There aren’t many outdoorsmen who wouldn’t like their youngsters to become steady fishing partners, and follow in often muddy footsteps.  So, when they hear the words “Can I go fishing, too?” they’re eager to take them along.  Often, it’s a good experience. one that gets better as the years roll along.  Sometimes, it’s a bad one, resulting in kids that would rather commit hari kari than try fishing again.  When that happens, you’ve usually done something wrong.

 I took my own youngsters fishing from the time they were small, and plenty of others since, and it doesn’t take many trips to learn that you’ve got to plan the experience like a general.  Last week I took my two young grandsons (9 and 7) out again, and as usual I planned carefully, and gave the trip plenty of thought.  Here are the 7 basic things I did, and you should, too.

  1. Initial outings should always be to a farm pond, rather than a big lake or river, and I always check out the pond first.  I want one that has smooth, grassy banks and clear water, rather than one that the youngster will have to reach by fighting through brush and skin scratching briers.  There should be few or no weeds to keep fouling hooks, and no thick line of cattails surrounding the pond.  Easy walking and easy fishing.
  2. Fish strictly for bluegills, and make sure the pond has plenty, though a bass or two will add welcome excitement if you’ve set the drag carefully.  Kids need fast action, and they won’t get it from a Lake Erie walleye trip or a half days boring casting on a muskie lake.  Bluegills will provide plenty of fast action as they did for my grandsons.
  3. Make sure they have good equipment,  Some anglers are tempted to give the kid a junk rod on the theory that if he or she ruins it, it’s no loss.  But I still remember a man who took his boy to a pond I was fishing, handed him a rusty old rod, then hotfooted it down to the far end to cast for bass.  The boy made a few casts, tangled his line until it wouldn’t cast at all, then sat there frustrated and wanting to go home.
  4. Don’t fish yourself.  I never did when I had a youngster out, but stayed close to clear tangles, offer advice, bait their hooks until they could do that easily, and  removed fish until they learned unhooking themselves.  While I was offering advice, I also offered plenty of praise (that’s a good cast – he’s a very nice bluegill).  Kids love that.
  5. If fishing is slow for some reason and they begin to show signs of boredom, go to plan B.  Stop for a while, get out a little picnic lunch, walk them around the pond looking for tadpoles and frogs, maybe even throw a few rocks.  And talk about the creatures you’re seeing.  Then fish a little more.
  6. Keep it short.  Few things put a kid off fishing more than staying too long, letting them get hot and tired, and again, bored.  Even if they’re catching lots of fish, keep it down to an hour or so.  If they leave eager to catch more, they’ll be eager to come again.
  7. Finally, be sure to take some home for mom to admire, then clean the lot with the youngster helping a bit, fry the fillets or pieces up for dinner, and comment often as you eat them about their flavor and size.  Kids love compliments and this is a good place to give them. 

Simple rules indeed, but they’ll see that young lad or lady wanting to go  again.  When you hear them say “Let’s go fishing, dad”, you’ve done it right.

outdoorswithmartin on April 11th, 2010

 Bluegills.  Unusually prolific, doughty fighters, easy to catch, and excellent on the table.  It’s no wonder they’re one of Ohio’s most sought species, and while these little panfish will bite 12 months of the year, the top time to make a serious catch is when they’re on their spring spawning beds.  And that’s usually sometime during the month of May.

Bluegills move in close to shore then, and the brightly colored males begin to brush out small circular nests on the bottom, fanning hard to remove mud and debris, cleaning diligently down to gravel or hard pan bottom.  Then when all is ready, they hover almost motionless over their nest waiting for a duller colored, egg laden female to join them.

 The female selects one of the impatient males, and urged by nudges on her flanks, drops a cloud of eggs which the male immediately fertilizes, then she swims off to greener pastures while her temporary husband remains to stand guard and chase off any intruders.  It’s a togetherness business, and where one male nests, usually 50 to 100 or more others will join him, so walkers or boaters along the shore of a lake or farm pond see a broad pattern of nests about one foot apart, each with a waiting male.  These males are not only highly visible in reasonably clear water, but very hungry and extremely easy to catch in numbers.  Which is why spawning season is a great time to take as many as you wish to clean.

There are lots of ways to catch these fish.  Once you’ve  traveled around that farm pond or small lake, and located a spawning bed (or perhaps several), then stand well off so the fish won’t spook, and cast a pencil float, splitshot, and No. 6 hook baited with worm into their midst.  That float will sink with astonishing regularity.  In larger lakes, travel the shoreline in a small boat looking for clusters of beds, and do the same thing.

A refinement used by some is to trade the hook for an ice spoon in red, yellow. white or green, and use waxworms instead.  That float will sink even faster.  And often I’ve found a bed and tied two, even three small flies to a fly leader, one on lines end, and two more on short side lines above about a foot apart.  The kind of fly doesn’t matter much, since these aren’t brown trout, but I prefer small, nondescript nymphs in black, brown or green.

Then cast into the bed, wait for the line to twitch, and strike gently, then wait again.  You’re likely to get a second twitch, even a third, and fight it out with two fat bluegills, even three for your efforts.  A nice bluegill on a light fly rod is a good fighter, prone to turn sideways and give it everything he has, but two or three will put a bend in your rod that’s memorable.

For those seeking larger fish, keep in mind that the bigger bull bluegills will nest in slightly deeper water, so work the outside edge of the bed hardest and avoid the smaller males in very shallow water.  You’ll pick up the dull colored females in this deeper area too, and some love their twin egg sacs breaded and fried crisp.

Keep in mind one more point about spawning ‘gills, they’re an ideal kids fish, so when my youngsters were both pre-teen I routinely took them after bedding pansters.  I never fished on these occasions, spending my time clearing tangles, showing how to bait hooks, and removing fish, then stringing them.  It’s a fast paced type of fishing with almost constant action, and kids LIKE constant action and big catches that they can take home and brag about.  A good way to get them started.

Does fishing for spawning panfish hurt a pond?  Not at all, unless it’s an unusually small pond.  There are almost always too many bluegills, and only a certain amount of food available.  Remove a fair number and the remainder will eat better and grow large more quickly.  You’re actually helping a pond most times by removing a good catch, and that’s another reason to do so.

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It’s spring at last.  How do you tell?  Not by the calender or by the tulips and daffodils that are pushing up.  Spring arrives in most fishermen’s opinion when the first walleyes move into the Sandusky and Maumee rivers with spawning on their mind.  The smaller males arrive first, usually around the last of March or the first week or so of April, weather and water temperature deciding.  Then the big females, some to ten pounds and more, start nosing against the current and pushing upstream to the waiting males.  A great chance to catch some dandies, either using a small boat, wading in chest waders, or standing along the shoreline casting.

It’s important to remember that spawning walleye aren’t very hungry, and will rarely chase a fast moving bait, so the rule is “Keep it slow and low.”  And since special regulations require fishing with a single hook (not a treble), that fishing is usually done with a jig of some kind.  Most anglers at either river do their fishing by casting out slightly upstream, letting the lure sink, and bringing it back as slowly as possible.  They catch one once in a while.  But a better method, if you have a small boat or canoe, is to anchor out there in a likely spot and do your casting with a three-way rig straight downstream.

To make this rig, you’ll tie your fishing line to one swivel, then add a short length of monofilament and a sinker to the second swivel.  You’ll need to experiment with the sinker, choosing a weight just heavy enough to hold the rig lightly bumping bottom.  To the third swivel, tie another piece of monofilament maybe 18 – 24 inches long and a floating jig.  The jig should have a twister tail at the very least for eye appeal, or a small minnow on the hook.  Keep in mind that nearly every walleye down there will be facing upstream, so when you cast straight downstream and bring the rig back at a crawl, it’ll pass their milky eyes very slowly, and just a flip of the tail will let them catch it. 

That’s a basic problem shore casters with a single jig have to face – if there’s any even semi-serious current, the jig will whip past a waiting walleye at a fair rate of speed, usually before they can react, and they’ll rarely turn and chase it.  One refinement of this technique for boating anglers is to keep moving.  Stay here for ten minutes and cast downstream, then up anchor and move 50 feet or so before anchoring and trying again.  You’ll probably want to stay in mid-river, especially on weekends when the shore is clogged with casters who might tangle your line.  Or move far enough downstream to avoid shore casters. 

 Waders can do much the same as boating anglers.  They can either wade (very carefully) out a bit and cast a three way swivel rig downstream or, if they lack swivels, at least cast downstream with a jig and minnow heavy enough to stay near bottom.  Again, retrieve slowly and strike at any tiny change in the lure.  Most “strikes” will be just a bump or a change in tension, they’ll rarely hit hard.

Another technique for boat anglers that works very well is to fish with an electric motor and again, a small jig with or without minnow.  This tactic was developed in Michigan and is now spreading to Ohio.  Basically, you drift very slowly downstream using the motor pointing upriver to slow your drift.  Some toss a wood chip over the side and keep the boat moving exactly as fast as the wood chip, which means the jig below is floating along as normal current speed, not racing past as it would if being reeled in.  The jig will approach those upstream facing walleye just like any morsel giving them time to look it over and hopefully suck the jig into their mouths.  Another advantage of this downstream drift is that sooner or later you’re bound to pass a pod of walleye holding in a pocket or eddy below.

Finally, if you lack a boat or even waders, try tightlining a minnow or nightcrawler behind a slip sinker.  Cast here and let the bait sit for five minutes, then cast there and elsewhere, covering as much ground as possible.  It’s a restful business, totally non-tiring, and sooner or later, a hungry one should swim by.

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outdoorswithmartin on April 11th, 2010

Our area has lots of farm ponds. Some of them are excellent in terms of all around recreation, particularly fishing for lunker bass and palm-sized bluegills. Some others rank as good, more fair, and a goodly percentage are definitely mediocre to poor.

We all love the excellent to goods, and many a reader either has a farm pond, plans to buy country land and build one, or hopes to purchase a little rural paradise that has a long standing pond. Whether that pond falls into the top categories or stays there won’t happen by chance. Instead, it’ll depend on various moves and maintenance made by the landowner.

Old ponds are my personal favorite. I love those with a little bay or two and a bit of swampy backwater instead of pure, near rectangular symmetry. I like to see a weed bed or two along its sides, a clump of cattails here and there, and deep water of at least 8 feet, hopefully more, that gradually shallows to dry land. Ponds like that are usually good for fishing, and nice places to swim, boat a little, catch bullfrogs, maybe trap a few muskrats, and do some duck hunting.

Everything seems to love a pond like that. But if you buy such a pond and fish it with poor success, other than a few midget panfish, then it’s important to do some seining in shallow areas, and check the ratio of young bass to bluegill. Some landowners fish bass hard because they’re “bragging” fish, and ignore the bluegills, so largemouth populations plummet, can’t control the panfish, and the result is thousands of stunted and always hungry little guys who harass bass nests and eat their eggs, leaving a few old mossbacks that can’t reproduce.

If this is the problem in that newly purchased pond, try seining as many bluegills as possible from shallow areas for use in flower beds or as woodland raccoon and opossum food, and purchase some bass at least six inches long so they won’t be eaten by the old timers. Then stop all bass fishing, or at least keeping of bass, and let the pond come back to normal. It’ll take a few years, but the end result should be good fishing for both species. And don’t worry about weeds, unless they cover a fair piece of the pond. Weeds are good in that they provide pastures for aquatic insects and snails which are eaten by bass and bluegills, and make good hiding places for fry of both species as well as ambush sites for larger relatives.

In small ponds particularly, where owners kept weeds totally absent, I’ve more than once seen a few large bass and a few large bluegills swimming around, but nothing more. The bass were all head, starving, ate bluegill fry as soon as they hatched since there was no place to hide, and bull bluegills did the same for bass fry. Not a good situation.

What about new ponds? Your first step should be to contact the county Soil and Water Conservation District people, have them check that new acreage for the right location, and offer advice on construction. Then let the Division of Wildlife make recommendations on stocking ratios of bass and bluegills, along with maybe a few redears and channel cats. Then after 3-4 years start fishing bluegills fairly hard, and return bass caught to grow and fight again, though it doesn’t hurt to remove just a few bass each year.

Don’t stock crappie or bullheads, which can overpopulate a pond, and don’t make the sides too steep against the shore. That’ll prevent most weeds, though again weeds are a good thing in moderation, and if you must make them steep, at least leave a few gradually shallowing spots for spawning. If weeds are simply out of the question, then sink some clusters of Christmas trees wired together with a cinderblock or make some brushpiles to give little fish cover. DON’T add white amur (grass carp) to a pond unless weeds are a definitely problem. I’ve heard of people stocking white amur in a brand new pond with no weeds whatever, and that’s silly. The fish simply starve.

It’s a simple formula, really. Get expert help, keep the pond in balance, and make changes as necessary. You too, can have good fishing, duck hunting, frogging, and more with just a little thought and effort.

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outdoorswithmartin on March 5th, 2010

There’s very little question that yellow perch are Lake Erie’s favorite fish on the table.  Crisp, brown fillets touched with tartar sauce disappear from plates like magic when they appear, leaving smiles of appreciation, and one of the prime times to take some is right now.  Action should improve through April, remain steady well into September, and peak again come October and into November.  With the Big Lake’s perch population very good to excellent, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t head forth and catch a limit of these pretty and good eating fish.  It’s definitely not a difficult business.

Soon after ice goes off on Lake Erie and temperatures rise a few crucial degrees, perch begin to move close to shore from their winter deep water retreats.  The females are swollen with eggs now, and the males burdened with twin sacs of milt.  Both are there to gather in large schools and drop their spawn to ensure the next generation, and while some may be only six or seven inches long, a surprising number will be chunky ten to fourteen inchers.  It’s the years best chance to catch big perch and plenty of them, either off a boat or along a handy fishing pier or breakwall.

It takes a lot of energy to maintain those eggs and milt, so fish feed avidly before spawning, during the process, and even more so afterwards to rebuilt energy lost in egg producton.  A magic combination, if you can handle the weather, and warm clothing, a heavy hat and gloves, and plenty of hot coffee can make comfortable even rugged days.

To catch perch requires an ordinary spinning rod or two, a bucket of shiners, and a two or three hook rig.  Some anglers use spreaders, which is basically a wire arm with hooks dangling below each end, and a sinker in the middle.  They’ll drop the spreader to bottom, reel up a few turns, and wait for a bite when boat fishing, and routinely try the same rig even when shore fishing.

It works just fine when perch are plentiful and hungry, biting hard, but boat anglers will find those free swinging arms less sensitive to gentle taps, and shore anglers will find their offerings lying in the mud where fish often can’t see them.  A better choice is two No. 6 snelled hooks on their short side lines above a sinker.  The lines hang almost straight down making even a gentle bite register nicely, and the sinker on lines end keeps anglers in proper contact with bottom even on a wildly swinging boat.  Such “crappie rigs” can often double your catch.

The right rig is important, but there are other factors that can improve a catch.  These early spring perch will bite all day, but as a rule of thumb the best action usually comes just after dawn and in late evening.  Many a time I’ve reached a pier or breakwall or dropped an anchor when it was just cracking dawn, caught fish hand over fist until 9-10 a.m., then had action slack off just as late rising anglers were arriving.

Always use two rods too, especially if you’re shore fishing, and cast one out while keeping the other near shore.  Perch travel in loose schools, roaming along the bottom and seeking food from minnows to bottom insects and little crayfish, and they might be close or 50 yards out.  By fishing two different distances, you can cover the area, and when bites on one rod become frequent, move the other to the same spot.

Use a little patience too, because those schools mean feast or famine.  When a school comes by, they’ll hit hot and heavy, and when it passes, action can slack off to nothing for minutes or even an hour or so.  So, boat anglers have a choice.  If they’re catching fish, just stay put and haul them in.  But if fishing thins, you’d best lift anchor and move until the fish locator finds another school.  Staying put is a bad business for boat anglers when nothing is going on.

Good places to fish?  April perch are found from Toledo to Conneaut, and any breakwall or pier is likely to yield a catch, but one usually top spot is the Huron Pier in downtown Huron, especially for those who walk clear out to the end.  Boat anglers will find good action off Marblehead, near Starve Island, around Kelleys Island, just off the Lorain pier, and parts east.

It’s a simple business.  Dress warm, carry the right gear, have patience, and move as necessary.  An easy formula for a skillet of prime eating.

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outdoorswithmartin on January 16th, 2010

Ever do something really dumb?  All of us have, and more than once, but the stupidest thing I ever did in my life happened on an ice fishing trip.  It happened about 40 years ago when a partner and I drove to a good sized farm pond that had some lunker bluegills.  We stopped at the shoreline, dropped our rods and gear and I walked out about 3 feet and bored a hole to see how thick the ice was.

A few turns and the auger went through, showing ice that was about 3 inches thick, maybe a little less.  We should have walked away, but those juicy bluegill fillets beckoned, and finally I said “Let’s walk out well apart and keep our feet well apart, too.  I think it’ll be okay.”   So, out we went, stepping slowly and carefully while the ice made noises beneath us, drilled our holes, and caught about 20 dandy bluegills apiece.  But I couldn’t enjoy the experience.

I was nervous throughout and constantly thinking “This is stupid.”  So, we bucketed our catch and walked back in.  I remember looking down as we eased toward shore and was horrified to see that the ice was actually bending under my feet.  But we made it, and I made a mental promise “Never again.”  What would have happened if one of us had broken through?  That person would have died.  We had no rope, no ice picks or screwdrivers, no rescue gear at all, and the ice would certainly have been wet around the hole, making it impossibly slick.  For 20 bluegills I might have left my wife a widow and my kids orphans.

There’s an obvious moral to the above story.  Ice fishing is a reasonably safe sport if you follow the rules, but I’m guessing that it’s the most dangerous of winter sports, more dangerous than hunting, which is a relatively safe occupation.  And if you’re going to do it, as I always do, try hard to fish with a friend or several friends, and make sure you have at least 50 feet of rope coiled in a bucket with a loop tied in both ends.

Have those two screwdrivers in a shirt pocket, too.  Jabbing them into the ice will give you traction to pull yourself out, and it’s wise to carry a loud whistle, and a cell phone in a plastic bag.  All of it weighs little, and can save your life.  Personally, unless it’s been a bitter cold winter and the ice is a foot thick, I carry 100 feet of rope and if I’m fishing alone, tie one end to a solid obstacle near shore and the other around my waist.

And I ALWAYS walk out a few feet and drill a hole to make sure the ice is plenty thick, six inches minimum.  It’s said that 4 inches will support a man and I’m sure it will, but even a pond can have springs that eat out ice from below or currents that do the same if there’s a creek running in.  The extra inches provide a margin of safety.

What do you do if a partner goes in?  Get him out and to the truck as soon as possible.  Strip off his clothes, hopefully while another friend is driving to the nearest hospital, rub him down with a towel, shirt, anything, loan him your thick coat, and give him a warm drink if you have one.  That means something without caffeine or alcohol.  With luck you’ll be pulling into the Emergency Entrance well before his uncontrolled shivers turn into mental confusion, apathy and speech that’s slow and slurred.

Again, ice fishing is a fun and productive sport, and reasonably safe most times.  But a catch of walleye, perch, crappie, or bluegill isn’t worth your life.  No fish is.

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outdoorswithmartin on January 16th, 2010

Someone asked me recently if I had an absolute favorite outdoor sport, and it proved a tough question. As readers know, I love hunting and fishing of any kind, but when I thought a little more I had to say that skin diving (snorkeling) ranked extremely high.

