Saturday, October 14, 2017

FISHING FIRSTS

  The two or three nightcrawlers and three or four dead rainbow shiners I pinned to a large, circle hook was the most unbelievable gob of bait I’ve ever used. After my Lake Michigan season was finished for 2017 I was off to the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers annual conference at Lake of the Woods, near Baudette, Minnesota.  The bait was used on a Lake Sturgeon fishing trip while at the conference.

  I used the almost tennis-ball-sized gobs of bait to score two angling career “firsts.”
The first “first” was hooking and boating a 48-inch lake sturgeon in the Rainy River, just across from the conference’s host facility, Sportsman’s Lodge. I’d caught a small lake sturgeon a few years ago at the AGLOW conference at Niagara Falls but that one was an accidental catch while we were fishing for salmon in the Devil’s Hole below the falls. It was small and only weighed five or six pounds.

  I signed up for the sturgeon outing to see if I could hook one on purpose and get one with some girth to it. Sturgeon up to 100 pounds are reported to swim in those waters.

  It worked. I stuck the first sturgeon (of three sturgeon caught on this four -hour trip) and at 48 inches (measured) and an estimated weight well over 30 pounds it was my largest ever freshwater fish.
The second “first” I accomplished that day was because of the large bait we were using, as well. 
  Our group was pestered by small fish nibbling on our bait and stealing the shiners all afternoon. I eventually caught one of the bait stealers, a small sauger. I’ve fished in places with saugers in the past, but I never specifically tried to catch one and hadn’t ever hooked into one. I still haven’t fished specifically for them, so that little guy was my first. My sauger was only about a foot long. That’s not all that large, but about average for that area. The guide said the largest he’d ever measured from Lake of the Woods was just over 19 inches.
 
  The rest of the story is better. I owe the catch to the large bait. Somehow, the sauger managed to inhale the entire bait gob and with a mouth rimmed with somewhat inward facing sharp teeth, it couldn’t spit it out as I reeled it up to the boat. The hook wasn’t even stuck in the fish! 
 
 

I caught a sturgeon by accident, so I had to go catch one on purpose. Now, I’ve accidentally caught a sauger so I guess I’ll have to take a trip specifically to catch one of those.  I know how to do it. Get a big circle hook and gob on two or three nightcrawlers....”
THE END

Monday, March 13, 2017

CIRCADIAN ARRHYTHMIA

I don’t know who invented a clock, but it was probably a good idea. Without them we’d be stuck with only night and day. Some days, mostly sunny days, there would be a fairly distinct dawn, dusk and high noon, but arranging a meeting at mid-morning wouldn’t really nail down participants to a specific start time. I’ll concede clocks as a modern marvel worth having.

But I cuss the fellow who invented daylight savings time making us adjust our clocks twice each year - once when we spring ahead; once when we force our clocks to fall back. It gives me circadian arrhythmia. I’m not hungry at dinner time, not sleepy at bedtime, still sleepy when it’s time to get up and the dog doesn’t abide by clocks and spring-aheads.

All of this is made worse here in Indiana with ample portions of people and real estate taking sides in conflicting time zones. Kudos to the wise leaders in Arizona and Hawaii with the sense to allow citizens to set their clocks once and leave them alone all year long.

For the rest of us we have until the first Sunday in November to get back on track. Then we are forced to screw it all up again.

Monday, February 6, 2017

"I WARM" IN "I FLOAT"

In my mind, if the ice an ice fisherman is planning to traverse is such that wearing a PFD seems sensible, it seems more sensible to find some other activity to pursue. How about waiting for ice conditions to improve? How about waiting for the ice to melt away so it's possible to fish from a boat? How about traveling to a place where winter is sufficiently absent to allow fishing from a boat all year long?

TOASTY WARM IN BELOW FREEZING CONDITIONS
   Last summer the Frabill company unveiled a new product in their line-up of cold weather wear called the I-Float Jacket (and matching bib overalls) as an "ice fishing" garment. It won national awards in the fishing industry.

   The parka’s name, “I-Float” alludes to its multi-tasking purpose. Much of the insulation material in the jacket is made from a closed cell, buoyant material - the same stuff used to make life jackets. There's enough of the flotation material used and incorporated in the right places inside the jacket to allow the U.S. Coast Guard to put its "seal of approval" on the garment as a certified, wearable, personal flotation device.

   I start my Lake Michigan fishing season in late winter (usually mid-March) and since the cold water in Lake Michigan delays spring-like conditions often well into May, I'm no stranger to winter parkas. I’m also well aware of the increased danger associated with boating in extremely cold water. So Frabill’s "I" parka didn’t appeal to me as an ice fishing necessity, but it did peak my interest as a multi-tasking coat, actively able to keep me comfortably warm on my boat in extreme conditions and passively providing me a comforting level of safety I hope to never need.

