Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Secret to Turkey Hunting

This morning, as I was laying in bed listening to a turkey gobbling in between the wind and thunder of a spring storm I was reflecting on the lessons learned this turkey season. The first one being that kids hate waking up early for anything, and turkey hunting is not an exception, but they also love taking little trips if you can work in a stop or two at McDonald's or something similar. The second is the need for a great hiding spot is more important than the desire to see everything from your seat and facemasks make a difference in your ability to blend in. Getting close to the roost is a dangerous game and sometimes the best tactic is to sit still, or even take a nap, rather than chase birds that aren't gobbling. But the secret? We'll get to that...

Caden didn't feel like getting up, so I headed out alone. Got set up in a spot where I've seen turkeys in seasons past, but that I hadn't really set up this season. The birds gobbled from the roost and the hens responded, but minutes after fly down it was over as the birds found each other for their morning hook up and went about their business. There was definitely a part of me that wanted to head home to get a little more sleep since it felt like the morning hunt was over before it began, but I keep hearing how mid-morning is when the birds disperse again and a Tom can be called in. Being patient does not come naturally to me, I want to get after it and make something happen, but I knew that it made no sense to start moving on a morning when there wasn't any gobbling or ways to know where the birds were. As the morning progressed and warmed I let my lack of sleep catch up to me and started to doze. Sleeping under a tree in the warm turkey woods is a wonderful thing. When I'd wake up for a moment I'd make a few light calls and listen until I fell back to sleep. 

Time passed much more quickly than I'd realized utilizing this method, and midmorning was in danger of ending unremarkably when I thought I heard something moving through the leaves nearby. I sat up a little and in a moment was only about 3 yards from a jake that had come in from the side to investigate the calling. Two other jakes followed him into the set-up, and I figured this was it, I was going to shoot a jake. I hesitated, trying to see which jake had the biggest beard (like it makes a difference!?!) when the tom came into view. The jakes were all off to my left side and extremely close, but the tom was checking out the decoy 10 yards in front of me. I held as still as I could until his head went behind a bush, then I reached down for my gun and got it into position before his head came back into view. Off went the safety and I made the shot on my first tom. A rush of excitement was only tainted by the wish that Caden had been there and had this opportunity. 

The walk back to the house was a sweet one, with a bird over my shoulder I answered the text from Deli asking if I was going to come home. Coming back heavy! I'm not sure how the tradition of getting a picture with your bird on the porch started, but I love it. Deli was nice enough to take some pictures for me. 

We tried to get out and replicate my success for Caden, but in the same set-up a couple of days later only a couple of hens showed up. We tried our best, getting up early and hunting late until the end of the very last day but it never came together. So the secret to turkey hunting? It's better to be lucky than good!

Hope you're as lucky, 


Monday, June 1, 2020

The Way You Say It

The fishing itch has been creeping in on me again. So we planned our trip where I knew we could also do some fishing if the hunting would allow it. Hunting does allow for downtime if you let it, but usually, I can only focus on one thing and during the limited hunting season my focus has to be there. I've often said that I can't even have fishing gear with me because I might get distracted. 

The first canyon that we ventured up seemed to be overrun with OHV's to the point where the trees on either side of the main road were dusty. We tried a few spots and had a great tailgate hot dog roast (forgot the pan to cook in...) but it became obvious that this area was too crowded for what we wanted to do. So we made a late-night drive to another area where we've seen turkeys before and settled down to sleep for a couple of hours in the truck. The downside to the new canyon is that it isn't exactly a great one for fishing, but fishing can wait a little while longer.

Morning came quick and cold! Once we had our hunting clothes on and were mostly packed up we walked a few yards and made a call. We heard a faint gobble, so we moved toward a ridge to set up. Before we had walked the 80 yards to the ridge two hens fed their way towards us. Too bad they didn't have a tom (or jake) with them! This has been the story of Caden's hunt, all hens. 

