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Outdoorsmen and women are in a holding pattern right now. It’s mid-February and one of those "tweener" periods for much of the country. The cold fronts that rotate with the South winds make the fishing very unpredictable. The weather is still harsh in a lot of areas; in others, it’s just not comfortable enough to sit in the boat fighting the wind and catching little. It’s a great time of year to check your gear and set-ups for the approaching Spring. When the calendar starts to round the curve from winter to spring, it’ll all ramp back up...and quickly. When it does, I like to BE ready, not GET ready.
I spend a lot of garage time on the chilly windy days re-spooling reels for various applications: fluorocarbon for drop-shotting, clear water, deep cranking and other low line visibility needs, braid for the flippin and pitchin gear, and mono for most murky southern waters that I spend a great deal of time on. It's also time to check the tackle bags and reload terminal tackle needs: various hooks, sinkers, beads, rattles, bobber or weight stops, swivels and snaps, split rings, weights etc.
Finally, it’s time to reload on the baits that worked so well last year in those spots that you’ll visit again this year. I always make sure that I have a variety of soft plastics in watermelon with red flake for the closest (making it the most fished) bass lake to my home, June bug soft plastics for Florida waters, and small bait fish themed swim baits for my smallmouth trips up north, hard baits that were lost to deep water structure, overhead obstructions and shallow areas that I couldn’t reach with the boat. Hard baits with multiple treble hooks are predestined for loss. Snagged and stuck in an area that leads to broken line and with today's prices, broken hearts and wallets. What extremes would you go to to retrieve that $20 Whopper Plopper? For me, crank baits and golf balls are the same...I’ve never retired one from old age.
Top-water baits, hard swim baits, spinning and chatter baits...the list of off-season chores is truly endless but all part of the excitement. The first steps to landing that giant starts in the "tweener" time out in the garage. So, pour another hot cup of coffee, start undoing that big pile of treble hooked baits that have worked themselves into one big deadly ball and practice your pitching technique in tight quarters 'til it’s finally time to hook up to the boat. The Lord tells us to “Be anxious for nothing…” but it sure is tough just weeks before the shallow water spawn and gobbling long-beards!
February 17, 2018
I’m about to share one of the most fun recipes that you’ll ever come across! Proof? Okay, it requires that you go fishing...how’s that? It’s a cooler than normal August in Texas, but it's still August in Texas...Brutal heat that doesn’t really go away even at night. When I arise dark and early, I count is a blessing if the temp is below 80 and the humidity below 90. The heat and what to do about it is a standard part of every conversation. Well, here’s one of my favorite ways to battle the heat of a Texas summer. Ceviche!!!
Ceviche is a cold salad or salsa of sorts that includes any number of different ingredients, according to your personal taste, but one common denominator is FRESH fish or shellfish. Oh sure, you could visit the fish market and pick up some shrimp for your ceviche, but for less money, and in my opinion, equally great in taste when used in ceviche, sand bass or white bass or maybe they’re called silver bass where you come from, are delicious! Plus, you're way more likely to have a boat or a friend with a boat capable of catching up with some "sandies" than you are a shrimp boat so...let's go shopping...I mean, fishing!
Sand bass are plentiful in these United States, found in waters from Canada to the gulf coast, and catching them in the summer is an absolute blast! When we are in the mood for ceviche, as I am headed out to crappie fish or bass fish, I keep two rods ready and available for the sand bass. One is a small jigging spoon, the other a top water bait. During the hot summer months, sand bass will push huge schools of shad to the surface and gorge on them. This feeding frenzy will make the water appear to be boiling. When this happens, I drop the crappie stick and reach for the top water bait. Over the past few days that’s been a Whopper Plopper, but I’ve caught them on Zara Spooks, Buzz Baits etc. It is so much fun to watch the retrieve of a splashy top water bait as the sandies swipe at it. Sometimes they will hit the bait body, but not the hook and the lure will go airborne. Sometimes two fish will grab it at the same time. Sometimes it will go straight under on impact with the water. It's crazy!