   I had the chance to try out my new I-Float Jacket and bibs on an early February crappie jaunt to Lake of the Ozarks. LOZ is just far enough south to preventing it ever freezing; far enough north to warrant warm clothes needed, most February days. It’s available in stores and on-line at a variety of prices. Shop before you buy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM

  I’ve not seen any historical records documenting American Bison a.k.a. “buffalo” traipsing around what is now known as Newton County, Indiana where I live. For one thing, most of the county was a marsh. A buffalo wouldn’t go far before it became bogged down in the bog. Maybe the southern part of the county was more bison friendly. Probably the odd group meandered through the native tall grass prairie down by the Iroquois River on a semi-regular basis. Most of Indiana and on east as far as Pennsylvania is listed as the original range of North America’s bison but the numbers were only a fraction of what existed in the Great Plains.

  So how was it, Peggy and I went “buffalo hunting” yesterday just a few miles from our Newton County home?

   Over a century and a half ago, back when most of the northern end of the county was half cattails, half under water and all mosquitoes, there was a large lake - largest in Indiana - covering around 40,000 acres, more or less, depending on just where the surveyor marked the lakeshore. Then a couple of steam powered dredges, trenched through Beaver Lake and drained it. Eventually, the lake bottom of old Beaver Lake became farmland and in recent history, The Nature Conservancy bought a sizeable acreage in the lake’s former location and began creating a prairie across the open landscape.

  Though some bison lived in forested areas, they did best in open prairie habitat. So once the Kankakee Sands project of TNC created thousands of acres dominated by prairie plants, what was missing?  Prairie animals! Buffalo! So the TNC fenced off two sections of land (over 1100 acres) and stocked a couple dozen bison.

  Yesterday was sunny and warm. I finished most of the chores I’d set for myself so I told Peggy to load up. We were going buffalo hunting!

   We turned off of U.S. 41 and drove slowly along the gravel road bounding the southern border of the bison prairie. Then we coursed north on County Road 400W a mile and a half. No buffalo spotted, but it became quite apparent, seeing a buff in the tall vegetation would be nearly impossible from a vantage point on the ground.

  A new road had been graveled leading a half mile to the east from 400 to what is left of Bogus Island, once a large island in Beaver Lake. Now it’s a hill, tall enough to give a buffalo hunter just the edge needed to spot one of the needle in a haystack bison. There’s a parking area there for bison watchers.

  No need for us to climb the ancient slope of the island or even leave our vehicle. About half  
way to the parking area, the herd was grazing just north of the road. At first, there appeared to be only one, then, as they slowly moved about, it was evident the entire group was there but in the tall vegetation, only glimpses of their backs and vague shapes could be seen, though the animals were only 50 yards distant, at most.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

BUCKS, BOARS AND BEARS

Bucks, boars and bears - and after opening day of deer season, I can add, “Oh my!” as well in a take off on the line from the classic movie, Wizard of Oz.  No bears or boars in this essay, but bucks and does aplenty thanks to the “Wizards of Slugs” at Lightfield Ammunition.

  Full disclosure up front is warranted. I have three brothers who are avid deer hunters. One is avid in the sense he hunts every weekend of the gun season and maybe sneaks in a “sick day or two” depending.... The other two put “avid” to shame, being three season hunters, (bow, gun and muzzleloader) and are as apt to be out on a Tuesday or Wednesday as on a weekend.

  More full disclosure, my brothers have produced a bevy of nephews and there’s a couple more (courtesy of a sister) coming up through the ranks who fit the term “avid deer hunter” as well. Put it this way. When gun season opens, I’m sure observation satellites overhead key in on the amount of hunter orange around my house and Brother Russ’s where the harvest is turned into freezer-venison.

  More full disclosure, Brian Smith, Director of Sales at Lightfield Ammunition is a long-time friend and he knows the Schoonveld hunters are numerous, efficient and shoot lots of ammo each year, keeping their guns on target and using their guns regularly in the field. It helps that I am a freelance outdoor writer and blogger. Nothing stirs the marketing heart in Brian more than seeing mention of Lightfield slugs in print or on-line.

  Last September at a writers conference Brian asked, “Have you guys been using any of Lightfield’s Bucks, Boars and Bear slugs?”  The short end of this story is he slipped us a healthy sample supply. The answer to the same question now would be, “Sure are!”

  On paper, pre-season, only slight adjustments were needed to our scope mounted shotguns to get them sighted for the BB&B slugs. (We’d been shooting Lightfield Hybrid Lites for the last few years.)  Now, with opening weekend behind us, we can attest the BB&B slugs, introduced in 2015, are great on bucks (and does), and none of the shooters had any doubt they’d easily do the whack and stack on boars or bears where they are found and legal to hunt.

  In Newton County the limit is one buck and three does per person. One brother and few nephews still have their buck tags. None have all their doe tags still available. No deer have been lost and most dropped dead where they stood.

Nephew, Daniel Schoonveld, scored this 10-pointer opening day.
  Look for Lightfield BB&B at Cabela’s, Bass Pro and many independent stores or buy them on-line at www.tarhunt.com.




