Sunday, December 6, 2015

a walk in the woods...

Around here the firearms deer season often marks the end of grouse hunting, too. There aren’t many of us will run bird dogs in the woods then, and when it’s all over it is often too cold and snowy to get much done. Still, if weather allows, I grab the dogs and gun and give it a try. There have been times when I gave up in short order after stopping every few minutes to clear hard snowballs from a dogs feet. And there have been other times I found grouse bunched in unusual numbers in unusual places that provided some exciting shooting. I remember one late hunt when my setter, Cully, pointed the edge of a slash pile along the border of a recent clearcut we were crossing. When I approached the grouse went up and there were 5 or 6 in the air at once. It was one of the two true grouse doubles I can claim, but it wasn’t really much of a feat with the grouse in the wide open sky trying hard for the cover. I have had some other good hunts in the snow, but a lot of the time it’s more exercise than anything else.

This weekend the days were overcast and threatened more snow but we enjoyed some warm temperatures that had the few inches of snow wet and melting. Rare weather for this time of year and it was hard to stay out of the woods. I took Jack and Gabby to a cover north of here that I hadn’t been at all season. It’s been a favorite and I’ve taken many a grouse and woodcock there, and with some ongoing logging it should be good for years to come. I turned Jack loose and we started off into a stiff south wind. It felt great to be out and Jack’s bell sounded Christmas cheery as he cast to the sides of the trail. In minutes we reached the heavy growth of spruce that often provides shelter for grouse in bad weather but Jack hunted it out without contact. Jack was happy to be out and hunted the cover like I wanted him to. I spotted a couple of older sets of grouse tracks and we went deeper into the woods, but after 30 minutes I was wondering if we would see any game. That’s when Jack’s bell fell silent far to the left.

I left the trail and pushed through some thick buck brush down into a gully and then back up the other side. The woods seemed open with the snow covering the ground, but there was still plenty of tight brush to slow you down and blow-downs to duck under. There were several short runs of balsam and spruce throughout the cover ahead and logical places for birds to be. Jack was a ways out and I activated the beeper to locate him. He was standing motionless pointing towards a stand of thick green balsam. I’ve been in that situation many times and know how tough it can be to get a shot and this time was the same. I actually moved quickly through the evergreens hoping to get a shot at a bird exiting the other side, but when I came out I heard the grouse flush behind me and made it’s escape behind the screen of balsams. Out-smarted again.

Ten minutes later Jack pointed again out to the right, and when I finally got to him I heard a grouse flushing far out front, unseen. Those late season birds are tough to get close to, and that’s ok. Every grouse that survives the winter could raise a brood for next year. An hour and a half later we were back at the truck with no other grouse contacts. Even though there was only two or three inches of snow on the ground, it was wet, heavy and slippery and Jack was pretty tired from running through it. And yeah, I was too.

I took Gabby up the trail the other way and it was the first time she’s had a bell on. She’s about 6 months old now and I’m happy to be able to get her into the cover. She ignored the bell and darted into the cover like she was on a mission. I’ve seen her get into grouse just about every time out, but today we found nothing. Even so, it was good training and I can’t think of anything better.  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bloggin', BSin', and social media-in'

This blogging thing can be a kind of on-again, off-again thing for me. Sometimes I go for weeks (or is it months?) without adding a post and think I could forget the entire thing. Then there are other times when I believe I could add something every day, if I found the time to sit down to do it. I suppose those of us who do this experience the same thing -- it's not that we can't think of anything to write, heck, we have all sorts of things bouncing around in our noggins -- it's making the effort to post 'em in some fashion we think is sensible enough that someone else will read it. I have a few friends who've reminded me from time to time that I should add something to the page. I start out thinking everything I write will be noble and moving and end up hoping it's not just a bunch of blabbering drivel. Ah, what the hell.

Some years back I had another blog on the old social media site. It wasn't all hunting and fishing like this is. It was about music, puppies, bad drivers; everyday stuff. Maybe a little rant, maybe a little praise. I posted a couple of videos I'm still trying to figure out how to get back. Maybe when I've posted all the fish pics I'll broaden this blog and delve into other areas. Who knows? 

Days are short now. It seems like I get home from work, let the dogs out for a little exercise and feeding, and it's dark before supper time. The weather had been less than ideal, too, but now it's cold and the rain turned to snow so it's actually not too bad. If you don't mind snow and cold, that is. I built a bonfire the other night and stood near the heat wishin' I had a chair and a whiskey, but too lazy to get either one. Next time. 

And I've been discovering and enjoying some of the many other blogs out there. I'm not all that ready to give up fishing (anymore, when I say "fishing" I almost always mean "fly fishing") for winter, so I've been looking at some of the fishing stuff others are doing around the country. I've had a neat year of catching big fish and I'm hopeful for next season, but the nearest trout streams I fish are less than 5 miles away and home to pretty little brookies like those pictured in some of the other sites I visit. I've said it before, they're all trophies to me.

