Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Eye Update Due Tomorrow

It’s rather amazing what a person can do when he or she has to. I’ve found since this nasty eye infection has set in that my balance is somewhere between unsteady and awful.

I noticed it this morning. The medications that go into my left eye include three different eye drops and one eye ointment. Try wobbling through crusted snow to the paper tube, and not being able to see anything out of the left eye. The medications also have affected the right eye a bit.

It’s somewhat like pouring a glass half-full of skim milk and then adding a half-glass of water to it. The water dilutes the skim milk, and it’s almost possible to see through ... but not quite. Everything gets blurry ... like my vision.

That’s about the way my vision is right now. But this is one of those things that can’t be rushed. We take things, like the trip to the paper tube, one step at a time.

The fact that I’ve been down this road twice before doesn’t make this trip any easier. If anything, it seems more difficult to deal with because it’s still winter. The first two times I suffered a bacterial infection made its first appearance in my left eye and then the right eye came next, so each of these experiences were vastly different.

So, I’m working toward getting better and will soon be pounding the keyboard again and writing my daily blog. But for now, we’re playing a waiting game.

I do appreciate your patience. It means a great deal to me.—Dave

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/31 at 06:18 PM
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Monday, March 30, 2009

Slow Recovery From Eye Infection

It’s rather amazing what a person can do when he or she has to. I’ve found since this nasty eye infection has set in that my balance is somewhere between unsteady and awful.

I noticed it this morning. The medications that go into my left eye include three different eye drops and one eye ointment. Try wobbling through crusted snow to the paper tube, and not being able to see anything out of the left eye. The medications also have affected the right eye a bit.

It’s somewhat like pouring a glass half-full of skim milk and then adding a half-glass of water to it. The water dilutes the skim milk, and it’s almost possible to see through ... but not quite. Everything gets blurry ... like my vision.

That’s about the way my vision is right now. But this is one of those things that can’t be rushed. We take things, like the trip to the paper tube, one step at a time.

The fact that I’ve been down this road twice before doesn’t make this trip any easier. If anything, it seems more difficult to deal with because it’s still winter. The first two times I suffered a bacterial infection made its first appearance in my left eye and then the right eye came next, so each of these experiences were vastly different.

So, I’m working toward getting better and will soon be pounding the keyboard again and writing my daily blog. But for now, we’re playing a waiting game.

I do appreciate your patience. It means a great deal to me.—Dave

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/30 at 06:18 PM
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Day 3: Serious Eye Problem

It seemed like a long drive on a road covered with a heavy load of snow to reach the doctor for a Sunday visit. He wouldn’t be in the office Monday or Tuesday to examine my left eye to determine whether any progress was being made with the healing process, and it was 20 miles through six inches of wet, mushy snow. Hit a ribbon of slush, and it wanted to pull the car into the ditch.

We beat him to the office, even though he didn’t know there was a race going on, and five minutes later he arrive and greeted us cordially. No bad feelings, rotten moods or attitude problems about being there on a Sunday. It had been his idea, and he got me right in,

He checked my left eye, said he though we were making some progress in beating this bacterial infection. He squirted fluid in my eye, looked at the eye under strong light, as I dabbed at the excess fluid running down my cheek. I wadded the Kleenex up in a tiny ball, bounced it in the palm of my hand and discussed whether I could make two points by sinking the Kleenex in the waste basket. It would be a tough shot at an out-of-sight waste basket

“"If you can make that that,” the doctor joked, “you don’t need me. Hey, even a basketball game relies on defense. I told him he was still needed, even if I could make the dificult shot which would involve bouncing the paper ball off the formica counter, and place it just right so it would fall off the rim and into the basket. I seemed to be the only one who thought I could make it.

I was as confident about making that shot as I was of beating this nasty eye infection. Most hair-raising shots come right at the buzzer as a team member takes a Hail Mary shot from mid-court. The timing wasn’t right just yet.

The good doctor had more checking to do, more peering inside my eyeball to see if we were gaining on and eradicating the infection. He hemmed and hawed, moved the little thingamajig around to get a better look at some inner part of my eye. Satisfied, he pushed his little three-legged rolling stool back and announced that by next Wednesday we should have this thiing beaten.

He got up, Kay stood up and followed him out of the examination room. I fake-dribbled my paper ball down the court, cut a quick look at the time clock, and with one second to go launched a long shot just before the buzzer. It hit the Formica rim, spun around once near the edge of the rim and fell. Plunk, it slammed into the basket for a winning shot to give our team a dramatic win. And, sadly, no one was there to see it except me.

True story. Honest!

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/29 at 06:01 PM
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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Day Two: The Eye Problem

Some pain still remains inside my left eye from the multiple (six) injections of antibiotics into it to ward off further damage to my left eye. Some people may wonder how I got a bacterial infection in my left eye in the first place.

It’s pretty easy to explain. I have a hole in both eyes. No, I wasn’t born that way, and these holes were deliberately placed to allow drainage of excess fluid from my eye. A blockage of drain tubes is the cause of glaucoma.

The pressure kinks the fluid outlet, and if the fluid cannot escape, the pressure builds up inside the eye over time. Left unattended, the pressure will continue to increase and it can blow the optic nerve from the back of the eye, causing permanent blindness.

It also can progressively get worse, and cause a gradual loss of vision, a problem I’ve fought for 26 years. One method of treatment is called a trabeculectomy. Sounds mysterious but I have one in each eye.

