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I love to fish for bass! I love the puzzle. Sometimes, I put it together and find the right combination of depth, speed, color and size and I catch a lot. Other times, I spend all day trying to figure it out and only pick up a bite or two, but I love to bass fish, every minute of it. I had the wonderful fortune to fish a Wounded Warrior tournament some years back with Staff Sgt. Jay Fondren. Jay had lost both legs, most of one arm and most of the fingers on his remaining hand, but Jay loves to fish too...so there we were lifting and lowering his wheel chair into the boat. And fish he could! With the rod tucked under what remained of his left arm, and reeling with what remained of his right hand, Jay won the boat that day. He out fished/out caught both Gary and me. By the way, Gary has qualified for 30 Bassmaster Classics, the long running world championship and most coveted title for a bass angler. 30! Only Rick Clunn has qualified for more with 32. Gary fishes the Bassmaster Elite tour and is one of the very best bass fishermen that this world has ever seen. Gary Klein loves to fish too. It was a brutally hot day and what little bite there was to be had, was on a plastic worm. Sloooooooow fishing. But we all were content and focused, because all involved that day enjoy putting the puzzle together, or at least trying. Hot as it was, slow as it was, Gary didn’t fire the boat up to make the 3pm weigh in until 2:55. We fished, and we enjoyed it.
Some folks don’t like to fish, they like to catch. I fully understand that, I get it. Catchin is fun! I put it right up there with fishin. Gary Klein and I have since that day had many opportunities to spend time together. He goes about bass fishing the same way that Ben Carson went about brain surgery, or Michelangelo went about the chore of painting the ceiling at the Sistine Chapel. He analyzes, picks, positions and ponders every single cast, never losing focus. To Gary, fishing is what happens in your mind while on the boat. The tools in your hand and at the end of your line are just that...tools. It’s a cerebral activity.
That brings me to fishing with the preacher. Pastor Tom is a trusted friend, and Tom loves to bass fish. Tom and I were on the boat last week. It was slightly cooler than comfortable and the fish were not active. But fish we did, til there was just enough light left to safely load the boat and get it to the house. Pastor Tom twice on that day expressed how he was enjoying it, even though he hadn’t had so much as a sniff of a bite. He’d make cast after cast after cast, retying this bait and that bait with optimism that this next lure just might trigger the bass. Working on the puzzle, and he enjoyed it. I sat there on the boat thinking of how fishing somewhat mirrored Tom's life. As a fisher of men, he has made many casts, always with optimism that one might embrace the love and gift of God’s salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike the rod and reel in his hand, Tom can’t see the results many times as he fishes for men. He tells the Gospel truth, plants that seed, makes the cast. God tells us as believers to fish for men throughout the entire world, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14. Tom has fished for men in Russia, they even threw him in jail over there. Said he was fishing illegally. In truth, they just don’t want to be out fished. He’s fished in the Navajo Nation, and just about every place he’s set foot. Tom loves to fish.
I figured it was pretty safe fishin with the preacher, after all he’s a preacher. Not the kind your see on TV that wants your money in exchange for your own personal health and wealth. Those ol' boys, and in some cases gals, are lying to you. They’re fishin for something other than your eternity. Tom’s the kind of preacher that takes his Christian life seriously, and tries his best to live it Biblically. Tom's a man of God, I thought to myself, he hasn’t caught a single fish all day, and I’d only managed a 10 inch bass. He CAN'T lie about the results of this trip like some other fellas that I fish with do. Wrong! Before church last Sunday morning, Tom, me and some of the boys from church were visiting and Tom told a fish story. No, he didn’t “grow” any imaginary fish of his own, as he held his hands about 5 inches apart, but he shrunk mine! I’m gonna pray for you Tom.
DECEMBER 8, 2016
My childhood was so wonderful! I didn’t know it then, but I do now. I guess that happens to lots of folks after they melt a b’day cake with fifty plus candles. I grew up in a house that faced a pasture. That pasture was called “Jones” pasture. In that pasture was a pond. Yep, “Jones" pond. I can't tell you how many meetings I scheduled with childhood buddies at Jones pond.