Though not all of the blogs I look at are about fly fishing, so far they are all centered around outdoor living. Hunting birds and waterfowl with dogs are favorites, and I've seen some cool recipes and read some about bee-keeping, mushrooms, natural off-the-grid type living, etc. There are far more out there than I could ever read, but it's fun to give some of it a look. And it's probably better than sitting around on FB.

Speaking of facebook, oh, oh. Years ago a gal from my high school sent an invitation to join fb. I didn't know much about it, but I gave it a try. A short try. Within five minutes of signing up I got spooked by what seemed like too much in your face part of it so I deactivated my account. Or so I thought. I like keeping up with the local music scene and have always been able to check band and business fb pages without an account. I guess fb didn't like that because they took away that access, too. Plus there is all manner of outdoor content that always seems to end with "check the rest out on FB" and the "get on fb so you know what's going on" comments from folks I know and like.

The last straw was when Scotty asked for a photo of one of my dogs to add to the grouse dog site. Ok, I'm in. I went to sign up and found my old account was still valid, and when I opened it up I found requests from friends in the music world and outdoor world both. Sooo... I've updated my page a bit and am going to kind of ease into it. I've always been comfortable with the ignorance-is-bliss mentality but maybe it's time. Let's give it another try.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It's deer season

I spent the day in the woods today. I drove up north to one of my deer hunting areas and for all purposes I was going deer hunting. Years ago I’d leaned a small ladder stand against a pine tree I’d found while I was still-hunting and exploring the area. I sat on a fallen log and leaned against that pine and in the next 90 minutes I saw three different bucks but was unable to get a decent shot at any of them in the heavy cover. I decided then to put a stand against that tree. I’ve shot several good bucks from that stand since.

The stand is kind of my headquarters when I’m in those woods. Sometimes I can sit there all or most of the day, others times I start wandering around after only a short time at the stand. I often find my way back to it for the day's end and once I find my stand, I know I can find the faint trail to my truck. Today was a wandering day.

It was oddly warm for this time of year and we’ve gotten no snow. A storm is predicted for tonight and I was hoping deer would be moving before it, along with what should be close to peak rutting time. I moved slowly, a step or two at a time. Here and there I came upon a small deer track pushed into the damp leaves, a lone fawn wondering where everyone is, but for the most part deer sign was sadly lacking.

Before long my deer hunt evolved into more of a bird watching nature walk. My compact binocular worked perfectly for watching the blue jays, whiskey jacks, chickadees, and pileated woodpeckers. The red squirrels were busy, too, and the longer you go without deer contact, the more that squirrel rustling sounds like whitetail footfalls. Occasionally a raven would fly over croaking and kawking and the honking of a high V of geese reminded me of waterfowl hunting.

It’s neat country I hunt up there near the Canadian border. The bare rock outcrops are ribboned with rough looking scrub oak that drop acorns all over to feed the deer and squirrels. There are huge white pines scattered about, along with birch and aspen stands, spruce and balsam and jackpine thickets. The rock gardens will turn an ankle or worse if you don’t watch were you’re going and in the midst of the thick forest you’ll come across huge rock boulders that leave you wondering how they ever got there, glaciers or not.

I came to the edge of a moss covered outcrop that overlooked a little stream. I sat back and leaned on my pack to enjoy a break and snack all the while keeping an eye on the creek bottom, visualizing that big buck sneaking along the waterway. At my feet wintergreen berries stood out with green leaves and red fruit. The deer didn't show and it was time to keep moving.

I lost direction on this cloudy day and used my compass to find the road. It was nearly dark and I had a mile hike to my truck, but it was easy going compared to the hours I'd just spent in rough cover.

Today I started out hunting deer, but ended up hunting deer sign. I found no rubs, no scrapes. I know where there is better cover that holds more deer, and I’ll likely hunt some of it before the season is over. But there are no secrets anymore and good habitat probably involved logging, and many hunters key in on logged areas for good reason. The hill country I hunt is wild, tough going, and beautifully interesting. In all the years I’ve wandered around up there I’ve never seen another person. I like that.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)

Hope springs eternal, of course, and we never give up hope of getting in one more fishing trip before winter. The die-hard anglers know that fall fishing might be the best fishing and go after them, but for those of us who like to spend our autumns carrying shotguns and following bird dogs it’s a tough call to have to choose between fishing and hunting. I suppose if all is right with the world we’d get in so much fishing during the spring and summer that we’d be satisfied come fall and happy to stow the rods for the guns. How much fishing would that take? I can’t imagine.

After our great trip to Alaska, Scott and I made one float trip on a familiar river with less than spectacular results – a couple of smallish northern pike and I was kinda’ thinking that would be the last trip of the season. I’ve been in grouse hunting mode since, with thoughts of the approaching deer season but when Scott suggested one more try for muskies I couldn’t turn it down. Fish or no fish, a float down a backcountry autumn river is worth doing.