Two tiny cuts in the eye form an inverted V, and the pointy part is folded over and sewed shut. The wound heals, and leaves the patient with a hole in the upper part of the eye. As the intra-ocular fluid rises, the hole acts as an over-flow valve, and extra fluid drains away.

That’s how it works in a perfect world. However, I’ve had three bacterial infections over the past five years. Two in my left eye and one in the right. Left unchecked, the bacterial infection begins at the site of the above operation, and infects the “bleb,” a somewhat rounded elevation that looks somewhat like the rim of a volcano. The rim is built up, rounded, and the tissue gradually weakens, calling for another trabeculectomy.

Once this elevated bleb is infected, the bacterial infection goes into the eye, and if not treated immediately, the infection will destroy the eye and lead to the inevitable surgical removal of the eye.

That, in a nutshell, is what is happening in my life. Most of the pain is gone, and I saw the doctor who came in on a Sunday to treat me, and it was a nasty drive through the snow but my wife and I made it. He feels encouraged, which makes me feel good.

Confidence in one’s doctors means a lot, and this doctor pulled me through one other bout with a bacterial infection two years ago. So, I remain optimistic. Stop by tomorrow for another update.—Dave

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/28 at 03:24 PM
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Friday, March 27, 2009

A Bad Day Today


This blog will be short and sweet, and for a good (or bad) reason, depending on your personal thoughts about eye diseases.

I woke this morning with terrible pain in my left eye. Most of you who have followed my ramblings for some time know I have advance glaucomain both eyes. I’ve fought a hard battle for 25 years against this silent and stealthy robber of one’s vision. The vision in my left eye is off the scales of such things as 20-20 or 20-40. My left-eye vision is measured as hand movement at six inches.

That’s it. The only function my left eye furnishes is it helps somewhat with my balance. Not much, and I fall often, but I don’t want to lose what little I have. So far, over 25 years, I’ve had 17 eye surgeries with lazer or scalpel: eight on my left eye and nine on my right eye.

I went to the eye doctor thinking I had a bacterial infection in that eye because I’ve had such problems in the past, and that’s what it felt like. My doctor confirmed the problem was indeed caused by a bacterial infection that that entered my eye and also was on the outside of the eye. Given another day or two inside my eye, and the doctor probably would have had to remove that eye.

He sent me to a doctor that works just on retinal eye problems and diseases of the eye. I’ve been down this road twice before with this type of infection and I know the drill, which isn’t fun but is required to save the eye. The good doctor stuck five needles filled with antibiotics into my left eye. The sixth needle went into my left eye lid. I’ve got some drops to use, some eye ointments, and some healing time to go.

So, now you know the problem. If possible, please tune in every day for something new and different. All blogs for a while will probably be short, and if I encounter further problems, there may not be a daily blog. I’ll do my best to write something for my treasured readers, and I hope you’ll stop by to read.

One last thought: if you are 40 or older, get checked for glaucoma once a year. Trust me, you won’t like it if you have glaucoma and it has advance to a certain stage where it starts affecting your vision. Catch glaucoma early, and it is treatable. Catch it late, and the continuous problem of trying to save your vision will be something that isn’t fun.

You’ll have to excuse me now. Me and my eye are heading for bed. Take care.—Dave

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/27 at 06:46 PM
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Narrowing My Focus


My mind seemingly has tunnel vision at times. The only two things i seem to focus intently on, other than writing, is bow hunting and studying deer.

It doesn’t make me all bad. I could care less about ball parks, Nascar races, or tournament golf. Whitetails excite me; almost everything else is far less interesting, and certainly a lot less fun.

People question how I can only think about these two items most of the time. It must be easy because both passions have consumed my thoughts for more than 50 years.

Both thoughts are of equal importance, and without my intense study, there would be less hunting success. A number of years ago, I was asked a question at a bow-hunting seminar I was giving.

Another seminar attendee asked if the only thing I thought about was writing. I gave the man a straight answer.

“Writing is what I do,” I said. “It’s how I make a living, and to do my job properly, I’m always thinking about the next story. It has to be what I think about on a daily basis. I’d be dead in the water without the next story idea. The same thing applies when I bow hunt for whitetails.”

My answer is based on these reasons. For me, hunting whitetails with a bow, and studying the animals at every opportunity, is what I do. To stop studying deer is to stop learning about whitetail deer. To stop learning means less opportunities and decreased success.

When I hunt, I become totally focused and immersed in my surroundings, and what the deer are doing. I never lose my concentration on the deer, but I continue to focus and watch other deer. I can solve all kinds of deer hunting problems while sitting in my ground blind or in an elevated coop or tree stand.

When working, my thoughts are always on deer hunting or trying to figure out why a particular deer does what it did the night before. Most people forget yesterday;s hunt but not me.

Some people find it hard to think about two things at once or have trouble chewing gum and walking. That often happens when deer hunting: I’ll be trying to solve a knotty little deer travel pattern problem, and a nice buck will walk out. My reflexes take over, and I can shoot that buck while shifting mental gears, and then I will shift back tosolving other problems after shooting the deer or passing up a shot.

Solving any bow-hunting problem is always easier while bow hunting. Any hunting area always has some natural noises, but out there, the phone doesn’t ring to distract me.

Years ago I learned that many of my award-winning articles and columns came to me while sleeping. One part of my brain kicked into gear, and I would wake up, slip out of bed, head for my office and write it while the idea was still fresh in my mind.

