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

Friday, December 20, 2013


The prairie chicken is an iconic symbol of the Great Plains’ prairies.  To me, it’s the paddlefish of the upland bird world as it represents something historical, unique and marvelous.  It’s the only game bird with feathered feet and a prized trophy among upland bird hunters. 

Kansas has two species of prairie chickens.  The lesser prairie chicken is found in the shortgrass prairie of southwest Kansas and the greater prairie chicken is found in the tallgrass prairie of the central part of the state.  Their range is somewhat specific and good prairie chicken populations often remain year after year in the same pastures and fields.  Overall numbers have declined in recent years, due in large part to changes in land use with intensive grazing practices and increased burning frequency.   

I grew up chasing prairie chickens in northeast Kansas.  I had permission from a few dairy farmers with corn fields bordering big, open pastures.  A buddy or two and I would position ourselves at likely ambush spots around the fields and shoot at flocks of chickens coming to the field or leaving after feeding.  The rest of the day would be spent chasing pheasants and quail and limits of all three were had on occasion.  Those hunts are still vividly etched in my memory and some of the best ones ever.

I haven’t prairie chicken hunted much in the last couple decades.  But a recent opportunity a few weeks ago had me anxious to head afield.  The Outdoor Writers of Kansas had a fall meeting near Tipton and Keith Houghton arranged a chicken hunt for nearly a dozen-and-a-half members one evening.  Keith and his wife, Deb, own Ringneck Ranch, a first-class controlled shooting area that caters to hunters from all corners of the map.  Keith had been watching a huge, harvested cornfield bordering big pastures and he “guaranteed” we’d see a prairie chicken.

A fellow coworker, Nadia Marji, and I took up our vigil on opposite sides of a big round bale.  Nadia was on her first prairie chicken hunt and anxious to see her first prairie chicken.  We weren’t disappointed.  Keith had strategically placed us all along a fence row late in the afternoon with less than 2 hours of daylight remaining.  The night was brisk, with little wind and my field-side seat  provided a beautiful setting to enjoy a Kansas sunset.  It wasn’t long and we saw the first flock of greater prairie chickens fly from one end of the field to the other.  Their constant chatter kept us entertained and on alert as at any time they could get up to leave and we wanted to be ready.

Keith’s plan worked like a charm.  About 30 minutes prior to the end of legal shooting time Keith and several others would walk towards the middle of the field and push the chickens up and out.  Several huge flocks made their escape towards waiting guns.  Prairie chickens are deceptively fast, with slow wing beats and often prove tough targets.

One flock that passed just outside my seated position had a straggler that was on the edge of what I perceived as my effective shotgun range.  I decided to try it and folded it cleanly, somewhat to my surprise, with one shot.  Nadia was nearly more excited than I was to get to see one of these unique birds up close and personal. 

We had time for a few photos before another group of chickens headed our way.  Unfortunately, Nadia’s gun jammed after one shot but I was able to fold another chicken and rounded out a two-bird limit.  Several other hunters had the same fortunes and we ended up shooting nine prairie chickens among the group.  All told, we probably saw at least 150 chickens. 

There are few states that offer “the big three” when it comes to upland game birds and the Sunflower State has bragging rights in that regard.   We’ve got one of the best prairie chicken populations in the Midwest.  My two prairie chickens were the icing on the cake capping a beautiful evening.  They were also a pleasant reminder about the good ol’ days growing up in Kansas and the opportunity to hunt a unique inhabitant of the Great Plains.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Deer hunting is an activity I've enjoyed for decades.  And in recent years my twin 14-year-old boys, Brandon and Cody, and even my 21-year-old daughter, Ashley, have taken an interest and killed deer.  These hunts have always been about their experience as I've never carried a weapon and simply been there for expertise, advice and guidance.  I've even been an alarm clock as evidenced on the most recent outing with Cody a few weeks ago.

Teenagers are tough to roust out of bed.  Heck, the older I get the more I like the comfortable confines of a toasty-warm bed at 5 a.m. in the morning, too.  Although it's easy to dream of big deer, it's difficult to throw the backstraps on the grill from a dream buck.  So the long and short of it is you've got to be there to win.  Cody knows this but it doesn't make it any easier to wake up early and head out into the cold but that's what we did.

It was a beautiful, clear morning with little wind.  Cody had his crossbow all set-up and ready to go as it rested on shooting sticks.  We both yawned a few times sitting comfortably in chairs in our ground blind as it broke daylight.  It wasn't long and Cody started to nod off, finally resting his head on the stock of his crossbow. 

I was just about to catch a few ZZZ's myself when a nice 8-point buck appeared at about sunrise.  My heart instantly raced, even despite the fact I wasn't shooting.  I whispered to Cody to wake up and not move as there was a buck just 20 yards away.  Later he said he thought I was messing with him as I've cried wolf before just to get his goat.  I would have loved to see Cody's eyes when he popped them open to see a nice buck standing there and realize he wasn't dreaming and I wasn't joking.