The days are getting short in late October so we picked a section of river neither of us had been on, but one we could easily finish before dark. I left my place well before sunup and drove through the rain dodging deer the entire way to the landing. It quit raining with the daylight and I flushed a flock of Canada geese when I pulled up to the river. Minutes later Scott showed and after shuttling the vehicles we slipped the Fishcat into the water and were on our way. As usual, Scott took the first shift at the oars of his boat and it turned out to be my lucky day. 

I like fly fishing for big fish and I'm lucky to have a group of friends who feel the same way. I like tying the big flies, though they take a while 'cause of all the material involved, and I like being able to attach the fly to the leader without a magnifying glass. And when that fly hits the water there's no doubt about where it is. Tossing big water-soaked flies can get tiring and a bit tough on the shoulder but it's the price we pay, and at the end of the day I've never heard any regrets from anyone. And when a big fish hits that fly, well...!
I was casting a deer hair diver, articulated red and black, a copy of the one I lost to a nice musky last fall and it was hard to decide where to cast in a river so full of good cover. There were rocks, logs, sweepers, deep holes and runs, and weed beds from shoreline to shoreline. The oars dipped the water and my line zinged through the air. The first fish was a small pike, nothing to brag about but got me on the board. Then we pulled through a couple of shallow riffles and came to a deep run on river-left. I made a cast under a bankside cedar tree and stripped it back just as I’d been doing since we’d started. The fish appeared from below the fly and sort of rubbed it against its back before disappearing into the deeper water again.

I can’t remember exactly what was said but it went something like: “Did you see that?!” “Oh yeah!” “It was huge!” All while Scott was back-rowing to keep me in position for another shot. I was hoping against hope the fish would show again and I took two, maybe three more casts when the big musky came up and nosed the fly, turned away for a second then turned back and grabbed it. Fish on – strip set, strip set, strip set!

There was some pretty excited chatter while Scott handled the boat and I played the fish. We’d get it close but when it wanted to it just swam away, bending my rod and peeling line. It seemed to be hooked well but I couldn’t help wondering about my knots and leader strength. The longer I fought it the more nervous I became, but I finally got it alongside enough for Scott to push the net under it and it was ours.  It's easily the biggest fish I’ve landed on a fly rod and my sigh of relief came with a happy smile.

We pulled to shore for photos and released the fish to swim away a little indignant at having been caught, but perhaps to be caught again.

It wasn’t the only musky we saw that day, another followed that same fly right to the boat but some clumsy rod handling on my part spooked the fish at the boat and it turned away for good. We ended the day landing plenty of smaller pike. I took the big fish award, but Scott caught the most. I’m not saying the fishing is over, but it’s almost November and I can’t think of a better way to end the season.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fine October Days

I’ve been fortunate to have lived many fine days in the outdoors, and I’ll have to count the last two as a couple of the best. Jack was still favoring his front leg after coming up lame from a hunt earlier this week, so my plan was to head north with the dogs and give Jack a short run in cover before hiking up to check my deer stand with my new pup, Gabby. It was sunny and 35 degrees when I hit the road, the remaining fall color was brilliant and I can’t say I’ve seen a prettier October day. 

I took the backroads as much as I could, which is quite a bit, checking new cover and some of my good hunting spots along the way. Over the years I’ve lost some favored covers due to paper company leases, but I’ve heard many of those leases were being cancelled and the Nature Conservancy was involved in buying up some of that land. I need to find out more about that, but I when I drove by a cover I used to hunt I noticed all the lease signs were down. I nearly stopped to check it out, but I had another spot in mind for Jack.

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and there were plenty of folks out hunting in the various methods they deploy – I saw a couple of pickup trucks stopped on the road with the doors still flung open and an orange-clad shotgun-toting body or two sneaking along trying to see the grouse on the ground. That’s one way: cruise along slowly ‘till you see a bird beside the road and, if you’re a sportsman, jump out to ground-swat ‘em. Lots of times the grouse goes sulking away, thus the hunters go creeping through the roadside cover hoping to get a look at the bird before it flies away. If you’re not so sporting you might take a shot out the window, but folks get arrested for that every year, and it seems to happen less and less. Then there’re all manner of ATV’s and UTV’s running around with uncased guns aboard, which is apparently legal these days. And, of course, there are plenty of foot hunters with or without canine help.

I turned off one gravel road onto a narrow dead end forest road with one particular cover in mind. There was a truck parked at the trailhead so I drove on to the next good place up the road. I wasn’t surprised to see it empty. It’s a short trail to a tiny clearing and that’s where the trail pretty much ends. If you know the way you can find remnants of logging trails from years past, but it’s not a place to go without a compass and/or GPS. Even if you know the way, it’s a thick, tight cover to hunt and move around in.

