Something Fishy

Something Fishy
t Doesn't Get Much Better

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shellcrackers are big, fighters, tasty

Photo by Phil Junker
Early fishing for shellcrackers during the spawn in Florida seems to be a key to success. And while the fish can be caught during all daylight hours, early morning seems to produce the best action.
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It was a southern style shallcracker adventure. It was a different kind of fishing, great fun, and produced fillets for the dinner table.
My Florida neighbor, Dennis Daniels told me it was time. “The shellcrackers are on the beds. It’s time. Let's go in the morning,” he said.
“Sounds good,” I responded. “I’ll get my gear together. Guess, I just need a long pole?”
I’d caught shellcrackers before when fishing for bluegill or crappie, but had never really specifically fished for them when it was spawning time. I’d heard you could catch big numbers and that they really put up a fight when you are trying to pull them out of the weeds.
In the Midwest, most people call shellcrackers redear sunfish. Anglers in some areas of the south also call them chinquapin, stump knockers, yellow bream or strawberry bream, rouge ear sunfish, but all are redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus. By whatever name, they grow big, fight hard and taste great when fried.
Most full-grown shellcrackers run eight to 11 inches and weigh 3./4 to one pound. The world record is five pounds, seven ounces, and while our recent outing on Lake Kissimmee, Florida, didn’t produce any fish close to the world record, many fish over a pound were taken.
Shellcrackers are light green to brown on the back with darker spots, fading to gray or silver sides. The belly from head to tail is light yellow to white. The ear flap has a red or orange spot which gives the fish its northern name, redear sunfish.
Dennis and I headed for Lake Kissimmee before daylight and launched his boat from Lake Kissimmee State Park. He wanted to get to a popular fishing spot early.
The fish, which usually spawn only once each spring, gathered in about four foot of water in lilly pads, but not all lilly pads. They feed on freshwater mussels, snails, worms, shrimp, insects and grubs. They apparently gather in lilly pads where the mussels and snails had gathered.
When the water was still, we could actually see the lilly pads move from being hit below the surface by the feeding shellcrachers. Such activity is a good indicator where to dip a worm.
Many anglers (probably three dozen boats) gathered in a spot the size of a football field, and all caught fish. During this feeding spree it isn’t uncommon for a fisherman to catch a limit of 50 shellcrackers.
Everyone used long poles. We used collapsable 10-foot poles. I rigged the line with a crappie size Daiichi Bleeding Bait hook. About four inches above the hook was a small split shot, and I used a bobber.
The key seemed to be getting the red worm or wiggler on the bottom. If not, the fish seemed to ignore the bait. 
The bobber was placed so it was partially standing upright and a slight nibble or bump on the bait would cause the bobber to move. Often the bit was light, while other times the fish hit hard and took off with the bobber. The hook had to be set quickly, or the fish would wrap the line around a lilly pad.
The pads are very strong and a wrapped line resulted in a broken line as you didn’t want to pull the boat to the hook location.
The spawn takes place from late February in Florida through April in Kentucky and Indiana, depending on water temperature and other conditions. The peak usually is a few days before and after a full moon. Some anglers say a second, but not as large of feeding frenzy takes place on the following new moon.
My neighbor, Dennis was a good guide. We found fish, caught plenty, and had a tasty dinner.
I’m looking forward to trying to locate redear and try the technique at some Indiana lakes this spring.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Whether it was outdoor writing, cartoons, or jazz, Don Ingle was tops

Don Ingle was a guy you couldn’t help but like. He was fun. He was talented. He was an excellent outdoor writer and a cartoonist. And, he was a wonderful jazz musician. That was on top of his being a avid outdoorsman.
Don and his wife, Jean died in a fire that destroyed their home last week in Baldwin, Mich. According to a report by the Associated Press, the house was fully engulfed in flames when firemen arrived about 3 a.m.
He wrote for me on a regular basis when I was editor Hoosier Outdoors magazine. I couldn’t afford to pay him what his stories and cartoons were worth, but he wrote for me anyway. He was that kind of guy. We were friends.
We would see each other at outdoor writer conferences and swap tales, and nights usually would end of Don playing music and me drinking a few more “wea touches of the creature” as Jack Kerins used to say, referring to alcoholic beverages.
Don had lots of talent, stories, and was a fun guy. I just loved to be around him.
I remember long before GPS units became readily available, Don wrote a story about morel mushrooms (he loved to hunt them) and how a man was using a GPS to mark and then in the future locate his favorite morel spots in the forests of northern Michigan.
Don and I were separated by miles and I always intended to head up his way to hunt morels, but I never made it. Seems there are so many things I intend to do that don’t get done, and later I’m sorry.
Life is short and we never know what tomorrow will bring.
Don was always at the forefront of what was happening in the outdoors.
Don and Jean will be missed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Grandpa has fun boat trip with granddaughters on Lake Rosalie


Photo by David Fields
Grandpa Phil Junker gives granddaughters, Meredith (back) and Allison a boatinglesson on Lake Rosalie at the Harbor RV Resort & Marina in Florida.

        It was supposed to be a short, fun boat ride for the granddaughters. It was kind of a do-over after a storm shortened a ride the previous day. But, the ride turned into something more, something a bit special.
In every column, in every story I write I try to include at least one little tidbit of knowledge a reader might not have previously known. I’m not always successful, but I try.
And given an opportunity around young folks, I try to include a “teaching moment”. I was never a teacher, but my wife, Phyllis was, and I learned from her the importance of adding a little something extra to an experience. Down in Cajun Country they call it, “lagniappe”.
While in Florida, I had the opportunity to take me granddaughters, Meredith and Allison Fields, ages two and nearly four, for a ride in my fishing boat. Parents Michelle and David also were along. 
Unfortunately, storm clouds and wind forced us off Lake Rosalie. We arrived back in the marina just ahead of a brief, but heavy rainstorm.
We decided to try it again the next day. We had a nice trip with the girls, especially Meredith, asking lots of questions about everything from a wide variety of birds to those about the boat. How do you explain to a four-year-old why the motor requires gasoline? Explaining a boat paddle was easier.
As we cruised the south end of the lake, the wind again started to gain strength, but not at a dangerous level. However the girls expressed they were a bit chilly, but when I offered them a chance to “drive” the boat, they forgot about the chill, and both wanted to steer us toward the marina at the same time.
The girls loved steering the old 17-foot fishing boat. They were young captains learning about fishing boats. (Of course, grandpa maintained a tight grip on the steering wheel) even though they didn’t realize it.
Meredith and Allison had fun and learned a bit about boating. Grandpa had just as much fun, and maybe more.
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BOW -- The 17th annual Becoming an Outdoors-Woman is May 4-6 at Ross Camp in West Lafayette. The workshop is open to women ages 18 and older and limited to 100 participants.
Registration is underway at and costs $185.
  The program is designed for women to learn outdoor skills in a relaxed, low-pressure environment. Participants will choose four activities from among 27 offerings, including archery, survival 101, orienteering, and learning to hunt small game. 
  New for 2012 are classes on muzzleloading and driving with a trailer.
  The workshop is for women who have never tried these activities, but have hoped for an opportunity to learn; who have tried them but are beginners hoping to improve; or who know how to do some of the activities, but would like to try new ones.
  Women who enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded individuals and who seek time away to reconnect with nature are also prime candidates for BOW.