The buck was quartered away and I instructed Cody on where to aim based on the angle.  My adrenaline was flowing and I tried to remain calm for Cody's sake, although he admitted later he could hear me breathing hard.  I told him to take a few deep breaths, concentrate and shoot when he was ready.       

The shot in my mind was a little low and back, but the angle should have been good.

"Did I get him?" Cody asked in between breaths. 

"You hit him, but the shot wasn't perfect," I told him.

We waited in the blind for another hour and had an encounter with a giant doe we've seen before.  All of the trail camera pictures of her have her looking directly at the blind.  She's cagey and at only 7 yards away she had us pegged and boogied before Cody could get a shot at her, too. 

Recovering Cody's buck took a lot of patience, persistence and luck, but we were able to find it.  Cody's first buck was a nice 2 1/2-year-old, 8 pointer we later learned we had on our trail camera a few times as well. 

It may not have been the buck Cody was dreaming about but it was a nice one and he was happy.  I was, too.  Spending time in the great outdoors with my kids, whether I'm watching them sleep or not, is enjoyable.  We'll remember that hunt forever and Cody now knows that ol' Dad doesn't cry wolf ALL the time.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Fall is a magical time in the great outdoors.  Leaves change colors and drop to the ground, waterfowl and shorebirds migrate thousands of miles and whitetail bucks take advantage of that one time of year when does actually acknowledge their presence to ensure future generations. If you’re an avid outdoorsman or woman, it’s a wonderful scene to witness the transition and circle of life.
I was out a couple weeks ago for only the second time sitting in my treestand.  I had sat one time in the stand I fished out of the creek (see my last Blog entry) but was interrupted by critters I’d rather see on a bun than below my stand.  A herd of calves surrounded me at prime time and I dejectedly climbed down and went home as my experiences have proven deer and these other ungulates don’t mix. 

So I was anxious to head to another stand where I’d killed a nice buck last year.  It’s right in a “Y” where two draws come together with plenty of deer sign.  I crawled up into it and hung my Mathews bow on the Realtree EZ Hanger and nestled in for the afternoon.  The weather was gorgeous and I was texting, trying to help my daughter away at college with a car problem, and watching for deer at the same time.  I texted a buddy who was about a mile away in another stand and said,  “I love this time of year.  It smells and feels like fall!”

Many of the leaves had fallen after several frosts.  The decaying vegetation had a distinct odor that isn’t necessarily bad, but indicative of the season.  It reminds me of why I like to be in the woods in November.  Wind was non-existent (yeah, a real shocker for Kansas, huh?) and the sun was shining bright.  I put the phone away and absorbed as much as several of my senses could tolerate. 

It wasn’t long and I heard something behind me and a small buck crossed the creek and continued on his way.  I enjoy seeing deer, even a dink like this one with a spike on one side and two points on the other.  He acted as if he knew he should be looking for love, but didn’t quite know how he was supposed to go about it. 

About an hour later at 4:45 p.m. I decided to rattle and the small buck came walking back, this time in front of my stand just at the field’s edge.  Another sound behind me caught my attention and a nice buck was crossing the creek and coming past my stand on my right.  I couldn’t grab my bow.  The dinky buck was right in front of me and any movement would betray my presence.  Fortunately, the youngster knew he should vacate the premises and wandered off.  Unfortunately, the bigger buck was already past me and out of bow range.

I pulled my grunt tube from beneath my jacket and got his attention.  He flipped ends and started walking right back by me out in front.  When he walked behind a tree I drew my bow and as he cleared the tree at 22 yards I grunted with my mouth to stop him.  The arrow with a new G5 T3 broadhead zipped through him and although it wasn’t a perfect shot I hoped it would quickly prove fatal.  Erring on the side of caution, I waited a couple hours to take up the track.

With flashlights in tow my buddy and I got on the track and located my buck within 15 minutes.  He likely expired before I stopped shaking from the adrenaline rush and buck fever.  I’m always relieved to get my hands on a deer and this one was no different.  We slapped high 5’s as congratulations were in order.  As we looked around my buddy pointed out a big rub, another sure sign of fall, just a few feet away and wondered aloud if that was my buck’s.   

Had I intended to write a script for a nice fall afternoon sitting in a tree this experience would be tough to top.  I’d take another one just like it next season.  The hefty 8-pointer wasn’t my biggest buck ever, but the older I get the less I worry about what a deer’s rack scores.  It was good to be outside and I was proud to put my tag on him knowing I’d just enjoyed another truly memorable day in Kansas’ great outdoors.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Time in a treestand is a therapeutic place in the fall for many Kansas bowhunters. Watching the woods wake-up or drift off to darkness is good for the soul. It's a time of transition in the outdoor world and the thought of that buck-of-a-lifetime cruising by makes it all the more exciting. 