I stepped out of my truck and was looking at a grouse twenty feet away. It was alert and strutting around and offered a perfect opportunity to give Gabby a nose full of bird scent. She’s found several grouse so far and though I won’t shoot over her yet it’s fun to watch her rushing around in puppy fashion. It didn’t take long before she snapped to a stop for a moment before spotting the grouse moving away and the short chase was on. I took it as a good omen so I rounded her up and put her back in the truck. Jack was ready and waiting while I put on my vest and old hunting hat. A bell collar for Jack and I grabbed my gun and we were hunting.

In minutes I was at the clearing and Jack worked the thick stuff beyond. A second later his bell fell silent and I pushed in to find him. He wasn’t far and I got to him just as a grouse flushed and was fast leaving when my right barrel caught up and the bird dropped. Neat – one point, one shot, one retrieve. I pocketed the bird and we were off. Minutes later Jack was pointing again. The grouse flushed left and I thought I’d missed but instead of escaping into the cover, the grouse turned and gained altitude, spiraling higher and higher above the trees. I'd never seen anything like it and I stood watching, wondering if I should shoot again. Then the bird came down and hit the ground. I’d read of headshot grouse behaving that way but have never witnessed it. Until now.

I called Jack to retrieve the dead bird but he was pointing again. Another shot and another grouse. While I handled him to the retrieves another grouse got up in front of me, but I watched it go without raising the gun. That made five grouse we’d moved in less than a half hour. Nice. I figured that was enough and we headed back for the truck only a couple of hundred yards away. I could see the truck when Jack swung to the edge of an alder run and stopped again. That grouse went out of a tree and was the first miss of the day. Still, there was a satisfying heft to my game bag and our short hunt was a big success.  I sat on my tailgate eating the hot soup in my thermos and watched a couple of road hunters drive by. I’d heard only one other shot that morning.

I took Gabby up to the deer stand and she had fun tearing around looking for anything she could find. But we found nothing, not even any deer sign.

Speaking of sign, it seems there are a lot more road signs than there needs to be on the backroads. There’s a great big Forest Service sign at the entrance to Echo Lake Campground and that’s understandable, but the two signs down the road announcing the campground in 500 feet seems like overkill. And the metal street signs at the various woods roads take some of the feeling away from being in the woods. There was a big wooden sign erected on a logging road by the Ruffed Grouse Society claiming a management/hunting area, but it appears someone got tired of seeing it. Or maybe they just needed some firewood.

Today I was at Paul’s hunting camp. We’d made the plan to hunt his property with Scarlett and Jack, and I was happy to see Jack moving well after yesterday’s short outing. It was another gorgeous day, sunny and cool, the kind of October day any bird hunter longs for. Jack was still on his game, pointing one of the two grouse we found, and a half dozen or so woodcock. Add in Scarlett’s work and we had plenty of shooting.

It was a fine weekend for bird hunting, the kind classic stories were written about. It was a fine weekend to be outside doing anything. Gabby had her first whiff of dead birds; I was shooting well, though Paul credited that to my shotgun; we sat outside the shack sipping coffee and watched the pup chase around while the two old setters lay in the grass sleeping. All too soon it was time to call it a day and go home to clean birds. Thank you, yeah.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


It was just light when I woke and I can't say when I’ve last slept so soundly in a tent. Chris, Scott and myself were camped on a gravel bar alongside a little stream that we didn’t know the name of, and even if we had it wouldn’t have mattered – about all we knew of our whereabouts was that we were in Alaska.

Our plans had changed after I’d already strapped myself into the front seat of the Beaver floatplane – the pilot offered us a different route on a different river, one that hadn’t been fished for a while. Apparently the water we’d planned to float had seen a few other anglers in the past weeks, as if we’d have noticed. But when you get suggestions from folks who make a living in that country and seem to have your interest at heart, well… the decision was unanimous and quick.

When someone talks about fishing in Alaska it can mean a lot of different things. Halibut in deep water comes to mind -- and you can drive to all sorts of rivers and lakes for salmon and trout, or you can hike or backpack to them. You can go into the bigger rivers with powerboats and you can fly into camps outfitted with jetboats. Or, as we did, you can be dropped off in remote country to fly fish and raft your way down towards the ocean.

This was an unguided, un-outfitted DIY trip and we had maps of our original route but all we knew about our new course was to go downstream. That choice added a new twist to the adventure. With the maps we’d have had at least an idea of where we were. Now every inch of the river was ours to discover. My old GPS would give us an idea of how far we’d travel in a day, but with no mapping feature it could only indicate our progress in straight lines. On the twisting river there was certainly some guessing to be done.

Rick landed his beautiful plane on a little lake and we unloaded our gear and the deflated raft. Then he gave me the coordinates of the pickup point and was gone. It didn’t take long to start pumping the raft, but we took a little time to realize that we were, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. If all went well we’d travel and fish some 60 to 70 river miles and see our pilot again in nine days.

