Friday, December 27, 2013


I've never published one of my weekly outdoor columns as a blog. This time is different. Below is my column about Snowy Owls, normally a creature of the far north, irrupting into the Midwest. The column came out in this weeks paper and I got a call from a good friend alerting me she'd spotted one very close to where we live.

I showed my column to my daughter, Abby, home for the Holidays and then told her,

She asked, "Interesting, but what's up now?"

"We got one! Want to go look for it?"

"Let's go!"

So I grabbed a couple sets of binoculars and off we went on our quest.  Sure enough, a mile west of Brook, Indiana, about 3/4s mile north in a bean field on the west side of Meridian Road was the bright white visitor from the Arctic.  Too cool.

Here's my column for those of you who don't get our local papers.

By Mike Schoonveld
We are well into winter and well into the routine that comes with snowstorms seemingly lined up in a regular pattern this season. But there’s another kind of snowstorm heading our way, one that just might offer us a brighter attitude about the cold dark days of winter.
The far north tundra areas of North America and Europe is the normal range for birds named the snowy owl. They are large owls, similar in size to great horned owls and barred owls frequently seen in this area. But they are white, or nearly white. With age, a few male snowy owls do become completely white while females and younger males have dusky-tipped feathers making them look somewhat spotted.
Most years they live in their native tundra areas all year around. Their staple food is the lemming, a short tailed rodent about the size of a chipmunk. People who have studied snowy owls determined they normally eat four or five lemmings each day.
But like many species of wildlife with high reproductive rates, the lemming population tends to be cyclic. Some years there are lemmings seemingly everywhere; in other years, lemmings become scarce.  Snowy owl populations fluctuate as well. Every so often, a higher than normal number of owls are faced with a lower than usual number of lemmings.
When that happens snowy owls have two choices, stay and starve or leave to find food elsewhere. When a bird population that’s not normally migratory suddenly leaves it’s normal range it’s called an irruption instead of a true migration. From early reports, it’s looks as though a snowy owl irruption is taking place.  
The center of focus for this year's invasion is the Great Lakes and Northeast. Keep an eye out for these northern owls in open areas while you're outdoors or even just driving through the countryside. Don't overlook that white bump in the middle of a farm field or on the peak of the house next door. It just might be a snowy owl.
Because they normally live in areas where there are no or very few humans or automobiles, snowy owls aren’t particularly wary of such things. I’ve only seen one live snowy owl and it was sitting on a fence post along U.S. 41 just north of Enos. I turned around, came back for a better look and it just sat there staring back at me only 20 feet away.
This lack of wariness often proves fatal when it comes to avoiding speeding vehicles. The snowy owl on display at the Willow Slough HQ was killed by a passing car just south of Lake Village several years ago. Three snowy owls were  killed recently at New York City airports by animal control agents.  This action was deemed necessary to protect passengers after instances when owls were sucked into plane engines. Once the owl shootings became public knowledge, the airport policy quickly changed to “capture and remove” should any new arrivals show up.
These birds normally live in the tundra, an area completely devoid of trees. They instinctively seek out similar open areas and that’s one of the reasons they are attracted to airports. It’s also one of the reasons they are likely to find our open expanses of farms and fields to their liking this winter.
The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has a program called eBird. Bird enthusiasts from across North America keep track of and report the sightings of snowy owls and other birds. Cornell tabulates the reportings and publishes updates regularly at the website: www.
The current map shows numerous sighting in Indiana and Illinois. The path of the sightings indicates most of owls irrupting this year originated from eastern Arctic in North America or Greenland.  Snowy Owls are one of the most impressive animals on the planet. You don't have to be a bird watcher to appreciate how cool they are.


Monday, November 25, 2013


“It was a real hat-floater experience.” That’s the phrase I’ve often heard when someone describes wading into a deep hole, falling off a boat dock or otherwise managing to unexpectedly go in the water far enough that when they sputter to the surface, their hat is floating nearby.

A floating hat is never good
for the owner of the hat. 
I was by myself in my 13-foot canoe on a small lake. I had a shotgun, shells and decoys with me. Lot’s of decoys.

When by myself in the canoe, I sit in what most would consider the front seat and paddle the boat stern first. It makes for a more level load and I can pretty well reach all the way to the front (stern) to get the gear stowed there. There’s room behind me, as well.

I had three bags of dekes forward, one bag sitting behind me. By the time I paddled around deploying the first three bags of decoys, the dawn was breaking. I reached behind to wrench the last bag free but it was caught.

