outdoorswithmartin on September 2nd, 2009

Every farm and rural dweller should have a dog, and many do.  The bigger ones are often useful for controlling groundhogs, for letting owners know when visitors arrive, for keeping an eye on expensive equipment and farm machinery at night, and of course, as pets and animals well loved by family members.  But picking the proper dog can be a problem, because once you select one and bring it home, you’re going to be living with that animal for 10 -12 years.  If it’s a bad choice and a problem dog, you’re stuck with it, unless you haul it to the pound, which can bring loud objections from the kids.

So, how do you pick a good dog?  I’m no expert, but I’ve had country/house dogs all my life and every single one was a fine animal.  In the past 25 years, for example, I’ve had Jake, a schnauser-terrier who had the heart of a lion and loved his family unashamedly.  I can still see his little brown face at my second story window, tail wagging madly when I pulled in the driveway.  His master was home.  Then when he passed away, there was Scooter, a poodle-schnauser cross with hair like a buffalo bull who liked EVERYBODY and would snuggle on the handiest warm lap as long as we’d let him.  Now, I have Little Jack, a beagle-terrier cross who’s very intelligent, minds beautifully, and likes best to crawl under my blanket on the couch and sleep with his head on my leg. 

Good dogs, but they don’t come easy.  If you’re thinking about adding a dog to the family farm or house, give some initial thought to just what you want.  Would you prefer a large dog, medium, or a small animal?  Long hair, short hair?  Pure bred or Heinz 57?  Decide before you look.  Lots of people strongly prefer pure bred dogs, and I’ve no problem with that.  If you’re a boxer fancier, get one.  Or a poodle or chihuahua, whatever.  But take time to look carefully at their breeding.

Too many of the “puppy farm” people breed their pups to be perfect, to show those ideal characteristics of the breed, and to do so, they’ll even breed father to daughter or mother to son.  The result can be genetic problems that you’ll never overcome.  My own father owned a dachshund that was inbred and had several problems including itchy skin and a bone thing that no vet could cure, only temporarily alleviate.  He spent literally thousands on that dog.  So, check the bonafides of whoever you buy from, ask questions, and make sure you’re not getting an inbred lemon.

My own preference is for hybrid dogs, as the animals I chose over the past 25 years shows.  That hybrid vigor doesn’t work just for corn and soybeans, it also works for dogs, and hybrid or mixed breeds can be unusually intelligent and tractable.  I invariably get mine from the  county dog pound, and I always buy a pup because I like to train them to suit myself, though adult dogs can be wonderful, too.  But I’m never in a hurry, because again that animal will be living at my house for a long, long time.

It took three months of weekly trips to the Richland, Crawford, and Ashland county pounds to find Jake, nearly the same for Scooter, and almost two months of searching to find Little Jack.  During that time I looked at hundreds of dogs, and my heart went out to many of them, but I resisted the impulse.  When I did find a likely pup, I followed a careful procedure before making a choice.

I’d play with the animal for a while, and watch its reactions.  Did it back fearfully to the back of the cage?  Not good.  Did it show aggression, barking loudly or cringe at sudden loud noises?  Not good.  Did it come happily and confidently to my hand, wag its tail showing no fear, just being glad to see me?  That’s good.

 Here’s a final thought, and you MUST do it.  When you go looking for a dog, go alone!  Never take your kids, who will invariably pick something that’s cute, but is possibly the biggest loser in the whole kennel.  Never take your wife either, if she’s a tender hearted woman.  She’ll pick something she feels sorry for, and that’s definitely not the way to choose a dog.  If you take the family, they’ll love whatever they pick, and you’re stuck with it.  If you go alone and bring home a pup or dog, they’ll still love it, but you’ll have something worth keeping.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 1st, 2009

The dog days of August and the first weeks of September are traditionally slow fishing times.  Most years, with so many days of temperatures nearing 90 and water temperatures higher than usual, lockjaw among fish species is almost epidemic.  But not among catfish.  Channel cats and shovelheads LOVE hot water, and now is a peak time to catch the makings of crispy fried cat fillets.

These days excellent catches are being made at big lakes like Charles Mill, Pleasant Hill, Delaware, and such traditional hotspots as Indian and Buckeye lakes.  They’re searching hard for food in smaller lakes too, like Knox and Spencer, and in rivers from the Muskingum to Huron.  In fact, almost anywhere you go is catfish territory this month, and many a local angler will find a likely lake or river, throw in a bait or two and catch some.  Hopefully.

But if you’re looking for a stringer full of fat catfish, there are ways to do it, and one fine way is to fish funnels.  Channel cats (and shovelheads, too) traditionally start migrating to their feeding grounds in late evening.  They favor fairly shallow water with a mix of mud, gravel, and/or rock bottom where they can seek minnows, aquatic insects, crayfish, and other tasty morsels.  Then at or before daylight, depending on feeding success, they’ll head back to their deeper water layup spots for the day. 

One classic example of a funnel is at Charles Mill Lake where cats swim under the Route 430 bridge, coming from all directions, then head north to spread out and feed.  That bridge sees a lot of catfish moving through a narrow area or funnel and produces excellent fishing.  Back before Lake Erie channel cats got a bad report card for their PCB’s, I loved to fish a boat channel that went from the main lake into East Harbor.  Cats moved along that narrow channel nightly and I could easily catch a dozen or so fine keepers. 

You can find other funnels in many Ohio lakes, just looking at a map for narrow, restricted areas into wide feeding grounds.  Then setting up for business before twilight.  Rivers are a little tougher, but not much, and top places to fish the larger ones is just below their river dams.  Bait fish from shad to minnows tumble through the gates, stunned and easy pickings for waiting catfish, and if there are no dams in smaller rivers, try the bottoms of riffles just above deep pools.

How to catch them is easy, too.  Many an area angler will simply head for a likely spot, rig up two No. 4 snelled hooks above a one ounce sinker, bait with night crawlers and toss it out.  They catch fish, too.  But cats feed at night mostly by smell, and scent washes off a crawler fairly fast.  It’s better to use shrimp which holds its odor much longer, or even better, take along a small hand seine, catch some shad, and cut them in pieces for cut bait.  There are lots of prepared baits too, available in sporting goods stores, with a rich, fishy odor, and these work fine.

Few catfish hunters indeed fish with bait below a float, but sometimes a bobber works better than a bottom rig.  Especially, where the bottom is soft mud or has lots of vegetation.  A float will not only keep your offering above such concealing bottoms, but move it around to cover more territory.  Here’s a final thought that will up your catch.  Tie a long line to a can of fish base catfood or jack mackerel, punch in lots of holes, and toss it out.  Then fish just down current.  I’ve done this a number of times and seldom failed to haul home a heavy stringer.

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outdoorswithmartin on September 1st, 2009

I see some lovely flower beds and borders in my various travels around the area, but one recently stopped me literally.  The flower bed lay behind a picturesque wood fence and traversed the whole front of the yard, leaving room only for a driveway.  Instead of having an odds bodkin mixture of flowers, everything from roses to butterfly bushes as mine does, this one had strictly daisy-types.  And instead of growing them in little patches here and there, which is almost pointless since they’re hardly noticed, the flowers grew in huge mounds sometimes a yard or more across.

There were banks of white field daisies and piles of bright yellow coreopsis, oxeye daisies and short, colorful sunflowers, what appeared to be strawflowers, blackeyed susans, and others that I didn’t recognize.  But they were great, good enough for me to stop my pickup truck just to admire them.  One of the nicest things about daisies and their kin is that they can usually handle tough conditions.  Forget to water them now and again, and they’ll still thrive.  Plant them in poor ground with a sprinkling of fertilizer and they’ll do well.  Good plants to have.

Here’s an idea for next spring that can be started now, mixed flower plots.  If you’re mowing too much land and would like to put some of it into plants that are eye catching, useful, and don’t need mowing, select an area in your back yard, mark it off and rototill it.  Then in a couple of weeks, till again to kill off all of the grass and weeds that survived the first effort.  And just before hard frost, till once more, and again in early spring.

You’ll have a patch of soft and fallow ground come planting time that will have few if any weeds and grass, and one worthwhile collection of seeds to plant there is a butterfly and hummingbird mix.  Johnny’s  Selected Seeds has a good example of these, a quarter pound for about $12.95 that’s a lovely mix of Bachelor’s Button, Larkspur, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Wallflower, Lupine, and more.  Instead of mowing boring green  grass, you’ll have many a day of enjoying butterflies and hummingbirds feeding among eye catching flowers.

If you’ve two places that get plenty of sunlight, try tilling up a second patch as above and planting a birdseed collection.  I noticed one of these in Johnny’s too, a mix of small sunflowers, sorghum, Setaria, amaranth, and eleusine.  You can order these at the same site, and perhaps see some unusual birds next fall along with the more usual goldfinches and cardinals.

I’m tempted to do this myself next spring, especially since my short ornamental sunflowers are already bringing in plenty of pretty little gold and black goldfinches.  I love to sit in a lawn chair nearby and watch the little birds hang upside down as they pick out the oil rich seeds.  I didn’t plant them, either.  The finches  drop enough each August to re-seed a new crop next year with no effort on my part.

Speaking of next spring and the catalogs that will be arriving in another month or two, readers might look for some brand new All-American Award Winners as they thumb through the pages of this catalog or that.  Look for unique plants like Purple Haze, a 10 – 12 inch smooth purple carrot that tapers to a point and reveals a bright orange center when cut.  

Look for Mariachi too, a cone-shaped pepper that’s a mildly hot chili pepper, as compared to those like solid fire.  And another pepper, an improved Italian-type sweet pepper that reaches 28 inches and spreads 16 inches, perfect size for patio containers.  Lots of choices this spring and hopefully better weather to plant them.

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I fished my first farm pond at about age 8, and it must have been a good experience because since then I’ve visited literally hundreds.  I like them because a well managed pond will have plenty of fish and being small, it can be covered thoroughly in a few hours.  If there are bass there, you’ve got to find them eventually.  But most times when I hit an area pond I’m there just for fun, walking the shoreline with only a couple of extra lures in a shirt pocket tacklebox.

I rarely go with plans to catch as many fish as possible, but I did on my last pond bass trip, because the question arose “How many bass can I catch in exactly two hours?”  And since the results might interest many readers who also like to fish farm ponds, this is what happened.

First of all, I chose an old pond that had been around for at least 20 years, meaning some lunker largemouths should be swimming in its waters.  It was a woodland pond with acres of trees and grass around that kept it from going murky in heavy rains, and the shoreline had a few cattails, some overhanging willows, scattered weed beds, and both deep and shallow areas.  Ideal.

I’d picked a perfect morning too, clear and cool with fluffy cumulus clouds sailing across a blue sky.  Birds were singing in trees nearby, and an old bullfrog who’d escaped the raccoons so far was booming from beneath overhanging shoreline brush.  Since early morning fishing is usually best I arrived at 6:45 a.m. and found the 3/4 acre pond polished silver without a ripple.  It was too much to resist.  There was no chance because the pond was “dead” without a single bluegill breaking the surface and no bass boiling around the weeds chasing down breakfast, but I still opened with a surface bait, a Pop-R, hoping to find a bass on the surface willing to explode like a depth charge below my offering.  No takers.

Then I got serious, clipping on a half ounce pearl grey Roostertail spinner with pure white tail, a lure that I dearly love for pond fishing because its lead body casts like a bullet, it has great eye appeal, and by varying retrieve speed I can fish it deeper or shallow as I wish.  The Roostertail accounted for six bass as I worked around the shore, ranging from six inches up to a pound and a half.  That was a good start.

I’ve caught hundreds of largemouths on this little spinner, but rarely a big one except in early spring when fish are looking for small morsels, so my second choice was a chartreuse spinnerbait.  That lure produced three more bass and two lost fish that ranged up to nearly three pounds.  A black and grey sinking Rapala was next, turning up a single bass and one more lost, then a blue and silver RattlTrap hit the water and accounted for another.  By that time I’d circled the pond several times and covered the water thoroughly, probably hooking most of the bass that were interested in feeding, and time was running out.  But I’d caught no real whoppers, and believed I knew why.

It’s likely that the old mossbacks were hiding in the ponds deepest part, and I simply couldn’t reach them.  A plastic worm wouldn’t work on the green slime (filamentous algae) covered bottom, and deep running crankbaits fouled before they ran far.  A big live minnow fished below a bobber would likely have worked, but I had none.  Still, when I quit at exactly 8:45 a.m. I’d caught 11 bass in various sizes, lost a total of five, and had three missed strikes, for a total of 19 interested fish.  And caught three lunker bluegills on the Roostertail to sweeten the morning.

A good day, all in all, one you can easily duplicate, since Ohio and surrounding States have plenty of farm ponds.  Pick a nice morning, go early, and switch offerings when one wears out its welcome.  A dozen hard fighters or more make pond fishing worth a modest drive and a couple of hours casting.

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outdoorswithmartin on August 31st, 2009

Summer can be tough for Lake Erie walleye anglers, with too many storms, too much hot water, and too many days when winds blew hard out of the east.

But it’s settling down now, and the cool water fishing season is upon us. A good time to catch some prime opal eyes, but those who stick to spring tactics are going to find filling a ticket difficult. Is there a productive way to catch autumn walleyes? Casting Erie Dearies? Using live bait? Bumping the bottom with weighted crankbaits?

These will all work to some extent, but the classic way to catch fish now is by trolling. It’s a simple fact that casters have their offerings in the fish zone for only a few turns of the reel if they let the lure down for a certain count, then start reeling. Trollers have their offerings in the fish zone ALL the time, and since they’re moving steadily, chances of running into a pod of feeding fish are high.

You’ll need some basic gear: downriggers, planer boards, and lots of spoons in various colors and crankbaits that can be used either flatline or on the riggers. Cruise a chosen area until blips on the fish finder show they’re at 15 feet or 20 or maybe right above the bottom, then set lines at various distances behind the boat and at depths that will cover the fish zone. Then you troll. It doesn’t matter too much if winds are out of the east, or there’s a dead flat calm, or storms are moving in. Sooner or later, if you keep changing baits, varying speeds and depths you’ll hit a pod of hungry walleyes, and take some keepers.

Trolling is as close to a sure thing as you’re likely to find on Lake Erie. But some people don’t like this sport, considering it comparable to watching grass grow and paint dry even when they’re hitting, and demand to cast for their catch. That’s okay, too, if you follow another set of simple rules. One rule is that fishing will be best off the bow of the boat or the stern, with less action along the sides. And the tactic of choice is to “fish the swing.” That means you set up for a drift over fish you’ve seen on the locator, drift downwind, assuming winds are good, and cast at an angle to the drift, letting your lure settle to bottom. When you pick up and start reeling, the boat’s steady movement will cause your lure to come in at an arc, instead of straight. I don’t know why, but walleye seem to love a lure that curves instead of swimming straight, a phenomenon that’s well known to charter boat captains and veteran anglers.

Here’s another thought. Walleye are naturally night feeders, as witness their opal colored eyes that let them see well in moon and starlight, and while they might be deep and well offshore during the day, they’ll often move in to within a few hundred yards of shore (even less) at night, and forage for emerald shiners, crayfish, and insects.

Last fall, I went out with two friends, and we trolled until about midnight with spoons and crankbaits. All three of us filled our limit with good fish, culling to sort out the best. Night fishing is something to remember. Finally, if you get truly desperate, throw the rule book away and go to Plan B. Remember that the walleye population probably sees dozens of weight forward spinners every day, and at least as many spoons and crankbaits. If they’ve truly got lockjaw, turn to vertical jigging of leadhead jigs and twistertails holding an emerald shiner. Try bumping the bottom with nightcrawlers. Or spoon jigging. Or working slowly with an old Flatfish, or using live minnows that are lip hooked and dropped slowly into the fish zone. Sometimes something weird will work just because it looks like an easy meal and is something they haven’t seen lately. Like the old man said “Whatever it takes to catch the coon.”

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outdoorswithmartin on August 27th, 2009

Some years ago, I happened to pass a good sized woodlot whose owner I knew and where I’d hunted more than once.  He’d decided that the timber could be more profitably converted to corn and soybeans, and therefore decided to bulldoze down the four acre lot to plant grain crops.  The man didn’t timber it first, didn’t offer to let friends remove some firewood, didn’t do much of anything (I want to plant it this spring), just piled in tires and burned the whole pile up.  It was pretty close to stupid.

Because woodlots, whether they be a few acres or fifteen or thirty are useful additions to any farm.    They’re nice places to find the makings of tasty fried squirrel, or maybe a nice buck.  Good places to gather a never ending supply of firewood, or sack up some hickory and walnuts each fall.  And they’re particularly great spots to enjoy a periodic source of income, money that you can enjoy, and also your kids and their kids.  It’s steady money, a cash crop as fine in its own way as an acre of corn and soybeans.

John Jolliff, Service Forester with the Ohio Division of Forestry, who bases at Mohican State Forest, knows that better than most.  “We need woodlots” he said, “and they can be made into paying proposition with very little work as well as for for wood and recreation.  All landowners need do is follow a few simple steps.”

Woodlots in this part of Ohio are typically made of mixed timber, usually beech, oak, and maple, with some ash, hickory, walnut, and smaller trees like dogwood and elm.  So Step No. 1 is to call that local forester or the Ohio Division of Forestry toll-free at 1-877-247-8733 and ask for an experienced man to come and cruise the timber with you.  He’ll check the soil, check the standing timber, find out where the best trees are, and decide whether most are young, mature, need cutting, or should be saved.

“It’s up to the landowner”, Jolliff said, “but it’s usually a good idea to get rid of most of the “weed” trees like ironwood, slippery elm, dogwood, sassafras and box elder which won’t make good timber or even firewood.  They compete for nutrient and sunlight and have little use, though a few dogwoods might be left to provide berries for wildlife.” 

He recommends that owners not worry much about understory, unless it’s far too thick as in heavy stands of little seedling and sapling maples.  Nature will thin these trees eventually as they lose the competition for food and sunlight, but thinning them now will let those left grow much faster.  Are there openings in the forest?  Or places close by where little grows, but farming isn’t practical? 

Such areas can be planted with little effort, either by using seedlings provided by the Division of Forestry, the Soil and Water folk, or other places, or by perhaps planting nuts and seeds directly.  The forester can note the soil type and tell whether this group or that group of trees will grow best in low, damp soil, high dry ridges, or rich loam with good drainage, even poor ground with little water. 

Some of the best timber plants are white and red oak, cherry, sugar and black maple, ash (if emerald ash borers aren’t a problem), and hickory.  Black walnuts are always valuable trees and thrive in low, fertile  lands near water.  They grow fairly rapidly, but still need about 50 years or more to reach useful size.  You might plant a few butternuts, shagbark hickories, and other nut trees and use the nuts for yourself or to sell.  One man in Mansfield and another south of that town grow LOTS of various kinds of nut trees and make a good profit from their presence.

There are several ways to plant nut trees and other bits of useful timber.  One choice is to direct plant seeds from hickories, oaks, and other species and let them grow, this in a clearing where competition will be scant.  It’s wise to gather the nuts in fall months, let them sit in your unheated garage and get cold over the winter, then plant them in spring, since they need cold and dormancy to sprout.  A few growers plant them in 3 pound coffee cans, let them grow all summer and fall, then plant them after dormancy has taken their leaves.  But directly planting saves lots of trouble and time.