And so it was last week, behind more than I normally am, that I decided to check a couple treestands for upcoming hunts. I used to hunt many times in October and then be tired or burned out by the time the rut kicked in. With fewer eggs these days, I've generally put most of them in the basket of the first few weeks of November. So getting out mid-October wasn't too bad, but still behind schedule.

A buddy and I crossed a creek that was dry last year, save for a few holes here and there. My treestand was on the top edge of the bank and looking down behind it I was 30 feet above the gravel bar. The scene bothered me as I'm not a big fan of heights. Little did I know Mother Nature would solve THAT particular problem for me.

We came up the bank and my buddy says, "Where's your treestand?"

I said, "To heck with the treestand, where's the TREE?"

Nothing looked out of place and there was no sign of the tree or my stand immediately below in the creek. 

"It's GONE!" I hollered.

"No way!" my buddy said. 

The tree was a huge oak tree that towered at least 70-80 feet in the air and two grown men couldn't reach around it's base. 

"That was a brand new stand and it probably looks like a cheap mess of bent-up scrap metal wherever it ended up," I said.  "There goes $150!"

Intent on unraveling the mystery, my buddy started walking the high bank of the creek.  Moments later he hollered.

"I think I found your stand," he said.  "And I think it's okay."

I made my way downstream at least 75 yards and rounded the corner.  There, right in the middle of the creek was my tree, and treestand that looked virtually unscathed.  The ratchet strap holding the top and ladder brace support were still attached.  My Realtree EZ Hanger bowholder and bow haul rope were still in place exactly as they were the last time I crawled into it last fall.   

"NO WAY!" I said surprised it wasn't a twisted mess and totaled.

Upon closer inspection, the stand was exactly as I'd left it.  The huge oak must have fallen over backwards in the torrential rains we had in late August and then turned, root-wad first, and floated downstream to its final resting place.  All the while my stand stayed on the top side of the huge trunk.

"That's UNBELIEVABLE!" my buddy said numerous times as we both had a good laugh.

Doing my best impression of a squirrel, I jumped from limb to limb to get to my stand.  Just for fun I crawled into it for a photo op which was easier than getting my big butt out of it.  My buddy laughed while trying to get the "miracle" documented on my cell phone camera and I cussed at him to hurry up.

I released the ratchet straps and got the stand loose from the tree.  I tied a rope to it and threw it to my buddy and scampered back to the gravel bar and pulled it ashore.  Checking it over carefully we found no real signs of damage.  Virtually NONE!

The stand was in a good area.  I killed a nice, big doe out of it last fall the first time I sat in it.  We found another tree nearby and put it back up, this time a little further from the creek bank and potential future wrath of Mother Nature's torrents. 

"What are the odds that thing wouldn't be just torn up and bent all to pieces?" my buddy asked. 

"Slim and none!" I said. 

The odds were such I stopped on the way back to town and bought $5 worth of lottery tickets thinking it really might be my lucky day.  I must have used up all my luck as I'm still at work this week!  But I've got a treestand that could tell a heckuva story if it could talk and I don't have to buy another one!


Friday, August 23, 2013


Summers are wonderful times for youngsters in school.  Lazy days, sleeping in and all the great joys of the hot summer months are a welcome reprieve from the structure of school and classes.  It's no wonder kids are wound up in May waiting for summer vacation.  It's even easier to understand how they dread going back in August, too. 

My boys, even despite this being their first year in high school, still like school for the most part.  But they both knew the 5:30 a.m. wake-up call would be MUCH earlier than the unscheduled one they'd enjoyed many days all summer that was at least three hours later.  So they thought an early wake-up call the day prior to their first day of school would be a start to get them "conditioned" to get up early.  And what better reason to get up at 5:30 a.m. to head to the lake for a fishing trip to celebrate the last day of summer vacation.

We were out the door at 6 a.m. and joining Brandon, Cody and I would be one of their friends, Riley.  Riley had been fishing with us a couple springs ago during the crappie spawn and he had a good time and we caught a lot of fish.  But he did pick up a temporary nickname that trip, "Squirrel," as he spent more time tangled up in the trees high above the water than he did fishing.  Fortunately for Riley this trip wouldn't involve any casting.  He'd never caught a channel catfish so I was anxious for him to get his first one.   

We were the first boat on the water as the sun was just easing up over the horizon.  Cody, recently outfitted with his Kansas Boater's Education card, chauffeured us across the lake to our destination.  After dropping a couple anchors and outfitting the boys with their rods and a fresh glob of Danny King's Catfish Punch bait I dumped the first few rations of chum over the side.  Riley wasn't impressed and just turned away when I offered him a little taste of the fermented grain.  Cody, as usual, gagged and spit when he caught a whiff.