These top water frenzies sometimes will last only a few seconds, sometimes 20 minutes. When the water stops boiling the fish are still there. Use your big motor to stay up with the moving pod of sandies and bait. When your screen is covered with bait, drop that spoon or slab directly down to the proper depth and vertically jig it up and down. My good friend, Omar Cotter with Luck O’ the Irish Guide Service in north Texas specializes in these fun to catch fish. He tells me that even when the top is boiling, he employs the jigging method, because the bigger fish are down deeper. Whatever floats your personal boat. In Texas, to keep a sand bass, the fish must be at least 10 inches
Five 10 inch sandies are required for this recipe. Once you have your fish, head for the grocery store. You’ll need:
Finely chop the vegetables and dump them in a mixing bowl. After filleting your fish, cut into small chunks, and add to vegetable mix. Add salt, more than you think you’ll need, but don’t go nuts. You can add more salt tomorrow when the ceviche is finished. For a little crunch, add sliced almonds. Cover contents with lime juice and stick it in the fridge, you’re done!
When you come back tomorrow, the first thing you’ll notice is that the fish has turned brilliantly white. Key indicator that your ceviche is ready. You’ve just cooked fish with chemistry! The acid in the lime served as your cooking element! Break out the chips and dip away the summer time blues. This is fun from catch to crunch for the entire family...Enjoy!!
August 10, 2017
I’ve spent my fair share of nights sleeping in uncomfortable situations. Pickup beds, rotted out farm houses and dilapidated old travel trailers, and of course the cold hard ground. I can remember a deer hunt that was so cold and wet that my hunting partner and I zipped our sleeping bags together to fend off the frost bite. On another trip, I dumped the lump out of my pillow case. The lump was a field rat. I awoke one morning so stiff from the pickup bed I’d used for a mattress, that reaching down to tie my boots seemed impossible. I’d do it all again too!
Our passion for this hunting and fishing heritage that we live can lead to some tough places and times, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve also been spoiled with some fine lodging, dining and terrific hunting and fishing opportunities. Robin and I have spent the past week at one of the absolute finest resort hunt/fish destinations that I’ve ever, yes I used the ever word, visited. Joshua Creek Ranch has the credentials. Two Tridents from Beretta, ORVIS Endorsed, heck, George Strait even visits for a little wing shooting from time to time. Everything, and I mean every detail at JCR is tended too. Your mattress, your view, your meals, your linens, your lodging, your everything will be the finest offered. It’s flying first class, and it's good! This is our third trip to this wonderful ranch located about an hour northwest of San Antonio, Texas.
The same detail that’s woven into your lodge experience is applied to the habitat on this near 1,400 acre ranch as well...Two decades plus of back breaking work by the Kercheville family. Years of cedar removal, planting, pond building, etc have produced perfect habitat for the wildlife that love this place. IT'S LOW FENCE. The critters have a choice where they spend time browsing, loafing and raising babies. That’s the best testament to this conservation project-an endorsement from the wildlife on this free range ranch in the Texas Hill Country region.
I’m here to hunt my favorite protein-Axis deer. Axis are found free ranging in very few places across North America-Florida, Hawaii and here in the Hill Country of Texas primarily. They love it here; I guess the country is very similar to their original home in Sri Lanka. Everything about an Axis is good! They are beautiful critters with an orangish brown coat accented by snow white spots just like a whitetail fawn. God must have favored the Axis a little more than the whitetail, because He allows them to keep their spots for life. Axis are bigger than most whitetails too...Up to 250 pounds for the bigger bucks, or "bulls", your choice. They are more closely aligned to elk than whitetail deer. Typical males will grow three points on each side-main beam, a couple of impressive brow tines and secondary points about halfway up the main beam. Thirty inches and longer is considered trophy. They are gorgeous animals and fine, fine, fine dining! That’s 3 fines from the red neck that has consumed a lot of wild game. No wang, no wild taste, better than beef! Axis are a challenging hunt as well. They are spookier than whitetails. If you bang or booger something up in their neighborhood, you might as well move along. They did. Unlike the whitetail rut where single males cruise the country, axis stay in groups most all of the time. Lots of eyes to spot you. They will flock to feeders. If that is legal in your state, jump on it. One of the coolest reasons to hunt axis deer is non-typical hunting times. Axis are considered exotic game in Texas, and can be hunted year round. It's June, and it feels great to be in the deer blind!
