Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cooking tips

With Christmas approaching, folks who were fortunate enough to put venison in their freezers will be looking to put some of it on the table, either on Christmas Day or sometime over the holidays.

One of my favorites is venison meat pie. But, there's also venison stew, which we had the other day. Or, even grilled venison steaks. Yes, I know it's pretty cold to be outdoors standing over the grill, but I have done it and will do so again. We have some 30-degree days coming up and that's plenty warm enough to go out and fire up the grill.

So, this is a good time to offer some tips for getting the most out of your venison. One of the most common complaints I get is that the meat tastes too gamey. Another is that it's too tough. I have solutions to both of these problems.

The first will take a little extra time, but it's well worth it. No matter who butchers your deer, there will be silver skin, fat and gristle on the meat. The gamey flavor resides here, so take it all off. It may seem like a time-consuming task, but you won't believe the difference it will make in the taste of your venison. Without this stuff, the meat tastes very mild and even has a little sweetness. I use a fillet knife to do the job. The rule of thumb is this: If it's not red, cut it off.

To prevent toughness, there are two options -- slow cooking in a crock pot or using a meat tenderizer. I bought one a couple of years ago that is fantastic. It is spring loaded and has 48 small blades that pierce the meat. I go over each piece of meat three times, then cook it. The end result is a piece of meat so tender you can cut it with a butter knife.

Here's one last tip: Do NOT overcook your venison. The rule for me is to have it either pink or red in the middle. Also, it usually requires less time on the grill than beef. If you see juice running out of your steaks after you take them off the grill and put them on a platter, you're in business.

Bon appetit and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Coming up short

I had a lengthy conversation with my friend, Al, last night about deer hunting. He and his hunting party went down to southeastern Minnesota to take part in the B season, which ran from Nov. 22-30.

They have done well there the past couple of seasons and I was anticipating a good report again this year. But, it ended up being a tough hunt for them. They had some deer sightings, but missed on every shot. That leaves empty freezers this winter, except for a small amount of venison left over from last year.

I felt bad for them. No one enjoys the taste of venison more than Al and his family. In fact, they have a Christmas Day tradition of a venison meal. They'll have some venison, but will have to add beef to feed everyone.

Fortunately, it was a good year of deer hunting for my family, so I offered Al some of the venison in my freezer. He quickly accepted, with the exchange to take place this weekend. I'm happy to help out. Truth is, we have plenty of venison in our freezer, to the point of having too much. So, I have a good reason to share.

Of course, I'm hoping that Al and his group will have a better year next year. However, Al is not sure his dad will join him. They had a longer walk than usual to their hunting spots -- about a mile -- and the trek took a lot out of him. They hunted on public land and their usual short cut across private land to their spot was cut off when the landowner decided this year not to let them cross.

This is a very unfortunate situation, but is symptomatic of a deeper problem of deteriorating relations between landowners and hunters leading to the elimination of access to private land. Frankly, I think a lot of the blame falls on hunters. I have seen and heard of many examples in recent years of hunters abusing their privileges and being jerks to both other hunters and even landowners. I don't blame landowners for getting fed up with all of the hassles of letting people onto their land.

Yet, I wish there was a way to resolve Al's access issue so that his dad can hunt. Being able to hunt with your dad is a fabulous experience and I continue to enjoy that luxury with my own father, who is now 87 and says he wants to hunt wild turkeys in Wisconsin with me again this year. For now, I will be content to help put a little venison on Al's table.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The hunt is over

For most hunters, myself included, the hunting season has drawn to a close. I walk away very satisfied with the fall of 2008. It was memorable, not just for me, but for my children as well.

One of the highlights was shooting my first fall turkey ever. Actually, I almost got two. I have been trying for several years to bag an autumn bird, but something always seemed to go wrong. Then, this year, I tried a new strategy and succeeded in just two hours in Minnesota. In Wisconsin, I took a shot at a bird and missed.

The Minnesota bird came less than a week after my son, Andy, shot his first deer ever, a whitetail doe during Wisconsin's youth deer hunting weekend. Then, I shot a buck in Minnesota and my son, Joe, added a doe to the harvest. Finally, Joe and Andy each shot bucks in Montana.

As a reflected on these hunts, I came across an article in Field and Stream talking about the declining number of hunters and what's causing it. A number of factors were examined, then a heavy finger pointed at parents who are deciding not to take their kids out hunting.

I'm happy -- and a little relieved -- that this is not the case with me. In fact, I have thoroughly enjoyed the five falls in which I have hunted with my two oldest boys. It was an adjustment, at first, from hunting just by myself or with other adults. But, the rewards have been great, especially when the boys have been fortunate enough to get something. Of course, that's not all there is to hunting, but it is thrilling to be there when they see an animal and take a shot. And, I have experienced the added thrill of taking their picture when it's over.

It's a joy I wish more dads could experience. And, yet, I acknowledge that it can be very difficult to take a child out into the field if you have done little or no hunting yourself. Frankly, there are lots of activities that are easier to help your kids do than hunting.

Still, it is worthwhile when you make the effort. Kids are losing their connection with the outdoors and this a great way to reestablish that link. Plus, passing on the tradition to our youth will help ensure the future of hunting. The number of people opposed to hunting is growing, plus the amount of land available to hunters is shrinking. We should not sit idly by and let those trends continue.

I have taken steps to try and put the future of this great sport into the hands of my children. My No. 3 son, William, is 10 and on the cusp of his first hunt. The Minnesota DNR has created more opportunities for kids his age to get out into the field. Turkey hunting is now legal for kids of all ages and the state has created the chance for 10- and 11-year-olds to deer hunt. I may start him out next year with a fall turkey hunt. That strikes me as a great way to begin.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sausage day

Today marks an annual tradition -- bringing in fresh, venison sausage to my coworkers at The Catholic Spirit. Yesterday, I picked up a batch of summer sausage from Stasny's Food Market right here in St. Paul. I had dropped off a deer for processing back in November and I always order Stasny's delicious summer sausage.

I feel a little strange driving around St. Paul with a deer in my trailer, but I wouldn't take it anywhere else. The heart of St. Paul might seem like an unusual place to find a deer processor, but the folks at Stasny's have been doing it for a long time and it shows.

I really like the taste of the summer sausage I get there, and I also like sharing it with others. In fact, I will be giving more of it away to landowners who have given me and my sons permission to hunt on their properties. That's an annual tradition, too. I'm very grateful for the privilege of having good places to hunt and it's nice to give the landowners a small token of appreciation.

In this day and age, finding land on which to hunt is getting harder and harder. I sure hope my children will be able to continue our tradition of hunting. For now, we'll keep enjoying the sausage, plus all of the other venison now taking up space in our freezer.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Returning from Big Sky country

We got back from our trip to Great Falls, Mont. very early yesterday morning -- 5 a.m. to be exact. It got interesting in western North Dakota when we encountered some snow and slush, making for some tense driving. But, God answered our prayers for protection and brought us safely home.

I did some elk and deer hunting with my two oldest boys, Joe and Andy, and their Grandpa Bob Guditis, his daughter, Jessica Gray, and her husband, Jerry. The results will be revealed in my monthly outdoors column in The Catholic Spirit in an upcoming issue. For now, I'd like to highlight one important aspect of the hunt.

It has to do with being prepared for the hunting conditions out west. Thanks to my friend, Steve Huettl, we had the right clothing. He works for a hunting clothing company called Gamehide and he was able to get us jackets, bibs, caps, neck gaiters and gloves at a significantly discounted price. He shipped them to us just a few days before we left and even shipped another jacket when Joe needed a bigger size.

Everything worked great and kept us warm and comfortable, even when it got cold and windy. The weather can vary greatly out west in the mountains, and we experienced that in our five days of hunting. It got to 60 degrees the first day, then dropped into the teens later in the week. The clothing worked through it all. I was confident it would do the job because Steve told me he uses the same stuff himself. It's Gamehide's top of the line and it showed. Many thanks to Steve!

A second important part of being prepared is to have rifles that shoot accurately. Bob is a civil engineer who understands technical things like bullet trajectories very well. He sights in every rifle he uses and we had a very important sight-in session at the gun range before the hunt. Unlike many hunters, he zeroes his rifles in at about 250-275 yards. He knows that shots that long -- and longer -- are common out west. Although the bullets will hit two or three inches high at 100 and 200 yards, a hunter can take longer shots without having to aim high on an animal.

All I will say for now is I'm very glad we took the time to sight in our rifles. Stay tuned to my upcoming column for a detailed story of our hunt!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wild turkey getaway

With only two days left in the Wisconsin wild turkey season, I decided to go out this morning for one last try. I pulled onto a small piece of private property near Somerset about 8:15 and was hoping a flock of birds would be scratching around somewhere on the property.

I walked around for a little bit, then sat down and tried some hen calling. I thought I heard a hen yelp back once or twice, but nothing showed, so I moved to a section of woods behind the landowner's house. He said turkeys often cruise through this area, so I decided to check it out. It was the last spot I had planned to try.

I walked a short distance, then came to a spot where the terrain begins to slope down to the St. Croix River. I heard some shuffling in the leaves and thought it was a deer. Then, to my surprise, a turkey appeared about 30 or 40 yards away. Had I been ready with my shotgun, it would have been an easy shot on this hen. Instead, I had to put my gun to my shoulder as the bird went into some brush after spotting me.

I could still see the hen in between the trees and felt I had a makable shot, so I fired. After a brief pause, the bird flew off unscathed. Then, the air exploded with the takeoffs of about a dozen more birds that spooked at the sound of the shot.

