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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Night Fishing


Night fishing can be some of the most rewarding fishing that there is to be had.  In the summer time it's especially good as it allows you to escape the heat and dodge all of the boat traffic…leaving you to float alone on the lake as if you're floating right there with the stars above you.  

Constant trips to the lake can get expensive.  Between fuel, snacks, and chewing tobacco a man can run up a handsome bill in a hurry…oh yeah…tackle too.  Those costs become even more painful when the trip turns out to be unproductive…i.e. you get skunked.  I got to wondering if I could find a way to get more experience without taking the hit to the wallet that comes with actually going fishing.

Given that fishing, like flying jet fighters, is expensive, I thought it might make sense to look to the military for clues on how to do things more efficiently.  Often times in the military the budget is tight.  Jet fuel and aircraft maintenance are expensive, so rather than actually go flying…pilots simply practice flying in a simulator.  

Now, I won’t lie to you…aircraft flight simulators are expensive…lucky for us we don’t have to buy one.  What I am proposing here is a night-fishing-simulator…something that gives us the essence of night fishing without the expense of gassing up the truck and the boat, buying a bunch of tackle, and consuming hours of time.  After a few moments of sage-like rumination, it occurred to me that night-fishing is well suited to this type of simulator training.  After studying how my night fishing trips normally unfold, I was able to concoct a simulator from commonly available tools/stuff.

My night-fishing simulator requires a few initial steps to get set-up, but once you have the basics you won’t have to do much work at all.  The first step is to get your hands on your favorite baitcaster.  Once you have it in your hands I want you lighten both the mechanical and magnetic drags to their absolute lightest settings and tie on a light lure.  On the next really windy day I want you to give this set-up to the left-handed girl who lives next door and ask her to try her hand at using a bait caster.  Tell her to just let it rip, as hard as she can, directly into the wind, and that you’ll check on her progress when you get back from the pet store.





Yep…you’re going to the pet store for the next step…to buy a bat.  Any size bat will do but bigger is usually better…trust me on this.  
They will probably give you your bat in a bag as they are nocturnal creatures and daylight tends to freak them out…and we don’t want a riled up bat in the truck with us…it just wouldn’t be safe.






When you get home, collect the bird-nest-infested baitcaster from your neighbor and thank her for her help.   Now you have all of the components for your night-fishing simulator so let’s put it to the test.  I want you to take your fouled baitcaster and your new pet bat to the darkest closet  in your house.  With the closet light off, sit on a stool with your reel in your hand, then reach down gently, grab the bag, shake it like there is no tomorrow, and then open it.  Have someone outside the closet start a timer and see how quickly you can untie the knots in your baitcaster with an angry bat dive bombing your head before you freak out and give up.

This is the essence of night fishing.  Aside from the cost of the bat it’s virtually free (and if nothing goes wrong you can generally re-use the bat).  The simulator lets you get just as creeped out and frustrated without the all of the fuel and bait costs associated with an actual trip to the lake.  As I wrap this up I think there may be one cost I left out…that of paying someone to remove the bat from your house after your wife discovers your simulator…and those costs may be more than monetary in nature…on second thought maybe there is no cheap alternative to night fishing. 
 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Of Squirrels and solutions…one mans problem

My name is (name redacted to protect the innocent), and I have a problem...a squirrel problem.  This is a problem that has haunted my home and family for years.  I’ll spare you all of the humiliating details but know this...it has been a long and difficult process for me and my family.  Sometime late last year I hit rock bottom and knew something had to change.  Here is a brief history of my struggle. 

As is probably too common, at first I didn’t even realize that i had a problem.  I didn’t take it seriously and basically took half hearted measures to control it, paying it only lip service really.  My first pellet gun purchase was a Daisy 10-pump type gun.  

The old 10-pump Daisy pellet gun wasn’t great for hunting squirrels...it was more of an ‘assisted suicide’ type gun.  If a squirrel was begging for a mercy killing I could get it done...but beyond that it wasn’t too great.  It’s range was short and it’s power inadequate for anything other than very simple tasks.  After a few shocking episodes demonstrated the inadequacy of that gun for my task I knew I had to replace it.  

Next I got a Crosman break barrel gun...and it was good.  This is the gun that ‘laid down the law’ at my house.  Prior to its arrival the squirrels were running the show around here.  They would chew on my house with impunity, destroying everything in their path.  The squirrels were unleashing wanton destruction upon my homestead.  The Crosman TR77 changed all that.  It was the line in the sand.  It marked the day I would stand up not just for myself...but for all mankind (except maybe for  hobo’s and hippies that live in vans and under bridges and stuff).  No longer would I stand idle and suffer the cruel urges of Scurious Carolenisis...otherwise known as The Eastern Grey Squirrel.

The Crossman TR77 did a good job.  The squirrels learned to respect it as a new authority.  When squirrels woke me up by chewing on my home it literally became the long arm of the law.  No squirrel was safe on my roof.

After 6 months of sustained combat, the TR77 had fought hard enough to buy me some breathing room.  No longer was the house covered in squirrels.  No longer did I have to suffer the indignity of watching squirrels chew up my wooden deck out back...no longer would I have to watch my children weep as these vermin lurked in the trees above them and destroyed their home.  For now at least there were some rules...there was some order.  The Crosman TR77 had become a plague upon those squirrels.  

The TR77 racked up a body count of 58 squirrels in it’s 6-month tour.  Today the hard-core group is long gone...dead and buried.  While it may seem fitting to sit back and basque in the security provided by the Crosman, it’s important to remember that nature abhors a vacuum.  Slowly, steadily, squirrels are infiltrating from neighboring properties.  It’s nothing unmanageable, but these squirrels are smaller, and a little more skittish.  The new squirrels spend a lot of time hanging out at the far end of the effective range of the TR77.  In a way it’s just natural selection...the squirrels that were most comfortable being close to my home are the ones who’s genes were stamped out of the pool.  

The new squirrels represent a unique challenge, requiring a shift in strategy.  My goal is always to strike like the Grim Reaper.  I want a squirrel to drop in his tracks...for his ghost to still be standing there holding an acorn when his wood-chewing, home-destroying-body hits the ground.  I don’t want my nemesis to suffer...but to meet a lightening quick and humane demise.   

The problem is I can’t guaranty that type of exit for him at 20 yards and beyond with the current gun.  Nor can I allow these squirrels to linger in relative safety just beyond my effective range, massing for a counter attack.  No, the only acceptable solution was that I needed to extend my range.  I needed to extend it straight into the heart of their sanctuary...to destroy their morale through attrition.  

What came next was a blur of research that took me into the darkest corners of the internet.  To places where men secretively discussed topics such as Foot-Pounds-of-Energy, Hammer Spring Tension, and Standard Deviation of Velocity.  It was here, in these small dens of online resistance, that these freedom fighters provided me with the solutions I so desperately needed.

