Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter's here!

We knew it was going to come sooner or later, but the first snowstorm of the year was still a shock when it descended upon us last night. After a balmy November, I think many people -- myself included -- thought that perhaps Old Man Winter might go easy on us this year.

But, this morning's white landscape and blowing snow clearly told us that the party's over. So, too, perhaps, is my jogging for the winter. I've been wondering lately how I'm going to handle my walking/running program once the snow flies.

I'm still not sure, but I didn't go out this morning. I felt uneasy about trying to run or walk under these conditions. A good portion of my route is on sidewalks and I figured that a good chunk of the sidewalks would not be cleared of snow. Another problem is that there are no sidewalks in some of the places I go, which means running on the streets. And, I knew some of the streets would still be unplowed this morning.

So, the safest thing was to hold off for today. As for tomorrow, I'm not sure. Most likely, I will try walking. I'm hoping for cleared streets and sidewalks. I'm also hoping there are no slippery spots. The good news is we did not have any rain or freezing rain before the snow started. That can be a major problem. I'm glad this storm was all snow.

The snowfall also got me to thinking about the wildlife across the state and how the animals are faring. I remember what a longtime wildlife biologist told me about turkeys (I think the same applies to deer as well) -- as long as they can find food, they'll be fine. Cold won't hurt them.

There's probably more standing corn than usual, so that will be a great help for the critters. What's nice about standing corn is that it is still accessible when there is snow on the ground, even lots of it. So, this winter should be a good one for wildlife. I just hope all of those mature gobblers survive and stay healthy until the spring, when I will go after them once again. I submitted my entry into the Wisconsin spring turkey lottery the other day, as the deadline is coming up tomorrow, Dec. 10. Minnesota's lottery doesn't close until Friday, Jan. 8. But, just to be safe, I submitted my application online today.

In recent years, I have become more passionate about spring turkey hunting (not that I wasn't already) to the point that I now hunt in both Minnesota and Wisconsin every year. For a number of years, Wisconsin was ahead in terms of the quality of hunting and the number of birds.

But, our state has been catching up fast. Last year, not only did I fill my tag with a nice longbeard, I had five different gobblers responding to my calls on the second afternoon of my hunt. It was very exciting, with three of those birds coming into shotgun range. The first slipped in behind me and I didn't know it was there until I moved and heard the dreaded alarm putt as he trotted off. I turned quickly to try and take a shot as he was moving away, but I was too late.

Fortunately, two more birds came in from my right just minutes later and I put my gun on the one in front without either of them spotting me. Interestingly, the second one stayed put after the shot, which is a phenomenon I have witnessed on a number of occasions. I have had birds stay put for several minutes, even after I stand up and start walking toward the downed bird. Amazing!

Seeing multiple toms on a hunt is becoming a more common experience for me and many other hunters. That indicates a healthy bird population. Based on what the DNR is saying, the state's turkey flock is doing better than ever. Can't wait for spring to arrive!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Embracing Montana's rugged beauty

I paused along a ridge in the Little Belt Mountains near Great Falls, Mont. with my oldest son, Joe. It was the day after Thanksgiving and we took a moment to soak in the sprawling scene before us.

Rising up like a crown jewel was the snowcapped peak of Mt. Peterson to our west. To the north lay miles of grassy fields where cows and wildlife alike graze to their hearts' content.

There was a sermon here, not so much in the simple reminder I offered of God's glorious creation stretched out around us, but in the scene itself. The majestic mountains, timber and grasslands glorified the Lord more than my words ever could.

Topping it all off like a layer of whipped cream was a thin curtain of clouds through which the afternoon sun shone like a filtered spotlight. It provided enough rays to illuminate the mountains and fields, but not so much to hurt our eyes gazing directly at it.

This breathtaking scene had the perfection and glow of an oil painting. Partly because of my age, and partly because of my sense of awe and wonder, I traversed the ridge slowly, with many pauses, as Joe and I made our way back toward where we had gotten out of the truck more than a mile away.

There was another reason our steps were labored on the alpine landscape -- we were dragging a mule deer off the mountain. This was a well-earned prize, gained after a short stalk, a much longer tracking effort and, finally, a finishing shot taken more than a mile from where Joe had taken his first shot at this magnificent 3x4 buck.

Hunters are often glad when success comes quickly and easily. It could have happened that way for Joe, but, in the end, I'm overjoyed that we endured generous amounts of hard work, stress and perseverance before finally standing over Joe's first mule deer.

This event capped a wonderful, seven-day adventure for our family of six in Great Falls, on our annual trip to see Bob and Sharon Guditis, their daughter, Jessica, her husband, Jerry, and their three children the week of Thanksgiving.

I felt very blessed to be with Joe as he executed a great stalk on the muley. Though only 18, he has seasoned hunting skills that have come through six years of experience, plus a couple more of observing me as he waited to turn old enough to buy his first big-game license. He has harvested three wild turkeys and had taken four deer before this trip, including a beautiful 10-point whitetail in Minnesota when he was 15.

Yet, he seemed to have suffered a bit of buck fever when he took aim at this buck. We originally spotted it from a gravel road on our way out of the mountains and back into the valley after a morning of hunting on private land owned by Bob, who is the father of my first wife, Jennifer (who died of cancer in 1995), and is Joe's biological grandfather.

The buck was several hundred yards uphill and Joe and I used the contour of the land to make our way up to the deer's level. Joe had led another nice stalk two days earlier with his brother, Andy, and Aunt Jessica that led to Andy shooting a nice 8-pointer and Jessica taking a smaller buck that trotted in as Joe was field dressing Andy's deer.

Thus, Joe was confident he could lead us to a shootable distance. In fact, as we neared the top of the ridge, he motioned for me to hang back before he had even spotted the buck. He knew it was just over a small rise and he tried to get himself ready to poke over the top and take a shot.

He paused and said he needed to calm down. He could feel his heart beating rapidly because he had climbed the hill quickly -- and because his nerves were a bit rattled.

Finally, he slowly crested the hill and looked over. When he quickly ducked down, I knew that he had spotted the buck. He raised his rifle and slowly eased back up. Then, he aimed and fired. He turned to me after the shot and I asked him what happened. He said the buck, along with a doe feeding near him, turned and ran.

I quickly started scrambling up to him. After just a few steps, I saw the head and neck of a muley buck. I whispered this to Joe, who shot back his reply: "Dad, it's not him."

Realizing it was a second buck, I quickly chambered a round in my 7mm rifle and hustled a quick shot at the buck. It dropped immediately and, after a quick inspection to confirm that it was down to stay, we went off after Joe's buck.

The search was stressful and discouraging for Joe, who walked over several small rises without seeing the buck nor any sign that it was hit. Farther down the ridge, we encountered broken timber and a stand of thick brush about the size of a football field. We both realized that the buck easily could have picked a spot to hide here and never be spotted by us. This is a classic trick whitetails often employ.

I could feel Joe's heart sink as he scanned the timber in desparation. Meanwhile, I turned to the Lord in prayer and asked both God and St. Anthony (who has never let me down) to help find the buck.

We continued walking in the timber, then neared the end of the ridge. We reached the edge of the first stand of timber, then saw an opening of about 50 yards before a second strip started.

This was it, I thought. Either we would find the buck here or give up the search. Joe tiptoed ahead, looking across the opening. Then, he ducked quickly and backed up.

Before he spoke, I knew he saw something. "It's a deer," he said.

"Is it the buck?" I asked. He scanned further and said the buck was there. Actually, there was a group of three deer -- the buck, a doe and a smaller buck. The doe was standing still and the bigger buck was coming up from behind, with the smaller buck following along.

I told Joe to go ahead and shoot. He lined up his rifle, but couldn't steady the crosshairs on the deer. He then asked for the shooting tripod that I had brought and I set it up for him. He put his rifle on it, paused and fired. The buck wheeled and ran over the end of the ridge and out of sight. Despite the buck's disappearance -- again -- I had a feeling Joe had made a fatal shot this time.

As we waited to contemplate our next move, the small buck made his. The doe ran only about 25 yards or so after the shot, then stopped and stood broadside to us. In a matter of seconds, the smaller buck came up from behind and seized the opportunity to breed the doe. Joe and I got to witness a rare moment in the lives of deer. We marveled at the chance to see such a private act, then quickly turned our attention to the other buck.

We walked to where the buck had been standing, and Joe soon found a good blood trail. We crested the hill and soon saw the buck bedded at the edge of the timber -- still alive. Joe fired a pair of finishing shots and then we walked over to his trophy.

I asked him what he felt at that moment and his answer was, relief. That's understandable. It was agonizing for him to think that he might lose this buck, especially when it was so close for his first two shots. He estimates the deer was within 100 yards both times. As it turned out, he did, in fact, hit the deer with one of those shots, but the bullet went low, striking the deer in the front leg.

As we talked about the experience with Bob later, he noted that God often surprises us with his blessings, in order that we will walk away knowing he is in charge -- not us.

