Tag Archives: fishing

2013 Outdoors highlights

January 2, 2014

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As I look ahead to outdoor adventures in 2014, I think it’s worthwhile to take a look back on 2013 and recall the blessings of the year. There were many highlights, and I offer this list of the best ones:

Snow bird

It might seem tough to name turkey hunting in the snow – in May! – as a highlight, but May 5 will go down as both a unique and awesome day in the turkey woods. Just days earlier, the area I hunt in Wisconsin was blanketed by 15 inches of snow. It was very strange driving out to my hunting spot and seeing snow everywhere. It looked more like December than May.

I must admit, I had to fight off feelings of despair during my hour-long drive to Ellsworth the morning of my hunt. Would the turkeys be radically affected by the snow? Would they still be interested in breeding? Would they gobble?

Turns out, the birds were quite active indeed. In fact, I had a nice 2-year-old tom on the ground in less than an hour. He gobbled very eagerly on the roost, and I coaxed him in with some aggressive hen calling followed by some soft calling at the end. The bird was standing in the snow when I shot him, and I was sitting in the snow against a tree. It was the first time in almost 30 years of turkey hunting that I had hunted in snow that actually was accumulated on the ground.

It was a very unusual hunt, and a very cool experience overall. But, I NEVER want to hunt in snow again in May. Let’s hope this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

I did continue to hunt after that because I had bonus tags that the state offers. The hunting was extremely difficult and the toms had lots of hens around. I believe this was caused by the fact that the snow destroyed eggs the hens had laid, so they went out to breed again. Thus, I had very little success calling another bird in. I had some jakes (young toms) come in fairly close, but they ended up not being in gun range. I fired, thinking they were, but they were too far and merely ran off at the shot.

The good news is I spent a lot of time in the woods and learned the properties well. So, i should be in fine shape this year. I look for it to be a good spring season. Two years ago, the early and warm spring caused a very good hatch, and there were lots of jakes running around during the 2013 season. That means lots of mature 2-year-olds this year. I can’t wait!

Buck for the fireplace

Just weeks after finishing my turkey hunting season, I got a call from Lee’s Taxidermy in Prescott, Wis. to let me know that my whitetail buck mount was done. It was the largest buck I had ever taken and I’m not sure if I will ever top it, or even match it. I took Joe, my oldest son, to the taxidermy shop to pick it up. Then, when I got home, I put it up on the fireplace.

Joe has a nice buck mount, too, and we discussed whose was better. Lee Schommer, the taxidermist, said his scored 151, and mine about 153. He did not take exact measurements of mine, but says whenever he tries to estimate the score of a buck, he’s usually within 2 inches of the exact score. So, bottom line is that our bucks are very even. The rack on Joe’s is thicker, but my rack is wider and has taller tines. Honestly, Joe and I are not competitive when it comes to trying to get the biggest rack. It was just fun to compare our buck mounts.

Claire’s first walleye

My 11-year-old daughter Claire caught her first walleye in June on Upper Red Lake. Due to a very busy schedule, we were able to run up to Upper Red for an evening of fishing. We contacted Bear Paw Guides and hired Tyler Brasel to guide Claire, my wife Julie and I for the evening. Just days earlier, the protected slot loosened to allow the taking of fish up to 20 inches, versus 17 prior to that. So, we were very optimistic about being able to catch fish to take home.

The trip did not disappoint. We had our four-fish limit for the three of us (12 fish total) in an hour, and Claire caught lots of fish, starting with her first-ever walleye. Tyler set her up with a bobber rig and it worked beautifully for Claire. Tyler has young kids of his own, so he is very good at helping children catch fish. He did an awesome job with Claire, and it’s a trip we will never forget. Hopefully, we can get back up there again this summer.

‘Tonka bass

I went out to Lake Minnetonka on the Fourth of July with my son Joe to try for some largemouth bass. He was home for the summer and wanted to do some fishing. I wasn’t sure how it would go, as I hadn’t been on the lake in years. However, I did very well on the lake when I did fish it regularly, and wanted to hit my old spots to see if they produced.

