Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ways To Prevent Seasickness

imageIt’s a malady that can knock a grown man to his knees faster than a sucker punch, and it’s the type of thing that can happen to anyone, at any time. It can strike young and old alike. It’s called seasickness, and we’re rapidly approaching the open-water fishing season.

My buddy was deep in the throes of this marine illness. He was gut-wrenching seasick. Knee-walking ill. Puking his guts out. A feeling of dizziness overwhelmed him. His face was pale, perspiration dotted his forehead, and he was sucking air like a person having run 1,500 meters at 10,000 feet. He was in sad shape.

We were only 10 minutes out of port on Lake Erie, and the boat was bouncing and rolling in five-foot swells pushed by a stiff northwesterly wind that was blowing the foam off the top of the whitecaps. Five minutes after reaching open water, he was hanging over the rail while I kept him somewhat upright by grabbing his belt and hoping his buckle held.

All this didn’t make him feel any better. In fact, it made him feel even worse but I was trying to keep him from pitching head-first into the rolling foam-flecked waves.

“Oh, God, I’m sick,” he sputtered, vomit dripping off his chin. “How long will this last?”

The skipper, unsympathetic as most are to those people who are afraid others will think they are a wimp if they take medications to prevent getting ill, said: “It will last until I turn this boat around and drop you off on shore.”

Bob’s ongoing vomiting brings truth to an old saw often told by ancient and modern mariners—when a person first get seasick, they are afraid they will die. After a prolonged bout with seasickness and the dry heaves, they are more afraid they won’t.

This is how Bob felt until we took him back to shore. Five minutes after his feet touched dry dirt, and he kneeled to kiss the ground, he experienced a miraculous five-minute recovery.

Seasickness can affect anyone, at any time, and its causes are many and varied. The only sure cure is firm ground beneath your feet, and even then, nausea or queasiness in your guts can linger for hours. That one sure cure would mean never going fishing on big water.

What is seasickness, and how can it be treated? I’ve never (the sound you hear is me knocking on wood) been seasick, although I’ve had a mighty upset stomach on several occasions. What causes the illness is hard to determine exactly although there are many guesses as to its causes.

Boating sickness is another name for this malady. Motion sickness is another. It can occur in a car, boat, bus, roller coaster, or Ferris wheel, airplane ride, to name just a few. Motion upsets the middle ear, which helps humans maintain their balance or equilibrium, and this sets up a feeling of exaggerated movement within the body. Rough water isn’t the only thing that can make people feel ill.

One major triggering factor in seasickness is fear. Few people will readily admit to their friends that they fear the water, but deep down inside, they may be very uncomfortable being on big water, regardless of the boat size or the skill of the skipper. They subconsciously think about the boat tipping over, them being thrown overboard, and they become nauseous and ill.

This part of it is all in their head. They manage to talk themselves into getting sick, and this is the one thing over which they do have a certain amount of control. Put on a life jacket, tell your friends you are a weenie, and go fishing and quit thinking about the waves, the motion and the queasiness in their guts.

What an angler or boater eats or drinks also can trigger seasickness. What a person thinks or hears also can do a nasty job on those people who may be on the cusp of becoming ill.

Heavy drinking of alcoholic beverages before a trip or during a boating excursion is another cause. A booming morning hangover after a long bout on the juice also can lead to a naval disaster.

Certain foods are known to precipitate a bout of motion sickness. Orange, grapefruit or other citrus juices are high in citric acid, which can help trigger seasickness. Avoid tomato juice as well, and apple juice can make some people very sick.

Little or no sleep will do a number on most people prone to this problem. Too much coffee or soda pop are major factors that lead some folks to becoming sick on the water. Eating fried eggs, hash browns and bacon or sausage for breakfast, and then chasing it down with a large OJ, is a great recipe for on-the-water barfing.

Sometimes, even talking about motion sickness makes people ill, and some old salts who never get seasick seem to take savage delight in talking about the illness. I once watched a father talk about getting seasick, and he talked his son into leaning over the rail to upchuck his breakfast.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I told the father. “Sometimes that kind of comment will come back to haunt you.”

His son recovered, and then the Old Man got sick. He got zero sympathy from his kid or me. Keep such comments to yourself, and it will make for a more pleasant fishing experience for everyone.

Impending seasickness is quite easy to spot. The victim usually begins to sweat and often feels nauseous. Gradually, skin color becomes pale or white, and cramps hit the abdomen.

Sucking noises are often heard as the victim tries to take in enough air through the mouth to offset hyperventilation and to ease stomach cramps. The next step – nausea—usually continues until the stomach is emptied and dry heaves set in.

It’s not fun for the victim. And frankly, bystanders never enjoy watching the results of this malady in other people. It can be somewhat contagious, and if one person gets sick and throws up, that action often results in others doing the same.

What can be done to prevent seasickness? Numerous over-the-counter medications such as Dramamine are available. One or two pills should be taken the night before a trip and one should be taken at least 30 minutes before leaving the dock. Check with a doctor to see if Dramamine or any other motion sickness pill is right for you.

Don’t take anti-motion pills after becoming ill. They may prolong the sickness. Scopolamine, an anti-motion sickness medicine, is released slowly into the skin through a behind-the-ear patch, and it works for many people when properly used. The patches are obtained with a doctor’s prescription. It’s recommended that a patch be applied the evening before a boating or fishing trip.

If you start feeling ill, start doing some boating chores. Don’t sit motionless and hope the queasiness will go away. It won’t. Don’t go below and sit in the head (bathroom) because that will only aggravate the problem and make things worse.

Rig tackle, watch other boats, study the rods or look at the distant shoreline or the horizon. Stand in the fresh air, hopefully with the breeze in your face, and breathe deeply. Don’t inhale gasoline or diesel exhaust fumes, and try not to sit or lay down. It will only make matters worse.

Avoid unpleasant odors. A lack of ventilation and close quarters can combine to trigger an attack. Never go below decks or lay in a V-bunk if seasickness strikes. Stay out in the fresh air, and remain upright if possible, and look at the horizon. Another trick is to never look down at the deck or down at the water.

Try eating dry bread, gingersnap cookies, lemon drops or mints. Eat slowly, try not to swallow air and concentrate on something other than a queasy stomach. Do not drink milk, alcoholic beverages or soft drinks. Bottled water and mints are good to rinse out a mouth after vomiting and the mints freshen the mouth and relieve some of the aftertaste of this sickness.

Seasickness can strike anyone, anytime. I’ve been lucky, but someday I’m sure my time will come. Hopefully I’ll be able to follow my own advice, and conquer the problem before it overwhelms me.

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/17 at 09:50 PM
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dreams Of Big, Evil-Looking Muskies

imageIt’s already started. A dream came wandering through my brain last night, and there I stood, knees braced against the stern, and a rod bowed almost double from the force of a big muskellunge. It was taking line, and then began circling back to stare at me with an evil look on his toothy shovel-shaped face.

The dream had some basis in fact, and it was three years ago when I first fought and lost a huge Lake St. Clair muskie that wouldn’t come up off the bottom for the longest time.

Muskie dreams are just what they are: dreams of big nasty-looking, toothy fish. Most dreams have some basis in fact, and occasionally my muskellunge dreams contain combined elements from two or three different unforgettable fishing experiences.

What causes these dreams? Beats me, but I suspect it comes from thinking of fishing for them.  Two years ago, I tipped an old buddy—Larry Ramsell of Hayward, Wisconsin—off to a Michigan hotspot I’ve known about and fished for 30 years. I couldn’t go because I was recovering from one of many eye surgeries, so I gave him a clue.

The general locale was the St. Marys River in the eastern Upper Peninsula, which encompasses a large chunk of watery real estate. He and two others fished the first day and caught a 42-inch fish.

The next day one man landed and released a small fish, another one hooked and lost a large muskie, and then Ramsell nailed a 53 1/2-inch muskie that weighed approximately 45 pounds, and they missed my hotspot by 30 miles.

Ramsell is a great muskie angler, and perhaps the most savvy of all. He recognized good muskie water, and fished it hard and caught fish.

A photo of Ramsell and his trophy fish appears above, and I’ll probably dream of it tonight. However, to illustrate how fickle muskie fishing can be, Ramsell returned the following year and never caught a fish. A cold front moved in, and he and I fished in high winds and rain for two days without having a strike.