So, that was it. These birds were not coming back anytime soon, so I packed up and left for home and, eventually, the office. It was exciting to get up close and personal with these birds, but I was a little disappointed about not making the shot.

In the end, I chose to thank God for such a great morning in the woods and for being able to see some of his creatures. I also reminded myself that God had answered my prayer this morning, which was that he would bring a bird to me and that I would get a makable shot. Both happened, I just didn't connect. It was a case of what my Dad likes to call "pilot error."

To offset the disappointment, I recalled some of the other successful hunts I've had and the animals I have been fortunate enough to harvest this year -- two turkeys during the spring in Minnesota and Wisconsin, a turkey in the fall in Minnesota and a deer on the Minnesota firearms openerj Nov. 8. There's plenty of meat in my freezer, so I have lots of good meals of wild game to look forward to.

Not only that, I leave Friday for Great Falls, Mont. where I will be hunting elk and mule deer with my two oldest boys, Joe and Andy, and their Grandpa Bob Guditis. It should be lots of fun. I pray that God will bring animals into range and that he will help us shoot straight!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Prayback time

I picked up my son Andy's deer from Ptacek's IGA supermarket in Prescott, Wis. today. I was on my way back to the office after interviewing the newly-elected mayor of Hampton, Paye Flomo, a native of Liberia who's also Catholic.

After picking up the processed venison, which included several packages of maple sticks, I went on an important errand to a destination just a few blocks from the IGA. I paid a visit to the landowners who generously gave permission for Andy and I to hunt on their land.

After pulling into the driveway of Leonard and Judy Beskar, I rang their doorbell with a package of maple sticks in hand. Leonard answered the door and I was able to offer him a small token of appreciation for letting us hunt.

Then, a short while later, I was able to give him something even more important -- prayers. Leonard has suffered a variety of health problems over the last two decades and he currently is having lots of trouble with his lungs. In fact, he was hooked up to an oxygen machine when he answered the door.

I have felt a special prayer burden for Leonard over the years and our family prays for him daily at the dinner table. I also pray for him on my own and offer up prayers during my weekly hour of eucharistic adoration. On this day, I felt a special calling to pray for him, and that led me to his doorstep in Prescott.

As I laid my hand on him to pray, I thought about today's Gospel reading from Luke, in which the blind beggar cries out, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me." He refused to be silent until Jesus came over to talk to him. Then, he simply asked for his sight.

Sometimes, we make prayer too complicated. All God wants, I think, is for us to come to him simply and ask for his help and his healing. Then, when the prayer is finished, just trust in him.

Seeing Leonard's face renewed my desire to continue to pray for him. I was glad to have the chance to pray with him and to tell Leonard and Judy about the thrill of being with Andy when he harvested his first deer. Most, if not all, hunters, always will remember their first deer. I know it was a thrill for Andy and it is something we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

May God grant Leonard healing and encouragement as he continues to battle health problems.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Making the call

For the first time in my life, I called a game warden to report a violation. Actually, it was two violations that occurred Saturday on the firearms deer opener. The first was an act of vandalism in which someone tipped over my tripod stand. The second was an act of trespassing. Someone had walked across the field where my son, Andy, and I were hunting and went into the woods. He shot twice, but we never saw him.

On Monday, I decided to report it to the local game warden in Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota where we were hunting. His name is Tyler Quandt and I had a good conversation with him. He listened to my story, then said he would pay a visit to the property to check things out.

That's all I could ask. I doubt he'll catch the trespasser, but he is going to talk to the owners of the neighboring property, who just bought it within the last year. I have a feeling someone from that group crossed over onto the land we were hunting. There was no vehicle parked nearby, which leads me to believe it was someone who lived close by.

It's disappointing to deal with such hassles on opening day. I always look forward to that first morning in the stand and I really enjoy the anticipation of a deer walking quietly in front of me. Acts of vandalism and trespassing can ruin the mood. I had to exercise a lot of perseverance and faith to remain in the stand long enough to finally shoot a deer. Fortunately, God was faithful once again and I was able to harvest a buck.

But, this incident paled in comparison to what my father-in-law, Bob Guditis, experienced near Great Falls, Mont. He was hunting there a couple of weeks ago with his daughter and two sons-in-law when a neighbor roared up to them in his pickup truck and accused them of trespassing on his land. Bob is a civil engineer who is very smart and careful when it comes to land boundaries and he knew he and the others were on public land that was legal to hunt.

The landowner screamed obscenities at Bob's daughter and threatened her and the others. Bob ended up calling the game warden and the landowner was charged with assault and illegally driving a vehicle on public land. Hopefully, that will be the last of the trouble with this hostile landowner. We will be going out there to hunt this same land at the end of next week and I'm hoping for a peaceful experience and no confrontations with this guy.

This is one aspect of hunting that I find extremely challenging. Some people get carried away with greed when it comes to land and the animals that live there. They want it all to themselves and will resort to hostile means to keep others away.

But, we must be willing to share the land and share the harvest of game and fish. And, we should do it with a hospitable spirit, recognizing that we all are created equal and that God offers the natural resources for everyone to enjoy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Deer opener challenges

Saturday's firearms deer opener was a lesson in perseverance for my hunting party, which consisted of my two oldest sons, Joe and Andy, my friend, Bernie Schwab, and his son, Dan, my brother Paul and our friend, Jim Grill.

By Friday afternoon, I knew this was going to be a tough one. First, there was cold and wind swooping in to greet the state's deer hunters. Then, there was the sickness I was battling as I prepared to get up at 3 a.m. Saturday and head down to Red Wing.

The good news is, I felt pretty decent when we began our one-hour drive at 4 a.m. So, I was hopeful I could last in the stand as long as it would take to see a deer.

Honestly, I was hoping my wait wouldn't be long. Based on the location of my stand and the success we had had there the last two years, there was reason for optimism.

Unfortunately, my high hopes were dashed when I got to the stand between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and found that someone had vandalized it. The heavy tripod stand had been tipped over by vandals. We had just repaired it the previous weekend and got it ready to go, so someone had done this within the last week. Knowing the commotion probably would spook any deer nearby, I decided to tip the stand back up. Hopefully, deer might come through later on.

It took some serious huffing and puffing, but I was able to lift the stand up. I had to bend the shooting rail to straighten it back out, then it was fine. I really felt I was in a good spot and I put my trust in God and said a little prayer asking his blessing on my hunt.

Then, a little after 9:30 a.m., I saw a doe running out into the picked soybean field. She was at about 100 yards, running from my left to my right. Momentarily, I wondered why she would be running, then figured a buck might be chasing her. Seconds later, my suspicions were confirmed when a small buck came running out into the field after her. I tracked the buck through my scope and pulled on the trigger of my 12-gauge shotgun.

Nothing happened. I had forgotten to take the safety off. Oh well, it was fun just seeing the deer, and I figured I would see more. I recently had read that deer often move between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so I had four good hours ahead in which to see deer.

By that time, I had come to a grudging standoff with the cold. Though I was uncomfortable, I was not miserable and, therefore, I vowed to stay in the stand until 1:30, when I would leave to get my son, Andy, who was stationed a few hundred yards to the north.

I figured he would get a shot at something before then, as Bernie's son Dan had done from that same spot the previous two opening days. I did hear a shot coming from his direction and thought he had taken it, but we later figured out that a trespasser had walked into the woods between us and taken the shot.

The deer sighting gave me the confidence to stay put, and my patience was rewarded at about 12:30, when a deer walked out into the field at about 100-125 yards. It was slowly walking and feeding, right where the other two deer had run across.

This time, I very deliberately slipped the safety off of my shotgun and drew a bead on the deer. I fired and watched it take a little hop, leading me to believe I had hit it. Then, to my surprise it turned toward me and came running right at me. It reached the woods and was about 40 yards away. I shot again, then the deer turned to my left and paused briefly in a broadside position. I fired again, using the last shell in my chamber.

The deer then bolted down a trail and into some thick cover. Not good, I thought. I figured at least one of my shots had made a fatal hit, maybe all three. I waited just a few minutes, then climbed down to start looking for the deer. I knew it was a buck because I had spotted a small set of antlers while it was running into the woods.

I went right to the deer trail leading into cover and started looking for blood. I caught sight of a drop of blood on a leaf and knew I was on the right track. However, the terrain started to drop down and get really thick. I scanned the cover, then saw a head poking through a pile of downed tree branches.

Amazingly, the deer had veered off of the trail, crawled under the branches and turned around to face the area from which he had come. He probably was looking for the source of the danger he had just encountered. Immediately, I knew it would be tough work getting him out of there. Thankfully, a next-door neighbor who owns a four-wheeler gladly agreed to come over and help me.

That's when one of the highlights of the day occurred. The man's two young sons came with us and seemed to enjoy the little jaunt across the soybean field and into the woods. They were thrilled to see the deer and be part of the process of taking it out of the woods. Their dad is a hunter himself who recently had missed a shot at a big buck in Wisconsin with his bow. He was still a little bummed about that and was hoping to get back there for another try.

Meanwhile, he spent opening morning hunting a few miles down Highway 61 near Frontenac. But, he didn't see anything and he was going to go out in the afternoon and sit in a blind he had set up on his property. When we got back to our van with the deer, he was able to see his blind at the far end of a field and we watched as two deer, first a buck and then a doe, walked right in front of his blind. I felt bad about it, but he didn't mind. He had six more days left to hunt.

Later that afternoon, my friend, Bernie, shot a beautiful 10-point buck from a stand in which Andy and I had sat the past three openers. We had decided to switch locations this year and it paid off handsomely for Bernie. I was absolutely thrilled for him and proud to shake hands with him after I laid eyes on the buck.