My most regrettable miss with rifle came about five years ago right here on JCR. I had a nice 30 plus inch axis in my sights after three days of hard, HOT hunting...Shot right under his belly at 135 yards. The bullet made a cloud of dust, and I’ve watched him run off in my head over and over again...Again this week, three days of hard, not quite as hot hunting with no meat to show for the effort. There are probably 25 to 30 blind locations on this ranch. We have hunted daylight to dark most of the time and visited maybe 10-12 of those blinds. We have glassed a lot of Axis deer too. Several hundred I’d say, searching for the right buck. About 1:30 yesterday afternoon, we made a move to a blind that we’d not hunted yet on this trip. When we rounded the corner in the road, I knew instantly that this was the exact spot in my reoccurring nightmare miss. I had been here before in person and many more times in bad memory. We spotted a small herd of Axis back in the thick cedar brush and one of them was a hard horned buck. I was hunting with Billy Torkildson, JCR guide, who can take a 5 second look at an axis buck and tell you how long he is to within a half inch of antler.
At about 4pm, the herd made a move, and out he stepped. Five seconds of analysis, and Billy T said, “shoot him”. I was situated in the same blind, taking aim from the same window, with a 30 plus inch Axis standing about 30 yards behind the missed shot from five years ago. I put that old memory behind me and collected my breathing and focus. Does were milling about, and I had to hold my shot for a couple of minutes, waiting for them to clear. When the opportunity opened, I was ready, and he fell in his tracks. 30 inches on his right side, 31.5 on his left, heavy bodied and beautiful! The ghosts were gone. Billy T had no idea that I had missed from this exact location before, or that this was my birthday. When I finally had my hands on this magnificent animal, I shared the story with him. Back at the lodge, I would enjoy a hot shower, delicious pan seared Axis steaks prepared by Chef Holden and an incredible mattress for the first full eight hours of sleep in several days. This time though, the dream was different!
If you go...
Axis can shed, be hard horned or in velvet at any time of the year, however, late May to September are the most active rutting and hard horned times. Take plenty of gun. These animals are extremely tough, and probably bigger than the whitetails you’ve been hunting. My setup: Weatherby Vanguard in .270/Winchester ballistic silvertip 130 grain. If you normally hunt with something smaller (.243) I’d step up a bit. The 300’s are good choices. Dress cool! Talk to your outfitter before you go. Will you be stalking or blind hunting. Stalking these critters is very difficult since they run in herds. If you are still/blind hunting, shorts, t-shirts etc. Light, cool clothing. Stay in the blind. Yes, they are active at the most popular times, dawn and dusk, but, you will see them meandering mid-day as well. Patience has killed more critters than Tarzan. Range finder. Great tool. In the rolling terrain that Axis favor, depth can be deceptive. Naked eye would tell you that my shot would be 120-130 yards. The laser reported differently-169 yards. Depending on bullet rifle combo, that’s enough distance to affect trajectory.
June 9, 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
It's September and for a lot of us that means shotguns, rifles and bows for the next several months. All too often I leave home for a hunt with all of the gear that I think I will need for a successful hunting trip. I carefully go through the checklist for gear that is necessary for a deer hunt, pheasant hunt etc. I often forget one key piece that can add a ton of pleasure to a hunt though...a fishing pole. The upland and big games seasons occur in the fall of the year for the most part, and that’s a particularly good time to fish. Most species will be gorging themselves with bait over the next few months in preparation for winter and then spring spawn, and the weather is starting to cool and fall color adds a special element to an already beautiful trout stream.
Last week Robin and I made a run to West Texas to hunt doves. We had an exceptional shoot, so good in fact that after the morning hunt each day my limit was in the ice chest. It’s 8:30am and I’m done for the day. Had I brought a rod and reel I could have enjoyed playing with the 3 to 5 pound bass in one of the ranch’s stock ponds, or dumped the boat into lake Alan Henry just down the road to search out the crappie bite. I had plenty of time.
Upland hunting is a different story, we hunt all day and there's no spare time. Montana is a good example. When we haul the dogs to Big Sky country, it’s usually for two weeks, but after 4-5 days of hunting, the dogs and we need a break. I’ve always stored the fly rods in the dog trailer for that trip, and for that 2 day break. Clean clear water and abundant trout are always close by in Montana. Two days in the middle of a two week bird chase is perfect. We hunt pheasants in South Dakota each fall. From my cabin, I can walk 30 yards down to Lake Oahe, a tremendous smallmouth/walleye fishery. There is usually a fish pretty close to your hunt, take advantage of that. A two piece rod that breaks down and fits behind the back seat of the pickup, and a small tackle container with just a few of the basics are great additions to your hunting gear.
SEPTEMBER 17, 2015