We inflated the raft while spawning sockeye salmon splashed near. It was a sight to see, bright red fish by the hundreds, and a sight we’d soon become accustomed to. We pushed off and entered the stream, more of a creek than river, and were soon out of the raft pushing and pulling over shallow riffles. I think we walked as much as we floated those first couple of days, but the bankside runs were full of fish and when Scott landed the first large rainbow trout we knew we were in for something good. By the time we found our first campsite we’d already seen a huge racked caribou and our first bear. The bear was making his way up the river as we floated down and it took a minute of our yelling and waving for it to notice us. I tried for my camera when the bear stood up on its hind legs to better check us out, but dropped and ran off before I could get a photo. As we continued downriver we watched it meandering up the hill in the distance. More caribou near camp and fish for supper, Dolly Varden char, which are beautifully colored and the first “dollies” I’d ever seen.

We knew we had to travel a distance each day, but it was hard to pass up the runs and holes that harbored so many fish. We’d pull the loaded raft onto a gravel bar and wander downstream fly casting and catching rainbows, dollies, grayling, and an occasional red salmon.

The “reds” were far up from the ocean and mostly spawning or spawned and not about to take a fly, but a few were fresh enough to bite and put up a good fight. I’d only seen photos of the bright red salmon with hooked jaws on green heads until then and I could hardly comprehend standing in the river amongst them.
There were bear tracks everywhere along the shoreline and covering the gravel bars. It was nearly impossible to find a tent site that didn’t have bear prints on it, and before long we only took notice of the largest tracks. We didn’t see that many bears, actually, but enough for some neat photos. We had a bear gun, but it was mostly cased in the bottom of the raft or in Chris’s tent. The bears were more interested in the fish and really caused us no trouble, but you couldn’t forget about them and more than once I laid a reassuring hand on the bear spray hanging from my belt.

The farther downstream we travelled the bigger the fish became. On the third day we switched from our 6 weight rods to 9’s and 10’s. I’m not sure we ever took photos of the biggest fish. It’s hard to quit casting to mess with the camera but we tried to shoot what should be memorable catches. When we first started our float we kept in fairly close contact, always ready to net a fish for each other. As the days went on we would spread out quite a distance, often out of sight of each other or the raft, and when someone hooked a fish he was often on his own. And someone was always hooking a fish! I got pretty good at beaching big fish.

When we hit the silver salmon the game changed. We’d still hook dollies, rainbows and grayling, but the silvers got all our attention. They’d strike a fly and it was “game on” as they’d spin your reel and strip your fly line in seconds. They’d fly out of the river in heartstopping jumps, shaking violently to throw the hook before taking another long powerful run and all you could do was watch your line cut water. It was amazing!

Have you ever had a great dinner and said, “I could get used to this?” Well, we actually did get used to having a delicious salmon dinner, cooked over a driftwood fire, night after night. Gotta thank Chris for doing the cooking, as well as putting this outstanding trip together. This kind of thing requires some planning.

Our routine was pretty simple, we’d break camp after a hearty breakfast, add some air to the raft (yeah, it leaked a bit) load our gear and head downstream. Sometimes we’d get only a few yards before stopping to wade fish, sometimes we’d go farther. We began to realize there were times we’d have to pass good fishing to make some distance, and the wind became a factor, always blowing upriver from the ocean. Mid-day we’d stop for lunch and a rest. Then we’d float and fish until around 7, when we’d look for a camp. We’d find a bar with a few good tent sites, set up our tents, gather firewood, and get a supper cooking. One beer each, and a sip or two of bourbon around the fire. Next thing you knew it was 11 o’clock and getting dark. I’d fall asleep listening to the river flowing and salmon jumping.

This was not a leisurely vacation trip. In and out of the raft many times a day to pull through shallows or wade fish tires a guy out in the best way. Pitching and breaking camp daily along with camp chores in the open northern air makes for good sleep. Good gear is very important. Waterproof and warm. We pretty much lived in our waders all day. It often rained at night with a few showers during the day, just enough to keep rain gear on or handy. The weather was cool, the water cold. I packed my sleeping bag into a waterproof compression sack that went into a waterproof duffle. And while we each were having a great time with lots of laughing and joking, we all knew we were in serious country with one exit and little chance of quick rescue if needed. I believe the only casualty was one of my reels that a silver put the hurt to, destroying the drag and bearing.

The fishing was tremendous, I don’t know who caught the most but it wasn’t me. Still, I can’t remember all the fish I caught. I’d tied flies for what I hoped would cover every situation, and I only needed a few patterns, but it’s good to have the bases covered. I did try to use most of my “Alaska specific” flies for a few casts anyway, just ‘cause I had ‘em. And if I’d caught a nice fish on the wrong fly it would have been OK, too. We caught so many silvers on streamers that we started wogging them on the surface and just kept catching, in the most excited way. There’s nothing like seeing a big salmon waking behind a big pink deerhair pollywog being stripped in!

