawn although most of them have dropped their young two or three weeks ago, and the bucks are starting to sprout new antlers. They seem very cautious when going through the tag alders to avoid bumping the soft and blood-engorged velvet on their antlers.

The ground is still soaked with water from the recent heavy rains. A breeze was blowing today, and I was hoping for a little stronger breeze to wick away some of the moisture in the ground.

I spotted two or three leeks poking their green heads up out of the soil.  Anyone who likes French onion soup should watch the leeks. When these wild onions are about six inches long, pull them, take them home, clean them and place the chopped pieces in some water.

Set them to boil. Leek soup is absolutely delicious, but it is stronger than regular onion soup. Newly sprouted leeks make far better soup than two-week-old wild onions.

The sandhill cranes have returned to the north country, and their groaning, croaking noises are easily heard as they pass overhead. They look like motionless sentries in an open field, and will let humans get just so close before flying away.

They are ungainly looking birds, and the noises they make could raise the dead, but they are a true harbinger of spring.

Shed hunting can be productive, and a few friends that enjoy this aspect of deer hunting still try to find some but any found now have almost always been chewed on my porcupines or rodents.

Now is a good time to locate deer runways, particularly those used during the December season. The trails still show up fairly well although the vegetation has grown thick, and from everything I’ve seen over the past week, there are some deer in my many hunting areas.

We found a few dead deer back in April, and it was difficult to tell if they succumbed to death by natural causes or some coyotes pulled them down.

We’ve seen plenty of cardinals in the pine thickets, and elsewhere there seems to be the occasional grouse and rabbit. One of my buddies found a dead porcupine, but again, it was impossible to determine how or when the animal died. It was found some distance from any tree.

Today was a good day to be out walking. I enjoy seeing everything all greened-up after the long winter, and although much of the fields and woods are still water-logged from all the rain, our green fields are showing some growth.

Another week of warm weather, and everything will be in great shape, and in some respects, this is a most beautiful time of year. Watching the rebirth of the land, corn fields starting to grow and the movement of animals and birds, always make me realize there is much more to deer hunting than killing a deer.

A calm and quiet late-spring day is good for blowing away the lethargy of winter weather. It’s a great time to be alive.

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/21 at 12:01 AM
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Friday, June 20, 2008

What is a Bowhunter?

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

A bow hunter is ...

  • A person who revels in nature, loves the outdoors, seeks a difficult challenge, equals the odds between hunted and hunter as much as possible, and who is finely tuned to the ways of the game we seek.
  • One who seeks his or her game on a one-on-one basis, and who strives to get close enough to deliver a quick and certain death from a well-placed arrow.
  • A person who masters accurate arrow placement, and one who spends long hours during spring and summer practicing his archery skills and testing personal mettle against a whitetail buck that is more attuned to its surroundings than we are. This person shrugs off rain, forgets about windy weather, and laughs at a snow storm. Deer hunters hunt deer, and weather conditions are meaningless. We become one with the weather, and use it whenever possible, to our advantage. We need an occasional break.
  • A hunter who thrills to the small things, and takes brief moments each day to savor the wildness of the animal being hunted and the land where such big game live. We don’t live just for the kill; we live to have had the opportunity in this free society to hunt in a well regulated and legal manner.
  • Someone who knows that getting close to game means knowing and playing the wind, studying the habits of deer, knowing how and when to move, and being one with his bow and the land. He or she finds more love in the act of hunting than in the act of killing although the two are ever-entwined and a respect for the game we hunt is most important.
  • One who enjoys the fine feel of a smooth bow, the effortless drawing of the string, the smooth feel of a carbon arrow, and the “whisst” of a arrow leaving the bow. It’s the silent but straight flight of an arrow, and seeing the broadhead hit where we aim.
  • Having the knowledge of deer habits that allow us to defeat the most important protections that deer possess: the sense of a deer hearing the faint whisper of clothing against rough bark; a flicker of movement as a hunter comes to full draw prior to a shot; or the deer’s sense of smell that allow them to pinpoint a careless human presence.
  • More than just someone who takes but gives nothing back to nature. A bow hunter is more than a person dressed in camo clothing with a hunting license in his pocket. We are caring, giving folks, who pursue deer with a passion. We are superb hunters because we must be to get close shots at 15 to 20 yards. We are the supreme hunting predator, and we take pride in our accomplishments without having to brag.
  • It is teaching our children, and our grandchildren, this ancient art of bow hunting. What we do is a time-honored tradition, and it is a way of life for us and for others who will follow the bow hunter’s creed.
  • We, as avid bow hunters, are above-average in our hunting skills. We rely less on luck, and work hard to elevate those hunting skills that allow us to succeed. We hunt, not because our friends do, but because we must. We need to hunt and we must hunt in order to achieve these skills, and it is through long hours of practice that we become proficient.