Turns out, one spot in particular was as good as it used to be. We caught several nice bass on it, including a feisty 18-incher, and I went home very satisfied. Joe got some action, too, although he was a bit rusty at fishing with plastic worms. Near the end, he started to get the hang of it, and pulling a bass over the gunwale put a smile on his face. I would definitely like to do some bass fishing in 2014!

Breakthrough with a bow

Of course, my top highlight of the year has to be getting my first deer with a bow. Everything came together on the morning of Nov. 6. A young buck with a small eight-point rack came walking by my stand at just 10 yards, giving me a perfect broadside shot. I drew back as he stepped past me and I quickly found his vital area with my 20-yard pin. All of my practice and preparation paid off with a perfect pass-through shot. Tracking was easy in the snow and I found my buck about 100 yards from where I took the shot. It’s hard to put into words the feeling of finding my deer after the shot. I had hit about a half dozen deer previously, but didn’t find a single one, including a small doe that I hit in late September. Ask any bow hunter, and they’ll tell you that failure to find a deer that’s hit is a very sick feeling. Hopefully, I’ll be able to duplicate my success next year.

Sons come through

It was also a good deer hunting year for my two oldest sons, Joe and Andy. Joe got a small whitetail doe on the last day of our hunt in Montana over Thanksgiving week, and Andy ended up taking a doe in Montana plus a doe in Minnesota. So, our freezer is full, plus we were able to give venison away. Our family has been feasting on venison in the last few weeks, and I’m sure our supply of meat will last into the spring and summer. There’s nothing like venison steaks on the grill!

One intriguing possibility for 2014 would be taking Claire turkey hunting. She has expressed interest, and I have said I will take her if she wants to go. She turns 12 in April, and that would be very fun to chase gobblers with her. She’s not sure if she actually could pull the trigger on an animal. But if we go out and call a bird in, and she decides not to shoot, that’s fine with me. I like going out into the woods, especially in the spring, so she won’t disappoint me if she decides to hold off on the shot. We’ll see what she says as we get closer to the turkey season.

The next thing I’ll do is contact landowners after the Wisconsin turkey lottery. I have been blessed to have several landowners who continue to let me hunt, and I can’t wait to get after those birds in 2014!

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Boat winterizing is simple

October 29, 2013

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I took advantage of the warm weather on Sunday to winterize my boat. It’s a simple task, but very important, especially if you want the boat to perform well next spring.

That’s right. Good performance next fishing season hinges on what you do with your boat now. I do a few simple steps, and my boat runs well the next open-water season. This is my to-do list for winterizing:

1. Take care of your gas. I take the outboard motor tank and empty the gas into my car’s gas tank. Then, I put in fresh gas along with Sta-bil fuel stabilizer. The directions call for 1 ounce of Sta-bil for every 2 1/2 gallons of gas. I pump about a gallon into the tank, add the Sta-bil, then put another gallon-and-a-half of gas in. I shake it a little after that to be sure it’s mixed well.

2. Start your engine. Then, I hook up the tank with the fresh gas and start up the engine. You have to be sure to have water going into the engine, or you’ll burn up your engine. Simply take what’s called ear muffs and place them over the intake on the lower part of the motor. Attach them to a garden hose and turn the water on. Then, once you see that there’s a good seal on the ear muffs, start up your motor and let it run for 10 minutes. That uses up the old gas and puts the fresh gas in the carburetor and internal hoses. And, be sure to look and see that water is coming out of the engine.

3. Fog your engine. With your engine running, take off the cover and remove the plate that covers the carburetors. Spray fogging oil for about 5 seconds into each one. The engine will slow down and smoke will billow out of it. That’s what you want. After spraying the last one, shut off the engine.