On the ninth day we found the pickup point near where our river converged with two others, creating a landing zone large enough and deep enough for a floatplane to land. We were there 90 minutes early and caught more salmon while we waited for Rick. Each of us agreed it would be hard to convey to the folks back home just what kind of adventure we’d experienced. Photos help, but you really had to be there. I’m glad I was. I can’t imagine seeing such vast country, or fishing opportunities, like that again. Except in Alaska.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Countin' down...

When it comes to packing for a trip, be it hunting or fishing, I’ve always been kind of lazy about it. I suppose it has to do with having most of my gear pretty handy and all I really need to do it toss it in a pack and get going. I’ve had most of my stuff for years and I’m pretty comfortable with it and know its capabilities. But the trip I’m about to take had me sort of backed up on my heels. Two companions and I are about to float/fish/camp a river in some wild country. We’ll get dropped off by floatplane and picked up by floatplane after some seven days and 60 or so miles on the river. Of course we’ll all figuring on an awesome adventure, but we know the weather could be less than ideal. There’ll be no re-supply or quick exits, so our gear and supplies need to be in order.
I got to thinking about my stuff and realized that even though it’s of good quality, it is getting pretty old. I’m not against updating and replacing what needs to be replaced, but I don’t exactly want to buy an entire new outfit for this one trip, either.
That’s the trouble with all this stuff. Outdoor gear has come a long way in terms of technology. It’s light, waterproof, and comfortable. But I’m an old school guy who remembers wearing my grandpa’s Maine Hunting Shoes when I was a teen and grew to believe that equipment should not only work, it should last. I’ve went through many a pair of boots and jackets that were guaranteed waterproof, and were waterproof for a while. Turns out they’re waterproof until, well, they’re not. I suppose that’s why quick drying supplex type clothing is so popular, which really does work but wears out quickly, too – probably ‘cause it’s so thin. The shoulders of my very favorite “guide wear” fishing shirt disintegrated under the weight of my trout vest. I guess that may be a good thing: fishing enough to wear out a shirt, but I really expected to get more use from it.
I recently read an online review (for what it’s worth) of a big brand fishing shirt. One guy loved ‘em, gave them five stars. Said he buys six of them a year. Huh? That’s the price of having good, comfortable gear. When it works it’s great, when it gives up we buy more.
So I’ve gone through pretty much all of my gear: my tent, sleeping bag, waders, boots, etc. I’ve sorted out what I think is good, replaced some of the questionable stuff, and even repaired some of it.
The one thing that really had me busy was tying flies. We’ll be fishing for salmon and trout and using flies proven to the area. I’d never tied pink wogs before, or pink anything for that matter, but I am now. There’s a saying where we’re going, “if pink doesn’t work, try pink.” Of course that’s not enough. Gotta have some chartreuse, too. And purple. Some black. And white. And some brown. Mostly streamers of varying types. Barbell eyes. Coneheads. Egg-sucking. Sparkly, furry, feathery. Oh, don’t forget some mouse patterns! When those big rainbows hit a mouse it’s amazing, so they say. I gotta believe it.
It’s always fun to fish and explore new country, and this will be an exciting trip. I’ve been on a couple of fly-in fishing trips before, but I’ve never caught a salmon on a fly rod, and I’ve never fished were bear spray is standard equipment. I’m hoping I take the time to fill my camera with photos. I know it’s a little selfish, but I hope to come back with at least a few photos posed with big fish!





Friday, June 12, 2015

go fish!

Less than two weeks ago, shortly after Memorial Day, I lost half of my tomato plants to a late season freeze. We had a couple of mornings when the temps dropped into the 20’s. In June. Frost warnings were out and the plants were covered with Solo cups but I guess that wasn’t enough. Then came the rain that filled the banks of the small rivers and streams but still not enough to raise the lake levels much. The last few days have been beautiful and we’re all about convinced summer is here. It’s sunny, it’s hot, the grass is growing and the birds are singing. Nice.

I don’t know where all the deer where last fall, but this spring they seem to be all over the place. I was wandering around a meadow and came face to face with a doe and wobbly legged fawn. Mama deer jumped off a short ways but the fawn’s defense, unable to outrun anything, was to lay down. I didn’t want to bother them much but I did snap a couple of photos before backing away. In the last week I’ve seen perhaps a dozen newborn fawns in my travels, and the old finlanders in the area are talking about the “spotted fawn meatloaf” their mothers used to make.