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

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/20 at 12:01 AM
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tracking Down New Brook Trout Hotspots

imageA major thrill when prospecting for those speckled little fish with a square tail, white piping along their fins and blue spots along a dappled flank, is finding them. They can be pretty good at hiding themselves.

This is the time of year when I love old two-tracks that snake down through the woods, over-grown and faint trails, and following the twists and turns of a creek flowing through a dense cedar swamp.

Find flowing water, and follow it upstream or down, and when the trail doesn’t peter out at a bridge, then it becomes time to put on your hiking books and go exploring. It’s also a time to carry a good compass, because I’ve been in some of these situations and it’s easy to get turned around or lost. Just make certain that these creeks flow through state or federal land, and don’t trespass on the lands of others.

The fact you are reading this piece is proof positive that I was able to find my way out. But, on occasion, it meant many miles of unnecessary walking through rugged country.

Often, it’s not a long walk but one never knows what they will find. It could be a beaver pond filled with muck and little water, or a gleaming one-acre pond glistening in the summer sunshine and nearly as beautiful as the fish we seek.

Sometimes the creek remains a creek and is thick and overgrown, and here we dap a single-hook spinner in holes under the root wads of cedar or spruce trees. This water flowing through the roots is caused by centuries of flowing water seeking its easiest route downstream.

There are times when a brookie will be hiding under every opening that gives access to the water, and these fish are always hungry. One moves from hole to hole, dapping a tiny spinner into each hole.

Some of these creeks will produce brook trout and some will not. That’s the thing about these game fish: they aren’t always where an angler expects to find them. Some will be found in an open stream hiding alongside a fallen tree branch; others may be in the deeper holes of a larger river; and most require a long and dedicated search.

Several years ago, after covering the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, I was heading for West Branch on business. Halfway between Tawas City and West Branch, an urge came to me and it took me down a dirt road for several miles.

The road eventually turned into a two-track, and it took me down a hill and I spotted a glint of sunlight off water. I checked it out, and there was a beaver pond. It was one I’d fished perhaps 50 years before, and I caught trout from it this time as well.

“Seek and ye shall find” is an old saying, and it is doubly true for brook trout anglers. Brookies are easy—too easy—to catch once they have been found, but finding the fish can be a definite problem or the perfect reward at times.

I was lucky to again find that spot near West Branch after all the years that had passed somce I last fished it, but if I hadn’t taken the initiative, and followed my gut instincts, that experience would have been lost.

I’m a writer, and as a rule writers are curious and inquisitive people. They want to learn things they don’t know, and perhaps I was born to be a writer. Many things interest me, but none more so than tracking down a hot new brook trout hotspot to fish.

There have been boot-sucking mud, old bogs that stink, and crystal-clear little creeks where the brook trout are easily seen. Some of these spots where brook trout call home are way back of beyond while others lurk closer than we think.

It’s the search that is the thing. It’s a bit like fishing, something like hunting, and often a pleasure when we learn that this spot holds brookies. In years gone by, when I was more up to such things, I’d often try to find five or 10 new brook trout hotspots in one day.