Harvest is payback time, and now you should go through your woodlot with a trained forester , look the trees over, and spray X those to be cut.  Typical good timber trees are 24 – 30 inches plus in diameter, and they can be worth more than you think.  A prime white oak, for example, that’s undamaged, has a tall trunk, and corresponds with other factors might be worth as much as $2,000, though they’ll average $200 -300.  A black walnut might reach $2,000 too, if prime and used for veneer.  But since there are so many uses for wood, anything from furniture and floors to baseball bats, it’s best to expect that the wood, high and low grade together, will average $1,000 – 2,000 per acre.

And how often can you cut?  “About every 15 years is average.” said John Jolliff.  “It’s something you don’t want to overdo.”  Cutting out timber isn’t the end of profit taking.  The tree tops make excellent firewood, and can be used in the landowners home or sold for good prices to others.  Remaining bits make fine wildlife habitat, and any clearings that result can be replanted to bring more income in the future.

But when it comes time to sell those trees, John had some good advice.  “You’ll want to contact multiple buyers to get their bids” he said. “rather than just one.  And I recommend selling trees “on the stump”, which is as the tree stands with a price for each tree.  A few cutters like to “cut on shares”, which means they cut the timber, haul it to designated area, and bring in buyers to make bids.  If you do that, and the bids are low, you’re stuck, because the trees have already been cut.  On the stump, you can walk away and wait until next year or next when prices might be higher.

(originally published July 2005)

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outdoorswithmartin on August 27th, 2009

Recently, an Ohio girl was bitten by a shark in Florida waters, that was the 7th reported shark attack in Florida waters this year (2009). Will there be other attacks?  Almost certainly, since  August and September remain for vacationers.  Mid-western readers who haven’t already enjoyed vacation time will be going somewhere soon, and often enough it’ll be to salt water.  Maybe to Myrtle Beach for sun and golf, to South Carolina, either side of Florida, or even to Texas or to visit relatives in California and Oregon, and swim off wave swept beaches.

All of these places have sharks, sometimes more than you might think, great whites, maybe tiger sharks, porbeagles, sand sharks, black and white tips, bull sharks, and hammerheads, all of which occasionally attack man, but should you worry?  Studies show that chances of dying of bee stings are substantially greater than being hit by a shark.  In fact, in 2005, 20 million people went swimming in saltwater, and only around a dozen were attacked, which is odds of less than one in a million.   But if you’re nervous, there are things you can do before stroking saltwater that will reduce your chances even further.

According to statistics and such authorities as the official Shark Attack File, the pattern that is most consistent is a relationship between fishing and shark attacks.  Sharks feed heavily on fish, and their excellent senses are well attuned to vibrations from struggling fish, fish blood in the water, and flashes of silver.  According to that file in 2005, 95 victims were fighting hooked fish when attacked (a boy who lost a leg was fishing), 62 were netting fish, and a further 44 were near netters.  At least 190 more were spear fishing, and a further 107 were bitten when spear fishermen were nearby.  The obvious moral here is to keep away from such activities, and stay far down beach from fishing piers.

Wearing bathing suits that aren’t flashy and bright is wise too, with the ocean colors of blue and green being best and bright yellow and orange the worst.  Avoiding deep water can also help, because while sharks will come right into the surf and often do, they have a preference for greater depths when loafing or cruising.  And don’t swim at night.  Studies indicate that many species come into very shallow water, even canals and up rivers, after dark to search for food.  Anyone skinny dipping then is asking for it.

Always avoid murky or muddy water because sharks can’t see you well, and a flashing white arm can be mistaken for a fish.  River tributaries will often spread muddy water into ocean surf, and bring dead fish and other morsels of food into salt water. Sharks like such places.  The same holds true for bright jewelry, gold and silver bracelets and necklaces which can trigger a bite before the shark knows he’s made a mistake. In fact, many of the 2009 attacks were reported in areas where bait fish were present.

Swimming with cuts or other injuries is always dangerous, and swimming near floating objects or using surf boards, inner tubes, and other floating devices is chancy.  Sharks just can’t resist investigating floating things as more than one surfer has found to his dismay.  Remember the little boy on the floating rubber raft in Jaws?  Finally, do your best to swim smoothly and easily instead of fast and splashy.  Women swim that way without trying, while men tend to chop the water and splash, sending out vibrations that might resemble an injured fish.  That’s why about eight out of ten shark attacks on swimmers are against men.

Keep the above facts in mind and follow them, but then go ahead and swim to your hearts content.  I’ve swam plenty in salt water, gone skin and scuba diving while sharks were close at hand, and had some magic hours in beautiful coral reefs.  Don’t miss the fun because you’re worried about sharks.  Getting bit just isn’t likely to happen.

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I’ve made some good fishing trips this spring, a jaunt to Lake Erie for a limit of walleyes, and visits to other places in-state and out. But the two best trips I’ve made this year were to farm ponds less than three miles from my home, because I made them with my two grandsons here to visit me from Switzerland.

The first outing was with 6 year old Theodore, who absolutely loves to fish and gets little chance to do so where he lives. He was asking when we could go almost before his bags were unpacked, so the next day I put together a rod with a thin pencil float, a splitshot, an ice spoon in green and yellow, and a box of waxworms, and we hit a local farm pond that I knew was full of good sized bluegills.

He was a fast learner and it didn’t take him long to understand just what to do when the float went under. He learned how to bait his hook too, and how to unhook his catch with careful coaching, and spent time on every fish admiring its colors, holding it, and receiving accolades from mother and grandpa on the size of each and the skill of his rod handling. We kept two to take home and fillet so he could eat his catch.

The next day I took out 8 year old Atticus, and since he was a little older I decided to start him with a white Roostertail spinner and try for bass. He wasn’t quite ready for lure fishing, so we quickly switched to the float and waxworm combination again and he had a great time catching the ever present bluegills. By the time we got home both young men were already asking “When can we go again?”

This youthful pair loves fishing and my own son and daughter still enjoy the sport too, but they’re not avid anglers because it’s simply fun, they all like it because I planned each trip like General Patton going after Rommel. I’ve seen so many young fishermen spoiled for their sport because their dad did everything wrong and made their outings a trial instead of a memory maker. Like the guy two years ago who fished a pond I was working. He gave his young son a piece of junk with a float half the size of a baseball, then hurried to the far end of the pond to bass fish. The kid made a few casts, tangled his line, and finally sat down disconsolate while his dad blithely cast away. That’s not how you build a fishing partner.

I took Theodore and Atticus to a carefully selected pond, rather than a large lake, one that I knew had lots of bluegills. Bluegills are a kids fish, prone to hit quick and fight hard. Take a youngster after bass or walleye or muskies before they’re ready, and they’re going to get bored very quickly. The pond was carefully manicured too, with mowed grass around its edges instead of brush and trees to hang up casts, briers to scratch, and mosquitoes to bite. I didn’t fish at all, but remained close to coach the young nimrod, repair any tangles, take initial fish off the hook, and rebait until they learned to do it themselves. They were complimented on each catch and their mother joined in with plenty of admiration and congratulation. If they wanted to wade in the water and get a little muddy, that was fine, and if they wanted to walk a little and look for frogs and small fish, that was fine, too. Most important, I kept the outing short, quitting for the morning when they were still eager and having a good time. Sitting in a hot sun for long hours isn’t the way to build good memories. Had I planned to stay longer, I’d have had soft drinks and sandwiches in the nearby car for a little picnic, but it wasn’t necessary this time, and I made sure to take a couple home so grandma could admire them too, then fry the fillets into an instant snack.

It sums up to the simple fact that youngsters MUST have fun on those early trips. Fish for bluegills and nothing else, let them enjoy the pond, do no fishing yourself, and keep it short. That’s the way to build a fishing companion who’ll still enjoy going out with dad or grandpa when your hair has gone to white. It’s worth any trouble it takes.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 25th, 2009

There’s simply no question that fishing for largemouth bass is the most popular piscatorial sport in the country.  Literally millions of dollars are spent each year on fishing tournaments, more millions on tackle, bass boats, trolling motors, and other necessities, and time on the water spent casting for these greenish fighters simply can’t be estimated.  So, finding a flood of information on how to catch bass is easy, but if you don’t have a lifetime or two to read, it’s best to keep it simple.

The standard way to catch these high leaping fighters is to work along the shoreline of one lake or another casting at every stump, fallen log, and rock you can find.  Most use pig and jig combinations or plastic worms fished slowly, and they catch fish.  But since bass move into such spots around twilight and most leave in fairly early morning hours, your best catch will be from grey daylight on to maybe eight or nine a.m. depending on clear skies or overcast.  A few will remain in prime cover, usually wood, but action definitely slacks off as morning progresses.

 So, without writing or reading a book, there’s one technique that will keep you catching more or less all day long, and that’s fishing docks.  Too many bass hunters ignore the docks and doggedly keep casting shorelines, but I met a man this spring who’s become a real believer.

“A friend of mine and I went up to East Harbor” he said “and spent about six hours casting docks.  We just moved from one dock and pier to another, flipping dark plastic worms as far back underneath them as we could, and simply slayed the fish!  We caught three good ones from beneath one dock alone, and I don’t know how many we caught that morning.  It was a great day.”

There’s good reason why largemouths like docks.  They’re dark and shadowy, which bass like, and they make fine ambush spots for passing bluegills, crappie, small perch, and other morsels of swimming food.  All they need do is lie there and wait.  I’ve known this for a fair number of years, too.  A big private lake that I fished many a time had a good number of docks and I often cast beneath them with a small white jig for crappies.  The jigs produced bass too, enough that I switched to plastic worms and made some serious hauls of fish that occasionally passed four pounds.  It’s something to keep in mind if your shoreline casting is slacking off.

I’ll add one more simple fact for hungry bass fishermen when the shoreline doesn’t produce, and that’s to go to the weed beds.  Many casters don’t like them because they’re tough to fish, but bass set up ambushes in the green stuff for the same reason they lurk under docks, it’s good cover.  Sometimes they’ll burrow into the grass, then turn around and wait for lunch with just their nose and eyes showing, and sometimes they’ll hide along a corridor or against an open spot in the grass or wait beneath lilypads and clumps of spadderdock, but they’re still not hard to catch.

If the weeds are heavy, try casting with an unweighted plastic worm, making it splash as much as possible.  Weedless spoons work too, especially with porkrind trailers, and if the weeds aren’t thick, try spinnerbaits which are at least semi-weedless.  But do make sure the beds are close to deep water and not far back along a shallow flat.  Bass like the weeds, but when their bellies are full, most return to deep water to lay up for the day.  They won’t make a long swim to find home territory again.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 25th, 2009

Published March 2005

Spring is coming soon and shortly area gardeners will be planting the first lettuce, onion sets, and radishes.  Not long after will come spinach, early potatoes, and peas.  But there’s one garden plant that I never bother to do much with, maybe because it isn’t necessary.  That’s dill, an herb that’s vital for good dill pickles and similar preserves, and very good in salads and various other side dishes.

I don’t plant it, because I don’t have to.  Each summer I walk through the clusters of ripe dill plants, grasp the heads and roll them in my fingers releasing the small dark seeds.  Some seeds I’ll keep for winter use in a stoppered container, and the rest is released in its usual spot to lie there, fall into cracks in the soil, and make a new crop next year with no further effort.

Dill, for you history buffs. is a member of the carrot family that’s been a culinary herb for centuries, favored for its flavorful foliage and for its pungent seeds.  The name “dill” comes from an old Norse word, “dilla”. which means to lull, since the plant was frequently used as a tea to treat insomnia and digestive problems.  It was a charm against witchcraft in the Middle Ages, and later on became a herb commonly used in German, Scandinavian, and Greek dishes, particularly salads, fish, soup, breads, and cheeses.  A very nice plant that you too should grow.

Since your garden doubtless has no dill, you’ll need to start it for at least the first year.  Pick a corner of the garden that will receive full or nearly full sun, a corner that you won’t need for other things in years to come.  Make very shallow rows with a stick, then dribble the tiny seeds through your fingers and brush soil over them lightly.  They’ll need only a little fertilizer since dill is a light feeder, and you can expect the first lacy sprouts in 10 to 14 days.  After that, it grows fast, reaching 3 to 5 feet eventually, and is ready to harvest foliage in just eight weeks.  If there’s no garden room, put some in your flower beds.  The plant is filmy and lacy, a nice backdrop for petunias, daisies, marigolds, and others.

If there’s no room even in your flower beds, go to Plan B and plant some in containers.  Fill a 10 inch high or more pot with potting soil, add some granular fertilizer, and plant dill seedlings from a local nursery or seeds.  Water plants or seeds well and keep them moist and out of bright sun for a couple of days, then make sure they don’t dry out for the rest of the spring and early summer.  An easy business.

Keep in mind that dill leaves taste better picked just before flowers form on the plant, and keep in mind too, that you can start picking fresh leaves just as soon as they are large enough to use.  It’s best to do that harvesting early in the morning or in late evening, clipping them close to the stem.

If you prefer to harvest dill seed, allow the flowers to mature, then clip the seed heads and hang them upside down by their stems in a paper bag.  The seeds will fall into the bag as they dry out.  For winter use, freeze by cutting the leaves, long stems and all, into sections short enough to fit into plastic bags.  They’ll keep for about six months.  However you plant and use dill, it’s good to have some around.  And you can plant it mighty soon.

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Published March 2005

“How did you do on walleye at Fremont yesterday?”  “I got one jack, that’s all.  A couple of guys snagging did better.  I think a game warden caught one of them.’  That’s a typical story for Sandusky River walleye fishermen.  One or two fish, rarely more, and a long day spent tossing doll flies with twister tails or maribou.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

Walleye are just beginning to move into the Sandusky River, and a few jacks have reached the traditional fishing grounds at Fremont.  In coming weeks, the trickle will rise to a flood, and the smaller males will be joined by much larger females, fish reaching 10 pounds, even more.  These fish feed little on their spawning runs, but they do feed.  It’s just that you won’t fish them the same in a slightly murky river as you might on a Lake Erie reef.

Anglers in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have evolved a method of fishing for spawning river walleyes that isn’t sure fire (nothing is), but works fairly well if you have the gear to do it right.  The method demands a small boat that can be launched along the shore or from ramps at such places as The Tacklebox on East State Street in Fremont.  Plus an electric trolling motor and very small jigs that should range from 1/8 to 1/16 ounce.

It’s wise to bait the jigs with a tiny ball of Berkley Power Bait, or a small piece of worm, or half a minnow, or at least spray them with a good fish scented spray.  Then edge out into mid-stream and start drifting downriver, going just as fast as the current, no faster.  A bit of wood tossed over the side helps – just keep your craft even with that piece of wood.

Then lower the baited jig to bottom, reel up a turn, and drift along working it gently up and down.  Going with the current allows you to cover ground and such slow movement keeps the jig where it belongs.  Most spawning walleye aren’t interested in a big mouthfull, but they’ll sometimes take these minatures, sucking them in gently, rather than hitting hard.  So, strike at any touch of resistance.  After drifting downstream a distance, move back up, position 10 feet to one side or another of your initial drift, and drift down again.

Anglers who lack a boat and motor, should at least use the smallest jig that will reach bottom, and add some scent, bait, or Berkley Power Bait.  If other anglers are thin enough around you, try covering water close to shore as well as tossing it well out, again reeling slowly so that the doll fly bumps bottom occasionally.

Don’t forget live bait.  If action is poor on jigs, switch to bottom fishing with a slip sinker, a foot of line behind and a small hook baited with a nightcrawler or minnow.  It’s still wise to change baits occasionally, and maybe give them an occasional spray of fishy scent, but you can catch walleye this way.  They’ll come slow, but in the meantime it’s fun to watch the other fishermen, enjoy the sight of a wildlife officer hauling away some snagger, breathe fresh air, and note the occasional Canada geese flying by.  After a few hours of tossing jigs, that can be a blessed relief.

Make sure the river is fairly clean before you plan a trip to the downtown Fremont area by calling first such places as The Tacklebox at (419) 334-4643 and ask for river conditions.  Don’t be afraid to switch lure colors occasionally either, and make sure you read the Fishing Regulations, which has a section devoted to the Sandusky, Maumee, and Portage Rivers with special regulations for the spring run.  Then make your offering taste and smell good, keep it on the bottom and moving slowly, and as small as possible.  You should at least do better than “I got one jack, that’s all.”

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Published April 2005

Floods have been a real problem in Ohio this winter, bad enough sometimes to destroy homes, strain dams, and send people scrambling for higher ground.  Those floods are likely not over yet, since March and April with their frequent heavy rains can bring flooding again and again.  We know what floods do to people, but just how destructive are they to wildlife?  The answer varies according to the species involved.

Fish in lakes, for example, are effected little, if at all.  They put up with muddy water for a few days that can inhibit feeding, but it makes little difference.  In streams and rivers, life can be tougher because when waters creep over bottomlands, many species go with it and when they recede can be trapped in low spots, culverts, ditches, and temporary ponds.  Back when I was a kid living near the Scioto River bottoms around Portsmouth, the Big Scioto flooded almost every spring (still does), and the vast bottoms between that city and the west side became a giant lake.

My uncle and I would slowly and silently wade those bottoms when it got down to ankle deep or less, with a No. 2 tub that had the bottom knocked out.  I’d carry a burlap bag and he’d handle the tub, tossing it over rough species from carp to buffalo and suckers, and often enough, fill the bag.  Other creatures got their share, and the remainder died to fertilize the bottoms for later corn and soybeans.

Snakes are a reptile that has little trouble with flooding.  In the winter they hibernate and being cold blooded, drop into a near death sleep that sees their lungs and heart barely operating.  Massasauga or swamp rattlesnakes found around places like Celeryville and Killdeer Plains have been submerged in water for weeks with no ill effects.  Of course, later in the spring when they’re more active, floods will send snakes swimming for higher ground and many a Texan or Louisiana resident and Ohio too, living above a flood plain has awakened in the morning to find both poisonous and non-poisonous snakes crawling around their front yard.

Ohio’s upland game species, animals from whitetail deer to rabbits and woodchucks, have little problem with floods.  All swim extremely well, and usually have no trouble reaching high ground.  Deer, especially, have been seen swimming in Lake Erie heading from or to such distant places as Kelleys and South Bass Island.  Most times, they make it.   Even wild turkeys can swim, believe it or not, though they hate to do so.

Water animals have their ups and downs come flood time.  Beaver don’t care one way or another, and river otters which feed mainly on fish can live for days with nothing to eat.  But muskrats can be driven out of their dens and burrows by high water, and then become vulnerable to predation.  River otters will eat them when their usual foods aren’t available, and mink don’t mind an occasional muskrat luncheon. 

Some animals actually thrive come flood time with waterfowl being a good example.  Ducks love to paddle around flooded cornfields and dabble for kernels well protected from any predation short of aerial, and geese have the same happy situation.  Their only problem happens when a flood occurs during nesting season destroying eggs and necessitating a further session of nest building and egg laying. 

And some plants almost depend on floods, using them for seed dispersal and to providing deposits of nutrient-rich sediments on the flood plain.  Those same Scioto River bottoms mentioned before are extremely rich and require minimum fertilizer because, like the Nile, they’re flooded almost yearly.  And creatures like moose couldn’t survive without floods.  They depend on river willows growing on sandbars and stream bottoms for winter food, and without floods to scour the rivers, willows would soon be replaced by birch, cottonwood, and spruce.

Floods can be devastating anytime for humans, but it’s good to know that wild animals have learned to live with the problem and even thrive.  Something to remember when April showers bring more than May flowers.