The same thing happens to me while bow hunting. A problem may bother me for weeks, and then one night while sound asleep, the answer wakes me up faster than a face slap with an ice-cold wash cloth. I suspect that being asleep allows the subconscious to kick in, provide the needed answer, and usually the answer is so simple I wonder why it didn’t come to me much sooner.

I’m able to study deer, think about various deer patterning problems, and be ready and able to shift gears automatically, and shoot the buck. It’s what I’ve trained my body and mind to do, and anyone else can do it providing they’ve learned the basic fundamentals of drawing and properly aiming a bow and making a smooth release. Do those things long enough, and do them properly, and it becomes simple.

This sort of thing often happens while I’m hunting. When my two main thoughts meld while aiming at a big buck, it is one of the most memorable events of my life.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/26 at 05:14 PM
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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Custom Build A Fishing Or Hunting Library


Fishing and hunting has become more sophisticated these days. The people who participate often are well-schooled, have graduated from college and are accustomed to learning new things in their leisure time.

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

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

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

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

Other people want to have their present collection checked out, and determine its value for an estate sale, for insurance purposes, or to determine what the value is for a gift donation. I perform such appraisal work as well on a fee basis determined by what a collector wants to have done.

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

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

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

I just found 12 muskie books for a client. When we spoke, and I told him of my finds, he sound just like a child at Christmas. He was happy, and now he want’s me to find several others Those will belong in the challenge category.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of my collectors wants only books written by some of the gun writers from 50 years ago. Guys like John Jobson, Elmer Keith or Jack O’Connor. Many of their book will range in price from $50 to $400. Those $400 books this year could be $600-700 in two or three years as the demand for them rises while the supply dries up.

I’ve learned that although there are many people who are interested in deer hunting, there is a plethora of titles to choose from. I determine which authors and titles are most collectible. I edited and published a book last year of 26 copies, lettered from A-Z, and those books are the scarcest deer books ever published. Of course, they are $200 each.

Books—good books—appreciate at 10-12 percent yearly, and sometimes as much as 15-20 percent for a few books. I would never suggest that people collect fishing or hunting books as a means of making money, but only a fool would ignore the fact that good books increase in value while poor books do not.

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

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

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

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

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/25 at 07:13 PM
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Turkey Hunting: A One-Man Game


I’m not a good turkey caller but can usually call birds in or move in such a way that I can get a shot or whoever is with me can shoot a nice gobbler.

Turkey hunting is considered a one-man game among serious turkey hunters, which includes most people who have hunted them more than once. On occasion I’ll take one or two people, but really don’t like taking more than one person at a time.

However, there is much to be said for hunting alone. You choose your spot, and if the birds head the opposite direction, the hunter gets moving while trying to get ahead of them without being seen. It’s seldom easy, and most ofter is a difficult thing to do.

It’s never easy, but it’s easier for one man than for two or three. Me and two others tend to get in each other’s way. We wind up making too much noise, and all too often, one of the hunter is a talkert.

He wants to idle away slow time by gabbing at me. I don’t want to talk, and don’t want to listen to stories of past hunts, what he expects from this hunt, or answer turkey-hunting questions. I want to hunt with someone who knows how to keep his yap closed, his eyes and ears open, and who doesn’t wiggle.

That can be a pretty tall order.

My idle time is spent trying hard to get the gent into a bird. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen, and other times, the gobbler waltz’s in to the call like a rope is tied to his neck. It doesn’t always happen that way, and in fact, it seldom works like we plan it. Often, the gobbler throws a winkle at me and we have to work out the new problem.

Hunting alone pleases me a great deal. I go where I want, make decisions when they become necessary to make, and I don’t have to worry about someone else and whether I’ll hurt their feelings.

One might say it’s selfish, but who cares? It’s my hunt, it’s my time, and if I choose to hunt alone, I can and will. It’s not a case of my being antisocial; it’s more a case of knowing that one turkey hunter is far more effective at his sport than two people. That is a known fact.

The odds often are much improved for the solitary hunter. The only reason I take another person out for wild turkeys is I enjoy watching them shoot their first gobbler.

I tell them right up front. To me, this turkey hunting is serious business. Don’t try to talk to me when I’m calling, listening, and don’t do anything but what I tell you to do. If I tell you to sit still, it means you are moving around. I don’t care if your back or butt hurts. Buy a better butt pad next time.

I tell people that I have bad vision, and count on them to help me spot an incoming or circling bird. No words need to be spoken. A nudge with an elbow gets my attention, and the movement of one finger gives me the direction to the bird. Often I will spot birds first, but it doesn’t always happen in a wooded situation.

My instructions to them are simple. Sit still, don’t move any part of your body, sit with your back to a tree, pull your knees up, rest the shotgun against your shoulder and across your knees, and listen to what I whisper to you. Don’t move your head when I whisper.

I tell them that as the birds approach us or my decoys that they cannot move, even if they have the mother of all charley horses. Sit still, don’t move anything, don’t make a sound and wait for the gobbler to move directly in front of the shotgun at 20 to 35 yards.

A barely audible putt is often made when the gobbler is in position for a clean shot without other birds behind him. The sound makes them stop, and their head goes up. Be ready, and shoot that gobbler at the junction of the head and neck. The hunters are warned to keep their cheek down on the shotgun stock, and don’t lift their head when they pull the trigger or the shot will go high.

There will be plenty of time to palaver and talk once we get out of the area. Often other turkey will be with the gobbler, including other gobblers. Shoot the bird, sit still and don’t move, and let the birds wander off on their own.