After countless days of planning, research, and risk analysis, I decided that the solution to my problem...was the Benjamin Marauder.  The gun was advertised as quiet, accurate, and powerful.  Most importantly was the claim on accuracy, for if this held true then there was nowhere in my area of operations that a squirrel was safe.  This was the weapon that could bring the rule of law to my yard...forever.  Eternal peace was within my grasp. 

After a few weeks of tense anticipation it all came together today.  I configured the weapon to fit my mission profile then I settled in to get it zero'd.  

I used a few quick shots to walk the scope to zero, then I grabbed a magazine and settled in for my first 10-shot group.  The accuracy...as compared to my TR77...was breathtaking. 


I was simply not prepared for the level of accuracy that this gun delivers.  It is SO different from what I was used to.  It is so accurate that as the pellets stacked up one on top of the other I started to think that something was broken...nothing could be THIS accurate.  Surely the gun had fired one or two pellets but not 10...surely it couldn’t have stacked 10 pellets into a group this small.

After a quick check of the empty magazine and the target itself...I was startled to learn that it had indeed worked perfectly.  This gun had shrunk my groups from 6 inches...down to well under half an inch.  At 25 yards and beyond I now had the secret weapon.  I now had the ability to strike from a distance at which the squirrels were totally unaccustomed.

Sitting there, alone in my backyard gazing the target, seeing what I saw, knowing what I knew...I felt a sense of awe flow deeply and completely over my soul.  This must be what it felt like for the scientists in the Manhattan Project during WWII the first time they tested a nuclear bomb.  It was an earth shattering and fundamental shift in weaponry.  It validated everything I suspected, it rewarded all the hard work...I now had the ultimate solution.  With this new weapon in my hands...I would never fear another squirrel again.

There would be no more waking up early to the noise of my home being destroyed.  There would be no more walking out back with a beer to relax, only to find wood damage on my deck.  There would be no more stolen tomatoes or chewed up shingles.  No sir...the tide had turned.  There would be no more...squirrels.  
 
***Certain aspects of the actual story may have been embellished by the author for emphasis and entertainment but the material portions of the story are that the TR77 was good but the Marauder looks to be world class...not quite as powerful as Fat Man or Little Boy...but world class none-the-less.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Confusion and chaos



My story is a scary one.  It began on a calm Sunday morning where I had hoped to sleep in and rest from a long week of laboring and paying taxes.  My slumber was deep and restful, until…until it began.  There was a grating, gnawing sound echoing through my chamber.  At first I was confused, why was I awake?  What was that noise?  Would it stop if I just closed my eyes?  

Quickly it dawned on me that the noise was being made by none other than Sciurus Carolinensis (the eastern gray squirrel).  It was upon my roof, directly over my bed, gnawing on my home.  A sharp anger quickly rose within me, I pounded upon the walls arrogantly believing that my tantrum alone would frighten the beast away.  But no…no it did not take fright…it did not leave.  After a moment of inquisitive silence (just long enough for me to get back in bed) it began anew.  

Rage.  Rage filled me at this point.  I ran up the attic stairs and pounded directly on the plywood of my roof.  Surely my tempestuous outbreak would mortify Sciurus Carolinensis.  Finally, there in the attic, I heard silence...blessed silence.

Satisfied, I returned to my chamber and lie down in my warm, comfortable bed.  And then...it began...again.  I was apoplectic at this point.  I bolted from bed, flew down the stairs, grabbed a pellet gun and blasted out the front door.  I looked up in time to see him.  There, perched high upon my roof, just at the corner where the gutter turns, sat my nemesis.  He had an acorn in his hands and he gazed down at me with a look of scorn...an impetuous, whisker faced scorn.  As I returned his steely eyed gaze my hands were busy pumping a clackety old pellet gun…one…two…there he goes…three…over the pitch…four….five…he was gone long before I could get to ten pumps.  

Too angry to return to bed, I went to the garage.  I got a bow-saw and I began cutting down every crepe myrtle on that side of the house.  If I couldn't kill him I would deny him access.  I must have looked out of my mind.  On a calm and beautiful Sunday morning, just after sunrise, I was at the side of my house madly sawing away dang near in my skivvies.  My small and ineffective gesture felt good at the time but it fixed nothing.  The next week I was awoken again.  

My family felt bad watching me under gunned.  Time and time again a squirrel would be gone before I could "pump to ten".  For my birthday they bought me a Crosman TR77 break barrel pellet gun.  Now it would be a different game, now the odds were in my favor.  My adversary had long gotten used to my response times.  Sciurus Carolinensis knew how long it took for me to get to the window, he KNEW he had time.  He could count the pumps and be on his way long before my weapon was ready.  That day though, that day would mark the start of a very different game for Sciurus Carolinensis.

No longer could he dwell and lolly gag.  As technology boosted my abilities, my body count began to grow.  Week by week I took a steady toll on the squirrels.  Mine was a wrath that would not soon burn out.  As the furs piled up, my Sunday mornings grew quieter.  No longer did they wake me in the mornings.  Perhaps it was a peace offering…but it was just too late.  They drew first blood, not me.  

My war continued unabated.  I shot them on the weekends, on weekday mornings, when I got home from work…anytime was fair game.  I would show them no mercy.  If they dared gnaw on my home or wake me then this is the fate they justly deserved…they called down the thunder, and hell was coming with me.

After 5 months of steadily knocking the squirrels back on their heels (body count stood at 57 last I checked) my primary weapon went down.  Suddenly I found myself defenseless.  My home was once again susceptible to the juvenile and vandalous impulses of Sciurus Carolinensis.  

In the mornings as I left for work they'd be there…once again fearless.  Today I could take it no more.  I have a family and castle to protect.  I ordered a Benjamin Marauder (.177) and should have it by the weeks end.

Now the squirrels will have a new and infinitely more fearsome weapon to deal with.  Increased range and accuracy will lead to increased lethality.  As the Marine Corps says...”Distance favors the trained marksman.”  

There is a rule at my house (a joke but it's fun to say its a rule) and it goes like this "if you wake me up, you die".  It is generally delivered to my 14 year old son and his friends when I turn in the for evening and they are still up playing video games….it helps to keep them quiet.  But for the squirrels…they found out the hard way about the rule.  They woke me up, and for that they will pay a terrible price…for as long as I live.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Largemouths and sonar

Yesterday I had a decision to make.  i could turn right and go to work, or i could turn left and go to the lake.  I hear that life is short, so I took a left.

I was on the water by 12:30 with no place to be and nothing to do but focus solely on fishing.  I wanted to really try to figure out where the bass were.  I've been catching a lot of small males on the beds recently and I planned to invest some time in discovering where the bigger fish were.

