Something Fishy

Something Fishy
t Doesn't Get Much Better

Friday, August 19, 2016

It's still hot, but squirrel season arrives


Most of the small terrier breeds have a natural instinct for hunting, many breeds and mixed breeds can learn to tree squirrels.
Here it is again--the hottest part of summer. And, the first hunting season of late summer and fall has already arrived.
Most people still are thinking about swimming, boating, catfishing, and hope their air conditioner makes it to cooler weather. However, some squirrel hunters are getting their gear and themselves ready to take to the woods.
In Indiana, squirrel season always opens on my birthday, Aug. 15, and the season continues through Jan. 31, 2017. 
Although my preference for squirrel hunting is later in the season when the temperature cools and the leaves fall, I traditionally hit the woods on my birthday--if only for a half hour--to celebrate another year for the old man and the start of another hunting season. It more of a ceremonial thing, rather than a hunt with expectation of heading home with game for the table.
From most observations, it appears there will be  plenty of squires to hunt this fall. As always, some areas will be better than others.
Squirrel populations are dependent on a number of factors, but two key things include weather and mast (nut) availability. The nut crop one year impacts the population the following year. Based on these factors, this should be another good season.
Avid squirrel hunters take to the woods opening day, but ticks and heat keep many southern hunters out of the field the first few weeks, while their counterparts further north get an earlier start. Some hunters prefer to wait until leaves begin to fall from the trees, while other enjoy sitting under an umbrella of leaves. It’s a matter of choice.
One of the advantages of early season squirrel hunting, is chances are better for shooting young squirrels. That equates to tender squirrels, which are better for frying, the cooking method I prefer.
During the early  hot days of the season, squirrels seem to be most active the first hour or so of daylight, and late evening. They also seem to prefer days when the wind is calm.
Squirrels are active in the fall as they scurry to store nuts for the winter. Often they are found on the forest floor looking for nuts, but at the first sign of danger they head for the nearest den tree.
Nut rich woods are good hunting sites in late summer and fall. Squirrels seem to particularly like shagbark and other hickories, white and black oaks, beeches and black walnut trees.
Some hunters follow the predominately southern tradition of using squirrel dogs. However, most hunters who use dogs prefer to have leaves off the trees for their hunting. A good dog scents squirrels a hunter would never see. 
Dog hunters also enjoy watching their dogs work for squirrels as well as the companionship of their animals. Working with a dog is as gratifying for many people as actually harvesting the squirrels.
 A good dog will tree the squirrel and bark to announce his success. 
With most squirrel dog breeds, hunting and treeing squirrels seems to come naturally. However one of the best ways to train a young dog is to work it with an older experienced dog.
Not only is squirrel hunting fun and good exercise, the end result is mighty good eating. 
Squirrel, fried crispy brown is mighty tasty, and there is nothing better than squirrel gravy made with the skillet leavings. Fried squirrel, and the gravy over mashed potatoes makes a great meal, unless you are on a serious diet. Hot biscuits and homemade jam really top it off.




Friday, August 5, 2016

Once hated alligator gar may have increased popularity, usefulness


Alligator gar swam the streams of the Midwest for thousands of years, probably millions of years. Now they are gone.
Also, for years when alligator gar were found, they were considered “trash” or nuisance fish. However, today some people, especially fisheries biologists and managers, would like to have them back in Midwestern rivers. Today, you have to travel to southern states to find them.
Alligator gar, which also are called garpike, would never win a beauty contest. They are ugly, get huge, and they earn their name because the head looks much like the head of an alligator. The shape,, snout, and two rows of large, long sharp teeth are very similar in appearance to the actual alligator.
As I recall, I once saw an alligator gar in an aquarium, and hadn’t thought or heard about them for years, until my friend Gil Hubbard, a retired Methodist minister, sent me an internet link to a story about the big fish and the renewed interest in them.
Gil, myself, and several friends made a ritual of fishing for trout on the opening day of the fall season following stocking. But these trout were nothing like the monster gar.
Gil’s note started me thinking (always dangerous), and that led me to the computer for a bit of research.
Disdained by fishermen and with spawning grounds that had been destroyed over the years, the alligator gar today primarily only survives in the southeastern United States in the tributaries of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. They had been declared extinct in several states further north.
Many anglers thought the fish threatened sport fish and something that should be exterminated when any opportunity arose.
Alligator gar, which is related to the bowfin, are considered by many to be a prehistoric fish, a look into the past. They can be traced back into history over 100 million years, and are called by some, “a living fossil.
One unusual aspect of the gar and a reason it has survived for some many millions of years is that it can breath both in and out of the water. 
These gar have the ability to thrive in even the most inhospitable waters. They have a swim bladder that they can fill by gulping air, which they use to supplement their gill breathing in low-oxygen environments. However, they can’t survive outside of water for a long period of time.
Alligator gar can become quite large. They can reach a length of 10 feet (most don’t), and they also can top a scales up to 300 pounds. And while they will eat other fish, research shows game or sport fish aren’t their favorite. They also are known make lunch on a duck or other mammals.
However, the reason of the renewed interest in the prehistoric old fish is that they seem to love a diet of Asian carp, which have become a real problem in streams throughout the South and MIdwest. Much research and millions of dollars are being spent on trying to stop the progression of the exotic carp.
Biologists are beginning to raise the gar and restock them into some Midwestern streams in hopes they will reproduce and begin to feed on and slow the growth of the unwanted carp. In particular reintroduction efforts have started in Illinois and Tennessee.
“What else is going to be able to eat those monster carp?” said Allyse Ferrara, an alligator gar expert at Nicholls State University in Louisiana, where the species is relatively common. “We haven’t found any other way to control them.
Researchers also are trying to find some use for the carp as a food source, fertilizer or other product, but that effort also is in its infancy.
Biologists say reintroducing the gar certainly won’t be a quick fix, but it is hoped that over time the alligator gar will begin to made a dent in the asian carp population.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Girls catch fish on first cast