Doing it this way doesn’t alert birds to humans in their midst. A shot could be confused with thunder, which turkeys hear all the time. It’s the motion and noise of a moving hunter jumping out from the front of a tree that sends the birds into the next township.

Hunting alone removes all of these potential problems. It’s one man, going one-up with a good gobbler, and without undue consideration for anyone else. It’s making personal decisions, and living with the consequences, whether they right or wrong.

I’ve made any number of mistakes in my turkey hunting career, and if another hunter tells you they haven’t, forget that conversation. Mistakes made are lessons learned, and those who won’t admit to making a turkey-hunting mistake sometime in their past, apparently are much better hunters than me ... or a better liar.

The case has been made for hunting alone, and although I take hunters out every year, I haven’t figured out how to hunt error-free yet. Maybe I should hire me a guide and learn something more about this turkey hunting business.

But I won’t because I enjoy the quiet solitude. It’s what keeps me focused and willing to put up with too little sleep.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/24 at 06:22 PM
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Monday, March 23, 2009

Why I Love Steelhead Fishing


It’s still early for very much steelhead action although a few fish nosed up the Betsie River last week during the thaw and run-off. The snow disappeared, and I sneaked out, creeped along river banks, peered deep into holes and runs, and sought to do battle with spring fish.

Steelhead are, for many reasons, my favorite river game fish. Many reasons for my deep and abiding love include:

*These fish are among the hardest fighting fresh water game fish that can be caught during the spring months. Even a winter fish will produce a dogged battle although they seldom jump until the water temperature reaches 40-44 degrees. It’s far from that right now.

*They can pick up bait as soft as a baby’s grip, smack it with the force of a sledgehammer, and they will run and jump with reckless abandon. Catching a big steelhead, one in prime condition and ready to rumble, is a happening one will long remember.

*These game fish are found in a variety of waters: the Great Lakes, inland lakes, drowned river-mouth lakes, big major rivers, noted and famous streams, and even in tiny jump-across creeks where they spawn with their backs out of water.

*A mint-silver steelhead is as bright as the chrome on a new car bumper when they were made of metal rather than plastic. A silvery steelhead, fresh from the Great Lakes, is a sleek and strong fish with a beauty that makes it highly prized by anglers. Some males have flaming cheeks and gill cover and a brilliant red banner along the lateral line, and some can take first-place or a Blue Ribbon for their beauty.

*Steelhead have an aura about them. These game fish seem to be surrounded by mystique, much of which is generously perpetuated by other fishermen who try to make the sport of catching these fish to be more difficult than it really is.

*Anglers thrill to fishing a spawnbag or wiggler under a bobber, and watching the float zip under the surface. Some bobber fishermen use tiny baited jigs, and regardless of the bait used, watching a bobber slip under water is great fun. It’s easy to detect such soft strikes.

*From a purely personal level, I enjoy stalking spawning steelhead on the gravel beds. The stalk along the river bank (never in the river) is every bit as exciting as stalking a nice buck during bow season.

We creep slowly, keeping a low profile, and use all available cover to get within fly-casting distance. We enter the water quietly, and never with a big splash, lengthen line and begin casting a fly toward the male fish—never the female.

We tease that male until he spooks or strikes, and sometimes our arms and shoulders grow weary and complain about the stress.

*Fighting a big steelie on a fly rod is the epitome of what sport fishing is all about. The fish are sometimes more difficult to control, but that only adds to the challenge. I pioneered fly fishing for these fish in 1967, brought it kicking and screaming into full view of many people, and spent 10 years guiding fly-fishing anglers daily.

*I love the types of water spring steelhead hold in. Shallow-water gravel bars are great fun but some fish spawn in deeper and darker waters, and in locations where they are not visible—even with polarized sunglasses. Fishing blind in a deep hole or run with a fly rod, bait or lures, is fun. Anglers should learn the techniques of all fishing methods, and then determine which is best for you. Reading the water to know where steelies are found is an enormous challenge.

*I enjoy the gentle murmur of steelhead water gurgling around the bend, the sluice of water flowing past the end of a log jam, and spotting fish in such locations is an acquired skill. Many fishermen I once guided expected to see the whole fish; sometimes that can happen, but most often a silver fish creates a mere shadow on bottom while at other times the angler may spot a tail or head or just the eye of a fish.

*Finding steelhead is fun, and smart fishermen never stop looking for new water to fish. We try to find fish in spots where we’ve never found them before, and that requires the challenge of learning new water. We don’t go where everyone else goes, and we learn how to fish snag-infested stretches that no one else is willing to spend time on. We are as close-mouthed as a morel mushroom picker or a bird hunter with new woodcock coverts to protect.

*We have learned to catch steelhead consistently, and we pride ourselves on sparing females whenever possible, and for most of us, hooking a fish and getting at least one soaring jump from it is enough. We delight in fishing hard, whipping fish fast, and releasing them so they will live and continue on to their spawning grounds.

*Steelhead fishing is not meant to be a full creel or a limit catch. It is a sense of continually experimenting with new areas and different techniques, and discovering what doesn’t work rather than always sticking with what does produce.

Steelhead fishing is a challenge I accepted 58 years ago, and must admit that these game fish thrill me as much now, after having caught thousands of them, as they did when I was a teenager first learning how to fish for them.

May it always be so.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/23 at 07:07 PM
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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Do You Ever Have Hunches?


The burning question tonight is: do you believe in hunches or premonitions? Those quirky little things that niggle at your neck hairs and tease your brain.