4. Change oil in lower unit. Now comes the messiest part of the job – changing the lower unit gear lube. You can do it in the spring, but I do it in the fall while I’m working on everything else. On the lower unit are two screws, one higher up and one down low. Take both off, starting with the higher one, and drain the old gear lube into a pan. Often, it looks milky, which is a sign that it needs to be replaced. Some people think you can get away with changing it every other year, but it’s not very expensive, so I do it every year. After the old lube has drained, screw a pump into the lower hole and pump in the new lube until it runs out the top hole. Then, put the screw back into the top hole, and unscrew the pump from the bottom hole. As quickly as you can, put the bottom screw on. You may lose a little lube, but that won’t be a problem.

5. Charge batteries and store properly. Disconnect all wires from your marine batteries and charge each one. They store well with a full charge. Once charged, place them on a shelf. Do NOT put them on concrete. Doing so will drain them of the charge. And, store them outside. A battery expert I talked to said this is the best. It’s tempting to bring them inside, but he said this is wrong. So, I follow his advice. He says a marine battery lasts about three years, so you may need to replace it in the spring.

All of these steps shouldn’t take more than an hour. I wish I could have used my boat more this summer, but it just didn’t work out. The fact that my gear lube wasn’t milky tells me the boat got less use than previous years.

Hopefully, next year I will get out on the water more!

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What a bass means to a boy

August 21, 2013

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Proud anglers hoist the biggest bass of the day.

Proud anglers hoist the biggest bass of the day.

I’ve never been so excited about a 16 1/2-inch largemouth bass as I was last Friday.

And, it wasn’t even my fish. The lucky angler was my nephew, Michael. I think I was as joyful as he was when we hoisted his prize over the gunwale.

The chunky fish was the largest he had ever caught. And, the look on his face made that point clear. It matched a fish I had landed about an hour earlier, providing an excellent start to a meal for my brother and his family.

Times like this create summer memories that last well into adulthood. But, I had started wondering if a moment like this was going to happen for Michael or his older brother Matthew. I had spent the early afternoon trying to teach them how to catch bass on plastic baits, but with little success. There definitely is a steep learning curve for this endeavor, and early attempts can be filled with frustration and futility.

This occasion was no different. There were bites, hooksets that weren’t nearly stout enough, and numerous escapes by the bass.

The good news was, the fish were there and plenty willing to grab onto the baits. I was hoping, in time, one of the boys’ hooks would work its way into a largemouth’s jaw.

Sure enough, in the last hour, Michael pierced the mouth of a bass with a worm hook I had let him use. The battle was on! Usually, if the hook gets through the fish’s bony jaw, it’s curtains for the bass, unless the line gives way.

Michael played his fish well, and the fish eventually came belly up to the side of my boat. A quick swoop of the landing net, and the young lad tasted success at last.

I did my best to applaud his skills and acknowledge his success, hoping this would hook him on bass fishing – and plastics – for life. Meanwhile, another task just as important tugged for my attention.

Matthew never did land a fish that day, and he struggled with tangled line on top of that. This is an opportunity for gentle teaching and encouragement, and I took some time after we got off the water to have a little talk with him. My brother felt bad for his oldest son, but I told him that experiences like this can create a hunger that can make a person hungry and determined to conquer the learning curve.

I reminded him that I have been bow hunting for two years, and have yet to tag a deer. Guess what? I am more eager than ever to get out there and try to shoot and recover a whitetail. So, I noted, Matthew’s unsuccessful try at catching a bass on a plastic worm is not necessarily going to sour him on fishing.

Hopefully, it will keep him coming back for more. I have a feeling he is going to want to top his brother’s bass.

Now’s the time to turn to the next page of his young fishing career. Largemouth class will be in session next summer!

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First a turkey, then a ring

July 23, 2013

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Most turkey hunters I know are single-minded when it comes to chasing gobblers.

