Sunday, May 31, 2009

Map A Lake & Catch Some Fish

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R.J. Doyle of Mecosta was running his boat as we checked out Portage Lake a couple of years ago. This lake, with its easy access to Lake Michigan, is rich in game fish species and appears to have a strong forage base.

“What do you think,” he asked, as we left the ramp and headed toward the channel leading out to the big water. We followed a long flat out almost to a point, and the bottom dropped off into deeper water.

“Think there might be some fish along this dropoff?”

I agreed there should be but wanted to see what the rest of the lake looked like. I’d fished Portage Lake often many years ago during the early days of the salmon program, and for whatever reason, had not returned. I want to check it out because it once had a great autumn salmon fishery, and we wanted to refresh our memory in the event we returned in September.

The channel had 11-12 feet of water near Portage Lake but the water got shallower the closer we came to Lake Michigan. A guy in a big boat came churning into the channel, coming directly at us, and we moved to avoid him, and was almost herded into the rip-rap along the pier. The idiot finally spotted us, moved over to the other side of the channel where he belonged.

“There doesn’t seem to be any cover in the channel,” I said. “Let’s go back into the lake again and move south along the shoreline. We need to check that out, and we can troll some lures while we check out the bottom contour and water depth.”

We both wanted to try the lake, and had neither of us had any great expectations, but hoped to come back in the fall and catch a few salmon. We left the channel, entered Portage Lake again, and headed south. R.J. had on a Vampire-colored Rapapa, and I had on a small Shad Rap, and that allowed us to cover two different depths while moving at a slow troll.

The boat was just 200 yards from the channel when his rod started bucking, and it pulled the in-line planer board directly behind the boat.  There was a healthy splash behind the planer board as I reeled in my line, and gradually he worked the board close enough to the boat for me to release the line.

“I think it’s a pike,” he said, with no proof except one of those gut feelings that anglers often get. We’d been working the edge of a weed bed, when the strike occurred. Two minutes later the fish rolled to the surface and he was right.

“I’ve caught lots of pike and they have a particular style of fighting the rod, and this just felt like a decent pike,” he said. “Slip a net under him for me.”

The net was already in motion, and we quickly landed a gorgeous 8-pound pike with the beige kidney-bean shaped spots against a green background. It was our first fish of the day but it wouldn’t be our last.

We soon discovered a strip of deeper water down the middle of the lake with weeds on both side, and soon I brought an under-size northern pike to the boat and released him. We sparred with dozens of rock bass, with a fish or two about eight inches long although most of them were much smaller. All were quickly released.

We started to troll the edge of another weed bed not far from the boat launch ramp, and R.J. had let out his lure on a long line, attached the line to the in-line planer board and was running it out to the side, when he had another strike.

We both heard the line peel off the reel, and he was on the rod like a house cat on a stray mouse. A deep bend in his rod, and more line ripped off the reel.

We both looked up at the same time, and watched a silvery fish bounce into the air, smash back into the lake, and rip off on another short run.

“Brown trout or steelhead?” he asked. The fish was 50 yards away, and as I thought about it, the fish went into the air again. This time it was a bit closer to the boat, and although it was a chrome-colored fish, we both said “brown trout” at the same time.

He fought the fish well, and soon I unhooked the planer board from the line, and the fish was still a good distance away. He headed off on another run, wallowed on the surface, and with painstaking care, Doyle eased the chunky fish to the net where I scooped it up.

“He’s about eight pounds,” Doyle said. “Look at how silver and pretty he is. He may have planned to summer here in the lake, turn a golden brown, before spawning next fall.”

The sky clouded up several times, and each time the potential rain fell inland from us. And then the sun would come out. And we worked a shoreline drop off hard without a single strike. It seemed all of the fish were weed-related on this day.

We hooked another fish we thought was a brown, but it was on and off, just that quick. Another pike was landed, another dozen or so rock bass were boated and released, and one yellow perch was caught.

The lesson from this enjoy few hours on the water is to spend some time mapping out a lake before fishing. Look for sharp drop offs, sand bars, shallow flats, weed-lined channels, and other structure that should hold fish. And the biggest trick of all is to work the structure in a logical fashion. In this case we had to fish near the weeds but not in them.

It had been over 30 years for me since the last time I’d fished Portage Lake, and I guess we did a pretty good job of figuring out where to find fish. If only all lakes were this easy to figure out

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/31 at 04:00 PM
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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Blogging The State’s Best Fishing & Hunting

The above title makes a strong statement, and writing blogs has been a major part of my outdoor life for near six years.



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. 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 also may sense a touch of anger, animosity, joy, humor, sorrow or other human emotions.

My feelings on a wide variety of things are never far from the surface nor am I afraid to speak my mind on a variety of different subjects.

 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 in some wild place. You’ll note, hopefully with 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 in the past. There are some missing ones that were lost when hackers took me on, but there are enough back issues to keep you reading for a long time..

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

 I invite you to walk with me when we go into a bear swamp for a hunt, and what is even more fun, when we walk out of that same swamp in the darkness. Don’t look for any fluff or bike riding and kayaking tales here. You can go elsewhere to find that stuff. Here, all you get is hook and bullet reading along with an occasional environmental piece.

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 and Spider lakes, 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 an upright sitting and shooting position during the January season? 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 and bracken ferns before quickly plummeting to earth before we can swing and shoot? 

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



Fishing and hunting has been a major part of my life for more than 60 of my 69 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 to do so. There is a deep driving desire to write, and a need to share my love of fishing and hunting with my many readers who have followed my 42-year writing career. 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 television game shows or sit-coms have my 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. And tell your friends, neighbors and relatives about this website. Thank you!

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/30 at 02:03 PM
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Friday, May 29, 2009

Chasing The Outdoor Dream

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The dream began sometime late last night. Many of my dreams are remembered, and some are savored and occasionally one will haunt me for a day or two. This one was weird but true, as are most tales of fishing dreams from the far north.

My dreams often deal with fishing or hunting, and the odd thing is that many are dreams about things I have experienced sometime in the past. Last night’s dream was from 27 years ago and it’s as vivid as the photo above. It was my first trip where Arctic char were available, and it was a wonderful week spent catching the occasional Atlantic salmon and char.

There was Ed Murphy from Sports Afield magazine, a man I’d sold many magazine articles to. He and the late Doug Knight, a freelance writer, and I were fishing at Bobby Snowball’s camp at the mouth of Quebec’s Tunulik River. Mind you, the Tunulik literally throws itself over a waterfall about 300 yards up-river from salt water, and the stream gradient from the falls to the salt is steep with haystacks of standing white water.

I was accustomed to sight-fishing for visible fish, and Arctic char were our quarry. A few Atlantic salmon were mixed in with the char, and it took a heavy Dardevle to get down to the char holding at the edge of the fast water.

Bobby Snowball, an Inuit from Quebec’s Ungava Bay region spoke fluent English as he met the plane. I’d made all the arrangements for the three of us on this trip, and he escorted me up the dock to the cabins where we would sleep. Children were throwing balls, and one of the balls bounced off a dead Inuit woman laying on the ground beside my tent.