I couldn't disagree. The trip had several pleasant surprises, which usually came right after we faced stiff challenges. For example, we hunted hard the first two days and got skunked before I finally got a whitetail doe on the third day when we followed a group of does that ran for a while,  then hunkered down in a small ditch on a piece of state land that offered a perfect stalking opportunity.

In the end, it was a successful, enjoyable and glorious week. The same day that Joe got his buck, Jerry shot a big 8-point whitetail, and his 12-year-old son, Brandon, took his first deer, a small doe.

So, seven of the eight members of our hunting party harvested deer. Bob was the only one who did not fill his deer tag. But, we ended up giving him Joe's buck, which we are having made into jalapeno pepper sausage, his favorite.

Tonight, we will celebrate the hunt with one of our favorite wild game dishes -- grilled venison tenderloins. I greatly look forward to that, and also to the prayer of thanksgiving we will say to the Lord before we partake of the harvest from his bountiful creation.

Monday, November 16, 2009


For deer hunters, one of the greatest highs is to see a big buck and take a perfect, broadside shot. And, one of the greatest lows is failing to recover a deer that you shot at and hit.

My son, Andy, experienced both on the same day Saturday. Hunting from the same stand where he had hunted on opening day, he saw a nice buck walk out into a pasture at 7:20 a.m. He made a grunt with his voice to get the buck to stop, then took careful aim and squeezed the trigger.

The deer hopped, then ran across the field, jumped a fence and went into the woods. Andy was so excited and confident that he had hit the deer in the vitals that he climbed down from the stand after only 10 minutes and went looking for the deer.

That proved to be a critical mistake. The deer was hit in the stomach and not the vital organs, so it jumped up and ran off when Andy entered the woods. It kept going and Andy never found it. A stomach wound requires a long waiting period -- up to several hours or even overnight -- before recovery can be made.

Andy was just not patient enough. So, he got to experience the greatest heartache of deer hunting. It's the second time this year and third time overall that he has not been able to recover a deer that he had hit.

As a father, I tried to figure out a way to help him deal with it. But, I was struggling with it myself. I really wanted to see him experience the exhilaration of downing a big buck. I was probably as disappointed as he was.

In the end, I just told him I felt bad for him and reminded him that he did the best he could. Sometimes, I said, things just don't work out. Fortunately, we have another hunt ahead of us, this time in Montana.

We should see plenty of animals there, so, hopefully, Andy will get another chance. And, Joe and I should finally see something. I think this year is the first time I have failed to see a deer the entire season. I'm sure the warm weather and standing corn had a lot to do with that. Hopefully, we'll have better results next year.

Who knows? Maybe enough good things will happen out west that we'll forget all about our deer hunting troubles in Minnesota.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Where are the deer?

When it comes to deer hunting, it's always hard to know what to expect when you sit in your stand opening day. I had a feeling this year might be tough, but I never imagined the kind of results that I and my two oldest sons have had.

Between the three of us, hunting on different properties near Red Wing, we saw just one deer all weekend. Andy got a shot at a small, antlerless deer Saturday morning. He hit it, but we were not able to recover the deer. That is always painful.

Meanwhile, my son, Joe, and I did not see a deer all day, or on Sunday. In both places, there was standing corn, and it's natural to conclude that most, if not all, of the deer were in the corn. In fact, when I talked to the landowner where I hunt last night, his comment was, "the deer are in the corn, laughing."

He might be right. We have taken a total of four deer off of his property during the last three seasons and have seen more than that. But, this year, nothing. I'm trying to figure out what's going on, but I don't have any answers. The season where we hunt, Zone 3, lasts until sundown on Sunday. I'm going to call the landowner Saturday to see if his corn is down. If so, I may try to get out Sunday evening. Spilled corn from a freshly harvested field is a magnet to deer.

That will be my last hope for tagging a deer in Minnesota. The good news is, next weekend our family leaves for Montana, where we will spend the entire week of Thanksgiving. I have two tags, one an either-sex license for either a whitetail or mule deer, and the other an antlerless whitetail license.

There are lots of deer in Montana and we saw quite a few last year, so I'm confident I'll have a good chance to fill both tags. And, Joe and Andy each have special youth licenses good for both an either-sex whitetail or mulie and an either-sex elk. Who knows? Maybe we'll be bringing home some elk meat.

One thing is almost certain -- this journey should be more fruitful than our Minnesota hunt.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hard work and walleyes

I generally don't think of fishing for walleyes as work. No. 1, I don't get paid; No. 2, it's fun!

Yet, on my journey earlier this week to Lake of the Woods on my annual fall walleye fishing adventure, it seemed as though a high level of exertion was necessary to catch fish.

Or, perhaps, more accurately, some persistence was required. Normally, by this time of year, walleyes are pouring into the Rainy River from the main lake in waves, chasing shiners that migrate there every fall. So, it's a matter of picking a spot in the river, anchoring and tossing a jig and minnow overboard. Often, the wait under optimal conditions is less than a minute for a bite -- and, a very aggressive, swallow-the-jig type of bite.

Not so on this trip. Even though the water temperature was 42 degrees, there weren't streams of walleyes invading the river. Rather, it was more of a trickle. The good news was, there were enough fish for my friend, Pete Wolney, and I to catch plenty for dinner and bring home a limit. The bad news was, we waited much longer than usual for bites, sometimes up to an hour.

But, I am not complaining. After all, I did land a nice, 23-inch walleye, plus we had one flurry on the trip in which we caught eight fish in an hour Tuesday morning. I caught five of those fish, which included back-to-back 18-inchers and a 19-incher, the biggest keeper of the trip. With a protected slot of 19 1/2 to 28 inches, the three nice fish I caught are some of the best eaters an angler could ask for.

Interestingly, during the time of that flurry, I had the unusual problem of ice buildup on my rod guides. That, more than anything, made me wonder if Pete and I were nuts for fishing under these conditions. That morning, the mercury dipped to 18 degrees and only got into the upper 30s. So, we spent much of the day fishing in sub-freezing weather.

Of course, cold doesn't bother me nearly as much when the fish are biting. Unfortunately, they weren't biting at all on the main lake, which is where we decided to try Tuesday morning due to a good report we got before the trip.

Last week, anglers were catching lots of fish out on the lake past a narrow opening in a long island called "the gap." But, strong northwest winds over several days churned up the water and made it dirty, shutting down the lake bite. We didn't get a bite in an hour and a half and heard similar reports from other anglers who also tried it.

Then, we came back into the river and anchored on one of our favorite spots. That's when we had the eight-fish flurry. That was worth the whole trip for me. But, we caught more fish the next morning to replace what we had eaten the night before. This is our sixth or seventh year of going up in the fall, and we have taken home our limit every time.

We worked harder for it this year than other years, but our persistence paid off. So did our previous years of experience on the river. We have several spots stored in our memories that rarely let us down. Plus, we have learned to put our time in when the conditions are tough. We especially target dawn and dusk, when nice flurries often occur. However, this year, our best flurry happened from 11 a.m. to noon.

Sometimes, that happens. I'm just glad we were in the right spot when a good wave of fish went through. Now, it's on to deer hunting, which opens on Saturday. We will face unusually mild temperatures and lots of standing corn. That could make the hunting tough.

But, I'm fresh off of a fishing trip where persistence made the difference. I plan to sit in my stand all day Saturday and I'm encouraging my two sons, Joe and Andy, to do the same. Last year, I got my deer at 12:30. Because the rut is in full swing, deer should move even if it's warm.

That's what I plan to keep telling myself on Saturday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Davern hill one more time

For the second time, I conquered the Davern hill near my home in St. Paul. I made the four-and-a-half-mile jog one week after I did it for the first time.

This time, I hit the pavement at 5 a.m. The early start time was needed because my friend, Pete Wolney, planned on picking me up at 7 to go on our annual fall fishing trip to Lake of the Woods. We normally go earlier than this, but the walleyes have been late in their annual migration from the main lake into the Rainy River.

In fact, the major run still hasn't happened, so many of the fish are still in the lake. Fortunately, they are biting well and anglers who make the trip out past the gap and into the main basin are being rewarded with limits of walleyes.

Hopefully, the winds won't be too strong and we'll be able to get out there, too. I will have a report from our trip later in the week. Then, after that, it's the deer hunting opener on Saturday!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Running in the rain

I went over to Battle Creek Regional Park in St. Paul yesterday to see my son, Joe, compete in the last cross country race of his high school career. He is a senior at Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan. It was the section meet and he was shooting for his best time of the year.

He is the No. 6 runner on the team, and only the top five score in a meet. So, he was running for pride. He also was trying to push through some physical problems he has been having throughout the season, particularly the last few weeks. He has been getting ill during and after races, and he's not sure why.

The rainy, sloppy conditions yesterday definitely did not help. He got off to a pretty good start, but faded later in the race. I shouted encouragement as he ran by, hoping to spur him on to a kick at the end.