 It’s a wonderful sport, one that lets you see just what’s going on under that mysterious surface of lapping waves, and puts you into a totally different environment, a new place with new rules. I fell into snorkeling almost by accident. During 3 summers spent at OSU’s Stone Lab field station on South Bass Island, my professors quickly discovered that I knew something about the outdoors and could swim. So, I was soon being given jobs like “Martin, go get me a couple of dozen clams for tomorrow’s dissection,” and being handed a face mask and snorkel. Another professor often needed a partner to help him seek channel cat nests in caves under the island, so we’d use his tank and “buddy breathe” while we searched out nests at night with flashlights.

Lake Erie was a little murky then, but on a good day often had 6-8 feet visibility, and I still remember fishing for smallmouths along Peach Point in the Put-in-Bay harbor, catching nothing, and deciding to put on a mask to go down and see if there were any fish there. I saw dozens! Some of them were big, bronzed and red-eyed lunkers of four pounds or more, that came up and goggled right into my face plate. I swam back up to the boat, climbed in and fished some more. And caught nothing.

But it wasn’t until I tried salt water snorkeling that I really began to love the sport. My first little adventure was a mile or so off Fort Lauderdale where two friends and I used Hawaiian slings to spear enough fish for a dinner. The water was so amazingly clear that I could see brightly colored little fish 20 or 30 feet down, along with moray eels and small sharks. It was wonderful. The water was so absolutely silent that I could hear my heart beating and blood rushing through my arteries, and the reef fish ignored me almost completely, going about their business of probing through the coral for morsels. Another world.

Hawaii was even better. I did a guided boat trip there (lots of these) and they took a dozen of us to a quiet bay with a sunken boat on bottom. Myriads of bright fish, but my real memory maker was three squid swimming in perfect formation below, that turned sideways in unison, eyed me carefully, then hurried on their way. What were they thinking? Where were they going? I’ll never know.

Perhaps my greatest experience came several years ago when I left a cruise ship for a day trip to the island of Bonaire, which many call one of the 10 finest scuba and snorkeling spots in the world. It was amazing. In 90 feet of water I could see fishes just inches long on the bottom. There were angel fish, black parrot fish, wrasse, groupers, yellow tails, and more, an occasional sea turtle, and once a six foot barracuda that took up residence right under our boat. A place of wonder.

My most recent snorkeling experience was at Half Moon Key in the Carribean where I saw my first cleaning wrasse working on a two pound sea bass, and had a fair sized grouper grab my heel and pull in his efforts to chase me away from his little cave. Lots of memories, and all good. You can find a rather surprising number of clubs and organizations around the state dedicated to scuba and skin diving. Google “Ohio scuba divers” and you’ll find enthusiasts from the Columbus Sea Nags and the Ohio Council of Skin & Scuba Divers to the Toledo Submariners and Lakewood Aquamasters. You’ll also find shops and groups that will teach you either sport, sell or rent equipment, and make field trips for hands-on learning. I think you’ll like this sport once you slip beneath the waves for the first time, and come back to it again and again. Definitely addicting.

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outdoorswithmartin on January 10th, 2010

Gardening can demand some tough choices when it comes to protecting your vegetables from insects.  Many people solve the problem the easy way by hosing down vegetables with a powerful insecticide like Sevin or whatever.  It definitely works, but I get goose bumps when I think about vegetables glistening with insecticides and more dripping into the soil.

My choice has traditionally been to not use any insecticide on a routine basis, and when I absolutely must, like when my potato plants turn up lots of little orange potato beetle larvae, then I dust the trouble spots with 1 percent Rotenone.  Rotenone is a white powder made from plant roots and stems, such as the Lancepod, a South American plant, and even the organic folks say to use it if you have no other choice.  It’s available at most garden shops and department stores.

But the method has its problems, too.  Sometimes an infestation is far along before you see it, and sometimes rains wash the powder off and it’s several days before you have a chance to dust again.  I well remember  a wonderful crop of egg plant that was decimated by flea beetles when I went off fishing for a week, and I rarely can get in a second crop of green beans because bean beetles filigree the leaves and nibble at the young green beans leaving unsightly bites on most.

Is there a solution?  Apparently so, and I found one in an issue of Mother Earth News.  The solution is fabric row covers.  They’re available in many garden catalogs, some department stores, and craft and fabric stores.  The white strips are sold in 60 to 90 inch widths and come in all sorts of sizes and thicknesses, from Agribon to Reemay and wedding net.

Traditionally, you’ll give your young plants a fair start, then hoe out any weeds along the rows and mulch each row well with grass clippings or straw over wet newspaper.  Next step is to cover the row with fabric and anchor down the sides with strips of 2×4, small stones, anything that will hold the fabric firmly attached to the ground.  For more delicate plants you might want to build a light framework of bamboo or sturdy wire bent into a half moon with ends jammed into the soil and the fabric placed on the wire.

Experts say that row covers often increase yields of peppers, strawberries, and cucumber family plants by more than a third.  They also stop rabbits and groundhogs, deer and other creatures from feasting on your bounty, and both let heat out and rain in.  Better yet, most can be re-used for several years, and will provide a little frost protection and damage from high winds.

If the covers have a problem, it’s that they prevent pollinating insects from reaching your plants as well as noxious ones, so certain kinds of vegetables should be allowed to pollinate before adding the covers.  Otherwise, fine mesh covers will keep flea beetles off your egg plants, and regular sixteenth inch mesh will effectively exclude the moths whose eggs hatch into army worms and cabbage worms.  Just drape them over cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc. and your problems are over.

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Ohio’s ice fishing has been slow in coming this year.  Bitter cold days that see first a skim over local ponds and lakes, then thicker ice, then a warm spell that eats it away again.  But traditionally good ice of 5-6 inches comes sooner or later, and now it’s here,  and local anglers begin gathering gear and making the snow crunching hike out to fish country.  Why take the trouble?  Because it’s a fun and challenging sport, one that some anglers find addicting. 

I’ll be the first to admit that only a few of the hardy try their luck at ice fishing, and most prefer to sit near a warm fire and wonder why some of us are out there freezing solid.  There are some good answers.  First, we’re not freezing solid.  Warm clothing, insulated boots, and Gortex gloves keep us cozy, even hot.  Two, the fishing is GREAT! 

Our hio Division of Wildlife did a study once that showed ice anglers catch more fish per hour than are caught at any other season.  In short, while bad days do occur (they always will), you can usually fill a bucket with good eating in short order.  And coming out of ice water, those bluegill, bass, and crappie are going to be at their tastiest.

Maybe most important of all is the fact that ice fishing is usually a no-brainer.  It’s so simple and easy and requires such low cost gear that it’s hard to go wrong.  No  tricky tactics, no unusual rigs, a rank amateur can learn the basics in minutes and be busy fishing in minutes more.  Here’s how it works.

First of all, it’s best to concentrate on farm ponds, at least initially, and only partly because they freeze over first and have fair populations of fish.   Larger lakes have plenty of fish too, but concentrations can be harder to find, while on ponds you know where they’ll be at seasons beginning.  That’s in the deepest water they can find, and usually such water will be near a dam.

Gear?  You’ll need two short ice rods, 4-6 pound test line, and a selection of  half inch ice spoons available in almost any sporting goods store. Get a few each of white, red, yellow, and green (chartreuse).  That’s enough.  To make my rigs, I tie a quarter ounce sinker on lines end, and two spoons in different colors on short side lines above.  I like one to be white,  the other whatever, and the lower spoon should be inches above the bottom with the second maybe 8-10 inches above.

Maggots, mousies, meal worms, etc. will work, but I’ve found that waxworms almost invariably produce best.  Final step, after checking the depth of the ice near shore is to walk out to the deepest part, bore a hole with your newly purchased ice auger, clear the hole of ice and drop down a baited rig, adjusting your tiny float so it’s half submerged.  Then you start a slow, gentle jigging, a few twitches of the rod tip, then wait, more twitches, then wait. 

Pond fish love movement, and if they’re down there, they’ll start biting in minutes. If not, move 20 feet and bore another hole.  When you find action, drill a second hole, use two rods, jigging each alternately, and start filling that bucket.  Quick, easy, and effortless.  There’ll be days when nothing much happens, usually days when the barometer is bouncing, a storm is coming, or other factors intervene.  But most days you can catch all you want in an hour or two of early morning or late evening fishing.  Reason enough to be out there on the ice.

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outdoorswithmartin on January 8th, 2010

Ice fishing season comes upon us just as soon as area lakes and farm ponds reach a safe ice thickness, and that means it’ll be time to catch those first of the winter meals of bluegill and crappie fillets.  Coming out of ice water they’ll be unusually tasty.  But after four or five trips for panfish, it can get a little dull.  You know where they are and what they’ll bite, and shortly you’ll be looking around for something new and different.  Rainbow trout are definitely new and different.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife often stocks rainbows  in selected lakes and reservoirs and has for long years now, and while many are caught out of each spring and sometimes fall stocking, a fair number aren’t.  They survive and grow until some places almost certainly have trout that will reach several pounds.  One of these battlers on lines end (or even a 12 incher) would be a welcome change from your average six inch bluegill.

If all this sounds like a good idea, and you have a lake or reservoir in mind, your first step will be to make sure ice fishing is allowed.  A call to the nearest police department should answer this question.  If it’s “Yes”, you’ll seek these lively and hard fighting fish a little differently from ordinary panfish.

Rainbow trout have excellent eyesight and in super clear winter water, you’ll need thin line indeed, 2 pound test, 4 at the most.  And since these winter fish are feeding mostly on very small provender, zooplankton mostly, you’ll need small lures to attract them.  A tiny glow-white micro-tube jig is a good choice, and since trout love mealworms, tip it with a single worm.  If there’s snow on the ice, causing a low light environment below, stick with glo-white and take a few other colors that glow, like chartreuse and yellow, too.

If the ice is clear and smooth causing good lighting below, then turn to black, brown, and pink.  Another good trout bait is a 1/64 ounce black jighead with a black chenille dressing.  Take them all and try several until you find the magic one.  You’ll always want to use two rods and fish one just a foot or so off bottom, because often they’re down there probing for insect larvae in the mud.  Be prepared to have the bait attacked by an occasional perch or other panfish when fishing deep.

But trout often suspend and swim at mid-depths or even higher seeking those zooplankton, so start the second several feet above bottom, and every five minutes or so, move it a couple of feet higher.  One or the other should start making contact sooner or later, then you can switch the second rod to that depth.

Panfishermen follow a routine of jigging one rod up and down several inches, then let it rest while they jig the second.  Trout might be spooked by such fast moving lures, so it’s better to just twitch the bait a little, maybe holding some line in one hand and moving it gently occasionally.  And when you get a strike, have a loose drag and a gentle hand in landing your fish.  Give a 15 inch rainbow something to pull against, and they can snap 2-4 pound test line like thread.

Here’s a final thought. Many lakes and upground reservoirs have a good population of walleye, so if you like a mixed bag, fish one rod for trout, the other for walleye.  In low light conditions, a glo-lure, maybe a very small jigging Rapala or  spoon tipped with a minnow, can bring you a good catch, and in high light conditions, use ordinary jigging lures with a minnow.  A mix of trout and walleye should send any angler home smiling, and mke a welcome change from pond panfish.

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outdoorswithmartin on January 8th, 2010

The average home can be pretty grim in mid-winter, mostly just shades of white and grey, along with any colors in the furniture and walls.  Some bright greens are needed now, some flowers, some scent, some reason to walk into a room and smile, instead of frown.  Which is why every home needs some plants.

Almost any department store will sell you a plant stand that stands as high as you wish, even 6 or 7 feet with shelves that can be adjusted to hold tall plants and/or short ones.  And almost every house has at least one south facing window so plants can get as much light as possible.  What else do you need, except to go shopping in those department stores again or any greenhouses still open and buy some plants, scatter them picturesque on those new shelves, and enjoy?

Unfortunately, plants are just a little harder to keep inside than they are out, and you’ll have to do just a little work to keep them healthy and happy.  Your first need is to select plants that can handle fairly low light, low humidity, and cool air, since no one keeps their rooms at 80 degrees or more in winter.  Who can afford it?

My plant shelves always hold geraniums, usually transplanted from flower beds.  Geraniums are extremely tough individuals who can handle almost anything.  I have impatiens and coleus too, both of which can handle low light and temperatures, and both again taken from flower beds in fall.  If the pair have a problem, it’s that they’re prone to insect diseases from spider mites to white flies.  A good spraying with an ordinary insecticide once a week can handle the problem.

Bamboo is always a good choice, another tough plant that looks good, and you won’t go wrong with aloe vera, begonias, cactus, bonsai plants, spider plants, various vines, and similar offerings.  Actually, if winter plants have a problem, it’s you!  Home owners like to kill their plants with kindness and tend to water and fertilize them every day or at least every couple of days.  Winter plants living in a cool, low light environment grow slowly and need little water.  If you water too often, they’ll develop root rot or other problems and die.

So, you leave the plants alone, and every few days insert a finger deep in the soil.  If it’s dry, then water thoroughly until fluid comes out the bottom into the plastic saucer below.  Let the soil drain for 15 minutes or so, and pour out the saucer water.  Then leave it alone until it feels dry to your finger, and water again.  That might come to once a week, or even more, though a light potting soil in a low humidity room can dry sooner.

Light is your other major problem.  Most winter plants don’t need much, but they do need it all over.  So, it’s important to turn the plants every few days so sunlight can reach all sides.  Fail to do so, and you’ll soon have plants green and lush on the window side, dry, brown, and dying on the room side. Ferns are particularly prone to the problem.  People often buy a beautiful fern and hang it near a window or place it on a stand only to have leaves start to fall and the plant start to look ratty because they never turned it once.  So, they buy another.  And another.  It’s cheaper to just turn them.

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outdoorswithmartin on January 8th, 2010

Remember the good old days? When it was an annual tradition for family and friends to gather together for the autumn apple butter making. The mix of apples and cider was cooked in a big copper kettle over a wood fire, and the contents stirred with a big wooden paddle. The result was tasty, especially on a biscuit with butter, and there were no preservatives, in fact, no one even knew what preservatives were.

At other times during the fall, everything from grapes to elderberries and currents were turned into jams and jellies, again without preservatives or artificial coloring. Can you still find these old time goodies? Yes, you can. They’re waiting at Cooper’s Mill (1-419-562-4215) in Bucyrus, Ohio.

Cooper’s Mill is located on Route 4 against the northern city limits of town, and almost across from Bob Evan’s Restaurant. The large shop began almost accidently when David and Miriam Cooper set up a fruit and vegetable stand in front of their Bucyrus country home in 1969. Since they usually made a kettle of apple butter to share with their friends, the excess was often sold on the fruit stand.

It must have been good because the business grew, added to by home-made jams and jellies. From there it was just a short step to a growing business, but the jams and jellies are still cooked in small batches just as David’s grandmother did them. “That’s how the best flavor and consistency is obtained every time.” said Sharon (Cooper) Sparks who acts as the store manager now.

Today, employees have graduated from one copper kettle each fall to four 50 gallon kettles per day, and from one or two kinds of jelly and jam to 34 flavors. Those flavors range from jars of ordinary bread spreaders like elderberry and grape to more exotic types like strawberry banana, gooseberry, and even corn cob jelly. “It’s a mild, slightly sweet jelly, and is really made from corn cobs.” Sharon said. “Apparently, back in depression times, people made jelly out of whatever they had, and most had corn cobs.”

These innovative people don’t stop with the above offerings. They have several kinds of relish, including Vidalia onion relish, which when mixed with cream cheese, makes a great dip. “It’s really popular” Sharon said. The shop also has a good selection of lunch meat and cheese from the Amish country, and my wife was totally impressed by a huge selection of Ohio State University shirts, calenders, and a host of other OSU offerings. “I never saw such an amazing variety.”

To round out their offerings, the Cooper’s Mill folk have fresh produce in season, lots of home-made fudge, an extensive gift shop, and plenty of free samples for visitors to taste and try. They give tours too, for groups that call ahead and even those that are simple walk-ins, and school groups come in by bus each year to tour the shop and visit the work building to see how apple butter is actually made, this on Monday through Saturday since they’re closed on Sunday. It’s a good place to visit, stock up on good food, and see once again how apple butter and jelly was made in the Olden Days. In short, a tasty trip down memory lane.

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outdoorswithmartin on November 21st, 2009


It may be mid-November, but that’s no time to give up on the years gardening.  At the very least you should be mowing that lawn covered with nutrient filled dead leaves, placing the mix on your garden, and rototilling it in to decay for next spring.  I’ve already planted a row of garlic and you might like to do the same, even adding some multiplier onions if you’ve an out-of-the-main garden place to put them.  They’ll last for years.

Now is a good time to seed in some sweet peas, too.  These are pretty plants that work best if planted in late fall, and it’s quick and easy to dig up a spot, maybe near a fence for support, plant a row a couple of inches deep, and add a bit of nutrient for spring growth.  Tulip bulbs, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus, etc. can still be planted too, and they’re equally quick and easy to plant.  I like to dig the soil deeply for these, adding some compost or bagged cow manure, a bit of bone meal, and a light dusting of fertilizer.

Plant the larger bulbs several inches deep, small ones a bit more shallow, and do give some thought to what you plant and where.  It’s silly to plant smaller bulbs behind larger ones, or place bulbs individually instead of in clusters.  Color is important too, and you’ll want a nice blend, rather than colors that clash.

A couple of years ago I spent some time in Amsterdam, which has to be the tulip capital of the world.  There was a huge open air market near the downtown canals, a long stretch of tents and semi-permanent structures that held everything from fresh cut flowers to thousands of tulip bulbs, maybe tens of thousands.  There were tulips of every imaginable kind, color, and shape, and I was tempted to buy some, though it might have been tough to get them through U.S. customs.  But most should be available in catalogs and department stores.

There are other things that can still be planted, and raspberries, gooseberries, and blackberries are among them.  If you get them in the ground very soon.  The roots and short canes will have time to produce new underground growth this winter, and be ready to produce at least a small crop come spring. 

This time of year is a perfect one for thinking about spring crops, and you might give some serious thought to tomatoes.  Most years we hurry out to the nearest nursery or greenhouse and buy whatever they offer, which is okay within reason.  But tomatoes vary considerably, and this year one type might thrive in the wet or dry weather, hot sun or semi-constant cloud cover, and another might struggle just to survive. 

I solve the problem a little by buying at least six kinds to plant, but you’ll do even better by starting your own seeds under a gro-light or at least in a south facing window.  Do this and you’re not limited to what the greenhouses want to offer.  Instead, you can thumb through the catalogs and pick whatever strikes your fancy, or better yet, get a catalog that specializes in tomatoes and plant some unusual types and some of the old time kinds (heirlooms) that grandpa liked to plant.

Have you ever heard of Prudens Purple, Brandywine, Tigerella, Sun Belle, or Yellow Stuffers?  They’re out there waiting, and might be much better than ordinary Better Girls or Beefsteaks.  Once you’ve found a few open pollinated types that please you, it’s easy to save seeds from year to year and save some money, too. 

Pick the tomatoes when they’re very ripe and “squishy”, and cut them in half.  Scoop the seeds out, discarding the flesh, place them in a jam jar and fill it with water.  A mold will develop in 4-5 days that helps to remove the gelatinous seed coating, which can prevent germination.  Pour the seeds into a sieve and wash thoroughly with water to remove the mold, then arrange them on a plate and leave to dry.  Once dry, store the seeds in a paper envelope in a dark and cool place until needed next spring, and make sure you label each variety.  Nothing to it.