So I stood up so I could get an upward pull and then swing them around. I have good balance and have successfully done stupid things like that many times in my small boat. This time seemed no different.

Until the string that cinches the decoy sack closed wedged on something as I swung the sack-o-blocks around and forward. The string caught, I tipped just a little, then quickly realized I’d tipped just a little too far.

It’s amazing when time stands still. At least for a little while. This was one of those times when things went into slo-mo-mode.

I realized I was about to leave the boat. I also realized I was wearing waders and I knew from hunting in this same spot many times the water was only about belly-button deep.

Now that I had the salient facts in mind, I quickly devised a plan. I surmised, as time stood still and I teetered ever closer to the cold water, my best course of action was to jump. Since I was already a few degrees off of vertical, my theory was that when I jumped, most of the jumping motion would propel me upward but a little of the energy would cause the canoe to skitter out from under me. Once that happened, gravity would take over, I’d enter the water mostly in a vertical attitude, make a very large splash but otherwise be mostly unscathed.

So I jumped. That part of the plan seemed to be working. The part about the canoe skittering away seemed right on track, as well. What I didn’t plan on was heel of my wader catching on the gunnel of the canoe as it skittered. One other part of the plan worked out as well. The huge splash.

When I got my feet under me and stood up, the first thing I saw was my floating hat.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Ever had one of those, “Why didn’t I think of that” moments?  I sure did at a recent Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers conference.

It’s not that I wished I’d invented the Etch a Sketch or the electric bread slicer and eventually ended up on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It’s that this invention is a really cool idea.

It’s called the Hooker Deer Drag. I could make one quite easily from a length of cold-rolled steel or a half-inch re-rod, but I didn’t think of it. My home made versions probably wouldn’t come with a cushy handle grip, either. That’s part of the $49.99 you pay for a pair of the HDDs.

Here’s the deal. The fun part of deer hunting is getting ready. The exciting part is spotting a deer and hoping it comes within range. The challenging part is making the shot. The drudgery part is dragging 150 pounds of dead weight out of the woods. Even where I live here in the Flatlands of Indiana you always have to drag dead deer uphill.

I’ve shot big deer. I’ve shot little deer. When you shoot a little deer there’s always a bunch of people driving by, stopping to help or showing up out of nowhere to ridicule you for shooting a little deer. When you shoot a big deer you are the last man on Earth. Great! You shot a big deer. Now load that dead weight into the back of your truck ala lonesome - after dragging it uphill, 14 miles, through the brush, snow and chisel plowed fields.

The HDD would make the job simpler. Look at the photo and you can see in your mind how it works. Go to and see more photos. Order one. Or if you have five feet of cold rolled steel, an acetylene torch and welder handy make a pair for yourself. Cushy hand-hold is optional.

Friday, October 4, 2013


Food Network star, Alton Brown likes tools that are multi-taskers. So do I.

Krissie Mason shows off her 4 in 1
And who knew Zippo, yep, the company that makes Zippo lighters, was into making multitasking tools - or any tools, for that matter? I wasn’t even sure Zippo was still in business, thinking perhaps Bic, the ball point pen and disposable butane lighter company, had bankrupted them.

At a recent meeting of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers, I learned my lesson. Yes, Zippo is still in business and still making their famous wind proof lighters.  They also make hand warmers, fire starters, a variety of other products including a perfectly multitasking tool every deer, turkey or waterfowl hunter might just want to get.

It’s bow saw that doubles as a hatchet, or is it a hatchet that doubles as a bow saw?  Either way, if you are in need of a tool to clear some shooting lanes, construct a blind or perhaps to gather some wood for a camp fire, this is it! It’s neat, compact. They call it the 4 in 1 Woodsman. I had to look up the fourth task after chopping, sawing and pounding tent pegs. Evidently it’s good at pulling tent pegs, as well.

The 4 in 1 retails for around $80 so that’s only twenty bucks per task.  

Sunday, September 29, 2013


I first saw the Gear Grabbar (no misspelling) at the inaugural Chicagoland Fishing, Travel and Outdoor Expo last winter.  “Just another lure organizing tool,” I thought to myself. When Jennifer Gesik, sales director, demonstrated the Gear Grabbar, I thought, “Wow, it may just be another gear organizing tool, but it’s a cool one.”

I’ve used similar things in the past. Some were chunks of foam fastened in a strategic location. Others were shallow trays to contain stray hooks and tackle or little ledges with holes to poke hooks to keep lures in check. It was just as easy to put a lure back in the tackle box as in the temporary hook-holder.