The odd thing about muskie fishing is the reason we fish for them. It becomes a personal quest for a trophy fish. The above fish isn’t Ramsell’s first 40+-pounder, but very few fish of such honest sizes will tip the scales that far. He admits that the quest, the enduring search, for an even larger muskellunge is what drives him and many others to travel widely and to fish often for a larger fish.

Satisfying that quest does occur, but not for everyone. I’ve hooked three or four 40-pounds in many years of fishing for them. The trick is to fish all the known big-fish waters but never fail to try other lesser-known lakes. Nearby Long Lake undoubtedly holds 40-pound fish or even larger, but very few are landed. Most are hooked by accident by people fishing for other species, and invariably the fish breaks off and gets away.

Years ago, I boated a big muskie on Dale Hollow Reservoir, on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. That fish weighed 36 1/2 pounds, and it is the biggest muskie I’ve landed. But this type of fishing is an itch that always needs scratching.

The only thing that relieves the itch is to go again. And always, lurking in the darkest corner of our brain, is the thought of our biggest muskellunge. A quest to top that fish, and not necessarily to keep it, is what keeps us pounding the water when others have quit.

The Lake St. Clair fish I hooked three years ago was never seen. Fish hooked while trolling, and this holds true with big fish, is the muskie will stay deep. It may roll on the surface toward the end of the fight, but they normally stay down until they get wore out.

My unseen fish hit a down-rod on the corner of the boat, with the lure in the prop wash, and it ripped off yards of line. We cleared other lines, and that fish and I tussled for more than 20 minutes. I’d move it up off bottom, and down it would go again, and take out more line. Back and forth we went until I could sense the fish tiring, and it rolled under the surface where it was impossible to see the length and girth, and then it rolled again, and the lure came free.

Then there was a muskellunge hooked while fishing after dark. The lake was Murphy Lake in Tuscola County. Me and another guy were casting huge plugs that sputtered along on the surface with gurgles and small splashes from our muskie-size Hula Poppers and Jitterbugs.

“Blub-blub-blub” would come the sound as we retreived the surface lures with an occasional pause. My partner got a big backlash when his lure was near the boat, and a big northern muskie chose that moment to strike the lure and it broke the line.

An hour later as we lamented the lost fish I had a massive jarring strike. I’d worked for an hour on those hooks, and they were razor sharp. That fish hit, and I pounded the hook home twice. That fish took out 30 yards of line, and I played her with a cool hand.

Even at that, the fish was a monster. One develops a sense for big fish after hooking a number of them, and I’d triggered that fish quick and hard. It was hooked well, and I played it under the light of a moon. Nearly 20 minutes into the fight, the fish ran toward the boat, rolled over, splashing us with water and we came undone.

I suspect the prolonged fight and the big hooks wore big holes in that fish’s jaw, and when it rolled, the heavy lure fell out, and the giant muskie swam free.

I remember another big muskie that followed a Suick twice in three days on Wisconsin’s Tomahawk Lake. It looked half as long as the 16-foot boat but I know it wasn’t quite that big, but it was well over 50 inches long. Could it have hit that magical weight of 40 pounds?

Perhaps. My buddy from Wisconsin, who had seen and caught several large muskies, estimated the fish at 55 inches and at least 45 pounds, perhaps more. That ‘lunge still appears in the my dreams.

Another time on Ontario’s Lake of the Woods near Kenora, I had a savage strike at boat-side from an unseen muskie. The fish had missed the plug as I lifted it out for another cast.

The next thing I knew there was this enormous muskie camped three feet behind my Bobbie Bait. I kept the lure moving, plunged the rod into the water at the boat, and kept it moving. That fish followed it through several Figure-8 and J-stroke rod movements, and then it sank slowly out of sight without offering to hit the lure.

How big was it? I had caught a brief glimpse, and it was well over 55 inches. Was it one of those legendary 60-inch fish? Beats me, but I know I saw that fish in my dreams for two or three years. Writing about it now may bring the dream back to life again.

Years ago, Craig Lake in the Upper Peninsula was a hotspot for big muskies. It was a small lake, hard to reach at that time, and motors were not allowed. A good man on the oars could row around the lake easily in two hours.

A buddy was fishing a spinnerbait when a muskie struck at the fast-moving lure and missed. I pitched a Suick over there, and the fish bulged the water behind the lure but didn’t hit. I applied rod-tip English to the lure, and it followed the lure all the way to the canoe. That fish probably weighed 40 pounds but we’ll never know.

Later that day a buddy caught a muskie weighing 25 pounds at the other end of the lake. It would have been dwarfed by the earlier fish.

I’ve been privileged to have caught a great number of muskies in my life. I’ve missed some very big fish, hooked some truly huge fish, and lost all but the Dale Hollow muskie, and it remains my largest so far.

Will Lake St. Clair produce something big this year? I honestly don’t know. It produces plenty of big fish, and several 40-pounders have been taken and several fish much larger have been seen. Luck, and being in the right spot at the right time, are what anglers need.

It is very difficult to crack that hallowed 40-pound mark, and although a few do it each year, it is not a common situation. Granted, on occasion a novice will catch a truly big fish by accident or good fortune, but for dedicated muskie hunters, nailing a 40-pounder is why we chase these grand game fish.

And, if we crack that mark, we’ll go for a 45-pounder. It’s an incurable addiction.

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/16 at 12:01 AM
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Monday, June 15, 2009

Bugs In The Air & Bugs On The Water

imageIt’s almost time for the big brown trout to turn on after sundown. It happens this way almost every year once the Hex hatches end.

The night turns hot and close, and silent daggers of heat lightning dance across the blackened sky. Everything is silent except the murmur of the river current tugging at your legs or gliding with a soft hiss under the riverboat.

If you are placed just right, and are tossing just the right fly, sometimes from out of nowhere comes the rapier-like strike of one of the rivers biggest brown trout. There are people who fish only after dark, and although I do fish during the day, there’s something about casting a big streamer, large floating bass bug or even a more colorful streamer to these big fish. Some folks also enjoy working a hole or run with a four-inch Rapala or Rebel and fairly stout monofilament.

One of the most exciting methods is to use big streamers. Large Muddler Minnows, Buzzsaw and other hefty flies are cast quartering across and downstream, and literally ripped through the water. You’d think this type of hard-and-fast streamer fishing would spook a wary brown trout. Often, it’s just the opposite.

I’ve talked with several people who have stood under a full moon or a partial moon, made their cast, and began stripping line hard. They tell of large wakes that follow the streamer, and on occasion, those big trout will hit and nearly wrench the rod from your hands.

Four of us floated the AuSable River one evening, and one of the anglers hit a big fish. The take sounded like someone had thrown a big dog in the river, and the fish ripped off line, rolled on top several times, headed upstream and back down, and there was no controlling the fish. It slipped the fly after nearly 10 minutes of nonstop action.

This is no place for dainty rods and light tippets. Anglers who practice this method (it also works during the day) know just how much work it is. The constant casting, and stripping of line, becomes very tiring but some people can do it all night. Not me!

I used to fish the Sturgeon River years ago when it held some good trout, and I liked a big, white, hairy deer-hair mouse. It stuck out like a big sore thumb on a dark night, and even I could see it. I’d cast across and downstream, mend the line to obtain the longest drag-free drift as possible, twitch it once or twice, and then cast again.

The neat thing about this method was the strikes were visible, and very few fish under four pounds were hooked. The largest that I recall was caught by the late George Yontz, who owned the old Hillside Cabins just north of Wolverine many years ago. His fish, if my memory holds true after all these years, weighed 13 1/2 pounds.

The Sturgeon River browns, back then, were either silvery fish that ran upstream from Burt Lake or the great golden-brown fish with big hooked jaws and a kype as big around as the smallest joint on your little finger. Some kypes were an inch to nearly two inches long.

One other method was practiced on these big fish. Casting a medium-sized Rapala or Rebel quartering across and downstream, and let it dive and wiggle on a tight line. Once the current carried the lure across stream until it hung directly below the angler on a tight line, the rod tip would be jiggled two or three times.

Some walleyes were in the river at times, and it was easy to determine which fish was hitting the lure. A walleye would tap-tap-tap the lure as it swung in the current, and hit softly once it finished its drift. A big brown trout would hit the lure hard, and a strike could come at the end of the drift or as soon as the lure hit the water.

The trick, regardless of which method was used, was to wade down two or three stretches of river in the daytime. Learn where it was safe to wade and where it wasn’t. Getting caught in too much current, or tripping over submerged debris, could make night fishing adventure far more interesting than most anglers would like.