It didn't take long for the catfish to like it, though.  Within the first 10 minutes Brandon had set the hook and landed a couple nice catfish in the 3-4 pound range.  I caught several, too.  Riley's and Cody's attention span, while initially good, began to wane over the next hour or so.  So I moved Riley up to my seat and handed him my rod.  Nearly on cue, a big fish took Riley's rod downward and I hollered for him to set the hook.

Riley's rod spent most of the first few minutes of the battle bent over and under the side of the boat.  Slowly and methodically, he worked the fish until it neared the surface and I netted his first catfish, a fat 7 pounder.  Brandon caught a similar-sized fish  during the battle for a nice double and both boys were pleased with their accomplishment.

Brandon had the hot hand most of the morning and he gives all the credit to his "lucky" hat.  He got it on a family trip to Bennett Springs State Park.  On our previous catfish outing, his hat's maiden voyage, he left it in the truck and never caught a fish in three hours.  I'm betting he never forgets it again.  Riley caught several more nice-sized channel cats and thought catfishing was cool, too.  While Cody had the hot hand the last trip, he apparently swapped places with his brother and only had one dinky cat for the day. 

We called it a day just before noon with 20 nice channel cats swimming in the livewell..  The boys, although munching on honey buns and drinking Dr. Pepper throughout the morning, were visualizing Wendy's cheeseburgers and fries on the ride home. 

In my book it was an excellent way to spend their last day before going back to school.  I think they thought so, too.  And when one of their teachers asks what they did on their summer vacation they'll have one recent, although aromatic, outdoor adventure that stands out!         


Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I can remember as a kid roaming the woods around Tuttle Creek Reservoir from dawn to dark.  Parents didn't worry then like they do now and the outdoors was a place to get lost as long as you knew your way home.  The discoveries, finds and experiences made lasting memories.  The things we could do, build and create were confined only by our imaginations.

My boys have had similar experiences growing up, although I keep much closer tabs on their whereabouts than my parents did me.  I tend to worry about them getting hurt or getting into a bad predicament and I'm much more protective.  I've tried to turn loose as they've gotten older and let them grow up and do things on their own.  But hard as I try I still want to help them out along the way.

A recent camping trip to Council Grove Reservoir found us getting plenty of rain and the lake rising.  I told Brandon and Cody and my nephew, Dylan, they should set a trotline from shore as the catfish would be hungry with all the run-off.  They readied the line and I helped them net shad and anchor the trotline, although they're plenty old enough now to do it all on their own.  I worried about them getting hooked, etc. 

The next morning after we returned from an enjoyable, although soggy squirrel hunt the boys were anxious to check the trotline.  I gave them instructions, a pair of pliers and a tub and sent them off into the lake with their life jackets securely fastened.  I watched as they checked many empty hooks until they got to deeper water.  Three nice channel catfish flopped and splashed as the boys relayed their success to those of us on shore with hollers and laughter.  It took them a while to get one of the fish off but between the three of them they finally managed to get him unhooked and into the tub.

They brought the tub to shore, proud of their catch and ready to show it off to sisters, parents and cousins.  After a couple photos the fish were released back into the lake.  They asked if they should rebait the hooks as they were all bare and I told them they weren't likely to catch anything during the day with the boat traffic and their swimming. 

But Cody decided that a ball of mud looked like tasty dough bait and he put a couple globs on the hooks at the end of the trotline unbeknownst to me.  That afternoon the kids were swimming and Brandon lifted up the end of the line to find another flopping, 3-pound channel cat that apparently decided Cody was right and ate the offering.

I wouldn't have thought it would work but kids don't know any better.  And sometimes you just have to back up and let them try as sooner or later they grow up and discover things for themselves.  If they fail, they still learn.  If they succeed, they just might discover they can catch a nice catfish on a glob of mud, too.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


There aren't too many anglers who would argue that the culinary tastes of channel catfish are a bit on the aromatic side.  Downright gut-wrenching might be a more accurate description.  The stuff they eat could gag a maggot. 
I can recall as a youngster exploring the banks of Milford Reservoir on a camping trip and finding a jar of something, but I didn't know what.  Being inquisitive I twisted the lid off and paid the price.  Turns out it was a jar of shad sides someone had left for days in the 100-degree sun and the build-up of gases caused the smelly goo to go everywhere.  Gagging and spitting I chucked the jar and its contents into the weeds.  Lesson learned.