Ultimately I ended up at the spot below.   Last week I caught a few bass on the middle portion of the southern bank of this cove (north is up).  So I started there again this week.  i worked the area methodically with a carolina rig but I caught nothing.  I pulled back a little deeper and saw some fish hugging the bottom, I worked them methodically and patiently but drew no strikes.

I pulled further back toward the mouth of the cove and my screens lit up.  It looked like the county fair was underway on the point at the south end of the cove.  It was unbelievable how much bait was on the screen.  I could see huge clouds of baitfish with other bigger fish below them…my brain was screaming that this was my spot. I had plenty of time, and i still had an unusual amount of patience left so I decided to stay right there until I figured out how to catch them.

This is on Pickwick so the landscape is big forested hills that fall to the lake and become rocky cliffs and ledges about 10 feet before they hit the water.  It's chunk rock city and sheer ledges underwater in this spot.

A few casts in I caught a 2.5 lb largemouth up near the bank…it was the nicest fish I'd caught all day and it encourage me to stay.  The water here is a really nice clear green and on a beautiful blue-sky day like we had it just turned the water into something special to look at.  Occasionally I'd see some brownish clouds in the water but for the most part it was really clear.

After another 20 minutes or so with no bites I saw another discolored spot in the water between me and the bank 30 yards away.  WHOOOOOOOSSSSSHHHH!!!!!!  About 10,000 shad turned and pushed the water up as the top of the school breached the surface.  O…M…G.  The "brownish" stuff I had been seeing in the water was HUGE schools of shad the length of my hand.  They moved the water with such speed, and the sight and noise was so unexpected that I couldn't have been more surprised if an Orca breached next to the boat.  It was unreal.

It made perfect sense…I'd been watching them get murdered on live sonar for the past half hour…but to see them and hear them and really get some perspective on their size…that was an eye opener.  I could now connect the blips on my screen with the real live critters that made them.

Now I had an idea.  Last summer someone gave me some advice when I was struggling to catch fish with this much bait in the water.  They told me to get UNDER the baitfish…to mimic something that was dying and falling out of the school.

The next time that big school of shad came by I tossed a white/chartruesse spinner bait past the cloud, let it sink, then popped it up and let it fall.  I'd do this the whole way under the school…pop it up and let it fall away from the safety of the bait ball.

On perhaps my third pull I was waiting for the lure to hit the bottom and I got hit so hard that I was disoriented.  I couldn't believe how hard my bait just got hit.  It felt like a log had come downriver at about 40 MPH and slammed my bait.  Most times on a spinner bait there's a pop or a pop-pop that signifies the bait has been hit, then I lower my rod tip, reel up the slack, then set the hook.  Then after I set the hook it takes a second or two for the fight to develop to the point where i can tell if it's a decent fish or not.

There was none of that on this catch.  This catch went straight from relaxed with nothing happening, to red-line, katy-bar-the-door.  It was an IMMEDIATE crushing of the bait that instantly stressed every link in my tackle to the max.  From the nano-second it happened I knew I had a real issue on my hands.

At first I thought it was a catfish because it was so heavy and wouldn't come off the bottom.  Then I started to winching the beast to the surface and with the quick flash I saw I began to think it might be a drum…because it just would not come up.  Then my line drifted right…and I watched as that translucent thread sliced the emerald green water and began to rise…it was going to breach…it's a bass…my brain screamed "brace for impact!"

And breach it did.  It breached and arched and shook violently in a classic display of bass behavior.  It was REALLY pulling hard.  I was now worried about my line.  This is a rocky lake full of flat slabs of sharp edged shale…if you don't retie regularly you WILL get your heart broken on this lake.  I lightened my drag a little and watched as it came up and drifted lazily just under the surface, almost as if it just wanted to get a good look at me before we started Round 2.

This was a nice fish, it was way bigger than anything I'd caught on my last few trips, it had a huge head, broad shoulders, and colors and marks on it that made it look ancient.  About the time I came to the conclusion that this was a really nice bass, I started reaching for the net…I guess that signaled the start of Round 2 because that fish sounded the klaxon and dove hard.  I must have looked like a one man band, fighting a fish with my left hand, holding the net handle with my right, and trying to step on the rim of the net with my right foot so I could get the handle deployed.

Trying to keep pressure on the fish while bending down to get the net was difficult.  At one point I had enough slack in the line that I knew she'd get off…but my error only lasted a fraction of a second…not long enough for my aquatic adversary to exploit...and in the next few moments I had the fish next to the boat, then net going in….and I plucked it from the it's watery kingdom.

Perhaps the funniest part is that it's been so long since I caught a fish that I cared to weigh, that I had no idea where my scale was.  I wanted to get the fish back in the water as quickly as possible so I was rummaging through my box like a madman trying to to find the scale.  The scale showed 4.5 lbs, I took a pic, and released the fish so it could continue it's reign of terror on the shad.

It's not the biggest fish in the world, but it's the biggest fish of my season, and to a large degree I was only able to catch it because:

A - my electronics told me it was a good area, and

B - I had the patience to keep trying different techniques until something worked









Monday, April 14, 2014

Turkey in moonshine country

The morning of opening day of the Kentucky turkey season I was but a tiny speck on the dark side of the planet earth.  Our hunting spot was nestled deep within hills known as much for their moonshine as for their bird hunting, but two things were certain; the rotation of the earth meant that the sun would soon be visible, and therefore if we didn’t hurry up every bird in Christian County would see us sneaking to our spot on the edge of this 70 acre field.

This morning my partner and I would sneak deep into a part of this huge agricultural field that he calls “turkey cove”.  Sunrise was approaching faster than we had expected, so we stepped off the bean field and took a pair of seats against the first trees we came to.  There was nothing but a thin veil of brush between us and the field.  Now we would wait. 

We hadn’t been in our seats a minute before we heard the first gobble from a roosted bird on the other side of the field.  I’m new to turkey hunting and my first thought was that it was pretty neat to hear a gobble since I hadn’t heard one on my last three hunts.  I had no way of knowing that the first gobble we heard would be the opening lesson in what would become a masters level course in turkey behavior.

The sky was turning an early morning gray and within seconds of hearing that first gobble we heard hens yelping on the same ridge.  They were yelping to the left, down low, up high, over on the right then another outrageous gobble.  There were so many hens calling that I couldn’t keep up with them.  Some sounded raspy and textbook, and others sounded very plain like a rookie hunter with a turkey call.  We were on 927 acres of private land that sat along the Pond River and I knew there were no other hunters here...but I couldn’t believe a real turkey could sound so much like a bad box call.