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Published March 2005

It’s been a slow winter for steelhead fishermen.  Some fish have been caught in Lake Erie tributaries, but floods and other rigorous winter problems have slowed action to almost nothing for weeks at a time.  Now. there’s good news.  As of last weekend rivers from Conneaut Creek to the Rocky River and Grand were low and fishing extremely well, and while rains during the early week might have changed that picture temporarily, the trend through the rest of March and into the end of spawning runs in April is for fishing to be good and water conditions decent to ideal.

That suits me fine.  I’ve slammed hooks into steelhead from October through much of April, but long years have shown that some of the winters best fishing starts right now.  These big trout will spawn whenever, but they seem to get most serious at this time of year, moving up onto shallow riffles where they’re easily visible, and splashing noisily as males compete for females.  They’re hungry too, especially after weeks or even months in the rivers because there are very few crayfish, minnows, and insects to be found in icy water.  So, anything edible is likely to draw more than usual attention.

 If you’re interested in catching something that might weigh 10 pounds or better, leaps high, and runs with line sizzling frenzy, the first thing you’d best do before making a long drive is to call first and check on water conditions.  Low, clear water is good because of high visibility, water just coming down from a high with its light green color is better, and muddy water?  You’d best stay home.

So, call The Grand River Tackle Shop at (440) 352-7222 and ask about the fishing.  They have guides for hire, incidentally, and last week two sports caught 25 fish off Route 84 at the Grand.  Try the D & W Sports Shop too, at (440) 354-8473, and you might check The Division of Wildlife’s (888) HOOKFISH and (800) WILDLIFE.

Once conditions are right, you’ll need bait and right now the best is spawn sacs.  In fact, I’ve caught more big steelies on spawn, than on most other offerings put together.  Some anglers who  visit the rivers often make their own using steelhead spawn cut up, placed in tiny mesh sacs, and frozen to be thawed as needed.  Or sucker spawn or salmon eggs.  If you’ve none of these, plan to stop at one of the local bait shops up there like, again, the Grand River Tackle Shop, and buy some.

Actually catching steelhead isn’t hard at all.  You might try drifting spawn below a float and splitshot across pools and riffles, especially where you can see the fish.  Keep the spawn just above bottom.  In deeper water, skip the float, but add enough shot to keep it down there.  Try a float and a small jig baited with maggots too, something in black, purple, white, chartreuse, or yellow.  As the water warms a little, you can have success on big minnows drifted down to holding fish or nightcrawlers, and dropping a madly gyrating small crankbait down to fish on a riffle or pool with good water movement will sometimes drive them nuts!

Where to fish is your own choice, and it’s important to make sure you’re not trespassing on private property.  But in general the Vermillion River, which has a modest run is best upriver to Brimingham, and the Rocky River with its plentiful public access is productive up to the nature center.  Try the Chagrin from the soccer fields to Todd Field, and the Grand River up to Harpersfield Dam.  Don’t neglect Mill, Pair, and Arcola Creek since these small waters clear first after rains.  Or Conneaut Creek, my own favorite, up to the State Line.  The Huron River always has a few too, though access is very limited for non-boaters.

It’s a good time of year and some nice pods of fish are waiting.  Better weather, hopefully lower water, and a hard fighting fish make even long drives worth the trouble.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 25th, 2009

Published March 2005

It takes an absolutely prime plant to reach the exalted status of the Perennial Plant Association’s (based in Hilliard, Ohio) Perennial Plant of the Year, but the Lenten rose has made it (2005).  (See the full list of Perennial Plant of the Year winners until 2009 here) This evergreen, late-winter or early-spring flowering plant is a member of the buttercup family and is hardy clear up to Zone 4 and probably colder when plants have snow cover.  A tough and early blooming rose, indeed.

The rose is native to Europe and Asia and not common here, though catalogs offer them and its new designation as plant of the year will surely see more and more of them in area flower beds and garden areas.  They come in a rainbow of colors, ranging from pure white to a plum color bordering on black, with colors in-between of red, pink, and yellow.  And for gardeners who like their flowers fancy, they also grow as semi-doubles, doubles, and some with picotee edges.  Most times the flowers last at least two months, and in some climates even longer.

And when flowering is past, Lenten roses produce unusual seed pods that provide an ornamental effect and can produce first class seedlings.  The foliage is eye catching too, with leaves divided into 7 to 9 segments that look like coarse, leathery umbrellas, a perfect backdrop for bulbs and other perennials.  Since the roses form clumps that are 18 to 24 inches tall and 24 to 30 inches wide, they also make an elegant ground cover and can be massed to make a background for other spring flowers.

Some gardeners with wooded areas like to clear patches here and there and plant special woodland plants and flowers.  The roses are ideal for this, and equally fine for planting on hillsides above a path so they can be viewed from below.  In fact, experts say that anyone with a shade garden with be delighted with the Lenten rose. 

What do these tough and versatile plants like best?  They favor most a well-drained, humus rich and fertile garden soil, and in cooler regions like ours are happy in sites that range from sunny to lightly shaded.  Since the optimum requirement for best growth is good drainage, they do extremely well on slopes.  And don’t worry too much about water once they’re well established.  Lenten roses are tough plants that only require occasional watering even in the driest of seasons.

Again, these are evergreen plants, but if the leaves look a little tattered after a hard winter, just cut them off as new foliage emerges in the spring.  If the roses have a problem it’s that gardeners with sensitive skin should wear gloves where long exposure may occur.  A good note is that alkaloids in the leaves that might cause mild dermitis make the leaves undesirable to deer.

Growing some yourself can be a little difficult.  Seed germination is slow and it can take four or five years to produce a plant of flowering size.  It’s usually best to get them either from a nursery or a catalog, but once growing well, clumps will produce seedlings that can be planted in other areas of the garden.  That’s a definite money saver.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 25th, 2009

Published March 2005

It’s been a long and unusually hard winter, but spring is coming and soon crocus will be in full bloom, the trees greening up, and waters in area lakes warming steadily.  Fishing will pick up too, as various species begin to feed up for spring spawning, so it’s time to check the crystal ball and find out if action on local lakes will be good this year, or mediocre or poor.  Take Charles Mill Lake, for example.

 This 1,350 acre lake with its 10 hp limit just might be the best hotspot for long miles around, and according to the Division of Wildlife its largemouth bass population is excellent.  Fish caught will routinely range from 12 to 19 inches with a few going a good deal larger, and come spring one of the best spots to take some will be around the marina peninsula and along riprap near the dam.

The saugeye population here is only average, though there are fish to 24 inches, and most are caught below the dam, though some hit between the marina and the narrows into the main lake.  Channel cats?  Charles Mill has always been a top rated channel cat lake with fish to 25 inches plus ready to hit shrimp and cutbait, and they’re found all over the lake.  There are whopper flathead catfish here too, that reach four feet long, especially in the western basin.  Large live minnows are the best bait for these behemoths.

Then there are hybrid striped bass (wipers) that have been heavily stocked.  They’re vicious fighters that reach 22 inches, even more, and are caught yearly by trolling, jigging weighted minnows, or bottom fishing with chicken livers and nightcrawlers.  Finally, come crappie, a favorite fish here, with good populations of both black and white crappie.  They’ll soon be waiting around shoreline brush and downed trees in the marina basin.

Clear Fork Reservoir with its 1,012 acres and 10 mph speed limit is best known as a muskie lake, and it should be since Clear Fork is rated one of the best lakes in the state for these big fish with lunkers reaching 45 inches, even more.  But this spring it will have, as always, a good population of black and white crappie, many of which will be caught near the road bridge on the west end.  There are fair numbers of channel cats too, that are often picked up off the picnic areas.

The lake isn’t fished too hard for largemouth bass, but it should be since the shoreline brush, quick dropoffs, and weed beds here hold fish that reach to 21 inches or more.  The fifth largest bass ever caught in a fishing tournament (5 lbs, 14 oz) was caught at Clear Fork.  And don’t forget white bass, which provide a lot of fun for anglers who find a school swimming in east end waters.

Pleasant Hill Lake has a wide variety of fish, but saugeye rank high in this clear, cool water hotspot. There’s an excellent population of these tasty critters that average about 14 inches, routinely reach 25 inches, and sometimes tip the scales at eight to ten pounds.  Anglers here like to night fish for saugeye, or troll and drift for them off the swimming beach and near the lodge using Lindy rigs and nightcrawlers or bottom bumping crankbaits.

The lake is nearly unique in our area in that it holds a good population of smallmouth bass as well as largemouths.  The smallmouths like rocky shores in the lower end of the lake near the dam, and favor rock bumping jigs with bait, small plastic worms, and fast diving crankbaits.  Largemouths are found in the more shallow and weedy upper end and as always, favor spinnerbaits, pig and jig combinations, and plastic worms.  Anglers find some good channel cats too, many off the launch ramp, and occasional schools of white bass.  These run up the Clear Fork tributary each spring.

Little Knox Lake is a diamond among pearls with a VERY strong population of largemouth bass.  It has an 18 inch length limit, so most of the fish caught will be members of the “munch bunch”, smaller individuals that are still lots of fun to catch, but some dandies turn up, too.  Knox is considered one of the top five bass tournament lakes in the state.  And should be.  Otherwise, visiting anglers will find a fine population of channel cats that reach 10 pounds, and a small population of  black crappies.

Finally, comes almost unknown Kokosing Lake, a 149 acre lake in the Kokosing Wildlife Area not far from Knox that has a fair population of bass and crappie, and good numbers of channel cats.  Five bodies of water, all different, with plenty of waiting fish.  And spring is coming.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 24th, 2009

How do you like your weekends or vacations?  Rugged and rustic?  Ultra-modern with all of the amenities?  You can find either at Lake Hope, a 120 acre lake that waits in Vinton County not far from McArthur in southeastern Ohio.  This pretty woodland lake is a fish-hook shaped body of water surrounded by 2,983 acre Lake Hope State Park and it does indeed offer something for almost any boater.

For those who like fine and comfortable living, there are 46 cottages which are designated as Wildlife, Iron Furnace, and Forest cottages.  The latter two are finished in native hardwood, have wood burning fireplaces, and names like Buckeye, Black Oak, and Basswood, all named after the locally milled wood used to finish their interiors.   Boaters who want to bring LOTS of friends might want to rent rustic Laurel Lodge, a group lodge with eight sleeping rooms, a large kitchen, and a sitting/dining area with a huge stone fireplace. 

Those who like their lodging more rustic should enjoy the nice 219 site campground.  It’s a pretty place for tent campers, and for boaters who haul RV vehicles, there are 46 sites with electric hookups.  It’s a cozy campground with heated showerhouses, pit latrines, waste disposal, and laundry facilites.  Maybe best of all for those who like to travel with Rover, pets are permitted.  And if you’d like to try camping and have no equipment, the park provides three Rent-A-Camp units, a camper-cabin, and a Rent-A-Teepee.

There’s plenty to do around this rural lake.  Boaters with their own craft can roam the fishhook-shaped lake using electric motors only, and explore its bays and backwaters while keeping an eye open for the plentiful beaver here, their lodges, and shore cuttings.  If you don’t bring a boat, canoes, kayaks, and row boats can be rented.  For casual use, don’t miss the swimming beach and picnic areas, nice places for a lazy afternoon.

Fishing is good, too, so don’t forget a rod and tackle box.  Largemouth bass average 1 – 3 pounds, but occasionally reach a whopping eight, and locals like to use large live minnows below a float along the banks or work shoreline cover with plastic worms and spinnerbaits. Channel cats might reach a very serious 20 pounds, and are caught on shrimp and cutbait near the dam all summer, and there are some dandy bluegill and redear sunfish.  Bait is available  at the beach concession and there’s a fairly primitive launch ramp off Route 278.

Boaters who like to hike and see wildlife will find 17 miles of hiking trails around the lake and nearby woodlands, and in the adjacent state forest, a 21 mile backpack trail and primitive campsites is available.  The trails range from easy and pleasant like the Hebron Hollow Trail (1.5 miles) and the Peninsula Trail (3 miles) to the more challenging Zaleski Backpack Trail (a 23.5 mile loop).  Wildlife is plentiful in this second growth forest with whitetail deer, wild turkey, and squirrels waiting in the oak and hickory woodlands, and rabbits and meadow birds in occasional openings and meadows.

The whole area is steeped in history, much of it based on iron furnaces and coal which is why the area has second growth timber, rather than huge old trees that several men couldn’t surround.  The Hope Furnace was built here over 100 years ago to process iron ore extracted from the region’s sandstone bedrock, and hundreds of men worked to cut wood, work furnaces, and extract iron, much of which went for cannon to protect the Union Army. 

There are other places to see nearby, like Hocking Hills with its Old Man’s Cave, Marietta with riverboats and historic museums, Lake Alma State Park, and lots of little towns and villages with antique shops and country stores.  For detailed information on Lake Hope, call (740) 596-5253 or visit Lake Hope State Park on the web.  It’s a good place with lots to offer.

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Published April 2005

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 in early April.  Action should improve throughout 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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Published March 2005

Back when I was a youngster of ten or twelve, I spent a lot of time roaming the hills of southern Ohio with a cluster of boon companions. We had no televisions or computers then, so we made our own fun, and to forestall dangerous snakes, bears, alligators, and tigers, went heavily armed with slingshots. These were hand made with Y shaped branches from a hickory limb dried and peeled, strips of rubber from an old inner tube, and a leather tongue from an ancient shoe. Without bragging, we were deadly with those primitive weapons, simply because we practiced all day long, usually shooting smooth creek stones.

When I reached 14 I bought a single shot .22 rifle with paper route money, and became equally deadly with that, often shooting up a box of long or long rifles a day for days at a time. Again, practice makes near perfect. It’s a good lesson, and hunters who are feeling the effects of cabin fever and staring out the window at snow, chill rain, and sleet might take advantage of those rare sunny days to do some practice, too.

Groundhog season is coming soon, in fact the boars are already moving, and this second worst month of the year (February’s first), is prime time to head out with the chuck gun and do some shooting. Or improve that rusty eye with a round of trap at some local club, or go out with a friend and a hand trap for some REALLY challenging practice. That’s nearly as good as sporting clays. And on some truly nasty day when you’re biting your fingernails, get out the family artillery and go to work.

Each year about this time I take an hour or two to carefully clean and oil my own hunting guns, and leave them softly glowing for the next hunt. Far better than reaching for the squirrel gun only to find its barrel coated with rust. Fishermen can make good use of a few of these bad weather days too, following the old Boy Scout maximum “Be Prepared.” March is a good time to break out long unused rods, and either cut off the first 20 feet of monofilament with its frays and nicks, or completely replace the line with something new that’s untouched by the sun. Reels? Check them out, oil the lot into smoothness, removing any sand and grit, and make them ready for that first four pound bass of spring.

Typically, my tackle boxes are a mess at years end. I have one for bass, another for walleye, etc. as you probably do, and they’re in bad shape. Maybe some melted plastic worms in one tray from a hot days fishing last summer, maybe some smelly real worms in the bottom of one box or another. So, you remove most of the gear, eliminate junk, put the lot into order, and take some more time to carefully sharpen the hook of each crankbait and spinnerbait. It’s time well spent when a walleye bites gently, and is still hooked.

Outdoorsmen good with their hands can make some useful things this month, and save substantial money by purchasing molds from Cabela’s, L.L. Bean, Bass Pro Shops, or wherever. I’ve done this more than once, gathering up old tire weights from a local repair shop, and melting them down in a pan on a Coleman two burner stove. It’s vital to do this in a well ventilated place because lead fumes aren’t good, but I’ve spent some profitable hours making a several year supply of lead fishing sinkers and enough .45 caliber rifle balls to keep my muzzleloader firing for several seasons. Once I ordered a jig mold and jig hooks, and made a rather vast quantity of jigs, painting their heads, and adding twister or grub tails for walleye and saugeye. I still have some left. It’s a bad month and there’ll be more bad weather, but cleaning up your gear beats watching tv and swirling snow. Now’s the time to do it.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 22nd, 2009

Lots of people don’t care much for lettuce, and for good reason.  The kind most of us buy and/or eat at restaurants is usually rock hard commercial iceburg lettuce that’s watery and has essentially no flavor at all.  Some restaurants and supermarkets do offer other kinds, and that’s a blessing, but there’s a world of lettuce types out there, and with just a tiny patch of land you can grow your own, and that means LOTS of kinds.

Actually, many of us plant lettuce every spring because the plant is quick to grow and handles cool weather.  I rarely fail to plant several kinds, including the old standard Blackseeded Simpson, along with radishes and onion sets which also handle cool weather.  I just get impatient, as doubtless do you, to see something green and growing after a long winter. 

But once again, there are plenty of different kinds of lettuce, each good in its own way, lettuce ranging from firm and crunchy to melting and buttery, and in colors that range from pale lime green to burgundy bronze.  You can get them as “mesclun” too, with several kinds in a single package and sometimes even endive, mustard and cress for more tangy flavor.

Actually, there are only three basic categories of lettuce.  Romaine is one, and its various types have upright leaves around thick, juicy full flavored hearts.  Romaines are sweet and crunchy, and in both the Middle East and Asia they’re  used as edible food wrappers or servers.  This lettuce is often bred for large size and weight, and is a favorite in Caesar salads.

Then there are the Batavians, which have been long popular as fresh market lettuces in western Europe.  You won’t find it here often, so you’ll need to buy seed and grow your own.  They’re available in several garden catalogs, and can be ordered direct from such as Renees Garden  or by calling the company toll-free at 1-888-880-7228.  The Batavians are very resistant to hot weather bolting, and their tasty leaves can be harvested from baby to full sized plants.  They’re eye pleasing too, coming in handsome reds and greens.

Finally, come the Butterheads with softly folded smooth leaves.  They’re the lettuce of choice in Europe, outselling all others, because of their delicate flavor, and are also eye pleasing with loose, open rosettes on tighter, semi-solid heads.  Butterheads pair nicely with fruity vinegar and soft cheeses. 

Lettuce isn’t hard to grow, and I often simply make a shallow row, add fertilizer and seed, and rake gently to barely cover the seeds.  But you’ll have best luck growing them in flats or containers, so the seed can be kept evenly moist.  Use containers at least 2 inches deep filled with a good seed starting mix, and sprinkle the seeds thinly, about a quarter to half inch apart.  Then cover lightly and keep them moist in an environment of 60 – 70 degrees.  They’ll germinate quickly and once several inches tall, can be transplanted to your garden.

To keep them growing well, add moisture as needed, and fertilize several times with a half strength fish emulsion.  Watch for snails and slugs, and hand pick them as needed or place slug bait around the outside edges.  And to extend your season, place a shade cloth above on hot days.  Simple tactics for a simple plant, but the result will be salads with “Zing.”

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outdoorswithmartin on July 22nd, 2009

Published February 2005

Hocking Hills in springtime is a beautiful place with rugged hills covered by trilliums, spring beauties, and other flowers. In summer it’s a cool, shaded place with challenging hikes and climbs, and come fall, the hills are a riot of color with wild turkeys gobbling in the valleys. But winter? It’s a very nice place then too, especially for outdoorsmen who are fighting cabin fever and require a long walk or two on the wild side. Hocking Hills and its state park lies in southeastern Ohio below Lancaster and southwest of Logan, a park that many call the prettiest in the state with its steep cliffs, rugged ravines, and huge, jumbled boulders. A busy place in summer, but in winter it’s yours alone, or nearly so.