But those same shad sides might cause the exact reaction to a channel catfish I get when I catch a whiff of the downwind side of an Outback Steakhouse.  My mouth waters and I bet his would, too, if he wasn't living in it.
And while it still baffles me that ANY manufacturer of ANY stinkbait has to put a disclaimer on the bucket that says "Not For Human Consumption," I have to admit I don't generally mind that smell.  In fact, I kind of like it and it elicits a pretty strong response whenever it hits me.
But my reaction isn't one of wanting to eat the stuff, but more from a sentimental and emotional perspective.  Over the last half-dozen years or so me and extended members of my family have had some wonderful catfishing expeditions on summertime camping trips.  I can crack the lid on a bucket of Danny Kings Catfish Punch Bait and almost see the smiles and hear the laughter from my three kids, niece, nephew, sister, mom and brother-in-law as they crank on a big ol' channel catfish.  The early morning wake-up calls have been worth it as the kids talk non-stop about the day's adventures and big ones that did or didn't get away.    
I guess I'm like Pavlov's dog, except my mind waters rather than my mouth.  That's okay and I know over time I'll want to hang on to those experiences.  Kids grow up and things change and I know I'll miss those fishing trips with my kids and family.  But the smell of stinkbait will always have a warm, albeit aromatic, place in my heart as a result and I hope those memories generated as a result of the smelly concoction never fade.

Friday, June 28, 2013


Summertime squirrel hunting success is often about as sure of a thing as you can find.  There's little pressure, lots of opportunity and squirrels are plentiful and available when the season opens June 1.  More often than not an experienced hunter can shoot a 5-rat limit in about 90 minutes or less if all goes according to plan.  And it does MOST of the time.  But on occasion things don't work out as evidenced by a hunt last weekend.

I was in Topeka visiting family and told my 16-year-old nephew, Dylan, we'd run out to the public hunting surrounding Perry Reservoir and try our luck chasing tree rats.  He's game for anything and has really got hooked on hunting and fishing in the last few years.  He took up trapping, too, and loves all time spent outdoors.

When my alarm went off at 5 a.m. and I opened the bedroom door Dylan was already sitting up waiting for me in the living room.  This bright-eyed approach was impressive, particularly considering he didn't get to bed until almost midnight the night prior after a doubleheader baseball game.  He was chompin' at the bit.

It didn't take us long to gather our gear and load up.  We commented on the stickiness of the air and the fact that it was already 77 degrees an hour before sunrise.  It would indeed be a muggy morning.  And it was going to get worse.

I had several maps of the public hunting areas surrounding Perry Reservoir.  I had penciled in some likely-looking spots after checking them on Google and we made our first stop.  The wind wasn't too bad when we hopped into the first stand of timber but my mood would quickly sour.

The undergrowth was intense, woolly and nearly impenetrable in some instances.  Plentiful spring rains had the vegetation lush making movement difficult at best.  After several failed calling attempts we decided to move on to another spot. 

We called and called using our squirrel distress and bark calls and didn't have much success.  We had a couple respond from way off, but nothing real close.  Finally, one fox squirrel came to investigate and after Dylan got one shot off to clear the way he connected on the second one. 

But that lone rat would be it for the morning.  We actually saw more turkeys than squirrels and we only saw 4 turkeys.  I was disappointed for Dylan.  I had gotten his hopes up and wasn't able to produce.  The timber we hunted looked like it should have squirrels every 15 yards but it just wasn't to be for whatever reason. I was perplexed and bummed as the morning wore on.   

Despite liberal dousing with bug repellent we were both chewed up with mosquito bites and ticks were crawling on us like crazy.  And it was HOT!  By mid-morning we punted and headed for cooler climates.

It was likely one of the most miserable mornings I've had in the great outdoors in recent history.  There were many other places I would have chosen to be after enduring everything else that morning. 

But Dylan was a trooper and never once complained.  He was glad to be out wandering the woods and seemed to enjoy it despite the brutal conditions and our lack of success. 

And when I jokingly asked later that day if he wanted to go again in the morning he said, "Sure!"  The kid's got it bad and that's a good thing. 


Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Fish are funny and fickle.  But fortunately, they're also predictable.  Success is usually determined by figuring out what works and duplicating it over and over.  This repetition also leads to guesses of species and size, oftentimes long before the fish is ever seen, and sometimes delusions of grandeur.  The biggest are always the ones that get away before positive identification can be made.

Over the years I've become adept, like many anglers, at determining what species of fish just inhaled my jig-and-nightcrawler combination I use while walleye fishing.  Drum, white bass, wipers, channel catfish and walleye have distinctive ways they bite, and subsequently fight, giving away their species long before they get to the boat.

But this "sense" isn't an exact science.  Although it works MOST of the time, I'm occasionally wrong.  But rarely does a guess of giant drum or channel catfish turn into a monstrous walleye.  The opposite can happen and often does, particularly with channel catfish and even more so with flathead catfish.  Take for example one evening last week.

A buddy and I were catching plenty of walleye and the occasional fish big enough to make any angler "oohhh" and "aahhh" when it surfaced.  We were also catching lots of "others" so our predictions were never few and far between.  Most times they were spot on.