Lee Zeman is cut from that zealous cloth. But, he got very distracted during a turkey hunt this past spring. On his birthday, April 17, he took his girlfriend Ali out to try and get her a bird. He captured the hunt on video, which ended with her pulling the trigger on a nice 1-year-old bird, called a jake.

But, it’s what came after the gun shot that caught my eye – and captured my heart. As the two were admiring her bird, he turned to her and got serious. Very serious. He pulled a box out of his pocket and popped the question.

How’s a woman going to say no to the man who helped her get a bird? She freaked out more than a little, but finally gave Lee the answer he was hoping for. The wedding is set for June 21 of 2014.

I found the whole story heartwarming. I met Lee while at the headquarters of Zeman construction. Lee works there as a project manager, and I was there to photograph his uncle, Chris Zeman, who is one of this year’s Leading With Faith winners. Shortly after I got there, Chris said I had to meet his nephew Lee.

I’m glad I did. Turns out, he is every bit as passionate about the outdoors as I am. He is also enormously talented and highly energetic. At this time of year, he is chasing muskies, which he does up north on Lake Vermillion. Turns out, it’s a fabulous muskie lake. He has caught fish longer than 50 inches, including a giant that he caught several years ago that measured 56 inches.

Like most muskie maniacs, he puts in hours on the water in search of these giant predators. He admitted that Ali doesn’t join him on the water. Most likely, she would just fall asleep in the boat, he said.

I wouldn’t be surprised if their honeymoon involved some fishing. Congratulations Lee and Ali. May God give you both many happy years together!

Note: to see more about Lee’s hunting and fishing exploits, visit his website at True Calling Outdoors

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Walleye heaven!

June 24, 2013

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Julie and Claire Hrbacek display part of their catch on Upper Red Lake

Julie and Claire Hrbacek display part of their catch on Upper Red Lake

I had the narrowest of windows to try and pop a few walleyes for the frying pan last week – about three hours, to be exact.

Where can an angler go to have any hope for success in such a tiny time frame?

Upper Red Lake, that’s where! Just two weeks ago, it looked like I might be able to get away for two or three days at the end of last week. I was primed to hit this phenomenal walleye fishery to cash in on a walleye bonanza fueled by the shrinking of the lake’s protected slot – from 17-26 inches to 20-26 inches on June 15.

I was dreaming of two days of fast fishing, with a fish fry at the cabin and a limit of walleyes to bring home. Alas, the calendar got full, and I was left with just one evening to get out on the water.

I cajoled my wife Julie and daughter Claire into joining me, and we left the house at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, June 20. We arrived in Waskish on the lake’s eastern shore at 5:30 p.m. and eagerly pulled in to Bear Paw Guides, where our guide for the evening, Tyler Brasel, awaited.

It had rained during the drive up north, but the skies brightened near Grand Rapids. Unfortunately, the weather looked troublesome on the western horizon, where Tyler’s dad Steve said a storm was positioned.

Would it come straight across the lake and end our outing? Or, would it steer southward and pass us by?

I said a short prayer, with the intensity only a fisherman yearning to get on the water can muster. With that, we hurried to the boat landing, located on the outlet of the Tamarac River.

A bobber and hope

We only had to go a short distance from the mouth of the river to one of Tyler’s favorite spots. It’s a small rock pile the size of a living room located on the eastern shore. He’s got it plugged in to his GPS, which was the size of a small TV. He actually has two GPS units, which enabled us to park almost right on top of the rock pile.

Tyler handed Julie and I rods with jigs tied on. We promptly attached frozen minnows to the jigs and heaved them overboard. Julie caught the first walleye of the evening – and the second, and the third. This all happened in a manner of minutes, while Tyler was getting Claire set up with a slip bobber rig.

Throughout the drive up north, Claire had said she wasn’t sure she wanted to fish. I hoped she would at least try it. When Tyler suggested the bobber setup, Claire quickly agreed.

