The outdoors has special meaning to me. I caught my first fish at age 4 and shot my first duck at age 9. Nearly four decades later I still get excited when I get to spend any time outdoors. A lot has changed during that time but the anticipation and experiences are still similar and just as exciting. It’s a great place to be....Read More

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Some say lightning never strikes twice in the same place.  While I don't want to necessarily test the theory, I'm hear to tell you I wouldn't bet against it after the last couple weekends.  And here's why.

You might remember my last Blog entry highlighted a huge flathead catfish that was in the neighborhood of a few large kindergartners weight-wise.  He was big and beautiful and ultimately released as a result of being foul hooked.  I'd have likely released him anyway, but I had no choice.

So, fast forward a week to a similar fishing trip.  I was joined this time by a buddy, Jim, and my nephew, Dylan, for a morning of fishing on the same chum hole where I'd pulled Moby Flathead from the weekend prior.  It was another beautiful morning and we'd fished for a couple hours and had plenty of channel cats in the 2-6 pound range in the box and weren't going to keep any more.

I'd pitched a line out and let it set on the bottom a short distance from the boat while I worked on rigging my other rod.  I noticed that line went slack and picked it up and slowly cranked the reel handle a couple times.  I felt resistance and set the hook and the fight was on.

I turned to Jim and Dylan and said, "Surely, this isn't another big flathead, is it?"

I've caught literally thousands of channel catfish off of chum holes on several Kansas reservoirs in the last decade-plus.  I can honestly say I can't remember EVER catching a single flathead catfish during that time so the last weekend was a first.  I would be utterly shocked if this was another one.

But the fight was somewhat similar to the one the weekend prior.  My rod was doubled but this time the battle wasn't nearly as long.  I still had to switch hands with the rod a time or two after one would get tired.

The huge fish surfaced and I could immediately tell one thing was different.  It was hooked in the bottom lip!  And the next thing I could tell was it wasn't nearly as big, but still a monstrous fish on rod and reel.

I got the fish into the net and wondered aloud if my 30 pound digital scale would cover it.  I thought it might be close and it was as the display read 28 pounds, 12 ounces.   I was happy and we shot a few photos as my nephew kept saying, "Dang that thing is big!"

It was now time to determine the big fish's fate.  He wouldn't fit in the iced-down cooler I use for keeping channel cats, but I could create a make-shift stringer from some rope and tie him to the side of the boat.   Or, I could release him.

"We've got plenty of fish fillets for today," I said as I eased the big fish over the side of the boat.

He made a fast recovery and left with a big splash.  I slapped some slimy high fives with my fishing buddies and enjoyed the moment.

I'll fish again this weekend.  And if I happen to catch another big flathead I'll likely release him, too. But the next thing I'll do is head to the nearest store and purchase several lottery tickets. Because there's no way lightning strikes the same place THREE times, is there?

Friday, August 19, 2016


Okay, just to get it out of the way and beat all you internet funny folks to the punch, I'll admit it.  I'm the "ugly" one in this trio of words, despite the fact this monstrous fish had a mean-mugging face only a mother could love.  To me he was absolutely beautiful and a fine specimen of all things piscatorial.

Our chance meeting started out innocently enough and his kind was not my intended target.  I'd taken my daughter, Ashley, and her boyfriend, Jake, to a nearby reservoir for an early morning trip to chase channel catfish on a chum hole.  It was beautiful as we launched at first light and we were only a few minutes in when I caught a fat 3 1/2 pounder and tossed him in the cooler.  A short time later I felt a similar "whack" and set the hook again.

This time my rod immediately went double and under the boat and the drag screamed.  I was using a 6'6" medium-light spinning rod with a reel spooled with Berkley Trilene Big Game 15 pound test monofilament.  All of the components were taxed to the max.

I wondered aloud what I might have and figured it was a giant carp or huge blue catfish.  The battle lasted for nearly 15 minutes and I'd try to get some line back one reel turn or two at a time.  Slowly, I started to win the fight and eventually ended up swapping ends of the boat as the fish dictated the game.  

At first glimpse I saw yellow and thought I'd hooked a big carp.  But a second brief look showed a unique tail that could only belong to a flathead catfish.  When we all got a good look at the huge fish, Ashley quickly handed the net to Jake.

"I'm out!!!!" she laughed.  "That thing is huuuuugggeeeee!!!

Jake took one stab at him and the big cat soaked us with a flick of his paddle-like tail and dove back down.  The next time up Jake was able to maneuver the fish's head into the net and we hoisted him into the boat and gently placed him on the front deck.  Ashley and Jake were WAY more excited than I and marveled at the massiveness of this unique predator of the deep.  Their reaction, and the fact I even landed this fish, was the "good" part of the equation for sure.  