However, on one good tell-tale walleye "whack," I dropped my rod and gave the fish a moment to inhale the jig-and-nightcrawler.  On the hook-set the fish didn't budge much.

"This is a big 'eye," I told my buddy.  "Get the net!"

The slow, lethargic, side-to-side head shakes told me this was a BIG walleye.  And while I've caught quite a few walleye over 7 pounds, I've never cracked the 8-pound mark.  The fact this fish wasn't coming in quickly told me I might have a legitimate shot at a personal best, maybe even substantially larger.

I fought the fish for a couple minutes just knowing it was at least an 8 or 9 pound walleye.  All indications during the fight gave me no reason to doubt it.  I was already planning photos and figuring out who I would send them to marking this historic occasion. 

But at the first swirl of the big fish at the edge of the boat, with my buddy poised with the net like a Great Blue Heron about to strike and threatened with his life if he missed, reality reared it's ugly, whiskered head.  Another confirming glimpse of a forked tail and my dreams of a giant walleye were squashed.  

"Dang, man, it's a catfish!" I said in a response edited for print. 

And a channel catfish to boot.  I can honestly say I'm not generally fooled by channel catfish.  They often roll or spin at some point giving away their identity, particularly while drifting.  I am a sucker for flathead catfish as they don't do this and I've had run-ins with 5 pound flatheads that are sure-fire 10 pound walleye...until I see them.
Despite my disappointment, the 7-pound channel catfish joined some of his toothy, piscine friends in the livewell.  Disappointment was quickly replaced with good-natured ribbing but all was not lost. My buddy took the big cat home and it's likely he's already been served next to some French fries and Cole slaw. 

It was a great evening on the water.  We had a wonderful time and the walleye fishing was fantastic.  But I'm still looking for that 8-pound-plus 'eye.  Here's hoping next time it won't have whiskers!  


Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Catching fish is simply fun.  While some anglers prefer to catch LOTS of fish, others like the pursuit of big fish.  Personally, I've never really had a preference and I enjoy catching many species of fish both large and small.  But every once in a while it's rewarding to hook up with a nice one.  Oftentimes those fish are the ones remembered and many of them get larger over time.  Here are just a few that come to mind and now easily accessed in the world of digital media.

My family camps several times every summer with my sister and her family.  It's always a good time when my kids get to see their cousins and we have a great time fishing and playing in the water.  On occasion my mother joins us and she loves to fish, too.  We were fishing for channel catfish one summer a couple years ago and my mom hooks into what she thought was the bottom.  But it started moving and she quickly realized it was a fish and a big one to boot.  It was all she could do to hold onto the pole (she would later have a bruise where the butt of the rod was buried in her stomach) as the big fish dove for the depths.  I realized something wasn't right by the way the fish was fighting and not succumbing.  She finally got it to the side of the boat and the monstrous cat was foul hooked near the base of the tail.  We shot a few photos with her and her grand kids and her big fish.  It was at that time I was nearly written out of her will when I told her we had to release the fish.  "WHY?" she screamed.  A quick explanation of Kansas fishing regulations didn't do much to get me back into the will and I eased her big fish over the side.  But my mom, kids, nieces and nephews still talk about the one that "HAD to get away."

Family fishing adventures are always fun.  Even when the preferred species doesn't cooperate, in this case channel catfish, there always seems to be other sorts of excitement.  And although carp are considered rough fish a youngster tussling with a 5-10 pound carp every few minutes is enough to keep any kid busy and happy.  Years ago we'd have outings where we'd catch a handful of nice channel catfish but the highlight, for the kids anyway, were dozens of carp that readily ate the stink bait intended for catfish.

Truly monstrous fish of any species are unique.  In the world of crappie many anglers consider a 2-pounder to be one worthy of big fish consideration.  While I've caught many over two pounds I've never cracked the 3 pound mark coming within a few ounces only a handful of times.  This fish came from Glen Elder Reservoir a couple years back.  It was just over 16 inches long and incredibly deep-bodied.  Only a week or so removed from the majority of the spawn this fish was a legitimate contender for a 3-pounder had I caught it just a few days earlier. 

Fishing trips with my kids are richly rewarding.  Even ones where we don't fill the livewell or get sore fingers from dozens or hundreds of fish are enjoyable.  My daughter was home for a couple weeks from college recently when we enjoyed a nice day on the water together.  While we caught several dozen fish of assorted species, we didn't catch many walleye of legal size.  However, when we caught this fat 5-pounder my daughter was as excited as if we'd been catching fish all day long just like it.  She promptly put the photo on her Facebook page and was pleased when overnight she had 29 "Likes" on the big fish photo. 


