Monday, January 27, 2020


Once in a while I learn news about blatant acts of poaching. I see are stories of fishermen catching three or four times the daily limit of fish. News is made when a trophy deer is found to have been shot by a poacher hunting with artificial lights at night. There are occasional accounts of shady operators netting, snagging or using other methods to catch fish they then sell at the back door of restaurants to illegally profit from their illicit works.

Luckily, these reports are few and far between. By and large, the number of illegal operators perpetrating these overt acts is small. That’s why when a serial poacher or poaching ring is nabbed, it’s newsworthy.

Most anglers don't use illegal nets or other methods
Unfortunately, far more total damage to fish and wildlife populations occur by illegal hunting or fishing by individuals or small scale operations. The spotlighting poacher who goes out several nights each week and bangs down a deer or two each time is easy to notice and an easy target for Conservation Officers. Chances are, the guy who gets “his buck” this way once each year or guns down a doe only when his freezer runs low on venison has a much better chance of getting away with the crime.

Call 1-800-TIP-IDNR if you notice deer spotlighers
It’s the same thing with illegal fishing operations. It’s much easier for a skilled poacher to occasionally catch an overload of fish than for a skilled bank robber to occasionally stick-up the local Fifth-Third. 

Here in Indiana most counties have one Conservation Officer assigned. Only a few counties have two or three DNR officers - and the counties with multiple teams are those with high human populations and/or are high outdoor activity counties such as Parke County with two state parks, a major reservoir and numerous other places outdoor oriented people hunt, fish, camp or hike.

Realistically, the vast majority of hunters, trappers and fishermen are by-the-book operators. They pay more attention to fish and wildlife regulations than they do to motor vehicle laws. This strict adherence to “rules following” is a part of hunter ethics taught in hunter education programs and fishing legally is ingrained as parents or others mentor young anglers as they progress from being a first timer, to novice to experienced. To the vast majority of outdoors people, shooting past the limit or using illegal methods to catch a fish seems as foreign, stupid or unconscionable as driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

Another reason is due to the fear of being caught.

Why do they fear being caught?  Didn’t I already say their chance of encountering a Conservation Officer is low?” 

I did! However, the Indiana TIP (standing for “Turn in a Poacher”) is more feared by wanton violators (whatever the scale of their violations) than their worry of being caught by an officer. The TIP program effectively deputizes every citizen of Indiana to watch for illegal hunting, fishing, trespassing and other outdoor activities and gives everyone an easy-to-remember way to turn in a bad operator.

The easiest way is to call the TIP hotline which is manned 24/7 using the easy-to-remember phone number: 1-800-TIP-IDNR (800-847-4367).  That’s the best way to get an immediate response. An online TIP form can be accessed at: The call comes in and the details are turned over to a Conservation Officer as soon as possible.

All tips to TIP can be anonymous. If a tipster wants to be rewarded, they can still be anonymous to the perpetrator, but if the tip leads to an arrest, a reward up to $200 can be given.
Indiana Conservation Officers respond to a TIP - tip. 
Since 9/11 officials have been advising people, “If you see something, say something.” The same thing can be said for people wanting to keep Indiana’s fish and wildlife healthy for all citizens to enjoy, legally. If you suspect a fish or wildlife law is being broken, report it. Jot down all the pertinent details, what’s going on, the violator’s description, details about the car, boat or other equipment (including license or registrations numbers), the time, place and anything else which will make the investigating officer’s job easier.
Commit the phone number to memory - 1-800-TIP-IDNR.

Saturday, March 3, 2018


 One day a few years ago a friend was fishing in his boat in the same area I was piloting the Brother Nature. We were in radio contact and regularly gave each other updates about how our fishing was going. For some reason the “early” bite on his boat died down to almost nothing while the people on my boat were still reeling in salmon, one after another.

Was Bill's luck due to his hat, sunglasses
or his snappy bibs? 
   Southern Lake Michigan captains are always good about telling each other where and how they are catching fish with other fishermen. So it wasn’t long until I was coaching my friend about the lures, how deep and all the other particulars.

   It didn’t help. The fish kept coming for me, not so hot for them. Finally, the other captain said something like, “I’m using the same lure, same depth, we’re going the same speed. Everything is the same.  What color of underwear are you wearing?”