The hens continued to feed past us so we moved towards the nearest cover to call and hope that our luck would change. Just before the sun crests the ridge is the coldest part of the day and I was sure feeling it! Or not feeling it in the case of my fingers... Caden seemed fine, so we toughed it out for a little while, watching deer feeding below us, when I caught a glimpse of something gray a couple hundred yards out. Immediately, I told Caden to pass me the gun and called one more time. The coyote came in a straight line right towards us and only stopped when it was about 15 yards away from us and 5 or so yards away from the decoy. I had a clear shot at its head so I took it and bagged my first coyote!

Coyote's get a bad rap and I'm not sure where I stand with it all. On the one hand, research says that you can't eliminate them, or even reduce their numbers through hunting or trapping. On the other, they kill turkeys and fawns and if we can knock their numbers down, even for the short term, at the right time of year we could help recruitment for these species. As far as I'm concerned right now, any hunt becomes a coyote hunt once you see one. Steven Rinella of MeatEater fame has said that if you pronounce it KIH-OAT-EE then you never shot one, but if you have you say KIH-OAT. So I guess I need to adjust the way I talk now. 

Hope you're as lucky,


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Lucky Little Punk

Growing up, turkey hunting was something that we saw on TV but not something that we did or thought about. In fact, it wasn't even a hunting show that we'd watch unless there was nothing else on. Fast forward about twenty years and turkey hunting has become one of my favorite hunts and one that I love sharing with my boys.

This year the turkeys seemed to be a little more scarce than in years past, but then Caden and I went out to scout one evening and the birds were everywhere. We saw hens, jakes, and toms in spots that we could access. Our confidence was almost as high as our excitement and the youth opener couldn't arrive soon enough. 

I've been talking to the boys about turkey hunting all winter, including pop quizzes on where they should aim, how to identify jakes/toms, and all the little decisions they would have to make in the moment. Trying to get them as prepared as possible to be successful, ethical hunters is always my goal so we went out to practice shooting. Time with the guns helps young hunters gain confidence and stay safe (and it's fun to shoot!). 

Headed up the hill just a little later than we were hoping to get there, but made it to the spot, got the decoy out and just barely got set up before some turkeys appeared on the hill across from us. One hen spooked and flew so we knew we didn't have much time before the others followed suit. Atley had the best angle on them so I said if you can see the one with the blue head go ahead and shoot it. He checked for a beard (because that's what we had been talking about doing in preparation for the hunt. Training!) and made a great shot! 

After looking at his bird and taking some quick pictures, Caden and I moved in the direction that the birds ran and caught up to them. Caden could've gotten a shot at the other tom, but couldn't figure out which one that was before they all took off. With a lot of morning left, we decided to move in the direction of a bird that was gobbling and try for a double before heading home. Despite our efforts, the birds continued to move away from us so we headed home to take care of Atley's bird. 

Despite what you might've heard, turkeys are delicious. We breasted out the bird to make some amazing nuggets and saved the legs/thighs for another meal. I honestly think this is the reason that the boys like turkey hunting so much! I just wish they were bigger...

It always makes me happy when my boys take me outdoors! With lots of time left to hunt, we were confident that Caden and I would be filling our tags soon. 

Hope you're as lucky, 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Jumping Off

With our schools here in Utah shut down, I had to start working from home and trying to teach music remotely. It sucks. I know that there are lots of people going through a lot worse, and my perspective is a privileged one, but it's hard not to focus on what you're going through personally. I'm trying to be productive, getting my steps in, doing pushups, and working on finishing a room downstairs that will be for all my hobbies. I can't wait to tie flies, build rods, practice saxophone, and store all my stuff in a dedicated space. 

I've also set up trail cameras in the back yard and we're all excited to have the deer and elk back! The turkeys are teasing me with only a couple of weeks on until the opener, but I know they'll disappear before the hunt starts. Hopefully, the skunk will make himself scarce too!