My son, Joe, also connected on a whitetail, a beautiful adult doe that we were able to give to my brother, Paul, who did not see anything. That may have been the biggest shock of the day. Paul has hunted the same farm at the same spot for the last five years and shot a buck on opening day all five years. This time, he got blanked while hunting there with Jim Grill.

So, all in all, it was a successful, strange and challenging deer opener. But, as always, I thank God for the opportunity to hunt, for the fellowship with friends and family, and for the venison that soon will find a home in our freezers.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ready for deer

Saturday was a beautiful day -- great weather for the start of November. It didn't feel like deer hunting weather, but I had deer hunting on my mind as I prepared stands for the upcoming opener on Saturday.

I went down to Red Wing with my two oldest boys, Joe and Andy, and my friend Bernie Schwab and his son, Chris. Chris is too young to hunt, but will be sitting with Bernie on opening morning.

Our first job was to set up Joe's stand on a new piece of property we first discovered while turkey hunting in the spring. We saw several deer while out in the woods and Joe said he wanted to hunt there in the fall. So, we talked to the landowner and got permission.

I dropped Joe and Andy off for some scouting two weeks ago while I went turkey hunting on another farm. They saw several deer, including a nice buck. We put Joe's stand up in the area where he saw the buck. It's on one side of a ravine, with a trail going along the ravine near his stand and another trail crossing the ravine nearby. I think he'll see something there if he sits long enough.

Next, we went to a farm that Andy and I will be hunting. The landowner is very nice and asked if he could hunt with us this year. Of course, we said yes and brought a stand down for him. The stand was made by one of my co-workers at The Catholic Spirit, Jim Graham. He also built the stand we set up for Joe. First, we checked out a ground blind where Andy will sit. Bernie's son, Dan, shot a deer from that stand last year and got a shot at one the year before, but did not recover it. We know it will produce if Andy sits there all morning.

Then came the hardest task of the day -- fixing a tripod stand that I'll be using. The July storm that hit the area knocked off a large tree branch that fell onto the stand, damaging the shooting rail. With some hard work and prayer, we were able to fix it. We have shot deer from that spot the last two years and there is lots of deer sign there this year. I'm optimistic.

Finally, we went to another property to set up a ground blind for Bernie and Chris. We were having trouble finding a good spot, then I discovered a heavily used trail in the woods that crosses a ravine. So, they set up a ground blind nearby. We went to the property next door to drop off a chair at Dan's stand and then went home. All in all, it was a fun and productive trip. We're all ready to go for Saturday.

Here's the best part -- the weather is supposed to turn cold at the end of the week. By Saturday, highs will only be in the 30s. I have always seen more deer on days like this. In fact, they may move throughout the day. If we can dress warm enough, we all should have a good chance of seeing deer.

Fortunately, I already have practice sitting out in the cold. It was very cold the first day of my fishing trip on Lake of the Woods last week. I was able to dress warm enough for that. I doubt that Saturday will be any worse. Hopefully, the deer will find the weather to their liking.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Waiting for walleyes


I just returned from my annual October fishing trip on Lake of the Woods with my friend, Pete Wolney. It was our fifth straight year trying to take advantage of the annual migration of walleyes from the lake into the Rainy River.

We have done well the previous four years, always taking home our limit of walleyes. We were optimistic as we prepared to leave Sunday afternoon to fish all day Monday and Tuesday and then wrap up fishing by about 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

But, our hopes were dashed when a wicked cold front blew in on Sunday, with plummeting temperatures and howling winds. The cold and high winds continued on Monday, as we hit the water for our first day of fishing.

Not surprisingly, the fish were not biting. We caught only one small sauger and a keeper walleye of 17 inches. In previous years, we have landed more fish than that in an hour. Needless to say, we were discouraged and even thought about coming home early, like the next day if the slow action continued.

Leaving early is not something we ever had even considered the first four years. But, we did not want to sit out in the cold for hours and catch no fish. We decided to get up early and fish in the river right out in front of Adrian's Resort where we were staying. We had done well there in previous years and were hoping the weather and the fishing would improve.

And, that's exactly what happened. Within an hour, I landed a beautiful 21-inch walleye on a jig and a minnow. It had to be released because it fell within the protected slot of 19 1/2 to 28 inches. But, that didn't matter. We finally started catching fish. The action wasn't fast and the fish were biting light, but we still managed to get a two-man limit of eight walleyes by the end of the day.

We also experienced an amazing thrill in the afternoon, when Pete set the hook on a nice fish that he thought was a big walleye. As it continued to peel line off of his reel, I realized he had something bigger than a walleye. I thought it was a big northern, which are plentiful in this lake.

It turned out to be a monster sturgeon. It came up from the bottom and started coming up to the surface near the boat. Then, it flew out of the water right next to the boat and dove down again. As exciting as it was, Pete didn't want to fight it for 45 minutes to an hour, so he cut the line so he could keep fishing for walleyes.

I will never forget the image of that sturgeon going airborne next to the boat. We kept fishing that spot and caught a few nice walleyes before heading back to the river.

I should say, Pete caught some more walleyes. For some reason, he had the hot hand that day. He caught all but two of the keepers and landed a nice 24-incher that we released. Meanwhile, I was getting lessons in patience and humility that I wasn't all that interested in learning. My attitude soured for a while as I struggled with my lack of fish catching.

Then, strangely, the tables turned on our final morning, as I caught a beautiful 24-inch walleye within the first hour on the river in front of Adrian's. Pete added two 18-inchers, then we headed down river toward Four-Mile Bay and a nice spot where we always seemed to catch fish.

We anchored and I proceeded to catch about eight to 10 nice keepers, while Pete managed only one or two small fish. It was his turn to experience frustration, but he handled it much better than I had the day before. In fact, he said several times that he was really glad I started to catch fish. Maybe, he wanted to avoid a six-hour drive home with a frustrated fisherman.

That's the funny thing about these trips -- often, we take turns getting hot and catching most of the fish. Not sure why that is. We use the same jigs with the same minnows as bait. Perhaps, our jigging styles are just different enough that one will sometimes work better than the other.

The good part is, we always manage to take home our limit of walleyes. That goal was more important this year. I'm planning on taking my fish out west to Great Falls, Montana, where my first wife's parents live. Our whole family is going out over Thanksgiving week to spend time with my mother-in-law (Sharon Guditis) and father-in-law (Bob Guditis). I still call them my in-laws even though my first wife, Jennifer, is no longer living.

We will be going on an elk and mule deer hunt with Grandpa Bob on 150 acres of hunting land he owns about an hour away from Great Falls. Bob and Sharon both enjoy walleye and I'm glad to be able to have a fish fry for them. After all they do for us, it's nice to be able to do something small in return. I know we'll have a great time with them and I'm optimistic that we'll see animals on our hunt.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

An inspiring story

This morning, I read a great deer hunting story in a magazine I subscribe to called North American Hunter. The tale ends with a young man shooting a trophy buck, but that's not what had me inspired when I finished reading.

Jake Beckstrom suffered a tragic diving accident in 2005 that left him parazlyzed all the way up to his shoulders. Thanks to supportive family and friends, he was able to enjoy a whitetail deer hunt last year in Wisconsin using a special box blind and a shooting device to fire his crossbow.

In the story, Jake recounted the many weeks and months of physical therapy to help regain the use of his arms and hands. It was exhausting, but he was determined to do everything he could to be able to hunt again.

I'm not sure how many of us would work that hard just to be able to get out in the field and hunt out of a wheelchair. Of course, Jake had no other choice, but I'm impressed that, instead of falling into self pity, he channeled all of his energy into making the most of his limited mobility.

I don't know why God allows people like Jake to suffer such tragic misfortunes. If we're honest with ourselves, we realize we all have made mistakes that could have put us in the same situation as Jake. That we have been spared such an immense challenge should cause us to be grateful for God's mercy.

It also should motivate us to help people like Jake. I have a friend who loves to hunt and has taken men with disabilities out into the field. He has gone as far as Africa to give them premium opportunities. He just got back from a moose hunt in Canada with a man who has a mental disability. They didn't get a moose, but the man enjoyed the experience nonetheless.

At various times, I fantasize about what kinds of outdoor adventures I'd like to pursue -- moose hunting in Alaska, bass fishing in Mexico, turkey hunting in Iowa. Perhaps, my dream should be going out into the woods with someone like Jake.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Boat hibernation

With a touch of sadness, I put my fishing boat in storage on Friday. My co-worker at The Catholic Spirit, Jim Graham, lives out in the country and offered his barn for storage. I quickly agreed and he picked up the boat after he got off of work on Friday.

To ensure proper winterizing, I contacted Hannay's Marine in northeast Minneapolis for some tips. I was glad to find out that the marina offers a tip sheet for winterizing, along with the necessary products. The good news is, I didn't have to spend much to get what I needed.

Here's a summary of the important tips for every boat owner:

1. Batteries. Make sure you fully charge all of your marine batteries and disconnect the wires. As I learned from the company that manufactures the batteries I own, Northern, it's best to store batteries that are fully charged and to keep them outside in the cold. One of the principal people in the company assured me that batteries stored in this manner will be ready to go in the spring and not lose their charge. They also will last longer.

2. Outboard motor. The key here is to put fuel stabilizer (Stabil) in your gas tank and run the motor with this fuel for about 10 minutes. This ensures that the old gas is run out of the engine and is replaced by the stabilized fuel, which won't turn to varnish and corrode or gum up engine parts. Also, near the end, remove the engine casing and spray the carbuerators with a fogging fluid (Engine Stor).

