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An exotic hunt

July 20, 2009

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My son, Joe, returned Saturday from his week in Del Rio, Texas, at a youth hunting camp that he won from Safari Club International. He really enjoyed the experience and was able to harvest one of the exotic animals on the 10,000-acre Indianhead Ranch.

He was able to bring home meat from an axis deer that he shot on the last morning he could hunt. There were lots of animals on the ranch, but they were spread out and difficult to locate. Plus, he was only able to shoot what is known as a management buck, meaning something that is mature in age but not considered to have big enough antlers to be considered a trophy.
Still, the deer had a nice set of tall antlers that Joe is having the ranch mount for him. For me, the best part is the meat. Joe had eaten axis deer while he was there and found out how good it tastes.
The rest of our family made that discovery Saturday night when I decided to grill the tenderloins. They were absolutely delicious. There was no gamey taste whatsoever. Tonight, we are making an axis deer roast in the crock pot and I’m sure that will taste great, too.
As good as that deer is on the table, I doubt that I will go down and hunt them anytime soon. It’s very expensive to hunt at this ranch and others like it — several thousand dollars, depending on which species you hunt and what kind of trophy you end up harvesting. It would make a good once-in-a-lifetime hunt, though. If I could get an axis deer or something that tastes as good, I’d sure consider it.
When Joe was there, they mentioned the possibility of having him come down next year and be a counselor at the youth camp. He’s very excited about this. I think it would be a great opportunity and he could learn a lot while he’s there. We’ll have to see how that works out next summer. He will have just graduated from high school, so he will be making plans for college. Perhaps, this can fit in. In the meantime, we have more good meals of axis deer ahead!
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Fishing tournament results

June 15, 2009

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The first Bishop’s Cup and Family Fishing Tournament is in the books and it was a success in several ways.

A total of 17 teams participated in the event, which took place Saturday, June 13 on Lake of the Woods in Muskeg Bay near Warroad. Bishop Michael Hoeppner of the Diocese of Crookston served as the host and his prayers for good weather were answered with sunshine and a high of around 70 degrees.
And, the fish were in a cooperative mood, with plenty of  fish to go around. The winning team weighed four fish that totaled 13.35 pounds (teams of up to four people were allowed to weigh up to four fish). The winners, David Steen, Brad Visser and Gary Visser were from St. Joseph in Ada and they also caught the biggest fish of the tournament, which weighed more than 8 pounds.
“It was fantastic,” said Jean LaJesse, stewardship manager for the diocese who helped organize the tournament. “Everybody had a good time… All 17 (teams) weighed in. Everybody caught fish. They all came in with four. It was wonderful.”
The plans are already set for next year. The second annual Bishop’s Cup will be held June 12, 2010 in Detroit Lakes and Holy Rosary in Detroit Lakes will serve as the host.
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It’s show time

March 13, 2009

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The annual Northwest Sportshow opened yesterday and I followed my tradition of taking my dad to the Minneapolis Convention Center to sample the latest fishing and hunting equipment and talk about the outdoors with people at the show. The show is taking place about a month earlier this year and runs through Sunday.

One of my most intriguing conversations was with long-time fishing guide Tom Neustrom. He has guided for more than 30 years and will be inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in June. He counts legendary anglers Al and Ron Lindner among his friends.

He happened to stop by the Sugar Point Resort booth while I was talking with the owners, Steve and Bunny Fox. This resort is on Leech Lake, which is experiencing a terrific rebound of its walleye fishery. Several years back, the population crashed and the DNR worked hard to restore it. The Foxes told me that the fishing was fabulous in 2008 and they are expecting 2009 to be another great year. Neustrom agreed.

The interesting thing is, he guides on both Leech and Upper Red, which experienced a walleye revival of its own, culminating in the reopening of walleye fishing in 2006. I asked Neustrom which lake he likes better, Leech or Upper Red. To my surprise, he said Leech. Although you can catch lots of walleyes on Upper Red, he thinks the fish are healthier (i.e. fatter) on Leech.

Here’s what I like even more — the limit on Leech is four compared with three on Upper Red. Plus, the protected slot on Leech starts at 18 inches versus 17 for Upper Red. I can’t tell you how many walleyes I have caught on Upper Red between 17 and 18 inches. The more of them I catch, the more painful it becomes to keep throwing them back. On Leech, these fish can go into the livewell.

The last thing I like about Leech is it’s closer to home than Upper Red — only about four hours versus five to five and a half. It takes less time and it will save on gas.

I have never been on Leech. I only have seen the lake from the road while driving through the town of Walker. It’s very large, to be sure, but both Neustrom and the Foxes say it’s not hard to catch walleyes on Leech during May and June. In fact, the west side of Sugar Point is an excellent place to start, they said. You can just drift with a jig and minnow and catch plenty of fish.

For those who want to know more about Leech Lake and walleye fishing, Neustrom will spend time at the Rapala, Northland Tackle and Minn Kota booths. I found him to be both easy to talk to and informative. There’s even the possibility of fishing with him this summer on Leech. If I can, I will take advantage of that opportunity. I cooked my last batch of walleye a week ago and am hoping to put more in the freezer this summer.

