Friday, December 11, 2015


There may not be a more disgusting and less useful bird on this planet than the European Starling. Ugh! What are they good for?  They aren’t particularly colorful. Their normal “song” sounds like a bearing going out on a push mower. They love to build nests in inconvenient places, and not just petite, nearly unnoticeable structures.

  Ever seen what looks like a half a bale of hay sticking out of a rain gutter?  Probably a starling nest.

  And they are an invasive species!  From Europe.  Probably not the civilized, crepe suzette or Charles Dickens part of Europe, either.  More likely from the part that produced vampires, world wars and iron fisted despots.

  My guess is now there are starlings everywhere from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from the mountains of Nepal to the Okefenokee Swamp.  Probably all building hay bale sized nests in rain gutters and martin houses where ever they live.

  But sitting in my car recently while Peggy hurried in for a last minute shopping excursion, I enjoyed a natural wonder that starlings do better than any other species.  They murmur.

  A starling murmur isn’t a bunch of them sitting around speaking in a guteral lower European language. It’s a few hundred of them, perhaps a few thousand, perhaps even more, flocking together and exhibiting an aerial display that makes the Navy’s Blue Angel flight team look like rank amateurs.

  This huge conglomeration of birds, fly in an amorphous flock in absolute synchrony. The shape of the flock, the height of the flock, the direction of the birds, flows like a million-bird living lava lamp.  It’s absolutely spectacular and not all that hard to see. Just watch for a flock over a field, forest or community near you, then pause and enjoy the show.

  And enjoyment, it must be. There’s no reason for a starling flock to form a murmuration other than for the pure fun of it. Like human’s dancing or shouting Dee-Fence in unison at football games; like antelope racing across the prairie just because they can.  

  Animals live to stay warm, well fed and produce enough offspring to keep their species prosperous. Whether the animal is a field mouse or an elephant. Some animals work their tails off to accomplish these three things. Others, do it quite easily and then spend some of the rest of their days enjoying life. Hippos take a swim. Lions sunbathe. Evidently, starlings murmur.

  Watch for it. There’s likely a starling murmuration going on near you today, tomorrow, where ever, whenever you are outdoors. They almost make pulling those hay bales out the gutters worthwhile.  

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Most shotgun shooters agree anything they shoot at standing or flying 40 yards or less is in deep doo-doo if they shoot accurately. So doing the math, if a duck, turkey, rabbit or other game needs is in the same acre with them, it should be an easy shot.
Here’s the math. The formula to compute the area of a circle is pi (3.14) times the radius of the circle, squared.  Pi-R-Squared.  In this case, the radius is 120 feet. 120 X 120 X 3.14 equals 45,216 square feet.  There are 43,560 square feet in an acre so a 40 yard circle is just a tad larger than an acre.
Modern bow hunters usually feel comfortable twanging an arrow at a deer 30 yards away.  That’s tougher.  Using the Pi - R- Squared formula and dividing by the number of square feet in an acre, a deer hunter has to get his quarry in about the same six-tenths of an acre with him for it to be in range.
Indiana is a muzzloading rifle/deer slug only state. Though modern muzzleloaders have extended their range appreciably in the past decade or so and shotguns with scopes, rifled barrels and modern ammo make accurate longer shots possible, most deer-shooters accept a 100 yard shot is an acceptable range to bang away at a deer with either gun.
Doing the math as before, all a deer hunter needs to do is be in the same six and a half acres and Mister Big Buck is as good as dead.
When I set a coyote trap, my “kill area” isn’t registered in acres or even square feet. The trigger on my traps are about two inches in diameter. Pi-r-square two-inches and you have a target area only about 3 square inches in size. If the coyote steps on that 3 square-inch spot, I win. If not, the coyote goes his own way.
The green spots are coyote footprints. The red spot is the
is the location of the trigger on my trap. Lucky or cunning,
I lose! 
So what’s the toughest game in town?  I’m putting my money on coyote trapping, especially if you do it mathematically.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Stories on the St. Croix

 As a writer, I sometime go fishing because I have a story to tell.  The editor says, I need a story about fishing heavy weeds in midsummer.”  So I head to a weed-filled lake with someone who knows how to pull those fish living in the salad below the surface.

Brian started the story with a smallmouth bass.
 More fun is to go fishing and wait for the story to develop. What starts as a walleye fishing trip might evolve into a feature about tying knots or using a GPS to find and stay on the fish.

 That’s the sort of trip I took recently while attending an Outdoor Writer's conference in Minneapolis Northwest: specifically in Brooklyn Center, MN.