The "bad" part of the experience was the huge flathead was foul hooked, but just barely, and legally had to be released.  One barb on a #4 treble hook was buried in his flesh just in front of his tail fin.  It was a miracle I even landed the fish and I was shocked.  Even if the fish had been hooked legally there's a good chance I would have released it anyway, although one that size would have fed the entire office staff at work.        

We tried to weigh it but my digital scale only goes to 30 pounds and he maxed it out.  I guessed his heft at about 45 pounds but had friends with more experience with flatheads than I said he looked bigger in the photos.  Regardless, it was one of the biggest fish I'd ever caught in my life and a true giant.  

After a few photos and more hooping and hollering, mostly by Ashley and Jake, I eased the fish back over the gunnel of the boat and held it in the water for a few minutes.  It got its bearings and swam from my hand back to the depths from which it came.

"If we don't catch another fish all day this is the best fishing trip of my life," Jake said laughing.  "And I didn't even catch it!"

But we did catch more fish and a boatload of them ranging in size from 6 inches up to an 8 1/2 pound channel catfish Jake caught.  It was truly a memorable morning but the only catch of the day that will be talked about forever is that gigantic flathead.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I've always been a fan of getting kids outdoors and involved in hunting, fishing and all things wild.  I've done it as often as possible with my own kids over the years.  Now nearly grown, some of the most memorable times we've shared have been in a boat or blind.

During that time and still today I enjoy taking other kids out as well.  I've assisted with deer and turkey hunts for a couple decades now.  Many of our KDWPT staff in several divisions have gone above and beyond to plan, coordinate and pull-off some fantastic hunting opportunities for youngsters, many of which are a one-of-a-kind, incredible experience.

And despite no relation to these other youngsters some hunts have been equally as memorable as those with my own children for many reasons.  One in particular just happened a couple weeks ago on a youth turkey hunt near Hutchinson.

Elijah Hamby was a last minute edition to the turkey hunt conducted by KDWPT's Kyle McDonald and Steve Adams during the Kansas youth turkey season.  Adams met 12-year-old, Eli, and his family at the cancer center during recent visits for both families.  Adams' little girl, Blaisi, is battling cancer and Eli was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

"When I told Eli about the turkey hunt his eyes lit up," Adams told me.    

Eli hasn't had much reason to light up in the last year.  His grandpa, Ron, told me on the hunt that Eli is quarantined to his room much of the time.  Chemotherapy and a myriad of other painful treatments and procedures have left the youngster's immune system compromised.  A simple cold can send him to the hospital.  A sanitizing station sits outside his room for any visitors and most of those are limited to immediate family.  He has to take middle school classes online as a result.

Painful treatments have left Eli a bit weak and his voice mostly soft.  The slight recoil of a 20 gauge shotgun was brutally painful and he was a bit hesitant to shoot much at turkey targets.  But we loaded up a gun with lighter shells and I promised Eli in the excitement of that moment when he's staring down the barrel at a turkey he won't feel a thing.  Thankfully, I was right as he'd admit later.

We arrived at our blind location to the sound of banging 5-gallon buckets.  I thought to myself that's not a good sign as I knew Kyle and Steve had placed those in the pop-up blind for us to sit on.  My first thought was cattle and turns out I was right.  They'd trampled our blind and were knocking the buckets around as we approached.  Eli had been paired with me as this blind was close and would require no lengthy walk or effort to get there.  We hadn't counted on the 15-yard penalty on the cows for roughing the blind!

I quickly reassembled the blind the best I could and we crawled inside.  I started calling occasionally and Eli and I chatted a bit.  Some how we got on the topic of pets and he admitted he had a cat.

"Why?" I asked.  "Does it fetch ducks?"

"No," he laughed.

"That's one strike against you," I told him.

As I checked one of the Final Four scores on my phone Eli mentioned he was a KU fan.

"Why?" I asked.

Again, he laughed.

"That's two strikes against you," I laughed back.  "One more and you're going back to the truck."

Before Eli could get his third strike we got sidetracked by gobbling turkeys.  It was a beautiful evening and birds were getting vocal.  It wasn't long and we watched a hen peck her way around nearby.  And then we saw not one, but a half-dozen red heads come over the hill towards the hen.

"Here comes a bunch of jakes," I told Eli.  "We're going to get you ready and you're gonna shoot one of these."

I'm always amazed at the adrenaline rush hunters get, even ones that have never killed a turkey or deer.  Eli was no different and his breathing got heavy and labored.  I told him to relax and we'd let them separate to get a good shot at just one bird.