Granddaughters Molly (left) and Kennedy caught
 a bluegill on the first cast.

About the only thing more fun for an angler than catching fish is helping a youngster catch fish. Last weekend, again I had that fun.
Granddaughters Molly and Kennedy were visiting for several days. They had announced in advance they wanted to fish. I was prepared with red worms and nightcrawlers.
Two rods and reels were at ready. I knew I wouldn’t need one. My attention was directed at assisting the girls catch bluegill or whatever decided to bite. Three chairs also were ready on the lake bank, under the shade of the big poplar tree.
The very first cast by Molly was successful. She hooked a feisty bluegill, and Kennedy was happy to pose with her sister and the fish in a photo.
Fortunately, the fish were cooperative and kept the girls and grandpa busy until supper time.
There’s nothing like it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

If there is water nearby in Florida, there also likely is a gator


Recently, a tragic event took place when a young boy was grabbed by an alligator, and the next day was found dead. I can’t imagine much of anything worse.
I don’t know the specific circumstances, of the alligator attack. Should the parents or Disney have done anything differently. I have no idea. But, I do know it was tragic, and I do know anyone traveling to the southeastern part of the United State should be aware of alligators.
When one lives in Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, Wisconsin or anywhere else in the northern or central U.S, you probably don’t know much about or think much about alligators. But if you head south, a bit of awareness is in order.
Alligators aren't just found in Florida. They can be found from southeastern Oklahoma and Texas on the west to North Carolina and Georgia, and Florida in the east.
While I’m primarily a midwesterner, I ‘m a Florida native and spend a lot of the cold weather time in the central portion of the Sunshine state. I’ve learned a bit about gators and written a number of stories about them. I’m no expert, but I respect them.
The thing I hear most often from locals and outdoors people is that gators are everywhere there is water be it lake, stream, retention pond or swampy area. 
“If there is water, there are gators,” is what you will hear. It’s true even if it is a pond at a shopping mall. A nearly 10-foot gator was captured a year ago from one of the ponds at the mall where we shop north of Lake Wales.
According to an alligator bulletin provided by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, “In Florida, the growing number of people living and recreating near water has led to a steady rise in the number of alligator-related complaints. 
“The majority of these complaints relate to alligators being where they simply aren’t wanted. Because of these complaints, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program permits the killing of approximately 7,000 nuisance alligators each year. 
“Using this approach, and through increased public awareness, the rate of alligator bites on people has remained constant despite the increased potential for alligator-human interactions as Florida’s human 
population has grown. 
‘Alligators are an important part of Florida’s landscape and play a valuable role in the ecology  of our state’s wetlands. Alligators are predators and help keep other aquatic animal populations in balance.” 
According to the FWC, “Although most Floridians understand that we have alligators living in our state, the potential for conflict exists. Because of their predatory nature, alligators may target pets and livestock as prey. Unfortunately, people also are occasionally bitten. 
“Since 1948, Florida has averaged about five unprovoked bites per year. During that period, a little more than 300 unprovoked bites to people have been documented in Florida, with 22 resulting in deaths. 
“In the past 10 years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has received an average of nearly 16,000 alligator-related complaints per year. 
“Most of these complaints deal with alligators occurring in places such as backyard ponds, canals, ditches and streams, but other conflicts occur when alligators wander into garages, swimming pools and golf course ponds. 
“Sometimes, alligators come out of the water to bask in the sun or move between wetlands. In many cases, if left alone, these alligators will eventually move on to areas away from people. 
“Generally, alligators less than four feet in length are not large enough to be dangerous unless handled. 
“Leave alligators alone. State law prohibits  killing, harassing or possessing alligators. Handling even small alligators can result in injury.
# # # # 
GATORS HERE -- Gators can not survive the cold winter weather of the Midwest, however from time-to-time they are spotted here. These usually are small gators kept as pets that escape or are released when they get bigger.
A four-foot gator was found a half dozen years ago at Pine Lake near LaPorte, IN, and several have been spotted in the White River in Indianapolis in recent years.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Indiana state parks will charge only a dime admission this weekend