“Uh, Bobby,” I asked, trying not to be offensive but needing to know, “what’s up with the dead woman?”

“Oh, that’s my mother,” he said. “She died three days ago and we’re waiting for an airplane to come in and take her back to town. Hopefully, she will go out tomorrow.”

The fishing was nothing short of sensational. Large orange-colored fish held below the falls in the rushing white water, and by casting into the falling water and feeding six feet of slack line into the cast, the Dardevle was soon wobbling past their noses. Every tenth cast or so, a char would peel out of the group and savagely maul the lure.

These fish are uncommonly strong, and when swimming downstream, it took them 20 seconds to peel off line and make it to salt water. On the hook-up, I jumped from rock to rock (some as big as a single-story house), and to say I was leaping like a gazelle would be wrong. I felt more like a young hippo, and it had to have been a roller coaster ride for the fish.

Of all the char we caught only one jumped and it was at best a feeble attempt. However, the fight on 10-pound line was as tough a struggle as any angler could hope to experience. If a 12-pound char and a 15-pound Chinook salmon were tied tail to tail, the char would drag the salmon to its death. There is no give-up in their fight, and once we reached salt water, the fish were still full of energy and every fight turned my wrist into a weary joint that became more weakened by the day.

The Inuit were a quiet but fun-loving group, and when we stopped for shore lunch, I soon learned to cook my own lunch of Arctic char. Bobby and his friends and neighbors would fare well at today’s sushi bars. Their fish, wrapped in tin foil and tossed into the fire, weren’t even warm in the middle when they began eating. We decided to cook our own fish, and the red flesh was delightful when cooked until done but not overcooked.

One fish would feed Knight, Murphy and me, and once we began cooking our own, we were soon hooked on the delicate taste.

One sea-run brook trout was caught and I tangled with and landed two Atlantic salmon on spoons but they were returned. The Inuit told me they were legal to keep, but legal only for the Native People and not for visitors. For us, if one could be caught on a fly, it would have been a legal catch.

This particular trip was recalled in its entirety last night, and relayed here. The fishing was next-door to the best I’ve ever seen, and there is something haunting about watching herds of caribou migrate by within 50 yards while we battled fish with flanks the color of orange-pineapple ice cream.

And, best of all, the elderly dead lady vanished from outside my tent wall late the second day and I mentally wished her a safe journey, and I slept like a baby that night while dreaming of crimson-sided wilderness fish.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/29 at 04:20 PM
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Three Phases Of Fishing

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The years between 11 and 35 are difficult for me to recall because I was a gluttonous angler. It’s hard for me to admit.

I was mired in the first two phases of trout fishing. Lots of fish and big ones, and the bigger the better. Bragging-size fish made me feel good, and I’m ashamed to admit it but that’s how it played out back in those days many years ago.

The first stage was to catch as many trout as possible. The second phase was to catch the largest possible trout. So, there I stood in my old Hodgman waders: wanting to catch bunches of big fish, and they were so plentiful in the 1960s and early 1970s that it became very easy to catch lots of big salmon or trout.

Doing so was easy. Much too easy for a good fisherman like I was back in the day.

No brag, just fact: I was a very good stream fisherman. I could catch fish, lots of them and some very big ones, when no one else was doing much good. My methods were 100 percent legal, and the difference between me and 99 percent of the other anglers on our rivers was I knew the river intimately, paid attention to locations of holding fish, tried new areas on a regular basis and learned to obtain the best drift to work my fly to big fish.

My vision was good in those days. Spotting tiny seams of current made putting the fly to the fish on the first cast, and an unspooked fish often hit the first time you cast to it.

Spring and fall steelhead? No problem. Fall brown trout with fish to 15 pounds? It was as easy as sitting down in an easy chair. Chinook and coho salmon? No sweat. Lake trout were even available in the Leland River in those early years, and until they shut the river down to fall fishing, it was possible to easily catch five fish without a problem in October.

Mind you, 35-45 years ago there were far more of all these grand game fish, and before you think I was a game hog by bragging about my exploits and limit catches, consider this. Ninety-five to 99 percent of the time I didn’t keep a trout or salmon. All these big fish were released. It was almost like a personal ego stroke.

Everything was hooked, fought hard and fast, and was quickly released. The fishing seemed so easy, especially after fishing every day, that in many cases while guiding anglers, I’d go looking for more fish for my clients. It was an excuse that allowed me to look for the hardest fish to catch.

My idea was to look for a salmon or trout buried back in under a log jam, behind a large rock, tucked under a nasty sweeper, and those were my daily challenges. Fish out in the open on spawning beds offered little challenge but I’d put my clients on them. I wanted my fish to have all the odds stacked in their favor, and then if it was possible to catch one, it became a feat that make me feel good.

This was the challenge. Going after the most difficult fish in the river became a part of almost every day on the river.

The fish in those days, and especially before 1974 when the DNR put in their fish harvest weir on the lower Platte River, the runs of fish into the Platte were incredible. There was a bonanza of salmon and trout available to anglers that simply staggered the imagination. Most people who fished back then were content to snag fish in the deep holes, and most never found scads of big fish in small pockets of water.

Today’s anglers have trouble contemplating the vast number of fish available in most streams during that era. To say the rivers were almost awash with fish wouldn’t be too much on an exaggeration.

There were days in the late 1960s and early 1970s when a limit (five fish daily at that time) of big brown trout were possible for at least 30 days. The males were golden brown with great hooked jaws, and the big males were often mistaken for carp by clueless anglers. Seldom would they be set straight because we were running a guide service in those days, and the location of such fish were important to us.

One spot I never told people about featured a sweeper that had toppled into the river. The tip of the tree almost touched the far bank, and the current had dug a two-foot-deep hole under the tip. Every brown trout in the area wanted to spawn in that spot, and since it was so snaggy, most people got up on the bank and walked around it.

Seven days in a row would produce a limit of returned fish, and they ran from seven to 15 pounds each. Not convinced?

The Platte River had a run of fall-spawning rainbows. They spawned in only two spots, and I knew where those areas were. The males would be 22 to 24 inches long and weighed 12-14 pounds. I tried to convince the Cadillac DNR fisheries biologist that they existed, and he told me they were salmon.

I caught a spawning male and female the next day, carried them up to a 100-gallon cooler filled with cold river water in my car, and I drove both fish to Cadillac. I had to shame the biologist to get him off his can and out to my car, and asked him to pick them up, one at a time.

Any pressure on the hen’s belly produced a stream of golden orange eggs, and the male would produce a steady spurt of milt. He then wanted to know where they were being caught and I refused to tell him. I told him it was his business to get out into the field, and learn what was going on. I felt I’d given him enough clues over the length of time it took me to convince him that I’d found something very special .

I once was hunting grouse near Otter Creek, just a few miles north of the Platte River mouth, and found that tiny stream full of salmon. It had been open to fishing for years but when I told the biologist about it, the creek was closed the next year. It was too small to fish but snaggers and spearers had a great time after it was closed to legal angling.