The weather is warming up nicely and Del was getting the itch to get outside and have some fun. She just turned in her final project for her Bachelors Degree (spoiler: She passed!!). So we rode the 4-wheeler up to a good jumping-off point and took a hike 'shed hunting'. Although, if we didn't see any sheds we wouldn't have been surprised or too worried about it. A hike like this is always a great way to get out and have some fun, finding something is just a bonus. With Summer fast approaching I'm hoping this is just the first of many. It will help get us in shape and keep me from going crazy. The scrub oak was super thick, but we found some really nice openings with tons of elk sign. It will be interesting to see if they stick around all Summer. Maybe I've been going up too high to chase elk and would have just as much luck sticking close to home? We'll see. 

As usual, Del found what we were looking for long before I did when she spotted a nice little three-point deadhead. This would've been a cool buck in another year or so, but even 'as is' there was some cool mass and it was a good find. 

It's funny how getting the first find out of the way makes you look harder and have more hope in your search. I definitely started looking harder hoping to find something! What I didn't see was the black clouds building across our valley and they were over us really quickly. We took shelter under a juniper tree, but it didn't help too much. The rain and wind were cold, but it stepped up a notch when the rain turned to hail. One poncho between the two of us kept us relatively dry, but it didn't quite cover everything!

After the storm the sun came back out and temperatures rose back up to comfortable. If you don't like the weather in Utah just wait ten minutes! The sun melted the marble-sized hail and made for some really muddy trails. Slipping and sliding along! We both ended up taking a fall and carrying a little extra weight in the form of mud, plastered to our backsides. I did make one find, a little two-point shed, before we called it a day and headed back to the wheeler. The short ride home had one little adventure in store for us as we slid off the road! It was tense for a minute, until Del got off and let me try and get through the rough spots. Never a dull moment! 

I'm sure this is just the first of many adventures that we'll have this Spring/Summer and I can't wait. 

Hope you're as lucky, 


Saturday, April 11, 2020

A Bonus

Hopefully you and your loved ones are doing well in these crazy times. The world has changed in these few, short, weeks. We are more of a world-wide community than ever before and yet we're more isolated and alone too. Strange days. I've been trying to stay active, even going so far as to actually working on some projects around the house, but sometimes you just have to get out.

After finishing with my work for the day I headed out in spite of the weather being a little colder and a little more blustery than I'd like. Trying to be as responsible as possible, I stayed pretty close to home and made it a solo trip to maintain my social distancing. The plan was to walk downstream from where I usually park and then fish my way back to the truck. To help fight the temptation to stop and fish every spot on the way down I didn't rig up my rod right away. It worked great until I saw a rising fish that was too tempting. I'm yet to really figure out how to fish downstream with anything other than a streamer, so it didn't take long to spook the fish.

In an attempt to become a better fisherman, I've decided that this year I'm going to try and use a longer leader whenever possible. Twelve to fourteen feet long probably isn't that much for a lot of you, but I'm struggling to be accurate with it! Maybe I need to re-evaluate my leader construction...

I finished walking down to my target starting spot and quickly hooked into a fish that just as quickly came unbuttoned. It was only a minute later that a tiny brown came to hand and I started making my way upstream. The next fish to hand was the only rainbow I've ever caught on this stream! (Really weird, but I didn't take a picture!?!) I switched flies quickly whenever I came upon a rising fish, but most were caught on a prince nymph under an indicator. 

Despite the day being a little cold, the wind a little too high, the water a little low (with lots of moss), it still felt great just to get out for a couple of hours! The fish were just a bonus.

Hope you're as lucky,

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Crashing Down

On Friday evening we got the announcement of schools in the State of Utah will be closed for the next two weeks and classes will be taught online during the closure. Suddenly I had a lot of work to do! Ideas came pouring in from other music teachers via Facebook and I started gathering ideas. I could've felt sorry for myself, but all I could think about is how disappointed my students were going to be with all the festivals, concerts and activities being cancelled. The future holds a lot of uncertainty, but I just hope that I'll get to work in a normal classroom with my students again this school year. 