3. Gear lube. The last step is to replace the gear lube, which is located on the lower unit. Hannay's recommends doing this once a year, preferably in the fall. First, you remove both screws and drain out the old fluid. Then, you pump the new fluid in and pump until it comes out of the top screw. You'll put in about 2/3 to 3/4 of a quart. In the process, you'll also flush out any water that got in.

I did all of these things the day before Jim picked up my boat and it only took about an hour. It was time well spent. I now have peace of mind about the condition of my boat for storage. I look forward to another fishing season with the boat next year.

This was a great year and my best ever for bass, in terms of size. I caught the biggest bass of my life, at 5 pounds, 11 ounces. Plus, I caught three others weighing more than 5 pounds and my two oldest boys, Joe and Andy, each caught one over 5. That makes 6 total over 5 pounds. There were two others that went about 4 3/4, and several more in the 4-pound range.

I will carry the memories of these big fish through the winter. But, I'm not done fishing just yet. My friend, Pete Wolney, and I are going up to Lake of the Woods next week for one last fishing trip.

It's an annual event for us and we fish the Rainy River during the annual migration of walleyes from the lake into the river. Shiner minnows come into the river every fall by the thousands and the walleyes follow. It's happening later this year, but both walleyes and shiners have started to come up river. So, next week should be good.

This is a great time to catch walleyes of all sizes, including big ones in the 8- to 10-pound range.
I talked to a guy earlier this summer who lives up there and fishes the lake throughout the year. He says the lake is producing more and more big walleyes and he thinks the slot limit imposed several years ago is making a difference. You have to release all walleyes between 19 1/2 and 28 inches, which, naturally, has led to an increased number of fish in that size range. We noticed that last year and hope it will be true again this year. Also, there are plenty of fish under 19 1/2 inches, which means we should catch plenty of fish for the frying pan. Can't wait for a meal of fresh walleye!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fall turkey harvest

I enjoyed a beautiful fall day near Red Wing yesterday afternoon. I spent the morning getting my fishing boat ready for storage, then headed southeast with my two oldest boys, Joe and Andy.

I dropped them off at a farm that Joe will be hunting for deer on the Nov. 8 firearms opener. They would spend the afternoon scouting, while I went to another farm nearby to try for a wild turkey. I got there about 4 p.m. and prepared to enjoy a crisp, colorful autumn afternoon.

Fall turkey hunting is significantly different than spring hunting and, in my view, much harder. Rather than being spread out like they are in the spring, fall birds often gather and move in big flocks, which means they can be harder to locate.

But, I was optimistic I would encounter birds, even though I would only be out in the woods for the last two hours of the day. The place where I was headed was a spot I hunt for deer every November.

I always see turkeys while in my stand during the last hour of daylight. They walk by and then fly up into trees to roost for the night. There are a lot of big oak trees in this spot, which offer both food (acorns) and large branches for roosting.

I climbed into the stand and decided to sit there until dusk, when legal shooting hours end. I did some occasional calling and heard lots of squirrels dashing about in the newly-fallen leaves.

Then, around 5:30, I looked east of the stand and spotted a red head glowing in the late-afternoon sunlight. Another bird was right behind it -- two big toms at about 60 yards or so. They were out of range and wouldn't come any closer. They disappeared behind some trees and continued their journey away from the stand.

In the spring, I could have tried calling these birds in with some seductive hen calls, but that doesn't work nearly as well in the fall. You can appeal to their flocking instincts and try to get them to join the group, but that works far better with hens and their young than it does with toms.

Oh well. It was fun just to see them and it got me to thinking about coming back in the spring to try for these gobblers.

I continued calling every 10-15 minutes, in the hope that these two gobblers might change their minds, or that some other birds might want to come in. But, the woods fell silent.

As the sun neared the horizon, I checked my watch, which read 5:55. There wasn't much time left, but I figured birds might come in to roost. Sure enough, a few minutes later, I heard some rustling to the east of my stand and caught some movement. A hen was walking westward and would eventually get even with my stand.

Problem was, its route of travel would not bring it within 40 yards, which is generally considered to be the maximum effective range of most shotguns. But, I decided I would try taking the shot. If this was the route the birds were taking to the roost -- and I was pretty sure it was -- this was as close a shot as I would get.

The bird disappeared behind some branches and leaves and I got my gun ready and looked to the next opening. In a few moments, the bird appeared, then stopped next to a tree and ran her head up, as turkeys often do.

Initially, I was going to wait for her to get past the tree, but, because she was standing so still and her entire neck and head were visible, I decided now was the time to shoot.

I pulled the trigger, half expecting the bird to run off unscathed. To my surprise, the bird went down and started flapping, as turkeys often do after they're shot. It didn't get up and I walked over to claim my prize.

It was a beautiful hen, which is legal in the fall but not in the spring. I prefer to take the hens in the fall and leave the toms for the spring. However, had the other two toms been closer, I definitely would have taken one of them. As it was, I was happy to take home this bird. It's my first fall turkey. I have come close on other occasions, but couldn't connect.

Here's the amazing part of this hunt -- I paced off my shot distance at 55 yards. Had I known it was this far, I might not have taken the shot. Yet, I had made a clean kill shot at 40 yards in the spring and had patterned the gun at 40 yards at the shooting range and found the pattern to be tight.

I was confident the gun could probably kill a bird beyond 40 yards, but was amazed it did such a great job at 55 yards. This does wonders for my confidence with this gun. It also helps me realize that I can push the limits of shooting distance if I need to.

It also makes me very glad I did some more experimenting with chokes and different types of shotgun ammo back in April. I settled on a choke made by a company called Comp-N-Choke. Not only does this company make excellent chokes, the staff has done extensive testing on different guns to determine which of its chokes works best with the various brands and models.

I called the company to help find the right choke for my Remington 1187 shotgun and got transfered directly to the company president, who made his recommendation. I was very impressed with the fact that I got connected all the way to the top. I ordered the choke and tried it out with the shell the president recommended -- Winchester Supreme High Velocity 3-inch magnums. They shoot beautifully in my gun.

This is, by far, the best choke and ammo combination I have ever used. I'm convinced I could not have killed this bird with any previous choke or ammo that I have tried. I'm glad I took the time to do some more experimenting.

I've got one more fall turkey tag to fill this fall -- in Wisconsin. The season there runs until Nov. 20. I'd like to get out after the corn is harvested. The birds are much easier to find then, as they love to feed in picked corn fields. I hope to be sitting along the edge of one when they do.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wisconsin whitetails


My son, Andy, was excited about the youth deer hunt in Wisconsin over the weekend. He was looking for his first deer and hoped it would come Saturday or Sunday.

We opened the weekend on a nice piece of land near Somerset owned by Buzz Kriesel, a parishioner of St. Michael in Stillwater. Joining us were Mark Druffner of Hudson, who also belongs to St. Michael, and his two oldest sons, Jake and Julian. Jake is Andy's classmate in 10th grade at Trinity School in Eagan.

Buzz had three spots set up for us. Andy and I took a two-man ladder stand in a cow pasture where deer like to cross. Jake and Julian hunted in ground blinds in the woods. I had planned to take my shotgun in case we saw any wild turkeys, but I forgot to take it out of the van. That would prove costly.

None of us saw any deer Saturday morning, but a flock of turkeys showed up about 10 a.m. and entered the cow pasture about 100-125 yards away. I called to them just to see what they would do. They all looked, then continued going through the pasture.

Surprisingly, within a few minutes, they turned and started walking right toward us. I got upset that I didn't bring my shotgun. It looked like they were going to come right to us. So, I climbed down the stand and ran toward them to try to break up the flock. If you do this, you can sit down and call them back in.

I was amazed that they didn't spook as I climbed down. Even more amazing, they stood there as I started running at them. I'll bet I got to within 25 yards before they all flew off. Sure enough, some of them flew in a different direction.

I got my shotgun, went into the woods and started calling. Immediately, some responded. After a few minutes, I heard a gunshot in the woods. They had flown right over to Jake and Mark, and Mark shot one. I was glad somebody was able to get one.

Later in the afternoon, we went to a farm near Prescott that has both alfalfa and soybeans. The person renting the land was harvesting soybeans when we arrived, but was done soon after we sat down in the woods. Also, the landowner's son had a group at one end of the farm that was shooting trap.

We told him we were going over to the other end, then headed over to an area I had scouted in the spring. At the corner of the property, there was a trail leading into the alfalfa from the neighbor's land, which had a tall grass field on the border. I knew deer would be using this trail, so Andy and I set up across the corner about 40 yards away.

Sure enough, a doe appeared about 20-30 minutes after we sat down. I had fallen asleep and saw the deer when I woke up. I was a few yards behind Andy in some cover. Meanwhile, Andy didn't see the deer until it was in the field and found himself locked in a staredown with the doe.

He stayed still as the deer continued to look at him. Then, it took a step toward the alfalfa and stopped again. Andy started to raise his gun, then the deer got nervous and turned to go back the way it came. Andy then mounted his gun, aimed at the deer's shoulder and fired. It went down, but was still alive. Andy got up, went over and took a finishing shot.

We pulled the deer back over to where we were sitting and laid it down in some brush. Then, we sat back down and waited to see if more deer would show up. Nothing came out near any of us, so I started field dressing the deer, while Mark went and got his truck.

We hastened the process when we saw an approaching thunderstorm. Within about 10 or 15 minutes of leaving the property, it started pouring. But, the storm passed quickly.

We were able to register the deer and drop it off for processing in Prescott. One thing I like about Wisconsin is that there are plenty of registration stations and deer processing facilities. We never seem to have trouble finding them, even when we don't know where they are. I should have researched this ahead of time, but Mark made a few calls on his cell phone and we found what we needed.