I was there just last week hiking and sightseeing with my wife, Jane, and our first stop was Ash Cave. There’s plenty of parking at Ash Cave and a wide cement walkway that’s handicap accessible. The walkway crosses a meandering little stream that flows along the valley floor past ancient hemlocks, sycamore, and near vertical cliffs of layered blackhand sandstone. The cliffs are honeycombed with small caves and grottos, and their surface has moss, lichens, and liverworts along with strange plants from a pre-glacial time. Ash Cave itself is at least 100 feet high with geysering waterfalls and a sand floor, and it’s quiet as quiet can be. We were the only people there, and the only sounds were spattering water and wind soughing through the hemlocks.

Old Man’s Cave is the most famous of the caves, and also the most picturesque. There’s a fine trail down into the gorge with handrails and steps dating back to the WPA. You’ll see a fine stream here, huge fallen rocks and deep, green pools, with little caves that our old timer guide, Leland Connor, said were once inhabited by bears. Leland is a local historian who knows more about the park than most, and is happy to pass his learning on to others. Outdoorsmen who like their hiking can make a 6 mile jaunt between Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave through some of the parks prettiest scenery.

There are other places to visit like wild and lonely Cedar Falls, the Rock House, and Conkles Hollow. All offer good hiking, short or long, and a chance to stretch winter stiffened legs and see nice scenery. Of course, there’s more than just walking in wild country at and near this park, and plenty of accommodations of every kind. We stayed at Ash Cave Cabins in an ultra-modern woodland cabin and ended our evenings sipping wine before a crackling fire. On the other side of the coin, you can camp in the state park campground and roast hot dogs in solitude. Only one trailer was using the park when we were there.

In-between these two extremes are a host of B & B’s, cabins, and rustic complexes with or without cooking facilities. There’s good food waiting too, some of the most unusual at a place called Etta’s Lunch Box which had generous meals and over 800 childrens lunch boxes on shelves or hanging from the ceiling that go back to old originals.

Logan had its own offerings that included The Columbus Washboard Factory, the last in the country, where I was happy to take a tour, the Logan Art Gallery & Art Center with its offerings of pottery and paintings by local artists, and the Artisan Mall with LOTS of crafts and antiques. Don’t forget nearby Nelsonville with its Rocky Boots outlet and more crafts, and maybe a horseback ride into the high country. The Hocking Hills tourism folk have plenty of specific information by calling 1-800-HOCKING and if cabin fever is looming, this is a place to go. No traffic and few people in pretty country. Hard to go wrong.

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Published February 2005

The shank of winter is a hard time for most outdoorsmen.  Hunting is essentially over, river and stream fishing is scarce, and the outdoor shows are few and far between.  So, what can you do over the next weeks before the weather breaks and lawn grass starts to green up?  You head for a favorite farm pond and catch a mess of ice water bluegills. 

If there’s good ice, head for that pond.  If it’s thin, go anyway, and if there’s no ice at all, don’t change your plans.  Bluegills (and bass) will bite all 12 months of each year, and ice or a lack of it makes no difference at all.  But there’s one thing to keep in mind at this time of year when it comes time to search for a loose school or concentration of panfish.  It’s been a long winter and many ponds have been snow covered at least off and on for weeks.  When sunlight doesn’t penetrate, the algae and other small plants can’t make oxygen, so oxygen levels in the pond diminish. 

If the pond is weedy, it’s worse, because winter dead plants are attacked by decay bacteria and use up even more oxygen.  The bottom line is that too often the deepest part of a pond becomes oxygen deficient, and fish have to move up to above the thermocline or into shallower parts of the little lake.  Which means in turn that the fish you were catching in the deepest part early in the winter are now probably elsewhere.

So, if you find good ice cover, start as usual.  Bore a couple of holes in the ponds deepest part, bait up a couple of spoons or tiny jigs with waxworms, and try your luck.  But adjust one rod to work its offering just above bottom and the other rod to fish several feet up.  If nothing happens in a half hour, move to the mid-part of the pond, maybe where water is just 5-6 feet deep and try again, and if the bobber doesn’t start bouncing, move a little shallower yet.

I  remember one winter when snow stayed long and good ice, too, and I must have drilled 20 holes with my auger on that first of March day before I found fish.  It was a weedy lake and oxygen was so low, the fish had gathered in just two feet of water near shore.  I sat there on my little stool and actually watched big bluegill suck in my waxworms.  That was a red letter trip. 

What about ice too thin to walk on?  Several years ago I visited a pond that had only an inch or so of ice, but also had a nice iron 10 foot pram sitting on shore.  I was pretty desperate, and also prepared with 50 feet of sturdy rope which I tied alternately to a shoreline tree and the stern of the boat.    The time was just this season of year and I was desperate enough to use the oars to break that thin ice and safely paddle out 30 feet or so.  Then I cleared a fishing space, caught at least 30 nice bluegill and two bass, fished in comfort, and finally roped my way back to shore.  The rope probably wasn’t necessary, but it did make for a fast trip to dry land.

No ice at all?  Do just the same, using the same rigs and bait with longer rods.  If they’re still deep, you might want to use a slip floater on one rod, or a floating Lindy rig with sinker.  Then on the other fish as usual, starting about five feet down and setting the float gradually shallower.  Bites can be slow and deliberate in ice water, but they’ll come eventually as you find the concentrations, and you should go home with a bucket full of the years best eating.

Here’s a final thought.  Once again, largemouth bass will bite as well in cold water as in warm, though you should use smaller offerings.  I rarely keep summer bass caught in farm ponds, but I’ve taken as high as eight, some of them dandies, on winter trips, and kept just one or two in the 1 1/2 pound range because they’re almost as good as bluegills then.  Use slightly larger ice spoons, something 3/4 to one inch long in the usual bright colors of red, yellow, and chartreuse, bait with a couple of waxworms instead of one, and jig gently here and there.  The fight of even a four pound bass will be sluggish indeed, but right now it’s the only game in town.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 22nd, 2009

Published February 2005

Gardening is a wonderful business, as all green thumbers know, with good fresh produce at harvest time, produce that grew under your own eye instead of being sent from Bolivia or Mexico.  But it’s a darn shame when you prepare the ground, plant the seed, fertilize, water, hoe, and carefully raise something only to find the final product was picked too soon, or too late, and lacks flavor or is tough.  There’s a time to pick any vegetable and if you’re going to work hard to raise vegetables, you should know that time.

If there’s a major point to remember in harvesting vegetables, it’s that when humanly possible, they should be picked early in the day.  Harvest such as lettuce, chard, fresh herbs, parsley, peas, broccoli, and radishes in the cool morning hours and they’ll stay crisp and store longer.  Harvest them under a hot sun, and most will become limp and wilt quickly, because they’ve evaporated moisture under the mid-day heat.  Exceptions are vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini which are less susceptible to wilting.

Testing for ripeness is equally important, and there’s a time to pick everything.  Some, like green beans, are obvious.  Any gardener knows they shouldn’t be picked when they’re just tiny strings nor when the beans inside have grown to maturity and the pods are becoming dry.  The key time for these is when beans have just begun to form inside and the pods are crisp and juicy.  Beets?  The top size for these is when the roots are an inch or two in diameter, though larger ones will still be good.  Don’t leave them until they’re tough and woody, though.

Carrots are ready for the pan when they turn a nice orange or yellow color, about an inch or inch and a half in diameter.  Don’t try to pull carrots unless they’re in really damp, soft, humus rich soil because they’ll often break off.  I use a shovel for mine, digging in near the roots and lifting, then slipping them out of the loosened dirt.  Sweet corn needs a little care, too.  There’s little so bad as heading out to the garden, and picking a dozen ears for dinner, only to find that the kernels are tiny inside the husk or even worse, full size, tough and chewy.

Pick corn when the silks are dark brown, and peel the tops of several ears just a little to see if kernels are just right.  Puncture a few with your fingernail and make sure the juice is milky white.  I never pick sweet corn until my pot or pressure cooker is ready to go.  Eating ears just minutes out of the garden is the way to go.

Watch cucumbers closely.  They grow FAST and should be harvested every other day.  It’s better to get these green vegetables too small, than too large, at which point they become yellow and bitter.  Egg plants are much the same, best when they’re still young, though grown to size.  To avoid damaging egg plants, cut the fruit from the stem, rather than pulling it.

Then there’s melons, a delicious fruit that simply must be picked at the right time.  Too soon and they’re bland, rather than sweet.  Too late, and they turn mushy.  Cantaloupes should be picked when they develop a slight yellowish cast and the netting turns hard.  They should slip easily off the vine with a quick pull, and have a noticeable fragrance when you bend over, lift one, and smell it.  Watermelons should have a light yellow patch on their bottoms when ripe.  The skin should be hard too, difficult to pierce with a fingernail.

Onions are easy to harvest, because they’re good anytime.  I plant bulbs or sets, and harvest some when they’re small as green onions.  Those left over are allowed to mature until the stems yellow and fall over, then I pull them, gather into small bunches, then tie the stems and hang them in my garage until dry.  At which time I cut off the stems and bag the bulbs in onion sacks.  Nothing to it.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 22nd, 2009

Ever hear of solunar tables?  Many readers, especially younger ones, haven’t, but lots of old veterans have and believe in them so fiercely that they plan hunting and fishing trips around the tables.  For those unfamiliar with the tables, sol means sun and lunar means moon, and the basic idea is that the two together influence animal movements just as they influence tides and other earthly phenomena.

 The idea is so long standing that once upon a time Sports Afield Magazine published a chart of the tables each two months, showing the two “highs” in each 24 hours when animals and fish were most likely to be active, and the two “lows” when it was hardly worth going out.  As a zoologist with a masters degree from Ohio State as well as a hunter and fisherman I was once very interested in the solunar periods, enough that I ran a few brief and simple studies and their result came close to making a believer out of me.

One that I remember well came on an early October squirrel hunt.  It was a perfect morning, cool, crisp, and sunny with almost no wind, the kind of morning when squirrels are out early and feeding.  It was a good woods too, one I’ve hunted a number of times and always found plenty of bushytails.  But this morning the woods was dead, with hardly a bird call, and nothing moving.  I quit around 10:30 a.m., went home and called a friend who was hunting that morning, too.

“Did you get any this morning?” I asked.  “Didn’t see a single thing.” he replied.  “I stuck it out until about 10:30, then quit.”  Another friend had a different story.  “I didn’t see a thing until about 11:30 a.m., then suddenly they were all over the place.  I got four.”  The table said the solunar period would peak around 11:30.

On another trip I was ice fishing an area lake, checked the table and saw that the high would come around 10 a.m.  I usually have best luck on any brand of fishing in the two hours after dawn, but not this morning.  Then suddenly around 9:30 they started to bite and continued on until 11 before they shut off.  In another simple little study I watched my bird feeder and noticed that bird number seemed to increase around the highs and diminish drastically during the lows.

Did it always work?  No, it didn’t, and I finally decided that if  all factors were stable, no storms moving in, no low pressure fronts, etc. that there might be something to solunar tables.  Now, it appears I was wrong and seemingly so were many thousands of others and the inventors of the tables.

In the last October issue of Petersen’s Hunting, an article discussed in part the tables and told of a study conducted at an Illinois wildlife refuge.  The two researchers used consistent methods to study free ranging deer, songbirds, and semi-captive cottontail rabbits to see if there was any correlation between the sun/moon cycles and wildlife activity.  The pair used tower blinds in high deer density areas and binoculars to map deer activity over a nine week period. 

The rabbits, kept in a 3 acre enclosure,  were monitored every hour using neck collars, and songbirds were checked at a feeding station.  Their conclusion, after months of analysis and observation, was that there were no distinct or predictable patterns in wildlife activity during various phases of the moon. They did note that further study may be indicated, but decided that the tables were not an accurate or consistent predictor of wildlife activity.

So, there you have it.  Fishing and hunting trips should be decided by when you can go and if the weather is right, rather than the sun and moon.  I’m still wondering about those squirrels and even why my dog gets suddenly active and starts playing with his chew toys at certain times of day.  But science triumphs.  Or does it?

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outdoorswithmartin on July 22nd, 2009

What’s big (8-10 pounds), beautiful, watches you with 100 eyes, and has a scream that some have compared to a “goosed school girl.”  Did you guess pea fowl or perhaps just peacocks?  That’s right and while the birds are fairly rare in our area, some farmers do have a few, especially those who like something more exotic than the mundane ducks, geese, and turkeys.

Peafowl come from India, Ceylon, Burma, and other places home to tigers, elephants, and water buffalo.  They were hunted occasionally by British soldiers during World War II, and many a British or Welsh manor house had a small complement of the lovely birds.  These days there are a number of varieties dominated by the gorgeous India blue and the black-shoulder with other varieties that might be pure white.  

One man who raises these unusual birds is retired veterinarian Dr. Robert Scherer who lives in Shelby (Ohio) and currently has about 18 peafowl, evenly split between peacocks and pea hens.  He’s raised the birds for about six years, starting with a male and female he purchased from another Shelby resident.  “It was my wife’s idea to get a couple for the farm here,” he said, “but I like to see them and I mostly take care of them.”

Why raise pea fowl, other than for the pure joy of seeing a mature cock spread his tail feathers with their iridescent blue, green, and bronzy-brown feathers?  Making money is one possibility.  Doc Scherer paid $50 each for his young birds, but noted that full adults have been known to sell for $300 – 400 each, and even eggs can sell for $3 or more.  “You’d need to sell them young, of course.” The veterinarian noted.  “Otherwise feeding costs will be too high.  I spend about $10 – 15 a week for peacock feed.”

Another thought is raising them for wild game dinners.  Landowners around Ohio, especially the Amish, now routinely raise deer, wild boar and other creatures to be sold for game dinners, and peacocks would be an unusual addition to either these or to restaurants who occasionally feature wild game.  If you’re asking how they taste, those who have eaten pea fowl say they’re tastier than the finest pheasant.  And a lot larger.

In fact the Indian raj of the 1800’s often had peacocks as the centerpiece of their major feasts.  Cooks would carefully skin a magnificent male, the meat would be removed, added to that of other peacocks, and cooked with spices from saffron to pepper, then the skin would be stuffed with cooked peacock, and artfully arranged on a huge plate to look like a live bird.  You might not want to go that far, though.

Adult birds are tough, hardy animals that can handle even Ohio winters if they can get inside the barn on really bad days.  And they can run free around a farm, roosting at night in trees.  They favor insects, particularly grasshoppers, and will feast for hours on dearly loved lettuce, as well as ripe tomatoes and often flowers in the flower bed.

Doc Scherer feeds his flock primarily a mix of poultry feed and  laying mash, while other growers  might use a mixture of cracked corn, whole kernel corn, white millet, oats, and game starter with 30 percent protein.  A few growers will give them a slice or so of day old white bread, and maybe even a little catfood occasionally as a special treat.  The catfood is a good way to get birds to eat out of your hand.

If pea fowl have a problem, it’s that they’re tough to raise.  “I’ve seen them lay up to 30 eggs in a nest, if you keep removing them.”  Scherer said, “but the usual clutch is about a dozen.”  And you’d best find and remove those eggs, because they’re less than wonderful mothers.  If hens lay outside, raccoons will usually get the eggs as routinely happens at Kingwood Center in Mansfield.  “One of the caretakers there said that birds raised no young at all this year and only one bird last year, but the raccoons ate well. 

So, your best bet is to place eggs either under a broody hen or in an incubator inside a snug building with a heat lamp to keep temperatures warm and cozy after hatching.  Humidity should be kept around 70, and after the young birds hatch, temperatures should be dropped gradually from 100 down to 70, about five degrees a week.  After about six weeks they’ll be well feathered and can be let outside.

Where can you buy a couple?  Local peacock raisers might be willing to sell a small number of their flock.   Asking around among the Amish might turn up another source or two, and newspapers and exotic fowl magazines frequently will list a dealer in these big birds.  Whether you like the unusual, or want to sell some for (hopefully) profit, pea fowl are worth a try.  And if you don’t like what you’ve bought, you can always eat them!

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outdoorswithmartin on July 22nd, 2009

Published February 2005

Most readers are fully aware of the significance of Easter.  They know it’s history, what should happen on each day, and the climax of the important event.  But did you ever wonder where the Easter Bunny fits into this religious scenario?  Not surprisingly, the Easter Bunny is one of the most beloved of the symbols of this season, and what youngster hasn’t slept lightly and waited impatiently for the magic morning when they could go seek colored eggs, and find their basket with its chocolate bunnies and gum drops hiding among green colored “grass.” 

For the curious, the first documented use of the bunny as a symbol of Easter appeared in Germany in the 1500’s, although bunnies and Easter are probably a much earlier folk tradition.  The Germans also made the first edible bunnies, this in the 1800’s, and the Pennsylvania Dutch apparently brought the kindly Easter Bunny to our country in the 1800’s.  We weren’t the first to be interested in rabbits.

Lots of Asian and Eurasian cultures revere the rabbit as a sacred messenger of the Divine, and the Chinese considered him (always HIM) as a creature of the moon pounding rice in a mortar. Egyptians thought of the hare as “Un”, which means to open, and the Celts revered hares as a symbol of fertility and new life.  Even in North America, rabbits were important as native Americans considered him a trickster who either plays the fool or brought benefits to the people.  And the ancient Mayans gave rabbits credit for inventing writing.

In fact, Easter is actually a lunar festival, rather than a solar event, with the celebration among ancient folk falling on the first Sunday after the full moon on or after the equinox.  And it seems to have been named for Eostre (East-ra), after the Saxon goddess of the dawn from which East and Easter got their names.  According to legend, Eostre became angry with the rabbit and cast it into the heavens, where it exists now as the constellation Lepus The Hare at the feet of Orion.

But how did colored eggs come about?  There’s an explanation for that, too.

Again, according to legend, Eostre gave Lepus the gift of laying eggs once a year, which, combined with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, is why we have the modern day tradition with the Easter Bunny delivering Easter eggs.  You won’t be surprised to hear that Bugs Bunny helped at least once, with disasterous results.

Would you like to actually see a mythological rabbit?  Pick a clear night with a full moon, use binoculars, and you will see the Jade Rabbit pounding out medicine for the Lady Ch’ange.  The dark areas to the top of the full moon can be seen as the figure of a rabbit (look close and use imagination).  The animals ears point to the upper right, while at the left are two large circular areas representing its head and body.  Look really close and you might even see an egg or two!

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outdoorswithmartin on July 22nd, 2009

Each year Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October, the day that Christopher Columbus discovered America.  But there’s a good deal of controversy about the event these days, since evidence is growing that it wasn’t Columbus, but the Vikings that discovered our country, evidence reported more than once in magazines like Archaeology Magazine and The Smithsonian.

Part of the controversy comes from the fact that few people liked the Vikings much.  Didn’t they roam the oceans in their long ships, ravaging the shores of England and Scotland, bringing murder and mayhem to the African and Asian coasts, pillaging monasteries for their gold and silver, and putting any protesting priests to the sword?  Yes, they did – at least a few of them.

But what about the vast majority of Vikings?  What did they do for a living?  How did they survive through history, and on their journeys to the American coast?  The bulk were farmers just like you, ordinary farmers who worked from daylight to well past dark, and lived a life little different from our own ancestors and early pioneers, and little different too, from modern day Amish.  Which makes the folk who probably discovered our country interesting indeed.

Many readers doubtless know that these seafaring people lived in Scandinavia, basically Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.  That’s cold country with a short growing season, and most of those hardy folk farmed on small pockets of fertile land dotted here and there in vast reaches of forest.  Nearly all lived, not in small houses, but in crofters, large homes with many outbuildings, ran by a single warrior with his wife, children, slaves, relatives, and ordinary workers.  All lived a hard life, and the weak died young, so Vikings grew up hardy, tough, and willing to take on any of life’s challenges, especially the one devoted to finding new land to build new crofts and start their own homes.