Now the sky was getting brighter and we saw the first bird gliding down from the ridge.  It followed the slope of the tree tops until it cleared the field edge, and then touched down in an open spot about 200 yards from us.  Before we could really say much about it, another three birds pitched out and glided to the same spot.  “Sweet” one of us whispered to the other in a tone of hushed awe.  Now two more birds came in, then four flew down, on and on it went until there were almost thirty birds in the field. 

I was shocked.  I had never seen this many turkeys in front of me...and they weren’t done piling in.  Three hens busted out of the tree line across from us and ran down the field to join the others.  A few minutes later a pair of toms ran out the same way...when they turned to run toward the others I could see beards nearly dragging the ground.  From every hill and valley around us we could hear thunderous gobbles and hens yelping and purring and making every other type of sound a turkey could make.  At this point I felt pretty good about my calling abilities...I sounded way better than a lot of these birds!

So far we hadn’t made a sound.  We wanted to see how this would shape up.  Before long our spirits sank.  The hens led the group out to our right…way out into the middle of this field.  Toms were blowed up and strutting and hens acted like they were more interested in feeding than in paying attention to the boys.  Birds fought and kicked each other.  At times toms strutted three wide shoulder-to-shoulder all blowed up as if marching in formation.  At this early point in the morning we had no less than 35 birds on the field all stretched out as if in a parade that led to the middle of the field.  There were groups of hens being courted by smaller groups of toms...all along the parade route the gobblers were in various stages of being puffed up.  There were deer a few hundred yards beyond the turkeys and more blowed up toms a few hundred yards beyond them.  It was truly a postcard type picture.  The only noise that ever punctuated the non-stop talk of the turkeys was the sound of a hunter on some far away hill sending a gobbler to his grave.  BOOM went the sound of opening day success for some lucky hunter. 

With every boom our spirits got a little lower...other hunters were having success as our turkeys were slipping further and further away from danger.  The entire parade moved out into the middle of the field and then began to split up, moving in smaller groups to our right.  Some went into coves further down the field while a few eased into a cove of the field about 100 yards to our right.  At this point I asked my partner if we should pull back and try to get ahead of the parade.  He said "nah...let's just sit tight and see what happens". 

Meanwhile, a smaller group of hens that had been moving steadily toward our position directly to our front were getting very close,..uncomfortably close.  A group of three hens had fed all the way to our doorstep.  They were a scant 10 yards away and apparently had no intentions of leaving.  It was time to make like a statue.  We could not move a muscle with birds this close.

The main problem was that I was already in an uncomfortable position.  I had my knees propped up so I could rest my wrists on them and I was holding my gun.  My right leg was beyond merely being asleep...it had gone from pins and needles, to burning, to almost numb.  My right leg was going to be a real problem...I thought I might really do some physical damage to it if I didn’t get circulation to it quickly.  I had visions of losing my leg to gangrene because of these birds...a tradeoff I might make for a huge gobbler but not for some hens. 

About the time I thought I was just going to have to risk moving it with no regard for blowing the birds out...the hens began moving to my left...and they kept on walking.  Oh thank goodness!  I’ll get to stretch my...wait...more birds...coming even closer.  I watched in horror as a fresh set of hens moved right up to the brush line in front of me.  I had hens at eye-level 6 yards from me...my leg was killing me to the point where it was now a mental battle...like a claustrophobic being trapped in a coffin I had to struggle to remain in control.  It took every ounce of self control I had to not move.  Just one move would ease the pain, one small move would save me so much suffering...it might even save my leg.  I knew my partner must have been dealing with the same issue.  There’s just no way to prepare for having this many birds this close for this long. 

These hens weren’t going anywhere though...they were intent on torturing us.  They were so close I could’ve strangled one.  Oh how they stayed...just looking around and eating.  There was never a time when they all had their heads down.  One of them was always up and peering into the woods.  They were almost in my lap and I had no idea how they couldn’t see me.  About the time I was convinced I would die if I didn’t move, my brain suggested that scaring these hens off might actually be a good thing.  There were no toms around and they were just cramping our style so why not move and scare them off?  About this time my partner whispered to me “hey...don’t move...gobblers behind us.  If I give you the signal wheel around and shoot them.”

He said it so matter of fact.  He said it like he was talking to a man who had full use of his arms and legs.  At this point that was not me...I had no ability to move my right leg and was rapidly losing the ability to move my left arm.  Asking me to “wheel around” would be akin to asking a guy with no legs to do a 40 yard dash. 

I eased my head to the right, looked over my shoulder and saw two big toms moving behind us.  They were all blowed up, wing tips dragging the ground, red and blue heads gliding silently over the forest floor with beards nearly touching the ground.  It was as impressive a display as one could encounter in the woods.  Now I had three hens 6 yards in front of me, and two big blowed up toms 10 yards behind me.  Still we sat.  I lost them when my eyeballs ran out of room to pivot right...but I could still hear them drumming.  Oh my legs. 

A few minutes later the toms disappeared deeper into the woods behind us.  Miraculously the hens to my front retreated on their own.  At this point I got the blessed relief I was looking for.  I put my gun down and used both hands to straighten my right leg so I could reposition to the other side of the tree.  The toms were behind us so that’s the way we’d hunt. 

In less than a minute we were both facing away from the field we had watched all morning and were looking back into the woods, my partner to my left and in front of me by about 2 or 3 yards.  He was looking to his left and announced that he saw something where the cove (now on our left) meets the woods.  He stroked the slate call and a thunderous gobble returned to us.  80 yards out he could see two gobblers.  I was looking straight ahead while he looked left.  Deep into the woods I saw a dark shape move between the “V” of a large split trunk oak.  “That’s not normal” I thought.  I got my binoculars up and saw another shape move past the same spot.  I scanned right and found a bird paralleling our position about 80 yards out...then another.  Two birds were moving left to right.  “Ugh” I thought “they’re not coming in…they’re just paralleling us and will disappear.”

I told my partner that I had “birds right”.  He kept looking left and said “I see them.”  I reiterated “no dude...look right...birds are on the right”.  Still he looked left.  I told him “look past that dead cedar tree...they are moving past it to the right.”  That was enough to get him on the birds. 

He hit the slate and another volley of gobbles came back to us.  I could see the birds turn toward us.  I whispered at him “Here they come.  You want to take the left one and I’ll take the right?”

“Cool” came the reply.  The downed cedar formed an obstacle that the birds had to go around.  Once they got to the end of it, the trail was the equivalent of a sidewalk that led more or less right to us.  We both had our guns up, and as the birds rounded the corner looking directly at us they were puffed up as big as they could be.  The moment they rounded that corner they were in my kill zone.  There was now nothing but 40 yards of empty space between me and my first turkey.   

I was waiting on my partner to confirm that he had a visual on the left bird.  The birds were at 40 yards. 

“I’ve got no shot” he said.  The birds slowly marched.

I waited, hoping that in a few more steps something might open up for him.

“If you have a shot at the left bird, take it” he whispered. 