The next day I’d do it all over again but in a different location. After two days of searching, and marking spots on my maps, I’d start fishing each one in turn. Some produced only tiny little brookies that were the size of a finned jewel.

Other spots would produce 12 to 14-inch fish, and some were very darkly colored while others were a lighter hue. Often these spots would be within a half-mile of each other, and the fish were distinctly wore coats of different colors.

That’s the fun and the joy of brook trout fishing. One never knows what color or size the brookie may be, but it’s always a pleasant surprise. Brook trout never disappoint me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/19 at 10:02 AM
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hooray: I Love The Cool Weather

This has been (knock on wood) one of the coolest summers I can remember over nearly 69 years. The temperature is in the low 50s at daybreak and doesn’t warm up much during the day.

It’s perfect weather for building up and working on my food plots. I’ve accomplished a bunch of work on my green fields, and recently decided to apply Round-Up to all of my plots in preparation for a fall planting.

It has been a taxing effort to handle all the spraying with a two-gallon hand sprayer. I’ve lost count of the number of trips were needed to add the herbicide to water in the hand-held sprayer.

That job is done, and this week I’ll get a soil test done after the herbicide has done its job. Then I’ll add lime to each food plot, hope for some more rain and then add the fertilizer.

I’ll give that a week or so, and hopefully more rain, and then begin planting. There are so many tricks to building a good solid seed bed, and none of the seeds must be planted deep.

Some can lay on the surface and start growing. I’ve enlarged one of my food plots, and may work on enlarging another in another location in Grand Traverse County that isn’t near my home. My food plots near home were tore up last December as some neighbors cut firewood for their home heat with my permission.

Those wooded trails need a great deal more work to firm them up, and the other location also has been worked on this spring. Once I get the existing plots going, I’ll still have some time to work on my home green fields.

I’ll turn the earth over, and spray them with Round-Up and get them ready for a planting next spring. I just don’t see how I can get it all done before this year’s deer season begins, and I don’t want to be messing about the fields and trails just before the hunting season opens.

I do believe that some equipment made to be used behind a 4WD ATV may be in my future next spring. I need something to turn up the ground, roll it over, and make it ready to be sprayed with herbicide and then limed and fertilized before planting.

I’ll be 69 in a month, and I’m growing tired of lugging off large stones, piling them up, and then loading them into a sturdy wagon to be transported to the house for a replacement of grass on my lawn. Most springs I will move 20-30 tons of rocks, and its not bad when the morning is cool but it becomes a potential killer on those 80-90 degree days. I just refuse to work when it gets that hot.

I refuse to work this hard another year without some mechanical help. I have no need for a big tractor, but do have a need for equipment that can be towed behind a 4-WD ATV to make my life a bit easier. I plan on spending time this winter studying what is available on the market in a price range that I can afford.

I want a mower that is adjustable in height, a disc, a sprayer for lime, fertilizer and seed, and a cultipactor to flatten out the seed bed without driving the seed deep in the soil. Up until now, I’ve broadcast the seed by hand and driven over it with my Polaris and that pushes the seed just into the dirt.

The past week has made up for the previous week. My idea of ideal summer weather is temps of 70 degrees or slightly cooler. My metabolism slows down as the air temperature goes up, especially when moving rocks out of a field.

This year one field will be planted with a clover mix. The other fields will be planted with brassica, clover, rape and purple top turnips.

I’m a firm believer in mineral supplements, and we use a good bit of these supplement which contain selenium and other trace minerals that help build strong antlers. We often have a supplement in areas near the house.

Food plot plantings are something I strongly believe in, and I’ll continue doing it as long as possible. In the meantime, between now and mid-August, let’s pray for more rain. It’s not good for crops to become too dry or too wet, and it also can become a horrible summer fire hazard. We don’t need another dry summer like last year.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/18 at 12:24 PM
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

When Do We Stop Hunting?

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It’s sometimes odd how these blogs come about. Sometimes they are planned long in advance, months before they are used.