The nearby Betsie River was amply supplied with big brown trout runs, and a favorite spot then was at the upstream end of the US-31 bridge south of Benzonia and on the north side of the river. Brown trout held there from late August or early September through November, and most people walked right past them as they headed upstream toward the old Homestead Dam.

It’s not that the upstream area held any more fish. It’s just that this was where other people were fishing, and anglers, being gregarious folks, gravitated to areas frequented by other anglers.

We were always content to take the path least traveled, the one that no one else fished because they didn’t know it held fish. As a guide, it was my place to educate them ... after they paid the daily guide fee.

The fall months from early October through November provided a smorgasbord of brown trout and salmon and steelhead action. Most of my anglers in those days could care less about catching browns, fall steelhead that followed the salmon upstream to feed on free-drifting eggs, or the fall-spawning rainbow trout.

They wanted salmon, and there was no shortage of chinook and coho salmon in those days. I could walk people into different areas every day, and they could catch a limit. In fact, some found this fishing too easy and wanted a greater challenge. That’s when I began sharing my passion for a fishing challenge with other people, and it was great fun.

Less anyone think I’m making this up there are still some photos in my files of those bygone days when salmon and trout were so plentiful that it sent a fishing guide looking for a greater fishing challenge.

I experienced something that was wondrous and exciting for 10 years, but when the allure of massive catches and 100 percent release began to pale, it was time to shift into the third stage of trout fishing: where the challenge and the leveling of odds began to fall in favor of the game fish.

Now, I still seek that ultimate challenge. And like those outdoor magazine art directors and editors I dealt with years ago often said: “I’m not sure what I want but I’ll recognize it when I see it.”

I now recognize that what we had all those years ago was something very special, and if one is lucky, they may experience it once in their lifetime. Those days were truly unforgettable!

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/28 at 05:23 PM
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

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Studying the history and the high points of a person’s lengthy career can be an informing and somewhat behind-the-scenes look into that person’s life.

It has been my great good fortune to have been given a great and wonderful gift from my longtime friend, the late Gordie Charles, of Traverse City. This gentle and kind man was a rare breed; he gave more than he took from his outdoor life.

He told his wife, Dorothy, as he lay dying, that he wanted me to have his files and papers from over 55 years of outdoor writing. Years ago, my late friend Ben East of Holly, made the same gracious gift after his death.

Each man left behind a treasure trove of Michigan history concerning fishing and hunting in this state. After having sifted through it, and gathered what seemed important from a written standpoint, it is my task to make a contribution of the remaining material to the Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor in their name.

Ben East kept voluminous files, notes and published book manuscripts and newspaper articles. Gordie Charles did the same. All but three file drawers of East’s material has been donated, and all but 10 boxes of Gordie’s stuff has been donated to the same research library.

Gordie’s files covered the gamut of fishing and hunting, as well as resources management, in this state. Reading through his notes, and his newspaper columns, adds still another dimension to this multi-talented man.

He was well known for his puns and his corny jokes, but he also was a man deeply in love with the outdoors. In fact, he was so captured by the beauty of nature that he vowed as a teen-ager to write a future column for the Traverse City Record-Eagle newspaper.

That he not only did that, and did a wonderfully fine job of it, he also syndicated a newspaper column to 50-some state weekly newspapers, wrote magazine articles and still had time to research and write six books.

How does one measure value? If going through these old files of men like Charles and East, there is nothing of monetary value to be found. What is valuable, although it is not tangible, is a close-up look at the history these men helped record for the enjoyment and protection of Michigan’s natural resources.

I found numerous things in Gordie’s files that have been returned to the Charles family such as family photos that had been lost or misplaced. What isn’t needed by the family, or by me at this moment, was donated to the Bentley Historical Library.

Some files, from a historical viewpoint, are rather important to me at this time. I have permission from both families to keep these files until my death at which time all of my files (and theirs) may be donated to the same research facility.

There they will join the files of Charles, East, Harold (Opie) Titus, of Traverse City, an editor for Field and Stream magazine; Jack VanCoevering, outdoor writer for the Detroit Free Press; and Corey Ford, an U of M alumnus and well known outdoor writer and the author of many books.

These files now give me a look at what has gone before. It allows me to determine the thinking of the Department of Conservation, the forerunner of today’s Department of Natural Resources, about topics that affect our resource management and the fish and game we seek.

It allows me to learn about different fish plantings that were tried but failed, such as the grayling and kokanee salmon. They let me know what the collective thinking of sportsmen were in earlier generations, and let me compare them to what the current thoughts are now.

It also enables me to determine the effectiveness of biologists from an earlier period against those of today. The differences, in most cases but with some rare exceptions, indicate that earlier fisheries and wildlife biologists were in much closer contact with sportsmen than they are now.

I’ve sifted slowly through Gordie Charles’ files for nearly a month with the blessings of his late wife, Dorothy, and some files have gone on to Ann Arbor. Others will go after I’ve spent more time examining them.

Gordie Charles was as all outdoor writers should be: a man with an inquisitive mind, a willingness to dig deep for a story, and to put our resources ahead of everything else. The stacks of correspondence lauding his work far outweighed the few crank letters sent by people with some axe to grind.

I see Gordie as a man who was born at the right time to do what had to be done to help protect our resources. I, for one, appreciate his hard work and the unique genius of this man who spent his adult life writing so that others could enjoy and better understand the outdoors.

Going through old files, and studying such history, must make me an historian. Hopefully, it also will make me a better writer ... even after plying my trade for 42 years.

It’s when we stop learning that we stop being effective outdoor communicators. I am still learning, thanks to these gifts from other outdoor writers.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/27 at 05:14 PM
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Water Quality Affects Our Fisheries

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Mind you, being almost 70 isn’t old when you consider my father lived to be 94 year of age. He saw so many new and exciting things happen during his lifetime 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.

The river was banned because of heavy metals, but some of the old river rats who fished it daily and ate walleyes several times a week seemed healthy enough after eating high-level meals of walleyes for many years.

It’s been about 25 years ago since the Tittabawassee River near the dam below Dow Chemical plant in Midland was shut down because 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 game fish species were too contaminated to eat. The paper I worked for finally agreed to let me conduct tests on Lake Erie walleyes caught near the Detroit Edison plant near 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 mush for 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 the fish, and it took two days to catch our 20 fish (we 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. I don’t know any who do.

Numbers, such as the alphabet group of chemicals and the heavy metals like lead and mercury, 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 future 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 05/26 at 03:34 PM
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Monday, May 25, 2009

We Must Remember & Never Forget

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The parades are over, our flag flew proudly in today’s breeze, and people have gone home. But will they always remember and never forget the meaning of this day?

One wonders if the United States of America has as many patriots as during other war years? Are there as many patriots now as those men and women who stood up to be counted in the weeks and months following Pearl Harbor?