Hot, muggy nights were usually the best. The mosquitoes would be on the prod, and any exposed skin would provide a meal.

But hooking a six-pound or larger brown trout after dark is just about as much fun as a fisherman can have while wearing waders. There were a few very special nights where two or three big fish were landed, but most people considered hooking one big fish a rare treat.

Put them back, and try for it again next year. Those big fish aren’t very good to eat, and they deserve to be caught more than once. Fooling the fish, and enjoying the battle, is what brings us back year after year.

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/15 at 12:01 AM
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Fish-Fighting Option

imageFighting and landing big fish is an acquired talent, and becoming skilled at doing so means doing it often. Two schools of thought exist: go with light line and play the fish to total exhaustion over a long period of time or fight the fish hard and fast, and release it alive and healthy.

What follows can apply to fish caught from the Great Lakes, inland lakes or streams. Anglers have two basic options: the soft touch, long fight and a dead fish or the alternative, a quicker and harder scrap that doesn’t sap all of a fish’s strength.

My preference is the hard-and-fast rule. Fighting a fish to a quick finish is like fighting a man: a stiff punch in the nose can settle a fight quickly between two humans. Fighting a big fish operates on somewhat the same theory: hitting them hard and fast can break their spirit and result in a faster end to the tussle.

Yeah, I know, many people want a big-fish battle to last a long time. They feel the longer the battle continues, the more excitement they receive.

All of this is true, up to a certain point. Some people agree wholeheartedly with my fight-’em-hard philosophy and just as many probably disagree. That’s fine, but since this is my article I’ll argue the fine points of why beating up on a game fish is best—if that fish is to be released alive!

The light-line, the short limber rod or long noodle rod angling methods are wildly popular. Many such anglers practice catch-and-release. Noodle rods and light line were (and still are) very popular, and there is no arguing that this method does produce an exciting fight and perhaps more hooked fish.

I proudly own three noodle rods and treasure them highly after their many years of trouble-free use, but some light-line fans differ with me on several points.

The old light-line, noodle-rod gang often fought big steelhead and salmon to a standstill on two- and four-pound line and set numerous line-class records. Some of those anglers also released a great number of fish.

The problem was that those river-fishing people would tie up a river hole for long periods of time as they wrestled with those big fish on light line. The extended battles didn’t set well with other anglers. The light-liners kept others from fishing that hole during the duration of their epic struggles.

If fish are to be kept, I have no problem with this angling philosophy and encourage it as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of other fishermen. However, if a person plans to release a 15-pound steelhead or a 20-pound king salmon after a long fight on light line, many of those fish will soon die because of lactic acid buildup in their muscle tissue. Once lactic acid builds to a certain critical level, and this varies from one fish to another, death is almost always just a matter of time.

My method may seem a bit harsh and perhaps a bit heavy-handed but the majority of my salmon and trout are returned to fight again or to spawn. This is not an advocacy column for catch-and-release: it’s merely my opinion, and differences are encouraged as long as they are kept on an open-minded and rational basis.

Once my fish are hooked, the fight is immediately carried to the salmon or steelhead. I never allow a fish to sulk on bottom in a deep hole. That fish is always kept in continuous motion.

If it swims to the left, I pull it to the right. If it goes right, I pull to the left. If the fish jumps, my practice is to pull it off balance. If it tries to go upstream, it is pulled back downstream to the limits of the line being used. The fish is never given a chance to rest.

For every action, with my fish-fighting method, there is an equal and occasionally more severe opposing reaction. I don’t brutally manhandle a fish, but I work it hard and keep it off-balance.

I remember steelhead fishing back in the mid-1950s at the old More Trout Incorporated dam on the East Branch of the AuGres River. A guy hooked a steelhead with 10-15 other people nearby, and he allowed the hooked fish to sulk without moving. If he pulled back on the rod tip, the fish would pull in the opposite direction, and nothing else would happen. The fish was resting.

Me, being a loud-mouth kid, yelled “Make that fish work. You’ll be here all day and all night fighting it like that.”

The kid apparently felt he was tying up the hole for everyone else (which he was), and he started to carry some muscle into this fight with the fish. It responded in similar fashion, and five minutes later the fish was landed, amid wild applause from nearby anglers. Break the spirit of a fish or a man, and the battle is quickly won.

It’s the breaking of a fish’s will that enables the fight to be settled rather rapidly. Fish are not accustomed to being pulled off balance, and that is just one trick. Getting below the fish, and making it fight both the rod and the river current, is another fish-fighting tactic that can pay big dividends.

It’s my personal belief to not keep fish, and that is particularly true with spring-spawning steelhead or fall-spawning salmon. I’ve had many situations where I’ve fought a 10 to 15-pound spring steelhead, and landed and released it in two or three minutes. I’ve landed numerous 20-pound or heavier river salmon in five minutes or less. It can only happen when you beat up on the fish and quickly break their spirit.

I once hooked a summer-run Skamania steelhead below the old Homestead Dam on the Betsie River. The fight didn’t last 30 seconds. Mind you, the water temperature was in the high 70s, and the date was July 4, and the warm-water conditions and 30 seconds of fighting killed that steelhead.

That, I can assure you, is not common except for Skamania steelhead because they are a wild but short-lived fighter. Often, the first few wild jumps in warm water would kill the fish.

Is it more dignified to fight a fish for a long time on light line or to make short work of it before releasing the fish to fight again? All I know is that my method works, and has been used for many years. It is, however, an acquired talent that requires practice and some lost fish.

It can work well on big salmon or steelhead in the Great Lakes, but know this: if a fish is hooked in deep water, and is fought rapidly to the surface, that fish will probably die whether properly released or not. The rapid ascent through the water can weaken the fish in many different ways, and often, such fish are incapable of going back down and are eaten alive by sea gulls. Perch caught in deep water often are landed with their air bladders out of their mouth. They cannot be returned and be capable of surviving.

My method relies on knowing precisely when to upset the fish’s balance, when to tip if over during a jump, and when to give line to keep from breaking the fish off. Occasionally I’ll lose a fish, but I’d rather lose one a minute into the scrap than after 15 minutes of a back-and-forth tug of war. Give me one jump, and I’m satisfied because I don’t need to kill a fish just to prove something to myself or someone else.

A few people have accused me of not showing due respect to the fish, and that is too bad. I believe that a released fish should still have some spunk left rather than being listless and rolling upside down in the current as it tumbles downstream to a certain death. I also believe in holding a fish upright and facing into the current until it can swim away under its own power.

Which method is best suited for you? Whichever one you choose is fine by me. I happen to be a great believer in the freedom of speech. I will gladly respect your right to dissent as long as you extend an equal respect for me to voice my opinion.

Bottom line: what works for you is fine and what works for me is fine. The whole thing is about angler pleasure, respect for the fish and the environment in which it is found, and any returned fish shouldn’t be so whipped that it will not survive.

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/14 at 12:01 AM
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Saturday, June 13, 2009

What’s In A Name?

imageWhat’s in a name? It depends on how anglers and hunters use the name to communicate with other sportsmen. Names can and do play an important role in how we feel and think about the outdoors.

They may remind us of a favorite trout pool with mist rising off it or a secret woodcock covert where white splashings cover fallen leaves, and names often play a major part in identifying where we fish or hunt.

Mind you, I’ve been banging around the outdoors for well over 55 years. During those years I’ve learned some things about a good many places, and it’s fun to talk about these different spots to like-minded sportsmen with our special name codes. Of course, other folks may have developed their own names to confuse other anglers or hunters.

The Platte River has long been one of my favorite salmon and trout streams. I guided fishermen on it and several other streams in our northern counties for 10 years, and have fished it for nearly 50 years.

The Platte has many local names that help anglers pinpoint specific locations. For instance, the old Rope Hole, just upstream from the mouth, was the first spot salmon and steelhead would pause on their way upstream to spawn. It was known by this name by many anglers.

The Hole Where It Never Rains was a hotspot until the outlaws began going under the M-22 Bridge to snag fish. The conservation officers also knew where this spot was, but few people had the knack of fishing it.

The trick to fishing this hole was to wait until broad daylight. Any fish in the hole at dawn would stay there. Those people who went under the bridge in the dark would spook the fish upstream or down. The hole would be empty of fish at dawn if anglers tried fishing at night.