 Our fishing was done on the St. Croix River just east of Minneapolis where it forms the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. The St. Croix is a major tributary of the Mississippi River that divides Miineapolis from St. Paul. I had no story, but I was waiting for a story.

 Bro Brosdahl is a walleye fishing guide, walleye tournament fisherman, an ice fishing angler so renown that Frabill, leader in the ice fishing gear industry hires him as a consultant. Bro grew up on the St. Croix River. What would happen when he returned to the St. Croix after a decades long hiatus?

 What would happen if Bro and I were sharing the morning with Brian Smith, a publisher, videographer, world traveler and good friend? Brian brought his daughter, Mya along. Would that be a story?

I didn’t know, but I knew the fishing trip would be interesting, fun, probably productive, undoubtedly I’d find a story or two sometime that morning. I was right.

Mya caught a Gar!  
 The St. Croix, so close to Minneapolis is hardly a wilderness setting. It’s a playground for outdoor enthusiasts from Wisconsin and the Twin Cities. There were kayaks, there were mega-yachts. There were plenty of fishing boats and with the nice weather day we had despite it being late September, factor in water-sports enthusiasts. But that’s not the story, that’s the back drop.

 Bro took us to a railroad bridge where he used to catch walleye on a regular
basis. We’d slowly drift with the current, bouncing a jig and minnow along the rocky bottom. Brian scored first, but it wasn’t a walleye; rather a smallmouth bass. Mya hooked up next and hauled in beautiful yellow perch. A dozen of those would make a great fish fry.

 Bro did catch a walleye, but it wasn’t fast action and not much of a story. So we moved downstream to an area with a naturally rocky bottom. The next fish to come aboard was a sauger, close cousin to a walleye, equally tasty. Then Brian, casting up to shallower water felt a strike and his fish stayed deep and only reluctantly allowed itself to be pulled to the surface. A three pound channel catfish was at the end of the line.

 “I believe I’m beginning to see a story line here,” I thought. We’ve caught four species of fish already. Then Mya’s rod doubled down and species number five was in the boat. She’d hooked and landed a short-nose gar.
Bro added a Sauger and others

 That, in itself is story-worthy, but that’s another tale. Gar are plentiful and fierce predators, but not often caught with hook and line.  I’ve never caught one or seen one caught.

 Bro, switched to a jigging spoon and soon hauled a good sized white bass to the surface. “Is there any species of fish in here we haven’t caught?” I asked.

 Bro laughed and said, “Well, there are pike and musky, but other than that, we’ve pretty well got everything covered.”

 Not quite. A few minutes later, his rod doubled down once more and stayed bent. We all watched down in the water to see what it was. Perhaps a pike or musky? Perhaps....

 The fish swished to the surface and I quickly slid the net under it, still unsure of what it was.  In the net, the ID was easy. It was a bigmouth buffalo. I’ve seen plenty of buffalo, have successfully bow fished for them, but again, I’ve never caught one or seen one caught.

 So that’s my story on the St. Croix River. A place with many kinds of fish to catch, and most of them willing to bite!

Friday, September 11, 2015


It was just after my next to last long-range tuna fishing trip. I had the day off, it was sunny and bright.  I flipped on my kitchen TV to catch up on the overnight news. Word was an airplane had crashed into one of the world trade center towers in New York.

Amazing, I thought. How stupid, I thought. It’s odd how all those people who cram themselves into cities, high-rises and towers manage to live there surrounded by filth, corruption, crime and airplanes crashing into their buildings.

A couple weeks earlier, I’d been out on the Pacific Ocean, armed with a fishing rod and reel, a bucket of bait and was catching bluefin tuna and albacore. No high rise buildings once the boat left San Diego Harbor. High waves, high spirits, high hopes, sure. But I was just a fisherman.

Back at home with coolers full of tuna filets, today was to be tuna-canning day. I wasn’t about to let an errant airplane crashing into a New York skyscraper ruin it. That was a world away from my home in rural Indiana.

Before breakfast was done, I watched in almost real time - perhaps in real time - as a second plane sliced into the other tower. Unreal. That was no accident, I was sure. Fool me once shame on you....

I needed jars, lids and rings to preserve the tuna chunks.  Off to the store, 15 minutes away.  On the way, the radio reported a third plane crashing into the Pentagon and on the way home, reports of a plane crashing in rural Pennsylvania came across the airwaves.  I got home in time to watch almost in real time - or perhaps in real time - the first of the two towers crashing down.

While I was washing the jars and lids, the other tower crumbled. I don’t know which was worse, watching the individuals diving out of upper story windows or the harsh reality that once those buildings fell, survivors would be few. Early reports were as many as 50,000 people worked in those buildings. There was no telling if a quarter of them made it out, half?  Luckily, most made it out. Amazingly, most made it out. Surprisingly, most made it out.