Are there as many patriots now as those hardy souls who fought and died on those frozen wasteland mountains and ridges between North and South Korea when we fought that miserable and dragged-out battle? And less we forget, how about those armed forces who fought and died for their country during a tour of duty in the steamy jungles of Viet Nam a generation ago?

There should be more because more people live in the United States now than did back in those days of 30 to 65 years ago. But it makes one wonder when people sit at ball games and hockey games when someone sings our National Anthem instand of standing at attention, hat off, and hand on heart.

I believe each of us can have and voice an opinion about that mess we are mired in in Afghanistan and Iraq. We may disagree with our personal opinions while respecting each others’ rights to state their personal thoughts and opinions. After all, freedom of thought and speech is one thing our armed forces have fought these wars to protect.

Our men and women have fought and died to help those things that some people take for granted.

I also believe that each person in this country should take pride in our flag, stand with hand over heart, as the red, white and blue goes during parades on a day like today. I feel we should sing our National Anthem with a strong clear voice and a deep sense of pride. Our Pledge of Allegiance is not something to be taken lightly by anyone in this country.

My thoughts concerning political parties, as well as religious preferences, are a private thing I choose not to discuss. One way of proving our freedom is in our right to vote, and those who do not vote can hardly criticize anyone’s performance while in office. Those of us who did vote—for or against the current and past administrations—have that right.

Voting is a precious thing. It is the democratic way. It is something we should cherish and cling to. It is something we must strongly believe in, for if we stop believing in our country and our right to vote, it’s quite possible someone will try to take those privileges away.

My grandson served a tour of duty in Iraq. He was lucky: he came home with all his body parts and no injuries. Unless one counts those that may be locked away in his head about which he never speaks. Is he a victim of this war, too?

How about those of us who stay at home, and pray for the return of those who go to war. We waited, and hoped never to look out the window to see an official U.S. vehicle pull into the driveway bearing the most horrible of news.

Sadly, that happens to people we know. Any death in combat deserves our attention and our tears.

We all know someone who has suffered that gut-wrenching experience of deep loss. The death of a loved one, whether in a car wreck or some middle-east hell-hole, is something no one should experience. Sadly, it occurs every day as someone gets notified on a war-related injury or death.

I strongly believe in this country, and what it stands for. I may disagree with the reasons why we are in such places as Iraq, but my country is better than any other country on earth. It is why I love and deeply respect it.

I believe in the role of our military but disagree on why they are there. I pray for the safety of our troops, and thank them daily in prayers or in person for what they’ve done for us.

My enemies are those who were responsible for 9/11, and those who wish to impose this brand of terrorism on innocent people. Saddam Hussein paid dearly for his crimes against humanity, but there is no way his death could ever replace what he and his goons did to their countrymen.

So our troops continue to fight, and some will die, to allow those of us at home to retain our freedom and independence, and the right to a democratic way of life. They also have lived and died so others who live where they died could be free from oppression.

Those who would defile our flag and what it stands for, and gloat over the pain and misery and death they have inflicted to people of their homeland and the United States and our allies, are no friends of mine. They are our enemies.

Today, tomorrow and every day for the rest of my life, I shall thank those who went into harms way for their supreme sacrifices. I thank them personally, and thank them publicly from this daily weblog, for being there and for going to war to protect the ways of this great nation.

Never will I forget their many sacrifices nor will I ever forget those cowardly acts of terrorism on 9/11, a day of infamy when many of us were struck dumb by visions of planes being deliberately flown into large buildings.

We were naive then. Such tragedies made patriots of people who hardly knew the meaning of the word. That infamous day, much like Pearl Harbor, will live forever in the hearts of people who believe in this country and what it will always stand for.

I am a patriot. I love my country, and the men and women who make us strong. How about you? Will you pray for the souls of those who have died, and will die, to keep our nation safe from the evil of our enemies?

I spent time in the military, and even at the tender age of almost 70, I would still fight to protect your rights and mine if the situation called for it. Today is more than a holiday, a picnic, and time for friends.

It also is a time to remember, and to vow that you’ll never forget those who have fought and die for this country.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/25 at 06:32 PM
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Sunday, May 24, 2009

I’m Buying Fishing & Hunting Books

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The email came. It was terse and to the point.

“I got fishing and hunting books,” the writer wrote. “How much will you pay for them?”

I had no clue what I would pay because the woman didn’t list authors names and titles of any of her books. My email was also short and to the point.

“Maybe I’ll pay you $200, perhaps more, and perhaps less,” I wrote. “I need to know what you have and what kind of condition the books are in. Where do you live and can I see the books before committing to a purchase?”

Back came her quick response. It was even more terse. Conversational skills or writing didn’t seem to fit her personality.

“Traverse City. Yes.”

I quickly learned how this game was played. Keep it short.

“When, where and phone number.”

Five minutes later, she emailed back. “Tuesday, 2 p.m. Here!” An address was included.

I went that day at that time, knocked on the door, and showed her my drivers license. She looked at me, the drivers license, and said: “Doesn’t look like you. Got more ID?”

I rolled up both shirt sleeves, and on one arm are my initials and a sailer tattooed on my forearm, and the other (don’t ask why) is my first name. That did the trick.

“C’mon in. Have a seat. The books are in boxes. Should be easy.” She was as terse as Ernest Hemingway at his best.

Several boxes were there, and I started going through them. I had two questions: “Are all of these for sale? Is it necessary to buy them all?”

“Yes” and “No. My husband passed away and I need to get rid of them but want to make some money.”

I’m flipping through titles while murmuring my condolences for her loss. She settled back, lit up a smoke and watched, grayish-blond hair trimmed fairly short. She appeared to be in her ear;y 60s, and I kept looking through boxes of books.

Some good stuff and some pretty sad-looking titles. It appeared to be an average batch of books.

Three books were pulled from the first box, and then there were five more. A few had the sour smell of mildew to them. She said that “some books stink a bit.”

She was as right as rain. Three more out of the second box met my interest, and on to the the third. More mildewed books and only one decent title that didn’t smell bad.

“You know your stuff,” she ventured. I nodded that I do, and she seemed content with the silent answer.

The fourth box was a miniature gold-mine. Only three books were of interest but they were good ones. Not worth a great deal of money but a good way above the five-to-ten-dollar average of the other stuff.

“Anything good in this mess,” she asked in her wordiest sentences yet. “It appears as if you’re finding a few books. Am I going to make some money?”

“Yes, you’ll make some money,” I responded. “How much depends on what else I find. So far, if these books are clean and nice on the inside, we may be up to $150 right now. There are still three boxes to go.”

The fifth box contained mostly mildewed books and titles with ripped covers, broken spines and underlining on some pages. A couple of books that I showed her would have been $50 books if they hadn’t got mildewed and some kid hadn’t used them for coloring books.

“I’m sorry,” she said, looking downcast. I was sorry, too.

The last box was what book-buyers always hope to find and seldom do. All the books were newer, and someone had taken good care of them. There were only a half dozen decent titles in the box but all were books I needed for my personal collection.