It was full of bluegill and bass. If you caught a 2 pound bass, you were king of the pond. That pasture held deer and quail, and I had a single shot Stevens in 12 gauge. Quail were so plentiful in Jones pasture that at 10 years of age I could take that Stevens, walk up to whistling birds and kill a mess for the family without the luxury of a pointing dog. Most days I spent daylight to dark in Jones pasture, and most times alone. I couldn’t understand why other kids preferred the bowling alley, city swimming pool or whatever was showing at the Grand Theater.
There was always adventure in Jones pasture, and I wasn’t going to miss it. In my high school years I actually tried to mow a football field for the guys in the middle of it. The rock and cactus made it impossible, but a young man can dream. Dad wasn’t pleased with my decision to take his push mower out there and I don’t blame him. I forever changed that mower. Intense drama played out in Jones pasture. We were all about 7 or 8 when Joe Canterberry got too close to some kid casting a cane pole and took a hook clean thru the eyebrow…smooth thru from bottom to top…just below his flat top haircut…worm intact. He squalled like an alley cat. After we held him still for a few minutes so that we could all get a good look at that eyebrow, #2 eagle claw hook, red wiggler combo, Joe thought it was best to go see his momma. We agreed, but weren’t smart enough to clip the line to the hook, so some kid, cane pole in hand led Joe through Jones pasture like a dog on a leash, all the way home. That leaves an impression on a fella. It did me anyway.
Another time as I made my dash from the house to the magical pasture I stabbed myself. It was when I threw myself between the 2nd and 3rd wires on that old rusty barbed wire fence. I had run the knife thru my belt loop and when I lifted my leg to jump thru the fence, it entered my upper thigh in one spot and exited another. I just kept on going and know now that it was God that protected me from infection.
The worst episode is when I deceived my mom. It was pouring rain and I was told to stay in the house…but I couldn’t stand it. I was in Jones pasture when out of nowhere mom appeared, and she appeared mad. Stomping thru the mud, high heels in hand, blue dress soaked, and her hair that she made weekly appointments to keep perfectly puffed up was now hanging down like I’d never seen. I was scared, so scared that all I knew to do was run, she chased, she caught me…It was the only time that I ever ran from mom and I never lied to her again. I never met Mr. Jones, and I’m quite sure that he has passed now, but I’d like to run into him in Heaven and tell him thanks. His pasture, his pond, his willingness to allow an ol' Palo Pinto county kid to grow up within his cedar fence posts absolutely changed my life.
FEBRUARY 3, 2017
Take me to the woods without a trigger to pull, and I’m just fine, as long as someone else is in charge of the trigger. Same story with a fishing pole...Preferably that someone else is a youngster just beginning their outdoor journey, or maybe a fella that loved hunting and fishing as a kid but career and commitment kept him on concrete for several decades. I love the hunt. Doesn’t matter if I’m hunting deer, turkeys, quail, doves, walleye, smallies...you get the picture. It’s the chase, the hunt, the research, the piecing together of the puzzle, and the smiles and stories that come from fresh eyes and ears.
What a glorious time spring is! It's just February, but it's all about to unfold for antoher trip around the outdoors' calendar. I’ll be in Florida chasing big green bass in a couple of weeks, then on our fertile Texas crappie waters. Turkey hunting with the world in springtime bloom is near and dear to my heart and so is a cool spring night of predator calling. It’ll be time for a South Dakota walley trip before long and then a fall full of axis, elk and whitetails. It's all on the way, and I look forward to every experience, but the 2016 trip that I’m most excited about won't put me behind the gun or flipping a jig into heavy shallow spring cover.