Other times a note from a reader is what triggers the thought processes for another blog. Sometimes they just pop into my head while reading the Traverse City Record-Eagle newspaper over my morning coffee.

This blog, if we live long enough, will be one we shall all face. A man wrote: When do you know the urge to hunt has withered and died?

It seems such a simple question with an equally simple answer. Live long enough, and the answer becomes obvious.

The urge to hunt may leave any of us at any time although at age 68, soon to be 69, I’m happy to admit it hasn’t clawed its way into any of my urges and driven me away the fields, swamps and woods.

Age can play an important role in when this question jumps up and bites a person. A disability or serious health problem can slow or stop anyone. The natural attrition of hunters is due, in large part to age, feebleness, illness or some major injury that can make hunting just too difficult or painful as we age.

The average person, based on hundreds of conversations with other sportsmen, can begin to lose his/her urge to hunt anytime after the age of 55 years, and for some, even earlier. For some, they just get lazy and decide not to go out any more.

Health slowly eats away at a formerly active hunter, and more time is spent dreaming of the old days and not looking forward to future field trips. Often the hunter, growing older, may develop a heart or lung disease that makes it far more difficult to muster up enough energy to hunt regularly.

Some sportsmen may lay the blame on not having someone to hunt with, and I’m indeed fortunate with my eye problems, that Kay is not only my best hunting buddy but my wife, and a person who enjoys bow hunting as much as I do. Some are not so lucky, and I know some older hunters who take young sportsmen hunting for years, but the youngsters forgot about who originally brought ‘em to the dance. The oldtime sits home, dreaming of a chance to hunt.

The urge to stay home comes with the normal aches and pains of aging. Many say they no longer like venison, the woods are too crowded, too many small deer...whatever. They are all excuses, nothing more.

There are usually a variety of reasons. Some folks fear falling from a tree stand, and pin their reluctance to hunt to a fear of falling. Some say they don’t see or hear as well as 10 years ago but that happens to almost everyone.

As this progresses, hunters begin making excuses for not wanting to go hunting. Reasons include but are not limited to:

*I haven’t had time to sight in my rifle.

*I’ve found that my shotgun doesn’t shoot as well as it once did (which means the hunter is really missing more often).

*Got me a hitch in my git-a-long.

*I had forgotten that this hill seems a lot steeper that it once did.

*I’ve been huffing and puffing for two years. Don’t want to die and miss out on future hunts.

*The sun is too bright, not bright enough, and the snow is getting deeper in the woods. etc. Makes it too difficult to get around, and I’m afraid of falling.

*Gas is too expensive. Doesn’t bother them to go bowling, golfing or doing something else.

*Hunting just isn’t as important to me as it was 20 years ago.

I’ve heard all of these excuses, and countless others, but the fact is the person is too ill, too lame or too lazy to exert the energy needed to go hunting. It’s not the hunting that is at issue here. It is the attitude of the sportsman.

The fact is that hunting can be hard work, but those who stay in decent physical shape won’t find it much different. The loss of a close hunting companion often takes the hunting fire out of the belly of the sportsman who is left behind. Perhaps that is the time to find and teach a younger hunter.

Sharing the wealth of a lifetime of hunting experiences with a young hunter can keep us young and more in touch with the seasons and the game we hunt.

We all grow old and we grow tired, but hunting at one’s own pace is available to all sportsmen. Take your time, remember those past hunts when the fire burned bright and hot in us, and we couldn’t wait to get into the field.

Sometimes, a little kindling in the form of watching a young hunter develop their personal memories, is all it takes to renew our personal interest in hunting.

It may be the start needed to rekindle the hunting flames of yesteryear.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/17 at 06:28 PM
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Monday, June 16, 2008

Cleaning Up Our Waters

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Mind you, 68 isn’t old when you consider my late father lived to be 94. He saw so many new and exciting things although he seldom appeared excited by any of them.