As the jars of tuna cooked and

the weight on the top of the canner rattled, I kept an eye and ear on the TV and radio.  What had just happened?

One thing is for sure. The USA has never been the same since. It may never be the same. I’ll never be the same.

Friday, August 14, 2015


  I have a lot of favorite birds. Some I like to hunt. Some I like to watch. Some I like to listen for their song. Some I just like for their character, antics, lifestyle or other attributes. Who can’t admire a buzzard flying around most of the afternoon without flapping its wings more than a half dozen times?

One of my favorites is the hummingbird; specifically, in our area, the ruby throated hummingbird. I’m sure if I lived where other species are found, I’d like them equally well.

Compared to many birds, not much is known about the RTHs. Compared to others, quite a bit is known and a part of the research unlocking the truths about the hummers comes from banding studies.

These bands are strung on
diaper safety pins
Banding is when a researcher attaches a uniquely numbered “bracelet” on a bird’s leg. Data is logged about the bird as well as when and where it was captured and tagged. Then, when the bird is found, spotted or trapped elsewhere, the band number can be looked up and more data compiled. Banding easily reveals migration corridors and the timing of migrations.  Banding can reveal how long individual birds can live. There are many other facts and details derived from banding studies.

That’s why I set aside time to head to the Indiana Dunes State Park recently when a licensed hummingbird bander came to capture and band many of the hummers that frequent the bevy of feeders posted near the park’s nature center.

It was an interesting morning; first, seeing the type of traps used to snare the birds, then watching the expert handle the birds, record the data and seat the tiny numbered bands on the tiny little legs.  Dozens of people showed to watch the show.

The traps were basically fine meshed nylon netting fashioned into a “birdcage.”  The cage was mounted on the same hanger the hummer feeder had been dangling and the feeder itself was put inside the cage.

Attendees had plenty of
opportunities to photo the
banded birds
When a hummer showed up for a free drink of artificial nectar, it buzzed around the outside of the trap searching for a way to get into the sugary syrup.  In a minute or two it solves the puzzle, enters the trap and a trap monitor quickly goes to the cage to catch the hummingbird inside with a gentle touch. The bird is inserted into a soft, cloth bag and taken to the bander.

The measuring, recording and banding only takes a couple minutes and the bird, surprisingly doesn’t appear to struggle much. One process is much like the first or second so we didn’t stay to the end. Last year the hummer-band-man processed 26 of the little birds in the few hours he was at the Dunes. He had three waiting to process when we left and many more to come, no doubt.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Dale Strochein was right! The bass bite was on fire!
A few years ago I made an early May trip to Door County, Wisconsin for a couple days of fishing. I was slated to fish with several of the top guides that work the area. Though a salmon fisher at heart, I learned long ago to let "guide’s choice" be the order of the day. If the man says perch, don’t say bluegill. If the guide says striper, don’t argue for bluefish.

So when J.J. Malvitz, new to the guiding business but a lifelong Door County resident and fisherman said, walleye, so we went walleye fishing. The waters of Green Bay on the west side of the peninsula have a reputation for serving up walleye to visiting anglers, numbers at times and most certainly good sized specimens. Perhaps I should have asked J.J. to go brown trout fishing. The walleye prevailed, we were skunked.

My next trip was with Dale Strochein, once one of the top professional tournament walleye fisherman on the circuits, now proprietor of the Wacky Walleye Guide Service working out of Sand Bay Beach Lodge just south of Sturgeon Bay. I guessed guide Strochein would say, "walleye."

Wrong! Captain Dale said, "Conditions aren’t right for walleye. We’ll fish smallmouth bass."

I should have, could have, demanded walleye despite the guide’s wishes. The results would have been the same. Obviously, no walleye and no bass, either. He blamed it on the weather. I blamed it on the weather as well. It was miserable. "Come back again, sometime," Dale invited.

I watched Strochein’s FaceBook posts that winter as he showed picture after picture of him and his clients icing big walleyes and piles of whitefish. I checked my calendar, he checked his and a date was made a week or two later.

This time Strochein’s prediction was half right. "We’ll catch whitefish this afternoon, then towards sundown, the walleye will get active and we’ll go after them."
I finally nailed a mythical Green Bay walleye. Twenty seven incher!

We did catch whitefish.

On the way in after dark, I mentioned something about Green Bay’s walleye seem to be somewhat mythical. "Are 12 or 14 point bucks mythical?" he asked and continued. "No, of course not, but they aren’t easy to come by, either. Our walleyes are trophy fish, they don’t come easy. Come back again sometime and I’ll show you.