You’ll hopefully hear the show in early April after I venture into the woods with my pastor, his dad and 3 little boys. We plan to shoot a couple of pigs, but we're hunting for something bigger. Real big smiles and lifelong memories for the young’uns is the goal of this hunt. Thanks to my friends, Keith and Barbara at Northern Sky Outfitters for making this trip a possibility complete with cabin, cooking and care while we're on their ranch. They can do this for you too, I recommend it! I’ll take the 22, and the boys can take turns tearing up a target or two, dad and grandpa will do the pig shooting with the boys as witnesses. If the stories start to stretch, maybe the shot gets longer or the pigs grow after death, the boys can straighten that right up.
This is a turn key, comfortable way to persue our now legendary wild pigs in Texas. If you’ve been thinking about it...book it. Spring is a perfect time weather wise to hunt 'em under the stars with hog lights, or spot and stalk em during the daylight...Or both. The ranch will hunt you both ways if you prefer. Take the kids, put the sausage in the freezer, make a lasting memory with a newbie, or maybe with a long time absentee from the hunting environment.
FEBRUARY 5, 2016
I'm back on open water now, and that’s comforting for a couple of reasons. Even though I was able to spend considerable time on ice for the first time in my life, I always had a nagging in the back of my mind with every step or scoot of the snowmobile that a sudden crack, pop and sink COULD happen. It didn’t. The ice was two feet thick and very safe. The second reason that I'm comfortable on the home lake is familiarity. Thousands of hours on these waters have me launching the boat without a specific game plan, nothing more than a targeted species in mind. I can launch, fire up the motor and head out without marking a boat ramp or even turning on the Garmin units until I'm near my starting point.
I do plan a return to the frozen country though. The people in Minnesota were so friendly, welcoming and enjoyable...the fishing was pretty darn good too. When drilling an eight inch hole to catch fish on a lake that's eighty miles long, you better know what's under there...could be a very long day of hit and miss without open water knowledge of what becomes rock hard ice late fall through winter. Woody Woods know where to set the auger to work. He’s been fishing Rainy Lake, Minnesota on the Canadian border for 45 years. He has fished so well that his peers put him in the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. That’s a big part of why I chose Woody as a fishing partner on this trip. His knowledge along with his easy going personality made him a slam dunk decision for me. His business is titled “Woody’s Fairly Reliable Guide Service”; his motto, “90% of our customers come back alive”.
When the engines of the snowmobiles die down, 8-10 miles up a frozen lake in late February, the silence...REAL silence starts to creep into your ears. No planes, highways or boat motors. Just a light breeze through the pines, that stretch from the thousands of islands that dot Rainy. The latest snowfall buffers the sound and it’s the perfect soundtrack for the incredible beauty that surrounds you. The only disturbance was a bald eagle that landed on the ice about 100 yards away in hopes of stealing one of our fish. He did too! Swooping in so close behind me that the flapping of his massive wings raised my eyebrows and spun my head around.
I've fished all of my life, from the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf, to freshwater from Florida to the Rockies. This was a totally new and exciting experience. I've never been anyplace more beautiful. Put it on your bucket list, plan it and follow through. Here are a couple of tips...
Before you go...
MARCH 10, 2017
I fried up some crappie a couple of nights ago along with fresh sliced tomatoes, some steamed squash and a few fried potatoes. That’s a meal that never diminishes in excellence. It is always better than I remember, and I remember that fried crappie is pretty dandy! Well, everything was wonderful except those dang tomatoes. The tomato industry should be ashamed of the product they lay out for us. It's kinda like modern day Nashville. They roll out a product that looks good, but is way short on the real reason you bought the product. Tomatoes are a whole nother story. Back to the crappie and how to land them in your grease.