Good thing, too. The walleyes jumped all over her jig-and-leech presentation. In fact, she ended up catching the most fish in our group. Even Tyler marveled at her success.

As for me, I caught my fair share, and contributed to the limit of 12 walleyes we brought back to the docks. Turns out, we needed far less than the three hours of daylight to pull in our legal limit. And, we caught several bonus perch, and Julie even landed a northern pike that we were able to keep.

Attitude change

In terms of Claire’s attitude about fishing, she had this to say shortly after landing yet another walleye:

“This is a game changer for me. I like fishing now.”

Why shouldn’t she? With fishing like this, just about anyone would fall in love with it. Fortunately, the storm held off and didn’t bother us during our time on the water. The wind did pick up during about the last half hour, so we decided to head in. Tyler and Steve cleaned our fish back at the resort, and we took home a nice bag of walleye fillets.

Tyler said he is able to catch walleyes all summer long, though he has to go farther out from shore and cover more water. He said he never fails to catch fish when he tries his hardest. Sometimes, he does some experimenting and will come up empty.

The good news is, there is lots of summer left and Tyler has plenty of openings on his calendar, especially during weekdays. And, there are lots of walleyes left in the lake. We caught plenty of various lengths, from about 8-10 inches all the way up to one just more than 20 inches. The fishery looks to be in fine shape.

Perhaps, the best news of that wonderful night is that Claire definitely wants to go fishing again. In fact, she was disappointed to leave the next morning.

Who knows? Maybe there’s hope I can get her into a deer stand.

 

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Walleye bite is on at Upper Red Lake!

June 18, 2013

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Tyler Brasel of Bear Paw Guides on Upper Red Lake holds a nice walleye he caught while fishing with his son and his two other children.

Tyler Brasel of Bear Paw Guides on Upper Red Lake holds a nice walleye he caught while fishing with his son and his two other children.

I had June 15 on my mind recently. That’s the day the Minnesota DNR changed the protected slot on Upper Red Lake.

From the walleye opener through June 14, it was 17 to 26 inches. On June 15, it changed to 20-26 inches, creating a large number of fish now legal to harvest.

I cashed in on this phenomenon several years ago, when I took my wife Julie and our four children up to a resort on the lake called Bear Paw Guides. We went for several days and brought home our six-person limit of 24 walleyes, which kept our freezer stocked for the summer. Getting a limit was not a problem.

I’m going back up later this week to fish with owner Steve Brasel’s son Tyler. I have been on the phone several times with Steve, and learned that the fishing has been fantastic all spring. In fact, he says the fishing may be the best it has been since the lake re-opened to walleye fishing in 2006.

Here’s the amazing part: Very few people are taking advantage of the red-hot action. Steve told me that the cold and wet spring, which kept ice on the lake until after the opener, combined with higher gas prices have kept people away.

Too bad, I say. People don’t know what they’re missing. Steve told me stories of folks catching 100 walleyes in just a few hours. And, right now the crappies are shallow and biting well. Tyler took his three kids out one evening last week and they landed 39 crappies. Some of them were the big 15-inchers the lake is known for.

My schedule is tight, and my wife and I will have just one evening and the next morning to fish. But, that should be plenty of time, as we will be fishing with Tyler. He’s got dozens of spots plugged into his GPS and can take us anywhere we need to go.

But, I highly doubt we will get to many of those locations. We may be able to catch everything we want on just one spot. The good news is that he is fishing all this week, so by the time we get there Thursday evening, he should know what the hot spots are.

Not only that, but the weather looks pretty good. There may be a little rain, but most importantly, the winds are supposed to be light. That is key on this large, oval-shaped body of water that is unprotected from strong winds coming from the south, southwest, north and northwest. I looked at the weather forecast, and it says the winds will be light and from the southeast on Thursday.

Perfect! I can’t wait to get up there.