There was the Goose Pasture (also called the Goose Grounds), a campground on the upper Platte River off Goose Road. It was always good in the old days when more fish were available than anglers.

There was the Swimming Hole in Honor, the Doctor’s Hole and the Nurse’s Hole, all upstream from Honor. Two favorite spots years ago was the Grade. There were two: the Upper Grade between Haze Road and US-31 and the Lower Grade, downstream from Haze Road. These grades were where an old logging train once crossed the river. Some of the old pilings still remain but the only thing they are noted for now are gravel bars for spring and fall spawning fish.

Think about it. Two anglers in a restaurant are talking about where to fish, and one would be heading for the Rope Hole while the other was heading for the Upper Grade. Few other anglers would know what they were talking about.

My Home Stream was the Sturgeon River in Cheboygan County between Wolverine and Indian River. I began fishing it at the age of 11, and spent every summer camping there to escape the downstate pollen that affected my hay fever. It too is rich in angling history and place names that were rather odd.

I can close my eyes, and think of The Snow Hole, and the spot instantly comes into focus in full color. The river flows downstream, dropping into a deep hole in front of the old Snow Cabin, and then it makes a sharp 90-degree bend to the left. It then splits into two current flows as it goes around a tiny island before both threads of current connect.

My late twin brother George and I laid claim to the Snow Hole while others who fished the Sturgeon had their favorite spots. The Sturgeon is a wild and free-flowing stream, and it holds steelhead and brown trout.

It also holds the ashes of my brother and of a very fine gentleman and good friend named Russ Bengel. He donated large sums of money to Ducks Unlimited, and loved the river like he loved life itself. One day when my last fishing trip has been taken, and my last hunt has ended, my ashes will mingle with theirs in my beloved Snow Hole.

The Sturgeon is filled with names. Take the White Road Bridge. One might figure the bridge to be painted white, but it was painted red. Go figure. It was easy to throw people off our tracks if we mentioned going to fish the Five Sisters Hole.

It wasn’t a hole, but a smooth run along the opposite bank, and at the head of the run were five aspen trees growing from a single trunk. The Rain Hole was immediately downstream, and it always paid off with a fish just before a rain.

You know how it is before a rain. You can smell it on the air. We would race off to the Rain Hole, and if we beat the rain, it always delivered a nice steelhead. It was one of the surest bets on the Sturgeon River.

Then there were the Meadows pools, the Clay Hole, Yontz’s Hole, Eddie’s Pool, Railroad Bridge and many others. Knowing the whereabouts of these named locations gave some anglers a heads-up on others who were out of the loop.

Names also applied to hunting, and nowhere was it more pronounced than with grouse or woodcock coverts. Upland bird hunters were more close-mouthed than mushroom pickers and trout fishermen, and the names they gave to each of their favorite coverts were known only to them and two or three close friends who had been sworn to secrecy.

A good friend always starts hunting at the Church covert. This bit of tag alder swale was noted for October woodcock, and among those of us who knew its location, we kept it a secret for years. Actually, the secret didn’t come out until the aspen and tag alders grew too high, and it became useless habitat for migrating birds.

The Caboose covert was on private land, and was surrounded by 40 acres of aspen and bracken fern bordered by an old pasture on one side, a road on the other, and the edge of a damp cedar swamp. It produced wonderful grouse and woodcock hunting for many years, and its name was derived from a train caboose in the woods. Don’t ask me why, but it was there for many years. A few of us were allowed to hunt the area for birds, and we flushed more than one grouse from under the caboose.

Then there were key grouse hotspots such as the Grape Arbor Run, the Split Rail Fence, and Old Baldy. The area 20 feet below Old Baldy was grown up to a smorgasbord of grouse foods, and it held plenty of grouse until wild turkeys moved in and took over. They used Old Baldy’s sand to dust in, and the grouse moved out.

Another spot that always comes to mind even though shooting grouse has become more difficult in recent years. I called it Dave’s Double, in reference to one of those memorable days when the shooting gods smile and two grouse flush. I took the farthest one first, and then swung on the closer bird, and he fell in a puff of feathers. It was my first double on ruffed grouse, and the spot deserved a name.

In fact, such locations are named for a variety of reasons. Some make sense while others do not, but there it is. We accept such things, and when the whim strikes, we name another location.

Many such spots are meaningless except to us, and then only because something caused them to stand out in our mind. Naming our hotspots is as much a part of fishing and hunting as carrying a rod and reel or toting a shotgun into the woods.

And less you think all such places are good, I’ll close with one where I won’t be when the deer season closes on Jan. 1. I won’t be in the Willow Tree stand. I tried it once, the wind kicked up, and the willow blew six feet in one direction in a gust, and six feet back. A nice 8-pointer showed up, and I came to full draw and couldn’t keep the sight on the deer.

I gave up and climbed down. Later that night, part of the willow tree broke off and fell to the ground. It smashed up my stand but I was long gone by then, and much wiser for the experience.

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/13 at 12:01 AM
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Friday, June 12, 2009

Fishing Tournaments: Fun Or Competition?


Fishing is supposed to be a contemplative sport. Right? Isn’t it?

Much too often angler egos get in the way of common sense. Watch a fishing tournament where people fish for money and big expensive prizes. The losers are easy to spot because they are the first ones to load up and head out of town while the weigh-in is still going on.

Figuring out the winners is easy. They are the ones with big smiles, pressing the flesh with adoring fans, accepting money and prizes while thanking every sponsor, their wife and kids, the boat that brought ‘em to the party, and almost every piece of equipment they use gets mentioned right down to the brand name of their favorite snap swivel.

Those anglers who tie for a certain cash prize are something to watch. While covering a bass tournament, I watched two guys get angry at each other. The last cash prize, if memory serves me right, went to the sixth-place winner. One man weighed in early, and the second man weighed in later, and both had a catch that weighed exactly the same.

The guy who weighed-in first wound up in sixth place and won a check. The other gent, with the same weight, got a ton of prizes but no money. The latter man felt entitled to some of the sixth-place money, and the first gent didn’t agree. It almost came to blows as I stood by with my trusty camera waiting for what photojournalists call a “photo op.” Neither opportunity nor knuckles knocked that day, and the money man simply walked away, a tight smile on his face, wishing he’d come in first-place where the big money is made.

After bopping around this great outdoors, not only in Michigan, but across all of North America and as far away as New Zealand, I’ve learned a few things about people and this great sport of fishing. I’ve learned that buying a fishing license is no guarantee of a limit catch or even one fish. It only grants one the opportunity to legally go fishing. The lust for cash winnings also can make enemies among friends.

Skill determines, within reason, how anglers succeed or fail. Those with frequent catches often are the folks who are more skilled than some of their friends. It’s been said that skill means being in the right place at the right time with the proper bait, fly or lure, and knowing what to do with it. I find that ro be so true.

Fishing is more about ethics and ethical behavior than some would like to think. Those who snag fish—an abomination—is an example. It’s been outlawed in Michigan for many years but folks think the only way to catch spawning salmon or steelhead is to snag them.

This business of ethics is based on personal beliefs and of not doing something we wouldn’t dream of doing if we knew someone was watching. Ethics is a part of how we live our life, and how we treat other people and the fish we catch, and it means doing “the right thing.”

Much of the enjoyment of fishing comes from sharing time with others. Sharing our sport with others can be great fun.

A buddy and I found a bunch of steelhead on the Betsie River below the old Homestead Dam one day, and we were catching fish on spawnbags rolled along bottom. A gent showed up, and as he talked to me about fishing, a fish hit and the hook was set. I thrust the rod into his hands.

He fought it well, thanked me for the opportunity, and I asked if he had a license. He did, and I asked if he wanted the 12-pound male. He did, and shortly after, he returned with his wife. The fish were still biting, and I hooked another steelhead and gave her the rod. She soon had the fish in the net and it was bigger than his.

Never have seen those folks again, but when they left with two fish and some great memories about fishing with some unknown bearded gent and his friend, it made me feel good to share time with them.

This sport appeals to young and old, of all races and religions, and it asks little from its participants other than they fish in an ethical manner and abide by the laws.

Big fish once was my thing but now a six-ounce bluegill on a light fly rod is great fun. Trying to tease a steelhead into hitting in a hard-to-reach spot is challenging and satisfying when a fish finally strikes. If the steelhead jumps but once, is great. Landing the fish isn’t necessary.