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outdoorswithmartin on November 21st, 2009

This years cottontail rabbit hunting season began November 6 running through February 28 (for season dates and bag limits see the Ohio Division of Wildlife site), and it’s expected to be a very good year.  Division of Wildlife biologists are predicting fair success statewide with exceptional hunting in some areas.  And some of that fine action can be found in prime habitat around our own territory.  So, on various hunts there’ll be gunners who come home with four cottontail limits time after time. Unfortunately, some hunters will return with one or two, or none, and their lack of success will be for almost age old reasons.

There’ll be no problem finding rabbits.  As always, in early season, the game tends to stay in grass, fencerows, brushy areas, weed fields, and light thickets.  Come bad weather, they’ll move into heavier brush, though some will be there early on this year  if  bad weather persists.  And when it gets really bad, they’ll look for tall timber with downed tree tops, old farm machinery that’s dry underneath, and hollow logs where they can get in out of the rain and snow.  Nothing new there.

But if you hunt without dogs and simply line up across field after field to move down their length hoping for a shot, you’re going to miss a lot of bunnies.  To solve this problem, I’ve seen veteran hunters who don’t make wild shots place a couple of old timers near fields end before they move through, usually along the far left and right edges.  Cottontails jumped and missed will typically run to the end or near it, then circle, often running in the open for at least a few seconds.  Which gives these quietly waiting standers a shot.

 They might also place them at spots where one field meets another, an arm stretches off to touch some good cover, or a thin bit of brush or weeds joins two thick fields.  Rabbits know their home area and they’ll head fast for safer ground.  If you’ve a stander there to meet them, bags will surely grow heavier.

Gunners hunting alone or with a single friend can do better if they use the terrain to advantage.  Like putting that partner at the end of a fencerow while you walk it.  Or placing him at the far side of a small patch of brush while you hike through.  Taking turns at this means both will get shots.  Walk through together and the only sign you’re likely to see in such thick vegetation is grass shaking as they race out ahead.

 A single man can improve his odds by hesitating when he reaches a likely brushpile or bit of cover, and looking around a bit.  It’s guaranteed that any waiting bunnies will squirt out its far side, so make sure the side they leave meets open territory, instead of heavy brush. A little circling before you get there is all it takes.

And instead of watching only your immediate surroundings, keep an eye out well ahead.  In early season and on warmer days particularly, it’s not unusual for cottontails to jump up to 30 yards ahead and never be seen, especially if they slip out quietly.  Look for these.

Even dog hunters can improve their lot by thinking a little.  I hunted with a beagle for many years and would be doing so yet, if she hadn’t died and her four followers turned out to be worthless.  Ketchum hunted close, which I liked, and ran slowly, which made for small circles and game returning at a walk.  But the old adage that rabbits will return to where they were jumped isn’t always true, especially if you loose off a round or two when they go. And I always shot, if possible.

So, I’d listen carefully when she went after the rabbit, and determine whether it was circling to the left or the right.  Then move quickly and quietly in that direction, pick a spot with open terrain, and stand still.  Often I’d pick it off on the first circle.

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outdoorswithmartin on November 21st, 2009

Times are getting a little tough in the woods, fields, and creek bottoms of northcentral Ohio.  Not for deer hunters who are doing very well this season, but for big, dominant, Type A, testosterone laden bucks.  The problem is that the rut is more than half over, and many, perhaps most does have come into season and been bred.  There’s fierce competition for those that are left, and the old mosshorns that do most of the breeding are getting touchy, more aggressive, and prone to fight for any receptive females.  Which makes an archer’s chance of bagging a wall hanger better than ever.

There are several ways to go during these final weeks of the rut.  One is to sit in your tree stand just as before, watching a good scrape that’s been well doused with doe in heat scent, and maybe with a styrofoam doe right beside the scrape.  That works fine anytime, but it’ll work even better if you have a buck grunt up there with you and use it occasionally.  I have one made of rubber that emits a deep throated grunt, and if there’s anything that will turn the eyes of a big buck red, it’s seeing a distant doe and hearing the grunt of an encroaching male poaching on his territory.  They’ll often come in at a run.

A second technique that’s becoming popular in our area (and elsewhere) is rattling in bucks.  Two men are best for this with one holding a bow or crossbow and the other whacking together two antlers to simulate a pair of bucks fighting over a female.  Even small bucks will ease in when antlers or pieces purchased from a sporting goods shop are rattled, hoping to steal away the doe or just to watch.  And again alpha males will often come tearing in to whip both of their competitors or chase them away.

Rattling should simulate a good fight, which means you’ll clash the antlers together loudly a few times, then stop for a moment or two as bucks will to catch their breath.  Then rattle again.  If nothing happens in 15 minutes or so, move to another location and try again.  The business made a believer out of two Ashland County hunters last year.

One said “We were rattling between a brushy woods and a field of standing corn, and I’d done it just a minute or two when I heard one crashing toward us through the brush.  It sounded like a freight train and my partner was getting ready to shoot when another came flying our way through the corn.  I could see stalks flying as it came, and my partner had plenty of time to get ready.  He got the cornfield deer, a nice 12 point.”

Whether you rattle or grunt, both or neither, it’s always important to keep wind direction in mind, which too many archers don’t.  The bucks may be stupid this time of year, but they’ll still react to human scent, and if your tree stand is built to take advantage of the prevailing westerly wind and it turns to the east or elsewhere, your scent could blow right into the bedding and feeding areas.

 When that happens, smart archers will climb down out of that tree and take up a ground stand where the wind is more advantageous.  Ground stands are tough for longbow and compound bow hunters because you’ve got to be above the ground a bit to draw your string, and the deer usually see that movement and race off.  Even with  camouflage netting and a blind among fallen tree limbs, they’ll frequently spot some movement and fade away.

 But a crossbow hunter has it made in a ground blind, because he’s essentially shooting a gun with a long bullet, and needs move only his trigger finger.  More than once I’ve laid flat on the ground with a small tarp below me and a few leaves or a small grass clump piled in front of my face, and waited for a passing deer.  They’re not looking for 12 inch high humans, and become easy pickings for a crossbow.

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outdoorswithmartin on November 21st, 2009

Cold weather is coming, and already there have been hard frosts, a freeze or two, and even snowflakes in the air once or twice. In this part of Ohio winter lasts about six months, a lot of days sure to be dreary, nasty, windy, wet, or slushy. Farm folk can be trapped in the house until walls begin closing in, and they’re looking desperately for something interesting to do, a hobby, a business, something challenging and time consuming that will pay off in the savings account.

There are lots of hobbies like that, but I’ll bet you’ve never given thought to flint knapping. And you should. Ohioans have always been interested in native Americans, so much so that many of our towns, lakes, rivers, and counties have Indian names. Is Lake Erie, Delaware, Sandusky, Miami, Maumee, and Huron familiar? We like to search for arrowheads, spear points, awls, and pipes in plowed fields too, and are thrilled when we find a good piece. So, knapping pieces of flint into beautiful spear points, knives, and other Indian implements is a natural offshoot, and converting flint into something nice and salable is easier than you think.

Chris Miller, who lives just south of Lexington, is a master flint knapper, and this 48 year old maintenance man has been in the business since high school. He started then making jewelry, embedding found arrowheads and other implements in gold and silver. Then the price of both went out of sight in the 80’s, and he might have gone on to other things if a good friend from Florida, a Seminole Indian hadn’t taught him to shape flint with a 10 penny nail and a piece of broomstick. Then a friend brought him a small arrowhead that had a broken tip. “I thought I could re-shape it.” Chris said, “and it wasn’t hard at all. The friend brought more pieces by and suddenly I was knapping flint.”

Miller learned a lot about the hobby when he attended a “Knap-in” at Flint Ridge State Park in southeastern Ohio. Some of the best flint shapers in the country were there, showing how it was done and using every imagineable type of material from obsidian to jasper. That was in 1998 and he’s attended every Knap-in since, an event held each Labor Day weekend.

Getting flint isn’t hard, either. It can be purchased from dealers like those at the Knap-in, from other dealers at flea markets and antique shows, and dug at Flint Ridge on private land at Nethers Farm. “You look for pieces that have no cracks or crystals.” Chris said. “And you’re better off buying or finding small “tabs” about the size of something you’d like to make like a spear head, than purchasing huge pieces.”

Flint, incidentally, is wonderful stuff. It’s nearly as hard as diamond, comes in colors from red to black and brown to yellow, or combinations of these, and is easy to work. If you’re feeling sorry for early Indians and even Neanderthals who had to butcher their game with flint knives, be advised that flint knives are as sharp as razors (literally), and have the advantage of easy re-sharpening when they dull by chipping a new edge.

Chris uses simple, inexpensive tools for his work. He has fairly heavy copper cylinders several inches long to break off flakes, and other copper cylinders with a screwdriver end or a sharp point for fine flaking. Add a leather patch to protect the hands and protective glasses and that’s about it. Native Americans worked even more simply, usually using a worked hammer stone and deer antlers for shaping and chipping.

Is there money to be made with your finished products? Chris does well. He makes mostly large spear heads and knives or leather piercing awls because these are sold for $10 an inch. And being both beautiful and perfect, they sell well at arts and crafts shows and flea markets. He makes an occasional arrowhead, which is much smaller, from left over chips and sometimes lovely little bird points which Indians used for small game. Among his best sellers are knives, which he inserts into either wood or deer antlers, and being a deer hunter he routinely cleans his kills with a flint knife. They’re not just ornamental.

How do you get started at flint knapping? Lots of ways. Many libraries have books on the hobby with plenty of illustrations. Go on the web and type in flint knapping or arrowhead making or flint working or whatever, and you’ll find not only books on the subject, but videos that take you along step-by-step. “I think the best way to learn is to learn from somebody who does it.” Chris said. “There are classes being taught here and there, and I occasionally teach one myself in Columbus or Fort Ancient.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 29th, 2009

Bitter cold weather came early this fall, but there’ll still be days, even weeks of reasonably mild temperatures before the ground freezes hard and winter snows arrive. So, there should still be time to plant a tree or two, and some of those trees should be apples.

Apples are good fruit, and the supermarkets and farm markets are currently full of them, but it can be fun to raise your own, and convenient, too. If gardeners make a mistake on growing apples, it’s to choose a few kinds haphazardly from a catalog or nursery, and plant them. Far better to plant one or more that will produce apples early, another one or more that will have mid-season fruit, and yet another that will offer late season apples. Then you can enjoy fruit for months, instead of having far too many during just one short stretch of time.

I currently have three trees, and one is a yellow transparent that usually has ripe fruit in late august. This type is good for eating, and equally good for applesauce. I have a mid-season tree too, a Starkrimson, that’s just a little tart and makes wonderful pies. Other choices for mid-season are Cortland, MacIntosh, and Jonathan. Late season? I have a Red Delicious that produces crisp, sweet apples, though you might prefer (or include) Yellow Delicious, Granny Smith, or Haralred.

You’ll want dwarf or at least semi-dwarf trees, which are much easier to prune and spray than full sized ones, and still produce LOTS of fruit, and you’ll need to devote some time to enjoy good results. For example, it’s wise to spray apple trees with an all-purpose fruit spray available at any department store plant section each 10 to 14 days. Give them an initial spraying as soon as leaves begin to appear, then hold off until blossom petals begin to fall, and start again, keeping it up until fruit is nearly ready.

Some types of apples are partially resistant to several kinds of disease, but you’d best spray anyway. Gnarled, scabby, and knotty apples are not what you’re hoping for, and if you don’t spray, you’re sure to get them. It’s a good idea to spray around fruit trees with Roundup, to keep weeds and grass from encroaching and robbing the trees of nutrient, but make sure none of the spray touches the trunk or leaves.

Mulching is a good decision too, to hold in water, and you’ll want to feed the trees with a good fertilizer like Tree Tone, that has not only nitrogen, potassium, and potash, but trace elements like boron and zinc. These help prevent blossom end rot and promote healthy fruit. You can buy bare rooted saplings for your planting, but it’s better to purchase rooted trees in five gallon fiber pots. These can be planted directly without removing the pots or disturbing rootlets, and can see you enjoying at least a few apples the very next spring!

Finally, it’s a good idea to place sturdy tree stakes around each little tree to ensure straight growth instead of crooked, and wrap the trunks to keep off rabbits that can ring the trunks and kill seedlings. It all sounds like a lot of work, but when you crunch into that

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outdoorswithmartin on October 25th, 2009

History lives at Buck Creek State Park which surrounds C.J. Brown Reservoir in east-central Ohio. George Rogers Clark fought there in 1780, leading 1,000 Kentuckians in a raid against a Shawnee camp, and defeating them at the Battle of Piqua. One Indian who fled the attack was a young Shawnee called Tecumseh. Much later the Army Corps of Engineers dammed Buck Creek as a flood control project, and in June of 1975, the Park was officially opened. Today, this very modern Ohio park, which lies two miles northeast of Springfield, is a mecca for not only boaters, but outdoorsmen and nature lovers of every kind.

The park is one of the most modern and well maintained in the state of Ohio, and the Reservoir is a destination for many thousands of visitors yearly. Boating with unlimited horsepower is permitted on this 2,120 acre lake and those who come to enjoy its usually clear blue water will find a marina with full service, rental boats, food, bait and tackle open in season. There’s also a four lane launch ramp near the park office at the end of Buck Creek Lane. Fishing alone draws thousands to C.J..

The lake is stocked annually with walleye and each spring nice fish are taken along riprap shorelines with twister tail jigs, jig and minnow combinations, and live bait. In summer and early fall anglers like to drift across the old creek channel and in front of the Corps headquarters with Lindy rigs and deep diving crankbaits. There are plenty of crappie too, waiting for spring anglers around brush, fallen timber, and riprap, and in the same areas each late summer and fall, though fish will be deeper. Use minnows and small jigs to take crappie 6-12 inches, even more. And don’t forget night fishing for channel cats in the creek mouth, and largemouth bass around wood cover.

Some boaters might like to stay at the park and there are good accommodations waiting. The park has 26 family cabins in a wooded area, with several, 14, 16, 17, and 18 offering a great lake view. They have two bedrooms, bath with shower, complete kitchen and dining area, a screened porch and air conditioning. What else could a family need?

The campground has 111 sites of which 89 have electricity, and there are showers, flush toilets, and dump stations. Boaters who have pets will find designated sites for Fifi or Tom. Lots of visitors enjoy hiking when they’re not on the water, and the park has 7.5 miles of hiking trails, and not just ordinary trails, either.

Glaciers covered this area, receding only 12,000 years ago. They left low hills called moraines, made of sand and gravel and dotted with springs, which is how nearby Springfield got its name. Not surprisingly, bogs and fens are plentiful, and these wet areas in the park host lots of rare plants, including round-leaved sundew and horned bladderwort. You might see a rare spotted turtle, too, hundreds of migrating waterfowl in spring and fall, and fairly rare songbirds like dickcissels, and Henslow sparrows.

Visitors who are REALLY lucky might even spot mute swans and many hummingbirds. Add occasional deer, raccoons, cottontail rabbits, and squirrels, and a quiet and stealthy walk along the trails early or late might produce a cornucopia of wild sightings. There are more things to do. Picnics in the picnic area, good swimming in season, volleyball and basketball courts, horseshoe pits, and not least, visits into Springfield for shopping and fine restaurants. There’s plenty of information just a phone call away. Call the park office at (937) 322-5284 for details about the park, and 1-866-644-6727 for cottage and camping reservations. It’s a nice place to visit during any season.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 20th, 2009

The 2009 squirrel season opened in Ohio on September 1 and runs to 31 January 2010 (Editor: See the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website for a useful Hunt Calendar of Ohio Hunting Seasons dates), and most days so far have been perfect days, cool, sunny, and pleasant.  There’ll be lots more days like that as leaves slowly begin to turn to red and gold, and plenty of chances to fill a six squirrel limit.  Some area hunters will have little trouble bagging those six bushytails, but lots more will be lucky to get one or two even in timber filled with squirrels.  When that happens, they’re usually making some mistakes.  Here are some ways to avoid those mistakes.

Time of day is important on any squirrel hunt.  A gunners best weapon in the woods is his or her ears, and lots of times I’ve set down and just listened for falling nut fragments, the swish of a limb, and the scratch of claws on bark.  Many, perhaps most mornings are going to be quiet and nearly windless, ideal for listening, so I prefer to hunt then.  In afternoons, especially on warm days, the wind often picks up, rattling leaves and tossing branches.  Ears help little then, and hunters must depend on eyes alone.  With leaves still on the trees, that makes hunting a lot tougher.

Know your trees.  A little time spent at the library with a good tree identification book is time well spent, since you’ll quickly learn to recognize at least the common forest trees.  Remember that squirrels traditionally start their fall feeding in hickory and beech trees, particularly pignuts and shagbarks.  Find a cluster of hickories that show cuttings beneath, or pale barked beech with more cuttings below, and you’ve found a hotspot.

Later in the season when food becomes scarce, they’ll move into white and burr oak, but won’t touch the bitter red and black oaks unless they’re really hungry.  Don’t forget to check field corn along woodlot fencerows too, looking for half gnawed ears, and spare a glance for wild grapes hung full of purple clusters, and dogwoods with their red berries.  Don’t make the mistake an amateur hunter made a couple of years ago in one of my favorite woods.  He was sitting in a nice grove of mature tulip poplars and looking around hopefully.  “Seen anything yet?”  “No, but this looks like a good place.  Plenty of big trees.”

Another mistake many hunters make is to shoot a squirrel, then leap up immediately to retrieve it.  Bushytails hear loud noises often, thunder, passing planes, limbs falling down in wind storms.  Their typical reaction is to freeze, look around, and if nothing threatens, continue what they were doing.  If you jump up and go crashing through the dead leaves to get your game, there may be six more watching you do it.  But you’ll never know.  When I drop a squirrel, I make sure it’s dead, then continue sitting quietly.  And often bag a couple more.

Always carry a squirrel call.  In late morning after the animals have had their breakfast, they’re often antsy and moving around.  You’ll hear more calling then, as they re-affirm their territorial rights.  I carry a little rubber call that I can tap against my knee, imitating the sound of an angry squirrel.  Time and again, I’ve had one answer, even come leaping through the trees in my direction.  Big mistake. 

Here’s a final thought.  If you’re hunting woods that have hills and valleys instead of flat farmland, and still lack an animal or two for that six squirrel limit, move up onto a ridge in late morning.  Grey squirrels particularly, will often travel long distances to a favorite food source, and they like to run ridges heading home.  More than once I’ve sat down on a likely ridge top and picked off a traveler or two to fill my limit.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 13th, 2009

Fall has to be the best, though shortest, season of the year.  And once the beans and corn are off, it’s a good time to take a well earned vacation.  The question is – where can you go that’s reasonably close, inexpensive, and a great place to visit with lots of things to do?  For many, that answer just might be Houghton Lake in central Michigan.

Actually, reaching this biggest inland Michigan lake can take a long time if farmers travel with their wife and kids.  Because you’ll need to stop at the huge Cabela’s outdoor store which lies just off Route 23 and not far north of the Michigan border.  That store has everything for outdoor oriented landowners from every imaginable kind of boat and outdoor clothing to fishing gear and weaponry.

Frankenmuth lies just north of Flint, and you’ll need to stop there, too, to visit dozens of shops in an alpine setting, have a fried chicken lunch at the famous Bavarian Inn, and visit even more famous Bronner’s Christmas shop, which has seemingly every kind of Christmas ornament, artificial tree, painting, music, and knicknack known to man.