I had to get out and do something that didn't involve staring at a computer screen, but I wasn't feeling too great and didn't want to join my Dad and brothers at a lake in Southern Utah just in case I had something contagious. Not thinking it's Covid-19, but I don't want to get anyone sick with anything. My brothers both have little kids and having a bug run its course through a family is miserable. Better to live as if you're contagious than be wrong and make other people suffer. 

So, Sunday afternoon the boys and I gathered up the often neglected spinning outfits and headed for a local reservoir. Atley wanted to bait fish while Caden decided to throw a fly behind a casting bubble. Neither was particularly successful, but Caden did hook one that came unbuttoned at his feet and Altey missed his only hit. I threw a Jakes Spin-A-Lure for a minute but only had one small bump. I couldn't help but get the fly rod out and tried a few different flies, but only had one hit on a balanced leech. We were all starting to think about heading home when a group of kids (college aged?) pulled up next to us and decided we needed company, which prompted us to hurry up and leave. Not sure why some people think it's okay to crowd when there's plenty of room for us to spread out. Besides, aren't we supposed to be practicing #socialdistancing ?

Monday and Tuesday were spent lesson planning online and by Tuesday afternoon I was going to pretty crazy being cooped up. A little water therapy was definitely needed so I headed for a local stream. Low clear water made fishing difficult, but I managed a few on Prince Nymphs and Copper Johns, both of which I need to tie more of! A much needed break that makes me feel a little better, even when it feels like the world is crashing down around us. 

Hope your as lucky,

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Short Trip

Instead of making a long drive to a tailwater and fishing from dawn till dusk I stayed close to home and tied some flies. Sleeping in and having breakfast with the family doesn't happen very often, but sometimes it's just what I need to recharge and get ready for another week. Tied a few flies, but the nice weather convinced me to hit a nearby stream for the afternoon and Atley agreed to come along!

I love it when my boys take me fishing! We worked our way up from where some seriously dirty water was coming into the stream and found some rising fish! There was a good midge hatch coming off, but the sporadic rises said that the fish might be on the few blue winged olives that were on the water. Not sure why I haven't been tying more bwos for the upcoming hatch, but our selection was pretty thin. Luckily, these fish aren't too picky and I found a fly that they might be interested in. Atley cast first and spooked a couple. After a few tangles and a couple snags he said it was my turn and I took him up on it. He might be a little rusty after a long winter. My first cast missed the mark by a foot, but the little brownie just came over and ate it anyway.

Atley got some casting in, but couldn't get it to come together where the fish were feeding. Some days are tougher than others, but he still enjoyed being the net man and spending some time together. We chased risers until the light went off the water and then managed a couple more on little Frenchies. Fish came to hand, but more importantly I got to spend a good afternoon out with my buddy. 

Hope you're as lucky,

Sunday, March 1, 2020

While the Gettin's Good

Since having such a successful day with Lane last week (read about that HERE) thoughts of going back have been weighing on my mind. The fish that got away are always a huge motivating factor, but also the impending "Buffalo Midge" hatch would be great to hit when it's in full swing. The rainbows should start moving up into the stream to spawn and then there's always the spring "Blue Wing Olive" hatch that shouldn't be too far off. Besides, the weather has been really nice lately and you might as well get out and enjoy it.

It's been awhile since Ross and I have fished together, which has to be a sign that life is getting way too busy. We headed out early and were actually the 2nd vehicle in the parking lot. The parking lot hole wasn't as productive as it had been the week before, but fish were hooked and missed while we tried to figure out what flies were going to be productive. Ross managed to catch his first fish on a fly that he tied himself! It's a really cool 'first' and I was glad to have been there for it. 