38yards.

“OK”

36 yards.

“Do you have a shot?”

“No”

BOOM!  My sights had been on the tom since he rounded the corner and all it took was enough pressure to move the trigger a fraction of an inch, the sear tripped, the hammer fell, the firing pin lurched forward and sent 2 ounces of number 6 shot right into that birds face.  It folded like a lawn chair and began wildly and reflexively flapping it’s wings.

The trailing bird recoiled at the noise for just a fraction of a second, then loaded his legs and sprang on top of the first bird that was dying and started whooping his butt.  I mean he was laying it to him, doing the River Dance on the dying corpse of his buddy.  I was shocked.  I was in no way prepared for that reaction. 

The bird was so distracted by dishing out this beating that it enabled my partner to move far enough right to get a shot at him.  BOOM!  The shot knocked the bird off his pal and into the leaves behind him.  In a moment he was back on his feet and running.  BOOM!  A second shot was sent at the wounded but running bird.  When the second shot went off the bird took a turn that had him coming right at us.  At the last second he veered to our left and made for the field.  I still had a round in the chamber and quickly asked “do you want me to finish him?”  The bird was stopped with his head right in my sights as I waited for the answer. 

My partner looked to be fishing for another shell and I didn’t want to take a shot without confirmation.  The last thing I wanted was for him to not hear me and step into my line of fire so I waited for his answer.  “Yeah, finish him” came the response.  As soon as the words were uttered the bird took a step and put a tree between us.  It seemed like a year passed before he took another step that had him back in the kill zone...his head popped out...BOOM!  Game over. 

I had just taken my first ever turkey, and we had taken two in the span of perhaps 10 seconds.  What a fantastic day that was.  It had gone from promising, to hopeless, to a very tense and painful standoff, to opportunity and finally success.  This is the type of experience that gets people hooked on hunting.















Monday, March 10, 2014

Public land giant



Years ago I hunted nothing but public land around Oxford MS and the University of Mississippi.  To say that the area was “pressured” would be an understatement.  Over the years I’ve had 4-wheelers, dogs, walkers, hikers, hunters, and even bullets come by me while hunting.  As pressured as it was though...it was free.  

Back when I was hunting this land the rule was that you couldn’t shoot a doe.  There was one day per year scheduled as a “doe day” and as you might imagine...the doe somehow got wind of the schedule every year and they took that day off.  So it was bucks only and there was tons of pressure.  

I didn’t have much in the way of equipment back then either.  I frequently hunted to the verge of hypothermia because I simply didn’t have the money to buy warmer gear.  I hunted from the ground in makeshift blinds, I stalked, and used the occasional low tree branch to my advantage.  I had a good rifle though, and my determination was top notch and with that combination a lot of good things can happen.

One morning I decided to hunt a field we called Praying Mantis due to the fact that we once saw a big mantis stuck in an ant hill getting devoured by thousands of fire ants.  This was a long narrow field on top of a hill that had a power line trail cutting across it right where you entered the field.  So you climb up a slight slope, and when you step onto the long narrow field you can look straight down the length of it to the other end, or you can look right and left to look down the power line trail.  

That morning I had decided to set up on the power line trail and hope that a buck might come creeping across where I had found some sign.  I was about 150 yards down the power line and if I looked back up the hill I could just see the edge of it...but couldn’t see onto it.  

The power line trail was maybe 40 yards wide and while it was fairly clear in the middle, the edges where it transitions back to the woods were all choked up with thick vegetation.  There was no way I could sit on the ground as the visibility would be very restricted.

Looking around for my next best option all I saw were tall limbless trees.  Well...they were limbless until you got to about 15 feet up the trunk...then there were limbs...but they offered nothing in the way of limbs you might be able to climb with.  I loved the spot and didn’t want to abandon it, but I had seemingly no options.  As I stood there with a burning desire to hunt this spot it occurred to me that I might be able to bear-hug the tree and inch my way up the trunk until I could grab a limb at the 12 to 15 foot level.  Once I did that I could wrestle my way up into a better spot.

I stood at the base of a likely tree with my hands on my hips and my head cocked like a dog working an algebra problem.  I thought my plan could work, but the closer I got to executing it the more ridiculous it seemed.  If you doubt me, just walk out back and bear hug a tree...feet off the ground...see if you can climb a few feet up the trunk.  My best plan is to throw my arms and legs around this tree trunk, and then try to shimmy up it like a caterpillar.  I had nothing else to do, and no better options so I tied a rope to my gun and the other end to my belt...and up I went.   The first few feet of the climb were pretty awkward, the next few feet really hurt, the next few feet gave way to a glimmer of hope that this might actually work.  Slowly and painfully I was closing in on the lowest branch of the tree.  It was about 12 feet off the ground.  Now that I was getting close I realized I had to figure out a way to get on the branch.  Was I going to ease out onto it in a pull-up position?  Would I try to get an elbow over it?  I really wasn’t sure and the closer I got the more important the decision seemed.  Through the fog of time I really can’t recall how I made the transition but I know that I did because for the next three hours I stood on that branch holding my rifle.  

I stood atop a three inch wide branch with one foot in front of the other and my back pressed up against the tree trunk.  I had another limb to my left at around elbow height that I used to steady myself so I wouldn’t fall out of the tree.  All in all it was a stable, if uncomfortable, perch with a dynamite view of the area I wanted to hunt.  From this vantage point I could see a long way down the power line trail in both directions.  To my right the trail rose gradually, and then more steeply as it approached the bean field.  To my left it just continued to fade away downhill.

This was perfect.  I had a good chance of busting any buck that came creeping around this trail.  Once I got settled in I realized just how nice a day it was.  There were high blue skies, sunshine, and crisp cold air...just what the doctor ordered for a Saturday morning.  If I didn’t fall to my death then this could become one hunt to remember.  

Sadly a few hours went by with no activity at all.  Around 11:00 AM I heard a car door slam, then another, then another.  Ugh...public land.  Not 5 minutes later I see three hunters up the hill on the field.  I can hear that they are talking but I can’t make out the words.  Two continue down the bean field and out of sight, but one starts walking straight down the power line trail toward me.  Ugh...public land.  

In short order he was right in front of me and I called out “Good morning.”  He came to an abrupt and startled halt.  He looked around for a moment trying to figure out where the voice had come from and I again called out “hey...”  He looked up and stood there speechless for a few seconds with his head cocked like a dog trying to work an algebra problem.  When he finally spoke he asked “How did you get up there?!?”  

“I climbed.”  Came my reply as if I do this sort of thing every day.  

“Well, we’re about to do a drive...you ought to stay right there ‘cause you might get a shot in a few minutes.”

“OK...thanks.”  I said.  Then he moved on down the trail.   