 Yesterday morning I had to back my boat to the end of the dock on Lake Vermillion to get it off the trailer. Yeah, the water is still pretty low. It was early enough during the week that there wasn’t much traffic at the landing. The only other boat was an outfitter’s pontoon loading canoes and gear to ferry up to the Trout Lake portage. I’m always attracted to canoes, but yesterday I was going the easy way with boat and motor. There wasn’t a hint of a breeze and I used the electric trolling motor to work my way around the rocky islands and fly cast for smallmouth bass. Vermillion has a population of Muskies and northern pike, too, and I was kinda’ hoping for a chance at a big one of those. 

I headed to a good looking bay that’s covered with the small rocky bottom that screams bass habitat. There’re a couple of logs laying on the bottom and two docks as well. Vermillion is a popular and populated lake. It’s nowhere to look for solitude, but it’s a fishery known for walleye, musky, and bass.  Sometimes you gotta put up with some company. There’s so much structure you’d think the fish would easy to catch, but though I spent the morning casting over mostly rocky cover with divers and streamers, I didn’t really get into them. I had a number of strikes from small fish, however, and I did catch my first bass of the year, a couple of medium sized bronzebacks that where laying under one of the docks. In another weedy bay I tossed a big articulated streamer that was hard to cast and frustrating because I couldn’t get near the distance as a bass bug, but I had to try in hopes a big predator fish would take interest. None did. By early afternoon the lake was busy with boats running back and forth, the fishing was slow and I had a lawn to mow so I heading for the dock.

It’s funny – all winter long I think about all the fishing I’m going to do come spring. I can’t think of anything that would conflict. I’ll catch steelhead with snow still on the ground. Trout in the little streams before the leaves pop out. Walleyes to supply the fish fries. Big trout out west. Giant night-time browns on deerhair mouse patterns. Bass, musky, and northerns all summer.  Evenings around a hissing lantern sipping whisky, tying flies, sharpening hooks and cleaning lines. No chores or tasks, of course. No need for working or sleeping. Livin’ the dream with no reason not to. That’s what I think about. All winter.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

gettin' ready...

I often say the fun should last at least as long as the time it took to get there. That can be construed in different ways, I know, but what I mean is if I drive 3 hours to go hunting, the hunt should last at least 3 hours. Of course it doesn’t always work out – I remember driving up to Blackduck Lake to fish for walleyes, which takes about an hour, and sitting at the dock, in the truck, waiting for the deluge of rain to end. It never did. At least not while Dad and I waited. I don’t mind fishing in the rain, but that time was ridiculous. Parked at the landing a few feet from the dock, we could see the end of the dock, but not much beyond. We drank our coffee on the way home.

 I’m glad I only hold that rule to the travel time. In a week the crew and I will drive a long day to go trout fishing in Montana. Then we’ll fish for a number of long days and drive home. It makes sense and seems right. When l count the travel time vs. activity time, I’m not including the hours spent getting ready. Good thing, because I’ve been getting ready for this trip for months.

Sometimes I think the “getting ready” gets in the way of the actual “doing.” Especially when it comes to all the projects to do around the house. I’ve got a few hammer and nails type projects pending and it’s like “don’t worry, I’m getting ready.” I feel like I’m always getting ready for something.

There are less obvious, but perhaps more important ways of getting ready. Ways that any outdoorsy folk would recognize as sensible. Life is short and so are the weekends, and when I spent a couple of those spring weekends following bird dogs around at field trials I was actually getting valuable and needed exercise that will come in handy for just about any summer adventure I partake in. The times I spent limbering up the fly rod trying for steelhead may have seemed like time wasted to the casual observer, but getting ready for upcoming fly fishing by early season practice casting can’t be discounted. This morning’s mountain bike ride may have seemed like a good way to get out of yard work, but the cardio benefit of off-road pedaling has got to help – if it doesn’t do me in first.

After I put my bike away I pulled a chair out in front of the garage and sat down. Aha! Says the industrious type. Resting is it, wasting the day away?! Well, I was sort of resting, true. That biking isn’t as easy as it used to be, but if you looked closer you’d have seen I was trimming deer hair flies into some sort of useful shape. I’ve got a big trip planned for late summer and I’m gonna need some pink and chartreuse pollywogs. Again, I’m just getting ready!

Once in a while I looked over at Jack, who was sitting quietly staring up at the birch tree. There was a squirrel in the tree planning to make its way to the feeder to swipe the seeds I put out for my favorite rose-breasted grosbeaks. The squirrel nervously inched down the tree. Jack was getting ready, too. 

Not every stage of getting ready involves preparing for something big, of course. More mundane, everyday tasks provide good cause, also. Like yesterday morning. I snuck out in the canoe for a short while, just long enough to catch one little river walleye barely big enough to fit alongside some eggs. I was getting ready for breakfast!