Saturday, March 19, 2016

MASQUINONGY

My word processing program didn’t put a red line under the word in the title of this essay, “masquinongy” so my computer thinks the word is spelled correctly. That doesn’t make it right. Spell checkers are not always right. My computer thinks the word, “muzzleloader” is an incorrect spelling but the DNR lists a Muzzleloader Deer Season.  I have downriggers on my boat, my computer tells me they are down riggers.

  But this essay isn’t about the proper verses improper spellings of various words hunters and fishermen use frequently (is it bowhunting or bow hunting), it’s about the various spellings both in “scientific” jargon, in historical reference, in normal conversation and modern writings by outdoor writers such as me about the fish fish-science guys named Esox masquinongy.

  Walk into a baitshop (bait shop) most places in a Great Lakes state and ask what the Esox masquinongy has been biting lately and the proprietor may look at you funny and will keep an eye on you as you fondle the large bucktails (buck tails) and swimbaits (swim-baits) for sale in his shop.

  According to Wikipedia - that well trusted source for facts - factoids - factual - and nearly fastidious tidbits of Internet information, the name for this fish originated from the Ojibwa name: maashkinoozhe, meaning “ugly pike.”  Or perhaps it was named by French explorers calling the ugly pike, “masque allonge” which either means elongated face or was the Frenchification of the Ojibwa “maashkinoozhe.”  Later Frenchmen coming on the scene spelled the fish’s name variously, including masquinonge’ or maskinonge’.
Maybe it's French name meaning long face isn't far off the mark. 

  The reason I even bring this up is because I received a news release from a company making large lures to tempt these elongated-faced fish, in which  the “now” name of the fish was spelled both “musky” and “muskie.”  My spell checker doesn’t underscore “musky” but I think this is because the word has an alternate meaning describing the smell of my hunting boots.

 Whether you ascribe to either the “y” ending or “ie” ending short version of the modern name muskellunge is of little consequence. Ugly as they might be, as long as their face may be, I’ve seen other spellings: muskelunge, muscallonge, maskinonge and others. So what is it?

  The truth is, it doesn’t matter. As Shakespeare penned: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The important thing is we are blessed to have muskies or maashkinoozhes or however you say or spell it. And whether the one you catch comes with a y or an ie at the end of its name, congratulations. You’ve caught one of North America’s rarest and most sought trophies.


Friday, January 15, 2016

ALTERNATIVE MARKETS

The market for wild caught pelts for the fur industry is depressed this year. A big raccoon which would have been worth 35 dollars a few years ago when Russian crude was selling for $100 a barrel will sell this year for maybe five-bucks if you can find a fur buyer who is even open for business.

Life like taxidermy work is fine art.  
But trapping is more than a way to make money, it’s an outdoor sport every bit as important to me as fishing, shooting and hunting. It’s a way to keep fur bearing animal populations under control and healthy. Whether I sell my pelts for $10 or $100 makes little difference at the end of the season. Still, as a guy who picks up lost pennies when I spot one in a parking lot, I’d like to get the most money possible for my effort.

There are other businesses using wild-caught animals, besides furriers. I’ve sold pelts to fly-tiers and crafters. There’s a limited demand for raccoon and opossum meat. Mepps lures will buy the tails from legally harvested squirrels to make their spinners. Another business often buying wild animals are taxidermists.

Some taxidermists only mount animals for hunters. A hunter bags a big buck or nails a coyote while on his or her deer stand then hauls it down to Joe’s Stuffing Store and pays Joe to bring it back to life - almost.

Squirrels are often used as novelty items. 
However, many taxidermists also mount animals to sell to non-sportsmen. There’s a market for wildlife displays in offices, dens, restaurants and other locations, just as there is a market for man-made sculptures, paintings and other artwork. Those animals have to come from somewhere.

The price of furs is strictly based on supply and demand. Though the faltering economies in Russia and China this year undercut demand and prices for wild pelts for fashion, Joe’s Stuffing Store may still need a good number of animals to produce his boutique displays.

I’ve been selling a variety of animals to a taxidermy studio in Lake County for several years. In the past this taxidermist has paid up to $15 per raccoon, regardless of size, he also buys a few opossums, foxes, coyotes as well as squirrels, mink, weasels, rabbits and chipmunks as long as they were legally obtained.

A fox is a  rare catch for me. 
I harvested one fox and one mink this year on my trap line. Both were surprises since I was not trapping specifically for either. Fox are few and far these days, forced out by habitat changes and coyotes. Mink are more numerous, but since I don’t trap in or near water most of the time, finding one in a dry land raccoon trap is equally rare.

Instead of pelting them out and selling them into the fur trade where I would have been lucky  to garner fifteen dollars for both animals, I froze them whole and took them to the taxidermist. The taxidermist paid $30 for both animals. I’m not rich, but it beats picking up pennies.