Jennifer Gesik, the GG-Girl
So what makes the Gear Grabbar different? Magnets! And more.

The more is the aluminum bodied Gear Grabbar is configured similar to a piece of angle iron. Mount the GG so the back part of the angle is against the mounting surface, the other part of the angle is like a shelf with the imbedded magnets facing down. Mounting is simple with two-sided sticky-tape dots (included) or by fastening to the backing with stainless steel screws or bolts.

When you take out a lure, or take it off the line, it’s simple to just slap it up under the GG and it sticks. The magnets are so powerful, you can throw the lure at it and the hooks will stick. When they are stuck under the ledge, they are much less likely to catch on pants, shirts or worse, skin, if you accidently brush against the GG.

I ran into Jennifer again recently at an outdoor writer’s gathering. I verbally gave her a testimonial about how much I liked the Gear Grabbar on the boat and picked up couple more of them. I will be putting them somewhere.  Available in black or white, look for them at Cabela’s, Bass Pro and other tackle shops or at ,

Friday, August 9, 2013


   When I was a youngster I grew up with a fishing pole in my hand. And fishing rods, as well. And dreams of catching a fish so big that it’s belly sagged when you held it posing for a photo.
    At the beginning of each month, I’d head to the barber shop to get my monthly haircut. First a plain ol’ buzz cut. Later a flat top. Longer styles in my late high school years. But that’s not why I did monthly trips to the barber.
Add caption
    The barber had subscriptions to a half dozen outdoor magazines - Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Fur Fish Game and others. I’d be there hoping for a crowd so there would be a long wait and occasionally, I’d hang around after being “barbed” to thumb through the remaining pages.
    While many of my friends dreamed of becoming a major leaguer, rock and roll star or top flight golfer, my dreams were spawned by the pages of those magazines.
    So was my imagination. I may have been holding my cane pole down at Mert’s pond catching six-inch bullheads; in my mind I was in Florida planning to catch a 10 pound or bigger largemouth bass. When I switched to a fly rod to angle up stunted bluegills or crappies at Mingle’s pond, my mind was in the Rocky Mountains fishing for native cutthroat trout.
    But of all the dreams I gleaned from all the flashy photos, the pictures that fueled my imagination the most was those depicting giant lake trout, huge northern pike and even beer-belly bass so big that when the proud angler held them, their belly sagged! Oh, to catch a fish so big it had a saggy belly.
    Now, older, well traveled, well fished, I’ve caught fish with saggy bellies. I’ve helped others catch them as well. When someone catches a big fish on the Brother Nature, I encourage them to grip the fish, head and tail, allowing the monster to sag a little, hopefully a lot, and put a grin on my face and a boyish dream in my head.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Iowegians below the
Norway dam. 

I sent Doug Wheelock an email that said this. “Doug: There is some good news in the forecast. In checking the intimate details, the UV Index while you are to be here is to stay near-zero. That will certainly save on sunscreen costs! Looking forward to your visit! Capt. Mike.”
Doug Wheelock is the leader of a loose collection of  friends, relatives and in-laws from or living near Sioux City, Iowa who trek to Indiana every spring for three days of fishing. I call it the Iowegian Attack!

Foul weather has been a frequent participant dating back to the first ever Iowegian Attack, many years ago. I called Doug and told him the weather report was bad - make that horrible - and not the sort of day many would find enjoyable. I suggest we cancel or “reschedule.”
White Bass and Stripers

“Nope,” said Doug, “We’re coming and just make the best of it.”

They came and we did make the best of it. I don’t remember the details, but I’m sure we were cold, plenty bounced around - and we caught some salmon.

The Iowgian Attack has taken place in late March, usually in April and once in May. One arrival day coincided with 10-inches of snow and we had to pull the boat with Doug’s 4WD Suburban rather than my then, two-wheel-drive tow vehicle.

We’ve only stayed off Lake Michigan a few times for safety reasons. Day one forecast this year was for north wind and 20-foot waves.  I used my Captain’s prerogative and cancelled the first scheduled day on Lake Michigan. As an alternative, however, we drove to Monticello, IN to fish the Tippecanoe River below Norway dam. When we arrived the water was gushing through the dam because of the heavy rains. I doubted the fishing would be good. Maybe we could give up early and not fish in the rain all day?

No such luck! A few casts and the first of many white bass bit my Roadrunner jig. Doug caught a catfish. We even caught some hybrid stripers! Well, okay, we had some luck after all, we just had to endure the rain and drizzle to prevail.