So, the long ships with their dragons heads, oars, and square sails, went forth in all directions, beginning around 800 AD.  They settled Iceland, then Greenland (which lasted only 400 years), then reached the coast of North America around New Brunswick, according to the archaeologists.  They called that new settlement, Vinland or the Land of Grapes, and apparently settled there for awhile before being driven off by “skraelings”, or native Americans who didn’t care for their heavy handed presence.

But enough of history.  How did the Vikings of North America and elsewhere live?  What did they eat?  How did they farm as compared to our own ancestors?  Again, very little different.  Since growing seasons were short, the Vikings depended mostly on livestock and cereal grains.  They grew oats, rye, and barley, along with a little wheat and millet in more southern areas, and followed crop rotation practices. 

Typically, a field would be plowed with a wooden plow at first pulled by horses, oxen, or cattle, and later by a plow tipped with iron as they learned blacksmithing.  Rye would be planted one year, then next year barley or whatever, then the field would lie fallow for a year, and be worked and manured before the next crop.    They used barley to make a thin, flat bread, oats for bread and porridge, and rye for a thick, heavy bread.

Since Vikings were famous for their periodic drinking sprees,  a fair amount of barley went to make beer, and bees were kept for a potent drink called honey mead.  Hops and bog myrtle flavored their ale, and a fair amount of fruit went to make wine. 

Living further north they possibly worked even harder than our pioneer ancestors, with nearly every waking minute spent getting food for the long winters.  The women and younger people gave time to caring for gardens that held root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, beets, onions and turnips that could be stored underground for later use.  And they also planted leeks, peas, celery, fava beans, and cabbage.

The men and older boys cared for a variety of livestock that included sheep and goats, cattle and horses (they favored horse meat), pigs that were fattened on forest mast like acorns and beech nuts, and chickens, geese, and ducks.  Each October they slaughtered the weaker cattle and sheep, and each November they killed excess pigs, keeping the strongest and best for breeding, and either drying or smoking the meat for winter use.  Only occasionally did they salt excess meat since salt was precious and expensive. 

Farming and raising livestock might sound like enough for anyone’s lengthy day, but with up to 20 people, even more, in each croft, they needed every morsel they could get, so when time permitted the men hunted deer, elk, reindeer, hares, bear, wild boar, even squirrels which were favored as much for their fur as their meat.  Other days some would be assigned to fish with home-made iron looks and usually made good catches of cod, coalfish, salmon, herring, haddock, and freshwater smelt, pike, and perch.  Nearly all of any catch was dried and stored for winter. 

Most of the kids leisure minutes, if any, were spent gathering hazelnuts (a favorite food), or plums, apples, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, strawberries, and rosehips for tea (Vitamin C).  Most of this produce was dried, too.  Short days and long nights, but they thrived for many years on their rigorous life.

Would you like to sample real Viking food?  One of their daily food staples was porridge, and according to an ancient recipe it’s made from 10 – 12 cups of water, salt, two cups of chopped barley kernels soaked overnight in cold water, a handful of whole grain wheat flour, a handful of crushed hazelnuts, and 3-4 tablespoons of honey.  The mixture was cooked till soft and started the day of many an early riser.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 22nd, 2009

It’s the shank of the winter and not much is doing out there.  Hunting is essentially over, the ice is iffy, and about the only fishing is for steelhead and saugeye.  Which is okay, because saugeye particularly can provide some fun fishing, at least given proper conditions.

 This below dam sport has been slow most days, because of heavy rains and snow runoff that caused maximum water to be released from the various lakes.  You won’t catch much when the water is boiling past and coffee brown.  But the weather has got to stabilize soon, and eventually, maybe right now, the tailwaters will slow and turn a nice green color.  That’s saugeye time, and action should be unusually good, since the high water means few have been caught so far this winter.

 Everybody has their own favorite method for fishing these below dam fish, and mine is to take a half inch ice spoon in bright red, yellow, or chartreuse, head hook a minnow to it, add a splitshot about six inches above and a float above that, then cast and let the minnow drift downstream.  Since saugeye are bottom feeders and like to lie in depressions or behind rocks that break the current, you need to have that minnow within six inches of bottom.

So, my first move is to add a sinker to the bare ice spoon, cast out, adjust the float and adjust again until it’s riding about six inches below the surface.  Then I remove the sinker, add a minnow, and get serious.  I’m often amazed at watching other saugeye fishermen.  I’ve seen anglers stand on a rock and cast like a metronome to exactly the same place, usually within a few yards of the far shore.  It’s a lot smarter to cast near that shore, then to mid-stream, then up some and down some, and cover every bit of water, moving 20 feet occasionally to reach new territory.

And I like to have a second rod with a float, spoon, and minnow, working back and forth in the eddies right near my feet.  Territory close to where an angler is standing is usually ignored, and that can be a mistake.  Another choice that I make sometimes, and other fishermen a lot, is to use bright colored jigs with twister tails, sometimes one, sometimes with a second on a short side line above.  That can be effective too, used with or without a float, but always better with a bit of worm, a small minnow, or some Berkley Power Bait for extra allure.

Time is always important for this tailwater fishing.  Saugeye move at night and move best when there’s some water release, and they’ll usually be waiting at crack of dawn.  You should be, too.  Head for the dam at 10 a.m. and you’ll likely find the cream well skimmed before you arrive.

 Where to fish?  There are lots of good places within a modest drive.  Two of the best saugeye hotspots in the state are O’Shaughnessy and Griggs Reservoirs near Columbus, and Delaware and Deer Creek are just as good.  If trying to choose, keep in mind that the second pair were built by the Army Corps of Engineers and have good accomodations for fishermen.  The first pair are city reservoirs and have a decent situation for fishermen, but not great. 

Alum Creek and Hoover Reservoir are worth a look too, and you might try your luck below the Muskingum River dams or below Ohio River dams like the one near Wheelersburg.  I’ve caught some dandy saugeye there.  Whatever your choice, tailwater fishing is nearly the only game in town. And given proper water, it’s a good game indeed.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 22nd, 2009

Published February 2005

Winter still has a firm grip in Feburary on our area of northcentral Ohio, but spring is coming and before you know it, the first crocus and daffodils will be pushing up through damp soil. Before that happens, you might like to give a little consideration to tomatoes.  Tomatoes are great plants, good not only for eating warm out of the garden and slicing onto salads, but for interesting little chemicals in their juicy flesh that can inhibit certain cancers and promote general health.  So, many folk who don’t have a garden will at least slip a few tomato plants into their flower beds or place them in patio pots in full sun.

If area tomato growers have a problem, it’s that they tend to go with a few kinds of plants, and that limits choices for those who want to grow some variety.  Personally, I like to plant at least six kinds of the rosy orbs because I believe that each kind will react differently to water, sun, drought, and other factors, and by placing my eggs in multiple baskets I’m almost sure to make a good crop.  The usual varieties sold these days seldom contain heirloom tomatoes either, those old timers that grew in your grandmother’s garden, and some of these are worth growing.

The obvious choice is to grow your own seedlings, and it’s easier than you think.  Seeds should be started indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last frost date, and that means around early March in our area.  You’ll need planting containers at least three inches deep with bottom drainage holes, and these can be anything from last years “6 packs” to peat pots, plastic pots, even plastic yogurt containers.

You’ll need a good potting mix too, and while I’ve bought some at area department stores, the best seems to come from nurseries that sell plants, the specific kind they use themselves.  Add water to the seed starting mix until it’s well moistened but not soaked, then fill each container to within an inch of the top.  Make a little furrow  with a pencil or whatever, and add individual seeds about an inch apart, then cover with more potting soil and firm gently.

Tomatoes need a warm spot to start germinating, something between 75 to 85 degrees, so either place them on top of a water heater or floor vent or use a bottom heater that can be purchased in most nurseries and department stores. Cover with  plastic and check occasionally to make sure seeds aren’t drying out. They’ll sprout in 5-10 days usually, then you have a choice to make.

On occasion, I’ve used a large gro-light, placing the baby plants on my cool basement workbench.  I leave the light close to the plants, raising it gradually as the plants grow, and the method produced some fine, sturdy, stocky plants.  I’ve also used my upstairs plant stand in a south facing window, and kept the room at about 65-70 degrees, turning the little guys occasionally so they don’t bend in one direction.  That tactic isn’t as good as a gro-light, but it works okay.

When the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, you’ll want to move them to larger containers or individual pots so they can grow without being restricted.  Then when spring arrives and night-time temperatures outside reach the 50 degree range, you’ll need to harden them off by placing the lot in an outside environment.  I made a large box with a window glass top (cold frame) that I could lift during the day and close at night, but you can harden them by placing the plants outside for half a day in a shaded spot, then move them gradually into full sun and increase the length of day.

Even if you buy plants it’s wise to harden them off, because they came from a controlled environment in a greenhouse and sudden exposure to hot sun and cool nights can shock them literally to death.  Finally, plant them several feet apart, stake and mulch well, and watch them grow.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 22nd, 2009

Published February 2005

When it’s been a bad winter, with too much snow, too much rain, too much ice, too much everything, and when according to the Pennsylvania groundhog, we’ve got more long weeks of the above coming, what are your options?  Area outdoorsmen have a simple choice.  They can hole up like that proverbial groundhog and wait for spring, or they can head outside, hopefully with the spouse and kids, and enjoy the remaining winter  thoroughly.  For most, that should be no choice at all, and while private lands offer some fun things to do, Ohio’s state parks are waiting with open arms.  Lots to do in these places and no need for permission.

One of the closest hotspots for cold fun is Malabar Farm State Park in southern Richland County.  This pretty park with its nice mix of hills and valleys, forest and field is a perfect place for cross country skiing, and if you’re new to the sport, they’ll even rent the skiis.  Cross country is good exercise, but not nearly as demanding in skill as downhill skiing, and with 11.5 miles of trails, you can see some nice country and have exhilarating little downhill runs with stops for hot chocolate.  Malabar also has a good sledding hill and several skating ponds when the ice is good. 

Then there’s East Harbor State Park up in Erie County, another good spot for winter fun.  A fair number of northcentral Ohio outdoorsmen own snowmobiles as witness trails on snowy fields around the area, but there aren’t many public trails for their use.  East Harbor has a nice one that stretches 7.5 miles, and the same trail can be used for cross country skiing.  There’s a sledding hill too, and some good ice fishing when ice is safe. 

A little further away, you might like to visit Delaware State Park just south in Delaware County.  It has 5.75 miles of cross country trails with a good chance of seeing wildlife from deer to cottontails, and both a sledding hill and facilities for ice skating. 

Outdoorsmen who like to travel and see new country might enjoy a visit to Paint Creek down in southwestern Ohio on the edge of Ross County.  This hilly and well forested park has an impressive 25 mile long snowmobile trail and the same trail can be used for long hours of cross country skiing or you might choose to just enjoy the sledding hill here.  Have you ever heard of Sycamore State Park?  It’s a quiet little park in southwest Ohio’s Montgomery County that offers almost everything.  It’s small land area has 4.3 miles of skiing and snowmobiling, a sledding hill, and a skating area.  Lots to do there and new country to do it in.

There are plenty of other state parks waiting to host some winter fun, whether it be winter camping at Salt Fork or a lodge or cabin stay at the same spot.  There are some beautiful hiking trails at Hocking Hills with their winter pagentry of ice waterfalls and unusual scenery.  You might have a look at Maumee Bay State Park which has its own lodge/cabin/campground complex, or visit pretty little Dillon State Park, and just have fun sledding and skating.  Information on these and any other state park is available at ohiostateparks.org or ohiodnr.com, or by calling 1-800-BUCKEYE.

And finally, don’t forget that there are still some organized activities at various state parks for winter entertainment.  Like a Maple Syrup Weekend at Caesar Creek State Park at the Pioneer Village.  March has more maple syrup festivals, and a Waterfowl On The Move event at Mary Jane Thurston State Park .  No need to sit and wait for spring, and the white stuff can be fun.  With your family, lots of fun.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 21st, 2009

Published February 2005

Remember the Good Old Days?  Many of you do, and most will remember that many farms had at least a few guinea fowl or guinea hens.  My own grandmother always kept a dozen or so around, and the dark, grey mottled, or almost white birds with their ridiculous little blue and red heads were considered an essential part of the landscape.  Today, you rarely see them, except on the occasional Amish or Mennonite farm, but they are (or should be) as important a part of any country place as before.  For several good reasons.

One of the few landowners who still maintain flocks of guineas is Sandy and Carl Kleman who live and raise livestock just south of Plymouth in northern Richland County.  Sandy has had as high as 200 of the average 2.8 pound birds and still keeps around 15 of them.  She got her original pair from her father who lived in Pennsylvania about 20 years ago, and has kept them ever since.  Sandy gave several reasons why guineas are almost essential to life on the farm.

“They’re great watch dogs.” she said.  “Guineas are quiet most of the time, but when someone pulls into the driveway, they start loud cackling, and let you know they’ve arrived.  They do the same when a stray dog turns up, or a fox or raccoon, and often enough they’ll chase it off themselves.  We’ve had more than one dog get chased by a dozen or so birds, and head off down the road.  We’ve had them surround and kill a snake, too.”

If guineas have a primary job for farmers and gardeners, it’s that of Official Bug Killer.  Guineas won’t tear a flower bed up, but they will patrol it and every inch of ground looking for anything from ticks to Japanese beetles, and they eat them with relish!  Chickens scratch and will tear up plants, but guineas move through without touching a leaf, just watching carefully and picking off grasshoppers and other critters.  If they have a problem, it’s that they might choose an open spot for a dust bath unless you mulch well.

Other uses for guinea fowl?  They’re excellent eating, and that means EXCELLENT.  The eggs, taken fresh and usually in late May, are about half the size of a chicken egg and have a sweeter, more flavorsome taste than chicken eggs.  And the meat is reminiscent of pheasant without the gamey flavor. It’s meaty too, with an exceptionally high 50/50 yield between meat and bone. 

They’re anything but a household name here, but in countries like France and Germany the “pintade” is the bird of choice.  No fried chicken there, just fried guinea.  And in Africa where these wild game birds originated they’re hunted just like pheasant and quail, and eaten with relish.  If guineas have a problem, it’s that they must be prepared for the table with care.  I remember the meat as being very dark, and Carl had an explanation for that.

 “An old Amishman down near Kidron told me once that guineas have to be killed very carefully” he said.  “If they’re caught and allowed to flop and fight before you remove their heads, the meat fills up with blood.  So he bagged them quickly and unsuspectingly, probably using a .22 rifle with shorts and making head shots.  He said they were delicious then with white meat like a chicken.”

Readers who would like to race out and buy a few right now should know that guineas are hard to raise, though worth it when you do.  You need a large ratio of females to males because males will fight for their own little harem and sometimes kill each other.  Since they come from wild birds, they won’t nest in a coop like chickens, but outside on the farm somewhere, maybe in a hay mow, under an outbuilding, in a handy alfalfa field, or patch of weeds.  And they like to “gang lay” their eggs with anywhere from two to four hens using the same nest and filling it with sometimes several dozen eggs.

They’re not great mothers either, and if seriously disturbed on the nest will abandon it to raccoons or foxes, and when the eggs hatch into peeps, they’re likely as not to walk them through wet weeds which can kill the chicks within 24 hours.  Weather decides when these tropical birds start laying, and while they might start in an unusually warm April, they’re more likely to begin reproduction in May or June.  So, the tactic is, when they begin, is to patrol your land, find the nests, and put the eggs in a warm, dry  place with the hen(s) nicely penned up with plenty of straw.

Once the eggs hatch, day old keets need to be in a 95 degree brooder with the temperature lowered five degrees weekly until they are fully feathered (6 weeks).  Sandy sets them free at this point, since they can fend for themselves and fly into trees to roost at night far above any predators.  She feeds the keets medicated peep feed, and the hens kept in confinement will eat the same along with scratch grain.  “Be sure the water dishes are really shallow.” she said.  “The babies are really small at first and if they get into the dishes and get wet, they’ll die.”  Once they reach adulthood though, they might stay around for many years.  They’re long lived fowl.

Readers might have two more questions about guinea fowl, one being “Are they worth raising, other than for bugs and as watch dogs?”  And the answer here is a resounding yes!  The 200 birds Sandy once  had were far to many, so she took most of them to the Kidron auction as half grown birds and had no problem selling them all for $4 each.

The second question, “Where can I buy some?” is a little tougher.  There are occasional ads in newspapers offering young guineas for sale, and on rare occasion Sandy and Karl might have some, though some years (cold and wet) they don’t produce young at all.  You might search the web too, starting with the Guinea Fowl Breeders Association, or ask around next time you’re in Amish country.  But even with their little problems, which include occasional roaming over to other farms, they’re worth having.

“I like guineas.” Carl said.  “It’s interesting to see none around until someone pulls into the drive, then watch them appear like Indians from nowhere at all.”  And Sandy said, “They’re like the Dixie Chicks to me, lots of mouth to them, and that’s not a bad thing.  I like to raise them and see them do strange things like admire themselves in a mirror I put in the coop.  I guess they’re a little vain.”

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outdoorswithmartin on July 21st, 2009

Published February 2005

The Pennsylvania groundhog often predicts weeks and weeks more of winter.  More ice, more snow, more bitter cold, it’s enough to depress almost anybody.  So, at that point you have two choices.  One, spend the next weeks holed up in front of a fire with a good book when you’re not working, or two, decide to enjoy what’s inevitable anyway, and head north for some fun in the snow.

Michiganders have far more winter than we, and they’ve come to embrace those first flakes of white.  Snowmobiling is a major sport up there, as is ice fishing, downhill and cross country skiing, and they don’t enjoy these things for a few hours, but sometimes days at a time.  Take Houghton Lake, for example.  It’s the biggest inland lake in Michigan, lying right in the center of the Lower Peninsula, and is easily accessible by mostly 4-6 lane highways.

Folk there enjoy winter so much that they host two weekend Tip-Up Towns and snowmobilers flood in from all over the state and surrounding states for races, beauty contests, ice fishing, and the uniqueness of a city on the ice.  At other times, they keep well groomed many miles of snowmobile trails, have snowmobile rentals for those who don’t have their own, and welcome winter visitors with open arms.  I was at Houghton Lake last January and spent three days fishing for northern pike with big golden shiners, basing at a marina with rental ice shanties on the west end of the lake.  I caught LOTS of pike.  If you need information on Houghton, its fishing, rentals, accommodations and more, call the Houghton Lake Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-248-LAKE.

Houghton is barely the tip of the iceberg for winter sports up here.  Cadillac lies just west of Houghton, a city that likes to call itself “The Snowmobile Capital of Michigan.”  And maybe it is.  Cadillac is at the hub of a trail system that stretches in all directions, north, south, east and west.  Riders can lead roostertails of white snow from one coast to the other from this base, and spend days crossing some of Michigan’s prettiest country.  In fact, a surprising number of Ohio visitors come here and either  ride in various directions over groomed trails, or start an odyssey that will wind through forest and field, past herds of deer and flocks of wild turkey. with stops for meals in small towns and an overnight stay somewhere, then move on come morning to new places.

It’s extremely easy to get information on Cadillac or any other Michigan city if you search the web.  Punch in “Cadillac, Michigan snowmobiling” and you’ll get hundreds of sites that offer trail maps, current snow conditions (10-12 inch base last week) , rental machines at places from Funtime Rentals to Rentals Unlimited, accommodations, current and upcoming festivals, just about anything you might want.  You can get much the same by typing in “Cadillac, Michigan Chamber of Commerce” or “Cadillac, Michigan tourism.”  It doesn’t really matter, and more material is waiting if you search the same sites at Grayling or Alpena, or Manistee, or wherever.