Fishing is a great way to mentor a child and build a solid relationship that can endure for many years. I taught my oldest son to fish, and we still share some days together although he has since moved to Alaska. Mentoring means giving a bit of yourself to help others, and it can help a kid get their life pointed in the right direction.

Angling has been a major part of my life since I was 10 years old. Sixty years (almost) later, it still has a magical charm. I worship the fish, and the water they swim in, and both need wise protection from those who would sell our water for personal gain.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/12 at 04:22 PM
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Recalling Some Bear Hunts


About six weeks ago there was some eye surgery. It was fairly serious and kept me indoors for several days, and that gave me too much time to brood and think.

The spring months seemed the best time to have the operation even though I’d miss some of the spring steelhead season. So, while my darling wife was tending to household chores, I took time to reminisced.

I was looking through an old pile of Outdoor Life magazines from the decade that I regularly wrote stories for them. One article was about a grizzly bear attack that I’d covered for the magazine, and it brought back some vivid and tragic memories.

That particular subject was about a biologist who had most of his face chewed or ripped off by a grizzly bear, and he lived to tell me the sad story… in fits and starts amid his crying spells. The magazine flew me to Salt Lake City where the interview took place.

He lost one eye, his nose and one ear, part of another ear, and the bear literally ripped his face off. He was bitten on the hands, arms and legs. He’d had over 1,000 stitches when I conducted this troubling interview, and he had more plastic surgeries scheduled.

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

One dream was about a bruin that had been shot in a hip with a .44 Magnum, breaking the leg bone. The hunter was frightened and asked if I’d help. I said I would if he agreed to stay behind so I didn’t have to listed to his nervous jabbering.

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

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

Another bear led me on a two-day hunt that covered a small swamp bordered on one side by a tiny creek. I had lost all sign of blood but had found where the bear had bedded down three times. Finally a drop of blood was found near the creek. I followed it slowly up a steep hill, one step at a time and plenty of listening and looking around between those steps.

The shotgun preceded me, and bent blades of grass pointed out the path taken by the bruin. I’d just topped the hill when the bear was spotted three feet away. It moved and I shot, and this sorry mess was over. It wasn’t a really big bear, but at such close range, it could have given me far more problems than I wanted.

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

Only once did I go after a wounded bear with another person, and it was a friend whose skills were legendary and his courage was never in question. We got that bear, but every other time I’ve done it was alone and that was how I wanted it.

Frightened people talk, ask questions, make too much noise, and generally get in other people’s way when some serious work needs to be done. Wounded bears often are shot at close range in thick cover, and I never wanted anyone nearby for fear they would create a greater hazard than already existed.

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

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

Doing this nasty business was not fun but whenever I went after a bear it was because the hunter couldn’t or wouldn’t finish a job he started. It meant putting an animal out of its misery as quickly as possible. I never advertised my services, never went looking for this kind of work, but for many years I always seemed to be in the area where bears were being hunted. These opportunities simply fell into my lap, unannounced and unwanted.

I did it because someone had to. Otherwise, a frightened hunter may walk away from the problem or wait until the next day and not be able to find the bear. Or even worse, an innocent individual could stumble on the hurting bear, and get mauled or killed by the enraged animal,

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

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

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/11 at 06:51 PM
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Five Steps To Becoming A Hunter

image I spent an hour on the phone recently with an old friend. Jim Dabb retired from the DNR many years ago, and we’ve been friends for three decades because of our mutual ongoing interest in Hunter Education.

His job, when he retired years ago from the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division, was to oversee all Hunter Education programs in this state. He was the top honcho for the newest rules, where training sessions would be held, and much more. The job seemed made to order for him.

He was one of the greatest friends a legal hunter could have, and the biggest enemy a lawbreaker could have. He could become a poacher’s worst nightmare, and he worked the conservation officer field before heading up the Hunter Ed program.

He’d spent years as a conservation officer in the field, got yanked to Lansing for his final years on the job, and put in his final years riding a desk and doing what had to be done to get as many children (and parents) involved in a Hunter Education class as possible.

We met when I began ramrodding The Detroit News’ Hunter Education Program, and 20 of my 23 years as the paper’s staff outdoor writer was spent honing our two-day program each September into something that was the best such clinic in North America. Then The Detroit News scrapped this wonderful program, and it died a sudden and untimely death. But, training kids and their parents is something that still flows through my body and soul.

Dabb and I discussed what he calls “The Five Stages Of A Hunter.” It is a continuing maturation process that takes hunters through these various stages. It begins for everyone with the first step, and each step follows in logical order.

*Shooting is the first step in this maturation and learning process. A novice hunter wants to shoot his or her bow or firearm at game or anywhere that it is safe to shoot. It can be nothing more than plinking at tin cans or stumps in the woods, although some novices shoot songbirds, which is illegal. For many, preseason shooting at a gun club is the logical place to shoot.

This shooting can fall into two distinct areas: one is to practice shooting at a target or at game in season. It’s been proven that the more a hunter shoots a bow or firearm, the better their skills become providing they have capable assistance from other caring sportsmen. Kids, in particular, love to hear the firearm go bang but must be taught the responsible use of a firearm and the dangers of careless use.

*The second stage in hunter development, Dabb says, is limiting out. They want to kill a limit of rabbits, ruffed grouse, woodcock or deer.

This is one stage that many hunters find themselves mired in, and some feel the purchase of a small game or big game license should guarantee them the right to a full bag limit.

What many sportsmen don’t realize is the purchase of a license guarantees them nothing more than the privilege of going hunting. It means they can legally hunt, and nothing else is granted and should not be expected.

*The third step in this steady progression of becoming a hunter is learning various hunting techniques. The sportsman seeks out advice from longtime hunters, reads hunting magazines or weblogs like this one, watches videos and reads books that deal with this pastime.

They want to work with bird dogs or hounds, hunt with a centerfire or muzzleloading rifle, and they study various methods of hunting the rut, hunting deer in cornfields, how to call wild turkeys or other game birds, and they are on a quest to soak up hunting knowledge like a sponge soaks up water.

*Step No. 4 is the trophy stage. “This,” Dabb said, “is where hunters want to shoot the biggest buck in the county, the largest bear, the ringneck pheasant with the most bars on its tai, and so on.”

This stage often becomes the macho period in a hunter’s life where they want bragging rights. They want to be known as a good hunter, and nothing but the biggest and the best will do. Sadly, some will jump on a plane, fly somewhere on a canned hunt, and shoot the critter within a matter of an hour or two, and be on their way home the same day. That is not hunting; it is only about killing an animal. All game deserves more respect than being reduced to something with a price tag on its head.

*Last but certainly not the least is the Sportsman Stage. This is where the hunter acknowledges the fact that he/she can become the supreme predator, and the kill no longer becomes the sole reason why they hunt.

The kill is the end result of a hunt, but a true sportsman can have a successful hunt without firing a shot. It means pitting one’s skills against an animal while giving the game the greatest chance to escape. It means ethical hunting, fair-chase hunting, and the hunt becomes more important than the kill.

This final stage often isn’t attained until middle-age, and with some people, they never reach this level. It is where the wind on the cheek, spotting a deer, hearing the gobble of a wild turkey—when all of these and many other things become more important to the hunter than pulling the trigger. It’s when we start caring about and respecting the game animals and game birds we hunt. It’s when we relish our time afield, and come away from a hunt feeding renewed in body and spirit, and it doesn’t always require a dead animal or bird to accomplish that goal.

Take a long look at this issue, and ask yourself: which category do I fall in. If you’ve read this blog for very long, you’ll know that I’m in the fifth stage. Killing is no longer why I hunt.

I hunt to have hunted. I hunt to have spent time outdoors, and have been at it long enough to learn that the deer that got away will be remembered long after the deer we’ve killed have long been forgotten.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/10 at 03:43 PM
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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Counting Coup On A Mulie Buck


Author’s Note: I wrote this story two years ago, and the reader response was terrific. Some people heard about it, asked to read it and here it is, once again.—Dave

It was a blistering hot day in western North Dakota as I hunted antelope with a bow several years ago. The ground was dry as a bone, and there was no escape from the sun and sweltering 95-degree heat.

I was making a long stalk on a big antelope buck surrounded by other goats, and trying to get close enough for a bow shot took me through some low brush and a few scattered trees. I was moving low and slow, stopping often to look at the antelope 100 yards away.