They steal silently into your brain, planting seeds of doubt or question. They are the things that make you stop, look around, and try to determine if you are in sudden or unexplained danger.

Call ‘em early warning signs. Call them hunches. A premonition, even. They all mean much the same thing. They are those little things that tweaks at our guts, and make us secretly wonder if there really is some unexplainable thing out there that does go bump in the night.

Kids were seemingly haunted by grave yards or cemeteries when I was a much younger. You were one tough hombre if you could walk through a cemetery after dark while owls hootled under a full moon as the wind moaned softly through crooked-branched trees while bats fluttered overhead, grabbing insects.

I conquered my fears as a kid when people told me that a monster lived in the attic or basement. Scared? You bet, but living in fear is no fun so I walked down the basement steps one night in the dark. Took myself into the darkest corners of the coal cellar, into the old pantry with big hulking wooden cabinets, and sat on the bottom step next to a squat old wringer washing machine.

The boogyman didn’t snatch me up that night. Nor did he grab ahold and tear me apart when I climbed the stairs up and into the dark attic.

So, by now, you are probably wondering where I’m going with this thing. Can’t blame you much, but it’s about hunches, premonitions or bad vibes. We all get them if we pay attention to our brain and body.

My wife and I flew to Houston, Texas, and our plan was to jump onto a shuttle flight to Lake Charles, Louisiana for an Outdoor Writers Association of America conference a few years ago. I had three seminars to give, and was looking forward to it.

Can’t remember when that first little niggling of a thought troubled my mind. It was somewhere just before we reached Houston’s Bush Airport, and looking out the window revealed rolling clouds. The weather looked nasty as the tires chirped as they kissed the runway.

It began raining hard, and walking inside, we were greeted with the wonderful news that our connecting puddle-jumper flight to Lake Charles had been canceled. It seemed a tropical storm was camped over everything along the Gulf of Mexico from Lake Charles to Houston.

We couldn’t fly and couldn’t get our luggage so we snapped up a Hertz rental car for an exorbitant fee for a 150-mile one-way drive. It rained on us some, but we made it to the convention center. Our clothes arrived 36 hours later from a disgruntled Continental baggage crew.

That little bit of wonder about my concerns slowly died away, and it rained hard for three days. It cleared somewhat on Wednesday morning when it came time to fly back to Detroit and then on to Traverse City. The drive to Houston was easy with some good friends, and we chattered about the conference.

We boarded our flight to Detroit on time, and were informed that we were on schedule. Halfway to Motown, that little worm began crawling up my spine again, jangling my nerves awake, and sure enough, 30 minutes later the pilot announced bad weather straddling Detroit like green and black arches. We landed amidst torrential rain, lightning and thunder.

The next leg to Traverse City required a two-hour wait. That two hours eventually stretched into seven hours of heavy rain, vertical lightning and thunder that seemed to move Detroit Metropolitans new terminal.

The flight that should have left the airport at 9 p.m. took a major detour, and it was 3 in the morning when the plane was pushed from the gate and 4 a.m. when we touched down in Traverse City.

The point to all of this prattle is this: I had premonitions of something going wrong on the way to Houston, and it did. The same doubts jumped on my heck hairs midway to Detroit on the return flight.

Mind you, there are mild premonitions and severe cases. Once, while hunting during a wind storm in Ontario, it was as if someone whispered in my ear: “Move now or die!” I moved 30 feet away, and watched the top of a dead elm break off and land where I’d been standing.

That is a severe case of how the human brain works. Sadly, some people have it, and some do not. Those that don’t often meet a sad fate. I honed my instincts, if you will, on the raw and nasty streets of Chicago in 1957-1958 while attending college. You paid attention or paid a very nasty price for your ignorance. Today, it’s called street smarts.

I saw three people killed because they walked through life trusting people to be as nice as they were. It cost them their lives. Learning to live by my wits—my instincts—kept me from becoming a statistic.

These little hunches, for lack of a better word, can work the other way as well. Sometimes they can lead to some great fishing or hunting or they can lead to a dramatic or deadly situation.

Learn as much as possible about yourself by trusting your instincts. When it comes to gut instincts, your first thoughts are usually right. Argue them at your own peril.

Learn to believe in your premonitions, and act accordingly.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/22 at 06:12 PM
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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Big Fibs Or True Deer Tales?


A deer tale is usually made up of some of the very same components as fish stories. Both usually require the use of both arms and hands to measure how long the trout was or how wide the antler spread happened to be on that big buck they missed.

Oddly enough, some deer tales are true. Others may be partly true, and some have no truth to them whatsoever. For them, the story teller seldom lets the truth get in the way of a good story.

Some of these tales will provoke a questioning response from the listener. Some are out-and-out lies, and others may contain a kernel or two of truth simply because they are so outrageous, it seems likely they must contain some truth.

Down over 50+ years of hunting, some deer tales have come my way. Many are considered lies because I can see the teller’s lips moving, and know he never tells the truth.

Years ago, a man who is not prone to lying told me a tale about a hunter he knew. The gent had watched a nice buck jump a dry drainage ditch at the same point several days in a row. The time was almost always about 5 p.m.

My friend’s friend decided to ambush, bushwhack or dry-gulch the animal with a bow when it jumped the ditch. He peeked through tall marsh grass and watched as the buck moved closer. He said he came to full draw, while laying on his back in the ditch, and waited ... or so the story went.

The buck was heard near the edge of the ditch, and as the buck sailed over his prone body, he released the arrow. The shaft skewered the buck just behind the brisket, hit the spine, and exited the animal’s back.