Then there’s cross country skiing, a favorite sport of some athletic readers.  Those same groomed snowmobile trails or trails made special for cross country will see you slipping quietly across more pretty country with air made pungent by pines and cedars and maybe a hint of distant wood smoke.  Chances of seeing wildlife from the usual deer and turkey to more unusual coyotes, bobcats, even elk are good since skis make no noise, and every trail curve opens into new vistas of snow kissed country.  You can get the same information on cross country skiing by checking the web as for snowmobiling, and more information on downhill skiing and ice skating.

Finally, don’t forget ice fishing.  Houghton Lake isn’t the only winter hotspot.  Lakes from top to bottom and from Lake Huron to Michigan are waiting with pike and walleye, perch and panfish.  Again, you can stay home and bite the bullet until crocus bloom or you can enjoy what’s inevitable, anyway.  For many outdoorsmen, that’s no choice at all.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 21st, 2009

Published February 2005

Do you have a fence that looks dull and drab each summer?  A large open area that could stand a trellis and something bright climbing up its sides?  If the answer to either is “Yes”, then you might consider growing some sweet peas this spring.  Sweet peas are unique among flowers in that they offer not only vivid colors, but a lovely fragrance, and blooms that last a long time.

Place your nostrils in a cluster and you’ll find a captivating blend of honey and orange, then stand back and (depending on what you planted) let your eyes feast on crimson reds, navy blues, pastel lavenders, pinks and purest white.  If all of this isn’t enough, they make long lasting cut flowers, too.  Lots of reasons to plant sweet peas.

The history of sweet peas is more than a little vague.  The first written record of their presence appeared in 1695 when Francisco Cupaini, a member of the Order of St. Francis, noted seeing them in Sicily.  He passed on the seeds  to an Amsterdam botanist in 1699 who published an article on them in 1701.  English gardeners welcomed the new plants with open arms, and by 1901 they could be seen here and there in America. 

Lots of garden folk start their sweet peas from seed because it’s very easy to do so.  They like a site with full to partial sun and deep, rich, moist, but well drained soil.  Sweet peas are most successful when they’re started at times with cooler temperatures.  They need about 50 days of cool temperatures (under 60 degrees), so sow them outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked, up to six weeks before the last frost date. 

Plant those seeds in holes about two inches deep and drop two to four seeds in each hole with holes spaced about four to six inches apart.  Water thoroughly unless Mother Nature does it for you and keep the seeds moist until they sprout, usually after about 10 to 21 days.  Once they’re growing, continue to water regularly to promote strong, healthy growth.  When they’re three to four inches high, thin them out, leaving the most vigorous looking plants four to six inches apart.  Nothing to it.

It doesn’t pay to over-fertilize sweet peas.  Do so and you’ll get very deep green leaves but few blossoms.  A balanced 20-20-20 slow release fertilizer blended into the soil at planting time works fine, and a good mulch, especially one with composted manure will help retain soil moisture and provide steady nutrients.

Some people like to get a jump on the season by sowing seeds indoors six to eight weeks ahead of normal planting.  Grow them in peat pots or four inch plastic pots filled with a commercial seed starting mix, using 2-3 seeds per pot and pushing each down an inch or so into the mix.  Cover with mix, water, and place the pots in a cool, dark place, keeping an eye out for new shoots to emerge. 

Then bring the plants out into the light, and keep them in a cool place that’s less than 55 degrees.  Once they have two sets of leaves, thin to one plant per pot, and transplant into the garden about a month before the last frost date, as soon as the soil is workable.

Remember, if you’re going to train them up a trellis, have the trellis in place before you plant to keep placement from damaging new roots.  And remember too, that you needn’t always use a trellis or fence.  Bird netting between two posts works, as does a bamboo teepee, brush stakes, and string or fishing line hung from the top of a split rain fence.  Let your imagination be your guide.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 21st, 2009

Published February 2005

Ice fishing has been a tough proposition on Lake Erie this winter.  Ice was slow in coming, though there were 8 to 10 inches finally last weekend, and water under the ice was muddy, thanks to floods that swelled tributaries and pumped millions of gallons of silt filled water into the lake.  But it’s reasonably clear now, and Erie ice guides have started taking out clients, while other ice fishermen are boring holes in their own favorite spots.  If you’re looking for some fresh fish, the question now is where to go?

The Bass Islands have been a traditional winter hotspot for many years with most anglers flying over, hiring a guide, and being transported to shanties off Rattlesnake Island.  But that’s getting to be an expensive business.  Guides charge about $100 a day, which isn’t bad for the service they provide, but Griffing and Dairy Air have gradually raised their rates over the past few years to $70 and $72 respectively for a round trip flight.  A lot of money in total for a day of fishing that might produce anything from a limit catch to goose eggs.

So, it’s worth pointing out that there are mainland guides too, that don’t require a plane ride, who are fishing in areas from Kelleys Island to Camp Perry.  Two of those guides are Eric Loeckel and Dave Matta.  (I’ve yet to meet or fish with either, but I talked to Eric by phone last week, and he was optimistic about the fishing.

“I’m taking people to an area seven miles offshore near Kelleys Island.” he said, “Picking them up at Mazurick near Marblehead for the trip out, and we’ve been catching fish.  We’re getting a lot of throwbacks right now, fish of less than 15 inches, but some decent keepers too.  They’re hitting the usual things, Swedish Pimples, jigging Rapalas, etc. in about 30 feet of water.”  There are other ice guides, and you can find information on these by calling Wildlife District Two at (419) 424-5000.

Anglers who don’t want to pay at all for their pleasure still have some choices for a fair catch.  According to recent reports Battery Park in downtown Sandusky has been producing some decent action on both yellow perch and crappie.  You’ll need to do some prospecting here to find fish, but some of the crappie particularly are running to good sizes.

Another traditional winter spot is Old Bay Bridge which parallels Route 2 where it crosses Sandusky Bay.  To reach it, you’ll cross the Bay on Route 2, then take the first exit, swing back and drive onto the bridge.  There’s plenty of parking and best fishing is near the cut.  If the Bridge has a problem, it’s that most of the perch are going to be small, but when I was there last week anglers were culling some keepers and finding them just a short walk from the parking lot.

A final choice for Erie fishing is working the marinas.  You’ll need permission, and frankly it’s a hit or miss proposition.  I try them every winter and have had some excellent days using minnows on one rod and waxworms on another to take perch, crappie, and bluegill.  But I’ve had some losers too, including last week when I worked a favorite marina and didn’t get a single bite.

The fish come and go in most marinas, and if you find one with a good population, you’ll still need to keep a few points in mind.  One is that when you bore a hole in the average 4-5 feet of marina water every fish below is going to flee, and it’ll take some time before they return.  Some anglers counter this by boring four or five holes near marina pilings here and there, then walk from one to another.  A second top tactic is to fish with three or four friends scattered around the marina, and concentrate near whoever is finding some.

Here’s a final thought.  It’s been fairly warm this past week and ice might be thin in some places.  Always fish with friends, and always check the ice before you walk more than a few feet.  Winter swims are no fun.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 21st, 2009

Published February 2005

Every year it happens.  Like the inexorable ticking of a clock, the days grow longer, two minutes by two minutes.  And as they do, Lake Erie walleye eggs and milt begin to mature and hormones trigger off behavior patterns that have changed little over thousands of years. 

The fish begin staging south of Green Island, north of such reefs as Clinton and Cone, between North Bass and Niagara, and off the tip of Catawba Island, all deep water spots.  Then the huge, loose schools and smaller pods begin a slow, measured movement toward the western end of the lake. 

Some of those schools head toward reefs like Toussaint and Niagara, others favor flats, beach areas, and rockpiles, and more seek out the Sandusky and Maumee rivers, but they all move and as they do, offer opportunities for the first serious walleye catches of the year.  And some of the fish caught will be BIG ones.

It’s tough fishing.  Some years the ice lingers long, and anglers will often perform the dangerous trick of walking their boat over thin ice to open water.  Other years the ice leaves early, and launch ramps in western Lake Erie are free and ready for use.  Whatever the weather, once boats can be launched, it’s going to be cold.  Lake water won’t be much above 33 degrees, snow and high winds are always possible, and ice chunks will be floating here and there.  Which means anglers had best dress warmly and carry plenty of hot coffee.  But the fish have no choice and will move, whatever the weather.  All that’s necessary is to find and then catch them.

The finding most days isn’t difficult.  At the beginning of the migration, look for them in the deep water spots listed above.  As it progresses, they’ll move into shallower water and schools will swim west, many of them passing the tip of Catawba Island.  They might be a half mile offshore, or a mile or several, and depending on when you’re able to go, most could be north of the island, or west and south.

So, one good tactic is to launch at Catawba Island State Park and head a mile or two due west.  Then anchor if necessary, or drift if winds are gentle and drifting is possible.  With a fish locator, pinpointing schools and pods is easy, but lacking this basic gear most anglers anchor and fish one spot for 15 minutes then move and move again.  Drifters just keep going, maybe working deeper or more shallow on each drift.

Anglers will basically be using ice fishing techniques at this time of year, and that means jigging just off bottom with spoons and jigs.  Good choices are Swedish Pimples, jigging Rapalas, Snakey Spoons, Hopkins Spoons, and Crocodiles.  Those who prefer straight jigs should try those with twister tails, soft flaring maribou, or tinsel tails.  Either way, it’s best to bait all three hooks of spoons or the single hook of jigs with emerald shiners.  The minnows bouncing up and down add both eye appeal and flavor to any lure.

Keep in mind that early fish are very cold and therefore very sluggish.  A fast moving jig won’t attract them, so keep it slow and make jigs easy up and down, rather than fast and jerky.  Strikes might be serious hits, but much more often they’ll be gentle tugs or maybe just a touch of extra weight on the line as a fish clamps down.  So, use a sensitive rod, 6-10 pound test line, and take action at any difference in the lure.

Once actual spawning begins, many fishermen head for various flats and work off the beach areas, rock piles, and near such reefs as Niagara, Toussaint, Crib and Locust Point Reef.  Jigging spoons and Rapalas might still work, but better choices are bottom bumpers and very small spinners like the May fly types with nightcrawlers.  Whatever your choice, remember to keep offerings near bottom, move shallow and deep until you find some willing to feed, and keep it slow.  Tough fishing, but a 10 pounder is worth some effort.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 21st, 2009

Published January 2005

Seems like every bass fisherman has his or her own personal favorite fishing lures, and most use them through thick and thin.  Too often, it’s thin.  I know some anglers who stick strictly to pig and jig combinations and put a plastic worm on the other rod.  Both are good offerings, but they don’t always work.  Others are crankbait fanatics or they reach for a spinnerbait two thirds of the time.

Their tackleboxes bulge with forgotten lures that might not get wet from season to season, and on any trip odds that they’ll reach for the same two or three lures are mighty high.  Unfortunately, I’m little different most days.  I have my favorites too, and use them so frequently that I’ve more than once gone bassing with my “tackle box” stuck in a front shirt pocket.  It’s a mistake and every once in a while I re-learn the fact.

Take a bassing trip made last summer, for example.  I hit a small northcentral Ohio lake and spent two hours wading along the shoreline with standard gear for a single short strike.  I tried this and that with no success, and was thinking about quitting when I noticed a small black Sonic in one of the trays.  I know Sonics are good baits, but I hardly ever use them, and darned if I know why.

I was desperate, so I clipped it on.  In four casts I had a good strike and fought a nice bass to a standstill.  Another dozen or so casts and I had another strike.  That vibrating little bait was pulling them out of dense weed cover and right up off the bottom, and I finished with four fish caught and released, plus several more strikes that either flipped off or missed the hook.

There are other lures that anglers seldom use, like Hula Poppers.  Ask any bass fisherman if these are good top water lures, and they’ll almost invariably say “You bet.”  Ask them if they have one or more of these old time lures in their tacklebox, and a modest number will say “Sure.”  Asks if they ever use it, and most will shuffle their feet and probably say “No.”  Top water baits have fallen out of favor, over taken by pig and jigs and plastic worms.  But on quiet mornings when fish are ringing the surface, they can work wonders.

There are lots of other good lures around from yesteryear that no one uses, most of them for no reason other than that better publicized baits have taken their place.  So, they rust in the tacklebox.  A prime example is the old time Flatfish, a wildly wobbling lure that’s lovely at slow speeds and has more action at a crawl than any other lure I’ve tried.  They’re dynamite for bass, again in smaller sizes, and very good for walleye, saugeye, and even big crappie.  But they’re not used.

One of the biggest bass that I caught in 2002 was on a Heddon River Runt Spook, and I’m betting you haven’t seen one of these baits for years, let alone bought one.  But they’re still mighty tasty to bass.  I’ve long had a theory that bass see the same lures, whatever’s currently popular, again and again.  Some have been caught two or three times on this or that, and even a fish can wise up and learn to ignore something that passes its nose day after day. 

These old time lures probably had the same problem, and fell out of fashion as catches dropped off.  But they haven’t been used for years now, and a whole new crop of bass will see them as something new and edible.  Maybe you should dig through the tacklebox this spring and try some of the old favorites.  They weren’t favorites for nothing.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 21st, 2009

The National Garden Bureau celebrated 2005 as the Year Of The Melon, and for good reason.  Even in the 16th century one French monk waxed rhapsodic about Charantais melons saying “O fleur de tous les fruits.  O ravissant melon.”  (Oh, flower of all the fruits.  Oh, ravishing melon!)  And five centuries later, there is still nothing quite as sensuous as taking in the sweet scent of ripe melons wafting on the breeze on a summers day.

Actually, melons were grown long before the 16th century, over 4,000 years ago in fact, and surprisingly they have never been found growing in the wild.  Melons are believed to have originated in the hot valleys of southwest Asia, specifically Iran (Persia) and India. Early American pioneers grew honeydew and Casaba melons back in the 1600’s but only in recent times did LOTS of varieties become available. 

For gardeners who like to know exactly what they’re growing, all melons are in the same family, the curcurbit or gourd family.  It’s a big family with over 100 branches that include cucumbers, gourds, pumpkins, all kinds of squash, and even loofahs.  And if you’re planning on growing some this spring, keep a few things in mind.

One is that they need to be fairly dry from about three weeks prior to harvest.  Too much rain or watering during that last few weeks can mean a fruit of low sweetness, while a bit of drying then produces fruit that are sweet and juicy.  Remember too, that melons need heat to ripen properly, and it’s easy to tell when they’re ripe, either on the vine or in a supermarket.  Just sniff the skin.  If you smell the flavor of melon it is ripe for the picking or buying.  Another indicator for ripeness is when the stem separates easily from the fruit, and yet another is color of cantaloupes.  They’re ready when the rind changes from green to tan-yellow between the veins.

Disease and pests can attack melons just as they do other fruits and vegetables, but experts say that a healthy plant will not attract pests and diseases.  If you put a healthy, vigorous melon transplant into rich, well-drained soil that has plenty of organic matter, in full sun, with good air circulation, then top dress it or fertilize, and provide plenty of water and enough room for the vine to run, the result will be a healthy plant.  Take away any of its necessities and the plant will be weaker and stressed, attracting insects and disease.  Makes sense.

 There are several ways to plant melons, keeping in mind that they’re warm season fruits which like temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees.  One is to sow seeds directly in the garden at the same time as you plant tomatoes, after all danger of frost is past and the ground is warm and dried from its winter wetness.  Make a small hill of rich, well drained soil and plant three to five seeds two inches apart and about one inch deep.  Water and fertilize well and watch them grow.  Once the vines have two sets of tree leaves, thin out the smaller or weaker vines, leaving the two strongest to grow on.

Some gardeners grow them in black plastic too, which absorbs heat, warms the soil early, conserves moisture, and eliminates weeds.  And some like to sow seed indoors using peat pots filled with compost about 15 – 18 days before planting time.  Harden off the plants for at least a week before planting them.  At planting time, tear the peat pot down to its soil level  to keep the pot from wicking up moisture out of the soil.  There are always good years and bad ones for planting melons, but if you’re lucky and grow an abundance of tasty melons, they’re worth the trouble.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 20th, 2009

Veteran outdoorsmen, whether they be hunters, fishermen, hikers, or other brands know that the world of nature has the potential of becoming a hazardous place.  And take precautions accordingly.  But this country is filled with folk who live in cities or suburbs and see little more of nature than city park squirrels and the occasional roadside deer.  These people too often have strange ideas about natures creatures, and they get into trouble.  Even long time outdoorsmen can have bad luck, and when they do, it’s time to go to Plan B.  Bears are a classic example.

Many of the less experienced have grown up on movies like Gentle Ben, had bear toys, and seen lots of those cute Disney films.  They tend to believe bears are pets, something to be played with and hugged.  You don’t believe it?  Then witness a sight I saw in Yellowstone Park one time when a black bear sow with two cubs was right alongside the road eating jelly rolls tossed out of cars. 

One man got out with his very small son, put it on the bear’s back, and grinned proudly while his wife took a picture.  He got away with it, too.  A park ranger I talked to that day said “People do things like that all the time.  And when they get bitten or mauled, they want to sue the Park Service for keeping dangerous bears!”

 The animal local people are mostly likely to run into, is the black bear, which is becoming fairly common in eastern and southeastern Ohio.  It’s also plentiful in vacation spots like the Smokies, Yellowstone, and elsewhere.  The critters average 150 to 400 pounds, but reach 800, eat almost anything, and can reach speeds of 35 mph.  They rarely attack people, usually preferring to run or hold their ground, but a sow with cubs can be uncertain as witness a fatal attack last year by a female with a single cub.

What do you do if a black becomes aggressive?  Ease off, talking softly, if possible, and if it charges, lay down on your side curled in a ball with your legs drawn tight to your chest, and hands clasped behind your head.  If it sniffs and moves off, fine.  If it starts to bite and maul, fight!  They’re strong, but not big animals, and can often be driven off by stones, a limb club, even fists and yells.

Grizzly bears and brown bears are actually the same species, big animals that might reach 1,000 pounds.  They’re uncertain of temperament, strong enough to knock a horse’s head completely off, and very fast.  Prevention is the best medicine here.  I’ve seen groups of hikers in Denali National Park in Alaska preparing for a hike by putting bells on their shoes and pocketing whistles, and heard the guides tell them to talk loudly as they traveled, so grizzleys would have plenty of time to move off.  Nearly all carried pepper spray on their belts where it could be easily reached.

Hikers and fishermen traveling alone or with a friend or two in bear country should keep a careful eye open for tracks, droppings, and other signs of grizzle presence.  If they see one at close range, they should back slowly away, talking gently, but never run.  That can cause a dog-cat type behavior.  If an irate or touchy animal charges, stand your ground and use the pepper spray.  If that’s not enough, roll up in a ball again, and hope, because there’s little point in screaming or fighting such a huge animal. 

Again, grizzly attacks are extremely rare, though one killed and partially consumed two hikers last year.  Take precautions, make noise, and know what to do if a confrontation occurs.  Unless you do something stupid like running up to one for a photo (it’s been done), you’ll almost certainly have no trouble, and can enjoy nature’s beautiful wild country without fear.

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Spring is coming and when it arrives, plenty of cabin fevered boaters are going to be looking for new places to enjoy their sport.  Some will head for lively spots like Lake Erie, Pymatuning, or Buckeye Lake, but others might be yearning for a quiet place where they can see pretty country and spend a few easy going days enjoying both scenery and lots of low key activities.  For this group, Dillon Lake is worth a close look.

