Every time of the year has it’s own little charm for the outdoors enthusiast, whether it is taking a walk on a beautiful spring day or hunting grizzly in rough terrain. This is the time of year when a multi-layered, heavily shrouded creature can be seen leaving his warm comfortable home to venture out into sub-zero temperatures in order to drill holes in frozen waters to try to coax a fish into biting. I, myself, am one of these creatures. It is almost a mystical call to defy Mother Nature when she is being frosty, making the statement that you are willing to go to extremes to enjoy your sport. Or is it simply not being willing to sit inside somewhere when there are fish to be caught?….. This last weekend, one of my best buddies and favorite people to fish with, went out on the ice with me to see how the crappie fishing was. It was fairly cool, around 7 degrees F., but no issue for a couple of human onions ( layers ) on the prowl! We got a few holes drilled in a spot that has always produced big crappies in years past, and got our shelter set up. Once the heater started to perform it’s duty, we settled in to enjoy ourselves. It wasn’t long before the fish were coming in on the sonar as expected. Here is where it gets strange. I see a blip on the screen and lower my spoon to the fish. It bites and I miss the hookset, but the fish stays and comes back to hit it again. As I get the fish to the top of the hole, the hook pops out of the fishes mouth and it is free. This is about a 13 inch crappie. I reach to grab him and he spines me, of course. Down the hole he goes and is gone. I sit back to get my rig ready to go again, when that crappie comes flying out of the hole ( a good 12 inches high ) and lands on the ice next to my feet! I look over at my buddy and we both look confused for a minute before we start laughing our heads off. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it before. Suicidal crappies! That was the first strange thing that day. A little time and a couple fish later I was reeling in one of my lines. It was straight down the hole and was not caught on anything. As it got closer to the surface, it came popping out of my friends hole that was 2 feet away, and landed on the ice. Again , my friend and I look at each other in silence for a second, before we burst into laughter again! Mystic ice today! All of this reminded me of a pond that was only 2 miles from our present location. It happened 2 years ago on another late afternoon outing on the ice for crappies. On this pond the bite was on after dark so I got there early and got set up for the evening. While I waited for my target species, the bluegills were biting and they were nice eating size, so I started a pile of fish on the outside of the icehouse. The bite was good and the pile was getting bigger, even more when the crappie bite came. As I sat there, I could make out the smell of a skunk getting close. I just sat in the icehouse and he walked around for a minute, grabbed a fish, and moved on. No biggie, I didn’t mind. A little while later, I heard noise on the ice and snow outside my house, but this was different…..bigger. I sat there quietly while this animal decided he had hit the jackpot for supper. I could hear the smacking of my fish in his jaws! Not cool! After it had his or her fill, it wandered away. I waited for 15 minutes before I lifted my shelter to see. All of my fish were gone, and all that was left was a slightly bloody, scaly mess on the ice where my supper used to be. Along with the evidence of no table manners, it had left many footprints….5 inches across! I realized that I had just been visited by one of the mountain lions that inhabit our area. Luckily for me, I had just supplied him with a great supper, so I wasn’t too worried about his hunger being a problem, just his attitude. It was now about 9:00 and there was a bright moon out. I carefully and quickly gathered my gear, took one last look at what would have been my supper, and started back across the ice to my Jeep. Looking around, I was the only very visible moving black spot on the very white snow-covered ice. It made me very happy that I had given out a substantial meal, and hoping it was enough to satisfy the beast. Nice Kitty! I still fish that pond and many more in the area, however , I now carry along an equalizer just in case I come across this situation again, and don’t have that pile of fish! Nice Kitty!………..
It is amazing how many unique things can happen when you spend a lot of time outdoors. The sometimes odd encounters with the creatures we share the area with are experiences that can last a lifetime. Some funny, some not so much. All make for good fireside stories, adding a little excitement to an already exciting event. All in good fun! I started thinking about this the other day on my way back from a day of fishing. I was coming back from a location about 70 miles from my home. The time was about 4:00 in the afternoon. Halfway home, just watching the road in front of me, I see an animal step up to the side of the road from the ditch. Here in Iowa we are used to seeing many critters on the road. Skunks, raccoons, badgers, fox, and many more small to medium sized animals. The larger ones are fewer; deer or stray livestock of some kind. The animal in front of me was of medium to large size and brownish grey in color. It didn’t budge at all as I got closer. I started to slow down just in case it bolted out in front of the vehicle. As I got closer I could see that it was a coyote, large and very healthy looking. Mr. Wile E. Coyote himself. I drove by slowly, and actually made eye contact with the canine. He still didn’t move. I drove 50 yards past him and got out my phone to go back and take a picture if he would stay there. You don’t see a coyote in the daytime or out in the open very often, and if you do it is usually not well. This was a good looking animal, however, and seemed to be in great health. As I was backing up to take the picture, he got the idea and decided to recede back into the cornfield he came from. No picture but still very cool! As I continued my drive home, the episode started me thinking about other unusual encounters I have had with some of Mother Nature’s critters. One stands out as one of those close calls that could have gone very sour, but ends up being a great tale. I was at a musky tournament at the Chippewah Flowage in Hayward, Wisconsin. My partner and I were in a large RV that we parked in a spot at a great local campsite. We had arrived after a long day’s drive, and after the meetings and a meal, we needed a few hours shut-eye before getting up for the start of the tournament. In the RV all was well until my partner hit REM sleep and the snoring started. There was absolutely no way there would be any sleeping on my part. I swear animals were grunting and