Ahhhh, springtime! Spring is the absolute favorite time of year for most anglers. The various species move to the shallows to spawn and defend the nest against anything that comes within smacking range. You can load up a mess of keeper crappie this time of year, and they are accessible to anglers that don’t fish from a boat. I do fish from a boat, or at least use the vessel to get me in an area that I want to fish. The crappie will look for a hard surface for a spawning area. Hard clay or rocks maybe. The keys to look for are:
I employ several tactics in the springtime. If the fish are spawning on the rocks along a dam or bridge, I will place a float, or bobber about 6-8 inches above my jig, and as I drift or very slowly troll along the rocky bank, I allow the bobber to do the same thing. Very effective method. Another great way to sack em up is to look for shallow flats that are occupied by lots of button willows, or cattails, or stumps. PARK THE BOAT. It's too shallow to get into these flats with most boats anyway. Tie it off so it won't blow away and slip into your waders! Slowly, without disturbing too much water as you go, move from brush to brush to logs to other cover. A 9 to 12 foot lightweight jigging rod is recommended. This will keep you far enough from the fish to not spook them. Only allow about 6-8 inches on line with jig attached to dangle past the tip of the rod. With your free hand, pull the line and jig up snug to the rod tip so that there’s no slack. Ease along, much like a feeding heron does, and slip the tip of your rod at water level, deep into the cover. NEVER turn loose of the line in your free hand. Ease the jig down into the water and wait for the thump. When you feel it, pull the line with your line hand to set the hook and pull the fish up to the rod tip. Back him out of there quickly. Without constant control and contact with your line hand, you will be miserable, losing fish and tangled in brush all day. Stay in control of the line at all times. AND, check the last 2-3 feet of your line regularly. Your fishing in abrasive stuff and line wear occurs often. Re-tie, don’t break off that nice one.
I often see bank fishermen set up in a spot and stay there all day, which can be very productive if the fish favor that spot and the weather hasn’t moved them around or out. But how much more productive could you be with an inexpensive set of waders that help you cover a lot more water. Slip em on, slip out into the water, and slip up on some cover, then slip em into the cornmeal and grease.
A few thoughts:
The majority of crappie that you catch on spawning beds are males. They build the nest, mate with incoming females, then stay and guard the fry against predators. The females will be at the nest only long enough to lay her eggs and move back out. If there are hardwoods or stumps or other cover in nearby deeper water, don’t forget to check them regularly as well. That’s where the big girls are hanging out while not visiting the beds. You’ll more than likely catch your bigger fish here.
When? 62 degree or warmer water seems to be a key factor for the crappie spawn. A string of 60 degree or warmer nights (air temp) are a big deal too. When you have a string of 60 degree nights and a full moon in the forecast, mend the hole in the waders and string up new line on the long pole! Good fishing to you! Send me a picture or two of your success for the BBKO Braggin Board... and a basket full of home grown, vine ripened tomatoes!
MARCH 24, 2017
I told him to be careful in the old boat seat...”it’ll go over with you”...I said. I told him that many times, but he just had to set the hook like he was Jimmy Houston on TV...and over the side he went. I must admit that I was more than amused and it’s given me a great story to tell at hunting club meetings and field trials over the years. It was one of those cheap clamp on seats that swivel, but a first class addition to the leaky old 12 ft v-hull aluminum vessel that I was so proud to own. It had a 5 horse motor on the back that was dependable enough, would start on most occasions after a little priming, and much rope pulling.
My friend that enjoys a surprise dip in the midst of a fishing trip is Kevin. We have lots of stories to tell on each other and all of them are from hunting/fishing trips. We’ve watched each other’s kids grow up and have kids, we’ve buried the dead together, laughed, cried and love each other. He’s the guy that I could call at 2am if I needed to. I knew that even during that horrible period when we got mad and didn’t visit for a while...ALL his fault. Actually, I’m more to blame than anybody and I’ve asked God and Kev to forgive me. Well, I know I talked sincerely to God about it, pretty sure I mentioned it to Kevin.