Dillon, 1,560 acres of water surrounded by Dillon State Park in Muskingum County near Zanesville lies in gentle hills and valleys dominated by Black Hand sandstone and dense timber that’s mostly oak, maple, and beech.  The lake is widest near the dam, tapering down gradually to the Licking River which flows into its northwest end, and has a surprising abundance of quiet coves and inlets.

It’s a good place for boaters.  Dillon has unlimited horsepower and four boat ramps, two improved launches near the dam, one at the marina at the end of Dillon Hills Drive, and a small launch that’s best suited for a small boat dropoff.  A boat concession offers boat/motor rental, fuel, fishing and boating supplies, and snacks with seventy docks available for rent on a seasonal basis.  Anything a visiting boater might need.  And while it’s exhilarating to race up and down the main lake, you might choose to take a canoe and spend a few hours exploring those coves and inlets at a slow and leisurely pace.

Take along a rod or two on any excursion because Dillon offers good fishing, good enough to host occasional tournaments.  Species waiting for your hook include largemouth bass, muskies, bluegill, crappie, and channel cats, and bass anglers particularly make good catches of largemouths, especially along Poverty and Big Run, down near the dam, shorelines with nice structure, and an area known as Dillon Falls.  The fish are happy to hit pig and jig combinations, spinnerbaits, and plastic worms most days. 

A good fish locator is a wise investment in Dillon as at any lake, and with persistence angling boaters will find the narrow channel as well as little pockets with bottom structure where fish, especially channel cats, like to hole up during daylight hours.  Don’t forget shoreline cover in this average 13 foot deep lake (33 feet near the dam) since crappie run to serious sizes and favor minnows and small jigs around drowned timber.

Accommodations are excellent near the lake, with 29 family cabins nestled in woods overlooking the north shore.  Each has air conditioning, color cable tv, gas heat, two bedrooms, electric cooking facilities, even a screened in porch for evening relaxation.  Call 1-866-OHIOPARKS for renting details.  Boaters who liked their accommodations more rustic can choose one of 195 campsites for tents or trailers.  Most have electricity, and the campground has flush toilets, showers, and a dump station.  Any boater who forgets vital groceries like hotdogs and buns will find necessities at a commissary near the check-in station.  Hard to go wrong here.

What can you do after sampling the boating and fishing?  Bird watching is just as good as you’d expect with plenty of shorebirds, especially herons and egrets, wild turkey, and small woodland species that flit here and there in the undergrowth.  There are 8 miles of hiking trails, the six mile long Licking Bend Trail, as well as shorter walks along the one mile Blackberry Ridge and the mile and a half long Hickory Grove Loop.

Boaters who like to practice with weaponry will find lighted trap and skeet fields with high, low, and combination houses, a 100 yard rifle range and 25 yard pistol range with firing line shelter and tables.  Hunting with shotgun and longbow is popular in season, and duck hunting can be productive.

In idle moments, boaters might like to travel to famous Flint Ridge where native Americans gathered flint for tools and weapons or drive ten miles to the Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve.  At the Longaberger Homestead near Frazeysburg they can browse through gift shops and make their own heirloom basket.  Or enjoy shopping in the quaint little village of Dresden with its antique shops and gift emporiums.  Don’t forget the Colony Square mall in Zanesville, a ride on the Lorena Sternwheeler, and a look at the Muskingum  River State Park with its hand operated lock system. 

Lots to do, plenty to see, peace and quiet, or busy sightseeing.  It’s all waiting at Dillon.  For additional tourism information about Muskingum County, don’t hesitate to call 1-800-BUCKEYE.  For more park information, call the Park Office at (740) 453-4377.  Spring is coming soon, and Dillon is worth a visit.

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Ask the average outdoorsman what he likes to eat, and he’ll probably say beef, pork, and chicken.  The daring might go for turkey occasionally, taste a bit of wild rabbit, feast on braised venison, but that’s about it.  If you’re in this ho-hum category, food-wise, maybe it’s time you put a little adventure in your life. 

I talked to a friend of mine recently who went to Pennsylvania this past fall to do some fishing.  The stream he worked was full of crayfish, and he happened to remember that Louisiana folk ate crayfish.  Were the northern variety edible, too?  He decided to find out.  So, this angler took time to catch a few, boiled the lot until they turned bright red, then shucked out the tails and removed each tail’s large vein.

The white chunks of meat that were left, he added to a recipe for crayfish gumbo, and guess what?  “They were really good.” he said.  “If you like shrimp or lobster, you’ll like crayfish.”  He didn’t tell me anything new.  I’ve eaten mounds of boiled crayfish in the south, and sampled a few up here.  They’re excellent, but few indeed have tried them.

Another friend who owns a 200 acre farm watched a flock of English sparrows pecking around his barnyard one day, and decided to catch some.  “They eat seeds and insects just like chickens do.”  he told me later.  “I figured they’d taste the same.”  So, he used an ordinary box trap to catch a dozen, removed the breasts only, and broiled them under bacon strips with a touch of butter.  “It took the whole dozen to make a meal.” he reminisced, “but the darn things were delicious, just like little quail.”

 The list of things we don’t eat and probably should, given today’s meat prices, goes on and on.  There’s many a trapper around the area who gets a few dozen muskrats each year.  The skins are sold, the carcass discarded or fed to hounds, but I remember talking to a wildlife officer who went undercover to a muskrat dinner.  “I had to buy one, since I was there” he said, “but I didn’t plan to eat it.  Know what, though.  It tasted just like tame rabbit, and after I’d polished one off, I had another!”

Have you ever tried young baked groundhog?  I have, and the flavor is reminiscent of good, juicy pork.  It’s even better when surrounded by potatoes, carrots, and onions.  What about sheepshead in the 1-3 pound class?  A swimming partner mentioned once that when he was a kid his whole family would travel to Lake Erie to catch sheepshead and other species.  “My mother deep fat fried the fillets and I thought they tasted just fine.”  I’ve tried them too, and he’s right.  One friend of mine grew up eating carp of up to four pounds caught in clean streams and rivers.  His whole family thought they were first class, because no one had ever told them carp were inedible. 

I can add some plants to the animal list.  If you’ve never taken the time to shell out the rich nuts of a shagbark hickory and add them to home-made fudge, you’ve never tasted real fudge.  Or made a trip to gather black walnuts instead of the insipid English walnuts we traditionally use in cooking.  It all takes time and trouble, and a little extra work, and I’ll admit these foods don’t come nice and neat in clear plastic and styrofoam containers.  But the price is right and the flavor great.  If you’ve the nerve to taste them.

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Published January 2005

Gardening catalogs have been with us for weeks, and many gardeners, myself included, have already picked out and perhaps received their seeds for the spring planting.  It wasn’t always that way.  Once upon a time most green thumbers gathered seeds from their own gardens, dried and put them away in a cool, dark place, and used the lot for the next years planting.  Pumpkin and squash seeds, green beans, sweet corn, onions, lettuce, and plenty more were carefully labeled and put in their own little packets.  We don’t do that much, anymore.

 The problem is a simple one.  Other than the fact that many gardeners don’t want to take the trouble, most of the seeds we plant each year are F-1 hybrids.  Whether they be Early Girl tomatoes or dark purple peppers, they’re hybrids and that means they had two parents (even more) that were selected for anything from resistance to disease to thickness of skin and ease of commercial picking.

 If you dry and plant seeds from F-1 hybrids you’re likely to get anything, a miserable plant that was one parent, or another than might or might not be useful.  The other choice is to plant and keep seeds from open pollinated plants, most of them old timers, and usually called heirloom types.  These heirloom plants have been around for anywhere from 20 to over 100 years, producing faithfully the same vegetables that your grandfather enjoyed.

 If heirloom plants have a problem, it’s that they too often don’t have the disease resistance or perhaps tough skin needed for commercial picking, but might instead have a delicious flavor that your elders once treasured.  Tomatoes are a classic example.  Buy some at your supermarket these days and if you close your eyes and bite, you’ll possibly not know that they’re tomatoes.  They’re not bred for flavor, but for ease in picking, etc. and are likely to taste like cardboard.

Even with open pollinated plants, you can get differences, and some gardeners like those differences fine.  Plant your own and choose only seeds from those that are very early and/or flavorsome, and/or have other attributes that you particularly treasure and you’ll end up with a plant ideal for northcentral Ohio, but maybe not good for Maine or Alabama.  But that’s okay, because those folk are picking their own special plants and developing some ideal for their own climate.

There’s nothing wrong with F-1 hybrids if you pick them carefully, and each year most of those I plant are exactly that.  Particularly if they’re disease resistant and have other useful attributes.  But this year I saved open pollinated pumpkin seeds and some years I save others like those for acorn and butternut squash.  Bean seeds are worth a thought, too. 

In years past I’ve more than once chosen green bean seeds from catalogs that were supposed to be wondrous and produce heavy crops with little injury from insects or disease.  And often enough they didn’t grow well or even sprout.  I still plant those seeds most years, but now I plant an old time reliable in a row or two like Blue Lake or Tendercrop, which are almost certain to grow and produce.  Also such ancients as black seeded Simpson lettuce and Detroit dark red beets or always productive Little Marvel  peas.  It’s fun to experiment and nice when you win, but the old time open pollinated types will always have their place.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 20th, 2009

Published in December 2004

The deer seasons are nearly over, little hunting is left, except late season rabbits and squirrels, and it’s a long time until spring.  But there’s still a sport worth pursuing, a sport that’s tough and challenging, and is both new and different.  That’s seeking big and hungry coyotes with a predator call.  Coyotes have been around our area in good numbers for at least ten years, but they’re seldom seen and little hunted or trapped.

Some are taken each winter by large groups of hunters who go out on weekends, surround a square, and move in toward its center.  Trappers get a few, and other hardy folk hunt them with dogs to make a good kill.  But calling in coyotes is a new sport in Ohio, and it can be productive as at least a few ooutdoorsmen are finding out.

Remember calling for foxes, a sport that peaked in the 70’s and early 80’s?  Nearly all of the animals that were shot were greys, which are basically extinct in Ohio now, rather than much warier and smarter reds that tend to hang up at 80 – 100 yards and refuse to come in closer.  But coyotes will come, though they’ll hang up too, and getting them in range is an exciting business.

One outdoorsman told me about his experiences calling coyotes.  “I bought a Primo rabbit squeal last summer,” he said, “but never called anything in.  Then during deer gun season I saw three nice coyotes while I was up in my tree stand, and one came to within 30 feet, a big, really impressive animal.”  As soon as gun season was over, he hurried back to that farm with a Ruger .223 rifle and a 6-12 power variable scope.  He wore full camouflage, of course, and hunted from a ground blind, but had no luck on his first two hunts.

On the third visit he climbed back into his original tree stand before dawn, waited until good light arrived, and started a pattern of calling like a wounded rabbit for a minute or two, then waiting 15 minutes before another series of calls.  After about 45 minutes a big coyote walked out into the field and stood there looking in his direction.  It was 250 yards away, so he called again and got ready.  It moved closer.  More calls.  A bit closer.  At 200 yards he took a firm rest on a tree limb, waited until it tuned broadside, and touched off a round.  His kill weighed between 30 and 40 pounds. 

If you’re thinking of trying this new sport, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.  First, the experts say that coyotes have a larger range than foxes, so don’t expect one to come racing in at every stop.  Wear full camouflage, pick some good cover as high as possible for good visibility, sit with the wind in your face or quartering, and the sun behind you if possible.  Expect to call at each stop for at least 45 minutes, because these animals can hear that rabbit squeal for quite a distance and may need time to reach you.  And do it slowly, a short series of calls, then a 15 minute or so wait.

Use a flat shooting rifle too, a .223, .22-250, a .222 Swift, or a .243, and remember that both coyotes and red fox will usually hang up at 100 yards or so and look the situation over.  So, sight the rifle in at 100 yards.  And don’t forget night hunting with a shotgun, especially over snow with a full moon that gives good visibility.  They feel safer then, and will often charge to within easy range looking for a meal.  It’s a new sport, but plenty of coyotes are out there, and their pelts are worth about $10 each.  That’s enough to pay for gas and travel.  The thrills and adrenalin surge are free.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 20th, 2009

Published January 2005

It’s been a tough winter for below the dam saugeye anglers.  Heavy snow, ice storms, and far too much rain have seen tailwaters below Charles Mill and Pleasant Hill lakes bank full and muddy far more often than not.  But that’s got to change eventually, and the heavy rains might actually have been beneficial, since few saugeye were caught and that means lots are going to be waiting soon below those dams.  Also, saugeye have a tendency to wash through the gates from the lake above since they’re attracted to moving water, and these will stack up below both lakes, too.

So, once the weather calms down, fishing should be unusually good.  Most of the anglers who fish below our two lakes follow a simple format.  They tie on a jig and start casting, angling upstream and reeling slowly as the lure drifts past.  Most catch fish too, at least a few.  Some double their chances by adding a second jig with twister tail on a short side line above, and adding a minnow or some Berkley power bait to both hooks.  They catch fish too, though both techniques will bring a lot of bottom snag-ups and lost lures.  Still, jigs are cheap and are often made at home making them even cheaper.

One of my own favorite techniques, since saugeye like to lie with their bellies almost brushing bottom, is to rig up a thin pencil bobber with splitshot and No. 4 or 6 hook, put a sinker on the hook and cast out several times adjusting the float until the sinker pulls it only a few inches below the surface.  Then I remove the sinker, add a minnow or colorful jig with minnow, and start casting.  The float keeps the jig just above hook snagging bottom, but still in visual range of waiting saugeye. 

It definitely works, especially if anglers using this rig make casts close, to mid-stream, and to near the other shore, covering as much water as possible.  It doesn’t hurt to move up near the dam to start, then drop down 30 feet for more casting, and another 30 feet, and another.  Cover every bit of water possible, and you’ll increase your chances.

 Picking your time is a wise move, too.  Since saugeye migrate upstream at night, be there at first light or even before to seek hungry fish before other anglers arrive.  And hitting either spot just a couple of days after a goodly slug of water was released is smart, too.  The sudden rise of water will stimulate downstream fish to move up to the dam.

 If you tire of fishing the same two tailwaters, remember that there are some excellent hotspots just a modest drive away.  O’Shaughnessy and Griggs reservoirs near Columbus are two of the best tailwater fisheries in the state, and Delaware and Deer Creek are just as good.  The latter two are Army Corps developed tailwaters and can handle lots of fishermen, while the first two are owned by the city of Columbus and are less developed for fishing.

Alum Creek and Hoover are worth checking too, and you might like to drive a little further and take a look at tailwaters below some of the Muskingum River dams.  Here’s a final thought for hard fishing saugeye hunters.  Indian Lake and Buckeye Lake were No. 1 and 2 in the state for Fish Ohio saugeyes last year, so if cold weather continues and the ice becomes good on both lakes you might consider driving down with an ice auger and a couple of short rods.   And maybe driving home with a couple of real lunkers. 

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outdoorswithmartin on July 20th, 2009

Published January 2005

It’s been a hard winter so far.  Ice and snow and too much rain makes rooms seem smaller and more confining.  There’s little to do outside, tv is suddenly boring, and even the couch has lost its allure.  So, maybe it’s time you took a trip, someplace with new sports and activities, new sights, but close since no one wants to be stranded 500 miles away in sudden bad weather.  Is there a spot that offers all of the above for outdoorsmen?  You bet.  It’s the Hocking Hills area, a winter wonderland just a modest drive south near Logan and Lancaster.

I love this area and have visited it at least 20 times, several times in mid-winter.  I pick my days in winter as you should, and plan to visit the weekend after a number of cold days and maybe a little snow.  Then pack warm clothing and sturdy boots and go for a hike in the prettiest place in Ohio.

There are 26 miles of well kept hiking trails in Hocking Hills State Park alone, and those trails lie between such well known spots as Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, and the Cantwell Cliffs.  In winter, and again given cold weather and a bit of snow, the trails are spectacular with high rising cliffs of Blackhand sandstone cloaked in strange and unusual (for Ohio) plants from liverworts and towering eastern hemlocks to Canada yews and yellow and black birch left behind from a cool period 10,000 years ago.

Hikers here will see spectacular frozen waterfalls, icicles hanging like stalagmites from vertical cliffs, and honeycomb weathering as well as trees growing seemingly from solid rock.  There are picnic areas around some of the parking lots, and wise visitors will bring a bit of firewood, pots and containers of the traditional bean soup and cornbread so often eaten here during formal hikes.  Getting cold can be fun with a warm-up like that to anticipate.

One thing that always amazes me about this Hocking Hills country is that local tourist attractions are so geared to winter visitors.  You can stay in wonderfully modern cabins, many with hot tubs, and just loaf and luxuriate your hours away.  Or go bird watching for the numerous birds that winter here, or ice fish for trout on Rose Lake given good ice, explore over 9,000 acres of state forest, or roam the little side roads here looking for quaint general stores.

My wife likes to visit Logan with its antique stores and drive into Lancaster which has a great historic district, more shops, and good restaurants that in one case feature wild game on the menu.  A good place to forget about cabin fever and enjoy new sights and activities.

The Hocking Hills Tourism  Association is aggressive in seeking winter visitors too, and according to a recent news release they’re offering some special winter packages.  The packages start at $166 per person, and include offerings from four one hour massage or spa treatments to dinners and gift baskets of wine and even disposable cameras.  Or horse-drawn carriage rides and deluxe dinners for two. 

Whatever your choice,  send for a Hocking Hills Visitors Guide, available by calling 1-800-HOCKING.  Then, when the weather is right, head south.  This whole area is a great cure for cabin fever, something you’ll probably need in coming weeks.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 20th, 2009

Published January 2005

Gardening has always been a useful, table filling, and satisfying activity, but when you’re good at it, what do you do with the excess?  A standard tactic in recent years has been to freeze extra produce, and I routinely freeze green beans, cabbage, sweet corn, and similar vegetables along with some fruit.  It works well, at least until some disaster like a major ice storm hits and takes your power out for a week, rendering frozen food useless.  Luckily, there are alternatives to cover your bets and make sure at least some produce survives any winter.

One is canning.  Back in the good old days my mother, with help from my sister and I, canned everything you can imagine.  We picked blackberries and huckleberries by the gallon and canned them, filled innumerable jars of tomatoes, green beans, even kale and dandelion greens which were treasured in late winter when little greenery could be found.

Since canned goods should be kept in a cool, dark place, most of ours ended  up at my grandmothers house who had a fruit cellar cut into the side of a hill and extending well back into the ground.  It was always cool there, even on the hottest days, and I can remember well occasional expeditions that started with opening a heavy wooden door and ended with gathering up a couple of jars of whatever was needed.  Or a few dozen potatoes from various bushel baskets.  I remember too, checking very carefully to make sure no copperheads had taken up a cool, comfortable residence among the jars on very hot days.

We did some drying too, since dried foods are light, durable, tasty when re-hydrated, and take up little space.  Many a young cowboy has feasted mightily on dried apple pie on long trail drives, and I remember well the rich, almost nutty taste of dried leather britches.  We made these by the simple expedient of stringing green beans on heavy thread with a needle and hanging the strings in the attic each summer. 

By winter they’d dried almost brittle, and it was a treat to remove a few strings, add onions and ham, and boil the lot to tenderness.  Even today, I often do the same to habana or jalapeno peppers, and hang the clusters in my kitchen, bright red and picturesque, until needed.