All in all, it was a great hunt. There is something special about your first whitetail and Andy was thrilled to harvest this nice doe, which was full of alfalfa and will provide some good eating. On Sunday, we followed our tradition of grilling the tenderloins. They were delicious. Can't wait to get the rest of the deer back.

This is the beginning of the hunting season for us. We have the Minnesota firearms deer opener Nov. 8, then it's on to Montana for an elk and mule deer hunt in late November over Thanksgiving weekend. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What's the Buzz?

This weekend, I get to visit one of the good friends I have made in my job at The Catholic Spirit. His name is Buzz Kriesel and he's an avid outdoorsman who lives in Wisconsin and belongs to St. Michael in Stillwater.

He and his wife, Jeannine, have a beautiful piece of land near the St. Croix River and I had the privilege of deer hunting there several years ago. I was fortunate to harvest my first Wisconsin deer there and, this weekend, my son, Andy, will have the same opportunity. Buzz has extended the invitation for Andy, his friend, Jake Druffner, and his brother, Julian, to hunt there during Wisconsin's youth deer hunting weekend Saturday and Sunday.

I'm excited to have the chance to witness Andy try for his first whitetail deer. He has had several close calls over the last three years and I'm hoping this will be the year he finally succeeds. We've had some memorable moments in the deer stand together and I cherish every opportunity we can spend in the field.

Thanks to generous landowners like Buzz, we'll be able to make more memories this weekend. Buzz is a great host and a great hunter and I truly thank God for his friendship and generosity. I know we'll have fun no matter the outcome.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Last bass of the year


I made what is likely my last bass outing of the season yesterday on the Minneapolis city lakes. It was a beautiful fall day -- about as good as it gets. My friend, Mark Lauer, joined me for what has become an annual fall event for the two of us.

I have struggled to catch fish in the fall, despite what I often read about it being a great time to catch fish, especially big ones. This time was no different -- that is, until about the last hour. Despite catching only one small bass and having a couple of muskies bite off our lures, we hung in there until later in the afternoon.

First, I caught a 19-inch bass that weighed 3 pounds, 12 ounces. Then, Mark caught one weighing 2 pounds, 11 ounces. We decided to head back to the landing and were going to stop at one last spot before calling it quits. At that spot, I caught a 20-inch bass that weighed 4 pounds, 11 ounces.

Once I landed the fish and had Mark take a few pictures, I put down the rod and we headed back to shore. It was a great way to end the season. Now, it's on to hunting. I'm going shooting with my son, Andy, this afternoon to get him ready for the Wisconsin youth deer hunt next weekend. If all goes well, he will harvest his first whitetail.

I'm praying God will bless him with that gift. There's something special about your first deer, regardless of whether it's a big buck or a small doe. I will always remember mine and will cherish that memory for the rest of my life.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Preparing for the hunt

A successful deer hunt starts in September. And, I'm not talking about the bowhunting season, which opened Sept. 13.

I'm talking about the firearms season, which begins Saturday, Nov. 8. Even though it is more than a month away and we haven't even had our first frost yet, now's the time to get ready.

That lesson was brought home last weekend when I went down to visit one of the farms we hunt near Red Wing. I went up the hill from the landowner's house to check on a tripod stand we used last year and had left set up. Turns out a large branch from a nearby tree had been dislodged by the storm that went through the area in July and was laying across the top of the stand. The impact of the fall, plus the weight of the branch, bent the shooting rail surrounding the swivel chair.

So, we had to make plans to come back and repair the damage. In addition, the landowner said he would like to hunt with us, so we are going to help him get started. We scouted his farm for a good place for him to hunt, plus I'm going to help him sight in his new shotgun. Then, on top of that, we need to sight in our own shotguns for slug hunting.

It's work, but I enjoy it. We got one of my son's shotguns sighted in earlier this week and I'm going to work on the landowner's one next. I belong to a local gun club, which makes this task much easier. With a rifle range that has targets set up at 25, 50, 100, 200 and 300 yards -- plus shooting benches -- we will be able to sight in our firearms with a high degree of confidence and accuracy. Plus, we can identify any problems that come up and will have time to resolve them.

Such preparation is huge. There's nothing worse than having a curve ball thrown at you on opening day and coming home empty handed because of it. I know. It's happened to me before and continues to happen despite my best efforts at preparation. One curve ball this year is the high number of downed trees from the July storm that brought a tornado through the area. My brother went to the farm he hunts and his stand was thrown so far away from the tree it was attached to that he never found it.

So, here's a gentle reminder to get ready for the upcoming firearms deer opener by doing two important things: 1. Check the land you'll be hunting, even if you hunt it every year, along with your stands, and 2. Be sure to sight in your firearms, even if you have left them alone since last season, and, especially, if you have left them alone since last year.

The sad truth in deer hunting is that you often don't get a second chance at a nice deer if you miss the first one.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bridge and bass

I took a little detour yesterday on my way to some bass fishing on the Minneapolis city lakes. The weather was beautiful and I relished the chance to do some late-summer fishing.

It so happened that this was also the day the new 35W bridge opened. I couldn't resist the chance to cross the bridge, so I altered my normal travel route to do so.

Over the course of my 47 years, I had crossed the old bridge many times. So, from that respect, another bridge crossing was nothing special. Yet, I couldn't help but wonder what it must have been like for the hundreds of folks who were on the bridge when it collapsed. When you're on the bridge, you don't get a sense of the vertical drop to the river. It's like when you are flying in a commercial jet, you don't get a sense of how high you're flying.

Thus, it was hard to have any fear about crossing. Actually, if anything, I was more confident than usual. After all, the bridge is brand new, built with the latest and greatest technology. Hopefully, this fact will put everyone's fears to rest, though I wonder if any of the collapse survivors will ever again feel comfortable crossing a bridge.

That is why it is important to keep them in our prayers. The effects of trauma can be long lasting. I know I still struggle with that in terms of my first wife's death from cancer. For a while, I had an inordinate fear of the disease, worrying that every ache or pain was a tumor.

That has abated, due, I think, to the grace of God over the passage of time. I believe God wants to heal everyone who has suffered some form of trauma. We just need to ask him and be willing to trust, not only his plan, but his timing. It may take a while -- longer than we would like -- but God is faithful and those who wait on him are never disappointed in the long run.

As for the bass, they were tight-lipped on this day. Every year, I hear how good fall bass fishing can be and every year I struggle to catch them in the fall. Someday, I hope to figure it out.

I don't walk away too disappointed, however. I've had the best summer of bass fishing in my entire life, so I am grateful for the great outings of July and August. I'll try for fall bass one more time before winterizing my boat. I promised my friend, Mark, I would take him out. Maybe I'll learn how to catch fall bass by then.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rain forest bass?

I am continually amazed at the number of priests I meet who enjoy the outdoors. I encountered yet another one yesterday after the ordination and installation Mass of Bishop John LeVoir in New Ulm.

As I was leaving, I saw Father Greg Schaffer, who serves as a missionary for our archdiocese in Venezuela. To my surprise, he said he reads and enjoys my monthly outdoors column in The Catholic Spirit.

We got to talking about the outdoors and he offered a unique opportunity. Not far from the Venezuelan mission is a fishing lodge that has become a hit with outdoors enthusiasts around the country and the world, including those who live in this archdiocese. The featured sport fish is called the peacock bass and it is said to rival the largemouth bass in fighting energy, plus it grows substantially bigger.

Father Schaffer said he would love to have me come down, visit the mission and fish for peacock bass. It's very tempting. I think I'll put that on my wish list. For now, I'll fish for largemouths closer to home.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

On the air

I got a unique opportunity on Friday to talk about faith and the outdoors on the air. I was invited by host Paul Sadek to appear on Relevant Radio for his weekly program called City Winds.

The invitation came earlier this summer and I jumped at the chance. First of all, I like Paul and think he does an excellent job on the air. Second, the outdoors is one of my passions and I enjoy talking about it whenever I can.

It ended up being a fun time and I would love the chance to do it again. Paul thinks that may happen. I told him it would be even better if we could do it from a fishing boat. But, then again, I generally don't talk while I fish, which my wife will tell you.

Here's the link to my interview with Paul Sadek.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Greed gone wild

I was excited on Saturday morning as I prepared to make the trip to Rogers and the Cabela's retail store located there. I had received a flier the week before and there was a spotting scope by a company named Barska that was going to be on sale for $39.99 for four hours only on Saturday. It normally sells for $99.99.

I called two days before the sale and talked to someone in the optics department. He said they had about 60 in stock, but I should try to come early if I could. Sometimes, he said, items on sale can sellout in half an hour. Originally, I was going to try to get there when the store opened at 8. Instead, I got there at 8:40.

I rushed back to the optics department and looked for the spotting scopes. They were gone. Long gone, said one of the men behind the counter. In fact, they sold out in five minutes. Needless to say, I was disappointed.

That disappointment turned to anger when I found out what had happened. Some guys showed up as early as 7:15 and there was a mad rush to the optics department when the doors opened at 8. Guys were loading up on the spotting scopes, with some filling shopping carts with them. A checkout clerk said she saw one guy with 10.

I speculated on what a person would do with 10 spotting scopes. Sell them in the parking lot for a higher price to those who didn't get there fast enough? No, the clerk said. The buyers would go home and sell them on e-Bay.

To me, that is not only unethical, it's downright disgusting. I call it a classic case of greed. Unfortunately, Cabela's could have prevented such a thing from happening by following the warning it printed on the flier I received in the mail. On the last page was a note that said Cabela's reserves the right to restrict quantities. In this case, that didn't happen and lots of people, including me, walked away disappointed.