Thursday, May 2, 2013


Spring, if you can call it that now as I watch it snow as I type, is a great time to enjoy outdoor activities.  Turkey hunting, shed antler hunting and walking the banks fishing for spawning crappie are all popular pursuits in May.  And there are a handful of outdoor enthusiasts that can't wait for all the ingredients to line up when Mother Nature starts popping morel mushrooms.  The mysterious, secretive fruits are a delicacy and prized by many.

Hunting the fungus, while sounding a bit disgusting, is a popular pastime for many Kansans.  Those familiar with morels are out in full force right now reaping the rewards of a bountiful crop in many parts of the state.  If you haven't ever tried mushroom hunting now is a good time to give it a shot.  To borrow a phrase from one of America's favorite Duckmen, Si Robertson, "Hey, it's on like bing-bong, Jack!"

Morels grow in drainages along creeks, rivers and wooded draws.  They typically grow in association with various types of trees including cottonwoods, elms, cedars, sycamores and ash.  Areas where the ground has been disturbed due to cutting or trimming activities is good as morels often pop up in the disturbed soil.  Areas that have been burned are also good places to look, too. 

Edible morels (left) are hollow throughout the stem and fruit.
False morels (right) are solid and shouldn't be consumed.
Although there are thousands of different types of mushrooms in the world, some of them poisonous, the edible morel mushroom is easily identified.  Visually, it looks like a sponge and if cut longitudinally it's hollow throughout the main fruit and stem.  Harvested morels should be pinched off at ground level and carried in a mesh sack.  While it may help with spore dispersal, although that's debated, a mesh sack allows the mushrooms to remain fresh and "breathe" versus stored in a plastic bag.  Mushrooms can be stored for a couple weeks, refrigerated, in a paper sack and if washing is necessary done just before they're to be cooked.

Morels can be prepared a variety of ways but all of them should be cooked.  Sauteed in a pan with a little bit of butter they can be added to favorite pasta dishes, scrambled eggs or omelets.  One of the most common is cut lengthwise in two and dipped in a liquid bath of egg and milk and then lightly coated with flour seasoned with salt and pepper.  Fried to a golden brown in hot oil at about 350 degrees for 3-4 minutes the results are morsels fit for a king.

It's likely due to their wonderful flavor, their "secretive" nature and the fact they can't be artificially propagated, that morels are expensive.  They sell online for $20-$40 per pound and many people don't bat an eye buying a sack-full of fungus at these prices.  Professional morel hunters will dry the bounty they don't sell fresh and market them to culinary chefs in this country and abroad.   

The good news is some experts say the morel "season" is about at its midway point with several good weeks left.  But there's bad news, too.  That comes in the form of poison ivy and ticks, the latter which seem particularly bad in the last week or so.  These vermin come in all sizes and it's important to check yourself once you return home.  Ticks that have attached should be removed as quickly as possible to prevent the chances of tick-borne diseases being transmitted.

Morel spots are cherished and often shared only among close friends who are sworn to secrecy as to their location.  Finding new spots is a matter of logging countless hours, and possibly counted miles, of walking through likely-looking habitat.  But once a morel is spotted it's not often alone and others are nearby.  Spots good one year are often good in subsequent years.

Searching for mushrooms is a great way to spend a nice spring afternoon.  Finding mushrooms is even better!   

Friday, April 19, 2013


The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) offers a variety of special hunting opportunities.  Most are in the fall but spring turkey hunts are on the list, too.  Many of them focus on youth hunting opportunities and they're conducted in various parts of the state.

The KDWPT youth turkey hunt at Hutchinson has been going on for a dozen years or so and 10-12 youngsters are treated to a wonderful experience during the special youth season.  Most kids manage to kill a bird over the course of an evening and morning hunt.  If not, there's always tales of narrow misses and what-ifs.

There were 10 kids present for this year's hunt and one youngster and his father came all the way from Denver, Colo., to participate.  Shotguns were patterned and participants were treated to grilled hot dogs, chips, snacks and drinks (courtesy of the Ark River Chapter of Pheasants Forever) before heading afield with their parent or guardian and a volunteer guide.  Each kid walked away with a Cabela's gift card, camo hat, box call and information on hunting wild turkeys.

The evening hunt was a good one and for once the weather cooperated.  About half of the kids managed to kill a turkey the first evening.  Those that didn't were back bright and early the next morning and the weather and morning promised to be a good one.  When all the smoke cleared and the shotgun shells quit flying, eight out of 10 kids had killed at least one bird.  One of the youngsters who didn't get a bird missed several times and the other had too many turkeys in range at once and a good shot (one that wouldn't kill several hens, too) never really materialized. 

However, even an "unsuccessful" turkey hunt is a memorable experience.  Turkeys flying up to roost, non-stop gobbling, turkeys fighting and calling, deer sniffing turkey decoys at only 15 yards and all the other sights and sounds of time spent in the woods is worth the price of admission (although there is no fee to participate in these hunts, other than the required licenses or permits).  Killing a turkey is the ultimate goal but a successful hunt is often about more than the end result.