The buck could be heard alongside the road, flopping about, paralyzed, and slowly dying. He said a driver, sailing along in his car, almost hit the deer as it folded up inches from the edge of the road. The driver nearly had a heart attack, and thought the deer was coming through his windshield, which quite possibly could have happened.

My problem is: how does a bow hunter draw a bow while laying flat on his back. How does he nail a firm anchor point. Go ahead, try it: try laying on your back and draw an arrow.

Could it have been done? I doubt it. What do you think?

Years ago a bunch of guys traveled to Tennessee each year to hunt those wild Rooshian boars, as the locals called them. Their weapon of choice was a spear. They found a boar, taunted it until it charged, and when the boar with its knife-sharp tushes came at them, they would put the back end of the spear in the ground, and when the pig charged, they met the charge with a spear point.

The storyteller said they killed several boars with a spear, and wanted to try it on deer. They knew it would be impossible to get a buck to charge so decided to try spearing a deer from a tree stand, even if it wasn’t legal.

One of these yahoos saw a small buck walk past his stand, and he drew back his arm and threw the heavy spear with all of his might. The point went in behind the front shoulder, knocked the deer over, but it ran off and the spear fell out.

The violator climbed down, gathered up his bloodied spear, and started following the blood trail. He trailed the deer for some distance, saw it laying dead and walked up to it.

He squatted down, the spear held with the point upright like an African warrior, to admire the splendid throw he’d made. The spear was suddenly snatched from his hand. He jumped up, cussing up a streak, only to see a smiling conservation officer. The gent lost his deer and spear, received a ticket, paid a big fine, and lost his right to hunt for three years.

Such stories are almost too far-fetched to be true. Both show a wonderful sense of imagination, even if they probably aren’t true. One of the secrets to telling a joke, a tall tale or a lie, is each one should contain some semblance of truth.

It’s that little dash of truth, like mustard on a hot dog, that makes the tale somewhat tasty to the listener and easier to swallow. And, over many years, I’ve spent a good deal of time with conservation officers, and some of the tales they tell are about as far off center as these. So, perhaps they could be true.

I’ve got some other whoppers I’ve heard in the past, and one day soon I’ll trot out a few more for your reading pleasure.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/21 at 05:56 PM
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Friday, March 20, 2009

The Timing Was Off A Bit

It was 1979, and at almost 40 years of age, I had the opportunity to go to New Zealand with my buddy, Gordie Charles, the retired Traverse City Record-Eagle outdoor writer. Another person had planned to go on the trip with him, canceled out and he asked if I would like to go.

Would I? Could I? I had to scramble a bit to get a passport, and it arrived two days before we were to leave. We flew to the North Island (New Zealand also has a South Island), and enjoyed a wonderful eight days.

We fished a lovely North Island stream near Auckland, and enjoyed some world-class action with spawning brown trout. We trolled flies on some of the inland lakes, fished larger rivers, and everywhere we went there were brown trout and rainbow trout ... and the friendliest people in the world.

We then went to the South Island, a more mountainous area, and fished lakes and rivers to our hearts content. I remember one lake we fished where spoons were legal, and our guide said yellow lures worked great in that lake.

I tied on a snap swivel, chose a yellow with five red diamonds Devle Dog (one of the many Dardevle lures), and the guide knew what he was talking about. I hooked 10 brown trout on eight straight casts. Trust me, you are reading that correctly.

Two of the first eight fish were hooked, fought for a minute or two, and they shook free of the spoon. As soon as the lure fell from the trout’s mouth, and I made several turns on the reel handle, another trout would hit the spoon.

All of the trout I caught were released, and Gordie was catching fish on almost every cast. Most of these browns weighed between four and seven pounds, and they acted as if they hadn’t eaten in a week.

We spent some time fly fishing the river that flowed into the lake, and the water was as clear as fine crystal and about two feet deep. Polarized sunglasses helped us sight-fish for the browns, and a No. 8 green, black and brown nymph was deadly.

We’d cast upstream above the fish, allow the nymph to sink as we stripped in excess line as the fly drifted toward us, and the takes were certain and sudden. It produced some of the greatest fly fishing action I’d ever experienced.

Many of the river fish got away. Once hooked, they often jumped and the narrow river had many trees along the banks, and the fish would tangle in low-hanging limbs in the water and break off. We’d tie on another 5X tippet, another fly, and move several steps and cast to other fish.

The trip offered the finest fly fishing of my life, and I vowed to return again someday. And then, an offer came from an unusual source.

My son works in the computer industry with a California firm, and they have clients all over the world and he occasionally flies to certain countries, solves their computer problems, and once about two years ago I mentioned that if he ever had to visit New Zealand, I’d like to tag along.

He called some time ago and is leaving for Auckland, New Zealand in about a week. Did I want to come along?

You bet. Absolutely. Count me in. And then the reality of my current situation set in. I don’t have a current passport.

I can’t drive at this time, and even though I wanted to go, it would be a unwise decision. Flying to a foreign country, and with no way to get around, wasn’t my idea of a good time. Sure, I could walk but didn’t know if there were some trout streams within walking distance of the hotel.

I didn’t want to be too far from my eye doctor, and New Zealand is a very long distance away. I remember leaving Honolulu in the early evening on my first trip there and flying all night before arriving in Auckland about 10 a.m.

My mind (the irrational part) was saying: “Go. You’ll never have another chance.” The more rational part said: “It’s foolish to go without new glasses. If you can’t drive, how will you get around? What will you do all day while Guy is working?”