To make matters worse, Cabela's was selling a spotting scope almost identical to the one on sale, but this one sold for $119.99. In fact, I picked one up and went to the optics counter, thinking I had found one of the scopes on sale. That's when he informed me of the higher-priced near copy.

I want to think well of Cabela's and not accuse the store of bait and switch. But, it wouldn't be hard to have that suspicion, based on what I saw. I made complaints to several people in the store and was offered a $30 discount on another spotting scope of my choice. That's only half of the discount offered on the sale item, but at least it was something.

What bothers me more is the greed. Sure, it's legal to buy down the inventory of a sale item, but I think it violates the spirit of the sale. Cabela's, I'm sure, intended for lots more folks to be able to take advantage of the sale price. And, I suspect store managers will be much more inclined to exercise their quantity limits in the future.

For now, I merely say to those who grabbed as many spotting scopes as they could on Saturday and then tried to resell them -- lighten up on the greed.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Patience rewarded

On three trips in a row to the Minneapolis City lakes, I was able to land a bass weighing more than 5 pounds. Last Thursday, I was hoping to make it four in a row.

The weather was beautiful as I departed from the landing on Lake Calhoun. Optimism was running high as I pulled up to my first spot at about 10 a.m. Just a week earlier, my son, Joe, and I each had landed bass weighing 5 pounds, 3 ounces from this spot.

This time? Nothing. I worked it for a while with a jig and plastic trailer but managed only one biteoff from either a muskie or northern pike. No bass.

So, I went to another spot that had produced in the past. I found some nice fish on the end of a small point and caught about four or five. The wind picked up and made it very hard to fish this spot. So, I decided to go back to my first spot and see if there was anything going.

There was. I decided to try something considered to be a big-fish bait -- a Berkley Powerhawg. The bass liked this large offering and chomped down on it aggressively. I landed several nice fish off of this long point, but they were concentrated in one small area. I tried working other sections of this structure, but caught nothing.

I then went back to the small area again, but the fish went quiet. It was around 4 p.m. and I decided to make one more pass over this spot before heading in to shore. As I did so, I switched from the Powerhawg to my top go-to bait -- a Berkley Ribbontail worm.

I pitched it to the spot and felt a light bite. Because of the earlier action, I instinctively reeled down and set the hook. The rod doubled over and the fish didn't move for a second or two. Then, it slowly plodded away along the bottom. Big fish. I had only 8-pound test monofilament line, so I played the fish carefully. I got it up to the surface, let it thrash a bit, then lip-landed it.

I pulled out my son's digital scale and weighed the fish -- 5 pounds, 2 ounces. I had caught a 5-pound bass for the fourth trip in a row. It has been a fabulous summer on these lakes and I'm eager to see what the fall holds.

Monday, August 18, 2008

In the crosshairs

Hunting season is weeks away, but my thoughts turned to autumn on Saturday, as I pulled a Tika .308 rifle out of its case.

My sister-in-law, Ginny Ulrich, handed me the firearm on behalf of her dad, Bob Guditis, of Great Falls, MT, who also happens to be my two oldest boys' grandfather. After much looking, he found a left-handed rifle for my son, Andy, to use on our upcoming deer and elk hunt in Montana in November.

Last fall, when we went to Montana to hunt antelope with Grandpa Bob, he gave Andy and his older brother, Joe, each a rifle to use and keep -- .25-caliber super short magnums complete with scopes. But, the guns both were for right-handed shooters and Andy is left-handed. So, Andy used the gun, but Bob kept it and promised to find Andy a right-handed rifle.

A few weeks ago, he called me with the news that he had finally found one. Needless to say, Andy was thrilled with the news. So was I. This will allow us to capitalize on a golden opportunity to hunt near Great Falls for the second year in a row. After coming close but failing to get an antelope on the last hunt, the boys are hoping to harvest both an elk and a deer. Their tag is good for both, and they can shoot either sex.

They got special tags that Montana offers to youth who are sponsored by either a resident or a nonresident who possesses a big-game combination license (for both elk and deer) for that calender year. Grandpa Bob qualified and sent me a special form that he filled out and signed. I then filled out the applications and mailed them in along with Bob's form and got the boys' tags a couple weeks later. It was simple.

The best part was the tags cost only half the price of the normal nonresident big-game combination tag. Instead of paying $648, we paid $324 each. Actually, Granpa Bob paid for one of the tags, so I had to spend only $324 for both tags.

Any Minnesotan who has hunted in another state -- particularly out west -- knows that this price is cheap for a nonresident license. There is some serious price gouging going on when it comes to license fees for nonresidents, so I felt very fortunate to be able to get these tags at such a modest price. Then, last week, some cow elk tags went on sale and I bought one of those so that I could hunt alongside the boys.

I don't know what we would do with three elk, but I'm not worried about that right now. To be honest, I would be thrilled with just one. Elk meat is absolutely delicious and I would love to have some in the freezer. And, if we happen to get more than one elk, I will just give meat away to friends and family. It is so good that I am confident none of it will go to waste.

In the meantime, I have more bass fishing left to look forward to, plus my annual fall fishing trip to Lake of the Woods with my friend Pete Wolney, a high school classmate of mine from Totino-Grace High School in Fridley. This will be our fifth trip up there and we have done well so far, especially last year, when Pete caught a walleye just over 28 inches and had it mounted. I lost a big one and am hoping for another chance at a lunker this year. Despite the cold, this is one fishing trip neither of us would want to miss.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The bass before the storm


As my son, Joe, and I headed toward the Minneapolis city lakes yesterday, he expressed skepticism about our search for largemouth bass. Like many anglers, he assumes August is a slow month for fishing.

Au contraire! My experience has shown that August can be excellent for fishing, especially for my favorite species, the largemouth bass. I routinely do well during this month and, in fact, landed my largest bass of last year in the middle of August on the city lakes.

I told Joe I thought I could catch a 20-inch bass during our trip and even made a friendly wager with him. Because I forgot to bring any kind of length-measuring device, we would go by weight. If I caught a bass 5 pounds or bigger, he would buy me dinner -- unless he caught a bigger one.

Things started slowly as we tried Spot No. 1. Then, the action got dramatically better on Spot No. 2. One of the first fish that came to the gunwale looked close to the mark, but was a little short. Then, not long after, I hooked into a bigger fish. As I got it close to the boat, I turned to Joe and said, "I think you just lost the bet."

Sure enough, the fish weighed 5 pounds, 3 ounces on Joe's digital scale. But, we had lots of time left.

I'm proud to say that Joe did not lose the bet. A short time later, he caught a fish that weighed exactly the same as mine. A tie. We caught some other nice fish, but neither of us could top those two lunkers.

Unfortunately, our trip was cut short by a severe thunderstorm that blew in fast and produced heavy rains, thunder and lightning. Because of the ban on outboard motors, we had to rely on our electric motor to get us in. The storm caught up to us and soaked us with a zesty downpour. We were able to reach a bridge built over a channel and waited out the storm there with several canoeists.

Just before we quit fishing, Joe landed another nice bass weighing 4 pounds, 12 ounces. I'm amazed at the number of big fish that are landing in my livewell this summer. I'm doing a lot of things I have done in the past, but with much better -- make that bigger -- results.

I'm glad that it worked out this way. Truth is, I was hoping Joe would catch a big bass. He starts school next week and this is a good way to end the summer. It was also a chance for me to spend some quality time with him. In less than two years, he'll be out of high school and, probably, out of the nest. That's hard for me to think about, but it makes it more important to enjoy the time with him at home while I can.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Measuring up

When I was a kid, it would have never occurred to me to measure the length of a fish. Now, it's a routine practice. Part of it is curiosity in wanting to know how big the fish is.

Most of it, however, has to do with the modern-day slot limits imposed on many lakes. Most people have adopted the practice and are willing to release fish that fall inside a lake's protected slot.

Sometimes, that isn't enough. I read a sad case in the pages of a local hunting and fishing newspaper called Outdoor News. A columnist for the paper, Gary Clancy, a widely-known outdoorsman who has written books on hunting and has written newspaper and magazine articles for decades, recounted a recent experience on Upper Red Lake.

He and some friends had a successful day on the water, catching more than 100 walleyes. But, due to a slot limit requiring the release of fish between 17 and 26 inches, they only kept six. So, they came back to the boat landing short of their limit of three fish apiece.

When they got back, a game warden was waiting for them. He measured their two biggest fish and told them they measured 17 1/4 inches, which was in violation of the law. Clancy thought the warden would take those two fish away, give them a warning and leave.

He was wrong. The warden gave them a ticket for the two fish, which carried a fine of $190. Clancy was upset and described his anger in the column. He said he made an honest mistake due to the fact that he and his friends didn't have the best measuring tool with them at the time.

If Clancy's version of the story is true -- and I have no reason to believe otherwise -- I think it's a shame. I feel this is an overzealous move by the game warden. For the most part, I think the DNR does a good job in managing our state's natural resources. But, I think a fine of $190 for two fish measuring just 1/4 inch over the 17-inch line is excessive and unnecessary. Percentage wise, it's the equivalent of getting a ticket for driving 56 mph in a 55 mph zone.

In light of this comparison, I don't know how the DNR can justify such an act. As a taxpayer, I don't feel it's a good use of enforcement resources. I would rather the enforcement officers spend their time looking for the gross violations, like five, 10, 20 or more fish over the limit. Those are the ones that really hurt the resource. And, unfortunately, these types of offenses happen all too often.