He struggled to finish, but I was proud of him nonetheless. Sometimes, it's hardest to complete a task when you know the results you are hoping for won't happen. That was definitely the case here.

But,  there's a valuable lesson that can come from this experience, and I hope he will learn it. I think it's good when things don't come easy and we have to work hard to achieve results that are below our expectations. Too often, I think, parents try to shield their children from things like this.

But, these kinds of experiences build character in ways success often doesn't. So, I walk away happy from this event, especially that Joe didn't give up and pushed to the end.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Conquering Davern Hill

I have been thinking about it for weeks. There is a steep hill on Davern Street about 2 miles from my house and I made it my goal to jog all the way to the hill and down it, then jog back up and all the way home.

The total distance is 4 1/2 miles, which is up about 1 1/2 miles from what I have been doing for the last two and a half months. Various muscle cramps over the last two months kept me from taking on the hill.

But, today, I am proud to say, I finally conquered Davern Hill. After going without muscle cramps for two weeks, I decided I was ready to take on the challenge. I told my son, Joe, this morning as I was getting ready to head out on my run, that this was the day.

He offered a few brief words of encouragement, and off I went. I ran slower than usual to make sure I had enough gas in the tank to get up the hill. The steepness of it was a serious challenge and I huffed my way up at a very slow jog. I joked later that I probably would have needed a running judge to verify that I was, indeed, jogging up the hill.

No matter. What counts is I made it up the hill and all the way home! It was a joyful moment for me and I high-fived my wife, Julie, when I got back home. What was interesting, and a little surprising, was that after I got up the steep part of the hill, the other, less steep, inclines that I faced on the return trip were not a problem at all. In fact, when I got back home, I felt as though I could have kept going.

It's nice to see my body responding to the exertion. I hope that continues. Not sure what my next running goal is. I do know that, when we go out to Montana over Thanksgiving, I want to be able to go up the mountain where my father-in-law's land is. I'm hoping all of this running and walking will be adequate training for the task.

For now, I'll bask in the glow of conquering Davern Hill.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where are the birds?

I had a fall wild turkey hunt last week down in Goodhue County. I hunted properties near Cannon Falls and Red Wing. I had three pieces of land in all and I hunted all three on Wednesday and Thursday.

But, the birds were a no-show. I didn't see or hear a single bird, nor did a see as much as a turkey track, turkey feather or turkey dropping. It looked as though the birds just weren't using any of these properties.

That is the frustration of fall turkey hunting. In the spring, the birds are in much smaller groups and more spread out. Usually, if there is adequate food and habitat, there will be some birds around.

Not so in the fall. The turkeys gather in very large flocks of as many as 50 birds or more. That means feast or famine when it comes to hunting. Either, you encounter lots of birds or none at all. This year, for me, it was none at all.

It might be tempting to blame the cold, wet weather for  the poor hunting. But, it's really due to the flocking nature of birds in the fall. If I want to be successful next year, I'll have to do some scouting before the season to find out where the birds are. The good news is, nearly every farmer who has birds would like to see the flock reduced. So, getting permission to hunt fall turkeys on private land is easy.

I did experience something very enjoyable in the woods last week, however. I saw a total of seven deer during two afternoons of hunting, two the first day and five the second. In one case, I had a nice buck cross in front of me only about 25 to 30 yards away. That was cool!

It got me to thinking about deer season, which is less than three weeks away. The deer appear to be moving right now and the activity will only pick up in the next few weeks. I can't wait!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fall flakes

It was a strange sight outside today -- accumulating snow on the ground and clinging to leaves on the trees. Who could have imagined such a sight on Oct. 12?

I'm sure there are lots of depressed folks groaning at the early arrival of the white stuff. But, I wasn't too bummed out. It's not going to last. In fact, I saw an extended weather forecast that predicted a high of 60 on Sunday.

Actually, I took the opportunity to pull out my camera and take a few shots of the white landscape. The most unusual sight was a layer of snow on top of flowers still in bloom.

The petals will win the battle for now, but their days surely are numbered. I figured the hard frost we got over the weekend would mean farewell to the flowers, but these persistent blooms are hanging on.

Flowers and snow are a rare combination. About the only time it seems possible is mid May and again in October. But, I don't recall ever seeing it before. So, naturally, I felt compelled to record it with my digital camera. Later in the week, the snow will be gone, I'm sure. In fact, early this afternoon when I was taking pictures, the snow was already melting and falling in large clumps off the tree branches.

So, even though there are mild days ahead -- even, Indian summer? -- I can't help but wonder if this event is a sign of things to come. Weather experts likely will tell us there's no need to panic just yet about a possible harsh winter ahead.

But, I'm not so sure. It has been a while since we've had a winter that's high on the severity index. We're probably overdue. Well, we'll just have to take what comes. I'm just hoping things will warm up for my fall turkey hunt later this week.

I like seeing fall colors when I'm walking the woods in search of a fall turkey, not snow.

Friday, October 9, 2009

An unexpected farewell

I got a phone call recently from Jack Kolars, the director of advancement at Bethlehem Academy in Faribault. He asked about photos I took of the new Divine Mercy church building in July.

After I agreed to send him a photo, I asked how Ron Thibault was doing. Ron and I struck up a friendship in the course of my work at The Catholic Spirit. Ron is a graduate of the school and came back to spend 42 years as a teacher and administrator.

About 11 or 12 years ago, Ron invited me down for the school's annual fundraiser, which they called a lobster boil. We discovered a mutual passion for hunting and fishing and I have always made it a point to see Ron when I'm down in Faribault on assignment for the paper. In fact, I had a nice visit with him in July on my way back from taking pictures of the new church with its pastor, Father Kevin Finnegan.

I ended up photographing three of his four daughters' weddings and I enjoyed them all. The most recent was Laura's almost two years ago. Ron and I talked about going hunting together someday and I came close to talking him into trying a spring wild turkey hunt.

Sadly, we'll never get that chance. Jack informed me that Ron died Sept. 6 of cancer at the age of 68. I was stunned, and so were his wife, Connie, and the rest of the family. He was diagnosed just two days before he died, Jack told me. Doctors thought it was pneumonia at first, but decided to do more testing when Ron wasn't getting better.

Fittingly, his funeral Mass was celebrated at the new church. I have to admit, Ron's death hit me hard -- very hard. He had such a love for life, for Bethlehem Academy, for the outdoors. His family owns a nice piece of land outside of town and he wanted me to come down and hunt there with him someday. He said there are lots of wild turkeys in the area, and he and I were going to hunt them one of these years.

I'm really going to miss Ron. He was always cheerful when I saw him, always excited about hunts past, present and future. Yet, he wasn't in a hurry to leave B.A. And, I'm sure the folks at B.A. were in no hurry to see him go.

I'm sure many, many lives were touched by Ron. Mine is one of them. I'm disappointed we won't have the chance to get out in the woods together. Now that hunting season is in full swing, I'm sure I'll think of Ron often. And, when I do, I'll offer prayers for Connie and their four daughters.

May he rest in peace.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Turning attention to whitetails

Yesterday was an ambitious day for me in the woods of Goodhue County. It was time to do some scouting and stand preparation for our deer hunt Nov. 7. I went down to our deer-hunting properties with my son, Joe, my friend, Bernie Schwab, and his son, Chris, who is not old enough to hunt, but definitely old enough to be interested in the rituals of the hunt.

We worked hard and long to get things ready and got most of the work done. We performed the arduous task of moving a stand about 200 yards and setting it up, then did some work on a tripod stand on a different property. I have taken two deer from that stand and am hoping for a third this year. And, we went to cut some shooting lanes near a stand from which Bernie shot a beautiful 10-point buck last year.

As it turned out, someone (probably the landowner) kind of beat us to the punch. When we got to the back corner of the property where our stand is located, we discovered a bunch of fallen trees near the edge of the woods. The line of freshly-cut brush and trees extended for quite a ways, starting near where the stand is located. I wondered how this would affect deer movement.

There was similar clearing done not far from my tripod stand. It seems like this kind of tree removal happens about every other year on at least one of the properties we hunt. And, there are often other curve balls to go with it, like other hunters showing up unexpectedly (including trespassers), vandalism to our stands, and, of course, nasty weather.

Each year, it seems, there's always something. But, such things serve as a reminder that change is a fact of life, and a fact of the Christian life as well. Jesus warns us of this, and even challenges us to be ready for it.

I have thought about this lately and, in my self-reflection, discovered that I very much like to keep things as they are -- the good things, anyway. I am often quick to complain -- and complain loudly -- when the curve balls of life come sweeping in. I always want and hope to adapt well and quickly. But in things like deer hunting, I like success and favorable conditions to last year after year.

But, every year God shows me that change is inevitable. At the same time, he has also shown me how well he can work in such circumstances. Last year was the worst year for bad weather and curve balls, yet our hunting party of five managed to harvest three deer on opening day, including Bernie's 10-pointer. Amazingly, it was the most deer our party has gotten in the six years we have hunted together.