I didn’t see or hear anything for the next forty minutes, at which time I saw the hunter come by again. 


“We’re going to head out, too bad we didn’t see nothing”.  

“Yep” I replied.  His friends had pulled a truck up onto the field and I watched him climb the hill to meet them.  The truck doors slammed a few more times and they all drove away.

I stood in my tree pondering my next move.  It had already been a slow morning, then these guys showed up and burned the area all around my stand by stomping through it, then they had actually driven onto the field and slammed their doors a bunch of times.  This place was dead...I would be better off by going to down for lunch and trying someplace else this afternoon.  

I unloaded my gun, put the scope cover on, and lowered it to the ground. I then bear hugged the tree, and reversed the shimmying process while trying to protect the more delicate parts of my body that were in danger of serving as a friction brake as I slowly slid down to the ground.  If I did this wrong I might never have kids.  It crossed my mind that bears make this look a LOT easier when they do it.

Finally back on the ground I dusted all of the loose bark off my clothes, quickly admired all of the scrapes on my arms, slung my rifle and started the climb to the field on top of the hill.  

I was so hungry that my stomach was gnawing on my backbone.  My lunch options were flowing through my mind as I stared at the ground in front of me and put one foot in front of the other.  Pizza hut?  Nice salad bar.  All you can eat too.  crunch.  McDonalds?  Agh...too fat.  Wait...what was that “crunch”?  I stopped in my tracks trying to determine if I had actually heard something.  After about 10 seconds of listening I wrote it off and started marching again.  Slowly the lip of the field was approaching.  Once I got the edge of this narrow field all I had to do was turn left and it was all downhill to the truck...and to food.  

Finally my head was coming onto the same level as the field and I could see further across it.  Slowly I was marching and slowly it was all coming into view.  Just about the time I was able to see the whole field I saw it.  Right there...right...in front...of me.  At high noon, in broad daylight, on public ground, on a field that had received all kinds of noise and pressure...was the biggest buck I had ever seen.  He had his back to me and he was absolutely thrashing a sapling.  I’ll never forget it...it was a “Y” shaped sapling and the widest part of the “Y” was getting wrecked every time he threw his head up.  Those antlers were stripping bark from this poor sapling.  This tree hadn’t even had much of a start on life...and the only thing that could save it was me.  

Time began to move in slow motion.  Right about the time I realized what was happening the buck had started to turn to look over his shoulder.  It all happened fast but in my mind it was now a slow motion race.  I could see his right eye more as he turned his head to the right.  His nose was arcing through the air as those powerful neck muscles flexed.  His ears, nose, and eyes were all racing to check over his shoulder.

I on the other hand was racing to unsling my rifle.  I had it slung over my right shoulder for the march back to the truck.  My left foot slid forward into a firing stance as my left hand raced across my body to find the sling.  My right shoulder dipped, his right shoulder dipped.  I needed the gun to come off my shoulder but gravity could not pull it fast enough.  He started to shift his weight, my hand found the strap.  Broadside...he sees me.  My right hand finds the pistol grip and as I start to raise the gun to my shoulder his hind quarters explode and launch this beast into the safety of the woods just a few feet in front of him.  My rifle only made it to the ready position...the butt never reached my shoulder...he was gone.  

At this point my brain was still in action/confusion mode.  I hadn’t yet had time to process that the deer might be gone...or my brain might have shifted into the fall-down-and-vomit mode.  As I stood there on the edge of the field watching the hole in the woods next to the Y-shaped sapling where the deer had disappeared, the thought hit me...he has to go left.   That deer wouldn’t go straight because there was a road at the bottom of the hill.  He would probably go left and race across the power line trail...he’d have to cross 40 or 50 yards of bare ground!  I ran a few more yards up the hill.  I could now see the power line trail on the other side of the field.  My gun was up but below my line of sight.  This way I could watch with the naked eye until I saw him then lift the gun the last few inches, get him in the scope, and drop the hammer on the best public land trophy ever.

My pulse was hammering in my jugular veins...I mean it was throbbing so hard I thought my throat would explode...it was pounding so hard that it actually hurt.  WHOA!  THERE HE IS!!!  Right on time that magnificent creature ran out into the clearing.  Who knows what thoughts had formulated in his mind during this whole ordeal.  I imagine he bounded a few yards into the woods, then stopped and looked back like whitetail usually do.  During that pause he might have decided that he didn’t want to cross the road at the bottom of the hill.  He might have even decided that crossing the power line was his ticket to freedom.  Ultimately though it didn’t matter what he thought.  This was my plan, this was my day...and he just ran into the most exposed place he could’ve possibly chosen. 

When I saw him burst from cover I instinctively snapped the rifle up the last few inches, moving my barrel to track his movements and get the guns momentum heading the right way.  This deer wasn’t bounding like they normally do when fleeing.  This deer was burning a straight line like a jet powered Kentucky Derby winner.  His hooves were pounding the ground and he was a streaking-blur of tan and white.  Smoothly tracking him, my thumb flipped the safety forward and my brain was anticipating the sight of the crosshairs just ahead of the deer, I lowered my head until my cheek contacted the stock like I’ve done a million times before..and...WHAT!?!  Where did it go?  Everything went black.  In the panicked confusion I thought my scope was broken or that I had momentarily gone blind.  I remember thinking in that spit second that my pulse was beating so hard that I went blind...in reality it was far, far worse.  As that monster southern whitetail was making the biggest mistake of his life I realized that I too was making mine...I had forgotten to remove my scope cover after climbing down from the tree.  

Pound, pound, crash, POOF...he was gone.  He crossed the opening and left me in his dust.  He left me in confusion.  He left me stunned, and heart-wrenched, and nauseous.  I ran to the edge of the woods and desperately peered in...hoping and praying for a miracle I didn’t deserve.  I had committed several unforgivable rookie mistakes, and this animal had made me pay dearly for them.  If a deer can laugh...I bet he’s laughing to this day.  

Why these lessons can’t be learned on a doe I’ll never know.  I like to think that I’d learn the lesson if this happened when I was drawing down on a doe but maybe not.  Maybe the bigger the opportunity that’s lost the deeper the lesson is ingrained.  Maybe it’s the pain that forges the lesson.  At this point I was in some serious pain.  For the first time in the last few minutes since this started, the full weight of what happened hit me.  I had been presented with the public-land-opportunity of a lifetime...and I had blown it.  I alone was responsible for every bad thing that had happened.  I had worked really hard to make this hunt work, but in the end I wasn’t disciplined enough to seal the deal.  I had failed.

I wanted to lay down and puke my guts out.  I felt physically ill.  I had blown an opportunity of colossal proportions all because I wasn’t prepared.   I had my rifle slung over my shoulder.  I ignored the sounds I had heard.  I was in the woods with a scope that was covered.