I say let's leave people like Clancy alone. I read his column regularly and even have e-mailed him for advice. He always answers and I have profited from his wisdom on several occasions. I don't think he's the type of person the DNR should be punishing. Someone from the DNR once told me that wardens have some leeway in deciding whether or not to issue a citation.

I think wardens like the one who gave Clancy a ticket should do a better job of exercising it.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Walleye heaven?

I just got back from a four-day trip to Lake of the Woods at Adrian's Resort with the winner of this year's Catholic Spirit youth essay contest, Cody Lensing of Shoreview, and his father, Merl. The details of the trip will be featured in an upcoming issue of The Catholic Spirit.


So, I can't give too much away right now. But, I can say this: Although Lake of the Woods has lots of walleyes and is a popular destination for walleye anglers, it is by no means an easy lake to fish.

Its size means the fish have miles and miles of water to roam, and roam they do, especially in the summer months of July and August. It pays to do some serious research about fish location before you head out on the water.

Perhaps a more important factor, especially at this time of year, is the weather. Of particular importance is the wind. The stronger it blows, the more challenging it is to both get to your location and control your boat.

A popular method of fishing on this lake is anchoring and jigging. If you are going to do this, it is crucial to have an anchor that will hold. Two factors to consider are weight of the anchor and style.

I can tell you one thing: Mushroom-style anchors are almost worthless on this lake when it gets rough. Anchors with some type of spike or spikes are effective at digging into the bottom and holding fast. Some anglers like attaching heavy chains to their anchors to add more weight. Finally, don't forget to let lots of rope out when you drop anchor. A good rule of thumb is to let out one-and-a-half to two times the depth of the water you're fishing. For example, at 30 feet (a popular depth at this time of year), you would let out anywhere from 45 to 60 feet of anchor rope.

These are the types of lessons you will learn if you fish this lake. If you do your homework and are prepared, you won't have to learn them the hard way. Of course, another approach to fishing this lake that avoids all of these issues is to hire one of the many charter boats operating out of the resorts.

Even if you bring your own boat, it might not be a bad idea to book a charter the first day of your trip to figure out where the fish are and what presentations work best. Or, you can go on a charter if the water is too rough for your boat. Either way, you will gain valuable knowledge that will help you later on in your trip or on future trips.

Bottom line: This is a lake worth getting to know. The fishing has been great for the last several years and it has a more generous slot than many other lakes, including Upper Red, which isn't quite as far north. On Lake of the Woods, you can keep four walleyes and have to throw back anything between 19 1/2 and 28 inches. On Upper Red, you have to throw back anything between 17 and 26 inches and can keep three fish.

I have fished both lakes and, let me tell you, that extra 2 1/2 inches on Lake of the Woods is huge. Not only does it mean you can keep bigger fish, but more of them. On all of my trips there in the last four years, we have caught fish between 17 and 19 1/2 inches and it is great to be able to drop them into the livewell. Part of the fun is anticipating the fish fry that comes later.

This is precisely what keeps me coming back to Lake of the Woods.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dwindling supply

I got some unsettling news earlier this week: The bait that I used to catch the largest bass of my life July 20, weighing 5 pounds, 11 ounces, is no longer being made.

It's called a Ribbontail worm and it was manufactured by Berkley. Not only did I use it to catch a 21-inch bass and two 19-inchers on that wonderful day on the water, but my son, Andy, caught the biggest bass of his life on the same bait the following week. His lunker bass was slightly longer than 20 inches and weighed 5 pounds, 2 ounces.

After making this startling discovery, I did two things: 1. I called Berkley and got on the phone with a high-ranking manager, Ron Kliegl, who, interestingly, was part of the group of people who made the decision to stop making the Ribbontail; and, 2. I went on an all-out search to find more. I was down to my last package and really wanted to keep using them for a long time.

I was able to find one package at a local store. It was the third store I tried and it had exactly one package left, so I bought it. I also found some on Berkley's website and ordered several more packages, which have been shipped and should land on my doorstep in a few days.

So, I think I'm set for now. This supply should carry me through the end of this fishing season. It's next year and beyond that I am worried about. Maybe I'm being too paranoid. After all, Berkley still makes its standard Powerworm. And, aren't they close enough to the Ribbontail that they will catch fish just as effectively?

Maybe. But, the bass have spoken and said they like the Ribbontail, so I'm not inclined to change this offering. And, at least for a little while, I won't have to. But, unless I am able to convince the company to start making them again -- which I tried to do by pleading with Ron on the phone and sending him a follow-up e-mail -- I will have to find a suitable equivalent. I'm not convinced the Powerworms are close enough to lure the big bass into biting, but I truly hope the fish will prove me wrong.

In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy fishing the Ribbontails I have left and count my blessings that a few of them still reside in my tackle box.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Deja vu


After hearing about my successful bass outing on the Minneapolis City lakes last Sunday, my son, Andy, wanted to go out and experience it for himself. He likes bass fishing just like I do and was eager to get out on the water.

So, we went yesterday, hoping the big fish were still on the weedlines and willing to bite. They were. Each of us landed a 20-inch bass. Mine weighed 5 pounds, 4 ounces and his weighed 5 pounds, 2 ounces. Interestingly, his fish was about 1/4 to 1/2 inch longer than mine. Mine was exactly 20 inches and his was slightly longer.

The best part for me was being able to share the experience with him and watch him catch his biggest bass ever. He caught a 21-incher four years ago, but it was lean and weighed about 4 3/4 pounds.

His fish yesterday definitely was fatter. In fact, the fish are running heavier than I have ever seen. Usually, they are a bit lean in July. They are just coming off the spawn and are starting to fatten up. Strange thing is, the spawn happened later this year because of the unusually cold spring and early summer. Obviously, the fish are in great shape.

I'm looking forward to getting back out on the city lakes, but first, I will go to Lake of the Woods next week with the winner of this year's youth fishing essay contest, Cody Lensing of Shoreview. He and his father will be joining me for three days at Adrian's Resort. Hopefully, the weather will be good and the walleyes cooperative.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wallhanger

I made a trip to the taxidermist earlier this week. After some deliberation, I decided to mount the 21-inch bass I caught on Sunday. It's the biggest bass I have ever caught, weighing 5 pounds, 11 ounces on my digital scale. It also was a very nice-looking fish with no oddities or damage to its skin or fins.

I called my friend Steve and he recommended a place called Minnesota Valley Taxidermy in Burnsville. The owner, Jack Cudd, has done several mounts for Steve that he's been very happy with. And, Steve recently caught a 30-inch walleye that he's going to bring to Jack.

When I called Jack, I discovered that he does lots of fish mounts, including bass. In fact, he did the mount of the state record bass (8 pounds, 15 ounces) caught by Mark Raveling on Oct. 3, 2005. I saw the picture of the finished mount and that got me pumped about my fish.

Fortunately, my fish was in excellent condition and Jack said that will help ensure a colorful and lifelike mount. I tried to be conscientious about handling the fish carefully and getting it into the freezer right away when I got home. Jack said proper field care of fish is very important to the quality of the finished mount.

He said the number one thing anglers should do is try to preserve the skin color of the fish. Fish, especially walleyes and trout, can lose skin color fast, even before they die. He recommends killing a fish right after landing it, smearing borax on the skin, putting it in a plastic bag and then putting it on ice. Once you're ashore, put it in the freezer as soon as possible.

If you've done all of this correctly, there's no hurry to take the fish to a taxidermist. Jack says the fish will remain in good condition for a long time -- up to two years. The important thing is to prevent the skin from fading because lost color is hard to replace, even with paint.

In my case, the skin color was nice and dark like it should be, even though I didn't use borax. Jack said bass don't fade as quickly as walleyes and trout, which is why I was able to get away with not using borax.

While talking to Jack, I also learned that taxidermists are very good at knowing the true length and weight of fish. He said lots of people bring in 19-inch bass thinking they weigh more than 5 pounds. But, a 19-inch bass generally weighs about 4 pounds.

That jives with what I have seen. I weighed one of the 19-inchers I caught on Sunday and the scale read exactly 4 pounds. That's why I'm so proud of the 21-inch fish -- it's a legitimate 5-pound-plus bass. I've been waiting a long time for a fish this big and I look forward to getting the mount back. In the meantime, I'll start trying for a 22-incher!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Big bass bonanza

Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by the largemouth bass. I think I was first hooked when I watched the late Curt Gowdy's weekly fishing program, the American Sportsman. He often would fish for bass in Florida and usually tied into some big ones.

I've been trying to do the same here in Minnesota. Specifically, I wanted to catch a fish over 20 inches and weighing more than 5 pounds. Within the last few years, I have reached the 20-inch mark twice, but neither fish weighed 5 pounds. One of those fish came from Lake Calhoun last summer.

Over the last few years, I have done a lot of bass fishing on the Minneapolis City lakes -- Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and Cedar. I know these lakes have the size fish I am looking for and I figured it was just a matter of time before I tied into one.

That time came on Sunday. I had specifically picked this day because it came the day after a busy six-week stretch of photographing weddings every weekend. I shot one both on Friday and Saturday and decided to reward myself with fishing on Sunday.

The alarm went off at 7 a.m. and I was tired, so I fell back asleep. I woke up again about 8:15 and was leaning toward staying in bed. Then, I looked out the window and saw bright sunshine. Something inside me said I needed to get out on the water, so I did.

It was a beautiful day and the city lakes were bursting with people in kayaks, canoes and on the beaches. The fishing was slow at first and I wondered if all of the human traffic was playing a role. Then, around 11:30 or 12, I started catching fish. My first bass of the day was a plump 17-incher that inhaled my plastic worm. That was a good sign. I figured I would catch more and I was right. Within an hour, I caught an 18-incher, then a 19-incher.