For many of the participants this is their first
exposure to turkey hunting so everything is new.  A parent or guardian is required to tag along and oftentimes they learn as much or more about the experience than the child.  And even just the time spent together as a father and son or daughter or mother and son or daughter is special.  It's good to slow down, breathe easy and relax in an ever-changing, fast-paced world and just enjoy the moment.  There's no better place to do that than the great outdoors.

To find out about special hunting opportunities for species such as waterfowl, deer and turkeys, check out the KDWPT web site at

Friday, April 12, 2013


Spring is here....or so they say.  My front yard looked like an ice skating rink and trees buckled and broke just two days ago when the Kansas spring turkey season opened.  Rain, sleet, snow, ice, hail and BIG north winds.  Ouch.  I'm guessing anyone who went Wednesday morning has a BAD case of turkey hunting fever. 

I opted to wait until the weather moderated just a bit.  I'm all about enjoying the morning as much as killing a turkey.  Turns out this morning was above average for enjoyment, but not so much for shooting a big ol' tom.  I'd still give the experience a 9 on a scale of 10. 

It was 29 degrees with light winds when I met a friend who invited me along on a hunt on the edge of the Flint Hills.  We bundled up like we were deer hunting in the winter, rather than turkey hunting in the spring.  Coveralls, stocking hats, gloves and the works weren't too much.  As we readied our clothes and gear we heard the first gobble of the morning.

And it wouldn't be the last gobble, either.  The creek bottom had no fewer than a dozen different gobblers and they were hammering as it got light.  Two pairs of geese cruised low at different times, honking the whole way and it was a natural-sounding symphony some would pay money to hear.  A handful of deer had a front-row seat and listened intently.

We'd call occasionally and the birds would answer.  But the gobblers had plenty of female company and when they hit the ground they went three different directions.  Unfortunately, none of them were our way but we could still keep tabs on them with their occasional calls.

We kept calling and started to get a couple gobbles that sounded as if they were moving our way.  It wasn't long and a half-dozen black spots emerged down and across the bean field from where we sat at the far edge. 

"I think they're jakes," my buddy whispered as he got his binoculars up.  "Yep."

I'm not opposed to shooting a jake but I like for them to put on a show.  If a young tom acts like he owns the joint and comes in strutting and gobbling then that's what I pay to see and I'll punch one of my tags.  These jakes were like the 3 Stooges times two.

They would run towards our decoys in stages and stop.  As another eased by the entire group would take off like a bunch of kids heading towards the lunch line.  It didn't take them long and they eased up to our decoys only 15 yards away.  Blankly and blinking, they stared at our decoys, several of them displaying a weak attempt at a half-strut. They reminded me of a bunch of teenage boys at a middle school dance staring across the gym at a cute girl trying to get up the nerve to go talk to her. 

We let the jakes ease back off in the direction they came and started calling again.  Several series later our calls were met by a short, but thunderous and deep gobble.  It was getting closer and he popped out near where the jakes first entered the field.

"Now we're talking," said my buddy looking through his optics.  "That's a big ol' bird."    

He strutted and gobbled and started our way.  He was about halfway across the field to our location when three hens entered the field straight across from us.  They had the six jakes in tow now and the king of spring was having none of that and took off after the hens.  Our optimism turned to pessimism and bad words to boot. 

A  north wind made our seated location a bit chilly, but we stayed put as we still heard birds and the others were still within sight.  Deer passed within easy rifle range and a few even got into bow range before smelling us.  We called in two more jakes who acted as squirrely as the first bunch and they, too, got a free pass. 

We decided to get up and chase a distant gobble we'd heard earlier.  Trying several more locations to no avail we made one last stand on a creek bottom.  Although we could hear hens calling in the timber we never heard another gobble.  As I walked out to get my decoy, my buddy got my attention and pointed behind us across the creek.  Two toms, one in full strut, and two hens were less than 150 yards away and they never made a sound as they walked behind us heading away.  We watched as a coyote had the same dinner ticket idea we had and circled them.  The birds never moved an inch and simply watched the curious canine with heads stretched high.

We tried to get ahead of these birds but when they finally saw us they had a much different response to a two-legged threat.  They got the heck out of Dodge.  We decided it was time we do the same and called it a day shortly after lunch.

The only thing I returned home with was a bleached-white deer skull (I'll use it for coyote trapping this fall), an antler tip I picked up hoping it was lucky (it was not) and a fuzzy, slightly out-of-focus picture of a nearby doe. 

Despite not filling a tag the morning was a success and I can't wait to do it again.  I'm just hoping spring actually does arrive and I can dress accordingly.