Free fishing is available in Indiana and Kentucky this weekend, June 4-5,
and Indiana state parks will only charge a dime to visit

Visiting an Indiana  state park in Indiana on this weekend (June 4 or 5) will cost just pocket change—literally.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, it is part of Indiana State Parks celebrating their 100th birthday by “rolling back” gate admission to a 10-cents-per-person donation for each of those two days. 
It also is a free fishing weekend in the state. Anglers can try their luck without a fishing license. It is hoped the free fishing opportunity will bring newcomers to the sport or bring back former anglers.
The cost of ten cents per person to enjoy a state park is what visitors paid in 1916. The special donation rate applies to all 24 parks and eight reservoir properties operated by Indiana State Parks on June 4-5. 
Col. Richard Lieber, founder of Indiana State Parks, believed that the cost of operating state parks should be borne in part by users. Indiana’s state parks have had entrance fees since the beginning. 
According to information provided by the Indiana DNR, about 70 percent of funding for operating costs today comes from gate, camping and other fees,
Dan Bortner, director of Indiana State Parks. said, “We think that inviting our guests to make a donation at the 1916 rate is a great way to celebrate our centennial, and a way to encourage all Hoosiers to visit a state park and enjoy a day outdoors,” he said. 
Admission at most state park properties normally costs $7 per in-state vehicle and $9 per out-of-state vehicle. 
Visitors who have an annual pass or a Golden Hoosier Passport can still use those for admission. 

Additional fees for activities inside the park, such as off-road bicycling, horseback riding and camping, still apply at 2016 prices. At Falls of the Ohio State Park, the discount applies to the parking fee, but admission to the interpretive center will remain at current prices. 
Attendants will be collecting the donations at the entrance gates, so remember to bring your dimes and spare change. And while just 10 cents per-person will get you in, visitors also are encouraged to give a little more if they can. 
Generally, all revenue collected at gates, campgrounds and pools, and for programs and passes goes to one account to support operations at all 32 properties. For this weekend only, all donations collected at entrance gates will remain with the park in which they were received, and will support local property programs and projects. 
Turkey Run and McCormick’s Creek were Indiana’s first two Indiana state parks, established in 1916 as a gift to Hoosiers on the 100th anniversary of Indiana statehood. Cagles Mill Lake was the first reservoir property operated through the DNR, opening in 1953. 
A list of state park properties, including an interactive map to find the park nearest you, is at stateparks.IN.gov/2392.htm
A list centennial activities is at INStateParks100.com. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Bats are good for eliminating mosquitos, but often misunderstood