Based primarily on that, I am optimistic this year. We have already faced curve balls, and there may be more to come. But, I believe God will bless our hunt. Does that mean three more deer? Or four? Or, even five? Or, perhaps, none?

I don't know. At this point, I will merely thank God for the opportunity to spend time in the woods with Joe, my No. 2 son, Andy, Bernie, Chris, and Bernie's oldest son, Dan, who will be trying for his second deer this year. And, I will wait confidently for the blessings he bestows on us Nov. 7.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A moose for Father Joe

I have been anxiously awaiting news from Father Joe Classen of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He went on a moose hunting trip to Alaska earlier this month and spent 10 days in a remote area accessible only by plane. He just got back and sent me two e-mails describing his hunt. The following are excerpts from those e-mails:

"Made it back home in one piece (besides a few scars, bruises and being 12 pounds lighter) from the self-guided moose hunt in the Alaskan Yukon Delta!  It was genuinely the adventure of a lifetime!  All the fall colors were in their prime and just being out there was 10 of the most beautiful (and brutal) days of my life!  It was certainly an experience that put our skills, will power and sheer determination to the test.

"In the end, it was a safe, a sanctified…. and yes…..on the second to last day of the hunt…an ultimately successful trip.  Didn’t get the king bull of the Delta, but the nice medium-sized bull that the Lord provided was fine by me!  Trying to haul out anything bigger would have seriously killed my hunting buddy and me.  The Lord’s hand was truly upon us in many ways, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.  For those of you on Facebook…you can check out the entire photo album there on my page.

"The full story is a long one, which I'm sure will make it into a book, and it might even make it into a hunting magazine or two.  Man, am I beat!  I just can't seem to shake off the exhaustion of the last few days of the trip.  Hauling out the moose through knee and waist high swamp and tundra was the most brutal thing I have ever done in my life!"

Congrats, Father Joe!


Monday, September 21, 2009

Let the hunt begin!

One of the hunts I'm very much looking forward to this fall is one in which I will not be carrying a weapon. It takes place in early October and I don't mind one bit that I won't have any chance at harvesting an animal.

Rather, I will pin my hopes on my good friend, John Nesheim, who will be participating in a special hunt for the disabled put on by the United Foundation For Disabled Archers (UFFDA). The organization offers its members free, guided hunts on private land using crossbows. John, who had his feet amputated last winter due to severe frostbite, will be going on his first UFFDA hunt and is very excited.

So am I. It will take place near Park Rapids and I am very optimistic that John will have a fun and successful hunt. I pulled together a few of John's friends and we bought him a new crossbow at Schaffer Performance Archery in Burnsville. John Schaffer not only gave us a nice discount on a crossbow, he helped John sight it in so he's all ready to go.

John will have several days to try for a whitetail, and I hope to join him in a blind for at least part of a day, hopefully, more. After all he's been through, first with the amputation and then with the adjustment of using prosthetics, it sure would be nice to see him make a successful shot on a deer.

I'll be praying for him!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Now's the time to enjoy fall colors

I went up to the North Shore of Lake Superior earlier this week. I brought a visitor who had never seen the lake, and this was the time he could go.

He's from another country where there are no fall colors, so I was hoping to find some changing leaves. It's a little early yet, but I figured the maples would at least be starting to turn. Waiting another week or so would have been better, but this is the only time he could fit in the daylong journey.

There was very little color on the drive up, and not much along the North Shore, either. There were a few trees here and there that were starting to show color. Finally, as we made the drive to Palisade Head just north of Split Rock Lighthouse, we ran across a little more color, at least enough to give him some idea what the fall colors are like.

He loved it. I pulled over and we both got out of my car and pulled out our cameras. We snapped away for about 10-15 minutes, then went on to Palisade Head for a spectacular view of Lake Superior. It's the highest point on the North Shore and you can see for miles out onto the lake from atop this majestic cliff.

Even without the colors, the view was worth it. Starting this weekend, the fall colors will start to spread from north to south across the state. The first to turn are the maples inland from Lake Superior. Then, about a week to 10 days later, the birch and apsen trees turn brilliant shades of gold and yellow along the shore. From there, everything proceeds south, ending in southeastern Minnesota the second or third week in October.

For those with the time and ambition, there is about a month's worth of fall colors to enjoy. I used to go to the North Shore every year in late September or early October. But, life got busy. I sure would like to go again in another week. What fun it would be to spend several days surrounded by beautiful colors. I can't think of a better way to enjoy fall.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Another 5K

On Saturday, I ran my the second 5K event of my life and second in the last month. There were only 35 people entered and most were not serious runners. Still, I was excited to be a part of it.

Joining me was my son, Joe, who runs cross country for his school, Trinity at River Ridge in Eagan. That's where the event was held and two of his teammates were there to compete.

Within minutes, they left me in the dust and ran at a much faster pace. But, that was fine with me. I just wanted to finish and try to run at a good pace. I ended up beating my previous time by more than two minutes. My time was 26 minutes, 7 seconds. Meanwhile, Joe ended up winning the race. He and another guy led the pack for a while, then the other guy faded. Joe won by about 30 seconds.

Some people remarked afterward that they didn't know I was a runner. Actually, I have never considered myself a runner, though I have been walking and running for more than two months now. It feels good to keep it up and improve my time.

But, a Dick Beardsley I am not. And, that's quite alright with me. I'm just happy to be able to do regular exercise and stay in good health. It's a blessing from the Lord and I'm very grateful.

As for running more races, we'll see.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Last gasp for bass

I took advantage of the beautiful weather over  the weekend to go fishing for bass on Lake Calhoun. It likely would be my last trip of the year for bass. Although fall fishing can be good, I have never done well in late September and October for bass.

So, this would be it. I was hoping the stretch of stable weather would mean a good bite. The fishing wasn't outstanding, but there was enough action to make for a good day on the water. I ended up with four nice bass in the 18-inch range. I caught one that went 18 1/2 inches, another that was 18 1/4, a third that was 18 even and a fourth that was 17 1/2.

I was hoping for at least one fish a little bigger, but I was not about to complain. One of those fish I probably shouldn't have landed. I felt a bite and set the hook, then my line broke. Usually, that's it, but, strangely, the line caught on one of the guides on my rod and held. It took me a second or two to figure out what had happened, then I quickly grabbed the line before the bass pulled it loose.

I pulled in the line hand over hand and, amazingly, I was able to get the bass up to the boat. Then, the line caught on my trolling motor and, once again, I figure the fish was lost. But, it didn't make a run to break the line, and I was able to pull the motor up to free the line. I proceeded to pull the fish boatside, and I then lip landed it.

This was the strangest landing of a fish I have ever had. That made the trip more memorable. Unfortunately, the trip ended up being memorable for a negative reason as well. I made a costly mistake when I tried to take a picture of myself holding two of the nice fish. I positioned my camera on a pedestal seat in the front of the boat, then reached into the livewell to grab the fish. I bumped the pedestal and the camera fell into the livewell.

It got completely submerged, which spells doom for any camera. So, I lost the camera, lens and flash. I was very bummed about the incident, but called to mind a Scripture verse from Paul's letter to the Romans: "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

That is my hope. And so, I will wait upon the Lord to see how he will make this situation work for good.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hamstring healing

Two days ago, I went for my usual morning run near my home in St. Paul. I have battled through tightness in my Achilles tendon in my left leg and have been stretching it before and after every walk or jog.

But, on this day, it was my left hamstring that gave me trouble. Moments after waving to my son, Joe, who passed me going the opposite way, I felt a sharp pain in my left hamstring. I limped home and battled pain for the rest of the day. That evening, I got together with several friends and they said a prayer over me for healing.

The next morning, it was tight, but I managed to go on a 2-mile walk. Then, today, almost all of the pain was gone and I was able to go on a 3-mile run. I feel as though God healed my hamstring. I was worried I pulled the muscle and would not be able to run for days, even weeks. But, just two days after the injury, I was able to complete my run.

Praise God! He listens to our prayers and reaches in to offer healing. Perhaps, the injury wasn't as serious as I first thought. Still, I think it's remarkable to see such improvement in just two days. To be sure, I'll be careful to avoid further injury and will be diligent about stretching before and after every walk or run.

I also hope to continue to "confidently approach the throne of grace" as the Scripture says "to find help in time of need."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

From bassing to birding

I got a rare treat yesterday. I was able to fish for a few hours on Lake Calhoun with someone who probably has logged more hours on the lake than any other angler alive.

His name is Chet Meyers and he lives just a few blocks from the lake and has put in lots of time chasing walleyes, muskies and bass on the lake over the last four decades. I had fished with him about 15-20 years ago while working for the Sun-Current weekly newspaper chain in the western suburbs. I recently thought of him and decided to try and reconnect with this local fishing expert.

Turns out, he's not fishing Calhoun and its two neighbors, Cedar and Lake of the Isles, nearly as much as he used to. That ended up being better news than I thought. Although it meant that I wouldn't get much of a fishing report from him for this summer, it also meant that he was now willing to reveal some of his hotspots.