Yesterday, I came back. That evening at dinner the Hall of Fame angler said, "We’ll fish smallmouth tomorrow. That’s our best shot at success."

My reply, "There goes my shot at the mythical, Green Bay walleye!"

Dale was half right again. The bass fishing was terrific with one after another being hauled to the boat all morning. The wind died, the water calmed. "One last spot to try before we head in," Dale said.

He stopped on a sunken rock island a mile or so off Sister Bay. A few casts later, I got a solid strike. This fish felt different. This fish looked different under the water. This fish was different. It looked almost mythical!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Where There's a Will...

Where there’s a will, there’s a way is a popular expression perhaps coined by fishermen. If there are fish swimming in a lake, fishermen will figure a way to get their hook in front of them.

This was proven to me on a recent trip to Nebraska where I had the chance to fish Lake McConaughy near Ogallala. It’s a huge lake (largest in Nebraska) and surprisingly, it was built by private enterprise instead of the government. The purpose for the lake is two-fold, to produce hydro-electric power and provide water for irrigation. Recreation such as fishing, boating or water sports was down the list and the management of the lake still puts hydro-power and irrigation before recreational needs.

To recreational users, that means the water level in the 35,000 acre lake fluctuates annually and sometimes drastically. Boat ramps built for normal water levels sometimes terminate high and dry when water levels fall below target levels. In other areas, boat ramps are non-existent.

The fishing trip I made on Lake Mac, as it’s know locally, originated at Van’s Lakeview Fishing Camp. ( There, they’ve come up with a unique answer to how to deal with the fluctuating water levels in the summer.  They do have a concrete ramp to launch boats in the traditional way, but when the water drops low enough to make the ramp unusable, they have a trio of specially modified trucks to put your boat where it needs to be.

They have a gently sloping, sandy bottom bay adjacent to the camp. Just unhook your trailer and go park. They will hook up and back your boat into the water 20 or 30 yards - whatever it takes to make it float. At the end of the trip, the process is reversed.  In between, fish for walleyes, pike, hybrid stripers, smallmouth and all the other species for which the lake is famous.

Friday, May 22, 2015


I’m a destination traveler and I’m good at it. If I need to be at a place four states away where the ducks are flying, a fishing hotspot in Minnesota or where ever I’m heading for whatever reason; expect me to start early, travel swiftly and arrive on or ahead of schedule.

That’s an admirable attribute, I suppose, but there’s another type of traveler. There’s the person who has a destination in mind, but meanders in that direction apparently with no particular schedule.

These are the people who stop at a sit-down restaurant instead of breezing to the drive-through window at lunch time. These are the people who stop to read historical markers erected to commemorate obscure events or places less important than where I caught my first fish. These are the people who know where the world’s largest ball of twine is located (Cawker City, Kansas) or where you can find a statue of the Jolly Green Giant (Blue Earth, Minnesota). I’ve seen the sign for the Spam Museum dozens of times and still have not walked through the doors.

This week I’ve been traveling the western half of Nebraska, supposedly in search of sport fish and panfish swimming the fertile waters of Nebraska-land’s lakes and reservoirs. They are there, I’m sure. I’m also sure the weather in this area is not always winter-like and usually more on the verge of becoming drought ridden, than over-saturated.

My fishing partner and I were to be on a tight schedule. Get up early, catch some fish in Swanson Reservoir in the morning and then drive 240 miles to end up at Merritt Reservoir for a late afternoon excursion to investigate the fishing there. Then off to the next places, the next day.

The wind, the rain and even a brief May snowstorm changed our breakneck schedule from one only a traveler like I could understand, to one where we might as well sit down for lunch, because our afternoon outing was scrubbed long before midday.

I looked at a historical site overlooking a cow pasture proclaiming a pioneer era church once existed where the cattle now grazed. Then we found a modern replica of one of the world’s wonders. Have you heard of Stonehenge? Just outside Alliance, Nebraska is a nearly exact replica, precise in size and scope with one slight twist.

It’s made from junk automobiles. It’s called Carhenge!

I stopped, stood among the monoliths, amazed. One question immediately immediately popped to mind.


Visit www.carhenge. com for more details - if you happen to need more details....

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


One of the missed opportunities of my life occurred by the time I was 21 years old. By then I was an outdoor lover and a young man who craved to hunt and fish for exotic (to me) animals and fish in far off places.