I’d picked out 16 books from all the boxes. I went through each title, checked the copyright date, flipped all the pages, took off the dust jacket and looked at the covers and spine, and checked to see if the spine was cracked or if the books and pages were cocked, or the text highlighted or underlined.

None showed any damage and all passed muster. Now came the test if she really wanted to sell her books.

“Do you have any idea of what you want for these 16 books?” I asked. “I will be honest in my dealings with you.”

“Are they worth $200,” she asked, quietly and hopefully.

“Yes, they are worth that much to me,” I said. “In fact, if it’s OK with you, I’ll pay you $300 for the 16 books and offer you some free advice.”

“I’ll take the money first,” she said. She was paid and the money quickly disappeared. “What’s the advice?”

I told her that she should dump all the mildewed books before they affect the other titles. I separated the bad books from the good for her, and suggested the mildewed books be set out at the curb for garbage pickup.

I took one of the two good boxes, and put my books in them, and then shuffled her bad books into another two boxes, and with her consent, carried them to the curb. I piled the other good books on her table, and suggested she get clean dry boxes and package up what books remained and store the books in a cool dry location and not on a cold or damp cement floor.

She thanked me for buying the books, told me she appreciated the money and the advice and my work, and was sorry she didn’t have any more.

I thanked her, walked to my car, and she gave a soft little wave in farewell, and turned away, crying. I suppose it was hard to dispose of her husband’s fishing and hunting books but she needed money.

But ours was a sad farewell. And now for a heartfelt message to my many readers.

As you go through spring cleaning in the attic, barn, basement, spare room or storage space, take a long look at stored books. Mildewed books are worthless. Underlined or highlighted books are next to worthless, as are books that have missing or ripped pages or missing the covers.

I’ve bought and sold fishing and hunting books (which is all I buy) for more than 40 years. It’s impossible to stay in business long if you cheat people. I pay an honest price for books, usually pay cash, and am fair. I know what I want and need, and know what I don’t need or can’t use.

Let me take a look at your fishing and hunting books (no magazines) and I will make a fair offer. Email me at < > and tell me what you have, where you live, and that information will remain private. You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/24 at 06:19 PM
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Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Best Fishing Lake In Michigan?

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Looks can be most deceiving, just like book covers. Manistee Lake is a classic example that a lake doesn’t need to be pretty to produce fish and big ones.

This lake, or to be more accurate and technical, is really a drowned river mouth rather than a true inland lake. It gathers the waters of the Manistee and Little Manistee rivers before they flow through the channel and out into Lake Michigan. The fish grow big in this lake, but the shoreline and its industries are visually challenged. And, believe it or not, the lake and its buildings are 100 percent better looking than they were 25 years ago.

The lake’s aesthetics leave something to be desired, but everything is set right by the fact that Manistee Lake might be one of the state’s more productive fishing waters. That fact might be argued by some, but the lake produces everything from big bluegills to walleyes. It offers some wonderful northern pike action, superb walleye sport, and almost every other species of game fish is reasonably abundant. It’s obvious this lake is a fish factory.

It is known for big fish. Several of the largest game fish of my lengthy angling career have come from Manistee Lake. It produced an 18-pound steelhead years ago, a 32.5-pound chinook salmon, a 5.5-pound smallmouth bass, a 13.5-pound walleye ... ah, the list of trophy fish could go on and on. The lake is a winner.

The lake really comes into its own when the ice goes out, and it keeps getting better during spring, summer and into the fall. Salmon and steelhead are seasonable (spring and fall) game fish, but big specimens of other species are available anytime during open water.

Make no mistake about it and don’t forget this: Manistee Lake can be treacherous. The lake is filled with deadheads, submerged logs, a mucky silty bottom, and sudden changes in depth. Dangerous areas are off both river mouths, and where wood slab docks are found on the bottom and wood pilings poke up through the water. The wood stick-ups are difficult if not impossible to see after the sun goes down.

The lake has an excellent resident population of northern pike. These game fish have two color phases: one is greenish with light-colored kidney-shaped spots, and the other is what we used to call silver pike. The latter fish often move into Manistee Lake from Lake Michigan in February and March, and they have a silvery hue and grow to 20 pounds. They spawn in the spring, and few of these silvery are caught by anglers these days.

The best (but not necessarily the safest) area to fish ais off the delta of the Manistee River where it flows into Manistee Lake. East Lake, a small village on the east side of the lake, and only a short distance from the Manistee River mouth, is a hot spot. Most fishing is done off the dropoff in 15-20 feet of water along the deep-water edges of weed beds.

Another hot spot is down off the Little Manistee mouth, but check detailed regulations on where to fish. Read the detailed information for Manistee County before fishing off the Little Manistee River mouth.

Once a pike takes the bait, and the tip-up flag waves in the breeze, allow the fish to run with the minnow until it stops. Wait, and when the pike starts moving off again after swallowing the minnow, set the hook and be prepared for a fight with a potentially large trophy fish.

The slabdocks along both sides of the lake are great locations to try for smallmouth bass. Walleyes are found along the shipping channel, along the first dropoff out from shore, and off the points and sandbars with close proximity to deep water.

It’s possible to be skunked on Manistee Lake, I suppose, but I’ve fished it often since 1967, and have been skunked only once and that was when I was fishing for jumbo walleyes in August. I couldn’t find the fish that nice, but many other days and nights of fishing have made up for one bad outing. If I were to choose just one Michigan lake to fish for a variety of game fish, it would be Manistee Lake at Manistee. It’s that good!

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/23 at 08:03 PM
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Friday, May 22, 2009

The Memorial Day Weekend: Boom Or Bust?

The Memorial Day weekend could give us our first clue whether the current state economy will make people head north for the weekend. Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s seems to think it might happen but many people aren’t quite as sure.

With so many people out of work, and a high percentage of them trying unsuccessfully to find a paycheck, it begs the question: will anglers pay $50-80 to fill up their car tank, and then spend that much or more to fill up their boat as anglers greet what may or may not be a profitable tourist season.

Personally, there weren’t many people during the early steelhead season, the regular trout opener, the turkey season or the Upper Peninsula walleye opener. I’ve seen very few anglers since the ice went out except for some locals who are fishing near home.

Where are the tourists that once set cash registers ringling? Where are those people who buy live bait to fish in area lakes and streams? Will Michigan’s northern state parks be filled?

The last question is certain to be a resounding “no.” Many campsites around the state have been closed due to budget cuts.

I’m an optimist but it’s hard to see how tourism, especially anglers, will be here in large numbers. It’s just too expensive to travel very far to fish in today’s economic meltdown.

Everything with the exception of bass in Lake St. Clair and a few others will be open to anglers this weekend. Some locals will fish near their home, and I suspect that will be true for most downstate anglers. I see many anglers fishing within 30 miles of home, and even closer. I don’t expect many people will go ripping around the lake at high speed this summer.

Most may stay home, and save the high price of gasoline. Think about it: gas is flirting with $2.50 per gallon now, cheaper than last year at this time, and many people (including me) drives an older gas guzzling SUV. I can get 18-20 mpg if I drive sensibly, which I do, but others with big towing vehicles don’t do as well.