Sat. 5/16

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spring is short around here, and comes reluctantly. One day the temperature will be below zero and the next day it’ll read 40 above. The country road I live on, and my driveway, will turn wet, muddy and rutted – then freeze rock hard, but the ruts stay. The snow starts melting, patches of brown grass start showing in the yard and everyone is smiling ‘cause spring is in the air. Snow shovels are stowed, outdoor furniture is brought out, windows and doors left open and we step outside in light jackets or no jackets at all. People drive around with the car window rolled down. And just when we think we’ve got the winter licked, we wake up the next morning to a white landscape and deck chairs knocked over by wind driven snow. Parkas are donned again and the catch phrase of the day is a submissive “I’m sick of this.”

Spring does take over, however eventually, and when it does we find ourselves with so much to do that the immediacy of it grabs us in near panic. There are only so many perfect spring days yet there’re so many ways to fill them, and fill ‘em we must, because before we know it those pussy willows will have burst out along with the leaves and with that all comes the heat and bugs. Yeah, spring is short.

Yesterday would have been a beautiful day for dog work, sunny and just above freezing, but I had a pile of wood to split and I knew if I didn’t get it finished I’d be kicking myself next January. I suppose spending a morning with a splitting maul is not a bad thing to do and it’s pretty satisfying when it’s done, but when Molly flushed a grouse behind me while I was swinging the maul it was sure tempting to postpone the chore and hit the woods. I stuck with the task, however, with no regrets because last night the snow and freezing rain came and coated everything with a couple of inches of snow and slush. Cars were sliding off the road and snowplows were out again.

I’m thinking about fishing now and with a couple of exciting trips coming up I’m eager to limber up the rods. The lakes and streams are still frozen close to home, but there’s fishing to be had down on the rivers that feed Lake Superior, so things are looking up.  With a bit of luck there will be a steelhead or two in my near future.

The sun is setting and I’m looking out at the snow in the woods surrounding my yard, but in my head I’m hearing the zing of line in the air, the dip of oars in the water, and feeling the tug on the rod. I’m daydreaming of warm days floating bass and musky rivers and wading clear trout streams. Word is there are likely some salmon in the future. I’ll keep you posted – I can hardly wait!

29 March 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

the shortest month... seems long.

It’s that time of year again when we all more or less wish we were somewhere else. Somewhere we could be hunting. Or fishing. Somewhere we could be outdoors without freezing our keesters off. Some warm sport filled paradise we could spend our winters at. Yes, I think I’d stay around here through deer season and then head to my winter quarters where there would be wingshooting available and water to fly fish. I’ve been to the southwest and southeast parts of the country, but I’m thinking someplace a little more exotic. Like Cuba, for instance. Hemingway wrote about the good shooting he found when it was safe to be there. I wonder what that would be like? I’ll bet I’m not the only one who dreams about such things either, and I’m betting lottery ticket sales go up in the winter for just that reason.

It was 15 degrees below zero on Valentines morning. If I remember right it was about the same last year. I suppose that can encourage some V-Day cuddling and no worries about melting chocolate hearts, but otherwise…. C’mon, it’s mid Feb, the days are getting longer so how ‘bout a warm up?

I went to town for some home supplies, stop by the sporting goods store to see who was about, and then the coffee shop for a snack and a cup for the ride home. I ran into an old skeet shooting acquaintance who is also about the most duck huntingest guy I know. Ducks and geese, that is. He told me he’d just made the long drive to the nearest Cabela’s to pick up a couple hundred more snow goose decoys to add to his trailer-full of more than a thousand. Well… if you need ‘em, you need ‘em. He likes Winchester auto-loaders and has 5 or 6 of the two models he likes best. I kinda wonder about that but have never asked. He has a lot of other gear, too, like layout blinds, stand up blinds, sit down blinds, sneak boats, and big boats. He doesn’t have a dog, but he likes hunting over someone else’s if the dog is really, really good. Heck, we all like that.

We compared notes about last season and I enjoyed recalling the times I spent in a duck boat or sneaking along a river with my spaniel at my side and my new camo-clad shotgun in hand. I’ll always have a soft spot for the old A5, but my new gun is much lighter to carry and a good shooter to boot. It’s also the kind of gun you could use for a walking stick, a wading staff, or a canoe paddle without worry if you had to. I’ve already used it once to catch my balance in some tough marsh and stuck the buttstock in the mud to the trigger. I sloshed it around in the river to clean it off and never gave it another thought. Then I took it to Dakota and shot ducks with no trouble. I didn't give it a decent cleaning until the end of the season, and I’m not sure it mattered, then.

I broke my new gun in on the river north of here, shooting wood ducks chased off the upstream lake by other hunters. A dog is essential for this kind of hunting, and Molly does the job well and loves it. It’s a mile hike to get to the river so I carried a few rounds of 7 ½ steel shot loads for any grouse along the way. It’s the only full camo, synthetic stocked gun I’ve used and I’m impressed with its versatility. I’ve always been something of a traditionalist, but it seems right to grab this gun, my spaniel, and a pocketful of different loads to hunt whatever we come upon.  I’m not giving up my double-gun and pointing dog, of course, but fitting in a little “rough shooting” now and then is just right.