The greater prairie chicken certainly filled that bill. Once an abundant game bird on America’s Great Plains and prairies, their numbers actually increased when the white settlers first homesteaded across the land. That turned out to be only a minor bump the bird’s history. As more and more of the native grasslands were converted to agriculture, their habitat dwindled as did their numbers.

While they were abundant, they became an important wild game meal for protein starved settlers. In many areas they faded into history; in others, they now are listed as game birds with stable populations that allow a regulated harvest.

Little did I know at one time this history was played out right here in Newton County. Much of the county was a part of the historic tall grass prairie and as happened elsewhere their numbers increased temporarily, then dwindled to extinction.

But the extirpation didn’t happen here until 1973. In 1974 DNR biologists failed to hear or spot any prairie chickens on their leks in McClellan township, just south of Lake Village.

Leks are also known as booming grounds. It’s an area where male chickens go each spring to display, strut and vocalize to impress female prairie chickens. The same leks are used year after year dating back as far as anyone can remember. Though the DNR purchased 640 acres as a Prairie Chicken Refuge, the final lek in Indiana was actually on what was then the Karlock Ranch, now a part of The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands property.

In 1951, when I was just two years old, there were 17 active leks across the northern part of the county. Historical accounts of early life in Newton County, when market hunting was a common occupation, accounts of game harvested and sold always included prairie chickens.

Had I known of this as a young man in high school, I’d have been there, sneaking to one of the last remaining active leks, hiding hoping  to at least spot one of Indiana’s disappearing bird treasures. There was once discussions of reintroducing them on the TNC lands, but I haven’t heard of movement on that plan in years.

That’s why I was so intrigued on a recent trip to Nebraska. While eating lunch with Carol Schlegel, tourism director for Red Willow County, headquartered in McCook, my interest peaked when she mentioned their Prairie Chicken tours, held each spring.

In late winter, they park a specially designed trailer "blind," a converted stock trailer, on a prairie chicken lek a short drive from town. In March and April, when prairie chickens come to do their spring ritual, the trailer is in place and is simply a part of the landscape. Just before dawn, the participants sneak to the trailer, hunker down and wait for the birds to come display. According to Schlegel, most mornings at least a dozen males and an indeterminate number of females come to show off and often display within a few yards of the trailer.

The program started in 2014 and the number of participants doubled last spring with travelers from across the country and several countries from around the globe attending. Reservations are required. It’s actually an easy, two day experience. The night before your turn in the trailer, you attend a program learning about prairie chickens and what to expect in the morning. Then an abbreviated overnight stay (I recommend the Horse Creek Inn), then off to the lek in the morning. Check out www.


Sunday, February 22, 2015


  I am a firm believer in “fishing hats.”  They don’t have to be adorned with flies and spinners like Colonel Blake wore in the TV Series, MASH.  They don’t have to have a stupid logo on them that proclaims the wearer to be a Master Baiter. But they do have to have plenty of Mojo.  Never underestimate the power of Mojo when it comes to a fishing hat.
  Other than Mojo, they need to have a couple of other features. A good fishing hat sports a brim to shield your eyes from the sun. A great fishing hat sports a brim that is dark-colored - preferably flat black in color - on the underside.  Hat color matters little other than in hot, sunny weather I choose lighter colors. As a matter of preference, my fishing hats are not camouflage. I have a hatrack full of camo caps, but those are for hunting, not fishing. If they have Mojo, it’s hunting Mojo, not fishing Mojo.

  Personally, I favor baseball style caps. Available nearly everywhere, if they were good enough to shield the eyes of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and other baseball greats, they are good enough for me. I’m not saying John Wayne’s Stetson, a Mexican sombrero or other head dress style wouldn’t be as good or better, but I’ll stick to a baseball cap.
  Regardless of the style, they have to fit well. I’m often offered hats from a variety of companies who dole them out as advertising fodder. I own some farmland so I get seed corn hats. I buy insurance so I get insurance company hats. I write outdoor blogs so I get hats from outdoor products companies. But anymore, when offered a new hat, I slap it on my noggin and if it doesn’t feel “right,” I just hand it back. Some hats land on your head feeling as broken-in as your best walking boots, others are like trying to cram a square peg into a round hole.

The black underside of the brim makes the
hat on the right a better fishing cap. 
  But don’t overlook the Mojo.

  You can wear the best looking, best fitting hat on a fishing trip that was supposed to be next thing to fishing in a barrel and have the fishing fall flat. Immediately, if I’m wearing a new hat, it becomes suspect.
  On the other hand, if the trip goes better than you expected, admit it, the hat had the Mojo to put you over the top. So wear the same hat on the next trip and the next and don’t give up on it until it gives up on you.