We worked our way upstream, trading off missing fish, losing flies, or actually landing one. The fish were really stacked up in the deeper pools so once we found them we tried out different patterns to try to really get onto what they'd like. Lots of midge larva and pupa were in the water, so we tried Zebra Midges in different colors matching the size as closely as we could. Ross started getting them on a white and copper, while I found some success with a copper and blue including a decent tiger trout!

Every time we thought about moving on we'd get another hook up and have to stay for a few more casts. A mix of rainbows and browns came to hand, but nothing too big until a the fish of the day took my point fly, a San Juan Worm. 

The next hole almost gave up another healthy bow, but he came unbuttoned pretty quickly. We moved up to deeper water, but we couldn't seem to find the fish. We kept working on our way up stream, trying different flies/depths/strategy when we found a pod of rising fish! Ross's back was giving him him a rough time, so he sat down to watch me drop a Bunny Midge right in front of a riser that ate it with no hesitation. Of course, he quickly came unbuttoned right after spooking every fish in the pool. 

The day was clearly over but I couldn't help but throw a streamer on and swing it during the walk back. Several hits and one more fish came to hand, and why not? Gotta get it while the gettin's good!

Hope you're as lucky,

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Back At It

While at a professional development conference for music teachers someone randomly said, "You sure fish a lot!" This wasn't someone that I knew all that well and the statement kinda surprised me. My response was, "It doesn't feel like it." or something to that effect which left me wondering what a "lot" was. 

 While at the conference I got to catch up a little with another guy that fishes a "lot" and some loose plans were made. I always enjoy fishing with Lane. He's a good fisherman and I always learn something from him. It's also interesting to watch someone who knows what they're doing and compare that to what I would do. It's also nice that he doesn't plan on coming home early, doesn't get pissy if the fish don't cooperate and doesn't steal flies from me. 

A couple of texts and the plans were finalized for the day after Valentines Day, and even though I went fishing with my Dad on Valentines I was really excited to hit another stream. I had lost almost all of my #18 Red Zebra Midges, so in the morning before heading out I made sure to tie a quick half dozen. I knew they might not work as well today, but if I didn't have them I'd regret it. After that it was out the door to meet Lane in an abandoned K-Mart parking lot. Not sketchy at all....

Not red, but you get the idea...

The drive was filled with talk about our jobs, places we have fished and some hunches that we're planning on checking out soon. We checked on a couple of different spots, but ended up at a spot that neither of us had fished in years. I decided to start with a fly that used to be a go-to for this stream, a gray scud. The first cast showed it was a good choice and several small fish came to hand at the first hole. Nothing huge, but a nice mix of brown and rainbow trout. 

Usually, there would be a pic of my hand holding a fish right here. Unfortunately, I've misplaced my waterproof camera and history has shown I can't be trusted to use my phone anywhere near water...

It took a minute, but Lane started finding some fish including a nice tiger trout that was a surprise. We didn't even know there were tigers in this stream. While Lane started pulling in fish one after another, I picked up a bunch of golf balls that littered the stream. I was a little surprised to find them, but I was even more surprised that no one else had picked them up. This is one of the most popular streams in the state and I know there are a lot of people who have stepped over all the trash. I know you might not be the problem, but you can be the solution. I'm going to put a bag in my vest and try to be better about picking up some trash each trip. Hopefully we can make a difference out there in the places we love.

We moved upstream, finding a few fish in each hole until we came up to a large run that looked awesome. Having not been here for so long, it was way different than before, but still great looking. Had trouble figuring out what the fish would take until I got a nice whitefish on a Frenchie. This was the first fish I've ever caught on this pattern, and one of the biggest whitefish I've caught on this stream. Too bad it was a fluke, no other fish fell for the Frenchie.

A few rising fish tempted Lane into switching flies to a dry, and he caught one bow on a Griffith's Gnat. Slow fishing that normally would've sent us upstream pretty quickly kept us there with the occasional rising fish, or a decent brown/whitefish on a nymph, but never the same fly twice...