When Kevin went into the lake...backwards...feet above head...fishing pole still firmly clenched in his right hand...I could see his eyes, under water. They were real big and sinking. I did what any hero would do in this crisis and swiftly took his fishing pole from him. As I sat admiring my new pole and thinking how it would be mine if he would only stay down there longer than his lungs would allow, he rudely and abruptly reemerged from the lake. It was a lot like the last scene in a horror movie when the gruesome killer that you thought was for sure a goner blasted through the surface of a serene and peaceful hillside water. He grabbed the little boat by the side and started to lift himself up to a drier climate. That’s when I swatted his hands with my, uh, his fishing pole...”climb in back by the motor or you’ll flip the boat over” I said...I’ve always had to do the thinking part in our relationship. Once he was seated again, socks drying out on top of the motor, I felt that it was time for me to give him some constructive chat...”first of all” I taught, “when your jig taps a log, don’t set the hook, you must learn the difference between a fish and a stationary object in the lake.” I’ve taught him a lot through the years and he has never, that I can remember, said thanks. There are Kevin-Billy stories from the trout streams, to the cold quail pastures of west Texas, bass and crappie holes everywhere, pickup cabs, countless cafes, Montana, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and obviously the bottom of Lewisville Lake. Treasured times and tales from decades of life on the water and behind bird dogs together. The bond of hunting and fishing together; It can overcome a hurtful argument that mars an otherwise blessed relationship.
Hunting and fishing are activities sometimes filled with long periods of time without action, but you press on with your son, daughter, spouse, pappaw or long time friend. There is no TV to flip on and dull both of your senses, no computer, no instant entertainment that says “I’m more important than your present company”. You depend on each other for conversation, entertainment, honesty, safety, chores and breakdowns. You build up a trust that you know is more solid than hapless ugly words. You build a security and comfort that no matter what happens in this life, you won’t have to go it alone.
Some folks can’t cut the mustard when it comes to these tougher to achieve, long lasting qualities, and they fall away after a while. Maybe they came along to see what you could do or provide for them, maybe they only want you to put them on fish or game in a spot where you’ve had success, maybe they want to take advantage of your ability to keep a clean camp or change a flat tire...or maybe they see a lasting, real and deep relationship that they want, and don’t have. The only way that you’ll find out is to spend some time with them in the field or on the water, through situations both easy and tough...time will tell the truth.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2015
I’m not referring to the college football conference that produces high scoring offenses and exciting fall gridiron action. The big 12 in my book will forever be roaming the drainages and deep cover of Baylor county Texas.
I have hunted quail primarily on my friend’s ranch outside of Seymour, Texas for the past 20 years. Ken has been so kind to me all of these years with gate and barn keys, and a hearty welcome to hunt his ranch. In the beginning I rarely saw a deer at all while walking miles each day behind the bird dogs, but through the years that began to change. I started seeing a doe here and there, then a basket rack buck, then a spike, then a group of 4 or 5 does, then some better bucks. It was obvious that the deer were moving into Ken’s country over time. It was also obvious that the quality of the deer in both body and antler size were improving. I guesstimate several reasons for the increase.
* habitat improvement-the mesquite bottoms and brushy cactus country on Ken’s ranch has grown taller and thicker through the years. Perfect cover.
* plenty of feed available-annual winter wheat, sufficient spring rains.
* a thick, thick, thick deep bottom-about 40 or 50 acres that seldom sees a human and is ideal for loafing/bedding deer
Here’s the bigun though…
* Educated hunters have been hunting more selectively over the past twenty years. Once upon a time, that little basket rack 6 would have been a prize in most hunting circles…draped across the hood of the car, or on display with a lowered tailgate and driven thru town a time or two, with a stop at the café thrown in just to make sure the local boys knew that you had bagged a buck, any buck. Thinking has changed drastically. That basket buck would still be taken today, and still with great pride. The difference would be properly placed enthusiasm. Once the pride was placed on the antlers, it is now placed on herd improvement. You don’t want that buck to pass along his genes to future generations of 5 and 6 year old 6 points with a 13 inch inside spread. Take him out of the reproduction cycle, enjoy his delicious venison and watch offspring from better bucks grow up. Another benefit from educated hunters, and this one is a bit more difficult for many, is properly aging deer before pulling, or not pulling the trigger. There he is, a tall 8! Looks like a 20 inch inside spread! Beautiful!! WAIT!! While he’s giving you a good luck, try and age him. If this great deer is 3 ½ years old, let’s give him another year or three to develop. If he’s 6 ½ or older, he’s reached his peak, should have plenty of offspring nearby and will start to decline so let’s go ahead and harvest this animal. That mindset has helped grow and improve our deer herds across America the past couple of decades, and I surmise that these are the reasons for the big 12 showing up.