One morning a neighbor called. “Hey, come over to my place. You’re the outdoor guy. I want show you something, and then I’ve got a couple of questions.”
That type call always worries me. I’ve been writing about the outdoors for half a century, but still know very little about it. There is so much to know. Usually what I do know, is who to ask for their expertise.
When I arrived my friend was still eating breakfast. “Come out here on the porch. Look up there.”
“Bats,” I said. There were three hanging between a couple of rafters. They were small and brown, but I had no idea what species they were. At least for me, it is nearly impossible to tell one from the other.
“What will happen to them this winter?”, he asked. “I thought they stayed in caves at night.” It was obvious to me that  some research was in order.
While I enjoy watching bats swoop and dart at dusk, my knowledge of the animal is nil. I know they eat a lot of insects, including pesky mosquitos, and that’s important these days with all the concern for Zika virus. 
Zika apparently is spread by mosquitos, and the government plans to spend more than one billion dollars to combat the disease. 
According to non-game biologist Brooke Slack, there are 15  known species of bats in Kentucky.
Most hibernate in caves during winter months, but migrate in warmer weather and will travel several hundred miles to a summer home.
Bats breed in the fall, however the females do not become pregnant until spring, according to Brooke. There is a technical term for it, but essentially, the sperm lies dormant until after hibernation.
According to an Indiana Department of Natural Resources website, “Bats are probably the most mistreated and misunderstood mammals. People believe that bats are carriers of rabies or that they have a desire to fly into women’s hair. Neither of these rumors is true, as well as the vampire stories that surround these harmless creatures.
“Bats are clean animals and are no more apt to carry rabies than a dog or a cat. Contrary to popular belief, bats are gentle creatures that benefit man by consuming large quantities of pesky insects.
“In spring, bats emerge from hibernation and migrate to their summer homes. Because they separate into smaller social units, little is known about summer habitat requirements. Females form maternity colonies of up to 100 bats during the summer. 
“Bats feed entirely on night flying insects, and a colony of bats can consume thousands of insects each night. A gray bat (an endangered species) will eat up to 3,000 insects per feeding. Bats locate these insects by emitting high-pitched sounds and waiting for the echo, which allows them to zoom in on the bug's location. 
“The fat reserves accumulated by devouring these large quantities of insects during the summer and fall allow the bat to sustain itself during hibernation.
As we sat on my friend’s porch, he explained the bats in his rafters spend their day hanging upside down from the rafters and disappear at dark. “They don’t bother anything,” so they can stay,”

Monday, May 23, 2016

Crankbaits will attract large crappie

Guide and crappie pro angler Todd Huckabee shows a crankbait used to catch large crappie.

When most anglers think of attracting crappie to a hook, they think minnows or jigs, or maybe a combination of both. They don’t think crankbaits.
This old writer is in that group. Crankbaits never crossed my mind. I never heard of using a sizable bait like a crankbait to troll for crappie until a couple years ago while fishing with several outdoor writer friends prior to a crappie tournament at Kentucky Lake.
On the particular trip, very few crappie were being caught. However, an angler from Missouri who fishes the crappie tournament trail, caught his limit both days we fished. He was using crankbaits, and not little ones either.
Todd Huckabee, a pro angler, guide, and crappie tournament trail angler, raised more than a few eyebrows later when he spoke to a meeting of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoors writers last October in Alexandria, Minn.
Huckabee debunked some of the popular myths angles have held for years about crappie when he explained some of the techniques used by tournament anglers.
He said trends and techniques used by tournament anglers are making their way to recreational fishermen who now are catching more and bigger fish.
“For so long, a crappie fisherman would go out and drop a minnow or jig into a brush pile or a weed line. If they didn’t catch a fish, they would say the crappie weren’t biting, and they would go home. What they are starting to find out is when the tournaments come to town, these guys, including myself, can catch a lot of fish on any lake no matter what the conditions,” said the 28-year-old pro.
Huckabee, who guides Oklahoma lakes for crappie, saugeye and bass, says  successful anglers experiment. “We are constantly trying to find new ways to catch crappie to give us the edge over the other guy (competitor)” he explained.
Among the techniques he listed were: pulling crankbaits, casting crankbaits, spider rigging with multiple rods, and using bigger jigs and lures.
Many of the veteran outdoor writers were surprised when Huckabee started talking about trolling crankbaits for crappie.
“People think these crankbaits are really too big for crappie. I’ve caught crappie just a little bigger than the lure on crankbaits
“Crappie are part of a weird myth that they have a small mouth, and that they feed on small insects. However, most of the crappie feed on the same forage as walleye and bass. They are really aggressive feeders,” according to Huckabee. “A lot of times if you really need to catch a bigger fish or a lot of fish, the crankbaits will get a really good reaction.”
He uses crankbaits where there are clean breaks and “not a lot of stuff to get hungup in.” He trolls the lures 70 to 100 feet behind the rod and from one to two miles per hour on eight-pound test line.
“It’s amazing how many fish you will catch,” he said with a big smile.
Another trend in crappie fishing he discussed is the move toward larger plastics like the two-inch Yum Beavertail, which is one of his favorites. It is a 3/16-ounce bait.
“It is a huge bait for crappie. I catch four and five-inch crappie on this bait, and I also catch bigger fish...With bigger baits, you still are going to catch some smaller fish, but you’ll catch more of the larger fish than you would have caught using a smaller jig,” he added. According to Huckabee, much has been learned by watching crappie underwater. “They will move up and suck in a bait and spit it out before you know it. With the larger baits and hooks, the fish can’t spit it out as quick. They will thump something and let you set the hook a lot quicker.”