They did and long story short Eli gave it several tries but failed to connect.  As they wandered off I called and they all gobbled back in unison.  That seemed to amuse Eli as much as his recent close encounter.

Another close call later had similar results but I knew our chances were still good as we still had plenty of daylight left.

I got more birds to answer the calls and it wasn't long and we had some big toms headed our way.  But then all of a sudden the turkey flood gates opened and we were surrounded by a dozen hens and another bigger band of jovial jakes.

"We're going to get one of these," I told Eli.  "I'm going to help you aim this time."

Kneeled behind him I instructed Eli to get lined up on one but not shoot yet.  I wanted to make sure he was indeed lined up and he'd kill only one bird.  I whispered for him to lift his head up and I'd have him adjust one way or the other and put his head back down.  Each time the turkey moved after I knew he was lined up.  Finally, after several tries I told him to pull the trigger.  At just 12 yards or so the jake hit the dirt and the remaining birds scattered and gobbled as they retreated.

"I got him!" Eli squealed.

We sat in the blind a bit and watched and listened to more turkeys nearby.  Eli jabbered more in the 15 minutes after he shot his bird than he had in the hour prior.  It was like he'd got a second wind and his ailments and illness were no longer in the forefront of his memory.  He was an excited child who'd just taken his first turkey on a most memorable hunt.

Eli's labored walk to his down bird as I filmed the event on my phone reminded me of how cruel this world can be.  Nobody, but in particular a child, should have to endure the hideousness of cancer and what it does to a human body.  Eli's got two more years of treatments that will no doubt sap his body's strength and test his will.  

But Eli walked with a purpose to his prize and his smile said it all as he picked up his first turkey.  If only for a few brief hours I silently hoped that Eli had forgot about his illness and his rough road that lies ahead.  The outdoors is truly a therapeutic place and I'm glad Eli got to experience the splendor and beauty of a wonderful evening chasing turkeys.  And I felt fortunate, and humbled, to witness that moment in his young life and wish him nothing but the best in the future.



Thursday, January 14, 2016


As we roll into 2016 it's fun to look back at what happened in 2015 in my outdoor world.  It was all good in a lot of great ways and those memories will last a lifetime.  I can sit, sometimes for minutes, and just scroll through the gallery on my phone.  I can recall the time and place easily and nearly all of those photos bring a smile to my face.

Only one made me wince and that was a bleeding finger, cut by a rogue (or more accurately my own carelessness) broadhead as I messed with it one day in a treestand.  Even that had a happy ending as that same stand produced a nice buck for me just a few days later.  In addition, there were several other highlights in 2015 that come to mind. 

Father's Day found one of my twin boys, Cody, and my daughter, Ashley, and I fishing for channel catfish.  Fishing was excellent and their company was a better gift than any funky tie or smelly cologne.  Cody is just over a year away from attending college and Ashley graduated from college and hit the real world running in 2015.  As I shot a few photos I felt fortunate to spend time with my kids on a day dedicated to Dad's and I was indeed a proud one.  It was also a bit sad, too, as I knew these days would likely get fewer over time.

Another trip that stood out was a pheasant hunt near Dodge City just before Thanksgiving.  I grew up hunting upland birds most weekends but switched gears later in life to chasing waterfowl and bowhunting.  This hunt found me and several friends traipsing some of the most beautiful upland bird habitat in the state.  Shots were plentiful and the action steady with plenty of birds flushed and bagged.  It took me back to a time several decades ago when those same sights, sounds and smells were shared with other friends that I've lost touch with over time but still think about on occasion.

And the icing on the tasty 2015 cake likely took place in mid-December on a hunt where I was merely an observer.  Cody had been drawn for a special youth deer hunting opportunity and the day was indeed special and truly memorable.  The morning yielded a few sightings of several does and a distant buck.  The highlight of sunrise was watching a coyote mousing right in front of us for minutes.  I'm surprised he didn't hear us as we'd laugh out loud every time he jumped straight up in the air and came down with all four feet firmly planted, but never successful.  He was persistent.  After a quick lunch break we were back in the blind and the action started shortly thereafter.  Several does both near and far were already feeding.  A HUGE buck stepped into view and started nosing a doe in front of our blind only 110 yards away.  A few minutes later Cody's shot found it's mark and after a short track we found his deer.  It was indeed the buck of his lifetime and mine.

There were dozens of other trips hunting, fishing, camping and trapping with good friends and family in 2015.  I enjoyed them all and look forward to more just like it in 2016.  Here's hoping you make time for your own outdoor experiences this season and the next. 