Normally, serious anglers guard their honey holes like mama bears guard their cubs. But, Meyers doesn't have the same passion for fishing that he did when he got serious about it in the early 1970s. It has been supplanted by a new hobby -- bird watching.

"I used to fish 180 days a year," said Meyers, who belongs to St. Stephen in South Minneapolis. "Now, I bird 180 days a year... Birding just sort of seized me. I can't explain why."

As he pursued bird watching more, he joined the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis. And, he now takes his place on the shoreline of Lake Calhoun with hundreds of others every fall in search of rare seagulls that stop at the lake on their annual southern migration.

Yet, all of this fuss over birds doesn't mean he has abandoned his fishing rods. He likes to get out when he can, which is more often now that he is retired from his teaching job at Metro State University, where he has taught, among other things, a class on fish and fishing. So, it didn't take much arm twisting to persuade him to join me on the lake yesterday.

We fished our way around the lake, starting at the boat landing. He identified little points here and dropoffs there. We pitched jig-and-plastic-worm offerings in search of hungry bass, but found few takers. Finally, toward the end of our excursion, Meyers hooked a dandy 19 1/2-incher along the north shore. As he released the fish after a quick photo, he made me promise not to tell anyone else about this particular spot. I agreed, knowing that I would ask the same of him if the tables were turned.

But, I discovered on this day that I don't have any spots that Meyers isn't aware of. I shouldn't be surprised. He started fishing this lake in 1976 and spent about 10 years trying to learn every nook and cranny. He's a great guy to have in the boat if you're trying to learn more about the lake.

In this regard, I considered the day a success, even if the bass proved shy. I'll be back later to try some of the spots Meyers showed me. Meanwhile, he'll continue to work on a research project he currently chairs involving the red-headed woodpecker. This species has declined about 50 percent in the midwest over the last 40 years, 40-80 percent nationwide, and Meyers is part of a collective effort to study the bird's habitat so as to provide more suitable areas for nesting.

Meyers isn't sure if he'll get out on Calhoun again this summer -- at least with fishing rod in hand. Most likely, he'll take a position on the shoreline looking at seagulls. And, today, he begins his final fishing class at Metro State. The 25 fortunate students should realize what a privilege it is to learn about fishing from someone of Meyers' stature.

For one memorable day, I, too, was one of his pupils.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Run in the sun

It was a beautiful, sunny morning at Blackhawk Park in Eagan Saturday when I arrived there with my oldest son, Joe. We were there to participate in a special run put on by the boys and girls cross country teams of Trinity School, where Joe will be a senior starting this week.

Family members, friends and alums were invited to join the runners for a lap or two around the pond in the park. Folks were given the option of running one, two or three miles. Having trained for a few weeks and having done several three-mile runs, I chose to go the distance.

Before the run, I made my son promise he wouldn't laugh at me when I crossed the finish line. I figured I probably would be the last person to make it across. That was fine with me. I was just happy to be out there running at all.

Sure enough, the cross country runners left me in the dust pretty quickly. I managed to pass one young boy on the course and that was it. By the time I was finished, I was sore and nearly out of breath. But, I made it just like I said I would.

I thought Joe and the other runners would be there cheering for me at the end, but they decided to go for a cool down run after they finished. Cooling down for me simply meant feasting on the free ice cream stacked in coolers near the parking lot.

That was a nice reward, but the bigger payoff was being able to be there with Joe, even though we didn't run side by side. He's way ahead of me in terms of training, plus he's almost 30 years younger. I just hope to continue running, while he has far loftier goals.

I hope he's able to keep running long after he graduates in May 2010. I talked another dad who was an avid runner for 25 years before he developed knee trouble. He now does other things like swimming and biking. He said he talked to a doctor who said most people can run for about 25 years before developing knee problems.

That means I have about 24 years and 10 months of running left!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Peaceful getaway

I spent three days enjoying the scenic beauty of Dunrovin Retreat Center north of Stillwater. I was invited to be a guest along with my wife, Julie, and four children. The trip kicked off with a special blessing ceremony by Archbishop John Nienstedt on Sunday.

The event coincided with a youth retreat, so there were a bunch of teens present. It was neat to see their enthusiasm, along with a couple of moving testimonies by two of the people involved with the retreat.

Archbishop Nienstedt then took some time to bless the retreat center building, both inside and out. He walked around the building, then walked the halls sprinkling holy water. He moved very briskly and I had to huff and puff to keep up with him. He obviously is in very good shape, and easily could have walked the entire grounds.

I eventually did just that over the next two days. It's a serene, beautiful place and the wildflowers are in full bloom. I was told by someone on staff that it's one of the best blooms ever. I believe it. After taking a short walk along a winding, mowed path with Julie, I came back the next day with my camera.

As I strolled along a small pond, I saw a creature I've never spotted in the wild -- an otter. Its face was unmistakable as it frolicked in the water and poked its head up to take a closer look at me. It froze for a moment and I caught sight of its long, slender body and tail. Then, it popped under the water and disappeared. I brought my No. 3 son, William, back for a look, but the otter never resurfaced.

I hope to get back to Dunrovin. It would be nice to go just with Julie. She seemed to really enjoy the surroundings and so did I. We also went to Taylor's Falls and William O'Brien State Park. On our way back home, we stopped in Stillwater and took a tour of the city on a trolley. That was definitely a highlight of our trip. We all were facsinated with the history of this great river city. The trolley is a bit spendy, but it was well worth it for us.

And, the beautiful weather all three days made the trip just about perfect.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The bass are back

For weeks, I've been waiting for bass in the lakes I fish to move into their summer patterns, in which they head out to the deep weedlines and feed heavily for the rest of the summer.

Finally, at long last, it appears to be happening. Yesterday, I went to Lake Calhoun in the hopes of connecting with some nice bass. It only took a couple of casts to tie into a big fish. Unfortunately, just a few seconds into the battle, my line broke. I was a little bummed, but happy that there was action on one of my traditional spots.

I retied another plastic worm onto my line and kept working a long, skinny point. About 10 minutes later, I set the hook on another big fish. I can tell when it's a big one because I feel a lot of weight on the end of the line, but not much movement. Lunker bass rarely make a run initially and they like to stay on the bottom.

That's exactly what happened here. I felt some slow, thumping movements and I couldn't get the fish off the bottom. Then, the line broke again!

I was beside myself with frustration. I almost never have a bass break my line. In fact, I caught four fish over 5 pounds last summer and lots of other nice fish and never broke the line once. I stopped to think about what could have caused the problem, then realized that the monofilament line on the spool had been there at least two years. Experts recommend changing monofilament line every year and I had chosen to try to get as much out of this line as I could.

Big mistake. You can do that with some things, but definitely not fishing line and I paid a big price for trying to be frugal. Line can be expensive, especially the flourocarbons, but it's a small price to pay when it comes to being able to consistently land big fish.

Lesson learned. The good news is, I was able to land a nice bass that measured 18 1/4 inches. It was fat, too, which proves it has been eating well. About 2:30 p.m., I decided to leave Calhoun and go over to Cedar.

That, too, proved to be a mistake. There was absolutely nothing going on Cedar. I went to all of my favorite spots and struck out. I caught only one tiny bass. It's hard to figure out. One thing I noticed is the weedgrowth has thinned quite a bit. It almost looks like fall. The thick weeds I saw several weeks ago are sparse now. That may have a lot to do with the poor bite. It's disappointing to have done so bad on Cedar this year, after having the best year of my life on the lake last year.

Oh well. At least Calhoun is producing now. And, it should last for at least several weeks. I'll definitely be going back.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fish and game week

Thanks to a minor mishap that occurred over the weekend, I am eating well this week.

On Saturday evening, just as the wicked thunderstorms were rolling through the metro area, I made a shocking discovery -- the freezer door in my garage was ajar. Several inches may not seem like much, but it was enough to thaw some of the wild game and fish stored inside the freezer.

Fortunately, I caught it early enough so that nothing spoiled. In fact, only a few items were completely thawed. Others were only thawed on the edges and still frozen in the middle. As a precaution, I took the stuff that was completely thawed out and also pulled out a few partially thawed items.

The hardest hit by the thaw was the meat from the axis deer my son, Joe, shot in Texas during his trip in July. Because the stuff we had tried previously had tasted so good, I wanted  to preserve all of the remaining meat as well as I could. So, I put several packages in the refrigerator and decided to cook them all this week.

Problem was, my son and his two younger brothers were going to leave on Sunday for a week of camp that they go to every year. Not wanting to miss out altogether, he got up early Sunday morning and got the charcoal grill going. I grilled three steaks for him and let him have a nice meal before driving him down to camp.

That night, I did the same thing for my wife, daughter and parents. It was delicious. Yesterday afternoon, I brought in wild turkey/wild rice casserole to my fellow employees at The Catholic Spirit. Then, last night, I fried several walleye fillets for my wife and I. Tonight, it's more grilled axis deer steaks, plus a few beef tenderloins. Later in the week, I'm going to make axis deer stew and venison cheeseburger on a stick.