I’d never seen him before, as far as I know nobody had. There was no camp talk of him, no game cam pics hanging in the barn. He showed up mid rut at about 7:30am. I saw him coming from a distance and when he hopped the fence and the sun gave me a good look at his crown, I knew immediately that in all of my years on this ranch, I’d never seen anything close to him in comparison. I was in a blind overlooking a feeder that the girls enjoyed on a regular basis. He was on a dead run to see if the girls were at the buffet…they were not. He ran to within 100 yards of me, never stopped. Took a look, no does, and on he went disappearing into the thick cover.
I sat back and exhaled for the first time in about two minutes. Wow…what a deer. Through my binocular, I saw him again at about 9:30am. On the neighbor’s wheat, and he was a good mile from me. He wasn’t far from cover, and didn’t stay exposed very long. I like to crawl in the blind an hour before legal shooting time, and stay all day, or until I make harvest. I did pull the trigger that day just before dark, on what I believe was one of the big 12’s kinfolk. Perfectly symmetrical like the 12, 8 tall and wide points. I went ahead and filled my tag and freezer with the best buck that I’d ever taken on this property, and one of the best I’d ever seen in Baylor County Texas. I still wanted more meat in the freezer and I will never in my days on earth get enough time in God’s perfect creation, so back to the woods I went day after day, studying the deer and with a keen eye out for the 12.
I didn’t see him again for a couple of weeks, but I did see him again, three times more in fact. Baylor is a two buck county, but only the 12 would satisfy my second buck tag, nothing less. On a muddy morning, after an all-night rain I stepped out of the barn/apartment with my coffee just before sunrise. I could see deer feeding in the wheat. Thru my binocular I could see 5 does and one really big buck. Each minute brought better light, and before long I knew that I was looking at the big 12. The rut was full swing and he’d lost control of his protective senses. He had now exposed himself in an open wheat field, ours by the way, and made himself vulnerable. A lot of humans do that too. I ranged him at 276 yards, I’m comfortable with that shot. I was not comfortable with the man standing beside his pickup a half mile behind the deer. I guess his ol’ truck had broken down, or he found the one spot that had cell service…whatever his reason for stopping in the middle of nowhere, I couldn’t shoot. I waited and waited and waited. The pickup didn’t move, but the deer did. The does were moving east and back toward heavy cover, the big 12 travelled with them. I had studied their movement enough to know where they were going.
I immediately moved west and took the long way around to the trail that I knew they were going to use. My plan was perfect, my execution of it was not. I should have stopped 100 yards shy of the trail but I pushed it. I wanted to cross the trail before they got there and catch a better wind. As I popped out of the brush 10 feet from the trail, so did HE! We were face to face for about .0003 of a second and then of course he was gone. I knew I had blown a golden opportunity. I saw him once more on the very last day of the season, a cold windy January day. He was across the fence on the neighbor, about 500 yards away, and all alone, the way he spends most of his year I recon. I watched him for half an hour before he slipped into a depression and disappeared…again. That was two seasons ago and far as I know, he’s still there.
I didn’t harvest the 12, but the chase, the strategy, the hunt and the time is just as big in my memory. Special memory. I’ll carve out a little time to look for him some more this year and share great tales of great adventure with campmates. We’ll eat store bought beans with unfulfilled tags, and backstrap fillets when our shot finds its mark. Happy bow opener to you! Make memories and send me YOUR story and pics along the way. I look forward to that!
SEPTEMBER 30, 2016