It was during one of these pauses when I looked ahead to check the big buck antelope and spotted a mule deer buck bedded down only 15 yards away. I was hunting into the wind, and the mulie buck was bedded down with his nose into the wind. He apparently didn’t expect danger to come from behind.

He was safe because I had only an antelope tag. I was too close to try to circle the buck, and to turn around might spook the animal. I decided to do as some High Plains Indians used to do during a battle, and that was to “count coups.”

Coup is a French word, and is pronounced “coo.”

“Webster describes it as a highly successful, unexpected strike, act, or move,” said Douglas Deihl, director of Indian and Ethnographic Art at Skinner, Incorporated, in Boston, in a published article. “It is a clever action or accomplishment.”

He said the High Plains Indians, such as the Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow or Sioux, often used a coup stick or bone or willow riding quirt to touch an enemy.

“In Plains warrior societies,” Deihl explained, “Sioux warriors gained their status by being brave in battle, and one way this was done was known as ‘counting coups.’

“What the Indian warriors tried to do was get close enough to the enemy to touch them without getting injured or killed. Doing so was considered more honorable than going in and killing and scalping them. To touch the enemy and survive was considered the greatest honor in battle. This put the warrior close to the enemy, which offered a great risk and required more courage than shooting them from a distance.”

The mule deer buck was now less than 10 yards away, and the tension was mounting. Each step was a soft and very slow movement forward. The forward toe felt softly for any stick or piece of brush that may snap or make a noise.

Once the foot was placed, the other foot came forward, feeling for a noiseless place to set it down. Foot by slow foot brought me ever closer to the mulie buck, and I was alert to his every small movement.

I was perspiring in the heat, and was surprised his instincts had not warned him of my presence. I was hunched over in a low crouch to prevent being seen by the antelope. I eventually remembered the bow as I stalked closer.

I was now within six feet, and could have leaped on the buck, but that’s not how counting coups is done. It is the classic pitting of one’s skills against the other, and although it was done by one armed Indian against another in the old days, in this case it was man versus animal.

Each step brought a mounting sense that the deer would leap to his feet before I could touch him. Another step was taken, and the buck moved his head slightly, but didn’t turn to look at me. I eased forward another step, and was now only four feet away. Another step was needed.

Ever so slowly the last step was taken, and I was directly behind the buck now. I settled into a kneeling position, intuitively bowed my head in respect to the buck, and slowly reached out and put my left hand on his left back leg.

The buck turned his head, looked back at me, and our eyes met, and then he bolted, nearly running me over as he headed away. One might wonder how the antelope hunt played out. I stalked within 20 yards of a buck but a roll in the land contour kept me from getting a shot at its vitals. It didn’t matter.

On that day, I had counted coup on a mule deer buck. It was similar to an Indian brave doing the same to an enemy warrior, except under admittedly less dangerous conditions.

I’ve since done it twice on whitetails, and each time under windy and wet conditions. Whitetails are more spooky than mule deer, but no matter. Under Webster’s definition, I’ve also counted coup by telling my story to my readers.

It is one of the most exciting hunting methods, and it doesn’t always work. In fact, it rarely works, and only with the right conditions (a sleepy mule deer) or two whitetails during a wet and windy storm can be claimed by me.

Each time it worked was exciting, but I shall never forget the first time I counted coup on a wild deer. It’s better than shooting a big buck.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/09 at 05:40 PM
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Monday, June 08, 2009

There Was A Hush On The River


The Betsie River flowed smoothly downstream toward Lake Michigan, and acted as if it was in no big rush to get there. My wader-clad legs had carried me into thigh-deep water, and the comparative coolness of the water felt refreshing.

There was a trout rising near a sweeper but I had to move six inches deeper in hopes of putting the fly just upstream from the current seam the fish was feeding in. One step, and another, and soon my boots put me into the sweet spot.

Some fly line was pulled through the guides and the river murmured. The sounds of river music began washing away the rainy-day blues.

A No. 12 Adams, my go-to fly when I don’t know what else to try, was knotted to my tippet after several frustrating minutes of trying to push a 4X tippet through the eye of the hook. Tying the leader to the fly line is easy and could be done in the dark but tying tippets to flies is a major challenge these days.

The fish rose every few minutes, but he wasn’t willing to take my offering. Meanwhile, in preparation to cover that fish, it was time to soak up the sounds of silence.

The river, in this location, made little noise. No audible gurgles, no hissing of water around the tip of a sweeper, and no rushing water sounds. There was a kind of hush all over the river as if even the birds and insects felt it was a time not to be very active, and they got no argument from me.

Hot summer days wear me out. High temperatures and high humidity combine to sap me of any excess energy. The same results occur with strong reoccuring showers like we had today.

My thought was to reach the river, pull on my warm-weather waders, step into the knee-deep water, hitch up my waders like an old lady pulling on her girdle, and then put together my rod.

It was shady here, and it was a blessing of sorts. I stood, listening to the music flowing through my head, studied the stream flow, listened to the water dripping off the pines, and spotted a rising fish. A few steps closer and then I stopped.

A few more steps, and I stopped again to tie on the fly, and then I was within easy and accurate casting distance. I stood, silence wrapped around me like an invisible cloak, and made one false cast and the leader rolled over and the fly landed four feet above the riseforms I’d seen earlier.

The line was mended once, and the fly drifted past his feeding spot. Another false cast to shake a bit of water off the hackles and tail, and another cast was made to the same spot without a rumble.

Five casts were made, and it was unlikely that any wading noise had spooked the fish. A sixth cast was made, and again the fly was centered in the seam of current where he fed.

Too big, I thought, thinking perhaps a smaller fly was in order. One size smaller to start, I thought, and a No. 14 was tied to the tippet after a 10-minute battle with a hand-held magnifying glass, my reading glasses and a lot of luck.

All the other paraphernalia was stowed in my fly vest, and then a 10-minute wait for my eye to regain its proper perspective for the scene in front of me, and then a cast put the fly in the right spot. It was difficult for me to see the Adams, and it sat astride the surface in a perky sort of way.

Nothing happened, a roll cast, once to dry the fly, and it was laid back in the same spot. The line was mended, and then the fish hit. Mind you, it wasn’t a smashing strike but more of a sip of the fly off the surface. A soft salute with the rod tip caused the fly to bite home, and then came that old familiar bend in the rod that felt the soft touch of an old friend.

The river brown wasn’t big but he had been out-thought, and had responded to a quiet approach, a change in fly size when it became apparent the larger fly wouldn’t work, and besides, in the deep shade of the cedars and pines where I stood, the rain seemed a long ways away.

I tussled with him going at it mightily when my rod pressure was calm, patient and with just enough pressure to make him do all of the work. He came to me reluctantly, and it was a male of about 14 inches. Not a lunker but good enough for the present day.

I didn’t want to work too hard with a really big fish. Calm, easy, and no sense in working too hard after taking a tumble in my back yard. Out came my hemostats, and they gripped and twisted the fly loose.

He swam off, free again, and setting him free made me feel good. I stood for a few moments in the cool of the shade before wading ashore. One fish was enough to keep my hand in, and it satisfied any need I had to fish for trout on a soggy, rainy day.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/08 at 06:27 PM
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Sunday, June 07, 2009

How Sharp Is Sharp Enough


It was time to sharpen two broadheads today, and I figured that would make a good topic long before the season opened. I target practice with broadheads rather than target points, and I want to be sure they are flying where I want them to so. So I sharpen my two blade Patriot broadheads.

Over many yeaars of being around bow benders, I’ve come to one conclusion: most bow hunters do not like to sharpen fixed-blade broadheads. And, to complicate matters even more, most hunters do not care to learn. They’d rather buy replaceable-blade broadheads. Most people who shoot a broadhead feel the blade is sharp enough. Little do they know that it isn’t.

For years two-blade broadhead has been all I’ve shot. I’ve hunted with Bear, Patriot and Zwickey heads before settling on the Patriot, which is no longer being made. It is a two-blade, fixed-blade head, and was sharp when it came off the factory machine that put an edge on them. As good as that head was, I could make it even sharper. And therein is a lesson for many hunters to learn this summer before archery season opens..

I talked with a guy the other day who told me he shoots a four-blade replaceable blade broadhead. He thought it was sharp enough to cut hairs off his arm. He felt his hunting head was sharper than mine.

We conducted a small experiment. He used his factory edge on the replaceable blades and I used my Patriot head. It really wasn’t much of a contest.