It's a lot of cooking, but I don't mind. The results are worth it. I'm just glad I didn't have to throw anything out. It's probably not a bad idea to empty out the freezer a little bit. I will be hunting wild turkeys in the fall, plus my two oldest boys and I each have tags for deer in both Minnesota and Montana. And, the boys each have a youth elk tag for Montana.

If we are even reasonably successful, we could fill the freezer fast. Could be a great fall ahead!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Great progress

I had breakfast this morning with my friend, John Nesheim, who lost his feet after falling into a ravine in January and suffering severe frostbite. It has been seven months since that happened and I am happy to report that he is in good spirits and making great progress with his artificial feet.

He is walking on his own and driving. In fact, he picked me up at my house and we drove to the restaurant together. Doctors had told him back in January that he would get fitted for his prosthetic feet in July or August and would begin learning how to use them shortly thereafter. But, he has surpassed their expectations.

He believes the prayers of many have supplied the grace to accelerate the learning curve. He said he felt ready from the start and has progressed quickly. It's great to see him moving around so well. I asked him if he could climb into a fishing boat and he replied that he would like to try. So, I hope to take him out yet this summer.

Also, he has started learning to shoot with a crossbow to get ready for a special deer hunt for disabled archers in Park Rapids the first weekend in October. It is put on by an organization called the United Foundation For Disabled Archers (UFFDA). John is excited and so am I. He'll have four days to try for a whitetail. It will be a guided hunt on private land -- a premium opportunity.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Off and running

On July 4, I began my campaign to get healthy. I kicked it off with a 3-mile walk near my St. Paul home. It felt good to get my body moving and I pondered the possibility of running this route someday.

That day came sooner than I thought -- Tuesday of this week. I didn't set out to walk the entire three miles. Up until then, I had been walking it six times a week, with a few running intervals thrown in.

Just two blocks into the walk, I decided to start jogging. I was just planning on going a few blocks, but I ended up going the whole way. It felt great. Then, I did it again today.

Two 3-mile runs in a week is way more than I would have predicted for the first month of my exercise program. Granted, the jog was slow, but it was a jog, nonetheless. I'm hoping the regular exercise plus some dietary changes will trim my bulging midsection and help me gain more energy. Plus, it will get me in shape for our Montana hunting trip in November.

I pray I can keep up this regimen. It has been more than 10 years since I have run this far. Who knows? Maybe I can add a mile or two over the next few months.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Right place, right time

I ventured over to Lake Calhoun last night, this time without my fishing boat. I was there to take engagement photos of a wonderful Christian couple, Sean and Julia, who have hired me to shoot their wedding.

They met at Lake Calhoun, so it was a natural place to take the photos. A day earlier, weather forecasters were predicting rain, but the evening was dry and sunny. We went to the west side of the lake and found some really neats spots for photos. Then, at the end, we decided to go to the lakeshore and get a few pictures with the water in the background.

As I positioned them on the grass, I noticed a beautiful white cloud in the sky behind them. And, it was lit up nicely by the setting sun. As I spent several minutes shooting, some nice color appeared in the sky and was reflected in the water.

It was about perfect. I snapped some photos in the waning moments of this beautiful light and ended up with the type of dramatic photos I would not have predicted. God is so good to have given me this gift. And, Sean and Julia recognized this blessing as well.

I remarked that it would very hard, if not impossible, to see something like this and not be convinced that there is a God. The experience made me wish that a group I had seen at Lake Cahlhoun the day before had been able to see this sunset. About eight or 10 men and women in their 20s were gathered near the boat landing wearing black t-shirts that said "Religion is a lie."

I would have really liked to have watched this sunset with them and then had a conversation with them about God. Not sure I would have persuaded them to believe in Him, but I sure could have made a compelling case.

No matter. I am content to experience the joy of this special gift from the Lord. I'm sure scenes just like this must have inspired the words of the psalmist.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Different lake, same result

I decided to take advantage of a beautiful day yesterday and I headed over to Lake Calhoun to try for some bass. After not doing well on Cedar Lake, I decided to give Calhoun a shot.

Because it's bigger and deeper, it's usually colder and takes longer to warm up than Cedar. That means the bass typically spawn later and settle into their summer patterns later. For this reason, I always try Cedar earlier in the summer, then switch over to Calhoun in August.

I was hoping the fish would be active, but the results were about the same as on Cedar. I caught a few bass, with the biggest measuring 17 inches -- not at all what I'm used to on this lake.

I sent out some e-mails to some expert anglers that I know and they all agree that this is a very abnormal year. One of them has done a lot of bass fishing this summer and has done very well, but he said the fish are scattered and he really has had to work for them. He catches some shallow and some deep, but is not getting the numbers of fish deep that he normally does.

To be honest, I have had such consistent success over the years fishing deep that I rarely visit the shallows at this time of year. Guess it's time to try, although the city lakes are choked with eurasian milfoil shallow and it won't be easy to get a lure to the fish if they're in the thick stuff.

The good news is, this is a severe departure from the norm and it probably won't happen again next year. On the other hand, we still have the entire month of August left, so maybe a deepwater pattern will develop yet. I sure hope so!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Walleye in the strangest of places

I got out on one of my favorite bass lakes yesterday -- Cedar Lake in Minneapolis. It's on the chain of lakes that includes Calhoun and Lake of the Isles.

I took my oldest son, Joe, and we were hoping for some good bass action. Two previous trips had been slow, but it was a nice day and we were on a warming trend, which has been rare in the month of July.

We had a tough time getting through the channel going from Lake of the Isles to Cedar because of the low water this year. At one point, Joe got out and pushed the boat through a shallow spot.

Once on Cedar, I went to a small point and made a cast to the weedline. I felt a few taps, then set the hook. After a short battle, the fish came up -- a walleye!

I have been fishing Cedar for several years and never caught a walleye. It was about 13 inches long and I dropped it into the livewell. Walleyes this size always taste good. We continued working our way around the lake pitching plastic worms for bass. The only takers were small bass and one decent-sized northern. The biggest bass of the day was only about 13 inches long.

That's not what I'm used to on this lake. In fact, just three weeks ago, my friend, Dave Altman, and I each landed an 18 1/2-incher. I'm not sure what's going on. Usually, by this time of the summer, the bass are set up on the deep weedlines and willing to bite plastic worms.

Not this  year. The best theory I can come up with is the cold weather we've had this month has thrown them off their summer pattern. In a normal year, temperatures have been in the 80s consistently for several weeks, with a few 90s thrown in. I'm not sure we're going to see that anytime soon -- or at all this summer.

Does this mean the usual summer pattern won't exist this year? I sure hope not. One thing I do know is I probably won't go back to Cedar this year. It's really tough getting through that channel and the results are definitely not worth the struggle. I may try Calhoun in the next few weeks, but I'm not sure things will be any different there. It's a deeper and colder lake than Cedar, so I don't know if there are any fish on the deep weedlines there, either.

Maybe I should switch over to walleyes. All the reports I have heard about walleyes this year have been good. And, I had success on Upper Red Lake with my family last month. I'm planning on fishing a lake in the Brainerd area in early August. It has both walleyes and bass and I think I'll try to target both and see which one is biting.

If it ends up being walleyes, I won't complain. More fish for the frying pan is a good thing!

Monday, July 20, 2009

An exotic hunt

My son, Joe, returned Saturday from his week in Del Rio, Texas, at a youth hunting camp that he won from Safari Club International. He really enjoyed the experience and was able to harvest one of the exotic animals on the 10,000-acre Indianhead Ranch.

He was able to bring home meat from an axis deer that he shot on the last morning he could hunt. There were lots of animals on the ranch, but they were spread out and difficult to locate. Plus, he was only able to shoot what is known as a management buck, meaning something that is mature in age but not considered to have big enough antlers to be considered a trophy.

Still, the deer had a nice set of tall antlers that Joe is having the ranch mount for him. For me, the best part is the meat. Joe had eaten axis deer while he was there and found out how good it tastes.

The rest of our family made that discovery Saturday night when I decided to grill the tenderloins. They were absolutely delicious. There was no gamey taste whatsoever. Tonight, we are making an axis deer roast in the crock pot and I'm sure that will taste great, too.

As good as that deer is on the table, I doubt that I will go down and hunt them anytime soon. It's very expensive to hunt at this ranch and others like it -- several thousand dollars, depending on which species you hunt and what kind of trophy you end up harvesting. It would make a good once-in-a-lifetime hunt, though. If I could get an axis deer or something that tastes as good, I'd sure consider it.

