EAGLES SOARING   Leave a comment

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Being cooped up for a couple of days due to weather is rather depressing. Today is clear but very cold.  Coming home from the Post office I stopped about a half block away to view two adult bald eagles soaring over the house.

This is one of the nice things about January in southern Illinois. The waterfowl winter here on the refuge and the eagles have followed them on their migration as the clean-up crew.  The eagles prey upon the sick and wounded birds as well as eating the dead ones.  On sunny days the surface water of the lakes and ponds warm slightly attracting the carp.  Eagles can spot the fish from far and swoop down upon them.

All along the Mississippi River Flyway various local groups have “Eagle Days” in which they promote the local economy by offering tours to view the birds.

Eagles are not strangers to this neighborhood. They sometimes sit on the ground in the back yard as they munch on some hapless small game animal.  Today is a pleasure in that they are soaring around in a clear blue sky.  They have moved off for now but they surely will come again another day.

In any event watching eagles go about their daily chores is a great way to push away the winter blues.

Posted 01/07/2017 by Donald Gasaway in Conservation

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OUTOOR WRITING – A WONDERFUL LIFE   Leave a comment

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Bad weather in the form of ice and snow has caused cancelation of plans to attend Dallas Safari Club Show for this writer. But something good did come of staying inside for most of the day.

Serendipity resulted in accidentally coming upon an essay by Craig Boddington, world famous hunter and outdoor writer, about his philosophy of life as it relates to his career in hunting and writing about it.

It caused some reflection on this writer’s career in the hunting and fishing field. Although I usually like to keep my personal involvement out of the article, I am making an exception today.

The first commercial success occurred in the 4th grade when the prize for an essay on a local bank’s new signage produced the princely sum of $3. It would be about 15 years before the second sale came along.

That was about 50 years ago. In between I produced a lot of articles that did not sell as well as some freebees for law journals and social work magazines.  I even edited an in-house journal for the social service department of a court system.

The real turning point came with a chance meeting at an outdoor show in Chicago. Gene Laulunen had just started MidWest Outdoors.  At that time both he and his wife were still teaching school in the suburbs and put the magazine together on their kitchen table in the evening.

He was looking for someone to write about bowhunting. He had a writer on target archery and a friend had told him of me.  I wrote a couple of pieces that appeared in the 3rd edition of MidWest Outdoors Magazine.  I did not write any more for him for some long forgotten reason.

In the interim I did write some article for other magazines such as Archery World and Bowhunter. In the mid-70’s I became editor of a journal for the Illinois Chapter of Safari Club International and we contracted with MidWest Outdoors to print and distribute it on a monthly basis.  Gene then encouraged me to get serious about writing about the outdoors.

Since then I have sold hundreds of article to him and to other publication throughout the upper Midwest.

In 1996 I retired from social work and corrections work. Six months later retirement became boring.  I returned to writing, appearing in outdoor shows, a couple of videos and sponsorship of a youth goose hunting contest that occurs annually during National Hunting & Fishing Days.

I will turn 75 in a couple of months. Writing about hunting and fishing has opened a lot of doors.  The field is well-known for a lot of freeloading.  For that reason I have been reluctant to accept gifts of trips and gear.  It just makes me uncomfortable.  Most of my trips whether to Africa or around North America are paid for by me.  If I do accept some hospitality in any form it is with the understanding that if it turns out to be a good trip, I will write about it.  If not then I will not write anything about it.  I do not do negative stories or reviews.

I have met, hunted with, fished with some of the greatest people in the outdoor industry. Many are gone now while the rest remain my friends for life.

In recent years health problems have caused me to cut back on some of my activities. It is heck getting old.  Sitting here today has cause me to reflect on the past (a great time) and begin to set goals for 2017 that include more travel for hunting and fishing.

Those goals when accomplished will appear in this journal. Stay tuned!

WINTER FISHING   1 comment

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Perhaps at no other time of the year do anglers enjoy a larger variety of fishing opportunities. Weather conditions can vary significantly.

Whether fishing open water of power plant lakes or partially iced-up lakes and rivers, the water temperatures govern winter fishing. Some areas will be warmer due to warm water discharges or underwater springs affecting the temperature of the water surrounding them.  Some lakes and rivers receive water from slowly meandering feeder creeks that pick up warmth as they flow through open country.

So it is that anglers can still be ice fishing in one area and other anglers looking forward to pre-spawn activity. Add the conditions in the power plant cooling lakes and there is the opportunity to experience fishing for many species using a variety of techniques.

Ice fishing anglers use 2- to 4-pound fluorocarbon and small jigs to seek out primarily yellow perch, bluegills and crappies. For bait they prefer small jigs with plastic grubs are the best bet.  White bass and crappies prefer jigging spoons with spikes (maggots) or Fathead Minnows.  The bite is always a light one.

Open water anglers on the Great Lakes find the salmon species are a good bet using spawn sacks slowly jigged just off the bottom. An alternative is a white jig tipped with wax worms for the yellow perch.