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“I absolve you from your sins”

March 20, 2008

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I never tire of hearing these words from a priest: “I absolve you from your sins.”

I heard them again on Tuesday of this week during confession at my parish, Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. I went to a communal penance service, which our parish offers before Christmas and Easter. I like to take advantage of the opportunity to go to confession during Holy Week and right before the Triduum services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. The event was well attended and all of the folks there, including me, got a chance to go to private confession. There were nine priests there and I thank them all for taking the time to come and serve us in a very important way.

Later on that evening, I reflected on those words priests are trained to say to each person who comes to receive the sacrament. You could say that hearing those words means your confession was a success. I couldn’t help but compare that to success in the outdoors. When it comes to catching fish or harvesting game, a host of factors determine whether one will be successful — weather, skill in pursuing the quarry, mood of the fish or animal, etc.

But, in the confessional, all that is needed is a genuine act of contrition. Once you have made an honest confession, you are guaranteed to be forgiven. In fact, that is the point of the sacrament in the first place. God instructs us to go to a priest, not to bind us, but to remove any doubts about his forgiveness. That is something to celebrate during this Easter season. I plan on enjoying that gift now and God’s gift of the outdoors in the weeks and months to come. Next week, turkey scouting begins!

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Ask and you shall receive

February 14, 2008

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A boat shopping experience earlier this week ties in with today’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus says, “Ask, and you shall receive.”

For the last few weeks, I have been asking the Lord for a new fishing boat. I wanted several key features: A casting platform, capacity to seat up to six people, a live well and a decent motor. And, I wanted to stay within a price range of $5,000 to $6,000.

I thought I was close at the boat show last weekend, with a boat that seats up to five, with a casting platform and live well. The price was $4,600, but did not include a motor. A 15-horsepower outboard would push the price to $6,900.

I have a 15-horse Johnson, but the shaft wasn’t long enough. So, I would have to figure something else out. At least it was in my price range, I thought. So, I was leaning toward making the deal. On Tuesday morning, I told the Lord in my personal prayer time that I was thinking about getting this boat. But, if He had a better deal, please let me know within 24 hours or I would get this boat.

A colleague here at The Catholic Spirit has a nephew who works for Miller Marine in St. Cloud. As a last step, I decided to call him up and see if the marina had something. That was on Monday. On Tuesday, the day of my prayer, he called back and said they had a 16-foot Crestliner with a casting platform, live well, a capacity for six people and a 50-horse Evinrude. The marina’s asking price was $6,900, but he, without my asking, dropped the price to $5,400.

Sold! I was stunned to get such a deal. It was as though God knew exactly what I wanted and gave it to me. It was a wonderful answer to prayer and it will help me take today’s Scripture verse much more seriously. In fact, I’ll try applying it again right now:

Oh Lord, how about a moose hunt in Alaska?

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How do fish measure up?

January 4, 2008

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I recently returned to an ice-fishing trip on Upper Red Lake. The details of my experience will be featured in my upcoming monthly outdoors column. For now, I’d like to sound off on a hot topic on Upper Red and other lakes that have slot limits.

It has to do with fish measuring and how the DNR measures fish and handles violations of the slot limit. I have talked to anglers and resort owners on Upper Red Lake on a number of occasions about this topic. I also talked to someone from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) about this topic. He works in Bemidji and says Upper Red Lake is under his jurisdiction.

It seems anglers have gotten upset since Upper Red reopened to walleye fishing in 2006. The reason is that there have been reports of people who thought they had measured fish correctly in their boats, then had their fish measured by the DNR after getting back to shore and discovering that one or more were longer than 17 inches, which puts them in the protected slot of 17-26 inches.

Along with these reports comes tales of DNR enforcement officers measuring and remeasuring fish, pinching the tail until it just nudges past the 17-inch mark, then giving the angler a citation with an accompanying hefty fine.

I have two responses to this issue. First, I think anglers should get smart about measuring their fish. The best advice I got was from someone at West Wind Resort on Upper Red Lake. He recommended buying a special measuring trough that has a ruler embossed on the bottom. You place the fish in the trough, push its nose against the flat end, flatten the fish out, squeeze the tail and measure where the tip is. If it’s under 17, keep it. If it’s exactly on the 17 mark or longer, throw it back.

Some even recommend using the 16 3/4 mark or even 16 1/2 as a guide. That’s fine, but I’m confident enough in my measuring (I’ve had lots of practice) that I stretch my length limit to 16 7/8. It’s rare that I’ve had a fish this length but, when I do, I remeasure the fish so I can be sure it’s under 17. I may even flip my fish over and measure it from the other side.

Second, I think the DNR should work harder to help educate people on how to correctly measure fish. Some of the people I have talked to seemed surprised at how meticulously enforcement officers measure fish. I’m also not sure if people realize how important it is to flatten the fish and pinch the tail. This is something the DNR should be helping people learn. After all, it takes everyone working together to keep the resource healthy. That’s part of what stewardship is all about.