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Final thoughts on 2013 turkey season

June 4, 2013

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My wild turkey hunting season ended last Thursday, May 30. Normally, I hunt Season E in Minnesota, which usually takes place the first week in May. Due to the bad weather and the huge snowstorm at the beginning of the month, I switched to Season H, which ran from May 24-30.

I thought it would be a great time to hunt, hopefully with hens sitting on nests incubating eggs, and the toms out cruising for the few hens that were left.

I was dead wrong. There were hens everywhere, and they were very vocal. Didn’t seem to me like very many were sitting, and the toms appeared to find them readily once down from the roost. They shut up not long after flydown at dawn, and kept silent after that.

Frustrated turkey hunters like me can thank the snow for that. My theory is that the 13-plus inches that fell in southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin destroyed all of the eggs the hens had laid, and many of the hens did not re-breed and lay more eggs. I don’t know how else to explain the high number of hens roaming the woods in late May.

Two of my sons, my brother and his son, and another brother and my dad hunted the last two time periods. Only my brother Joe was able to take a bird. The rest of us had chances, but very, very few. Toms would gobble, but were very reluctant to come in. With so many hens running around, they probably figured one would show up sooner or later without them having to go looking.

I heard gobbling on the roost, and I had some toms close by on a couple of occasions, but didn’t lure one into shotgun range in Minnesota. Based on reports I heard, mid-May was a much better time to be out chasing walleyes and searching for morel mushrooms. In fact, I read that this year was one of the best on record for morels.

Sure would have been nice to find a few of those, like I did last year when I shot a tom in Minnesota in the morning, then went over to Wisconsin, where I also had a turkey tag, and found a vest full of morels while trying to cover ground in search of a gobbler.

No such success this year, at least not during the mid-May period when morels were popping. Perhaps, if I had diverted my attention from the gobblers, I might have uncovered a batch of mushrooms.

Alas, I will never know if I ever walked by a cluster of the cone-shaped treasures. It’s a little hard to think about that, especially after a friend texted me a photo of several bags full that he picked. He’s in the woods a lot more than I am, so I’m not surprised he found some.

Walking away from this year’s spring turkey hunting season, I can be satisfied that I reached my two annual goals: 1. Kill a mature tom, which I did on May 5 in Wisconsin, in the snow no less, and 2. Learn something I can use next year. With all the time I spent in the woods, I got to know the properties I hunt much better, which should pay dividends next year.

One thing is already getting me excited about Spring 2014 – the number of 1-year-old toms, called jakes. These birds are easy to identify – short, stubby beards, smaller body size and a tail fan in which the feathers in the center are longer.

I encountered a group of six to eight jakes on one of my properties in Wisconsin. On the first day, I had one of them in range, but passed on the shot to wait for a mature bird. Then, I had them just out of shotgun range a few more times. I shot at them twice, but missed. Turns out they were farther away than I thought. I should never have taken the shots.

The good news is, the birds ran off unscathed, which means there will be lots of 2-year-olds running around next year. Plus, I read reports of other hunters seeing lots of jakes, too. Next year will be fun!

One thing I have learned is that, in fishing and hunting, timing is everything. Last spring, I hit it right for both turkeys and morels. And, last fall, I hit it right during the firearms season in Minnesota, taking the largest buck of my life in the final minutes of the 3A season.

Fish and hunt long enough and you’ll hit both the highs and the lows. As I put my turkey gear away, I expressed gratitude to the Lord for the time spent afield. I saw plenty of birds this year – and probably the most deer I have ever seen while turkey hunting. That tells me the whitetails came through in good shape, although they did look skinny in early May.

I’m not worried. They will feed voraciously this summer, and should be plenty plump by fall. In the meantime, I will continue to practice with my bow, and I plan to be ready when the archery deer season starts in September.

With three-plus months to hunt, the timing is sure to be right at some point in the season!

 

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Finally, flowers bloom!

May 16, 2013

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FlowersSeems like we have waited forever for spring to arrive this year. Less than two weeks ago, snow covered portions of southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. And, on May 5, I walked through a snow-covered field to turkey hunt near Ellsworth, Wis.