Panfish anglers, in open water situations, prefer small plastic jigs or jig/minnow combinations with light line on long crappie poles. Good colors for the plastic jigs are white, pink/green and chartreuse.  Catfish anglers find their best results using cut bait, dough baits and nightcrawlers.

The larger cold water species (walleye and muskie) in open water will take spinnerbaits and some shallow running crankbaits, such as bladeless rattling lures.

MAXIMIZE YOUR OUTDOOR SHOW DOLLARS   Leave a comment

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Going to the outdoor show is always a hoot.  It is a chance to see what anglers from all over are buying.  It brings up visions of upcoming trip opportunities and it is a learning experience.

The key to maximizing knowledge from a boat show is advance preparation.  A game plan will allow you to learn with a minimum of exhaustion.  Begin on the Internet.  Most all of the exhibitors web pages.  So too do the sponsors of the show itself.

Most shows are composed of thousands of square feet of products, places to go, and other bits of knowledge.  Covering the entire show and still being able to focus on your favorite aspect of outdoor recreation takes effort.  Some shows are so large that one feels the need of a GPS just to get around.

Once you select the show, check the ads that appear in newspapers, magazines, on radio and television for specific information as to when the show coming to town.  Look for the products and seminars that interest you.  If planning to make purchases, make a list of the items you are seeking.

Make two lists, one that you have to buy and the second of things you would like to examine.  Perhaps you will buy something from the second list and maybe you just want to see it.

Week day traffic is lightest and exhibitors can spend more time with you.  Arrive early to allow maximum time to spend getting the information you seek.

If you are with a group make arrangements to meet at a specific location and time.  You may want to see different things.  Kids do not want to spend the same amount of time at a booth as an adult.  Wives want to see different things than do husbands.

Once at the show, take time to look over the program you usually receive as you enter.  It often has a floor plan and list of the exhibitors.  Use a pen or highlighter marking pen to mark the exhibits and seminars of major interest to you.  Make check marks beside the names of exhibitors who might stock the things you want to purchase.

Make note of the time and location of seminars you want to attend.  Some shows announce the seminars as they are taking place while some do not.  Be sure you have a watch so that you do not miss your favorite speaker.  Make note on the program of any last minute substitute seminar speakers or exhibits.  Look for such changes the entrance to the show or at the seminar area.

Take a cassette tape recorder to the seminar.  Most speakers have no problem with your taping their speech, but it is important to ask permission first.  Take notes in a spiral notebook.  You might even have some questions that you hope the speaker will answer, prepared in advance.  That way if he does not cover the subject, you can ask during the Q & A that usually is part of any seminar.

Pay attention and avoid side conversations with your companions.  If the subject is one in which you are intensely interested, sit near the front so that you can concentrate.  If you are only passively interested, sit in the back or on an aisle.  That way if you decide to leave during the presentation, you will disturb only a minimum number of other people.

Wear comfortable shoes.  You will spend most of your time walking on concrete.  Hiking boots or a new pair of athletic shoes is a good idea as they provide support and cushioning for the feet.  Older athletic shoes are not a good idea as they lack the support necessary to cushion your feet.  They are like walking barefoot and can lead to foot problems as well as fatigue.

If the outside weather is cold, then you need to do something with your coat.  Carrying it is a nuisance.  If the show provides a coat checking service, it is worth the cost.  If not, perhaps you might want to leave it in the vehicle.  A third alternative is to put it in a backpack.

Backpacks are also a good place for brochures that you pick up at the show.  You can acquire a considerable number of them in the course of visiting all the booths.  Although the weight of a brochure is not much, the weight of many brochures is a lot.  If you do not remember to bring your backpack, then look for a booth that is passing out plastic “shopping bags”.  Look around at the other people carrying bags and check for reinforced handles.  They are the ones you want.

Another help is to take frequent breaks and examine what you accumulate.  Sometimes it is stuff that you do not really want.  You can stop for a soft drink and a hot dog while culling your materials.  If after reading the brochure you still have some questions, go back to the booth and get answers.  It is easier than calling or writing from home later.

Finally, check your notes.  Did you miss anything that you had intended to see?

Attendance at sports shows is a great opportunity to gain a maximum benefit from your money.

 

ICE FISHING TIPS   2 comments

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Winter brings a different brand of fishing to many waterways. Here’s what to expect from this year’s hard-water season.

Ice fishing is basically a sport practiced in the northern half of the country due to weather conditions. The southern half does not reach sustainable temperatures to form enough ice to support ice fishing.

The northern areas sustain the sport from December to late February.

Hard water anglers get as much fun out of planning forays on the ice any other fishing. They begin by selecting an area.  If it is a forest preserve near home, obtain the stocking tallies from local websites.  That way you have an idea as to what species to expect.

It often becomes a family project to gather as much information about the proposed trip(s) on the ice. Anticipation is a large part of the fun for a family.  Do not just wander out on the ice.  Check on maps for structure and bowls in the water.  Again turn to the Internet.  Often a local park of governmental website will have topographical lake maps.

Also search Google Maps (www.google.com) for photos of the same body of water. By combining the information from both, you can plan fishing locations.   Look for sharp turns in the shoreline, weed edges and timber.  By recording the GPS coordinates for the waypoints you have 10 to 12 locations to begin the search for fish.