He tried all four of his blades, and the forearm hair rolled over but none of the blades would cut his arm hair. Well, he said, I shoot enough poundage to blow this broadhead through a deer. He maintained it would cut under the force of the arrow passing through.

And, up to a point, he was right. However, I took my two-blade Patriot and used one edge to shave hairs off my arm with ease. I offered him the other side, and he cut hair from his arm.

“So, why is your head so much sharper than mine?” he asked. “Why don’t they make these replaceable blades sharper?”

Two good questions. Claude Pollington stopped making the Patriot broadhead for the market because the machining process became far too expensive. He had to sell a three-pack of heads for $30, and most people didn’t want to spend that much money when they can purchase a four-blade head for less money.

It’s a simple matter of economics. Pollington sells his C.P. Oneida Eagle bows and red-dot sights, and that is his archery niche. His Patriot broadheads were simply too expensive and time consuming to make in a large enough quantity to satisfy the public. Another problem was that most people never take time to make their blades as sharp as possible.

Once the rough-sharpening process was done on a broadhead, most people believe they are done. In reality, they’ve just begun. The next step is to use a diamond stone designed to remove that tiny burr on the blade that forms as a head is being sharpened, and once they ran the blade over the fine diamond stone, they could shave with that head. However, there is a final step.

Look around for a used barber’s strop. It was used to put the final licks on a razor that would hold an edge. This is a secret I’ve used for many years (I used to be a barber), and I strop my broadheads first on the canvas side and then on the leather side. The finished head is extremely sharp.

Archers know that arrows kill deer and other game when the broadhead cuts through the skin, begins to cut arteries, capillaries and veins as it passes through the flesh, and this causes massive destruction to internal organs. A less-sharp broadhead may kill but it takes much longer, and a wounded animal travels much further before going down for good. Some of these wounded deer are never recovered..

A buddy of mine shot a very nice 8-point last season. That buck ran just 50 yards after being hit with a well-placed arrow, and from arrow impact to death was less than three seconds.

Sharp broadheads are needed, and when it comes time to shoot an antelope, bear, caribou, deer, elk, moose or other animal, an extremely sharp head will do a far better job in less time than a less-than-perfectly sharp head.

We owe it to the game we hunt to shoot arrows tipped with the sharpest broadheads possible. And for me, that means hand-sharpening them until they meet my expectations. Anything less shows a major lack of respect for the animals we hunt

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/07 at 07:04 PM
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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Choose Quality Optics


My vision is fairly good in my right eye after a bunch of surgeries on it and my left eye but when rain or snow slants down over the tag alders, and if a deer stands motionless back in this cover, they can be very tough for anyone to see.

Or, if I’m brown trout fishing in late June or early July, a pair of quality binoculars can help me spot brown trout rolling on the surface of Lake Michigan several hundred yards away. One thing for sportsmen to remember is that optics aren’t just for hunters; they work equally as well for boaters and fishermen, although under different circumstances.

Quality optics means everything to a boater, deer hunter or fisherman. The difference between good and bad optics is like the difference between a good apple and one filled with worms. When shopping for binoculars, rifle scope or spotting scope, buy the best you can afford.

I’ve always believed in good optics, and also believe that you get what you are willing to pay for. I have a pair of Swarovski binoculars, and I’d rather leave home without my bow release or my favorite fishing hat than without my binoculars. In fact, I usually have a pair in each car.

I know I can still shoot a bow with my fingers and make a killing shot, but I don’t have the same confidence in my vision without quality glass. It can literally mean the difference between my shooting or not shooting, or in picking a hole through heavy cover.

Take for instance the last day of my 2009 turkey season. The sky was dark and overcast, the woods were dark, and two birds came to me after shooting time began. Both were in full strut, both were fanned out and gobbling, and I knew they were gobblers.

The problem was it was still too dark in the woods for my shotgun scope to allow me to see a beard on either bird at 25 yards. The law says we can shoot only a bearded bird. Even though both birds were gobbling and strutting, I couldn’t see a beard so I didn’t shoot.

A friend of mine returned to Michigan many years ago from a hunt in southern Alabama. He and his wife were hunting with some Louisiana Cajun shrimpers from the Mississippi River delta area, and they all carried big, heavy binoculars and rifle scopes with large objective lenses.

“What’s up with the big binoculars,” he asked one of the Cajun hunters. He was quickly given a demonstation of the difference between his optics and theirs.

“Our binoculars give us 15 minutes more of quality hunting time once your binoculars no longer work,” he said, once shooting time had ended. “Look yonder. Can you see that deer standing 10 yards inside the cover by the lightning-blasted pine stump?”

My buddy couldn’t see the animal. The Cajun offered his Swarovski binoculars, and my friend quickly spotted the buck. That short demonstration offered him more light-gathering qualities, greater magnification and a much better ability to see deeper into the brush.

Alabama is wrapped up with deer, but once they get into thick cover along the edge of the green fields, they are invisible without great optics.

My ability to see deer enables me to better plan on how to hunt them and when to take a shot. In some cases, it means allowing the bucks to come to you; in other situations, it may allow the hunter to make tactical changes in how he hunts that animal.

Binoculars and a spotting scope make scouting from our roads far more effective.

It goes without saying that seeing deer before they see you is of paramount importance. Quality optics can help make that happen. For instance, the other day I saw some leaves rustling in the tag alders.

I wondered why that was happening because there was no wind. I studied the area from a window in my house, and it took several minutes but then a doe came into sharp focus. I kept studying the arimal, and her fawn stepped out, all nice and pretty with white spots dotting its sides.

Another time I was trolling Lake Michigan for brown trout without any success. Soon some herring gulls began diving into the water a quarter-mile ahead of the boat.

I grabbed my binocularsm and studied the water around the gulls, and soon spottedthe rolling, feeding fish 100 yards away.

The lines were set as I trolled around the edge of the boiling cauldron of feeding fish. My boat was well past the fish when the first brown trout hit, and it jumped. I reeled in the other line while my fish took line. I bent to the task of fighting that brown trout, and soon landed it.

My knot was checked, and I turned the boat around, let out my lines again. Five minutes later I just skirted the edge of the school of browns that were feeding on alewives, and had another jarring strike. That fish weighed 14 pounds, and I quickly caught another brown trout before the school of fish broke up and headed for deep water.

That was a great case of being prepared for any eventuality. It pays to buy good optics, and it also pays to learn how to use them. They play an important role in my fishing and hunting activities.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/06 at 05:52 PM
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Friday, June 05, 2009

Where Has The Romance Of The Outdoors Gone?

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Where has the romance of the outdoors gone? You know, the romance that everyone felt for fishing and hunting in earlier generations.

Look at the outdoor magazines of today. A big fish held aloft, a big-antlered whitetail running through the woods in a computer enhanced photo. Is this what fishing and hunting has come to? Is it nothing more than the largest fish or the biggest bucks photographed on some game preserve? Where is the appeal on the outdoor magazine covers of today

My personal love affair with fishing and hunting began at a very early age, and of late, I’ve been sorting through several hundred old outdoor magazines given to me by the Outdoor Life legend—Ben East of the Holly, Michigan area—and I’ve had these magazines for more than 20 years. All of these magazines were once owned by East before he made them available to me. He knew such thing lit a personal fire inside my heart.

The fishing and hunting magazines of yesteryear captured the outdoors on their covers. Very few were photographs. Most were painstakingly drawn by outdoor artists of note. These covers were meant to move the outdoor spirit, to make the outdoors come alive in your mind for a period of time. These drawings from the 1950s and before did just that; they allowed sportsmen to view a scene that made other sportsmen relive, albeit vicariously, the human emotions of the drawing.

There were artists of considerable skill in those days, and they specialized in capturing the flavor and intensity of the moment being depicted. Many scenes had little to do with catching a fish or killing a deer. They portrayed the thrill of being there, and being a part of a great human outdoor experience.

Artists such as William Harnden Foster, Arthur D. Fuller, Howard Hastings, Walter W. Hinton, Lynn Bogue Hunt, J. F. Kernan, Bob Kuhn, Harry Livingston, Edward Megargee, P. B. Parsons, William Schaldach, and Edgar F. Wittmack, to name several widely admired artists, painted raw human emotions and excitement into their magazine covers. There were a large number of other artists plying their trade to Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield and many other outdoor magazines.