Still, you’ll reach Houghton Lake eventually, with most of your travel over 4-6 lane highways that have 70 mph speed limits, and you’ll find the lake and surrounding area classic Michigan.  That means white barked birch trees, hemlocks, and bracken fern, clear, clean water, and a hint of wood smoke on the early morning air.  With Labor Day long gone, there’ll be few people compared to busy summer days, and prices for the innumerable cabins, motel rooms, and campsites lower than usual.

Better yet, since the autumn foliage turn starts north and gradually progresses south, you can leave Ohio with its green trees only touched with reds and golds, and drive into full fledged autumn which is where Houghton will shortly be.  There’s lots to do in and around the lake, and fishing is just one of the sports waiting.  Stop in at a place like Lyman’s Tackle & Bait Shop on M55 near the west end of the lake, and you’ll hear plenty about what’s biting and where.  Lyman’s also has several rental cabins with cooking facilities.

The lake has excellent panfishing for rockbass, bluegill, redears, and crappie, and one easy way to catch some is to work  nightcrawlers or waxworms around small weed beds.  There’s very good northern pike action too, something scarce in Ohio, and one tactic is to rent a boat at such places as the L & G Boat Rental or Edgewater Beach, again on the west end, and troll right off their docks with black and grey sinking Rapalas, spinnerbaits, and stick baits.

Since the lake covers 22,000 acres it can be fun to take the family and just boat, exploring here and there, and watching flocks of mallard ducks.  Or paddle a canoe down a little river where you might see anything from deer and wild turkeys to bobcats and black bear.  Or go for long hikes in thousands of acres of public land nearby.  Plan your seasons right, and you can do some hunting on those acres of public land, too.  I arrowed my first Michigan deer just a few miles out of town some years ago, and shot my first Michigan ruffed grouse and black squirrel there.

It’s always nice to make the short drive (10 miles or so) to Higgins Lake just north, and see what really clear water looks like in this haven for lake and rainbow trout.  Sometimes you can see fish finning 40 feet below, and swim, if it isn’t too cold yet, on a white sugar sand beach.  My wife likes to travel on Houghton Lake trips, so we take time to explore little towns like Roscommon and Prudenville, St. Helens and West Branch to browse through little shops, country markets, and antique stores.

On our last trip we made a longer drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park in the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula.  And climbed high rising dunes where many a movie actor had ridden camels and fought Berbers in the shifting sands.  Against a background of impossibly blue Lake Michigan water it was quite a sight.

It’s a nice place to visit, this Houghton Lake area, and again, far different from northern Ohio.  Whether you go to hurry around and pursue multiple activitities or just sit in a lawn chair and watch waves ripple onto shore, you’ll need information.  For fishing tips, try Lyman’s at (517) 422-3231 and for any other needs, call the Houghton Lake Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-248-LAKE.  Then plan  a  pleasant, low key trip to a good place.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 12th, 2009

The 2009 Ohio deer archery season opened on 26 September, a long awaited event for northcentral Ohio bow and crossbow hunters. It’s a wonderful time to hunt, with cool, pleasant days, leaves turning into a riot of red and gold, blue skies, and that hint of fox grapes on a gentle wind. But not a wonderful time to bag a nice buck or doe.

The problem is that whitetails are basically nocturnal animals. They’re primarily out at night, feeding and moving around, and with the weather so great, they’ll often not move until dusk or later, feed leisurely, and be back at their bedding grounds at first light. Which gives tree standers and ground blind hunters a very short time (or none) at dawn and dusk to see something come past.

Morning is the toughest time. You’ll be blundering through the darkness with a flashlight to reach your tree stand before dawn, walking noisily at a time when the deer are also moving, listening, and scenting. The afternoon is better, simply because you can ease in, climb high, and be waiting when they leave their beds, hopefully before it’s too dark to shoot.

I’ve taken deer more than once in October, but very rarely on those pleasant, comfortable, sunny days. In fact, I’ve seen animals so seldom on such days that I long since gave up hunting in nice weather. You might seen an animal then, one chased out by questing dogs or squirrel hunters, but it’s usually a waste of time.

The best October weather for deer hunting is bad weather, and for several reasons. An ideal day is one when the night before was stormy, rainy, and windy, because deer are nervous and spooky then, feeding only sporadically. They’ll often still be trying to fill their bellies when dawn arrives and you’re sitting up there waiting. I’ve had animals come by as late as 9 a.m. after such nights.

The same situation occurs when the day is nasty, hopefully with chill winds and a little sleet to rattle against your poncho. They’ll frequently start moving a couple of hours before dark, worried perhaps about getting a meal before the weather goes completely into turmoil. I arrowed the first big buck I ever killed on just such a day, one so bad I almost decided not to go.

This doesn’t mean you should hunt in heavy rain or driving snow, because they’ll usually hole up, often in thick pines, during such weather. But a little mist doesn’t hurt, nor does some wind and grey clouds scudding across the sky. Bad weather is good weather. If time is limited and you simply must hunt occasionally on nice days, there are still productive ways to go, and one is to drive the animals.

Gather up some friends, hopefully at least six or seven, head for thick woodlots or brushy areas where you have permission, and stage a drive. The drivers should always go in with the wind at their back, if possible, and move slowly and quietly. The deer will know you’re there, of course, and ghost out ahead toward waiting standers. Go through noisy with lots of shouting and they’ll leave at top speed making poor targets for standers. Here’s a final thought. When driving, don’t ignore weed fields. Whitetails seem to love patches of goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, and tall grasses, and will often spend their day sleeping there. Many a time I’ve crossed a hip high field and had a nice buck or several does bounce out. Always check them out.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 12th, 2009

Autumn has arrived almost unnoticed, but it seems that every day the leaves turn a little more and gradually begin to assume their gorgeous autumn hues. A few days ago on a country drive I passed a red maple that was nearly at peak color, and lots more maples that were showing tinges or yellow or red. The goldenrod is in full fig, purple asters beautify the roadsides, and early morning air is chill and brisk, invigorating with that always touch of wood smoke.

Everyone knows that leaves turn color, but they actually don’t. Those maple and oak, beech and cottonwood, ash and hickory have the colors they’ll eventually turn with them all summer. But come fall, depending on weather and temperature, the veins that feed each leaf from its woody stalk pinch shut. When they do, no more nutrient and water can reach the green chlorophyll that colors each leaf. The chlorophyll breaks down and disappears, allowing the hidden pigments below to appear. Those pigments are carotene (guess what color?), xanthophylls, and anthocyanins of various kinds. Sometimes one color will dominate a leaf or tree species, sometimes two will intermingle producing leaves that are purple, red and gold, or whatever. Isn’t nature marvelous?

But marvelous or not, this lovely fall is fleeting and all too soon a wind and rains will send leaves spinning in heaps to the ground, and winter will be with us for the next five or six months. That’s in the future though, and there are still weeks to savor an ever growing pageant of riotous color. Some will enjoy autumn’s palate right here, while others will want to make little day trips or overnight jaunts to where the color is best.

Fall color invariably starts right at Lake Erie and moves slowly south with the Ohio River reaching peak last. If you’d like to know where the best color is to be found over the next weeks, and where there are autumn festivals and events to celebrate the coming of fall, just call 1-800-BUCKEYE. They’ll have weekly updates on where the best color is waiting.

Fall is also a prime time to plant trees and shrubs, and if you’re looking for some extra eye catchers come spring, the next weeks are the time to plant them. One of the reasons is that as soon as leaves drop off those new trees and shrubs they’ll enter a dormancy period, which lasts from leaf-drop to spring bud-break. For newly planted trees, this dormancy stage is ideal, because it gives them a chance to become more established before warm weather and spring rains trigger renewed top growth. “Warm soil combined with autumn’s cooler air temperatures create less stress on the new tree,” said Bill Schultz, a forester with the State of Ohio. “But the greatest reward for planting in the fall occurs in the spring.

As soon as temperatures warm up and ground thaw occurs, autumn planted trees are able to reap the benefits of all that Mother Nature has to give.” As a rule of thumb, trees can be planted until ground freeze, which usually occurs in early January. However, because of Ohio’s unpredictable weather, Schultz recommends getting your tree in the ground before the end of October. Balled plants are better than bare rooted ones, and don’t forget to water it occasionally until the ground freezes unless Mother Nature does it for you. Then enjoy your new plants for long years to come.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 10th, 2009

I love to look at gardens.  Driving in the country or walking on city streets each spring and summer, I’ve got to slow down and look over other peoples plantings, their rows, the quality of their soil.  And while many I see are rich and fertile with healthy, vigorous plants, too many have soil that’s poor and hard, even yellow clay or subsoil, and the vegetables are struggling to stay alive, let alone grow.  Gardens don’t have to be that way.

To make a good growing medium for those young plants, you’ve GOT to have a high humus, loose and friable garden soil, and one fine way to add tilth is to use a compost pile.  Most gardeners don’t have one, but right now is a good time to build one. and they have absolutely no odor so long as you don’t add meat products.  

I read a report recently that said nearly one sixth of our landfill space is going to lawn rubbish, grass clippings (rich in nitrogen), and dead leaves (rich in trace elements). In a landfill, they’re trash, but in a compost pile they’re the ingredients of a great garden.  After all, many of us recycle newspapers, plastic jugs, aluminum cans, and more.  Why not recycle those grass clippings, leaves, turnip tops, excess lettuce, green bean stalks, and more that are sitting in your garden turning yellow?  Not to mention the huge harvest of fallen leaves soon to come.

You can build a compost pile of four poles and a bit of chicken wire in some out of the way backyard spot, dress it up if you like with flowers and other decorations, then toss in just about everything, and that includes manure and straw hauled from the county fairground, or picked up from some friendly farmer.

 I add an occasional shovel full of garden soil to produce even more decay microorganisms, maybe a sprinkle of water in dry times, and that’s it.  The pile will break down gradually, and come spring you’ll be adding wheelbarrows of rich humus to those problem spots in the garden.

When I first moved to my current home the garden was so hard and clay filled that I nearly had to jackhammer in seeds.  But after years of adding sawdust, compost, animal manures, and mulching with hay (not straw) that breaks down and adds both nutrients and organic material, I’ve a garden to be proud of.  You can, too.


            It goes without saying that there are numerous different ways to make a compost pile, and if you’re a hurry up type, the various gardening and organic magazines offer some that are amazingly rapid.  They’re completely enclosed, generate surprising heat, and turn out compost sometimes once a month or even less.  If you’ve lots of garden wastes, grass, and leaves these machines will provide the makings quickly. 


            Some of us are in-between types who like our compost fairly fast, but don’t like to spend serious money for a composter.  If that’s your situation, build one with wooden sides, and a door that will open, then add material in layers.  I’ve more than once added a layer of dead leaves, then a layer of grass clippings, etc., and a layer of horse manure and straw.  Then three more layers and three more, all well moistened, though not completely soaked.  With so many bacteria from the manure, the pile breaks down fast, and you can spread the result several times a year, rather than once.  A good compromise

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Wouldn’t it be nice during this soon-to-come prettiest season of the year to do some near wilderness fishing?  To roam where almost no one else goes, cast for fish who seldom or never see a hook, to wade where deer come to drink and wild  turkeys slip through shoreside brush?  You can do it, and might be surprised to hear that such fishing might be just a few miles away.  I’m talking about wading or floating rivers and streams for hard fighting smallmouth bass.

Looking back over a checkered career I’ve fished for stream bronzebacks in a little creek outside of Dayton, in Ohio Brush Creek, the Kokosing, the Mohican, the Sandusky clear down to Bucyrus, the Huron, Vermillion, upper Olentangy, the list goes on and on.  And caught bass in every one of them.  In the wading streams I asked landowners for permission first, then wore shorts and old tennis shoes to probe the pools, long, smooth runs, and the base of riffles.

On trips to the Vermillion River, for example, I remember seeing another angler just once, this after I got away from bridges, and was so surprised that I just stood there dumbfounded.  The other angler did, too.  But I did see deer and was glared at by suspicious groundhogs.  Fox squirrels chattered in the treetops and wood ducks rose in flocks with their mournful whistle.  It was near wilderness, and the bass slammed into my offerings as if they’d never seen a lure.  Possibly, they hadn’t.

It doesn’t take much to do a little stream fishing.  I invariably travel with a whippy ultra-lite rod and 4-6 pound test line.  My “tacklebox” fits in a shirt pocket and usually has a quarter ounce, pearl-grey Roostertail spinner, a black jig or two with twistertails, a tiny surface Pop-R, and a minature crankbait of some kind that will imitate crayfish.  That’s it.  If these won’t bag stream bass, nothing will.

It never hurts to take mosquito repellent as well, though with the summer long drought, mosquitoes have been nearly non-existant so far.  And maybe a cell phone for a “Mayday” just on the slight chance that you slip and are injured.  I also like a very light little backpack to hold a sandwich or two, an apple, and a container of water.  But that’s it. 

Most days I start out with the spinner, working runs in early morning and the base of riffles where bass gather to feed on hapless morsels tumbling through white water.  As morning progresses and fish move back to deeper pools I usually switch to a crankbait first, then bump the bottom with black jigs.  It’s a tactic that seldom fails to succeed.

Don’t forget that even very small streams and creeks can hold smallmouth bass.  One that lies just a few miles from home winds through pasture land and timber and averages just 3-4 inches deep.  But there are small pools here and there, some just a foot or so , and others perhaps three or four feet.  The last time I fished it, my catch was over a dozen bronzebacks, along with several rockbass, a few big chubs, and even a bluegill. 

 The bass, all returned to fight again, were like stream smallies anywhere, averaging 6-10 inches with an occasional fish that went 12 or 13.  But they were vicious fighters, leaping high with their red eyes glowing.  Lots of fun on light tackle, and worth a trip over the next weeks.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 10th, 2009

The 2009 squirrel season opened last month in most midwestern states cool, sunny, and pleasant.  There’ll be lots more days like that this year and next, and plenty of chances to fill a squirrel limit.  Some  hunters will have little trouble bagging those  bushytails, but lots more will be lucky to get one or two even in timber filled with squirrels.  When that happens, they’re usually making some mistakes.  Here are some ways to avoid those mistakes.

Time of day is important on any squirrel hunt.  A gunners best weapon in the woods is his or her ears, and lots of times I’ve set down and just listened for falling nut fragments, the swish of a limb, and the scratch of claws on bark.  Many, perhaps most mornings are going to be quiet and nearly windless, ideal for listening, so I prefer to hunt then.  In afternoons, especially on warm days, the wind often picks up, rattling leaves and tossing branches.  Ears help little then, and hunters must depend on eyes alone.  When leaves are still on the trees, that makes hunting a lot tougher.

Know your trees.  A little time spent at the library with a good tree identification book is time well spent, since you’ll quickly learn to recognize at least the common forest trees.  Remember that squirrels traditionally start their fall feeding in hickory and beech trees, particularly pignuts and shagbarks.  Find a cluster of hickories that show cuttings beneath, or pale barked beech with more cuttings below, and you’ve found a hotspot.

Later in the season when food becomes scarce, they’ll move into white and burr oak, but won’t touch the bitter red and black oaks unless they’re really hungry.  Don’t forget to check field corn along woodlot fencerows too, looking for half gnawed ears, and spare a glance for wild grapes hung full of purple clusters, and dogwoods with their red berries.  Don’t make the mistake an amateur hunter made a couple of years ago in one of my favorite woods.  He was sitting in a nice grove of mature tulip poplars and looking around hopefully.  “Seen anything yet?”  “No, but this looks like a good place.  Plenty of big trees.”

Another mistake many hunters make is to shoot a squirrel, then leap up immediately to retrieve it.  Bushytails hear loud noises often, thunder, passing planes, limbs falling down in wind storms.  Their typical reaction is to freeze, look around, and if nothing threatens, continue what they were doing.  If you jump up and go crashing through the dead leaves to get your game, there may be six more watching you do it.  But you’ll never know.  When I drop a squirrel, I make sure it’s dead, then continue sitting quietly.  And often bag a couple more.

Always carry a squirrel call.  In late morning after the animals have had their breakfast, they’re often antsy and moving around.  You’ll hear more calling then, as they re-affirm their territorial rights.  I carry a little rubber call that I can tap against my knee, imitating the sound of an angry squirrel.  Time and again, I’ve had one answer, even come leaping through the trees in my direction.  Big mistake. 

Here’s a final thought.  If you’re hunting woods that have hills and valleys instead of flat farmland, and still lack an animal or two for that six squirrel limit, move up onto a ridge in late morning.  Grey squirrels particularly, will often travel long distances to a favorite food source, and they like to run ridges heading home.  More than once I’ve sat down on a likely ridge top and picked off a traveler or two to fill my limit.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 10th, 2009

Here’s a question for you. Do you enjoy greens fresh from the garden?

In season, they’re great, especially cut and come again types like leaf lettuce, arugula, mustard, and others. Of course, you can buy them in supermarkets, head lettuce and leaf lettuce, and mixes that might be wonderful and healthy, but might also have been sprayed past all belief.

Right now, you’ve doubtless plenty of garden space. Green beans have been picked and picked again, torn up and consigned to the compost pile. Potatoes have been dug, and sweet corn eaten or placed in the freezer, and there’s lots of room for those with a mower to cut down weeds and stalks, and a rototiller to put those weeds and stalks under for gradual decay.

Even if you’ve no garden or extra space, the flower beds have mostly shown their glory and what remains is dying and brown. Reason enough to plant a few seeds there and harvest some lovely greens. There are lots of choices. You might thumb through a handy catalog and select All-American Selection winners like Red Sails, Buttercrunch, Ruby, and Salad Bowl.

Even if you start them late, types like the various Romaines can take the cold, lettuces like Arctic King and Winter Marvel. And there are plenty of ways to go. You might sow each type of seed separately, making shallow rows, dropping seed, and adding some 10 – 10- 10, then covering just slightly with a twist of the hoe end. You might mix the seeds too, as I often do, creating my own personal Mesclun blend. When I do this, I rototill thoroughly, add fertilizer, then broadcast the seeds in an 18 – 24 inch wide swath across the garden , and rake lightly. They’ll need some thinning, and there are two ways to go with this practice. You might pull up plants at random for an instant salad of baby greens. Or just thin them, hurrying down the garden space and jerking up plants at random, use or not. Myself, I almost never thin anything. I’m lazy, I guess, but as a biologist I believe in natural selection and survival of the fittest. The best and most vigorous will survive and thrive, and produce plenty of garden greens, more than I can usually use. The weakest will die out, or at least fail to thrive. I don’t really care, since I’ll have more than I can eat, thin them or not.

While you’re planting fall lettuce and perhaps mustard, and endive, do remember to plant a half row or so of Swiss chard. This is a delicious green that grows rapidly to be a foot tall or better. Last year I planted a tiny row just four feet long, picked it as often as I wished, and had the plants come back again and again until freezing days came. This year I’ve another short row and have hopes of repeating the business. Don’t forget that Swiss chard is a tough plant, at least in respect to its ability to withstand cold temperatures. Plant types like Bright Lights, and you’ll have a plant as good as spinach with ribs that run the gamut from silver to gold, orange, pink, and red. Plant it in your flower bed and it’ll look good. Plant it in the garden and it’ll be the same. I pressure cook the leaves with a bit of bacon and a touch of vinegar, and enjoy every bite.