Punching a lot of holes seems to be a premise for kind of fishing

Many ice anglers use artificial lures almost exclusively. Some use natural bait only as a last resort.  By experimenting with different colors on various bodies of water they find that glow jigs with glow tails are best for crappies bass and bluegills.  Sometimes they get some success with an orange/red combination for bluegills.

When choosing a color experiment by using a glow jig with a different color tail. If all else fails go to a black jig head with a red tail on 1-pound line.

Post-season finds many picking several accessible lakes to explore as possible ice fishing locations for the next year. Check the maps and mark them with notes on breaklines and structure.  Successful anglers always fish structure.  They will fish on all sides and the top.  The larger fish seem to be on the outside edges of the structure while the smaller ones seem to go into it for concealment.

Due to the clarity of winter water, fish the water column from the top down two feet at a time. This is contrary to traditional ice fishing lore but it is successful for most ice fishermen.

If permitted in site specific regulations make use of electronic fish locaters and cameras in some of the location you like to fish. Fish locaters and cameras are very effective in locating structure in the clear water of deep lakes.

By keeping track of the stocking information on each lake during the year you gain an idea of species and numbers of fish.

LAKE TANEYCOMO FOR WINTER TROUT ACTION   1 comment

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The overcast skies begin to clear. On the shore of Lake Taneycomo in Branson, MO there is little wind as we put the boat in the water but that changes an hour or so later.  Temperatures are around freezing but they seem colder once the wind picks up.

The winter spawn for browns is just over last month. But the rainbows are just entering theirs.  We actually catch fish full of eggs and sperm in the pre-spawn.

Trout have a lateral line like all fish. They respond to movement, vibration and sound.  The lateral line allows them to pinpoint a direction from which those things emanate.  They move toward that sound and then use their sight to zero in on it.

Trout have tiny scales because they live often times in a moving water environment. This coupled with their slime coat allows them to go nose into the current with less energy.  They are also very slippery to handle while landing.

Lake Taneycomo contains both rainbow trout and brown trout.  Rainbow is the prominent stocking fish.  That is because they are the easiest trout to grow.  They take to the food and the overcrowding better than a brown trout.  Although the water here is quite clear they take to polluted water a bit better than brown trout

Some anglers prefer to use dry flys because it is more fun but it is not the only way. We are using artificial lures cast from spinning gear.  The jigs suspend about 4 feet below a small float.  Their eyes are mid-range.  That means they are comfortable looking up for food as well as down.  They are multi-directional feeders.

Trout in the wild like cold moving water with a rocky bottom. This describes much of the lake bottom here.  Out best success comes in water flowing over gravel.  They can survive in pond water but on a more limited basis.  Trout prefer water in the 40 to 55-degree range.  This can vary by sub-species.

On rivers where water levels change during the day, they will survive through adaptation. When the current is fast, they will be near the edges of the river system.  As water levels lower and current decreases they will go more toward the middle or anywhere.  They will range the river system.

Trout relate to structure only to conserve energy and preserve calories.

We hook into several brown trout but only landed one. The rainbows are numerous and we landed a number of them.

Toward the end of our 4 hour trip fingers get numb but it is a trip well worth the effort. To paraphrase a famous World War II general, I shall return.

 

HUNTABLE RABBIT POPULATIONS   Leave a comment

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Every year country roads and farmsteads show abundant populations of rabbits. Yet when hunting season comes around they all seem to have vanished.  Estimating rabbit populations are difficult for the best of small game biologists.

The winter just passed was the warmest on record. There was above average rainfall which should transfer to abundant rabbit populations.

One rabbit in ten ever lives to be a year old in the wild. It seems that everything works against their growing old.

Like most small game animals and birds, Mother Nature allows rabbits to rise 30 to 50 young each year. But the odds are just against their survival.

Rabbits do well in heavy cover and in remote areas of overgrown fields. Hawks and other flying predators present danger to these furry bundles.  For this reason they like cover that conceals them from overhead sight.  Weather during the birthing times also effects rabbit populations.  They young of the year need favorable weather in their early stages of life.

Here in Illinois the best locations to find rabbits are those with good habitat. Weather in the central and southern locations is not what has hurt the rabbit populations.  But rather habitat loss is the problem.

Rabbit hunters have to work harder each year to find suitable habitat containing the “smallest whitetail.”

For the past 10 years or so the populations have remained steady but at a low level. Much of the blame for habitat loss in those years was high commodity prices for corn and soybeans.  Land that might otherwise go to set-aside programs like CRP went into grain production.

The loss of CRP land is a major problem as more and more land does not go into CRP and other set aside programs. Rather it goes to produce grain crops.  The once abandoned farmsteads that were popular with rabbits are being cleared as seemingly every inch of land is too valuable not to be placed in production.  Landowners are clearing trees and brush piles in an effort to make every acre productive.

With the commodity prices softening some of that land may be going back into habitat production and rabbit production will follow. Should this trend continue for the next two or three years it is possible that rabbit production looks good for the future.

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