That buck taught me some lessons I’ll carry with me to my grave:

If you think you heard something...you did. 

If you think you saw something...you did.

You are hunting from the moment you leave the truck until the moment you return.  

My gun is ready until I unload it at the tailgate.  I am always hunting.  


That buck ran out of my life and into my dreams.  The lessons learned would be driven home over the next few years by recurring nightmares of him getting away.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of that deer over the years, but I can tell you that a lot of venison has gone to my freezer because of the lessons he taught me.  In the end I guess that’s what counts...that buck that got away made me a much better hunter. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lunkers, rednecks and eels

Fall is here and with it comes some of the best fishing of the year.  If you can deal with the discomfort of being outdoors in volatile weather you will be rewarded with some of natures best scenery and action.  

This past fall I spent three days at the lake with the family one weekend.  The fishing could be described as fun,  painful, and weird in that exact order.  The following is a recap of that trip.

Arrival

Friday afternoon was full of hope as I hit the lake in the cool air of a late Fall afternoon. It was still fairly warm outside but recent cold fronts have been pulling the water temps down, inducing bass to feed, and shocking the trees into changing colors.  When I arrived I saw an acquaintance at the ramp who is a professional bass guide.  He said to fish SLOW if I wanted to catch any.  That’s not great news because it means the fishing wasn’t great...and I hate to fish slow.  

Armed with his report I picked up my trusty Senko worm...the one that was designed to look like a bic pen...it’s a pretty boring lure...but when the fish want to slow dance there are few things better in my tackle box.  

I had the entire lake to myself and I eased down the bank slowly tossing my Senko, letting it sink, and gently twitching it...hoping to get a bite.  The water underneath me was 25 feet deep, but rose quickly to the bank just 20 yards away where it emerged in a jumbled mess of broken rock and gravel that in turn rose steeply again along cliffs and draws into the forested hills above me.  

The sun had dropped behind the big hills but there was still perhaps an hour of light left to work with.  As I quietly made my way down the bank casting at “fishy” looking spots I heard a crack high in a tree to my right.  I looked up to see a large Bald Eagle leap from his perch and take to flight with powerful sweeps of it’s huge brown-wings.  

I stopped fishing and watched as he locked his wings out and just glided down the river, soared back over the trees to my south, and disappeared over into the setting sun.  Watching that gigantic bird of prey made my night...and it told me I was probably in a good fishing spot as he likely wasn’t hanging out right here for the conversation.  

A few seconds later I approached a spot where I had seen bass chasing baitfish earlier.  I threw my green bic pen into the fray and BAM!  I had the first fish of the night...a smallmouth bass.  As I tossed him back I thought I heard something behind me and turned to notice a boat a few hundred yards distant.  I wasn’t alone anymore but I still had nobody crowding me.  

Next cast...another fish...this one larger.  After a short struggle I landed a largemouth bass.  As I tossed him back I couldn’t help but kick back and take in just how awesome the surroundings were.  I’m plucking fish out of the lake one after another with bald eagles soaring, the leaves turning bright on their trees, the crickets chirping...and about this time I had another song in the air.  My bucolic setting was now being periodically interupted by shouts of “MOTHERF#@$!#” as the redneck in the boat behind me struggled with motor problems.  Every few casts I’d hear a motor turning and turning and desperately trying to start followed by loud staccato bursts of cursing.  Ahhh yes...the serenade of the redneck...how I do love the outdoors.  

Under the power of his trolling motor he slowly made his way over toward me...I could see this coming a mile away.  I’d help anyone...anytime...but I sure would hate to have to pull off a bite like this.  Don’t get me wrong, if it was a pontoon boat full orphaned kids that needed help I’d drop whatever I was doing...I’d cut the line on a 10 lb bass if someones life was in trouble.  But this was a redneck in a johnboat with a 50 year old 25 HP motor.  That guy KNOWS his motor is going to fail him frequently so he really should plan his day around it.  I kind of empathized with him...I’d probably be cussing like that too if my motor quit.  I figured that if he asked for help I’d tow him to the shore and tell him I’d be back to get him after sundown or he could come fish with me until it got dark.  The fish were biting and I wasn’t pulling off this bite just because he couldn’t take care of his motor...that’s his problem...not mine.  Thankfully he never asked for help.  He got it going enough that he could reach the edge of the lake and that’s the last I saw of him.  After catching two more fish I blasted off for another spot.  

I had put five fish in the boat so the night was a total success.  I caught nothing more that evening.  About half past sunset I turned the boat north and headed back to the cabin.  The water was smooth, the air cool, and the scent of distant fires filled each breath as I blasted into the deepening blackness that enveloped the lake.

Winters warning shot

Saturday was one of those days that makes you appreciate the little things in life...like not dying of hypothermia.  It was cold and grey and as soon as I stepped onto the boat it began raining.  My slip at the marina is covered and I took a moment to ponder the situation.  My hands were arleady getting so cold that it was difficult tying knots.  Deciding didn’t take long...I’d come to fish and despite not having the right gear I’d give it a shot.  The cabin was nearby so the odds were good I could get warm before hypothermia ruined the day.  

As the wind whipped me there at the dock I realized that I had to get warm.  All I had on was a gortex shell, jeans, and a short sleeve t-shirt.  It was raining, windy, and the forecast was for 41 degree wind chill.  I quickly dug into a compartment and pulled out my best improvised solution...a foam filled life jacket.  If you spend a lot of time fishing you are likely among a fairly small group of people in the world who have donnned a life jacket not because the boat was going down...but to keep from freezing to death.  The thick panels of foam trap body heat very efficiently and after I put my rain-jacket over it I was tolerably warm.  While I couldn’t laugh right in Hypothermias face I could now at least chuckle behind it’s back.  

With my ad-hoc solution in place I left the cover of the dock.  A quick run down the river had me at a spot that should contain a great number of bass.  I had spoken with a game warden earlier in the day that told me the place was loaded with fish.  If a game warden tells me a spot is loaded...it’s the best sign ever...it’s the equivalent of insider trading in the financial world.  Except it’s not illegal in fishing...so I went to the spot he told me about.  

With great patience I worked through every lure I could think of that might work on this  matted grass flat my warden buddy told me about.  Despite what I thought...nothing worked.  The wind was constant and it pushed a soft rain the entire time.  Shortly before sunset I watched a coyote work the edge of some distant woods and silently I hoped that his luck would be better than mine tonight...I also envied the thick fur coat he was wearing.   

With the fading light came a heavier rain that demanded attention.  It was a cold sideways rain; the type that could hurt you if you weren’t prepared for it...and I was only half-prepared for this.  After a few more “last casts” I sat down, zipped my jacket up to my face, put on a set of ski goggles , pulled on my hood, and pushed the throttle.  The  boat quickly got on plane and as I pushed into the wind at 30 MPH the rain beat my jacket loudly and the wind chill made me thankful I had a cabin nearby. 