   Ever since, it’s become a joke between the two of us. Each day we fish near each other, one of us will radio to the other asking about our choice of under shorts for the day.

   It got me wondering. Almost all fishermen are superstitious. Some wear the same hat for luck. I have a friend who swears he has lucky sunglasses he only pulls out when the fish are proving particularly reluctant to bite.

   Does the color (and/or style) of undies hiding under my jeans put out any fish-catching mojo? I hope not. I have enough details with which to keep track of each day without starting each trip by matching my choice of boxers to the wind direction or some other factor.

   Still, when I got the email advertisement from AFTCO, one of the most trusted names in fishing gear, announcing the addition of “Fishing Camo” pattern boxers to their line of fishing shirts, shorts and other apparel, I had to take a look.

   What do you think?  Would I look good in these? (No.) But would it make any difference to the fish?

Monday, February 19, 2018


Unlike some places with set dates for open and closed seasons, the fishing season on Lake Michigan is open all year around. It’s Mother Nature and the fish making the determination as to where and when the “season” will be open. At this time of year it’s all about ice out.
   The photo here was taken from a satellite in mid-February. As you can see, the 2017-18 winter didn’t produce a significant amount of ice in total and what is there has blown down to the south end of the lake. That ice and the ice inside the marinas where I launch and load the boat are all that’s between “wishing and fishing!”  A few warm days with south winds and it’s game on!

  The photos here show what’s happening. The one on the left shows approximately where all the cohos in Lake Michigan are now swimming. That zone was the last area to cool down in the fall and winter months and where the salmon schooled up (huddled up?) trying to keep in their preferred temperature range.

  The photo on the right is where almost all the cohos in the lake will be in a few weeks. You can see the lake ice already disappears or thins out near the south end shores due to water temperature. Each bright sunny day will warm those shallows a couple degrees and as soon as the salmon detect that warming, they will literally “storm the beaches.” 

  It won’t be long until the “wishing” will be over. The fishing season will be underway! 

Saturday, December 16, 2017


 An offshore fishing trip can be exciting, exhilarating and grueling - especially if the trip is with Capt. Ryan Kane with Southern Instinct Charters out of Port Sanibel Marina (www. His boat, powered by three 250 horsepower outboards will get you where you are going fast. Unless your destination is well over 60 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, even when cruising at 50 miles per hour, it’s a long boat ride.

 When you get there, the fish on your hook pull hard. You can barely move them and once you get them coming, often as not, something far larger, something with teeth grabs them and all you can do is play tug of war with something you’ll never stop. Rods stowed, it’s over and there’s well over 60 miles to travel on the boat ride back.

 It could have been better - or worse - depending on your point of view. At dawn I told Capt. Ryan we needed to be back at the dock by 3PM because I had reservations for another boat trip with wives and kids, just across the bridge on Sanibel Island. “I’ll try,” was all he said. “I guess we won’t be heading for the Dry Tortugas. They are 110 miles out. The fishing is fantastic out there.”

 It was tempting! The Dry Tortugas are a few small islands and coral reefs about halfway from Ft. Myers to the western tip of Cuba. A military fort (Fort Jefferson) was built on the largest island to combat the rampant piracy in the early 1800s, the area is now a National Park. It’s on my bucket list of places to go, so I was tempted. But the non-fishermen others in our group were eager for their own adventure afloat.

 Rushed, but not late, by the time the Sunset Cruise at Tarpon Bay Explorers (www. left the dock, our contingent was aboard, cameras ready and in the front seats of the oversized pontoon boat on another adventure, decidedly ungrueling; decidedly welcome.

 The tour guide explained what we’d likely see on our cruise through, in and out of the backwaters at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge then he delivered. He mentioned, manatees, dolphins, eagles and egrets. We saw plenty of peregrines, a plethora of pelicans, sea turtles and sea life – all in the span of time the other boat would have taken to get to the Tortugas.

Then sunset happened, right on schedule and just as advertized. A fitting end to a long day on the boats. Fun, fast, fantastic and finally over. Not completely over, I had more adventures planned for morning.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


  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....”

Monday, March 13, 2017


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


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?

   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.