On Thursday only three boats left the harbor at East Chicago, me with the Iowegian crew and two other charter boats. After the storm, we suspected tough fishing and agreed to split up in search of fish. If anyone found a concentrated number, we'd each other know. One of us went north, one west and we headed east. No one found appreciable numbers.
Who is that masked man? It's Doug Wheelock dressed for the
typical Iowegian Attack weather. 

 We had our first bite, but lost the fish, at 9AM; then we actually caught a salmon at 10:02! The other boats each had a fish or two as well, but no one had found a hotspot. The skies lightened a bit and more fish started finding our lures. In the next couple of hours, 17 fish were dragged close enough to scoop aboard before we called the day over and successful.

 It was snowing on Saturday morning as we suited up in our foul-weather gear. Not the pretty flakes you’d like to see on Christmas Eve. The tiny, almost pellet-like snow that stings on a hard wind. It stung!
  What did I expect? It was the Iowegian Attack 2013.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


I have a six-point check list that helps guide me when I’m planning a perfect winter get-away. If I can hit 3 of the 6 marks, I’m sure the vacation will be good. Hitting four of the marks is better and until this year, I’ve never been anywhere that rated more than 5 scores. Here’s my checklist:

1)Warmth of the tropics. I’m not talking jacket warm, I’m looking for sweaty warm on a sunny afternoon.
2) White sandy beaches. I don’t really care if the sand is white, red or black, but white sounds better.
3) World Class Fishing. Fishing for what? I don’t really care other than the bigger, the better and if they happen to be tasty, that’s an additional plus.
4) Cold Margaritas, (good food, plenty of choices - but cold Margaritas are very important.)
5) Affordable prices. This one is tough since you have to factor travel expense, accommodations, food and fishing.
6) Small town atmosphere. This may not make everyone’s list, but I choose to live in the boonies and heading for a city (even one with the above 5 attributes) for a vacation isn’t high on my list.

In February, I found a perfect-six at the Isla Mujeres (Isle of Women) which is about 6 miles off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. Cancun is in the Tropics. That’s why it’s become a popular winter retreat for millions of people.  Isla Mujeres is small town. I loved it.
Isla Mujeres features white sandy beaches on one side and rocky, California-like beaches on the other. Both sides have numerous restaurants and stop-over points where cold Margaritas are dispensed. And there’s never a line. Okay, maybe by the ferry boat docks it might take a minute to get a cervesa-frio, but elsewhere, a cold drink and warm welcome is instantaneous.
One of the reasons Mexico has become a popular tourism spot is affordability. Cancun is huge and offers lots of flight options. The ferry costs 12 bucks round trip. On the island a taxi can take you from one end to the other and back for $3 - if you feel the need to travel.
And the fishing is good. I hired Capt. Jorge Mostalac ( for 4 days for what a comparable experience state-side would cost for a day.
A perfect-six? Absolutely!


Saturday, March 9, 2013


     It’s hard to look at a snow covered landscape and think spring is anywhere near. But yesterday made me confident. Though the temperature only climbed to around 40 degrees, with little wind and almost zero clouds against the blue, it was easy to feel the warmth of the early March sun. 
I didn’t look for robins, it wasn’t sandhill cranes flying like last week. I spent the afternoon in the “sunroom” on my pole building repairing, oiling and respooling my fishing reels. Just outside the solar heated ell, I checked for (and found) thousands of “snow fleas,” the little insects that are one of the a surest signs of spring. In the world of entomologists, they are known as Achorutes nivicola; to others they are springtails, but when they emerge to play on the surface of melting snowdrifts, it’s easy to understand their snow flea moniker. 
        They are not even distantly related to real fleas and with a magnifying glass, they don’t look much like a flea, either. They don’t climb on dogs, cats or people. I’m told they feed mostly on decaying vegetation and fungi. But when you walk outside and spot what looks like energetic flakes of pepper frolicking on remnant snow, it’s snow fleas. 

I suppose there’s some life cycle reason for them to crawl out from under where ever they huddled down for the winter. Perhaps it’s a prelude to their breeding season or an escape from the meltwater dripping under the snow. I like to think it’s just the joy of spring, calling them out for a few hours of spring’s promise.  

Monday, February 25, 2013


    I go a lot of places and do a lot of things. I use many different products. Most are as expected. Many are better than expected. A few are less than what I bought into, whether that’s products, places or activities. I recently discovered another category: disappointment.

     Long story shortened, some close friends invited my wife and I to a week at the Avalon Reef Club on Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. We paid our airfare, I set up and paid for fishing excursions and we split expenses for incidentals such as taxi rides and the like.