People can complain all they want, but I see more and more people driving small cars with out-of-the-area plates on them, and they drive as if they are imitating a race car driver. They roar past my Jimmy like I’m standing still. The smaller cars, in my opinion, are death traps and I don’t care to play in that sandbox.

Michigan’s economy under the current administration is a colossal mess. Our DNR, once the pride of this state and the nation, is nearly bankrupt along with the rest of the state government, and it seems to be sinking fast.

Do Michigan citizens and out-of-state visitors deserve a bankrupt state economy, high fuel costs and a rising unemployment rate? Do those of us who have worked long years deserve to have their pensions cut as businesses move out of state or go belly-up, even with a bail-out program? Do politicians need to make as much money as they do while many others hang on the edge of choosing between costly prescriptions or food on the table?

The answer to these questions is blowing on the wind. Look at the Dow Jones average, which was, a year ago, at or very near its highest point in recent history. Then came the crash and other woes. How is Michigan benefitting from the mess we have? The true answer is we aren’t! We continue to fall behind even as prices continue to rise.

We live in one of the most beautiful states in the nation, and our economy is one of the worst in the nation. How many jobs have been lost, in and around Traverse City alone, because businesses pulled the plug and moved elsewhere.

Where else in this nation can we go where a major natural resource such as water continues to be sucked out of the ground to fill plastic water bottles. The pittance that is paid for that water is shameful. What, pray tell, will happen when Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas decide they want their share of the Great Lakes? Should we pipe it to them?

I’m an old curmudgeon, and damn proud of it, but it’s very difficult for me to follow the financial gymnastics of our state and federal governments. How can the common man learn anything about budgeting their money or fiscal responsibility when this state and nation can’t budget their money.

Me, I feel sorry for our natural resources and those businesses that once relied on anglers and hunters to make a living. If I was a legislator in this state, I’d be ashamed of myself for allowing this mess to happen.

I believe if this weekend is a bust, it would be easy to assume the rest of the summer may follow suit. And for those who live in this state, that will be another crushing blow to our battered economy.

Where will it end? It may end when citizens learn to demand more from their legislators than they’ve been getting.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/22 at 05:03 PM
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The Memorial Day Weekend: Boom Or Bust?

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The Memorial Day weekend could give us our first clue whether the current state economy will make people head north for the weekend. Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s seems to think it might happen but many people aren’t quite as sure.

With so many people out of work, and a high percentage of them trying unsuccessfully to find a paycheck, it begs the question: will anglers pay $50-80 to fill up their car tank, and then spend that much or more to fill up their boat as anglers greet what may or may not be a profitable tourist season.

Personally, there weren’t many people during the early steelhead season, the regular trout opener, the turkey season or the Upper Peninsula walleye opener. I’ve seen very few anglers since the ice went out except for some locals who are fishing near home.

Where are the tourists that once set cash registers ringling? Where are those people who buy live bait to fish in area lakes and streams? Will Michigan’s northern state parks be filled?

The last question is certain to be a resounding “no.” Many campsites around the state have been closed due to budget cuts.

I’m an optimist but it’s hard to see how tourism, especially anglers, will be here in large numbers. It’s just too expensive to travel very far to fish in today’s economic meltdown.

Everything with the exception of bass in Lake St. Clair and a few others will be open to anglers this weekend. Some locals will fish near their home, and I suspect that will be true for most downstate anglers. I see many anglers fishing within 30 miles of home, and even closer. I don’t expect many people will go ripping around the lake at high speed this summer.

Most may stay home, and save the high price of gasoline. Think about it: gas is flirting with $2.50 per gallon now, cheaper than last year at this time, and many people (including me) drives an older gas guzzling SUV. I can get 18-20 mpg if I drive sensibly, which I do, but others with big towing vehicles don’t do as well.

People can complain all they want, but I see more and more people driving small cars with out-of-the-area plates on them, and they drive as if they are imitating a race car driver. They roar past my Jimmy like I’m standing still. The smaller cars, in my opinion, are death traps and I don’t care to play in that sandbox.

Michigan’s economy under the current administration is a colossal mess. Our DNR, once the pride of this state and the nation, is nearly bankrupt along with the rest of the state government, and it seems to be sinking fast.

Do Michigan citizens and out-of-state visitors deserve a bankrupt state economy, high fuel costs and a rising unemployment rate? Do those of us who have worked long years deserve to have their pensions cut as businesses move out of state or go belly-up, even with a bail-out program? Do politicians need to make as much money as they do while many others hang on the edge of choosing between costly prescriptions or food on the table?

The answer to these questions is blowing on the wind. Look at the Dow Jones average, which was, a year ago, at or very near its highest point in recent history. Then came the crash and other woes. How is Michigan benefitting from the mess we have? The true answer is we aren’t! We continue to fall behind even as prices continue to rise.

We live in one of the most beautiful states in the nation, and our economy is one of the worst in the nation. How many jobs have been lost, in and around Traverse City alone, because businesses pulled the plug and moved elsewhere.

Where else in this nation can we go where a major natural resource such as water continues to be sucked out of the ground to fill plastic water bottles. The pittance that is paid for that water is shameful. What, pray tell, will happen when Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas decide they want their share of the Great Lakes? Should we pipe it to them?

I’m an old curmudgeon, and damn proud of it, but it’s very difficult for me to follow the financial gymnastics of our state and federal governments. How can the common man learn anything about budgeting their money or fiscal responsibility when this state and nation can’t budget their money.

Me, I feel sorry for our natural resources and those businesses that once relied on anglers and hunters to make a living. If I was a legislator in this state, I’d be ashamed of myself for allowing this mess to happen.

I believe if this weekend is a bust, it would be easy to assume the rest of the summer may follow suit. And for those who live in this state, that will be another crushing blow to our battered economy.

Where will it end? It may end when citizens learn to demand more from their legislators than they’ve been getting.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/22 at 05:03 PM
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Think Like A Muskie To Hook One

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There is something incredibly fascinating about muskie fishing. There is always a bit of the unknown: when will a fish may strike, what it might hit, will it be hooked or not, and will it hit a Figure 8 or J-stroke alongside the boat? The list of questions is virtually endless.

One thing always holds true. There are two major rules muskie fishermen always live by. The fish will hit or they won’t.

However, there always is that jolt of adrenalin as a lure wobbles near the boat and then a long, rapier shape appears behind the lure. Keep that lure moving at all times, Thrust the rod into the water as the lure is worked in a continuous Figure 8 or J-stroke in hopes of teasing the fish into striking. It seldom works for me, although I well remember a day on Ontario’s Lake of the Woods when a 25-pound muskie came out of nowhere to hit the lure. He was soon landed and gently released.

One thing I think I’ve learnedd is that muskies that follow a lure for long distances seldom hit. They hover six or eight feet from the lure, staring balefully at the lure, and then sink out of sight. There are, as is true with most things, an except to that rule. All that means is the a fisherman can expect the unexpected from a muskellunge. The trick to this fishing is to try to think like you think a muskie should behave.