I’ve been witness to so many changes in our fisheries. Many years ago, Lake Erie was an open sewer. A dumping ground for every thing from the alphabet soup of DDT, PCB and other chemicals to fecal matter that flowed into our waterways.

One of Ohio’s rivers was so polluted that it occasionally caught fire. Hardly a laughing matter then but now the river produces good steelhead and walleye catches.

Lake Erie has cleaned itself up, thanks to Michigan, Ohio and Ontario cracking down on industrial pollution and sludge. Lake Erie may not be quite the walleye hole it was 20 years ago, but it’s not off by much.

It hasn’t been so long ago when the state banned fishing in the Detroit River. You’ve heard the phrase “Mad As A Hatter?” That’s not a joke.

Hat makers used to use lead in some form during the hat-making process. Handle enough of it, ingest it and breath it, and it sooner or later it affects the brain. Madness follows.

The river was banned because of lead, but some of the old river rats who fished it daily and ate walleyes daily seemed healthy enough after eating high-level meals of walleyes for many years. Who knows why they didn’t go mad.

It’s been about 20 years ago since the Tittabawassee River near the dam was shut down for high levels of contaminants.

And then, as the lakes starting cleaning themselves up, the state began issuing warnings about eating some fish. The state produced inserts for our fishing license regulations telling us where the highest levels of contaminants were found and what amounts of fish could be eaten. It is now presented in booklet form.

They claimed many species were too contaminated to eat. The paper I worked for finally agreed to let me conduct tests on Lake Erie walleyes near the Detroit Edison plant just upstream from Lake Erie. The tests would cost over $2,000.

This would be a test of fish that were cleaned as anglers would clean them rather than as the state Health Department conducted their tests: by grinding up the head, skin, fins, entrails, tail and all edible flesh, and use that for conducting their tests.

Anglers usually fillet their catch, cut off the belly fat and the fat along the spine, and the dark flesh along the lateral line. Our task was to catch 20 walleyes with five fish each in four size categories: 15-17 inches, 18-20 inches, 21 to 24 inches, and fish larger than 24 inches.

They had to be cleaned on a hard, nonporous surface, and the knife and cleaning area had to be completely disinfected before each fish was cleaned.

The late Al Lesh of Warren volunteered for the job of helping me catch fish, and it took two days to catch our 20 fish (didn’t want to rush this test so caught five fish each both days). Our problem was finding enough fish in the 15-17-inch range for testing. It turns out we traded eight and nine-pound fish with other anglers to obtain the smaller fish. They thought we were pretty stupid.

The cleaning was conducted under very strict guidelines, and the flesh of boned, filleted and skinned fish were taken to the testing facility in Lansing. The test took nearly two weeks, and the results blew the Health Department’s testing report apart.

The four size groups of walleyes we caught all tested so far below the established levels that, in some cases, there was no measurable amount on heavy metal or alphabet pollution to be found.

The difference could be attributable to just one thing. We cleaned our fish the way 99.9 percent of the anglers do. We filleted the fish, cut away rib bones, skinned the fish, and removed back and belly fat and the dark meat along the lateral line.

The other testings were conducted with whole fish. Admittedly, a few Oriental groups will eat the entire fish, but very few anglers eat the entire fish.

Numbers, such as the alphabet group of chemicals and the heavy metals like lead, can be interpreted however the test facilities choose to do it. They chose to grind up the entire fish, and we close to use cleaned and boned fillets.

And now, we are forced to deal with all the invasive species that hitch-hike a ride with freighter from central Europe who choose to dump their ballast water in our lakes. We cleaned up much of one mess just in time to make way for the zebra mussel invasion and other critters that would soon follow.

I can remember when many lakes and streams were clean. Most of them are clean now, and we’ve got the zebra mussels to thank for that.

It makes me shudder to think what may need to be done to solve the issue of gobies, rusty crayfish and zebra mussels, to name a few. We may be in for a bigger fight unless our govenment cracks down with an iron fist on those foreign boats that continue to pollute our state waters.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/16 at 05:00 PM
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