Although a dead deer, grouse or fish of some species occasionally graced a magazine’s cover, many covers caught the pure essence of a fishing or hunting scene. Consider the two covers listed above: a lovely cover of a bird dog retrieving a ruffed grouse by the legendary Lynn Bogue Hunt shows no human but the dog is doing what it was trained to do, to find and retrieve a fallen game bird. Any bird hunter with a love for grouse hunting and dogs would thrill to this sight, which happens all too infrequently in today’s grouse coverts.

The other work of art by Howard Hastings captures the moment of truth as a drake and hen green-wing teal lift off the water and a hunter and his dog start to swing into action. Unstated, but certainly apparent, the hunter will lift the shotgun to his shoulder, swing on one of the birds, and try for a shot before it flies out of range. The dog, we know, is all aquiver with pent-up excitement as the animal prepares to do what it was trained to do—to retrieve the fallen duck.

Art, especially good art in this genre, brings to light the old phrase that a picture is worth a thousand words. You and I may read something different into these two cover, but artists of a half-century or longer ago knew then what only a portion of today’s anglers and hunters have learned. The excitement of various aspects of a hunt or fishing trip is far more important than dead fish or game. It points out in poignant fashion that there truly is more to fishing and hunting than a heavy game bag or limit catch in the creel.

I will be selling some of these fine magazines on Scoop’s Books on this website in the near future. Some will be sold on eBay as well, and others will be kept for personal reasons. Prices will vary widely, and condition of the magazine, the artist who did the work, and the rarity of that particular artwork cover all play an important role in establishing a price. Some of these magazines date back into the 1920s although most of them are from the 1930s and 1940s. Some people collect the war-time issues, and many of these magazines have covers based on fishing the South Pacific.

Stating the obvious is distasteful to me, but many of these old covers may be removed from the magazine, framed under glass, and hung in fishing and hunting camps. Other people try to collect a full run of Lynn Bogue Hunt’s marvelous covers (they are difficult to find and pricey), and some people collect the magazines for the stories written inside. Old magazines like these are highly treasured by fishing lure collectors for the ads printed inside. There is something for everyone in old magazines and their covers, and for me, my reason for collecting them is quite simple.

I like the way these magazines capture the moods of fishing and hunting. I can look at a magazine cover with pleasing cover art, and find myself being transported back in time to a very similar personal experience from some time in the distant past. To me, good magazine cover art help keep fishing and hunting very much alive in my mind and heart.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/05 at 05:45 PM
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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Hunt Morels & Shed Antlers


There is much more to do during the spring than go fishing. Right now, some great times can be had walking around looking for morel mushrooms and shed deer antlers.

Look for a generous mix of ash, aspen and maple trees, and such spots can be good for white morels. The black morels are done, and the whites are about over, but it still pays to check choice spots near pine trees, near fruit trees and in the opens hardwoods.

Both pastimes require more looking than walking. I know people who have exceptional vision, and can walk along at a steady pace and spot mushrooms 30 feet away. That sometimes is possible with white morels, but the black variety is much more difficult for me and most people to see. The black morels, for the most part, are done although some white morels are still being found.

I walk slowly, stop, look ahead and to both sides for morels, and then turn and look behind me. Sometimes a change of viewing angle will reveal mushrooms that couldn’t be seen any other way.

Black morels sometimes grow to huge sizes as do whites, but more often they are smaller. Their coloration makes spotting them much more difficult to see in fallen leaves and other forest duff.

Mushrooms are still popping sporadically, and today’s warm spell after last week’s rain near Cadillac and Traverse City, should provide some late morels.

Hunting shed antlers is much the same as hunting morel mushrooms. The trick is to spot them, and it can be easy or difficult, depending on the terrain and the ground cover.

One tip is to check the edges of fields, near funnels that deer often use when traveling from one area to another, and near thick bedding areas. Many shed antlers are found near food sites. Standing corn, and the edges around such areas, often produce sheds.

Heavy or thick bedding cover is difficult to hunt for shed antlers but it does produce some good antlers. It’s always difficult to find a matched set because one side may stay on the buck’s head for a day or two longer before it is cast (falls off).

If you look in heavy cover, approach it from upwind and allow your scent to drift downwind through the cover. Make as little noise as possible, and move through it quietly.

Does are having their fawns, and there is no reason to unduly frighten the animals. It’s best for does to drift away from shed hunters instead of being frightened by loud noises.

If the shed hunter should spot a young fawn, leave it alone. Don’t touch it and don’t gather around it. Stay away from the tiny creature, and after you pass through the doe will return to her fawn. Stop nearby or pick up the fawn, and it’s possible you’ve given the fawn a death sentence. Some does will reject fawn if they carry any human odor.

Morels and sheds are seldom found in the same areas although it does happen if the antlers are cast near field edges and other little pockets of cover suitable for mushrooms.

Either way, this is a form of hunting that can help sharpen your eye and prepare you for the upcoming deer hunting seasons. And, morel and shed hunting is great spring fun.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/04 at 05:42 PM
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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Teach Kids Now About Hunting


Spending time with someone else, especially a youngster, and watching them take a shot at a buck or a gobbler, is just as exciting for the watcher as for the shooter.

It’s long been said that turkey hunting is a one-man game, and that, for the most part, is true. However, hunts can be shared by people who hunt alone but who will spend time with someone else.

More families than ever before have come to share their hunts. My wife once shared a successful bow hunt with three grandchildren. The youngest was still sucking on a bottle, and Kay had the kids all seated in an elevated coop.

“Look,” she whispered, “there is a nice buck. Sit still, don’t move and don’t make a sound. Grandma will see if she can shoot it.”

She eased the elevated coop window open, made sure all the kids could see without moving around, and waited for the buck to walk in. It stepped into her shooting area, and was slightly quartering-away, and she waited for the near-side front leg to move forward before drawing and shooting.

The buck ran off, and Eric who has eyes like an eagle, said: “You got him, Gram, you shot him right in the heart. Let’s go find him.”

She got all three kids safely to the ground, went back up, lowered her bow and quiver of arrows to the ground, and began following the Game Tracker string. She had to rein in the kids to keep them from running ahead and getting tangled in the tracking line.

It was starting to get dark in the woods, and she took the kids back to the car. She knew the deer was dead, and soon her daughter Nancy, and son-in-law Roger, and I, arrived.

The kids were right into it. We quickly found the dead buck, and set about field-dressing it. The girls stood and watched as the entrails came out, and when Dave held up the heart, Eric blurted: “I told you, Gram, right through the heart.”

The youngest of these kids was about two years old at the time, and it didn’t gross them out. They probably would have helped with the field dressing but we didn’t want them to get bloody for fear some well-meaning person might have thought we’d been beating them. They probably wouldn’t have understood taking the kids out hunting either.

Children must learn to have patience, and it is a necessary part of a bow hunt. Most kids, especially those who do not hunt, have a patience level of seven or eight minutes—the time between television commercials. That type of patience won’t work in a deer stand.

Kids must learn to sit still, and to remain motionless and silent. They can learn what an adrenalin rush feels like when Dad, Mom or Gram takes a shot. They learn, first-hand, that hunters always try to kill cleanly and quickly, and utilize the flesh of this animal for the nourishment of their bodies.

Adults can get their children into shooting. Never give a kid a hand-me-down adult bow that is too long for them. Shop around to find a short-draw bow that will work fine for two or three years.

Teach them to shoot, and teach them how to read deer sign in or how to scout for turkeys in the spring. Show then how to look for deer or turkey tracks in the sand, snow or mud. Show then how to determine wind direction, and why it is so important to be downwind of deer. If turkeys could smell, very few gobblers would be shot in the spring.

Show children what a broadside and quartering-away shot looks like and coach them that these are high-percentage shots. Show them which shots should not be taken and why they seldom produce a killing shot.

Teach them respect for these animals we hunt. Allow them to learn to read the body language of a deer or turkey, and how these animals will react when danger threatens.

Take them out when preseason scouting, and take them out once the season opens. Teach them tree stand safety, how to use a safety harness, and how to stay safe in an elevated coop or tree stand.

Most of all, talk to them afterward, especially after a kill has been made. Listen to their stories, and share yours with them, and give up your time to sit with them if they are not 17 years of age. Be supportive of their efforts, and install a sense of needing to practice to avoid having to make a long trailing job on a poorly hit deer.

Take them out hunting. Show them. Teach them, laugh with them and be proud of them if they cry over their first deer kill. Give of yourself, and that giving will be returned ten-fold in the years to come

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/03 at 05:59 PM
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