    I have 1 great thing to say about the Avalon Reef Club. It’s placed on the absolutely best location on the island - actually on it’s own island accessible from Isla Mujeres only by a long wooden bridge. There are a few other bright spots. Unfortunately, there's one huge drawback.

    ARC is likely the most ill-managed resort I’ve ever visited. The management is rude, usually unavailable and completely unyielding. As a result, both workers and guests seemed to go about their days and stays wishing they were elsewhere, like being in a bad mood at a Christmas party.

    Again making a long story short, there was a misunderstanding and dispute on our billing. They understood and though they couldn’t make us understand; in their mind, there was no dispute. Fork over the dough (lots of it) or leave. I voted for leaving.

    The place is clean and no worse for wear than other places I’ve stayed. It’s also empty. Sure there’s a recession but it's not that bad. The hotel was less than 25% occupied. The word is out and there were no repeat customers. We won't be.

    I’d make a return trip to Isla Mujeres tomorrow. Certainly next winter. I wouldn’t go back to ARC if they said it was complimentary. If they charge 10 pesos for the second day’s packet of coffee for the two-cup coffee maker in your room, what would complimentary mean?

Thursday, February 14, 2013


        When the first salmon were stocked in Lake Michigan to control the overabundant alewife population, no one knew what would happen. The alewife, an invasive species that migrated into the lakes from the Atlantic Ocean once the shipping lanes were established, exploded in population.

         Though they only live a few years, once they became established, trillions of them died from natural causes each summer and their little bodies drifted with the ever changing winds fouling beaches all around Lake Michigan.

The solution? Stock cohos. Would it work? Time would tell.

It worked. And the first indication was when commercial fishermen with gill nets set to catch yellow perch in Indiana started catching “funny looking trout” in the spring. The funny fish turned out to be coho salmon.

        What wasn’t known then but is well documented now is that cohos prefer water temperatures around 50 degrees. In a lake like Lake Michigan, which is 300 miles long, the north end cools faster than the south end. As the lake cools in autumn, the baby cohos stocked from hatcheries months earlier migrate south to stay in water temperatures to their liking.

By late November, all the salmon in the lake have pushed to the south end of the lake. Indiana’s end of the lake. The part of the lake where I work.

And when winter ends, they are still here. Millions of them.

When the nearshore waters start to warm in March, they swarm inshore offering the hottest and fastest salmon fishing in the world. That’s why you need to get out there with your own boat or hire me to take you. Where’s the best place to fish?  Where the fish are!

Spring break is the perfect time to hit the water. Most schools schedule their breaks in late March and early April and that’s the peak of the season time to be out for Indiana’s “spring coho” bonanza. My spring break dates are already filling. If you want to sign on, give me a call soon. Don’t wait, don’t be late. I’ll be there with you or some other person. I’d rather be with you.   Go to www. for contact info and prices.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Stories of big bucks are common where ever
deer hunters gather. 

I can only imagine 3 or 4 hundred years ago when Native American hunters sat around the campfires at night they bragged up the “big bucks” they had shot in past hunts. It doesn’t matter that the killing the deer was more for survival than sport. Harvesting a big buck or catching a big fish is something worth remembering.
One thing the Indians didn’t have was the ability to easily compare one deer with another. So the size of some of the bucks probably grew with the story-telling ability of the hunter. That’s not the case with modern day deer hunters.
In 1950 the Boone and Crockett Club introduced specific guidelines anyone can use to measure the antlers of the deer they harvest. The B&C scoring method is used by other clubs, as well and here in Indiana it’s used to rank your deer against other noteworthy deer bagged last year or decades ago.
For many years, the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife kept the records and produced the record books. As the number of deer harvested in Indiana, what was once a nearly insignificant program became very cumbersome with biologists spending a lot of time measuring and compiling. The Indiana Deer Hunters Association took over the project, but continued as a volunteer scorer.
Measuring all the points, circumferences and other
details determines the final score. 
Since leaving the DNR, I don’t interact with as many deer hunters as I once did so I don’t score very many deer heads anymore. A local hunter dropped by last evening with a beautiful mounted deer head, just back from the taxidermist. It had 14 “measurable” points meaning they were at least an inch long. Ten of the points were “good” ones, the other 4 were in odd locations so they actually counted against the final score.
When the tally was done the combined total for all the points was over 175 inches and with 9 inches of deductions from the odd points and minor variations from one side to the other, its final score was over 166. When my friend sits around future campfires with other hunters, he’s got some bragging rights.