At about 2 or 2:30, I moved to another area and was going to fish two spots that had produced in the past. On the first one, I popped a 21-incher that weighed 5 pounds, 11 ounces on my digital scale (in photo, on the right). Then, just a short while later, I caught my second 19-incher of the day (in photo, on the left). Even though the fish were going, I quit fishing and headed in so I could make 5 p.m. Mass at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. I wanted to give thanks to the Lord for the nice fish He gave me.

The good news is, there is lots of summer left. On these lakes, the fishing gets really good later in July and all through August and into September. And, I'll be there to try and catch them. I'd be happy to land some more big fish, but I'm thankful just to have the opportunity to enjoy beautiful weather and good fishing. Thanks be to God!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Five-star service

Good service can be hard to find in this day and age. Sometimes, it's tough enough to speak to a live human being on the phone, let alone get the results you're hoping for.

That's why I'd like to pass along an outstanding example of customer service I had this week. It came at a place called the Motor Clinic in Bloomington, a factory-authorized service center for MinnKota electric trolling motors. Back in February, I bought a reconditioned MinnKota Maxxum bow-mount trolling motor for the Crestliner fishing boat I had recently purchased.

I worked with one of the shop's technicians, a guy named Terry Nordby. He's been at it a long time and really knows his stuff. When I described my boat and the type of fishing I do, he recommended the Maxxum with 80-pound thrust. He did the wiring of the motor for my boat and got it ready to go. There was some question about the shaft length and whether I might need a longer shaft. But, Terry said not to worry. "I'll take care of you," he reassured me.

Starting last week, he did. First, he helped me diagnose a problem with the battery wiring. There was a bad fuse on one of the wires and it blew while I was running the motor on Lake Calhoun. Terry said to replace all of the fuses with breakers. I did and the problem went away.

Next, I discovered that the shaft was, in fact, too short. When I put my two oldest boys in the back, the front of the boat came up and the prop of the electric motor was barely under the surface. So, I called Terry and he said to come down to the shop to exchange this motor for another one with a longer shaft.

So, I came in on Wednesday and he pulled out another Maxxum with a 62-inch shaft, the longest one available for that motor. He did the wiring, mounted the quick-release plate and even helped me slide the motor onto my bow. He got it all done in about three hours, even though he was very busy with lots of other work.

When I thanked him at the end, he merely smiled and said, "I told you I'd take care of you."

He did, indeed, and I called one of the shop managers and told him the story, then wrote a letter to the company president, Steve Baumann. I'm sure Terry's not looking for recognition, but I think service like this should be acknowledged. Thanks to Terry, I look forward to enjoying the rest of the fishing season.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Storm damage

When I heard that last week's storm went through Goodhue County and included a tornado touchdown, I took notice. Our family hunts there for both deer and wild turkey, so I went on-line for more details of the storm's path of destruction.

It turns out the tornado touchdown occurred three miles east of the small town of Vasa, which is located a few miles south and west of Red Wing. I looked on a map and discovered that two farms where we hunt were located three miles east of Vasa. I have gotten to know one of the landowners very well, so I e-mailed him to ask about damage on his farm.

Sure enough, the storm hit his farm and did some damage to both the house and barn. In addition, the crops may be a total loss, depending on what the insurance adjustor said. I felt bad for him, but he seemed to be in good spirits. He is a very devout Christian and I know he will rely on the Lord to get him through. He has a regular job that he works and rents out the land to someone who grows crops on it, so I think he will be OK financially.

I feel for those farmers who aren't so fortunate. It's too bad the much-needed July rain brought damaging winds with it. It's hard to know what good can come out of something like this, but God's word says it clearly in St. Paul's letter to the Romans: "All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his decree."

This is a verse that should comfort anyone dealing with tragedies such as this. At the same time, the "good" that God brings often is not evident when such an event occurs. That's where faith comes in. I must admit, I fall short in that department. And, that is exactly why I often pray a prayer that is found elsewhere in Scripture:

"I believe, Lord, help my unbelief."

Monday, July 7, 2008

The agony of defeat

I was so close I could taste it. It was my annual Fourth-of-July fishing outing with my good friend, Dave Altman. We were on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis at 7:30 a.m. the morning of the Fourth. The weather was gorgeous and we caught bass on the first spot we tried that day.

The fish seemed to be active, so I suggested heading across the lake to a spot where we had caught fish before. In fact, I caught my two biggest bass last year on that spot -- a 20-incher and a 19 1/2-incher. I was pumped for tangling with some big fish.

I turned my new electric trolling motor up to full power and headed for the spot. We were almost within casting range when the motor died. This created a huge dilemma -- the lake does not allow the use of outboard motors and we had neither a backup electric motor (I left it at home) nor any oars.

So, we were stranded. There was only a slight breeze and we would have to wait a long time for the boat to drift into shore. Then, we would have to walk the boat along the shore and across a channel to the boat landing.

Finally, I decided to try to reach the Minneapolis Police Department so I could get permission to start up my outboard motor and get back to the landing. I dialed 911 and got transfered to the Minneapolis Park Police, who gave me permission to use the outboard.

Thus, the fishing trip ended soon after it had begun. I went home very disappointed. It's not easy getting both good weather and good fishing on the same day. Not only that, Dave and I didn't get the time on the water together that we both enjoy and look forward to every year. We've had some memorable trips on the Fourth and this outing could have ranked up with the best, based on the way it started.

Because no repair shops or hardware stores were open on the Fourth, I had to wait until Saturday to start diagnosing the problem. I ended up taking the boat and motor to the Motor Clinic in Bloomington, the MinnKota electric trolling motor factory-authorized repair shop where I had bought the motor in February. It was a reconditioned Maxxum 80-pound thrust bow-mount trolling motor and I was able to have the repair technician who sold me the motor take a look at it.

I took the motor off the boat and brought it into the shop. Terry, the technician, plugged it in and tried it. To my surprise, the motor worked fine. We then went outside and Terry examined my 24-volt battery system and said one of the fuses looked blown. He wasn't able to pull it out because the plastic housing had melted and deformed. He suggested that I buy circuit breakers to replace the fuses, which I did. I will try to install them and, hopefully, get the motor back up and running. After all, there are lots of bass out there waiting to be caught.

If I can get this motor problem fixed, I will call Dave back to get out on the water again. He is a model of patience and he helped calm me down on the water when the motor quit. I'm grateful to have strong Christian and Catholic friends like him. May God grant us another opportunity to chase bass together on Lake Calhoun!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Staying sharp

On a bass fishing outing yesterday, I watched painfully as my fishing companion for the day lost several nice bass. After this happened, I decided to check his hook to see how sharp it was. The fish were hitting our plastic worms aggressively and engulfing them. Usually, when this happens, you end up hooking almost every fish.

When I checked his hook, I found the problem -- it was dull. Very dull, in fact. So, he pulled out a small sharpening device and put the edge back on the hook.

It's one of the little things that makes a big difference in the number of fish people catch. I studied the issue about 10 or 15 years ago and even saw microscopic photos of hook points in a book about fishing that "drove the point home." I have been meticulous about hook sharpness ever since, even to the point of buying a $40 sharpening device.

I'm pleased with the results I have gotten with this tool, but you can buy a sharpener for a few dollars and get good results. And, it takes only seconds to file your hook point. Or, if you don't want to go to the bother of sharpening, you can buy hooks that are sharp right out of the package. Gamakatsu hooks are among the best and I have used them for years with great results. Not only is the hook point extremely sharp, but I can catch quite a few fish on it before it starts to get dull.

The bad news is you cannot resharpen the hook once it gets dull. And, these hooks are a little spendy. But, how do you weigh that against being able to hook and land a big fish. I use Gamakatsu plastic worm hooks and I am after big bass. I want to know that, when a 20-inch or bigger fish hits my offering, I'll be able to get it into the boat. As fish get older and bigger, their mouths get tougher, so a sharp hook is even more important when you're after bigger fish.

With lots of fishing left this summer -- not to mention fall -- now's the time to get your hooks sharp.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Over the limit

I recently read about a fisherman who was caught with 45 walleyes over the limit on Lake of the Woods. Every time I hear about cases like this, I get angry.

I thought about it on Saturday, when my wife, four kids and I were returning from a two-hour volunteer shift at Feed My Starving Children, an organization that sends food to hungry children in third-world countries. It was against this backdrop that I pondered the case.

On the one hand, taking this many fish from a lake so large doesn't seem like such a big deal. If there's a lake that can handle this kind of harvest, it's Lake of the Woods, which may hold more walleyes than any other lake in Minnesota.

On the other hand, when you consider the thousands of children around the world who are starving and often don't get even one nutritious meal a day, keeping this many fish seems like pure gluttony.

In fact, I believe it is. We live in a time when an ever-increasing number of people are harvesting fish and game from our woods and waters. Therefore, it is crucial to the continued health of our natural resources to follow the laws and exercise self-control when it comes to how much we take home.

Case in point: A recent half-day trip to Upper Red Lake. While on vacation near Bemidji, I took the family to Upper Red Lake to try and catch some walleyes. We caught walleyes all right, but couldn't seem to find any outside the protected slot of 17-26 inches. We caught only a few shorter than 17 inches, but I felt they were too small to keep. So, we left the lake at sunset with no walleyes.

Yes, we were all disappointed. But, I had the satisfaction of knowing that I followed the laws and taught my wife and kids to do the same. That's more important than keeping fish, especially illegal ones. And, if everyone practices this kind of conservation, we will help make sure our children and grandchildren have lots of fish to catch. I, for one, want to leave that kind of outdoors legacy.