One thing I’ve learned is that many muskie strikes that occur near the boat are from fish that zoom up from deep water, and slam into the lure as if they haven’t seen food in a month. Such boat-side strikes are a thing of wonder, and it’s wise to maintain a good grip on the rod at all times but be prepared for this type of strike at the end of every cast.

Make certain your reel drag is set tight but not so tight that the fish will break the line, leader or snap swivel on the strike. A fisherman needs the reel to grudgingly give a bit but it should be tight enough to bury the hooks in a bony jaw.

Finding muskies is a matter of exploration. On a lake that one has fished many times, we often know where home is for some muskies. The fish tend to favor certain spots, and if a good fish is hooked and kept, it’s a certainty that another big fish will move in to fill the void in that location.

It’s those new and foreigh lakes where we have to go exploring that offer a huge challenge, mostly because we’ve never fished them before. Early in the spring it’s smart to fish between the weed beds and shore. Look for shallow black-bottomed back bays where the water warms fast. Such locations are prime areas for spawning fish, which almost always are big females, which should be released.

Fish the shallow and deep-water sides of points jutting out into the lake. Fish the deep-water edges of a point, and never ignore submerged weed beds. Look for rocks and boulders in deeper water, and later on as the water warms, fish the deep-water edges of weed beds.

Muskies during cold weather may hover under docks or moored boats. Both provide shallow-water cover for the fish. The most important thing to do on a strange lake is to prospect and try all the key spots as noted above. And then, try some of the spots that haven’t been mentioned. It’s occasionally possible to catch a fish in an area where the fisherman has never seen a muskie before.

Experiment with different lures and fishing depth. The fall is the time for large lures because the fish are fattening up for winter. Spring and summer are the times for slightly smaller lures, and I favor dark-colored lures at this time of year.

If anything is predictable about these game fish, it’s their unpredictability. If you locate and see a fish follow your lure, and it doesn’t hit, try a different lure in a different color, and use a different retrieve.

If that doesn’t work, get out of the area, and return two or three hours later. Here, anglers are divided over whether to use the same lure that provoked a follow or try something entirely different. My choice is to try a different lure. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t.

Remember, these fish are unpredictable. It often pays to try something the fish has probably never seen before. It’s always possible to fall back on the old tried-and-sometimes-true methods that have worked in the past.

Just don’t bet the farm on it.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/21 at 06:47 PM
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When Lilacs Bloom Bluegills Are Bedding

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Paddling around in a canoe on a lake is great fun when three things occur. There must be some weight in the bow or you are comfortable kneeling or sitting in the middle to balance the weight to keep the bow from swinging.

The second thing is we always hoped the wind isn’t blowing from the take-out point. Otherwise, we fought the wind clear across the lake, and that’s not fun.

The obvious third thing is for the bluegill spawn to be on, and the fish biting. I’ve never seen a time when ‘gills are bedding when they weren’t biting, especially those pugnacious males trying to protect their spawning bed.

There’s a small lake I know of within 25 miles of Traverse City, and about the time the lilacs bloom (right now), the bluegills hit the shallows and fan a saucer-shaped spawning bed. Hit the jackpot, and the bottom will look honeycombed with these hard-bottomed beds.

My rod of choice is a fly rod with a fly line matched to the weight of the rod, a leader of six to eight feet tapered down to a two-pound tippet.

To this I tie a black, green or yellow sponge rubber spider with four or six tiny legs made of rubber bands. Rather an ugly little piece of work, but the bluegills could care less. It looks intrusive, and the males smack it to drive the thing away from their spawning redd.

Some fly line was shook out through the guides as the spider trolled behind the canoe as I sculled within easy casting distance of two or three spawning beds. I quietly laid the paddle on two life cushions, made one false cast and shot the spider to the closed bed.

The male must have seen it coming because it arrowed up off bottom, sucked in the spider, and I again thrilled to that sideways pull on the line. Bluegills, if they grew to the size of chinook salmon, would be impossible to land. This little squirt, all five inches of him, was released.

Another cast to another nearby redd, and the same thing happened again. The male sunfish rose and sipped the spider off the surface like a 10-inch stream trout taking a Hendrickson during a hatch. He fought his little heart out but soon rod pressure wore him down and he too was release.

I sculled the canoe to a place where my twin brother George and I always fished. It always seemed to have at least one 10- to 11-inch bluegill in the area. There were few beds, and few fish, but one bed held a likely looking fish.

Canoes work fine for this in-close business, and I was quiet lifting the paddle from the water and laying it on the cushion. I bent low to avoid an upright silhouette, and pitched the spider on top of the big fish.

It sat idle, and the bluegill didn’t move but I knew he knew it was there. Twenty seconds passed, and the fly line was twitched and the spider moved an inch.

Its little rubber band legs quivered like something alive even as the spider lay motionless. My fancy new polarized sunglasses spotted the fish moving toward the surface, cautious and in need of more convincing.

A quiver of the rod tip caused the spider to move again, and this pug-nosed bull bluegill inched closer. The spider lay dead in the water, and a bit more realism was needed so I twitched the line again.

That’s all it took. This big fish nosed up, opened his mouth, flared his gills and the spider disappeared. The rod tip came up softly to salute the fish, and the battle was joined.

Big bluegills fight like all bluegills do but this one simply fought harder than most, and even with two-pound tippet, a ‘gill that turns broadside to the pull of the line will make the canoe move toward him.

He moved away, and we were connected with an umbilical cord testing two pounds. The fish finally tired, lay on his side, and he was eased across the surface. Just as I reached out to lift him from the water, the spider fell free.

He lay motionless, unsure whether he was free or not, righted himself and swam off. It was the best fishing trip I’ve had in a month, and I may return for another try.

Chances are good he will have spawned, but there’s always the chance another fish will be willing to come out to play.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/20 at 02:49 PM
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lakes & Rivers Need A Clean-Up

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Many years ago, during my 1967-1976 guiding career, I often spent a great deal of time looking for new fishing hot spots. Knowing where steelhead held from one day to the next made it easier to find fish for my clients, most of whom were from out of state.

An elderly gentleman had granted verbal permission that allowed me to cross his land to fish one of northern Michigan’s better steelhead rivers. One year, just before the April 1 opener on this stream, I sauntered across an open meadow carrying only a landing net as I scouted for opening-day trout.

Two hours later I crossed the meadow agaom with the net over my shoulder. A man stood in the elderly gentleman’s front yard staring at me. As I walked closer to the road he came across the field to meet me, and from his body language, he didn’t look friendly.

“Do you realize you are on private property?” he asked in a surly tone.

“Yes sir, I sure do.”

“Then why are you obviously breaking the law?”

“I’m not breaking any law. I have permission to cross this field. The gentleman in that house granted me permission many years ago.”

“That man was my father. He just passed away, and he never gave anyone permission to cross his field.”

“I’m not trying to turn this into an argument but your father gave me permission. He trusted me, and knew I wouldn’t damage his land in any way.”