There are other greens and other fall vegetables that can still be planted. A good friend of mine loves to plant fall radishes, the white ones with long roots. They grow rapidly, and when mature he scrapes off the skin which can be “hot”, slices the root, and eats it with bread and butter on a sandwich. They must be tasty – he’s been planting them each fall for at least 30 years.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 7th, 2009

Ohio’s archery season opened on September 26 (2009), but it didn’t mean much to many area bow hunters.  Lots went out on opening day, of course, because it’s traditional, and some made a few trips later.  But it’s during the rut that bow and crossbow hunters become serious, because deer move then, and the big bucks get silly.  It’s the years best chance to put antlers on the wall and meat in the freezer.

Ohio’s deer rut normally starts around the last week in October, hits full swing the first three weeks of November, then begins to taper off.  So, there’s still time to build tree stands, or ground blinds, scout out a favorite farm, and get ready for the big event.  But there are some points that archers not yet truly knowledgeable about their sport should keep in mind.  Because these tactics will up your chances of bagging a fine whitetail.

One, if planning to hold off on tree stands until you actually find a nice scrape or two, is to decide now where to place it.  Some believe that stands should be along approaches to a major scrape, while others feel they should be within shooting range.

It’s an arguable point, but I personally think that big bucks approach a scrape cautiously, then lose some of that caution when they’re close and begin to hurry in hopes that a doe has been there.  So, I like mine close.

Two, when construction time comes, place that stand as high as humanly possible.  A veteran hunting friend who’s taken many a whopper buck told me, “I never build one less than 20 feet high, and I try hard to get it up there 25 feet, even more.

Some hunters make do with a 10 foot ladder stand, but unless it’s well situated in heavy cover, they’re only placing themselves high enough to make it easy for deer to see them.  A buck moving in doesn’t even have to tilt its head to spot these low sitters.  And race away when the archer moves or draws his string.

Three, even at 25 feet, when a deer approaches, sit MOTIONLESS.  It’s an amateurs trick to see a deer coming, and burst into a flurry of activity.  They’ll turn to get a better shot, lift their bow, even stand up, and at that distance those movements draw attention.  The deer leaves.  Only when a whitetail is close, almost in shooting range where it must tilt its head far back to spot you, dare you make moves and draw the string.

Four, it never hurts to bait a scrape, but do so with fresh doe urine, prefer doe in estrus or heat.  And that means fresh!  Using last years badly deteriorated bottled urine just isn’t the answer.

Five, when approaching your tree stand near a scrape, always wear rubber boots.  There’s still a little argument about this, but most experts now say that rubber footwear leaves no scent, while leather gear does.  And walking around a scrape or along a trail leaving man scent behind is obviously a poor move.  Do your best not to brush against trees and bushes either, and if you must in a thick area, at least approach with the wind in your face or quartering.

Six, most archers hunt from dawn to 10 a.m. and/or from two hours before dark until shooting time ends. But another veteran who routinely sits all day in his tree stand said “You’d be surprised at how many bucks will check a scrape between 11 and 1 p.m.”  That’s worth remembering.

Finally, do some shooting from that stand.  Place small targets in the likely directions of deer approach, and at various distances.  Practice until you can hit or closely miss the targets, and when that buck comes in, youre highly likely to get him.  They’re simple rules, and easy to follow, but these tips can definitely make your day.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 7th, 2009

Some years ago an old friend retired and was given a fishing rod and box of tackle, instead of a watch.  “I’ve always wanted to learn to fish,” he said, “and now I’ve got the time.”  He made several visits to a local lake, caught nothing, and gave his equipment away.  “I just didn’t know what to do,” he explained.

Lots of other people are in the same boat, old, young, in-between, would-be anglers who don’t know what to do, and are simply confused by fishing jargon (crankbaits, pig and jig, working structure, etc.)  So, here are the absolute nuts and bolts of learning to fish, the sport boiled down to its simplest terms.  Cut this column out, hang it on the wall, pass it on to a relative or friend.  If they follow these instructions, they WILL catch fish.  At least most of the time.

 The first thing you’ll need is basic gear, and the place to buy it is at a good sporting goods store, or a department store that specializes in sport gear and has clerks that know their business.  Getting it from a place where the salesperson can’t tell a rod from a 12 gauge shotgun is pointless.  You’ll need a rod and reel first, and the best for beginners is a combo kit that has rod, reel, and line already in place.  Get a closed face reel, because they’re simple to cast.  Just squeeze the lever and release it as you whip the rod forward.  A clerk can demonstrate this.

You’ll need two kinds of very inexpensive gear, one set for float and a second for bottom fishing.  The float should be one of the thin pencil types, not a round red and white one that offers resistance to biting fish.  Buy a small packet of No. 6 hooks and a small packet of splitshot that are a little smaller than a dried pea.  Tie the hook on lines end, clamp a splitshot about six inches above, and clip on the float about 3 – 3 1/2 feet above that.  You’re in business.

Farm ponds with their abundant bluegills and bass are ideal for float fishing, so you’ll need to drive on country roads and knock on a few doors.  But once permission has been gained, bait that hook with garden dug worms, purchased waxworms, or a piece of nightcrawler, and toss it out.  Not to the middle of the pond, but where most of the fish are – within 20 – 30 feet of shore.  Then let it sit, moving the float toward you a little every 30 seconds or so.  That float should start sliding under with a fish on the business end soon.  If not, cast in other directions, and move along the shore until you find a hotspot.  Nothing to it.

For bottom fishing, you’ll need a few one ounce sinkers and a packet of snelled No. 6 hooks.  These are hooks with line already attached and a loop at the end for easy tying onto your line.  Tie two snells about a foot apart with the sinker on lines end a few inches below the bottom snell.  Again, nothing to it.  If you’re heading up to Lake Erie for pier fishing, place minnows on the hooks, toss the baits out a short distance and maybe a second rig out a little further, tighten line, and wait for the rod tip to start bouncing.

If you’re fishing a larger lake for bottom feeders like channel cats, carp, bullheads, etc., bait with nightcrawlers, shrimp, or chicken livers, and again toss out the morsels, tighten line, turn your rod tip at an angle, place it in a forked stick, and tighten line.  When you get a good bite, start reeling.  Will these two techniques produce a full stringer every time?  Of course not.  Even veterans don’t score every time. But they’ll work for you, and turn any amateur into a successful angler most days.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 5th, 2009

Hunting seasons are well in, and the thoughts of most area outdoorsmen are on deer, rabbits, pheasants, and waterfowl.  But fish are still biting, cold weather or no, and one of the most active now is white and black crappie.  These silvery, flatsided pansters are extremely popular each spring when they come in close to shore for spawning, and hundreds of anglers gather at local lakes to catch some.  But they bite 12 months out of every year, including through the ice, and they’re biting now.  Question is: where are they biting?

I found some answers at a last fall netting survey of Pleasant Hill Lake (Ohio) conducted by District 2 fishery biologists.  The men had placed 10 trap nets around the lake, and ran the nets for four days.  I went along on the last day, and that morning was an eye opener.  Trap nets are tied along shore, have a single hanging net leading out into the lake which fish bump into and are led into a trap with easy access, but nearly impossible escape.  The nets will catch almost anything that swims between shore and the trap, and are good for sampling specific fish populations.

The first net was set about halfway between the marina and the dam on the marina side, and it yielded a good catch.  There were 40 crappie, mostly 7-8 inchers, but with a good selection of larger fish in the 9-11 inch size, and a dozen or so bluegill and pumpkinseeds, but nothing else.  No carp, bass, saugeye, or other species.  “The crappie are in about 8-12 feet of water at this time of year”  one biologist said.  “And that’s where we’re catching them.”

As we headed toward the dam and checked nets on the lodge side, the catch dropped off to almost nothing.  The water here is rocky and drops off very quickly to serious depths, and it obviously wasn’t crappie country.  The first net had 16 very average fish, the second, 17 near a downed tree, and the third just 9.  It didn’t take long to figure out where to fish in autumn lakes.  They were gathered in areas where the shoreline and bottom sloped gradually, and best results were from mid-lake past the launch ramp and up into the shallow southeast end.

Pleasant Hill Lake is a fair drive from here, but the same tactics will work on lakes much closer to home.  Again, the fish will be deeper now, but otherwise they’ll fall to standard crappie tactics.  One good choice on a day with only light winds would be to lip hook a minnow, squeeze on a splitshot 6 inches above, and slowly wind drift along the shore in those 8-12 foot depths.  When you hit a fish, drop over a small buoy, anchor, and fish the bottom with gentle casts in all directions.  Do remember, they’ll be right on bottom, so fishing just a few feet down with a bobber won’t work.

Another good choice is to drift or anchor here and there and use small jigs with twister tails, maybe a 1/8 or 1/16th ounce in white, yellow, pink, or chartreuse.  If it takes a splitshot to get them down quickly, use one, and it wouldn’t hurt to add a very small minnow to the hook.  Then jig the bait gently along just above the bottom and as before, when a bite comes, stop and fish the area thoroughly.  The obvious ideal is to do your fishing with a portable little fish locator, and I’d recommend one of these to any boat fisherman.  Watch your screen as you move along, and just fish the blips as they turn up.  That’s easy.

Anglers who have no boat can still take crappie in lakes that hold them.  Fish with a slip sinker and floating Lindy, or a two hook bottom rig and minnows, make short casts only into that magic 8-12 foot depth, and keep moving, stopping in one place to fan cast with two rods for half an hour, then move on until you find some. A little tougher, but the tactic will produce.

Farmers and landowners have enough problems these days without adding predation by foxes and coyotes, and there are plenty of both out there in family woods and fields.  Actually, red fox populations are down a bit, possibly due to predation by coyotes, though there are still lots around, grey fox are almost extinct north of Columbus (Ohio) and not too plentiful in the wooded hills south of that city.  Coyotes?  Their population seems to go up and up, so rapidly that those who hunt and trap them are making some excellent bags each winter.

Foxes admittedly feed primarily on mice and voles, which makes them useful in many a farmer’s eyes, but they also feast on young rabbits which landowners often like to hunt, on ground nesting birds, and on pheasants released to hopefully reproduce and bring back huntable populations.  Coyotes have become the state’s No. 1 predator, and they’re perfectly capable of taking any animal they want, up to and including fawn deer if pickings otherwise are lean.

A farmer in western Richland County complained just last fall that his eight barn cats had fallen to five, then three, then one.  He asked a local fox and coyote dog hunter to check out his woodlot, and the hunter and his friends bagged four coyotes.  It goes without saying that they feast on cottontails too, which can be hard pressed to escape in deep snow, and on any other field and forest creatures they come across, including occasionally lambs when times are tough.

Getting rid of these various predators has always been a complex business, and when a landowner has no dogs, his only other recourse is to use traps, following as always the state’s rules and laws on such.  For long years the most popular set for fox and coyotes was dirt hole sets.  I used them myself once upon a time, but always had a problem with them.  Each trapping season I made up extremely smelly concoctions of fish and groundhog meat left to “mellow” in the sun for days at a time, and I’ll admit they worked, at least when skunks didn’t find them first.

But it takes plenty of time and effort to make those sets properly, and sometimes over past years I didn’t want to take that time, and turned to raccoons, mink, and muskrats  instead.  Then a veteran old trapper showed me how to take fox and coyote the easy way, and his technique took so little time and effort that he could set as many traps around his large farm as he wished in just a few hours.

One of his techniques that absolutely hammered local predator populations was what he called a scent post set, which like his other techniques, required at least a few inches of snow.  He looked for areas where good timber or thick brush paralleled a short grass or cut soybean field, then placed ordinary chunks of stove wood, pieces about two feet long and 8-10 inches high about twenty or thirty feet out in the field and parallel to the woods.  Finally, he placed two traps, one near each end of the stove wood and on the timber or brush side under the snow.  He rarely used urine or scent on the wood, though it wouldn’t hurt, but the stove chunk itself was usually enough.

The basic idea here is that foxes and coyotes are a lot like dogs.  They like to mark their territory with urine and when they’re trotting alongside timber or brush, as they often do, there are very few bushes or grass clumps out in that bare field to sprinkle.  So, the wood is a natural spot to urinate, spring one trap or both, and get caught.  The old timer found them a quick and easy set to make, and you should, too.

Another favorite tactic of this old timer, particularly in large open areas between woodlots, was to run his pickup across a field with six to 12 inches of snow from one timber area to another, then set traps in the tire tracks.  Fox and coyotes are lazy, and they’ll run the tracks rather than buck deep snow.  He more than once found catches in both tracks sitting scarcely 10 feet away from each other.

Since he raised sheep, yet another favorite set was made with sheep manure.  He would often haul a pickup load to an open field with good cover nearby, pile it high, then set traps completely around it.  The pile would routinely account for multiple foxes particularly, and whether they liked the smell, the warmth, or enjoyed rolling in it didn’t matter.  They came and they’d probably come to horse or cow manure as well.

A final set that accounted for at least an occasional fox, but also hammered the local raccoons, skunks, and opossums was to use a box trap in wooded or brushy areas.  He would cover the trap with a bit of brush or tall grass to break up its outline, then (and this is the crucial point), bait it with fresh pork cracklings.  “I think they can smell those cracklings for half a mile, and they love ’em” he said.  “Everything around follows in the scent and gets caught”.


Readers who enjoy hunting and trapping might be interested in Martin’s new e-book “Dick Martin’s Hunting and Trapping Tips.” It’s available from (Kindle) or Barnes&Noble (Nook book) for $2.99.





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outdoorswithmartin on October 3rd, 2009

Some people don’t care for the taste of venison, complaining that it has a slightly “wild” flavor.  But many others like that flavor, and feel that it adds substantially to meals and dishes like chili where ground deer seems to surpass beef.  And few deny that venison is healthier, being leaner and free of antibiotics and other chemicals fed to beef, pork, chicken, etc.

So, how do you find a meal or two of deer meat?  Either shoot your own during the archery and gun seasons, or buy it from someone who raises whitetails.  Someone like James Hopkins.  James, who lives in Jeromesville, is just one of some 600 Ohio farmers who raises deer to supplement income from his 600-acre farm and fields of corn and soybeans.  He got into the business more or less by accident.

“I had a good friend who came up from Georgia occasionally to hunt,” he said. “You can’t raise deer in Georgia, but you can here, given necessary permits and licenses, and he thought it would be a good money maker.  So, I gave it a try.”  The first thing Hopkins learned is that it takes money to make money.  He purchased a buck and doe fawn from a Holmesville breeder for $500 each, then more does and a breeder buck from Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The does were about $1,000 each and the breeder buck $7,000.  “The bucks can cost a lot more, I was told.  There’s a huge animal close to the town of Trail that cost its owner $500,000.”

Since deer are wonderful jumpers, James’ next step was to build six pens of chain link and wire fence in a four to five acre section very near his house.  The chain fences were 8 feet high, enough to keep most animals inside, though a really serious and athletic buck might still make it over.

He separates out his breeder bucks each fall and removes their antlers, pushing them into a narrow chute for the purpose.  That’s necessary because two in the same enclosure with antlers might fight to the death, and also these tame animals get a little mean when does in heat are around and have been known to attack their owners.  “I carry a piece of pipe when I have to go into an enclosure with antlered bucks during breeding season.” James said.  “I’ve had them snort and stamp their hooves more than once, but one hasn’t jumped me yet.”

The expense, other than initial ones, of raising deer is small.  The 40-50 animals he keeps on hand eat grass mostly in the summer and hay in winter, supplemented by a pellet feed of his own mix made of corn, oats, roasted soybeans, and vitamins and minerals.  The mix measures 18 percent protein in spring when they’re growing antlers, and 15 percent in winter.  Since deer are healthy animals used to living outside, he needs only worm them occasionally, and give them a draught 3-4 times a year for internal and external parasites.  

Now for the serious part – how does he make money off his deer and the two young fawns that the does produce each spring?  Some of the biggest bucks, whitetails with antler spreads of 8 to 12 to up to even 20 points are sold to game preserves.  These, depending or size and antler spread, bring $1500 to $10,000 each.  He’s happy to sell breeding stock too, and some animals are taken into Danville (Ohio) to Young’s Locker Service and Meat Processing, processed into chops, ground venison, ribs, saddles, even venison hot dogs, and sold. 

He sells some meat at his farm house, more five miles down the road at a farmers market, and most at Shaker Square in Cleveland where it’s very well received.  “I sell a little to restaurants too, ” James said, “and I’d like to sell more here.”  A final plan is to eventually sell semen for breeding, which currently goes for about $3,000 a straw.  Is there anything special or more difficult about raising whitetail deer?  “Not really,”  he said.  “They’re a little spookier, and being wild animals, you have to be more cautious, but that’s about it.

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This world is full of things an outdoorsman will never know, and just one of them is how many times a waiting bowhunter will have a trophy buck or even a small doe catch his or her scent and ghost away to safer climes.  But I suspect it happens often.  Too many archers don’t really believe that a whitetail can smell them literally a half mile away, so they pay less attention than they should to wind direction and miss out on deer after deer.

Sure, many of us give scent plenty of thought.  We dose our clothing with cedar tree, apple, even fox, or deer scent, and wash carefully before each hunt with special soaps that supposedly kill all human odor.  But I strongly believe that such scents and preventatives work only for about the first 50 feet heading toward that blind.  Then your pores open up, you start to sweat, and human odor leaks from your face, coat sleeves, etc. to make you smell like a human who’s been wallowing in cedar shavings.

The only way to keep deer from smelling you and heading elsewhere is to not let them smell you.  Then you can skip bathing for a week, smoke, chew home-made tobacco, do what you will with no repercussions.  I’ve mentioned before that the higher you place your tree stand, the better.  And that’s true, at least when you’ve a steady breeze blowing in a direction that probably has no deer nearby, a picked soybean field, open grass, or farm buildings.

But what do you do when the wind, usually out of the west and with your tree stand placed with that direction in mind, turns east?  Or south or north?  It might be blowing right into a prime bedding area or across a route they’re taking to and from a feeding area.  So, you’re just wasting time that day unless you get lucky and a dog, farmer, or whoever flushes one from an unusual direction.

One partial answer to that problem is to build several tree stands with various wind directions in mind, and pick your spot when you arrive according to the needs of the moment.  But even then the winds can change.  How many times have you sat up there with a soft breeze or a stiff one right in your face, only to have it change in an hour or two to quartering or even the opposite direction?  And again, send your scent to where it shouldn’t go.  Most archers will shrug their shoulders and tough it out when that happens.  The smart ones will climb down and move.

If there’s a really tough time to hunt it’s when there’s sunlight and the winds are light and variable.  A situation like this can be a nightmare.  Anyone who’s studied weather knows that warm air rises and cool air sinks, and that wooded area you’re hunting has a bit of everything from sun to shade.  A light breeze can cross a brightly sunlit area and rise a little, then pass a cool, shaded creek and fall, then move here and there according to little whims of vagrant gusts, and the final result is that your scent is in ALL directions and the most you’re likely to see and hear that day is snorts and waving tails.

If there’s an answer, it’s that you’ve got to be willing to move according to circumstances, and the people who will do that best are crossbowmen.  Archers seldom do well on the ground, even in a blind, because they’ve got to draw that string and deer too often see the movement.  A crossbowman is shooting a gun with a very long bullet, and can move here or there as winds decide, stay low, even lie flat behind a log if necessary.  So, if you’re an archer, build several stands and change as needed.  If a crossbow hunter, just pay attention to wind direction.  Your chances of bagging a big one should increase astronomically.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 2nd, 2009

Back when I was a kid in the hills of southern Ohio, there were lots of  poisonous snakes, and since we ran those hills like little savages we had to quickly learn to avoid the fairly common timber rattlesnakes and even more common copperheads.  We learned to take care around rockpiles which both species favored for sunning, and be very careful near fallen trees, slab piles, wood piles, and old abandoned houses with rusted farm machinery and tall grass, all of which held lots of mice which both species eat.