When Joe was there, they mentioned the possibility of having him come down next year and be a counselor at the youth camp. He's very excited about this. I think it would be a great opportunity and he could learn a lot while he's there. We'll have to see how that works out next summer. He will have just graduated from high school, so he will be making plans for college. Perhaps, this can fit in. In the meantime, we have more good meals of axis deer ahead!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Time to fire up the frying pan

With lots of fresh-caught walleye in the freezer, I decided it was time for a fish fry. So, yesterday, I invited my parents, Ray and Eunice, over for some pan-fried walleye.

My Dad has been struggling with some health issues the last couple of months, so I thought it would be a good time to serve him one of his favorite dishes. I went over and picked up both Mom and Dad and brought them back over to my house.

It was a splendid affair and it was clear they both enjoyed the meal. My Mom has lots of food allergies and this is one thing she can eat. As we ate the fish, she shared something about Dad that I never knew -- he wouldn't touch walleye or any other fish until about five years after they got married. At that time, Catholics had to go meatless every Friday, so Mom cooked fish on many of those occasions, while Dad ate grilled cheese, even though he had caught a lot of the fish that Mom cooked.

Boy, things have sure changed. Dad loves fish now and said several times last night that he ate too much. That's fine by me. We ended up eating everything I had thawed out, so it was perfect. The good news is, I have lots more walleye left, so there will be many fish fries ahead!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Off to Texas

My son, Joe, woke me up at 5 a.m. today. I was expecting it. He needed a ride to the airport for a flight to Dallas. He'll spend two days with my brother, Mark, who lives there, then he'll go on to Del Rio for a week at a summer camp at Indianhead Ranch.

He won the trip to Indianhead by placing first in the senior division of an essay contest put on by Safari Club International. He worked hard on his essay during the Christmas break and thought he had a shot at winning.

Turns out, he was right. I'm very proud of him and excited for his adventure at Indianhead. He'll learn more about conservation during the camp, plus he'll get a chance to go on a hunt for an exotic species. Along the way, he'll also learn camping and survival skills, and get ATV training. It sounds like an action-packed week.

I wish more teens could have this kind of experience. It sure beats video and computer games.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bass chase is on!

Although the bass opener was more than a month ago, my largemouth season officially began on Friday, July 3. It was the day of my annual Fourth of July weekend outing with my good friend, Dave Altman.

We have gone every year on or near the Fourth of July for a number of years and we kept that tradition alive on Friday. The morning started on Lake Calhoun and switched to nearby Cedar Lake in the afternoon. It was a beautiful day and we were hoping the bass were into their summer patterns, which involves hanging out on the weedlines.

There definitely were small fish active in deeper water, but the bigger fish hadn't yet congregated in their summer haunts. The weedgrowth was very prolific on both lakes and it won't be long before the lunkers start hanging out on the edges. We caught a few fish in the 12- to 14-inch range on Calhoun, then headed north to the channel that would take us to Lake of the Isles. From there, we went through another channel to get to Cedar.

That last leg turned out to be a lot tougher than I would have ever imagined. First, because of the lack of rainfall, the channel is much lower than usual -- only about a foot in some spots. Second, a large tree fell across the channel, leaving only a small opening on one side to get a boat through. We actually had to get out of the boat and pull it past the tree. The only boats that can still get through easily are canoes and kayaks, which explains why we didn't see any other fishing boats on Cedar.

In fact, Dave thinks the channel will be impossible for fishing boats to get through before long. He may be right, which would be a real shame. For sure, the large, eurasian watermilfoil harvesting boats cannot get through, which means the weeds are a lot thicker than normal.

Usually, by now, the harvesters have cut a layer of the fast-growing weed and created clear spots on the lake. Now, the milfoil is heavy everywhere, forming thick mats on the surface anywhere the water is shallow.

That can be a daunting sight for anyone who likes to fish for bass, which often live in shallow water. But, I have learned that largemouths love heavy weed growth and actually thrive in it. I have heard bass experts say this and I believe it. It's just that the thick growth is challenging for anglers.

Fortunately, Dave and I are used to fishing in these kinds of weeds and are used to fishing on Calhoun and Cedar. After staying at it for a while on Cedar, we each connected with one nice bass apiece. Both were 18 1/2 inches long, but Dave's was a lot fatter than mine. I think his probably weighed close to 4 pounds, which is a nice bass on any lake in Minnesota.

One thing about Dave that really impresses me is how skilled a fisherman he is. As I work my boat along the outside edge of weeds, he knows right where to cast and usually puts his cast right on the money. Thus, I am never surprised when he catches fish. In fact, he outfished me on this day, as he has done on many other occasions.

That is just fine with me. I was happy to see his face light up when he hooked his nice bass and fought it for several minutes. When we saw it was a nice one, I grabbed the landing net.

Actually, I have found that 18- to 19-inch bass are usually the strongest fighters, so I really like catching fish that size. I have caught bigger, but they don't necessarily give you a better battle. What they will do is stay down near the bottom longer, which makes them feel heavier. That is certainly a feeling I like -- setting the hook and having the rod double over as the fish sits stubbornly on the bottom.

That feeling should come soon enough. I plan on revisiting these two lakes over the rest of the summer. I sure hope I can get through the channel to Cedar. I believe some big fish await.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Smile at ordination

I had the honor of photographing the ordination of Bishop Lee Piché on Monday at the Cathedral. It was a grand affair, as I knew it would be, full of pomp and circumstance. There were lots of things and people to photograph and I was busy from start to finish.

One light moment came when I had a brief exchange with Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston. He thanked me for sending a CD of photos with him and his 26-inch walleye that he caught during our fishing trip to Lake of the Woods at the end of May. It's his biggest walleye ever and he was glad to have a picture of it.

I really enjoyed the trip, and seeing Bishop Hoeppner reminded me of how much fun it was. He has fished off and on over the years, but his schedule doesn't give him much time for it. He relies on a member of his staff to supply him with fresh fish throughout the summer. His favorite is panfish.

I sure hope I get the chance to fish with him again. His Bishop's Cup and Family Fishing Tournament on Lake of the Woods June 13 was a success and he plans on putting on another tournament next year elsewhere in the diocese. It would be fun to come up and fish it, but I don't do much walleye fishing, so I'm not sure what kind of a chance I would have to win or even do well. Now, bass, that's another story.

I plan on starting my bass fishing in earnest this Friday, July 3. It's a holiday and I will follow my annual tradition of going out with my good friend, Dave Altman, which we do every year around the Fourth of July. I greatly look forward to that outing, and Dave and I usually do well. Last year, however, I had a problem with my electric trolling motor, so we had to cut our trip short. I have since resolved that problem and anticipate no trouble this year. And, with the warm spell we had last week, the bass should be in their summer pattern.

I can't wait!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bishop's summer message

I ran across a very interesting video the other day. It is a message by Bishop Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn. He addresses the youth of the diocese and offers tips for what to do during their summer vacation.

I really liked it. He was warm, personable and very encouraging, and I believe he will engage the young people of his diocese and draw them closer to God and their Catholic faith.

Rather than try to summarize his remarks, I will simply recommend that people watch it. Here's the web address: Once you get on the home page of the Diocese of Knoxville, the link to Bishop Stika's message is on the right-hand side of the page.

Generally, I like it when bishops and archbishops make videos. I think it can be a great tool to reach Catholics in a diocese and a great way to help people get to know their bishop.

Archbishop John Nienstedt has done that in this archdiocese and I have really enjoyed watching the videos he has made. In fact, I hope he does more. He is an excellent speaker and homilist and I think he comes across very well in a video. I'd be very curious to hear what his reaction to Bishop Stika's video would be.

Perhaps, I can persuade Archbishop Nienstedt to produce a fishing video someday, and then I can help him with the task.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day banquet

Father's Day was different this year, but enjoyable nonetheless. For the first time, my Dad, Ray, had to be admitted to a health care facility due to some complications and weakness. He is under observation and the medical staff is trying to help him regain strength so he can return home.

So, two of my brothers and I decided to take the Father's Day party to him. I made one of my top wild-game recipes -- wild turkey/wild rice casserole -- and brought it over as the main course. All of us were able to enjoy it, including Dad. I like to think that this is one of the noblest uses for wild game and I think even ardent animal-rights activists would have a hard time finding fault with our attempt to give Dad a home-cooked meal for Father's Day.

Dad was in good spirits, although he still seems weak. We're all hoping and praying he can regain his strength soon and come home. Yet, at age 87, we know there is no guarantee of a full recovery. All we can do is spend time with him and enjoy him as he is.

As it turns out, that is a very easy thing to do. My Dad always has had a great sense of humor and I'm happy to say that it still is fully intact. He even made a joke about turkeys and flapped his arms for emphasis.

We loved it. In fact, this was proof that there was nothing dark or dreary about this Father's Day celebration, despite the thick clouds and intermittent rain that fell during our party. May God grant us many more family get-togethers as fun as this one.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Walleye bonanza!

Every once in a while, a fishing or hunting trip goes as well as I had hoped it would. This week was one of those times.