The length of any ride in a boat is determined not by distance...but by conditions.  The colder, windier, and wetter the weather the longer the ride...and by those standards tonights ride was not going to be short.  The life jacket was doing an admirable job of warming the parts it was covering...but there were many parts it didn’t cover.  Hands and arms and legs were all exposed and suffering at this point.  I kept the throttle down because I subscribe to the philosophy of suffering a lot for a short time, rather than less pain for a longer time.  As I pulled into the shelter of my slip at the marina the high metal roof shielded me from the rain.  My hands were throbbing with cold from the rain and the wind-chill and I was glad to be under some cover.  I pulled off my goggles and stood there shivering and listening to the rain clattering on the roof...I’ve always liked that sound.  



Gratuitous action pic


Later that night, from the warmth of the cabin I reflected on the day.  I had gone out in the rain, caught no fish, and come back wet, cold to the core, and shivering.  Just about that time a blowing rain picked up again and I could hear it lashing the roof.  Right then I realized why I like the sound of rain on a roof...it’s because that is the sound of “warm-and-dry”.  If I’m hearing that sound it’s because there is a roof between me and the elements.

The last day

The last day I had high hopes.  I’d spent the afternoon lounging next to a wonderful campfire with the kids.  Around 4 PM it was time to go fishing and I needed to put out the fire before I left.  The kids excitedly sprang to life chattering about how they wanted to put the fire out.  They’ve apparently seen a lot of fires put out in the cartoons and they had a backlog of techniques they wanted to try.  Who am I to tell them no?  I watched with great amusement as they pulled out techniques I’d seen in Looney Tunes for years being properly executed here in real life.  With the fire safely doused I hit the lake.

My first stop of the day was only a few hundred yards from the cabin and as I looked back that way I could see the smoke from our recently doused campfire rising from the forest.  It was a nice reminder that I’d be back with the family in a few hours. 

My first stop of the day was also filled with hopes for retribution.  Two weeks earlier we were hastened off the lake by a late rain and on my last cast I hooked a nice 4 lb largemouth and got it all the way back to the boat when it shook the hook.  That fish was so close it could have licked my hull number if it had wanted to...and it had the indecency to get off before I could reach down and pluck it from the water.  I wasn’t terribly upset by it but it would be nice to score here today to make up for it.

With uncharacteristic patience I decided to work a KVD crankbait very slowly along a 100 yard stretch of this rocky point.  After covering perhaps 50 yards of gravelly bank punctuated by chunks of larger rock I found a small curve in the bank sheltered by a fallen log.  With laser guided precision I sent my tiny KVD 1.5 flying to the sheltered spot.  As I retrieved it I could feel every slow little wobble it made and about three feet after it started to move it got clobbered.  The rod loaded up heavily and I saw my line slicing through the water to the right...directly toward the downed limb.  Ugh...this will not do...I cant’ let that fish tie me up in that limb or this will be the second round I lose on this spot.  

The fish re-thought it’s options and abruptly turned left, choosing the sanctuary of deep water as more fitting than the fallen log.  This was a mistake of colossal proportions.  This would go down in his record book as the day his win streak ended...today he would see the inside of my boat.  I smiled broadly as he steamed for deeper water...I could fight him here.  And fight we did.  He launched from the water like a great white shark hammering a sea otter...well...like a really small great white shark anyway.  As it drew nearer to the boat I got a look at him...and he at me.  I’m guessing he recognized my hull number because when he got near it he dove hard and dang near straight down taking a fair amount of my line with him as the drag tried to slow his escape.  

Now I decided that I needed the net.  At this point I looked about as squared away as a one-man-band.  I’m fighting a fish with my right hand, grabbing the net with my left, and trying to use my left foot to extend the handle.  If the fish could have seen this he’d have spit the hook out with laughter.  I fought him back close to the surface and with a move that must be straight out of a Yoga book I squatted down, extended my left arm out one way, my right arm the other way to bring him close to the net, and I just barely got him in.  Bam...I now had a 4 lb largemouth on the deck of my boat.  I have no idea if it’s the same one that beat me last week, and I hate to stereotype things...but all of these 4 lb bass look alike...if it’s not him I imagine he knows the one I caught last week and when they compare hull numbers the truth will be known.  For now though I’ve got the picture so that makes me the winner of this round. 



The rest of the evening I was hitting main lake points, fishing them slowly and enjoying the sunset.  On the next gravelly point down from where I bagged the 4 pounder I got another hit right where the gravel bar drops off deep.  It felt solid.  I got the fish close to the boat and I could see it had something on it.  It looked like a huge worm was stuck to this fish.  The “worm” was almost as long as the two pound bass on my line.  I didn’t have time to look at it I just hoisted the both of them into the boat and figured I’d release them together...just like they were.

When I got the fish in the boat the worm/leach/alien predator thing detached, ran around my boat shrieking like a banshee (the noise might actually have been me), and tried to eat my face off before I shot it dead with a .44 mag.  

I’m exaggerating a little bit when I relay that story.  While it didn’t really go down just like that...it was really a crazy and weird deal.  

I’m not a squeemish guy by any means...but the look of that “worm” and the wound it had caused gave me a severe case of the heebee jeebees and I couldn’t wait to get that thing off my vessel.  

It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen on the water.  It flopped and writhed on the deck of the boat and for a moment I was at a loss as to  how to get rid of this thing.  Before I got rid of it though I had to document it...I had to find out what this thing was and a picture was the best way so I broke out the iPhone.  After getting photographic evidence of this aquatic monster my mind returned to the task at hand...how to get rid of it.  Having just seen the wound it left on the bass I really didn’t want this thing getting its mouth on me.  Ultimately I grabbed it by the tail with my multi-tool and tossed it overboard, the whole time making faces and sounds one would normally associate with a fifth grade girl who just had a booger flicked on her.  

After I got the sea monster off the boat I called it quits and went in search of answers.  In time I would discover that the alien worm I had encountered is called a Lamprey.  More disturbing than the initial encounter is the knowledge that in some cultures...they are considered...a delicacy.  One more reason to thank God I live in America...where nobody cooks up parasitic eels as a meal.  

So that wrapped up another fall fishing trip full of fun and adventure.  With a little more preparation and some luck the next trip will be long on fun and short on cold weather and parasitic eels.  Below are pics of the victim as well as the perpetratorbe thankful you are viewing this from the comfort of your computer chair.  Note that the wound on the bass is the same shape and size as the mouth of the Lamprey.  This is the reason you should always carry a sidearm when fishing…you might need to shoot a Lamprey.  




Victim - Green, 2.5 lbs, last seen 6 feet deep






Perp - armless and dangerous.  Approach with caution.