And I’m sorry to say we killed them at every opportunity.  In fact, it was almost a national sport in those days and many killed every snake they saw, even including garter snakes and harmless little grass snakes.  I wasn’t that bad, but now and then I gathered up a few young friends and our .22 rifles and went hunting for poisonous snakes.  We usually found some.

There were accidental encounters even with constant awareness.  My dad nearly stepped on a 3 foot copperhead while heading up our hill to feed the chickens, and my uncle one day raked up fallen leaves and a copperhead, which bit him.  I once had a small timber rattler crawl between my feet in a brushpile, and pulled a copperhead onto my shoes while digging worms for fishing.  Lots of snakes in those days  

They have quite a history in Ohio.  Rattlesnake Island in Lake Erie was named for its huge rattlesnake population (they’re extinct now), and Indians who paddled to South Bass Island seeking deer and small game had to hunt with great care.  But today the reptiles are scarce and on the endangered species list, persecuted and killed to the point where only remnant populations are left.

The closest poisonous snakes to our area (Richland County Ohio) are swamp rattlers or massasaugas.  These are little grey to black rattlesnakes that have small populations at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area and the Willard Wildlife Area.  I’ve heard that a few survive in Lake Erie swamps and backwaters, too.  They’re secretive snakes, very non-aggressive and prone to slip away when humans arrive, and when they rattle it’s more an insect buzz than a full scale western diamondback rattle. So, when you hear one, you’re likely not to notice.

Timber rattlers are mostly restricted to southern and southeastern Ohio, and the few that are left survive in places like Zaleski, Scioto, Pike, and Tar Hollow state parks.  They’ll average 3-4 feet, and might reach 6.  It’s an interesting fact that these poisonous snakes almost never rattle unless harassed and aroused.  Biologists believe that the nervous types that rattled were all killed, and those who didn’t survived.

Copperheads?  They’re the most common poisonous snakes in the state, but still very rare.  Many are almost pinkish in color, but all have the classic copper colored head and make their living in southern and southeastern Ohio timber country, fields, and farm land.  I remember these best because my mother, knowing I was snake-wise, would send me into a blackberry thicket first or the family garden to chase out or kill any copperheads laying there.

What’s the point of all this?  The Ohio Division of Wildlife is making a serious effort to sustain and even increase the populations of all three snakes.  They’ve put transmitters on several swamp rattlers at Killdeer Plains, and are studying their movements to learn more about these secretive creatures.  The DOW is also purchasing critical habitat to sustain remnant populations of all three pit vipers.  And they’re asking “Please, do not kill remaining members of this tiny population.” 

The snakes belong here, just as rabbits and squirrels do, and they do good work in helping control mice.  They’re not going to kill anybody, either.  In fact the last person to die of snake bite was a woman who died in 1947, this after delaying treatment for days.  You’re not likely to see one on those hunting, fishing, and camping trips, but if you do, walk away.  They have a right to live, too.

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outdoorswithmartin on October 1st, 2009

October is a good month for hunting several kinds of wildlife, but it’s an equally good time to do some fishing, and the best game in town these days is seeking Lake Erie perch.  Erie perch traditionally turn on in October with action along shorelines and on piers a little slow at first, but gradually building as waters cool and fish move close.  There are a fair number of piers in the Western Basin that can produce good catches of perch, but one of the best has always been the Huron pier.

This long pier has been a fall hotspot since I was a pup, and it should continue this month, if not right now, then soon.  Many an angler just walks out a short distance and drops a line, but the rule of thumb is that the further out you walk on this smooth topped concrete structure, the better fishing generally is.  The very best action is clear out at the end around the lighthouse, and that’s a long hike for anglers laden with rods, minnow buckets, maybe a cooler, and food.  But it’s usually worth it.  Try at least to reach territory around the blockhouse.  That’s often a pretty good spot.

Gear for the Huron Pier or any other is a spreader for most, but spreaders don’t work well here unless you’re fishing straight down.  Cast them out and the minnows are buried or half buried in Huron River mud, hard for perch to find.  A better rig is the standard two snelled No. 6 hooks above a one ounce sinker.  Fished fairly close to the pier they’ll be above the bottom and easily seen.  If possible, always take a long handled net on Huron Pier trips, and I mean LONG because it’s a fair distance down to the water.  Steelhead come upstream here each fall and winter, and last October I hooked two in one day on shiner minnows, but without a net had no chance to land them.

There are other piers that often produce perch, and one is the Catawba State Park pier on the northwest corner of Catawba Island.  It’s a short pier, but has the advantage of plenty of parking, restrooms, and a play area for kids.  You might also give thought to Mazurik and Dempsey Access, both of which lie near Marblehead and have lots of parking, restrooms, and are handicap accessible.

Pier fishing is always an on again-off again proposition, but boat fishing is close to sure fire if you follow the rules.  Right now, perch are hitting around the northern cans of the Camp Perry firing range, between Green and Rattlesnake islands, between Gull and Kelleys Island shoals, and off Cedar Point with some taken near the Marblehead lighthouse.  All you’ll need is a boat large enough to handle big water, and some good friend is likely to have one.

There are two ways to go when you’re fishing with friends on a boat, and one is to simply motor out and head for a pack of anchored craft.  They’ll be perch fishing and if they’re catching fish, probably you will, too.  A better way is to cruise a likely area with or without anchored boats, and use a fish locator to find a school below.  Anchor and work it until the fish move on, then up anchor and search out another school.  Sitting in one spot all day taking only an occasional perch is not a smart move..  I was up to the lake a few weeks ago, fishing just south of Kelleys Island.  We found a nice school, and filled our 150 fish limit in just over an hour, catching many doubles and even triples.  It can happen if you hunt them.

Yet another way to catch Erie perch is on a headboat, and many headboats are turning to perch since walleye fishing is so slow.  There are head boats scattered all over western Lake Erie, though they’re heavily concentrated near Port Clinton, and these boats offer plenty of elbow room most days and comfortable fishing usually under an overhead awning.  They might or might not provide bait for your $25 – 35 ticket, but they’ll usually provide fish since their captains are out daily and know where the schools are holding.  For a list of headboats, call the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau at 1-800-441-1271.  Then head north to search out some good eating.

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Ohio native Americans called him the “little bear”, and relished his rich meat.  Many a young Huron and Sandusky made his first kill on a groundhog, and not only was the hand of man turned against this stocky creature, but bears, cougars, wolves, and coyotes ate them at every opportunity.  The only animals that survived to breed and produce offspring were the smartest, sharpest eyed, and wariest.

Life got a little better for Buckeye woodchucks when pioneers cleared the forest and killed off most of the predators, but they were still hunted hard.  When I was a kid in the hills of southern Ohio, a chuck moved in under one of our outbuildings, and word got around within hours. A neighbor was sitting close by that same day waiting for him to emerge and greet a .22 bullet.  “It was great.” I was told.  “Ma slow baked him in a little water with potatoes, onions, and carrots.  That was good eating.”

People still hunt woodchucks today, and a few eat them, but with untold acres of soybeans and hayfields, protected fencerows and woodpiles their numbers have multiplied to everyone’s regret.  Personally, I rank groundhogs with rats and cockroaches, mostly because they drive me nuts.  Two weeks ago one came into my dirt floored garage and wrecked havoc.  It dug holes all over the west side, working so powerfully that it half buried two push mowers, but I never saw the animal. 

Like its ancestors it ghosted in, dug more holes, and disappeared.  I even took a ground stand in pine branches, but it detected me somehow.  Finally, I did see the animal, gave it a No. 4 turkey load and was so angry that I gave it another just for luck.  I was tempted to jump up and down on its furry carcass, but didn’t.  And a farmer I talked to a few days ago said “I just hate groundhogs.”

Since most farmers feel the same way, hunting chucks offers an opportunity to find new deer and wild turkey spots for the upcoming seasons.  Most landowners will say “Sure” if you ask to hunt the pests, and if you kill some, putting money in his pocket from soybeans and hay that groundhogs won’t be eating, he’s more likely to let you hunt other game.

They’re good practice, too.  Hunt them with what you normally seek deer with, be it a shotgun, bow, or crossbow, and when you can consistently bag the “little bear” you’re good enough at stalking and shooting to consistently take bigger game.  Bow hunters particularly, will need to get inside 30 yards to make a kill, and anybody that can reach that range on a wary  chuck will have little trouble filling his deer tag.

It goes without saying that you’ll need camouflage clothing, soft shoes, and plenty of practice and patience to bag chucks, but there are hundreds out there to practice on.  And here’s a final thought.  Some hunters like the challenge of making the really long shots on foraging groundhogs.  They’ll carry scoped, flat shooting rifles and range finders and try for chucks that are so far away they’re invisible to the naked eye.  Local groundhog guide Mike Groff  has had clients make 700 yard shots, even more, the length of seven football fields!  “It’s like sinking a 20 foot putt.” he said.  “Tough, but it can be done.”

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outdoorswithmartin on October 1st, 2009

Life has gotten complicated for modern day farmers. Pigs and cattle are often fed by computer, litters and basic information is computer oriented too, and we do our plowing and harvesting with huge tractors and combines.  But young farmers are often forced to listen to parents and grandparents and hear “It wasn’t like this when I was a boy.”  They’re right, but was it better or worse?  Bill Briner who farms northeast of Shelby, Ohio knows the answer, but you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Bill is a 73-year old landowner who’s farmed all of his life, as did his dad, grandad, and doubtless other ancestors farther back.  He was born on a 60-acre farm at Vernon Junction, and grew up there, a typical farm boy who had typical experiences.  “We had livestock and grain like everybody did in those days,” Bill said.  “We raised corn and wheat and soybeans for hay, not beans, and we lived pretty well.”  Bill grew up in a fairly modern house by the times, with a furnace heated with coal, a pitcher pump on the cistern and a well that had plenty of sulfur.  Water was lugged to the house in buckets, and most of the water used for cooking and drinking, sulfur or not.

The Briner family also had a two-holer out back with a Sears Roebuck catalog for necessities, and some magazines.  “We spent some pleasant minutes reading through the catalogs and magazines.  It was almost the only time we had to relax and read.”  There were chores in plenty.  The Briners had about 100 chickens, and the eggs had to be gathered daily.  Eggs that weren’t used for breakfast and cooking cakes and cookies went to Daugherty’s Hatchery, a steady little addition to the family income.

Some of the chickens were eaten, of course, usually at Sunday dinner, and getting them ready for the skillet was more than a visit to IGA or Krogers.  “We had a chopping block and a sharpened hatchet out back, and when it was chicken dinner time, mom would catch a couple, cut off their heads, then scald them with boiling water, pluck off the feathers, get rid of pin feathers with a piece of burning newspaper, then clean them, cut both into proper pieces, flour and fry the lot.  It took some doing for a chicken dinner.”

Now and again the local preacher would come for Sunday dinner, then chicken was ALWAYS on the menu.  A minister told me once “I learned to hate chicken, because that was all I ever got.  I’d have almost killed for some pork chops or ham.”  Other than gathering eggs and hoeing sweet and field corn, there was still plenty to do, especially in the summer. 

His dad farmed with two Perchons, ordinary work horses, and felt that five acres plowed with a single tree was a good days work.  Which it was.  He planted corn 40 inches apart using a wire with knots 40 inches apart to trip the corn planter and release a seed.  The 40 inches gave horses room to walk, and the 40 inches allowed them to cultivate in any direction and keep down weeds.  60 bushel to the acre was a good yield in those days.

Things picked up for the Briners when  dad bought a Farmall F12 tractor in 1938.  It made the work easier, but it was a hard riding tractor, though still better than horses.  Harvest time?  No big pickers in those days.  The corn was harvested by hand, shucked by hand, and placed in corn cribs.  To shell the corn for animal feed, the Briners used a hand cranked sheller, but eventually dad rigged up a belt with engine that allowed the corn to be cranked much faster. 

As you might guess, there were always milk cows, usually about six, that were milked by hand.  Butter was made in a churn and kept or sold, the cream drank as buttermilk, and the skim milk left fed to hogs along with kitchen scraps and hog feed.  The pork came hard too, again much harder than visiting a supermarket.

‘We usually butchered about 2-3 hogs a fall,” Bill said.  “And the routine didn’t vary.  We waited for cold weather, usually November or December, picked our animals, and shot them in the head with a .22.  They were hung from a tripod, their bellies opened up and the guts fell into a large bucket.  Our women folk took the intestines into the house, washed them carefully, and either stuffed them with sausage, or fried them as “chitlins.” 

Then we got to the hard part, scalding the hogs, and patiently scraping off the hair.  When they were clean, we’d put them on a wide table, carve them into hams, bacon, and side meat, and smoke the lot.  Mom would can the rest of the carcasses, which made really tasty fried meat and meat pies, and would cook down all of the fat meat into lard.  We used that lard for everything from pie crusts to frying chicken.”

It wasn’t all work.  Bill went to school in a one room school house on Wagner Road, and after school did chores from hoeing to gathering eggs to mowing with a push mower and milking cows.  It usually lasted until dark with time out for a substantial supper.  But there were hours when nothing needed doing, and he spent time with neighbor kids playing in straw stacks, enjoying baseball games in the front yard, playing Kick The Can and Hide and Seek, and swimming in the local creek.  He found time for a little fishing and hunting, too.

“We used cane poles to fish the creek, catching suckers and sometimes a bass, and when hunting season arrived, we found plenty of game.  It was rare that I couldn’t walk out and jump two or three pheasants or bag half a dozen rabbits.  And quail?  There were lots of those, flushing in covies and making for tough shooting.  But they were as good eating as any wild game you could find.”

Have things changed today?  Sure.  Did Bill Briner like it better in the Good Old Days?  Sure.  “Those were the really good days,” he said.  “We worked hard, played hard, ate well, slept well.  It was a carefree, happy life with lots to do and home-made ice cream on Sundays.  We visited with neighbors and they with us, we had picnics and nice events.  A good time to live in this United States.”

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outdoorswithmartin on September 30th, 2009

 “English” folk like you and me love to visit Mennonite and Amish businesses whether they be selling home bakes or produce. But few indeed get into the nursery and greenhouse market, and fewer yet succeed well enough to grow like Topsy.  Elvin Burkholder is one that’s thriving.

Elvin owns the Lakeside Greenhouse & Produce on London East Road just east of Shelby, Ohio.  To reach it you’ll drive a mile or so from the city on SR 96, turn north on Plymouth-Springmill Road, then east again a short distance on London East.  Signs direct visitors from Plymouth-Springmill, so it’s easy to find.

The business started small.  Elvin has a farm on London East, and he started selling produce in the 1980’s right at the farm.  At the same time his wife Verna worked in Friebel’s Greenhouse in Shelby, learned the business well, and when Friebel retired and sold his greenhouses, the couple bought one and set up shop.  It did well, so well that the business began interfering with farming.

“We needed more room.” Elvin said.  “I had a son that married and needed a house, so we built him one across the road and added a farm market that had a lot more space than our original place.  We grow our own produce, of course, and my son is a partner, which is good because the nursery is labor intensive.”

So, they first began adding standard nursery plants for spring sale like geraniums, impatiens, and marigolds, then went heavily into mums, which they’re selling right now.  “Mums take some work.” Burkhalter said.  “We buy small plugs and plant them in 8 inch mum pans which are set outside spaced about 18 inches apart.  We set up an automatic watering system and alternate fertilizing with 10 – 20 – 10 and 5 – 15 – 5.  That makes them dark green and bushy.”

Insects are always a worry in the nursery business whether they be white flies or spider mites, so plants are checked often and insect spray added weekly.  Otherwise, it’s business as usual.  Right now his sales room has a nice variety of offerings.  He has pumpkins from mini’s to Atlantic giants, and Goldrush to pie pumpkins.  There are big cushaws for pies, unusual gourds like snake gourds and wing gourds, and more ordinary things like watermelons and cantaloupes, tomaotes and squash, cabbages and peppers.  Lots to choose from. 

If you’re looking for a place to visit in Richland County, Ohio, this hard working Mennonite will remain open until the end of October.  Plenty of time to buy some mums and maybe a juicy cushaw for old time pies.

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As many Ohio readers know, there are farm markets and farm markets.  The former are usually roadside affairs selling tomatoes, sweet corn, squash, and other good things from their garden.  The latter, few indeed, are something special, offering unusual items as well as ordinary produce, items interesting enough to be worth a modest or even a fairly long drive.  Mitchell’s Orchard and Farm Market is one of these. (The website Ohio Proud offers an interesting list of local fresh food and farmers markets – they even have a find-a-market search page.)

The Market lies a couple of miles east of Ashland, Ohio just off SR 96.  To reach it you’ll drive almost to the first railroad crossing, then turn onto TWP Road 1153.  There’s a small sign along 96 and the Market lies just a couple of hundred yards down 1153.  What does this secluded market have to offer? 

Since there’s a 60 acre orchard, you’d expect to find apples, pears, plums, sweet and sour cherries in season, and grapes.  They’re there.  Visitors might also expect to see tomatoes, squash, onions, potatoes, sweet corn, and other standard vegetables.  They’re waiting, too, along with a fair spread of meats and cheeses.  But there are more exotic offerings, like old time candies and root beer, flannel cake mix and black buggy vegetable soup, jellies, fresh honey, and more.

Still, the sale items that draw most customers aren’t foods and produce, they’re wine and beers, the brainchild of owner Mitch Goschinski.  As his daughter Valerie Snyder relates the story, Mitch had a thriving business next door and when he was nearing his personal retirement age, started planting fruit trees.  By the time retirement arrived he had a thriving orchard and a modest little business selling produce.

“He wanted more than that, though.” Valerie explained.  “Business was pretty slow in the winter, and he wanted something that would draw in customers year around.  Dad decided that wines and beers would do just that.”  And they do.  Walk up and down the aisles of this two room shop, and you’ll find literally hundreds of wines.  There are at least 30 different Ohio wines, lots more from out-of-state (California, New York State, etc.), and even more from other parts of the world.

Are you looking for a California Reserve of Martin?  It’s here.  An Ohio Woodbridge, various kinds of Reislings, Chauvignons, or more simple blueberry and cherry wines?  All here.  And the beers?  At least 50 kinds.  Tucher and Mud Springs Bock, Varnsteiner and Yinput, they’re all waiting.  You can buy these wines and beers, or you can make your own. 

The Market offers an amazing variety of beer and wine making supplies, from beer and wine kits that become five gallons of fine drinking, to various yeasts,  malt extract, and basic equipment from corks to caps.  One of their best sellers, though isn’t beer and wine at all, but cherry juice.  As Valerie said, “I really believe in drinking cherry juice for arthritis, gout, and digestive problems.  It’s a natural tonic and wonderful stuff.”  Here’s your chance to try some. 

Readers might wonder if Mitchell’s Orchard & Farm Market will be around in years to come.  There’s little doubt of that.  Valerie and her husband plan to take over the market when her parents retire, and hopefully make it even bigger and better.  That should make beer and wine connoisseurs happy.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 30th, 2009

Lots of Northcentral Ohio readers like to make an annual trip or two to Amish Country, but gas prices are high and these days a visit can be costly. How would you like to see some “Amish country” close to home, a little jewel of a market that is off the beaten track in untrammeled farm country, and well worth a visit anytime? Sound good?

The jewel is called the Planktown Market, situated in an ordinary looking building with plenty of parking that lies off SR 603 just east of the little Ohio town of Shiloh. To reach it you’ll drive a mile or two east of Shiloh, turn left onto Planktown Road, drive a hundred yards or so, then right on Peton Road for another hundred yards. Signs will direct you from 603.