Now, things are finally greening up, and I’m seeing the first flower blooms of the year. It’s a very welcome sight! As I was walking past the Cathedral on my way back to the office the other day, I spotted some flowers in the Cathedral courtyard.

Naturally, I pulled out my camera and zoomed in on the splashes of pink in front of me. Taking in the scene definitely put a smile on my face.

With the heat we’ve had this week, leaves on the trees have popped fast. Just a week ago, the trees were bare. Now, we’re near full foliage. With green as my favorite color, this is a beautiful display, indeed.

It also will be very helpful next week when I go turkey hunting during Minnesota’s final season. The H Season starts on Friday, May 24. The foliage will help conceal me so that I can move in closer on birds. That always helps.

And, hopefully, the hens will be done laying their clutches of eggs and will be sitting on their nests. They lay one egg a day up to about 15 or 16, then sit on their nests to incubate their eggs almost round the clock. The first few days this happens, the toms are actively cruising for hens and can be very eager to come to a call.

That’s what I’m hoping for. Eventually, their excitement will fade, but I’m hoping it will last into the H Season. In a normal year, the toms are more subdued by this time, but still have some interest in breeding. This year, they may be far more active, making Season H perhaps the best season of the entire spring!

Originally, I was going to hunt Season E down near Cannon Falls. But, that didn’t work out. So, I called the landowners of the two adjoining properties I was planning to hunt, and asked them if I could switch to Season H. Thankfully, both of them said yes.

Although you can buy the tags over the counter for Seasons E through H, and there is no limit to the amount of tags the DNR will offer, I think there will be fewer hunters in the woods, especially for Season H.

Generally, once fishing season opens, people put away their shotguns and bows, and pick up their fishing rods. I understand that, as I used to do the same thing. But, I have discovered in recent years that turkey hunting can be good in May. And, the fishing season goes a long time, so there is plenty of time to wet a line after my hunt is done.

So, starting next Friday, I will take to the woods in search of a nice gobbler. To me, there’s no better way to enjoy spring!

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Looking back on 2012

January 2, 2013

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Many people are diving in to their New Year’s resolutions right now, with almost a full year ahead to test their resolve.

But, it’s not a bad time to look back, either. This year was one of my best ever in the outdoors. The highlights are many, and reflections of an outstanding year in God’s glorious creation continue to bring a smile to my face.

Turkey time

The wild turkeys got active earlier than usual this past spring, with March feeling more like May. I began the gobbler chase in April with my son, William, during the Wisconsin youth weekend.

Although we left the woods without a bird, it turned out to be an action-packed hunt. We had numerous birds gobbling on the roost not very far away, then had a group of birds come in our direction after flying down. They hung up, but eventually we had a group of 1-year-old toms (called jakes) come in, along with two hens. William got two shots off, but failed to bring down a bird. I would later redeem that hunt by getting what I think was one of those jakes a month later. On  the same piece of property, I had four jakes come in, and was able to get one of them.

I added a Minnesota longbeard to the harvest, and it didn’t even take an hour. I heard a bird gobbling on the roost, then slipped in to about 50-60 yards from the bird. He flew down and came right in. As I stood over the nice tom after pulling the trigger, and my watch read 6:21 a.m.

A wonderful surprise

With the hunt over so fast, I decided to head over to Wisconsin to see if I could fill my other tag. The state went from a series of five-day hunts to seven-day seasons. That meant my Minnesota and Wisconsin seasons overlapped by a day.

So, I registered my Minnesota bird in Red Wing, then crossed the river into Wisconsin. I tried hard to get my second bird, traveling to three different properties. On my last stop, I saw hens but no toms. I decided to try one last spot on this small farm, and saw something brown on the ground in the corner of a field. It turned out to be a morel mushroom. And, there were many more.