Another problem is I’d have to have my wife drive me to Chicago to get an expensive hurry-up passport, and that could represent a problem on those wintery roads. There were too many strikes against my going this time.

However, I asked for a rain-check on a New Zealand trip. I know I could easily write a story each day while down there, but I’ll have to forego the pleasure this time. In the meantime, thoughts of sparkling streams, clear lakes and big trout have been teasing me lately.

Hopefully, he will go again and hopefully my eyes will be looking through new glasses and I’ll be able to drive. It’s a dream I hope to realize some day soon.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/20 at 06:31 PM
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bear Hunting Has Its Moments


Some hunting trips are destined for failure right from the git-go. There are certain times in every sportsman’s life when little goes as planned, and outdoor writers are as subject to this unusual phenomenon as anyone else.

A bear hunt more than 15 years ago is a case in point. It wasn’t that my bear guide hadn’t done his job; his baits had been in place for two weeks, and bruins were coming daily to feed.

It was just the little things that kept going wrong.

The trip started out bad and quickly got worse. Anyone who has hunted black bears know how it works. Plan for every eventuality, and things still get messed up.

One problem began by losing two newspaper stories off my portable computer as I began preparing for the hunt.

I then dropped a hard plastic bow case and cut my finger. I finished loading the car, leaving droplets of blood on everything I touched.

Several hours were spent driving to the Stonington Peninsula east of Little Bay de Noc near Gladstone in the central Upper Peninsula, and the drive was frustratingly slow. Whitetails were on the move, and they constantly darted in front of my car and there were several near misses.

My speed was moderate at best, but the critters acted as if they were possessed by a death wish.

Two does narrowly missed becoming statistics.

I was being joined by a newspaper photographer who shall remain nameless. His goal was to record on film me arrowing a bear at spitting distance. The pressure was on, and to make matters worse, he had never seen a wild bear in his life.

I hoped to accomplish this lofty goal without making a fool of myself by completely missing the animal. Shooting a bear can be difficult enough without the added pressure of having someone try to capture the moment on film.

Opening day rolled around, and it was cool for Sept. 10. We used a three-wheeler (I hate those things) to drive three miles back into a Marquette County swamp, and I placed the photographer on the ground 20 yards away before climbing into a tree stand overlooking the bait. The collection of doughnuts were 12 yards away, and only 10 feet from a nearly impenetrable swamp.

It dawned on me, and the photographer on the ground, that he couldn’t get me, the tree stand and the bear in the photo from his ground position. Besides that, I was concerned about an approaching bear winding him and blowing our chances. We changed that problem about 10 a.m., and created a newer and perhaps worse problem.

He began to climb into the tree stand and froze halfway up the tree. He told me, in a panicked whisper, that he had never climbed a tree in his life.

I climbed up around him, got onto the tree stand and pulled him up. Not being a tree-climbing kid in his youth, he was petrified with fear. He would have to stand the rest of the day while I sat on the edge of the platform, and if or when a bear came, he would shoot photos over my shoulder while I came to full draw and shot at the animal.

 It was a really simple plan.

In the meantime, two people in one stand meant we were as cozy as ... well, let’s just say we were cozy. My only back support the rest of the day was against his leg which was shaking uncontrollably.

 My back ached and he was cold, He shivered and shook in the 70-degree weather, and just before dusk I spotted a bear 70 yards away moving toward the bait.

I whispered for him to be motionless and quiet because a bear was coming to the doughnuts on the ground.

 The bear circled the bait, and the photographer was shaking so hard with his finger on the motor-driven Nikon that he twisted off six shots of the back of my head. The bear evaporated, and 30 minutes later we trudged from the swamp to the three-wheeler.

"Can I drive the three-wheeler back?” he asked. “I’ve never driven one before."

Warning flags went up. Against my better judgment I agreed, and got on the back. He gunned the engine, went down the bumpy two-track trail and lost control at 10 miles per hour. He started heading for a ditch with four feet of water in it, and I bailed off the back. He buried it in the swamp, and turned to me on dry ground and asked: “What do we do now?"

I told him that I wasn’t going to do anything but he was going to turn off the ignition, put it in neutral, and pull the machine uphill and onto the trail. He said he would get wet, and I agreed that he most certainly would get soaked as a penalty for driving so recklessly.

 Eventually he got the three-wheeler up far enough so I could help. I drove us the rest of the way back to our pick-up point without further incident.

He was even colder now because he looked like a drowned rat. 

An hour later we bellied up to the guide’s table. Heaping mounds of mashed potatoes and gravy, thick slices of medium-rare roast beef, vegetables and dinner rolls were topped off with apple pie and ice cream.

 He had a 15-mile back to his motel. I bid him farewell with a stern warning to watch for deer crossing the narrow road. He was urged to drive very slowly and pay attention to the road-side edges.

An hour later he called, and said he was less than two miles from the motel where he was staying when a big doe bounded from a homeowner’s yard, crossed the road and he slammed into the newspaper car at 30 miles per hour. The deer was dead and his car was a mess.

Both headlights were shattered, the grill and front bumper destroyed, the hood crumpled and the front fender looked as if it had lost a duel with a wrecking ball. The radiator was leaking and he was a mess. The photographer was a mental wreck, and asked if all outdoor filming trips offered such problems.

I replied that so far, in my humble opinion, the biggest excitement was stuffing my belly at dinner. He didn’t think it was funny when I mentioned that thousands of whitetails are hit each year by vehicles, and it happens to many folks who often drive in deer country. Especially those who drive too fast.