Inside the store there are rows upon rows of ordinary things and more rows of the unusual. There’s plenty of bulk food since the Market caters to Mennonites and Amish as well as “English”, all neatly packaged and labeled. Walk down the aisles and you’ll find lots of candy: chocolate covered pretzels and coconut haystacks, ginger slices and malt balls, more and more of the sweet stuff. There are many kinds of nuts too, including salted-in-the-shell peanuts and sunflower seeds. And, of course, Amish and Mennonite cakes, pies, and cookies. Soups? You’ll find jars of vegetable soup, dried potato soup, lentils, dried beans, and more as well as oat bran, cornmeal mix, and even turkey gravy.

But it’s the deli items that draw a steady flow of customers. Meats and cheeses that rival those in Amish country, and are usually much less expensive. If you’re wondering how such a place came to be in rural farm country, it’s the brain child of Eugene Shirk, a lean, congenial Mennonite who bought the store in 1999 from owners who were going out of business. This hard working 40-something businessman was in the tractor repair business when the store came up for sale, and with no experience in the retail trade or markets, he bought it. “I thought there was a need for such a place,” he said, “but it was a pretty small store to start with, and just 8 feet of deli space. So, I enlarged it, learned by trial and error, made mistakes and did some things right, and now it’s what you see today.”  Takes courage.

His deli, which draws customers from surprising distances, now has at least 50 kinds of cheeses, from onion cheese (I bought some – delicious) to sharp cheddar, smoked Swiss and Colby, the list goes on. The cheeses come from Holmes County and are constantly changed and evaluated. “If it sells, we keep it and buy more.” Eugene said. “If not, we discontinue the type and buy something else.” His 50 plus types of meat are treated the same way, and people literally line up to get them. There are ordinary types of lunchmeat like Virginia ham, turkey breast, and corned beef. But he also has braunswager and Lebanon bologna, head cheese, honey ham, summer sausage, and Canadian bacon.

Those who can’t wait to get their purchases home can buy sandwiches made as you watch often enough, and wash them down with old time root beer as well as more traditional soft drinks. Are there plans for the future? Nope. “The market pays well, but like any business there are small scale headaches, enough that I don’t want to expand them.” Shirk said. “Luckily, I have good help, around 22 young Mennonite girls who are hard working and diligent. That makes a big difference.”

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Back when I was a youngster in the heavily wooded hills of southern Ohio, there were only three animals to hunt when fall rolled around, squirrels, rabbits, and ruffed grouse, though we did bounce an occasional covey of bobwhite quail.  So, the opening of squirrel season was an eagerly awaited affair, and we hunted them in the traditional manner, easing into the timber before dawn and sitting quietly here and there in groves of pignut or shagbark hickories.

But late season when the leaves had fallen and the trees reasonably bare was our favorite time, because then we could gather up the family squirrel dog and do some fun hunting.  In those days, most of the farms along little rural roads had a squirrel dog, and nearly all were mixed bloods, usually with a little coon hound, some beagle, and maybe terrier or cur or all of the above.  My uncle’s dog was a nondescript little mongrel named Febe, and when conditions were right, he’d  call me and a couple of brothers and come good daylight we’d line out along some hillside and start walking.

No slipping in before dawn now, no silent treading, just stroll along, laugh, talk, tell stories and shoot at the occasional grouse while Febe hurried here and there until she found a fresh track.  Then she’d bark treed and watch the treetop.  If the squirrel jumped out, she moved with it, and moved again.  All we had to do was surround the last tree and look for a patch of fur on a high limb. If my uncle and I were hunting alone, the squirrel would often stay on the trunk, moving around to the opposite side as we checked the tree.  Then one of us would back off a little and wait, while the other walked around.  When the squirrel slipped around to the standers side, he was in the game pouch.  Easy hunting and productive.

Squirrel hunting with a dog is almost a vanishing sport up here, though it’s still a major activity further south in Kentucky and West Virginia clear down to Alabama and Georgia.  And I think readers would truly enjoy trying this “new” activity.  You’ll need a dog first, and the easiest way to get one is to buy it.  Any hunting dog magazine should have ads for squirrel dogs, which will be shipped to your address, and a check of the web (Google?) will turn up literally hundreds of sites for these smart little animals.

I found Squirrel Dog Central which has lots of information on such dogs and offers 38 breeds for sale from mountain curs to American squirrel dogs.  The Bayou State Squirrel Dog Association was there, and there were even books like Squirrel Dog Basics – A Guide to Hunting Squirrels With Dogs at  E-Bay had more books and videos.

Probably the most challenging way to go is to get a pup from the dog pound and train him or her yourself.  There’s general agreement that the best dogs are 30 pounds or less, and either feists or curs with a little hound or beagle blood.  You’re looking for a pup that’s alert and lively, quick to come to you and not cower at the back of the cage, something with the spark of intelligence in its eyes.  But you don’t want serious coonhounds because while these can be trained to track a squirrel and tree it, their nose is too good, and squirrels can do a lot of meandering around in a morning before you arrive.

Better to have one with limited scenting abilities that will go only after fresh tracks, and better yet if it won’t bark until it hits the tree, giving squirrels little time to reach a den.  And you want one that stays fairly close.  If you have to cross two hills to find the dog, you’ll waste a lot of hours for one kill.  It might take several pups to find a good one, but you’ll learn too, as you introduce it to squirrels, first dead and trailed on a string for him to track, then later in the woods as the animal begins to understand what you want.  Again, it’s a fun way of hunting, and squirrel dogs traditionally make fine family pets in the off season.  They’re also good training models for kids going with you to sample the sport without any need to get up early and stumble through brush.  Those are prime reasons to own one of these fine animals.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 24th, 2009

It finally happened.  You went from anticipation as that very first tomato turned gradually from yellow to red, then feasted happily on a half dozen that were either sliced and devoured, or placed in salads.  Then tomatoes came on by the dozen, and you started serious canning, now they’re out there nearly in hundreds and what are you going to do with them?  Give some to the kids and grandkids?  Fine.  Pass out a few to neighbors?  Fine.  But I’ve a solution to that massive excess that will continue to grow, and a wonderful solution(s) it is.

Your first thought should be to make some vegetable juice.  I make a few jars most years, and always regret that I didn’t make more.  To do it, pick enough ripe tomatoes to fill your sink, and be sure it’s a sink that can easily handle boiling water without cracking or injury.  I wash the tomatoes, make sure the bottom piece is in so it’s leak proof, and bring water to a roiling boil in a large clam pot.  Then I pour the water over the tomatoes, cover the lot with newspapers, and let them sit for an hour or so before draining off the water.

The next step is a little tedious: standing there patiently with a small, sharp knife, coring each tomato and removing its skin, then chunking it up into the clam pot.  The following step is a little tedious too, but simply must be done, running the tomatoes through a colander to remove seeds.  One year I skipped the seed removal and couldn’t enjoy my juice for troublesome seeds.

Now, it gets easy.  Boil the tomatoes along with small chunked carrots, celery (vital), bell peppers, and onions until soft.  You can let it go at this or get creative, and add some salt and pepper, basil, oregano, hot peppers, whatever else you’d like to add.  Then when all the vegetables are soft, toss them into the blender in batches until everything has a smooth consistency, and put everything back to reach a gentle boil again.

At this point, I’ve placed clean quart jars into a container with a wire bottom that will hold seven quart jars, added a little water for steam, and replaced the lid. When the jars are hot, lids in a separate pan are hot, and the juice is hot, I fill the jars, quickly add lids, and place them on a towel to cool and seal.  Then into the basement  they go, but not for long.  I’ve never had this home-made vegetable juice last more than a few weeks.  In fact, I sometimes walk down there and bring up a quart just to drink on the spot.  Really tasty.

Here’s another thought for excess tomatoes.  I can mine, but a friend says she freezes hers, and swore they were great!  She scalds and skins tomatoes just as above, then chunks them up, and places batches in quart freezer bags, just the right amount for vegetable soup, chili, spaghetti, and other tomato dishes.  Then tosses them into an out-of-the-way corner of her freezer.  “They’re a little soft and soggy if you want to eat them fresh.”she said.  “But they work fine for other things that require cooking, and are a lot quicker than canning.”

Here’s one final idea, try slicing up some green tomatoes, adding a dusting of flour, and frying them crisp and brown in olive oil.  Fried green tomatoes might be an acquired taste, but I like them fine, and probably you will, too.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 24th, 2009

Is there a best season of the year to go muskie fishing? It’s an arguable point, but in my opinion the top time is right now. Why?

Because muskies are cold blooded, which means their metabolism varies with water temperature. That water is hot right now, but cooling, so not only are muskies feeding heavily to maintain body functions and grow, but they’ve an extra incentive to put on fat for the coming winter. In short, some big fish are out there prowling and hungry, and right now is a great time to catch a truly large and hard fighting lunker.

There are a number of lakes that hold nice muskellunge, but according to the Ohio Huskie Muskie Club, a top lake in past years has been our own Clear Fork Reservoir. Many years Clear Fork has produced more Huskie Muskies, Honorable Mentions, and fish under 30 inches than its close competitor, Leesville Lake. What’s even more important is that nearly all of those fish were returned to the water, and are waiting again to slash into your bait.

Tactics for catching the local whoppers hasn’t varied much over the past 20 years. I do my Clear Fork fishing with a sturdy seven foot Black Beauty rod, an open faced reel filled with 20 pound test line, and lures that range from Bagley Monster Shads, usually in blue and silver, to WiggleWarts, HotnTots, and various stick baits. And while I far prefer to cast for my fish, I’ll be the first to admit that trolling produces more strikes, this for a simple reason: your offerings are in the water and at proper depth all of the time.

Casters have their lure high, low, or out of the water too often, which cuts their odds. Lots of local anglers fish alone, which is fine, but those who troll have better luck working with a partner. That allows four rods, and the smart ones will have two well back and just above or below the thermocline, another lure wiggling closer, and the fourth not far behind the prop wash. They’ll change lures every half hour or so too, and vary depths a little to cover all bases. With luck, sooner or later a rod will buck and a minature torpedo take off or hit the air currents. That’s when it’s all worth while.

Since I often fish alone, I like to mix and match my fishing tactics. I’ll troll with two rods as long as I can stand it, following “the route.” The route starts at the first island east of the marina, crosses over to pass down the north side, crosses over again not far from the dam and up the south side to the first island. Since most fish are in deeper water this time of year, some anglers skip the first island and concentrate their trolling between the last island and the dam.

When I can’t stand trolling anymore, I like to stop at the spring, which lies along the north shore about two thirds of the way between a bay leading to the Boy Scout Camp and the dam, and cast until my blood starts circulating again. The water is cooler here, and nice muskies often stack up in the invigorating water.

I like to stop at an underwater island even closer to the dam too, and cast for a while. That island has turned up many a good fish. Here’s a final thought: consider doing some fishing at night. A friend of mine likes to fish Leesville Lake, and spends his day loafing in the campground and taking long naps. Come dark he’s out there trolling and casting, often using splashy top water baits for the latter. “I’ve caught as high as nine fish over a long weekend at night.” he said.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 23rd, 2009

Right now is a good time for landowners and city folk alike.  The weather is finally cooling, there’s been plenty of rain, and soybeans and corn are just beginning to yellow.  It’s a small pocket of calm before fall crops come off, and you might be looking for a nice, but low key to visit, a place close enough that you won’t spend much gasoline, but one that you’ll enjoy thoroughly.  Kingwood Center in Mansfield (Ohio) is one such place, and while it’s lovely in spring tulip time, and nice all summer, it’s in September and October that this wonderful area will truly gladden the eye.

By way of background, Kingwood Center is 47 acres of gardens made open to the public by Charles King, who purchased the land in the early 1900’s, built his imposing mansion in 1926, and left a trust that would maintain the acreage for public usage upon his death in 1952.  Rarely has 47 acres brought so much pleasure to so many.

In Mansfield, the estate lies just off Trimble Road between 4th Street and Park Avenue West, and visitors will find a large paved parking lot at the end of a winding little blacktop road that exits from Trimble.  It’s important for those in frugal circumstances to understand that Kingwood can be visited completely free of charge.  No toll for parking, no admission, no “suggested contribution”, just walk into the grounds, stay as long as you like, visit as often as you wish.  And there’s lots to see.

Many of the people who visit here like to take a leisurely walk through the woods.  The wooded area closest to the parking lot has a nice gravel path with benches here and there to allow rest, contemplation, and a chance to watch birds and busy grey and fox squirrels.  There’s a tiny creek, a fountain or two, and lots of old trees from beech to oak and maple, and exotics like larch and hemlock.  A nice place to enjoy wilds in the city and relax.

Kids will enjoy the woods, but they’ll enjoy even more a duck pond very near the parking lot that holds dozens of mallard ducks, black swans,and the occasional wood duck or teal.  Take some quarters to buy corn and duck pellets from machines there and let the little guys toss food to the ducks which gather and gabble madly as they dip for morsels. 

The herb garden just below the manor house is always one of my first stops.  Why?  Because it smells great!  The garden is built around brick walkways and stone steps, and holds everything from pot marigolds, mint, and saltillo sage to medicinal geraniums and crepe myrtle.  From the herb garden it’s just a few steps to the big house, and for everyone from farmers to flower lovers and gardeners the house is worth several hours visit.

Not for its gift shop or rooms filled with antiques, but for its upstairs library which encompasses several rooms.  There are literally hundreds of books here, and dozens of magazines, and whatever your problem or interest there’s an answer or information somewhere.  There are books on weeds and garden design, books on fruit raising and fruit pests, more on bromelids and cactus, vegetables and berries, chrysanthums and vegetables.  You can pick up a library card right at the library, and check out books for up to three weeks, or just sit in comfortable chairs and browse through publications of interest.

Take time to just wander around the grounds too, and admire banks of flowers.  You’ll find little alcoves here and there with benches where you can sit and listen to splashing fountains and watch bees and hummingbirds among the flowers.  Some bring lunch here, finding a welcome oasis from work for an hour, and an answer to the mornings stress.  Others just stroll along, admiring beds of  Japanese stewartha and globe amaranth, wegala and unusual coleus.  Your choice.

My favorite spot is always the greenhouse, great right now, even better when winter snows blow cold and wet.  The greenhouse is shaped like a horseshoe, and the first room is the “cactus room” where the air is hot and dry and saguaro, barrel cactus, and prickly pear thrive, along with such plants as agave and jade trees.  The second room, at this time of year, is filled with coleus, strange Brugmansia with pink trumpet-shaped flowers, and daisy trees.  This room will fill your nostrils with pleasant scents.

The next room is packed with mums maturing for later in the fall, then there’s a sales room where visitors can buy plants from cyclamens and cactus to iris bulbs and mums.  Next is a nursery room with little clematis, poinsettas, and banana plants, and finally the high point of my visit, the tropical room.  Here rise tall banana plants with bunches of green bananas, mirror plants, coffee trees, and mistletoe figs.  This room almost makes the outside area filled with roses, more flowers and a small lake anti-climatic.  But not quite.     

It’s a good place to go, this Kingwood Center, and well worth a modest drive.  Pick a cool, crisp, sunlit day, pack a little lunch, and spend some hours in a pretty place.  A VERY pretty place.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 23rd, 2009

September bird hunting in Ohio normally features an early teal season. (Ohio’s 2009 early teal season begins on September 5 and ends September 20 with a four bird limit.)  Do you care?  Probably not, because few waterfowlers indeed take advantage of this first opportunity to bag some ducks.  Most don’t know where to find such early arrivals, and the rest are too busy building blinds and refurbishing decoys for more serious hunting.  But these small, fast flying waterfowl are worth the effort for several reasons.

One is that they just might be the tastiest waterfowl that flies, so good that back in the 1800’s they were shot by market hunters for sale to the finest restaurants in New York, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.  I’ve eaten a good many of the one pound birds, and came to call them “butterballs” because their meat almost melts in your mouth.  Just for the fun of argument, I rank wood ducks No. 2, followed by canvasbacks, redheads, and grain fed mallards in about that order.

Two, they don’t require huge blocks of decoys and laboriously built blinds.  A shotgun, good boots, and the necessary stamps are all that’s required.  Because bluewing teal and the far more rare greenwings don’t care much for big water.  They feed on the seeds of water plants, the plants themselves, aquatic insects, and a little grain or soybeans.

So, look for them on the little waters.  They love old farm ponds placed well back in the north 40, ponds that are shallow and have lots of weed beds.  A friend of mine and I once had a regular route of old ponds that we’d hit every afternoon.  This pond would have nothing, the next maybe a small flock or a couple of birds, and so on.  Often enough we could fill a limit before dark just by quick checking 8-10 ponds.

 The very best hotspot we ever found was an ancient pond that lay in the middle of a woodlot.  It was only a couple of feet deep, and half filled with buttonball bushes.  The early teal loved it, overnighted there, left in the morning to feed, came back, left again in early afternoon, and came back before dark.  We weren’t dumb enough to ambush them at first light, which would have caused the whole flock to disappear forever.

Instead, we came in mid-afternoon, and caught the birds flying in by singles, pairs and small flocks.  As soon as we bagged our limit, we left in a hurry, leaving later arrivals to fly in undisturbed.  It’s a good technique.  Another great place for teal and wood ducks was a swampy bottom laced with tiny channels.  We’d toss out half a dozen decoys to draw those afternoon birds to one spot, and take great care that we shot no wood ducks until the regular season arrived.

Other favorite places might surprise you.  A farmland drainage ditch over a mile long, for example, was a steady producer of teal.  It was only a few yards wide with little pools of water along its length, and our standard tactic was to sit somewhere with binoculars, watch for afternoon birds to pitch in, then make a stalk.  We did much the same on a couple of wildlife areas that had small, weedy ponds, just sitting and glassing the area for customers.

It’s a simple business and the rewards are great.  Walk a little, glass a little, check out a number of farm ponds, and wait for the little guys to come dipping and jinking into range.  They’re a great way to start any waterfowl season.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 22nd, 2009

It’s September now, and everything seems to be happening at once.  Tomatoes are coming on strong, and I’ve already canned 16 quarts and 4 pints that will be used this fall and winter in everything from chili and spaghetti to vegetable soup and pasta.  Peppers are ripening too, and so far I’ve sliced quite a number into quart bags for freezing.  They’ll be used in chili and various Italian dishes.  But there’s always some leftover vegetables, and while some can be converted into fairly ordinary, but tasty dishes, there are some excellent receipes that the adventursome might try.

For example, I always make stuffed peppers around this time of year.  I use a traditional receipe that mixes fried hamburger, rice, tomatoes, and such things as garlic, catsup, and oregano.  I remove the seeds, stuff with the above mix, and bake them until done.  They’re tasty.

But I was rooting through the web recently, and turned up a couple of interesting receipes from, a website that not only sells seeds, but has some interesting articles and receipes.  Her Middle Eastern Stuffed Peppers was typical.

To make this dish, you’ll need six bell peppers, 2 cups chicken stock, 2/3 cups of orzo (rice shaped pasta), a half pound ground lamb, 1 1/2 tbs olive oil, some minced garlic and chopped onion and mushrooms, a cup diced zucchini, a couple of diced tomatoes, a half cup fresh parsley, and some spices from a little fresh oregano, basil, and ground pepper.  Add a cup of Feta cheese, two tablespoons lemon juice, a beaten egg, and a quarter cup roasted pine nuts.