I filled my turkey hunting vest with them and headed home with an unexpected bounty.  I ended the day with fried mushrooms, plus a mushroom-and-cheese omelette at the home of Chris Thompson, academic dean at the St. Paul Seminary. He is an avid mushroom hunter, and he almost freaked out when he saw what was in my vest.

Saving the best for last

If someone had told me in early September that I would still be without a deer on Nov. 11, I wouldn’t have believed them. With the archery season beginning in mid September, I figured it wouldn’t be a matter of if I took a deer, but how many.

Yet, there I was in my deer stand on the afternoon of Nov. 11, the last day of the Zone 3A firearms season, hoping I would not get skunked. I had seen very little throughout the gun season, and failed to tag a deer during my numerous trips to the woods, despite hitting two deer with my arrows.

With gusty northwest winds pounding me all afternoon, it was a test of endurance. But, I still had hope, as the last hour of legal shooting hours can produce strong deer movement.

Sure enough, with only about 10-15 minutes left, a buck appeared out in a picked soybean field 180 yards away. Almost magically, he turned and trotted right to me, stopping and turning broadside at about 70-80 yards. I hit him several times, and when I found him just inside the woods, I realized I had just killed the largest buck of my life. He’s now at the taxidermist, and I can’t wait to see the finished mount.

I give thanks to God for some outstanding memories – and some great food in the freezer. Wild turkey, venison and morel mushrooms – who could ask for more?

 

 

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A beautiful afternoon on Lake Mille Lacs

August 27, 2012

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I got to spend an afternoon on Lake Mille Lacs last week. Actually, it was for an assignment for The Catholic Spirit (my outdoors column). One of the highlights was a nice sunset. I was not able to take advantage of the amazing walleye bite of May and June, but talked to someone who did.

Father Troy Przybilla got out on the water a number of times earlier this summer and confirmed that the action was blazing hot. On the flip side, keeper fish were very hard to come by. In about 10 or 12 trips, he managed to catch just two keepers outside of the 17- to 28-inch protected slot. He caught a bunch that were just beyond the 17-inch mark.

I had felt frustrated about not being able to join the ranks of anglers who capitalized on the sizzling bite, but far less so after hearing about the lack of keepers. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy catching walleyes, but I like having at least a few for the frying pan.

There was a similar problem on Upper Red Lake back when it reopened to walleye fishing in 2006, but it wasn’t nearly this bad. If you fished long enough, you eventually caught your two fish under 17 inches. There were lots of fish in all size ranges, so you just had to keep at it until you found the keepers.

Now, it appears as though there aren’t many keepers in Mille Lacs. So, if it’s a shore lunch you want, Lake Lacs may not be the place to go.

Father Przybilla thinks it’s time for the DNR to modify the harvest rules for walleyes. He suggested a total inch count for walleyes, with anglers able to keep fish of any size, as long as the total inch count doesn’t exceed a certain number.

I like his idea, in terms of balancing the size of fish taken. When you have both sport anglers and Indian tribes targeting small fish, it stands to reason that, at some point, the number of those fish will go down.

In this case, it appears as if it’s going way down. I like the rule they had on Lake of the Woods about eight or nine years ago. You could keep six walleyes, with only one over 20 inches. My friend, Pete Wolney, and I went up in the fall the last year of that rule, and had an absolute walleye bonanza. We each took one fish home between 20 and 21 inches, plus several that were in the 19 1/2-inch range.

Now, you can keep four walleyes, and none between 19 1/2 and 28 inches. That still leaves plenty of fish to keep, and Pete and I have no trouble catching our limit of keepers, as long as the weather doesn’t mess things up.

Lake of the Woods is in good shape, but Mille Lacs has an imbalanced walleye population. I hope the DNR can figure out a way to correct the problem.

I think it’s time to let anglers start keeping at least a few of the bigger fish. Some of those fish are dying after being caught. Why not let anglers keep some of them, rather than feed them to the seagulls?

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