In my conversation with the DNR guy from Bemidji, I brought this up. He offered what I thought was an interesting perspective. He was well aware of the stories coming from Upper Red about overzealous enforcement officers handing out lots of tickets for very slight violations of the slot limit. But, his take on it was this: Those who got tickets probably acted like jerks to the officers and got a ticket more because of that than because of the violation itself. His advice is to act calmly and politely to an officer and avoid getting into a heated confrontation.

In all the times I’ve been to Upper Red, I’ve only been checked by the DNR once. It happened last summer while I was on the water with the winner of The Catholic Spirit kids fishing essay contest, Maddie Weathers of Hastings. The officer came to the boat, asked if we had caught any walleyes, then looked in the live well when we said yes. Even though we had one fish that measured 16 3/4, he did not measure any of our fish. He simply said, “OK, have a nice day” and continued on. So, I can’t say I’ve personally had a bad experience with the DNR.

If anyone has had a personal encounter with a DNR enforcement officer, good or bad, I’d like to hear about it.

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2007 Outdoors Highlights

December 31, 2007

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As the year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on my outdoors experiences of 2007. All in all, it was a great year, filled with lots of forays into the woods and waters of Minnesota and beyond. Here is a summary of the year’s great moments:

My sons Andy (left) and Joe

Ice fishing on Upper Red Lake
After going more than a decade without hitting the frozen water, I decided to give it a try in January. I’m glad I did. I took my Dad, Ray, and two oldest sons, Joe and Andy, to Upper Red Lake to spend several days in an ice-fishing shack. My very first fish was a beautiful 14-inch crappie, my biggest ever. Each of the boys also caught a big crappie each. Plus, we caught some nice walleyes and were able to take home our limit of two each. I’m going back to Upper Red Lake on New Year’s Day to try it again. I plan to write my monthly outdoors column about the trip. Stay tuned!

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Spring turkey hunting
For the first time, I hunted wild turkeys in three states: Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota, in that order. I hunted in Missouri with Father Joe Classen of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He took me to his prime hunting spots, but the birds were quiet and elusive for three days. Still, it was a fun experience. Then, I came back home and hunted in Wisconsin, first with Joe and Andy and then with my friend Jim Rienhardt on land his family owns. Both hunts were successful. Andy shot a nice bird the first week in May, then I followed with another a week later. Needless to say, we’ll be back in Wisconsin this spring. I only hunted one day in Minnesota, this time with my brother, Paul. We had fun, but couldn’t pull a bird in close enough for a shot. We’ll both get another try at Minnesota birds this spring.

More walleye action on Upper Red
I went fishing twice in the summer on Upper Red and had fantastic action both times. In May, I had to go to Bemidji to take a photo to use on the cover of the 2008 Minnesota Catholic Directory. So, I took my wife, Julie, with me and we went to Upper Red after I got done with the photos. We fished from shore in the Tamarac River, which flows into Upper Red, and caught about 50 walleyes in about five hours and took home our limit of two each. Where else can you do that well fishing from shore? Then, in June, our whole family went back up to Upper Red so that I could write a story on the winner of The Catholic Spirit Kids’ Fishing Contest, Maddie Weathers of St. Elizabeth Seton in Hastings. She caught her first walleye ever and everybody caught lots of walleyes. It was a phenomenal trip and I plan on going back again this year. And, special thanks to West Wind Resort for donating the grand prize of two days and nights at the resort for Maddie and her family.

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Bass bonanza
This was my best year ever for bass fishing, one of my all-time favorite outdoor activities. I hit the lakes very hard over the summer and had some nice fish to show for it. I equaled my mark for biggest bass ever with a 20-incher I caught on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis in August. That followed a 19 1/2-incher I caught in July, also on Calhoun, which is proving to be my top lake for big bass. In all, I caught at least a half dozen bass that went 19 inches or longer, the highest single-season total of my fishing career. Can’t wait to hit the lakes again this summer!

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Big Sky adventure
I bagged my first antelope and mule deer ever during a hunt near Great Falls, MT with my father-in-law, Bob Guditis, and my brother-in-law, Jerry Gray, and sister-in-law, Jessica Gray. We saw lots of animals in our October hunt and it looks like we’ll be going back next year, probably over Thanksgiving. That’s prime time for hunting deer and elk and I’m hoping to try for my first elk ever.

Fall walleye excursion
This year was the fourth annual fall walleye trip to Lake of the Woods with my friend Pete Wolney, a classmate of mine at Totino-Grace High School (1979). This was our best year ever for big fish. Pete caught a 28-inch walleye, plus a 25-incher, while I pulled in a 24 1/2-incher and a 24-incher. Pete has caught the biggest fish all four years, while I have caught the most all four years. I guess that’s a good balance, but I told Pete it’s my turn to catch a wall-hanger next year. Actually, I had a big one on this year, but it got off. That’ll give me something to think about ’til October comes.

I’m thankful for the many times I was able to enjoy the outdoors in 2007 with family and friends and I pray I will have many more opportunities in the coming year!

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