I’m not sure he was convinced that taking photographs of me was much fun. The bears didn’t show, he didn’t get the photos we wanted and a big doe had wrecked his car. But then, some trips are destined for failure.

He learned, on his very first outdoor experience, that animal movements are beyond our control and that Murphy’s Law always applies in the outdoors. It’s just a shame he had to learn that lesson the hard way.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/19 at 06:15 PM
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Practicing With My Turkey Calls


The old excitement is still there. My wife and I spent a glorious 30 minutes this morning watching three gobblers fighting gusty winds as the strong breezes whipped across an open field.

We didn’t see where they came from, and my guess is they came out of a little finger of woods and were just moving through the area as we drove by. Deer had cleaned up what corn was left in a standing corn field, and it’s possible a few kernels were still there to tempt the birds.

They were walking deer trails through what little snow still remained, and they seemed to keep their heads down as they walked from snow through soft mud and back again. Often, they would pop over a low ridge to get out of the full force of the wind.

All three had visible beards, and one had an eight-inch beard. They seemed lethargic and not prone to moving very much or very fast.

They were within sight for 30 minutes as we sat in the car, and it offered a brief preview of things to come in two months. Hunters who applied for spring turkey permits should already know the results of the lottery draw.

After the bird left, I started thinking about turkey hunting. My wife had to go to town, and I sat in the empty house and went through my turkey calling repertoire with a vest filled with a wide variety of calls.

I favor box calls and crystal, glass or slate calls. One by one each one came out of their allocated pocket in my vest, and I practiced my clucks, cuts, purrs and yelps until they sounded good to me. I practiced the soft calls that can close the deal when a gobbler stops for a look around about 65 yards away.

A soft purr can coax a reluctant gobbler within easy shotgun range, and it’s a call I save for just the right moment. Another is a soft whining purr with a bit of a question at the end as if it meant “Hey, bubba, here I am. C’mon, big boy. Over here.” It’s the siren’s song of turkey hunting.

I have some aluminum calls, and many work with a soft touch but some remind me of fingernails on a blackboard. It doesn’t seem to bother the gobblers much but it sends a nasty shiver up and down my spine.

My favorite is a good box call. A soft stroke is all it takes, and far too many turkey hunters put some muscle on the call and the sound is really too loud. If the hunter is properly positioned, a soft call used sparingly usually works best.

I can coax a whining purr out of my old Ben Lee Twin Hen box call that seems to make feel comfortable and all a’quiver, and when I must get into a verbal argument with a nearby hen that seems determined to drag the longbeard away, this call gives me two calling surfaces that produce two different sounds. One side or the other always seems to work.

It always puzzles me why I can’t rely on one diaphragm call year after year, but each year I go through two-dozen of them before finding one that seems to sound good to me and seems to attract gobblers.

I’ve experimented with dozens of diaphragms over many years, and some just will not work for me. The mouth call is often used when a gobbler hangs up nearby. I occasionally back away from the bird if I know he can’t see me, call softly from a different direction, and sometimes it does the trick.

It’s my opinion that I’m not a very good caller. But, guess what, you don’t have to be a good caller to call in some gobblers. I’ve worked some birds that have probably been shot at, and they are extremely call-shy. I’ve worked one call-shy gobbler for an hour or more before he gives in.

My strategy with such birds is to move slightly closer, call once very softly, and if the bird doesn’t come, I’ll move a tiny bit closer and call just once and very softly. The bird really doesn’t want to go to the hen; he wants the hen to come to him.

Playing hard-to-get works on some call-shy birds and doesn’t work on other gobblers. Some pre-season indoor practice with the calls can help, but two important rules apply under most calling situations: call softly and don’t call too often. A third would be to never call outdoors unless you are hunting. Never call outdoors before the season opens.

Break these rules at your own risk. Too much calling or calling too loudly can send a gobbler hightailing it for distant parts. Educating gobblers with a call is all too easy to do, and once they’ve been educated, getting them to move to any call is a very real problem.

So, most of my day was spent playing with my turkey calls. And you know what? It was a fun day!

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/18 at 07:02 PM
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Steelhead About Ready To Go


Got a hankering to go steelhead fishing? If so, get some spawn bags tied up, clean up your reels, find the net and check your waders.

After the recent warm spell, the fish are about ready to head upstream. A check of the Betsie and Platte rivers today, and the Boardman River yesterday, indicate that some (a few) fish are up the rivers. The Betsie River is high, but not over the banks, from the old Homestead dam down to US-31. That is the best bet so far.

The Platte River, normally gin clear, is a bit high and has a light tinge of color to it. The Boardman River is about the same. A warm rain would put fish in all three nearby rivers in a matter of hours. What we don’t need is an over-the-bank flooding because the fish can move in, spawn during high water and be gone before the water level goes down.

The water is cold, and whatever you choose to use should be fished as slowly and thoroughly as possible. Spawn bags and wigglers are the bait of choice but wax worms fished on a small teardrop jig and under a bobber can be deadly. Fish all live bait right down along bottom, and probe all potential holding locations from as many different positions as possible.

One or two casts usually doesn’t work. Sometimes an angler can fish a hole or run for an hour before the presentation is dead perfect, and the fish may or may not hit. Cold water makes steelhead lethargic, but persistence can pay off.

It’s a short blog tonight. Tune in again tomorrow night.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/17 at 09:22 PM
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