I took my wife, Julie, and our four kids to Upper Red Lake on Tuesday for three days of walleye fishing. The day before we got there, the protected slot had changed, going from 17-26 inches to 20-26 inches. Three inches may not sound like much of a difference, but it is huge. Anyone who has fished the lake will tell you that there are lots and lots of fish in the 17-20-inch range. And, it can be agonizing to have to release dozens of them in the search for keepers under 17 inches.

We were blessed with the ability to keep four fish each up to 20 inches. For our family of six, that's 24 walleyes! Based on the reports I was getting before we left, bringing home our limit of 24 was a realistic goal.

I'm thrilled to say that is exactly what happened. The fish bit well enough for us to catch a limit to bring home, plus enough for a fish fry while we were there. We reached our limit of 24 by the end of the second day, then had a fish fry that evening in our cabin owned by Bear Paw Guides. Particularly satisfying for me was taking my wife, Julie, out earlier that evening along with my son, Joe.

How's this for perfect timing -- Julie bought her fishing license at 6 p.m. and was catching walleyes within an hour. Then, Julie, Joe and I came in with our three-person limit of 12 by 9 p.m.

One very nice amenity on Upper Red is the fish-cleaning service offered at West Wind Resort by a staff member named Paul. He does a fabulous job and only charges $1 per fish. In my book, it's money well spent. Not only that, he gave us some great advice on where to fish. We followed it and it paid off handsomely.

Basically, he recommended traveling farther away from the public landing at the mouth of the Tamarac River to get away from the crowds. Many people fish within a quarter mile from the mouth of the river. In fact, that area has gotten fished heavily ever since the slot limit changed on Monday. There are estimates of more than 100 boats covering that shoreline on Monday. Among several who offered that number were a DNR game warden and Steve Brasel, owner of Bear Paw Guides.

Looks like a lot of people were paying close attention to the change in the slot. I suspect the lake will continue to get pounded until the fishing slows. The fish are shallow and close to shore now because the water is cooler than normal, but they eventually will move deeper and farther out. They may even move out of the eastern portion of the lake that non-Indians are allowed to fish.

Fortunately, I don't have to worry about that. I have lots of walleye in the freezer that should last for months. I carefully take care of the fillets, vacuum sealing them so they will last much longer in the freezer. I spent quite a while working on that last night and today, but it was well worth the effort.

What really made me smile was seeing such hefty fillets that I'm not used to handling from fish caught on Upper Red. I would say most of the fish we ended up keeping were between 17 and 20 inches. A few went 19 inches or more.

Some people are leery of keeping fish close to the upper limit of keeping size, but I take great care to use the proper measuring tool and the proper technique, so I am very sure of the correct measurment of the fish I catch. When a fish is longer than 19 inches, I am even more careful. In fact, I ended up having to release a beautiful 21-incher that I caught on a crankbait.

At the time, I was a little bummed out, but, in the end, things worked out very well. The third morning of our trip, in particular, was excellent in terms of the size of fish we caught. We needed six fish to replace the ones we had eaten the night before, so I had to take someone with me to get them. My son, Andy, was the only one willing to get up early, so he and I went out at 8 a.m.

Within an hour, we had our six fish and ended up staying a little longer to fish for fun. All six fish were longer than the previous slot of 17 inches and two of them stretched to 19 inches or more. Andy and I were all smiles when we pulled up anchor and headed back in around 9:45.

I thank the state DNR for relaxing the slot and, most importantly, I thank God for providing us with the opportunity to go on this trip and for blessing us with an abundance of walleye!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fishing tournament results

The first Bishop's Cup and Family Fishing Tournament is in the books and it was a success in several ways.

A total of 17 teams participated in the event, which took place Saturday, June 13 on Lake of the Woods in Muskeg Bay near Warroad. Bishop Michael Hoeppner of the Diocese of Crookston served as the host and his prayers for good weather were answered with sunshine and a high of around 70 degrees.

And, the fish were in a cooperative mood, with plenty of  fish to go around. The winning team weighed four fish that totaled 13.35 pounds (teams of up to four people were allowed to weigh up to four fish). The winners, David Steen, Brad Visser and Gary Visser were from St. Joseph in Ada and they also caught the biggest fish of the tournament, which weighed more than 8 pounds.

"It was fantastic," said Jean LaJesse, stewardship manager for the diocese who helped organize the tournament. "Everybody had a good time... All 17 (teams) weighed in. Everybody caught fish. They all came in with four. It was wonderful."

The plans are already set for next year. The second annual Bishop's Cup will be held June 12, 2010 in Detroit Lakes and Holy Rosary in Detroit Lakes will serve as the host.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Time to get out on the water

I recently read that this week is national Boating and Fishing Week. With warmer weather finally arriving to make it feel like June, now's the time to head to your favorite fishing spot.

I'm planning to go to a nearby lake this week to take my boat out for the first time. I want to make sure it's in ship shape for my trip to Upper Red Lake next week with my wife, Julie, and four kids. It ran well last summer after I worked out a few bugs. Then, I winterized it according to the directions provided by Hannay's Marine.

So, I'm optimistic that everything will work smoothly. Still, if I can take the boat out now for some testing, I'll have time to fix anything that might be wrong. There's nothing worse than having a boat that doesn't work when you're at a lake where the fish are biting. And, on Upper Red these days, if you can just get out on the lake, you'll probably catch fish. During the early part of the summer when the walleyes are shallow and hungry, fishing doesn't get much easier.

And, that is precisely why I chose this lake as a place to bring my kids. I'm hoping my 7-year-old daughter, Claire, will catch her first walleye on this trip. But, first, I have to help her overcome her fear of boats. I took her out last year with my wife and the trip ended only about 100 yards from the dock. I opened the livewell to show her and she panicked when she saw water flowing in it. She thought the boat was sinking and there was no convincing her otherwise. So, back to shore we went. I'm hoping she'll do better this time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Upper Red here we come

I'm eagerly awaiting a unique fishing opportunity that is coming up next week. It will take place on Upper Red Lake, which has become one of the top places to catch walleyes in Minnesota.

Ever since the lake reopened to walleye fishing in 2006, it has been amazingly easy to catch walleyes in May and June. The major problem has been trying to find keeper fish outside of the protected slot of 17-26 inches. Also, there was a two-fish limit to start out with that was changed to three last year and four this year.

Things change next Monday, June 15. Because of the abundant walleye population and the relatively low harvest, the state DNR has decided to relax the slot. Starting on that date, the new slot will be 20-26 inches. So, all of those nice walleyes in the 18- and 19-inch range will become legal for shore lunch.

For days, I've been thinking about going up there next week with my family. And, this morning, I took action. I called Bear Paw Guides in Waskish and booked a cabin that sleeps eight. It just happened to be available next Tuesday and Wednesday. So, I jumped on it. I had stayed there a year-and-a-half ago on an ice fishing trip and had a positive experience, and I felt very comfortable going back for this trip.

I talked to the owner of the resort, Steve Brasel, and he said the fishing has been phenomenal again this year, like it has ever since the lake reopened to walleye fishing. Even better, the cool weather this spring has kept the water temperature down and the fish shallow. So, there are lots of fish in the shallows right now and he expects them to stay there at least through the end of this month, and probably into July.

I can't wait. With my family of six, we will be able to bring home 24 walleyes, not to mention fish we will cook while we're there. In my mind, that's more than worth the price of a fishing license. Two of my sons are old enough to have to buy their own licenses. But, compared to some of the nonresident hunting tags we have purchased in recent years, the price is small -- only $18.

As Steve mentioned, the only factor will be weather, specifically, wind. A strong wind from the north, northwest or west will make the east side of the lake that non-Indians are allowed to travel next to impossible to fish. I'm going to start praying now for calm winds on the days of our trip. Warmer temperatures would help, too. I looked at the weather forecast for the area and the mercury is supposed to climb later this week.

Lookout, walleyes, here we come!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

An important letter

I dropped an envelope in the mail this week that will help a friend fulfill his wish.

John Nesheim lost both of his feet to frostbite in January and has been working through the process of dealing with the amputations and learning how to use his new prosthetic feet. He has told me on more than one occasion that he wants to deer hunt this fall. It's one of his favorite outdoor activities and one he dearly wants to keep doing.

The letter I sent will make that possible. It was an application for a special hunt put on by the United Foundation for Disabled Archers (UFFDA) in Park Rapids in early October. Because he is a first-time applicant, all John has to do is join UFFDA and he will be selected to go on this hunt.

Because this organization caters to disabled hunters, they will take good care of John. He will have a guide to go out with him and he will hunt on private land reserved for the hunters who get picked to go.

I'm very thankful for organizations like this. I was willing to try to put together a hunt for John, which I still might do. But, it's nice to have something already set up and established, something that's designed for people like John. I think he'll have a great time on this hunt. He'll also be able to bring his wife, Maureen. So, it will be a family affair.

As of right now, I'm planning on going, too, to take pictures and possibly write a story. It should  be fun. John is already excited about this opportunity and it gives him something to look forward to. And, it will be good motivation for him to become proficient at using a crossbow.