Deciding to try a different spot, we headed for the truck. Lane stopped to fish a likely looking spot and managed to hook one more small bow on the dry fly even though he didn't see the take - he just heard a splash and set! I figured we were done at this point, but Lane said he knew of a spot nearby to try. Always up for one more cast we drove to a spot that Lane's Uncle had shown him, but it was a spot that he hadn't fished in about 15 years. During the walk in, Lane described the way it used to be. A smooth pool where a few spooky fish might be, but even if they were it would be a short game. What we found was a pool with a good run and some complicated currents.

It took a minute to figure out what they wanted, but once I tried on a #18 Red Zebra Midge and fished the middle of the water column it all came together. Several fish came to hand, including some nice browns. At one point it was obvious that they liked what I was serving better than Lane's flies so I lent him my rod and he quickly missed a few takes and landed a good fish. 

We finally called it a day when the sun starting going down and our hands started going numb. A great day on the water with great company. 

Hope you're as lucky,


Monday, February 17, 2020

Valentine's Day

Paper hearts, chocolate, love notes and romance are what most people think of when February 14th comes around. This year I had a day off and thoughts of hitting a stream with my fly rod was all I could think of. This is the time of year where fishing could be great, even if it's unlikely. Most of the time it's a lot of casting, lots of fly changes, lots of layers of clothing, lots of ice in the guides and (if you're lucky) a couple of trout that freeze your fingers. Still, the need to get out and do something can really weigh on you until you start to lash out at those around you without cause. Spring Fever. 

A few years ago, I lived just minutes from the Weber River and rarely fished it. Different streams and lakes held my attention along with going to school and providing for my young family. Still seems like I squandered some opportunity, but with it in the past there's nothing I could do about it even if I wanted to. Now, it's a long drive passing by several other places that I like to fish and a drive that I haven't been up to make for a while. My dad grew up fishing the Weber and with him being retired now it didn't take much to talk him into it. 

The drive up went surprisingly fast, and before I knew it I was meeting Dad at his house for the final push to the river. Our first stop was a spot where we've fished before and found some success, although the water this time was really low and clear. I was worried that fishing would be tougher than we were up for but when the first whitefish ate a red Zebra Midge on the first or second cast my fears subsided and we just fished. 

Dad usually loses enthusiasm for fishing nymphs under an indicator pretty quickly, but he seemed happy to just be out fishing no matter what the method. With an indicator, weighted flies, and additional weight all trying to go different ways with each cast tangles were inevitable. A mixed bag of browns and whitefish were the payoff, with both of us finding fish.

I know that some people have some disdain for whitefish, but I don't share it. Growing up, we only fished dry-flies on the streams so we never caught whitefish. I've spent most of my adult life living in Southern Utah where there aren't any whitefish in the local streams. I think they're a fine fish. Like a grayling without the showy dorsal fin. Many times, especially in the winter, catching a whitefish is the only thing that keeps the skunk off.

Another peculiarity of winter fishing is that we don't cover near the water that we would in the warmer months. Eventually, the first hole stopped producing and we decided to move up stream. The second hole wasn't as productive as the first, but it did give up some good fish including a brown with a deformed mouth. Not sure what happened, but it didn't stop him from eating. 

There's always a hope that temperatures will climb high enough to get some fish looking up. Dry fly fishing is always a welcomed reprieve from fishing weighted flies, but when the wind kicked up significantly our hopes of dry flies and rises went out the window. In fact, the wind started blowing so hard that the water was being churned up pretty good. Before retreating to the the truck I had to try a few casts back into the hole where we had started and I was sure glad I did! The wind made casting difficult, but anytime my flies hit the water it seemed like the fish would eat. The fish kept up the excitement up for a few more minutes, but once the bite slowed down we headed for the truck and a break from the wind. 

We made one more stop on the way back to my Dad's, but we decided to not fish even though we spotted a very large whitefish from the road. I had some stops to make and Deli was home waiting for her Valentine's lasagna dinner.

Hope you're as lucky,