Thursday, October 29, 2015


Simply deer hunting is exciting enough.  The adrenaline rush when a big buck or doe is spotted can't be duplicated.  So there's plenty of excitement on a good hunt without adding any additional stimuli.  However, throw in a couple crazy happenings and a deer hunt can go from memorable to MEMORABLE in the blink of an eye.  That was exactly the case on a hunt I witnessed firsthand just a couple weekends ago. 

I was in Harper County working out of the Anthony Gun Club at the 16th Annual Harper County/David Berry Memorial Youth Deer Hunt as part of KDWPT's Pass It On Program.   The local sportsman's club and area businesses and sponsors have made this event a huge success.  So big and successful, in fact, the hunt and its organizers received the 2014 Conservation Organization of the Year Award from the Kansas Wildlife Federation. 

I was guiding 12-year-old Anthony resident Scott Owen.  The youngster was looking forward to the hunt and excited to get to the blind.  We had to be a bit careful as his right wrist was in a solid cast. 

"What happened?" I asked earlier. 

"I punched my brother in the back of the head," he said sheepishly.

"Bet you won't do that again, huh?" I said.

"Nope!" he replied. 

Our blind was a 12-foot box blind overlooking a wheat field in ideal deer habitat.  It's generally not a matter of if the deer show up, it's when.  We wouldn't wait long after climbing into the blind at 4:45 p.m.

It was 5 p.m. when Scott whispered there was a deer walking up behind us.  Fortunately, I'd opened that window for air circulation as it was hot, not really expecting much movement back that way.  But sure enough, two antlerless deer were walking virtually the same path we'd taken to get the blind.

Immediately, Scott's breathing and heart rate escalated as I tried to get him to slowly stand up and turn to see if he couldn't pull it off.  The lead doe knew something wasn't quite right and started to veer off stomping her foot.  I told Scott he'd have to hurry as the jig was almost up.  We got the .243 rifle out the window and Scott settled in.  The doe started walking and I grunted to get it to stop and it did.  I barely got the words out "Okay, take your time and shoot when you're ready and remember where to aim."


At the shot, the doe mule-kicked and took off  to the North and disappeared from sight 100 yards away or so.

"Did I get it?" Scott asked.

I told him the shot looked good and the deer's response was encouraging but we'd give it 30 minutes or so.  It was 5:01 p.m.

A few minutes later our tower blind began to shake for a couple seconds.

"You feel that?" Scott asked.

"Yeah, what the heck was it?" I asked

"Earthquake," Scott said.  "We have them all the time."

"Really?" I said. 

Sure enough, at 5:07 p.m. Saturday evening officials reported an earthquake of 3.7 on the Richter Scale in that area and others overnight. 

Knowing we'd need a little daylight to track, and thinking of some of the places I wouldn't want to be in an earthquake, we eased down the ladder about 5: 30 p.m. and took up the trail where I last saw the deer.

I had just found the tiniest speck of blood when Scott calmly says, "There's a rattlesnake."

"Really?" I asked fully expecting to turn around and see a gopher snake or some other non-venomous reptile.

Sure enough.  Coiled tightly in a small ball was a Massasauga rattlesnake about a foot long.  He was trying to rattle but didn't have enough rattles to make much of a sound.  Fortunately, Scott heard it.

"I almost stepped on it!" he said.  "But I heard it rattle and looked down!"

Scott fetched a long stick for me and I used it to move the snake into some thick grass and away from our tracking efforts.  Understandably, I was reluctant to get on my hands and knees to look for blood so I decided to fan out and look first as I was about 95 percent sure the doe was dead nearby.

We meandered around a bit and the Sandhill habitat was thick and wooly.  We would have to be within just a few feet to spot the dead deer.  On a last ditch loop before returning to the last blood I located Scott's deer about 25 yards beyond where we'd last seen it.

"All right!" the youngster exclaimed when he saw the big doe laying there.  "That's awesome!"

His shot was nearly perfect but the bullet didn't mushroom so the exit hole was no bigger than the entrance hole which explained the difficult blood trail.  Coupled with the rattlesnake still vividly etched in my memory I was glad to find it, shoot a few photos and get it gutted and loaded up.

The night was memorable for other youngsters on the hunt, too.  Nine of 15 kids ranging in age from 12-16 years old also killed deer that evening.  And a few of them felt the earthquake as well.  But fortunately we were the only ones with a rattlesnake encounter. 

Scott and I will both remember this hunt for a long time for more reasons than the deer itself and that's a good thing, despite the earthquake and rattlesnake. 



Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Oftentimes reading the words "kids" and "guns" in the same sentence in mainstream media is cause for concern, particularly these days.  It's sad, really, as firearms aren't bad.  They play an integral part in hunting's heritage and the outdoors.  Guns are necessary to take small and big game, waterfowl and upland birds and kids and adults have been doing it nearly accident-free for decades. 

You can bet any adult hunter remembers their first firearm and many of them likely still own it whether it's a beat-up, rusty old pump shotgun or something a little nicer.  Even if it's been "retired" it likely still has a place of honor in a gun cabinet with fond memories recalled every time it's handled.

My first gun was a Savage over-and-under with a .22 rifle barrel on top and a .410 shotgun barrel below.  It had a hammer and could only be cocked with my dad's permission.  That made shooting at escaping pheasants or quail nearly impossible so bagging the occasional rabbit, squirrel or hedgeball was the highlight of many early hunts. 

Up until this summer my twin boys and I shared a .22 rifle for squirrel hunting.  Or more accurately, I'd tag along and supervise their use of the firearm and they'd try their hand at shooting squirrels.  The boys turned 16 years old this spring and they were ready for their own firearm.  So I bought a Savage Mark II bolt action .22 for them to share (another pitfall of being a twin) when we hunted as both boys don't often go on the same hunt.  And frankly Cody's interest in hunting is higher than his brothers right now so in effect it became "Cody's gun."

Cody was excited about the new gun and helped sight it in.  A nice scope was included and the combination would no doubt be perfect for squirrel hunting.  The accu-trigger took a bit of getting used to in practice but it shot nice groups.  Cody couldn't wait to try it out on a recent, muggy morning.

We eased into the timbered creek bottom right after first shooting light and hit the squirrel call.  Immediately, we got a response from two different squirrels.  Unfortunately, Cody was screened from them and couldn't shoot.  I killed them both and we eased down the creek.

Cody would shoot the next five squirrels in nearly as many shots as the action was consistent over the next hour.  Even squirrels at quite a distance fell to his .22 and it was apparent we had it dialed in pretty good.  He remarked how much he liked "his" new gun with words like "sweet" and "awesome."  It's amazing what success does for confidence.    

Ol' dad finished up with his 5-squirrel limit shortly and we shot a few photos.  We cleaned all 10 squirrels at a low water crossing in a scenic Flint Hills stream and placed them in a cooler for the ride home. 

The next evening both boys and I dined on fried squirrel, fruit salad and a big ear of fresh sweet corn.  Everyone asks what squirrel tastes like and the easy answer is "chicken."  But even more accurately, young squirrel tastes like frog legs although everyone says these also taste like chicken.  It's a vicious circle, but good nonetheless.

Cody will continue to use this .22 on future squirrel hunts and it will likely become "officially" his at some point down the road.  Regardless, he'll remember this outing and the gun he used for years...just like every other hunter that's been down the same path in the great outdoors.


Thursday, May 7, 2015


There are two months in the calendar that I wish lasted at least three times as long.  November is king in the outdoor world during the fall.  It's spring counterpart, May, is equally good and outdoor opportunities abound.  There's simply too many things to enjoy during these months and if each were 90 days long it would certainly provide more opportunity to enjoy them.   

May is wonderful for lots of reasons, but one of my favorites is walleye fishing.  And it doesn't get much better than right now.  Walleye are done spawning and move to shallow water to feed making them readily accessible and often predictable.  Many fish are caught in 4-18 feet of water and a variety of techniques produce well.  Some anglers like trolling with crankbaits while others like fishing a nightcrawler, either associated with a jig, spinner or Slow Death rig of some sort.  When it's really on, the nightcrawler is generally the common denominator for those fishing live bait.

The 2015 Kansas Fishing Forecast ranks the Top 3 reservoirs for catching walleye as Webster, Kirwin and Cedar Bluff.  Marion, El Dorado, Cheney, Glen Elder and Wilson reservoirs follow in descending order.  However, other reservoirs not near the top, and smaller Kansas waters, can often produce good catches of walleye so don't rule those out, either.

Kansas' state record walleye was actually caught last month, in 1996, from Wilson Reservoir.  It tipped the scales at 13 pounds, 3 ounces.  The world record was caught in 1982 from Arkansas' Greer's Ferry Lake and weighed 22 pounds, 11 ounces.

May is a great month to chase these tasty perch. So whether you hope to set the next state record, or just enjoy fishing for fun, now is the time to get your 'eye on and give it a try.  But you better hurry because there's only three more weeks left in May!  If you can't make it now, the good news is June isn't too bad, either!