You’ll pre-heat your oven to 350, cut the tops off the peppers and remove their seeds, then drop them into boiling water for five minutes, and cool.  Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large saucepan, add orzo, then reduce heat and cool until the orzo is tender.  Now heat a large skillet and brown the lamb, spooning the meat into a colander to drain off excess fat. 

Heat oil in the skillet, and add garlic, onion, mushrooms, and zucchini, sauteing until the vegetables have softened.  Stir in orzo, tomatoes, herbs, lemon juice, feta cheese and cooked lamb.  Heat thorougly, then stir in egg and pine nuts, and stuff the peppers, baking them for 35 minutes with a half cup of boiling water around them.  Does this sound like a lot of work?  It is, but I’m betting the result will be worth your efforts.

I love cornbread, and I make mine with a mix of commercial cornmeal and a couple of tablespoons of white flour to bind it together, adding some chopped onion for extra flavor.  Renee has a receipe for cornbread, that’s almost as complex as her peppers, but it sounds tasty, and you can modify as you wish.

She starts with a cup of unbleached flour and adds 3 teaspoons baking powder, 2 1/2 tbls sugar, a little salt, a cup cornmeal, 3 eggs, a cup of milk, and 3 tbls corn oil.  Then she gets serious, adding 1 1/2 cups corn kernels, 2 fresh jalapeno peppers seeded and minced,. 1/3 cup minced bell pepper, 1/3 cup fresh basil, and a third cup grated cheddar cheese. 

Mix together the dry ingredients, then in a large bowl, beat eggs, milk, and oil together before mixing the wet ingredients with the dry.  Spoon into a well greased 9 x 9 pan or ovenproof skillet, and bake 25 – 30 minutes in an oven preheated to 425.  It sounds good to me, a truly hearty cornbread.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 21st, 2009

The 2009 squirrel season opened on September 1, and the year should be a good one.  With a generous six squirrel limit, it should be no trick most days to fill a ticket with some fine eating, and they are indeed good eating.  Back when I was a kid in the hills of southern Ohio, my idea of a perfect meal was fried squirrel, gravy, boiled potatoes mashed with a generous helping of butter, collard greens, biscuits and honey.  My opinion hasn’t changed since those days.

The scenario for those first of the season squirrels hasn’t changed, I’m sure, since pioneer days.  Bushytails, whether fox or grey, love hickory nuts, particularly pignuts, and right now they’re feeding in any hickory tree they can find.  So, successful hunting is mostly a matter of finding a few nut trees, looking for fresh cuttings below, and waiting for customers to arrive.  They’ll feed in beech too, during early days, especially if few hickories are around, and feast on wild grapes, dogwood berries, and field corn. 

All are worth checking now, and if they’re hitting corn hard, try a stand along a fencerow with a cornfield beside.  It can be an easy place to pick up a limit, and the farmer is sure to appreciate it.  If you’re hunting beech, don’t just find a good stand and sit down.  There may be a hundred mature beech in a given woods, but squirrels will be working only two or three.  Sweeter nuts?  Maybe, but check the ground first and select those with cuttings beneath.

Every Ohio hunter knows that there are two species of squirrels in Buckeye country, fox and grey, and my area of northcentral Ohio is blessed with both kinds.  Fox squirrels like small, open woodlots, while greys favor denser timber and larger areas of woods.  They’ll intermingle, of course, and invade each others territory, but as a rule of thumb you’ll be hunting fox squirrels north of Mansfield, and in Huron, Crawford, and northern Ashland county.  And greys south of town, and in Knox, Coshocton counties, and elsewhere.

Fox squirrels can be easy pickings.  Most are dumb as the proverbial fence post, and unwary unless hunted hard.  They’re late risers too, often stirring well after dawn and feeding until as late as 10 a.m.  I hunt these wearing full camouflage and soft soled tennis shoes, and rarely sit down, moving at a slow “take three steps and stop” pace.  I look around, but mostly I’m listening for falling nuts, the swish of limbs, and the clatter of claws on bark.

When I hear something interesting, I’ll stop, watch carefully, then head in that direction.  When I see the animal, I’ll move around until I’ve a clear view, then make my shot.  Moving slowly, but steadily has another advantage in that I can cover a whole woodlot in a reasonable time.  If they’re concentrated in one spot, I’ll find them eventually.

Greys are a far different animal.  They’re usually up and about at first grey dawn, so you’d best be in the woods by then.  And the ideal situation  is to scout your timber the evening before, then be sitting quietly among hickories come daylight.  I’ve seen as high as a dozen greys in a single hickory then, taken an easy one, then had fast shooting as the others bailed out.

But they’re super wary and cautious, and walking them up usually ensures they’ll see you and flatten out along a branch for hours if necessary.  Here’s a final thought.  Greys like to travel in late morning, and they’ll often run ridges.  A stand in such places will sometimes bring one or two more to fatten your game pocket.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 21st, 2009

Once upon a time when I was attending Ohio State University (OSU) at Stone Lab on South Bass Island, I took a few hours off and went smallmouth bass fishing along Peach Point at Put-In-Bay.  I caught nothing.  It’s a prime spot and I was curious, so I put on a face mask and snorkel I’d brought along, and dove the necessary eight or nine feet to see if anything was down there.  There were bass all over the place, including several that came right up to goggle at my face mask!  I swam up elated and started fishing again.  And caught nothing.

Several years ago a friend of mine went scuba diving in a campground lake, and was amazed.  He found a stump bed well offshore that had a school of crappie hanging among the stubs.  “Some of those fish were 12 or 13 inches.” he said.  “and no one knew they were there.”  Then there was another friend who was fishing off Kelleys Shoals in Lake Erie, caught little, and put on a tank and face mask to scuba a little bay along Kelleys Island.  He hoped to find a few anchors and maybe some snagged fishing lures, but what turned up was much better.

“The bottom of that cove was paved with fish,” he said.  “I don’t know why they were there, but there were dozens, maybe hundreds of nice walleye and smallmouth bass.  I got back in the boat and limited out on both with not another boat within half a mile.”

 Those are typical experiences among outdoorsmen who’ve taken to snorkeling and scuba diving, an activity that’s slowly growing around the area and state.  Most of us have sat in a boat on some lake or river and wondered just what was down there.  This sport offers an opportunity to find out, and not only see where fish are swimming, but find some interesting things on the bottom.

Scuba diving is a fun sport, but it’s much more than a matter of buying a tank and basic gear and splashing over the side of a boat.  Like anything else, there’s an element of danger, whether you dive freshwater or salt, and you’ll need some basic training.  Luckily, there are plenty of places to get it. 

There’s an organization called Ohio Scuba with qualified instructors that has offices within a 20 mile radius of Centerville, Wilmington, Columbus, and over 20 other cities around the state.  Visit Ohio Scuba and the web should turn up one nearby that will teach you the basics and offer certification with instruction in a handy swimming pool, then hands-on diving at a nearby lake or quarry. 

You might look into the Ohio Council of Skin & Scuba Divers, too.  Secretary Vivan Duff is based at New Holland, Ohio, and can be contacted for more information.  And once you’ve learned this fascinating sport, there are plenty of places to try your luck.

The Division of Wildlife allows scuba and skin diving at 29 of its lakes, including clear water Dow Lake just outside of Athens where you’re likely to see rainbow trout as well as bass, catfish, and crappie.  There are private places to dive too, like Twin Quarries near Circleville, two 10 acre nearly transparent quarries where, according to their website, you can take courses in anything from basic open water diving to wreck diving.  Call them at (740) 474-9530.  And Gilboa Quarry in northwestern Ohio not only has trout but paddlefish waiting to be watched.  Their number is (419) 456-3300.

In fact, if you check out Ohio scuba diving on the web, you’ll not only find instructors and places to dive, but new and used equipment, charters to Lake Erie for wreck diving (that can be exciting), and even a magazine called Scuba Diving Magazine.

Here’s a final thought.  I love to snorkel in salt water, and I’ve watched beautiful fish and coral reef denizens from Hawaii to Bonaire and Aruba.  It’s a wonderful experience to swim among teeming schools of brightly colored yellowtails, parrotfish, and angels.  And even more fun if you can don tanks and face masks, and go right to the bottom to swim for hours among them.  That alone is reason enough to learn scuba diving.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 21st, 2009

 How much does the average grain farmer make on his land per acre? $100? If he’s lucky. But apparently, it’s possible to make $1,000 on those acres, at least if they’re wet. Really wet!

Bob Calala and his two brothers Lewis and David, have been doing extremely well on their liquid acres, and their annual income comes from raising crayfish and shrimp. The trio has a farm just north of New London, Ohio on State Route 60, and most of that farm is taken up with farm ponds of up to several acres. “My dad started the business in 1963, raising bass and bluegill for stocking with us boys to help.” Bob said. “But since stocking is usually a one shot deal, we started looking elsewhere, and crayfish filled the bill.”

They picked a species of craw that was easy going, non-aggressive, and amenable to pond life, stocking an average of 200 – 300 adults per acre. They tried for a good balance to make ideal growth, keeping close track of populations. Since crayfish are omnivores, willing to eat either vegetation or meat, the brothers supplemented as needed with alfalfa hay and sometimes with shrimp food. They did well.

Because there’s a major market for soft shelled crayfish, which are used as bait for many kinds of game fish. A couple of their workers soon learned to pick out the soft shelled ones, individuals who had recently shed their outer shell and hadn’t yet grown a new one, and these were sold to wholesalers, who in turn sold them to bait dealers.

Hard shelled types found a fair market too, and these were also netted out in two man seines and sold to wholesalers. “If there’s one thing I’ve long learned,” Bob said, “it’s that there’s never enough bait, always a shortage sooner or later and somewhere or other. We’re selling millions of craws these days, and we sell them in several states. One of our best areas is right here in northcentral and northern Ohio.” Incidentally, the crayfish are very edible, and can be used as they are in Louisiana and elsewhere for boiled craws, crayfish gumbo, and other dishes. The tails are white after boiling and go well with a tangy cocktail sauce.

Shrimp didn’t enter the picture until just a few years ago. The Division of Wildlife (DOW) prohibited shrimp farming because they feared that like any other exotic (carp, English sparrows, round gobies, zebra mussels, etc.) they might escape ponds and infiltrate lakes and rivers elsewhere. But the DOW found out that (1) they die at 55 degree temperatures or less, and (2) they have to make a transition to saltwater and back to fresh before they can breed. No problem there.

The brothers decided on Malaysian prawns, a marvelously tasty crustacean, and stocked their ponds with juveniles from Texas and Kentucky. But that wasn’t really satisfactory, so the brothers decided to build their own hatchery and raise juveniles for personal stocking and sale. “They turned out to be phenomenal growers,” Bob said, “faster than anything I’ve ever heard of. We stock them on June 1 at 0.5 grams and by mid-September when we harvest them, they’ve often reached a quarter pound and up to 12 inches in length!”

Their basic stocking ratio is around 30,000 shrimp per acre and they’ll eat about $5,000 in shrimp food. What are the finances here? According to Calala, “We sold a man with a new pond 31,000 juveniles at 8 cents each ($2500), and he spent another $2,500 on feed. Then sold them for $6-12 per pound. That’s a good profit.”

It goes without saying that a pond must be empty of fish and anything else that will eat shrimp, since these are “swimming porkchops.” And he sells only live shrimp when harvest time rolls around. “I don’t do anything about the selling.” Bob said. “I just put an ad in a few local papers, give readers the date and place, and tell them to bring a cooler and ice. They buy them right off the pond bank.”

Bob Calala, incidentally, is President of the Ohio Aquaculture Association, and is more than knowledgeable about aquaculture. “Did you know that oil is the No. 1 U.S. import, and seafood No. 2?” he said. “And of the seafood, shrimp is No. 1. There’s a big demand for shrimp as food and soon for live bait. We raised 300,000 shrimp this year, and next year it’ll be a half million.”

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outdoorswithmartin on September 4th, 2009

Usually, they’re called carp, but other names include bugle mouth, sewer bass, and some that can’t be printed here.  They’re maligned as destroyers of game fish eggs, bottom rooters that murk clear water, fish with few enemies, but wonderful reproductive success, so much so that an accidental introduction in a farm pond can see that pond swarming with carp in a few years.  In fact, these yellow-brown fish with their underslung mouths and whiskers are basically the only species in Ohio that has a worse reputation than sheepshead, at least among most anglers.

But that’s not so for avid Mansfield, Ohio-area fisherman  Shawn Woerlein, and his friends among the Carp Anglers Group (, a national organization with a local membership that’s steadily increasing, and where Shawn served as Ohio Chairman in 2005.  “I just like to carp fish.” Shawn said, “and I rarely fish for anything else.  They’re an untouched fishery in the U.S.  which is geared for bass fishing with big tournaments, crappie events, etc.  And you can carp fish in almost any lake and catch some.”

Shawn had other reasons for seeking carp.  He noted that a four pound carp could beat the socks off a four pound largemouth, fighting-wise, and that they were a super kids fish, one that was plentiful, fast biting, and hard scrapping on light tackle.  “Kids love them.”  He has a point.  The first big fish I ever caught was a seven pound carp taken in the Big Scioto River, and I nearly wet my six year old pants before I finally landed the fish.  What a thrill!

Woerlein doesn’t just head for some local lake or river and toss in a worm, though the method will catch you carp.  He knows that in Great Britain carp are the No. 1 game fish, and Brits have developed some excellent techniques for taking the big ones, so he follows closely their methods.  For example, he uses a 3 way swivel on lines end with 8-10 pound mono and a No. 4 or 6 hook on one eyelet, and a half to one ounce sinker on the other attached by a rubber band.  If a fish breaks free, which big ones sometimes do, they’ll only have to contend with the hook, since the sinker quickly breaks off.

Bait?  He follows British tactics on that, too.  His favorite is “boilies”, round doughballs  which he buys from in Georgia or from in Chicago.  “I probably have 300 pounds of boilies at the house” he said, and I have them in every flavor from mulberry to tiger nut and strawberry jam to pineapple/banana.”  He also experiments with making his own doughballs and boilies, using corn flour and Bisquick mixed with water to make a thick dough, then adding anything from vanilla to grape jam for flavoring.  Rolled into balls they become doughballs, dropped into boiling water to harden, and they become boilies.

He rarely uses nightcrawlers since they attract mostly smaller fish, but is willing to turn to canned sweet corn when nothing else is working.  Carp love sweet corn.  Shawn believes in baiting too, to attract lots of carp, and routinely will buy a bag of shelled field corn, boil it soft, then shoot slingshot loads of corn into an area he’s fishing “to get their heads down.”

If you’re wondering what this carp hunters largest fish so far is, it’s a 27 pounder caught at East Harbor State Park.  East Harbor is a great place for carp fishermen, so good that his group, which meets and fishes each month, once took over 800 pounds of fish there.  He likes northcentral Ohio lakes, too, his favorite being Charles Mill which has great numbers of fish, including many mirror carp.  Shawn recommends fishing an area across the bay from the marina or an area due south of the marina that’s shallow and mud bottomed.  “But you can catch some almost anywhere.” he said.

Does this angler eat his catch?  Never.  He returns every fish taken, but said he’d heard that smoked carp were good.  He’s right, especially when the fish are just 1-4 pounds, no larger.  But carp can be eaten fried too, again young fish that are filleted and the “mud streak” or lateral line removed.  I can personally testify that taken from clean waters  they’re as tasty as white bass and white perch, though not nearly as good as an 18 inch walleye or yellow perch.  Catch a few this summer and give them a try.  You might be surprised.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 3rd, 2009

There are plenty of man-made lakes in Ohio, but very few natural ones, and most of those few are small, gouged out when the last glacier receded about 10,000 years ago.  But there’s one large one, 90 acre Punderson Lake, a clear, sparkling body of water that’s deep and cold and offers some interesting activities for visiting boaters fleeing Cleveland, Akron, and other well populated areas for a day or week.

Punderson is in northeastern Ohio, specifically in Geauga County off State Route 87.  It’s a unique spot with a lodge like no other, residing on land originally bought by the Lemuel Punderson family.  The lodge is an English Tudor-style house built in 1929 on a hill overlooking the lake and with its 31 guest rooms, dining and meeting rooms and outdoor and indoor swimming pool is far different from any other state park lodge.  An estimated 500,000 people visit pretty little Punderson Lake with its 741 acres of surrounding state park, and while the total area is small, they find plenty to do.

Fishing, for example, is as unusual as the Tudor lodge.  The lake is deep and clear, up to 75 feet in mid-lake, and while it has good action for largemouth bass, and fair numbers of panfish and cats, the big attraction here is golden trout, some of which run to several pounds.  The lake is stocked yearly with these pretty color phases of a rainbow trout, and territory near the marina is a hotspot for those fishing deep with waxworms, corn, cheese, worms, and salmon eggs.  They’re caught through the winter ice too, on much the same offerings.  Largemouth bass are taken mostly in spring and early summer by anglers fishing the shoreline with crankbaits and spinnerbaits.

Boaters who simply want to explore like this little lake with its scenic coves and clear water, and spend pleasant hours probing its shallow areas  There’s a small marina concession with rental boats in season on the north  end of the lake, along with a launch ramp for those who bring their own craft.  Electric motors only are permitted, and many use no motors at all, launching canoes and kayaks to paddle and explore the area.

Those who choose not to enjoy Punderson’s unusual lodge will still find plenty of facilities.  For example there are 26 cottages that sleep six persons each.  Each has two bedrooms, a bath with shower, complete kitchens, and a dining area.  Campers enjoy the 196 site campground built on a former Indian village, with shower houses, flush toilets, electricity, and pet camping.  There are also five full hookups that have water and sewer service.  And if none of these please you, there are plenty of motels and B & B’s within reasonable driving distance.  Hard to go wrong on accommodations.

 Other things to do?  Those who like to hammer a golf ball will find a championship 18 hole public golf course waiting to test their skill.  Reservations are advisable, especially on weekends, and if something is forgotten, the pro shop should have any necessary merchandise, and even a snack bar.

Outdoor types will like the 14 miles of hiking trails, most of it a 10 mile network on the west side of the park. A nice short trail, the Erie Trail, begins at the campground and continues as a 1.5 mile loop that winds around little Stump Lake, while the Iroquois Trail follows the shoreline from the marina to the lodge.  Hikers who tread softly and slow will often see whitetail deer, squirrels, rabbits, beaver, shorebirds and waterfowl on early morning and late evening hikes.  They’ll see some interesting plants too, especially in spring, plants like wild geranium, blue-eyed grass, and pennywort among many others.

Another unusual offering of Punderson State Park is a wide range of winter activities.  Since it’s located in the heart of Ohio’s snow belt, the area has everything from a lighted sled hill to snowmobile trails.  There are cross country ski trails too, well groomed, and those who have no skis can rent some at the Sports Chalet.  A prime place to visit, take the kids, ski, ice skate, and ice fish, then hurry back to the lodge for hot chocolate and a crackling fire. 

 There’s more to do around this lively county.  Boaters might visit the Geauga County Historical Museum in Burton, and nearby Century Village, a reconstruction of an 1800’s village typical of those once scattered through the Western Reserve region.  Short day trips to Nelson-Kennedy Ledges and Tinker’s Creek state parks can be fun, too.  Both offer good day-use facilities, including picnic areas and hiking trails.  And don’t forget Kirkland Village, which showcases life in the 1860’s.

Visitors who need information will find plenty.  For specific questions, try the park office at (440) 564-2279.  For lodge and cottage reservations, call (440) 282-7275, and for even more answers, try 1-800-BUCKEYE or  Then plan a trip to an unusual lake.

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