Some people get into drying in a serious manner, drying everything from apples and pears to tomatoes and bananas, or making fruit leather for sweet, fairly low calory snacks.  And there are lots of ways to do it.  The absolute best way to dry anything, even meat into jerky, is to buy a big, high powered dehydrator, at least if you’re going into the activity full bore.  Such as an American Harvester will cost around $170, and can dry up to 30 trays at once. 

You can buy much smaller, simpler, and less costly dehydrators too, or even use the sun or your oven to do the job at no extra cost at all.  Herbs from your garden, for example, whether they be chives, oregano, basil or whatever, can be air dried in two or three days, especially if you pick sunny, low humidity days.  You’ll want to stir them occasionally until very dry, then store in small, air tight bags.

Those same herbs can be oven dried, as can various fruits and vegetable slices, in just a few hours sometimes, depending on water content and size of pieces.  You should keep the oven at 140 – 160 degrees, and leave the oven door open slightly so moisture can escape.  Rotate the trays and stir each half hour for even drying, and consider them done when those banana chips break, rather than bend.  Then again, keep them in small containers and store in a cool, dry dark place until used.

There’s no satisfaction whatever in buying expensive dried tomatoes, apple chips, or other offerings, but lots in making and using your own.  You’ll make mistakes at first, and ruin some produce or have it mold from inadequate drying.  But once you’ve the science down pat, ice storms will be no real problem.  You’ll still have at least something to be used after the disaster.

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outdoorswithmartin on July 20th, 2009

All wild animals are important and should be, but one stands far above all others.  For this animal, much of the country was explored, wars were fought, fortunes were made, and history came to know iron men and their exploits, lengendary figures like Will Sublet, Kit Carson, and Jeremiah Johnson.  That animal is a 30 -40 pound buck toothed creature with soft, silky fur ideal for making hats, the beaver.

Beaver were prized in Europe from the 1600’s, and companies like the Hudson Bay Company and towns like Chicago were formed because of beaver and their rich “plews.”  The Iroquois fought off other Indian tribes to hold prime beaver territory, and the pelts were even used as money, a stack of pelts as high as a musket to buy that musket.

They disappeared in Ohio by 1830, and didn’t re-appear until the first was seen in Ashtabula County in 1936, but they slowly spread until over 5,000 were living in 37 counties in the early 70’s.  Now?  There are LOTS of beaver, about 25,000, many becoming a major nuisance as they dam and flood creeks and bottom lands, and trapping them has become possibly the most challenging of Ohio’s trap and snare winter activities.

One man who knows the sport from top to bottom is Shelby retired dentist Paul Curren.  Paul, in his 70’s now, leaves beaver trapping to younger men, but in his time he’s brought home around 100 of the animals, ranging in size from average 30 pounders to one that reach a whopping 70 pounds.  Most were caught in Ohio Power lands, some on private lands, and all in eastern or southeastern Ohio, the stronghold of this big rodent, though northcentral Ohio now has its share.

“We’d trap them non-stop for a week to 10 days, once the season came in.” he said, “and vary our techniques depending on whether we were trapping open water or under the ice.”  In either case, he and a friend or two would scout first looking for gnawed stumps, cut trees, slick slides leading into the water, and bank dens piled high with dirt and limbs. 

For open water they’d tie a big rock to a long wire and toss it out as far as possible, 10 to 15 feet, then tighten the line and set the trap in shallow water very near shore, often tamping down the dirt to make a flat platform.  Next step was to add a short poplar pole leaning out over the trap and smeared with castorum or commercial scent, along with a few carrots and parsnips on shore.  When a beaver stepped in the trap their instant reaction was to dive for deeper water and a clip near the trap allowed the trap to go only one way, so the catch quickly drowned. 

If there was ice, they used long poplar poles instead, placing several snares along the pole and adding a trap to a hand-made platform at the slide or other potential catch site.  It’s a truly rigorous activity.

“Beaver trapping is the toughest sport I’ve ever tried.” Curren said.  “You often get wet, the weather is usually miserable, and when you make a good catch, you’ve got to haul heavy animals up hill and down to reach your truck.  And skinning them is equally hard.  You can’t “fist” the fur off a beaver.  It takes hundreds, maybe thousands of tiny cuts with a very sharp knife to skin one.  I did reach the point where I could do one in 45 minutes, but it took a while.”

What about beaver meat?  I can personally testify that it’s delicious, a dark red, sweet meat that goes great at game feeds, especially when slow roasted with onions.  And the pelts can be sold or kept, as Curren did with a number, to make fine fur parkas for himself and his wife.

If you’re interested in trying this historic sport and pitting yourself against both beaver cunning and the elements, you’ll need permits and a thorough reading of the Ohio Hunting Regulations as well as proper traps and snares.  But the season runs from December through February, plenty of time to take some of these huge rodents.  And experience the life and times of Jeremiah Johnson without the Sioux to liven your days.

Originally published January 2005

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outdoorswithmartin on July 20th, 2009

Published January 2005

Good ice has been slow in coming to area farm ponds this winter.  Snow and rain, freezes and thaws, but if that safe 4-5 inches of clear ice hasn’t arrived yet, it surely will soon, and when it comes, a small, but growing fraternity of ice walkers is going to be out there boring holes and hauling home some of the years best eating.

One of the best things about farm pond ice fishing is that it’s almost idiot proof.  You can be a local expert and catch fish or an absolute duffer who can hardly bait a hook and still catch fish.  Usually lots of them, because statistics show that fishing on frozen water is the absolute most productive way of taking pan and game fish. 

 So, how do you do it?  Remember that safety comes first, so you always fish with a partner or two and always bore a hole and check ice depth just a couple of feet off dry land.  There’s really no need to mention that you’ve got to stay warm, since chilled hands and frozen feet will drive you off the ice in a hurry.  Wear insulated boots, good thermal long johns, and carry a handwarmer or a source of heat, maybe a Coleman lantern or tiny propane stove.

Equipment is simple.  A couple of short ice rods available at almost any sporting goods store or section, a sturdy auger, some ice spoons, flies, and tiny jigs in various colors, and a container of waxworms will do the job nicely most times.  Place the lot in a five gallon plastic bucket, walk out to the deepest end of a pond that you know holds good bluegill and bass (usually near the dam), and bore two holes.

Next step is to let a pair of spoons, one on lines end and one on a short side line 6-8 inches above down to bottom, each with a waxworm, reel up a turn and adjust your float for that depth.  Add a splitshot if you wish to get the baits down quicker, use the smallest float that will hold the rig up, something around dime or nickel size, and start slow jigging.

You’ll jig one rod gently up and down just an inch or two, then let it rest while you jig the other rod.  Bites usually come at the rest as panfish swimming below are attracted to the movement, swim over, and suck the offering in.  That’s all it takes.  Deep water, ice spoons in white, red, yellow, and chartreuse, and jig just above the bottom.  It isn’t rocket science.

There are refinements, of course.  Like moving every  15 minutes or so if you’re catching nothing, until you find a cluster of hungry fish.  You might concentrate your fishing early and late, too.  I’ve taken pond fish at high noon and will again, but early and late always seems to be better.  Especially early when they’ve eaten little or nothing all night. And if you’re using several colors of spoons and catching all of your fish on white, for example, you might like to change other spoons to that color.

Most farm ponds have largemouth bass and you’ll catch these frequently on bluegill jigging spoons or flies, but if you ever get serious about catching bass, go to slightly larger spoons. maybe an inch long or so.  I’ve taken bass to four pounds plus through the ice, releasing most and sometimes keeping a couple in the 1  1/2 pound range, and even half frozen they’re a lively proposition on four pound test line.

Here’s a final thought.  As I’ve found out more than once, even basically dumb bluegills can wise up if you’re hitting the same pond hard again and again.  When that happens, give up the spoons they’ve been seeing repeatedly. 

outdoorswithmartin on July 20th, 2009

Published January 2005

Back when my daughter lived in Burgess Hill south of London and hadn’t yet moved to Switzerland, we used to visit her at least twice a year.  And one of my great pleasures was sitting in a chair beside her little backyard water garden.  It was only a couple of feet deep, filled with lilies and other water plants and had half a dozen goldfish to swim among the vines and fronds.  A peaceful, restful little place with flowers and fruit trees to complete the scene.

It occurs to me that readers, unless they have very small children, might like a little pond too, and with little else to do but look out your windows at ice and snow, right now might be a good time to do some planning for one.  They’ll take  physical effort, which is good for most of us, and some money, about $250 to get started, but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to build one.

First task is to decide just where to put it, hopefully on very level ground, and mark out its boundaries, maybe with a garden hose or little flags.  It can be large if you’re super ambitious, but small is usually just as good.  My daughters pond was only about 5 feet long and 4 feet wide, and it seemed more than adequate.

The pond will hold a fair number of plants, so when you pick up your shovel and start digging, try to make it multi-tier with the deepest spot about two feet or slant it so depths range from about 18 inches down to two feet.  Reasoning here is that some plants like to be nearer the surface than others, especially smaller ones.  Experts say it’ll take you about 8 to 10 hours to dig a 5 x 10 pond, less if two or three work on it.  Once it’s dug to suit your wishes, tamp down the soil and remove any protruding roots or rocks.

The little pond will have to be lined, of course, or water will gradually percolate into the soil and disappear.  So, start with low nap carpet as a pad for the liner, then add plastic liner around the bottom and sides.  Cut with scissors at the top with a little extra left to bend over onto dry ground. 

You’ll want to line the bottom and sides with stone, something eye pleasing and picturesque with a rim around the top to hide any extra liner before you fill it with water.  Then check catalogs or local nurseries for plants in pots to place here and there across the bottom, and wait a few days before you add goldfish which, incidentally, must be fed occasionally.  That’s it, a simple business.

It would be good to judiciously cement the stones that rim your pond, and you might go even further and make a couple of small rock gardens near its edge that could be filled with colorful flowers.  A comfortable table and chairs wouldn’t hurt either, and a tall umbrella is good to keep off the sun.

You can do this all yourself, but there’s plenty of good advice waiting on the web.  Type in “water gardens”, and you’ll find LOTS of information, places to buy equipment and plants, even a magazine dedicated to water gardens.  But the final result won’t vary, a nice cool little spot for peaceful contemplation.  That can be worth the expense and work.

outdoorswithmartin on July 20th, 2009

Published January 2005

It’s been a tough winter for would-be ice fishermen.  A little ice at first, then rain, thawing, cold again, heavy snow, and freezing rain, all of which has contributed to treacherous ice on many lakes.  But there simply have to be some cold days this winter and eventually the good 4-5 inch clear ice that we’re waiting for will arrive.

When that happens, it’s time to get out the ice auger, short rods, and your collection of tiny jigging spoons, Ratfinkees, Toadies, Demons, and waxworms, or jigging Rapalas, Swedish Pimples, and minnows, and go looking for a good catch of prime eating fish.  You should find some too, given basic knowledge, because ice fishing is the years most productive way of taking either panfish or gamesters.

Farm ponds are a no brainer during the early season.  You find deep water, lower some jigs and waxworms, and jig slowly just off the bottom, moving occasionally until you find a concentration.  It’s in the larger lakes like Charles Mill and Pleasant Hill or further south at hotspots like Buckeye that the men and women get separated from the boys and girls.  Because these big waters can be tough to fish.

 One basic fact to keep in mind is that panfish like weeds and other bottom cover.  Those summer weed beds have died down by now, but still offer some fronds and maybe even a bit of greenery.  Those weeds are a mecca for aquatic insects and small fish, and likewise a mecca for those seeking food.  So, if you’re seeking bluegill, look for fairly shallow weeds and if after crappie, try a little deeper and hold to the edges of weed beds.

Perch?  They favor deeper water yet and rocky bottoms, especially submerged reef areas if they can find them, and walleye and saugeye like much the same.  If you’re not too serious about ice fishing on bigger waters, just head for a handy lake and look for concentrations of fishermen.  They’re there for a reason.  Then walk out, see who’s doing what, and decide to bore your own holes or leave.

A much smarter move is to invest in an inexpensive little portable fish finder that will last you for years, and travel around looking for submerged weed beds,  woody cover, and blips around either  that indicate submerged fish.  Often, you can bore a shallow little hole, if the ice is clear, add some water, and place the locator’s business end in the hole to see the bottom.  Doing this will allow you to cover lots of ground, and hopefully find a hotspot.

When you do find a place worth trying, and you bore a couple of holes for fishing, keep in mind that the grating crunch of your auger is going to drive every fish below away, especially if the water is fairly shallow.  But within 10-15 minutes they should return and you’ll start catching some.  If nothing happens in 30 minutes, go elsewhere.

Remember too, that your bait has to move.  Standing around watching a float with your hands in your pockets will produce little, but a rod in each hand that you jig gently up and down then pause can produce excellent catches.  And don’t be afraid to change colors and types, because all fish from saugeye to bluegills and perch can be picky on certain days.  If white doesn’t worth, switch to chartreuse or yellow, and if Ratfinkees aren’t the answer, try spoons or Popees.

It’s a simple formula.  Use a fish locator if possible, move until you find fish, and keep switching offerings until they start hitting.  You’ll find that bucket will fill in a hurry.

outdoorswithmartin on July 20th, 2009

Most farmers would like to have a farm pond on their acreage, and in north central Ohio, literally thousands do.  Some are wonderful places, filled with good sized fish, perfect for swimming, places that draw waterfowl and wildlife in plenty.  Lots of others are too shallow, too weedy, filled with stunted bluegills, good for little more than drawing water in case of fire.

Grant Milliron, who owns Milliron Recycling on Route 39 between Shelby and Mansfield, didn’t want a worthless pond.  Instead, he planned like a general to build a Perfect Farm Pond, one that would complement his dryland conservation efforts.  And he succeeded.  Grants first step was to contact the Soil Conservation Service in Richland County and ask what it would take to produce a perfect pond.  Their advice was as follows.

Ponds of any size frequently have problems with maintaining healthy fish populations, and one reason is that they seldom have much, if any, decent spawning territory for bass.  Bluegills can usually make out and bass can to a limited extent, but in a pure mud and clay bottom lake, which so many are, their success rate is less than ideal.

Grant solved that problem by putting in a shallow water spawning bed that took up one whole side of the pond.  He used pea gravel several inches deep for the bed and designed it so that it was nearly flat with a slight slant toward deeper water.  Smaller bass tend to spawn in shallower water while larger fish prefer slightly deeper nest sites.  His bed offered both.

 Then Milliron went one step further.  To protect small fish, both bass and bluegill, that roam over the beds looking for feed he added small triangles of four inch tile,  two below and one above, to provide an element of cover.  Bass would still be able to find plenty of bluegill fry and vice versa, but the tile would ensure that they didn’t overdo it.

Weeds are always a problem in ponds and there are few bodies of water that don’t have some, a lot, or too many.  Grants pond has few or none, except a few very small patches to provide cover and ambush sites.  First, he built the edges of his lake with a fairly steep slant, then covered that edge with sturdy black plastic, and over the plastic he placed a thick covering of limestone rocks.  There’s no place for weeds to gain a foothold, and that means no thick beds of cover to hide hordes of small bluegills.  The bass eat well, remaining panfish grow large in a hurry, and muskrats have no place to build their shoreline tunnels.

A recurring complaint of many fishermen is that farm ponds have bottoms smooth as a billard table.  There’s no cover, no place for bass to lie up and wait for food, no concentration points for fishermen.  So, this pond has several brushpiles weighted and tied down, and several trees tied together with stumps in shallow water and the tops in ten foot or better.  Added to a collection or two of Christmas trees weighted down with cinderblocks, and wherever bass decide to loaf, shallow, medium or deep, there’s prime hiding country for them.

The pond also has five holes cut into its bottom that deepen the pond two further feet, and these holes hold anything from large rocks for bass and bluegill lurking sites to tires tied together and weighted.  Almost unlimited cover.

To solve the problem of winter kill, which can happen sometimes when snow cover blocks sunlight for too long, this far thinking man purchased a small, inexpensive air compresser which sits in his basement.  A hose leads from the basement to the lake (underground), and whenever he decides the lake needs oxygenating, he simply turns on the compressor.  For an hour or 12, and as often as it needs it.

Finally, Grant was very careful to ensure that drainage would come from non-crop land since crop areas too often add unwanted nutrients to a lake causing algae blooms and bad smells.  And he’s given very careful thought and listened to good advice from the Division of Wildlife and county ag people before stocking his lake.  It now has bluegills and redear sunfish, largemouth bass, and some whopper channel cats all stocked originally in proper proportion.  Perfect lakes take some research and work, but they’re worth the trouble.  Especially, when you’re looking at a plate of crisp fried bluegills in palm-sized pieces.

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Published in January 2005

Few people would question that venison is among the best of wild meats.  It’s low fat, and therefore healthy, has no hormones of antibiotics, and tastes as good as beef, according to many, with its own pleasing “wild’ flavor.  Best of all, for many charities, the meat is free and very useful when organizations like Hunters For the Hungry make it available for low cost meals.  It’s not free to hunters, who must pay for processing before turning it over to HFH, which is why Bill Kucik, who teaches meat processing at Pioneer Joint Vocational School in Shelby, decided to go the organization one better.

Bill has taught for seven years at Pioneer, starting with just 7 students and building to the current 22 (all FFA members), and many of them like to deer hunt.  “I thought I’d teach the students to process deer as well as more ordinary cattle and hogs.” he said.  “They’d do it at no cost and even if they never used the knowledge in a future job, they’d know how to process the animals for their own use.”

The idea caught on quickly, and the kids proved just as enthusiastic as he’d hoped.  The first year they processed seven whitetails, skinning each animal, cutting up the meat and converting most of it into deerburger.  This past year they did 25 and that’s about as high as Kucik plans to go.  “We want this kind of processing to be a learning experience, not hard work.” he said.  “Just enough animals to gain practice, but not enough to tire anybody and make them less cautious and safety minded.”

Who gets the meat?  This year most of it went to the Richland County Home (Dayspring) who were overjoyed to get the free bounty.  It was used in everything from chili to spaghetti and other hamburger-type dishes.  Some years portions of it have gone to a grateful Salvation Army and various Christian charities.  And a little is always kept to make deer jerky using a standard pre-mix seasoning, letting it stand overnight, then smoking the lot in their large walk-in smoker using hickory sawdust.  It’s tasty stuff.

Some is also held out to make baloney, also using a pre-mix along with 40 pounds of pork and 60 pounds of ground venison.  The combination is mixed together, ground, put into casings, and smoked for a pungent and flavorsome treat.  Bill Kucik made it very clear that Pioneer does NOT do ordinary deer processing, so those who take an animal during the various seasons should not bring it to the meat processing plant. “It’s strictly for charity and to teach our FFA students,” he said.

It’s worth pointing out that the meat processing plant at Pioneer is truly unusual.  Every vocational school has classes in hair dressing, welding, etc., but only two in the country have meat processing, the second being in Cincinnati.  So, graduating students are almost assured of a good job.  And the Pioneer facility has everything a real meat packing company would have, from huge coolers to full facilities for turning a steer into steaks and roasts.

Bill charges $110 to custom process beef animals to an owners specifications and $60 for hogs if the owner wants hams and bacon smoked, something that’s done only in January.  He also has a small shop on-site to sell frozen beef.  All profits, of course, are re-invested to pay for supplies and equipment. 

Readers might wonder if high school students can do a first class job of processing their beef animals and hogs, and the answer is a resounding “Yes.” Last year they went to the state meat judging and took third place.  Otherwise, the classes have taken so many trophies for their work that Bill allowed one shelf in the classroom to be lined with them and students took the remainder home.  “We just didn’t have room for all of them.” he said.

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