“Well,” the younger man said with some belligerence, “that may have been true with Dad but it’s not going to be that way with me. People walk across our property and throw all kinds of trash around. Man, looks to me like you love your beer. That landing net is filled with beer bottles and cans.”

“Nope, don’t drink beer at all. Can’t stand the taste of the stuff, and never could. However, I do pick up beer bottles, cans and other trash, and that is why your father gave me permission to cross his land.”

The son looked at me, at all the trash in my net, shook his head in amazement and sighed: “OK, you win. Just keep picking it up.”

That place was a 10-year hot spot for me because I had the only way in and out of it, and I made my guided fishermen pick up any trash they found. I never had any trouble crossing the field after that.

This has been a long, drawn-out way to lead into what has become a critical issue on most of our lakes and streams. I fished Green Lake once last winter, and picked up 30 pounds of garbage left laying about on the ice. There were bait containers, beer bottles and cans, and paper bags and waxed paper left over from sandwiches. Empty Fritos bags were blowing in the wind.

My twin brother used to organize clean-ups on the Betsie and Platte rivers many years ago. George had the help of a local Boy Scout troop, about two dozen people who volunteered every year, and that was it. One firm donated lunch, and a trash hauler agreed to leave dumpsters at strategic locations for volunteers to dump their boat-loads of garbage into so it wouldn’t be cluttering up the land and water.

Sadly, very few of the many thousands of people who fished these rivers pitched in and gave a day of their time to help clean up the rivers they loved to fish. Instead, many continued to toss their cardboard nightcrawler container on the bank, walk away and others would walk past and never stoop to pick it up. The very people who love our lakes and streams usually are the first ones to foul their own nest.

Litter is a major problem. We live in a society deluged with paper and plastic. Recycling can work if people take time to separate their trash, but if they won’t do that, they won’t pick up after themselves on our waterways.

Here is a sobering thought. Back in the mid-1960s, the Platte River was a narrow winding stream from M-22 downstream to Lake Michigan. In 1967, when the first spawning coho salmon ran up the river, people launched boats at the M-22 bridge and motored downstream and back up at half throttle. I’ve seen people going 30 mph on the Platte River with the prop just under the surface and a huge roostertail of water shooting 15 feet in the air. They tossed their garbage into the water and on the banks, and never thought twice about what they were doing to the environment or how they were eroding the banks.

Look at that same stretch of water today, and it is much wider than ever before. Erosion has eaten away at the river banks and the current flows much slower than it once did. It’s true the lower Platte River still produces some fish but the entire ecosystem has been structurally damaged or destroyed.

Go to any of the hot spots on the Betsie River. Let’s use the water immediately below the old Homestead Dam as an example. Trails nearly a foot deep are beat into the muddy bank, and by April 1, the litter in that area is frightening. Monofilament hangs from trees, cardboard worm boxes are found everywhere, and anglers who tie three dozen spawnbags and carry them in a plastic bag often throw that bag on the ground when they stop fishing.

Like it or not, anglers and hunters are just like most--but not all--of today’s society. Slob behavior can take many forms, and to throw away stuff that others must pick up later is just one form of such rotten outdoor behavior. Our lakes and streams are too precious for us to treat them so shabbily.

Campers and hikers have a basic philosophy that anglers should learn to follow. If you can carry it in, carry it out. Leave nothing behind but footprints. Take away nothing but memories. It’s a philosophy all anglers could live by

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/19 at 03:27 PM
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Monday, May 18, 2009

Don’t Run Afoul Of This Turkey Problem

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There is a problem that occurs every year somewhere across the country, and hunters seldom hear much about it. Fortunately, this situation doesn’t happen to very many people.

It does occur after a hunter has set for a long period or time, or even for just a few minutes, and a gobbler comes strutting in to the call. The shotgun bead or a scope’s cross-hairs centers on the base of the head where the head and neck meet.

A shot is fired, and the hunter jumps up. Most sportsmen eject the empty shell, chamber another shell, push the safety on, and reach down to heft their longbeard for a closer look at the bird and his lengthy beard.

Grabbing turkey legs quickly can be a serious mistake, especially with older birds. The bird may be dead but twitchy nerves may keep the wings flapping and legs jerking.

Spend much time in the south where hunters were hunting turkeys for many years before Michigan sportsmen held their first modern-era turkey hunt, and you’ll soon learn about this problem by looking at enough turkey hunter’s hands.

Examine the palms and lower arms of enough turkey hunters and you’ll encounter some who look like they got in a knife fight and was the only person without a knife. Those, most likely, are not scars from knife wounds.

They are scars inflicted by a dead or dying gobbler. It usually happens with older birds, those monarchs of the oak ridges. These are the grand old gobblers of 3 or 4 years of age.

Gobbler spurs (also known as hooks) continue to grow as the bird gets older, and spurs of one-inch to 1 1/2 inches are fairly common on old gobblers. How sharp are they?

They can easily slice through exposed skin and even a hand wearing brown jersey gloves. A bird may be presumed dead, and still its legs are kicking and wings are flapping. Or, a hunter may get to the bird quickly before it dies, and it may start kicking or trying to run even though it is being held upside down.

Hunters who are keen on having a good gobbler mounted in a flying or strutting pose try to keep the bird from knocking all the feathers off the breast and tail. They pin the bird down by standing on its head and neck, and grabbing the bird by both legs.

This solves the problem of the bird beating the feathers off but it lays the hunter open to serious injury. Two or three rapid kicks with its strong legs can loosen the hunter’s grip, and as the legs slide through his hands, the knife-like hooks can carve up hands and arms.

Head-neck shots are almost always fatal but it doesn’t mean the gobbler dies instantly. It also doesn’t mean the bird can’t kick or try running.

Many hunters use one knee on the chest or back and one hand on the head and neck to hold the bird motionless. If possible put one boot-clad foot on both turkey legs to hold them down, one hand on the neck, and the other hand on the wings.

A properly placed shot often means the bird dies instantly, and this is obviously what the hunter should strive for. That way there is no flopping about and no human injuries.

For most birds, holding them down just takes a few seconds and once the bird is still, it is usually OK to let go of the gobbler.

A popular photo is of a hunter with the bird being held by the legs. The bird hangs over the hunters shoulder, and the hunter grins at the camera. All outdoor magazines use this type of photo, as have I, and it explains the mood of the hunt.

However, the hunter’s hand is dangerously close to the hooks. One final burst of energy by the bird could rip up one hand or arm, and cause serious injury.

Don’t be premature in taking this photo. Make certain the gobbler is stone-cold dead, and carefully position the bird for the photo. Position the bird so the beard is clearly visible.

Now is the time to get your picture. Hunters who have been slashed with long spurs tell me the healing process is long, and a good bit of blood is lost when you are hooked.

Think safety while hunting, and concentrate on safety once the bird is dead. Don’t become a victim of a gobbler taking some final revenge. It is not an enjoyable part of the turkey hunt.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/18 at 07:21 PM
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