howling in response to the un-natural sounds escaping from my sleeping partner. If this would have happened to one of my buddies, I would have been laughing my head off at this alone. I decided that the only way I was going to get any sleep myself was to go sleep outside on the picnic table in my sleeping bag. All was going very well, sleep came fast and easy and with a smile. About 3:30 in the morning, there was a gentle nudging at my shoulder. I assumed this was my partner waking me up for the upcoming day. Without turning around, I looked at my watch and said there was another hour of sleep to be had. There was no reply other than the gentle nudging again. After the lack of sleep already, I was a little irritated by the early wake up call, so I turned around and pulled my sleeping bag down off my head. I was now nose to nose with a very large black bear! Neither one of us made any sudden erratic moves. The moment just hung there for a minute, frozen in time. There is nothing quite like the smell of bear breath in the morning, coming straight from it’s mouth and nostrils. Wow. I just pulled my sleeping bag back up over my head and turned back around like I was sleeping again. There were only two things that could happen, either he would grab my sleeping bag and want to play, or he would just walk away. As luck would have it, he decided to just move on with his night and wander away. I was tired enough that I actually got back to sleep and got some rest. I was telling the tale in the morning at coffee when one of the locals told us of a bear attack just week before in the same area. Supposedly, there was a young woman attacked right in her tent by a black bear. The young lady survived the attack, but not without injuries. This adds to the ” Whew” factor, hearing that story after my experience the night before. It is a great reminder that we need to be aware of what critters we share our neck of the woods with, even more so when in new territory. In this instance, I give partial credit to my feeling of safety to the ferocious sounds of the sleeping beast contained within the walls of the RV. Like I said, this turned out to be a great story with a lesson rather than a story with a sad ending. I can look back now and laugh at the situation. Luckily so! It is one of many more tales of great things that have happened in the outdoor world. Stay tuned………..Paul
People often ask me about my catches. “What is your biggest?”, “What was the heaviest?”, “What was the most unusual?”. I have to say that the last one is the easiest of all to answer. It is one of many memories from a lifetime spent outdoors. On a perfect spring morning I rise and get ready to make the drive to one of my favorite musky haunts. Anticipation is always high when the water is just right and the bite is on. A quick stop for a slice of breakfast pizza and a carton of chocolate milk and now I am reasonably fueled for a morning of fierce battle on the water. The time is now 5:00 A.M. On my way, I stop at my favorite creek to catch some live bait to use. In just a few minutes I had a nice variety of local chubs and large shiners. A large sucker was the prize of the morning. I can’t wait to get him on a rig and in the water! I drive for a little over an hour altogether and I smile when I pull in to my spot. The first faint hint of the coming sunrise starts to show the mist on the water. There is no one here at all! Perfectly quiet! I can’t get out of my Jeep fast enough. I hurry to gather my gear and get ready for the walk through the woods to get to my point. This is musky fishing from shore at it’s best! I walk out to a narrow strip of land that is basically surrounded by a very gently flowing backwater, with a large open pool in front of me. I have been fishing this spot for many, many years. It has actually been nicknamed “Paul’s Point”. I have not been here ten minutes and the cars start pulling in already, filled with other eager fishermen hoping to get in on the early bite. They pull in across the backwater from me and proceed to set up also. I get all set up and pull that large sucker out of the bait bucket. Once I get him all rigged up properly, I cast him out to a spot where big fish cross frequently and set the rod down. Now to casting a large spoon to start quietly with my other rig. There are now half a dozen other fishermen facing me from across the water, all looking at me like I am crazy. People in my area were not yet keyed in to using such large baits. Things have changed in recent years though. After a few casts , I look beyond my bobber with the sucker, and see a large wake headed straight for my rig! I calmly ( I say that now!) lay down my casting rod and gently pick up the bait rod. In a splash my bobber goes down hard and fast. Line is free-spooling off the reel fast! It starts to head for some very nasty, snaggy water, so as long as it is headed away from me, I thought I would take my chances and set the hook. And set the hook I did! I arched my back with the effort and groaned when I felt that hook catch solid matter! As I settle in for the fight, it leaps out of the water………. it’s an otter! I caught a furry mammal?!?!..?.. That’s a first! I can’t believe it. After a fairly good tussle, I get him reeled in to the bank. Thank goodness for very stout musky rods! This is one unhappy critter with very large teeth, that has 2 of my treble hooks in it. Somehow I manage to hold him at bay long enough to grab my hook cutters. It has one hook in it’s lower lip and the other is caught in it’s fur on the chest. As I get closer you can see the animal stiffen up and start to say unpleasant otter things. I aim for the hook in the chest fur and get lucky, cutting the shaft of the hook on the first try. Screaming another curse at me it pulled back hard and in doing so, pulled the other hook free. Still cussing at me, it crossed a little creek and ran off through the trees toward the main river. You could hear it swearing at me for five minutes! I was happy he was loose and basically unharmed. That’s when the other fishermen yelled from across the water and asked me why I didn’t kill the otter. They said they eat all their walleyes. I started laughing and said that in reality, they were eating the otter’s walleyes. It was his home, we are just visiting. I think sometimes this very simple lesson can be forgotten. There were no more negative comments from across the water and all was well. Fishing went on as normal for the rest of the day. I will always remember that otter very fondly, although I am sure it doesn’t share the same opinion. He has given me a great experience and a story with a lesson to share. Every once in a while I will hope to see it again, on better terms. It was a day of musky fishing with a furry twist that surprised us both! A mammal,… I still smile when I think of it.