Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pennsylvania Pete Hits Paydirt

Opening Day, 2007 In which Kleinman executes the “Pennsylvania Grand Slam for 2006-2007” (one nice buck, one tom turkey, and zero grouse, ducks, or geese for the season).

We chose to hunt at “Bad Chad’s Dad’s”: the corner where I shot my “delayed double” on Pennsylvania Jakes two years ago. After a week of cold and rain, the starry night sky felt like a good omen as I drove to the appointed rendezvous with Dr. Dirt, shooing deer out of the way enroute, old Tom Petty tunes (“quit jammin’ me”) screaming on the tinny old car stereo. I was filled with optimism. Even the trout fishing has been good this week.

This is an easy spot to get to—the corner of an old field down below the main house. A two minute walk through ankle high grass. Real manly stuff. None of the ‘branches slapping you in the face while trying to sneak through the crunchy woods’ nonsense. The most strenuous part of the journey is having to duck under a fence. There’s a nice seep out in front, big oaks to lean against, and a good gully draining off the hillside, where the birds “usually” roost, based on our extensive experience of hunting here, (total hours probably about 6). But hell, it worked that one time for the delayed double. We put all three dekes in the corner of the field, chose our oaks, and hoped we chose well.

The birds were really active: by 530 (shooting time 551), we had heard 3 separate Toms working: 2 up slope from us, reasonably close, and one downslope a ways off. The two upslope were lobbing mild insults back and forth at each other. The good Dr Dirt had the gobble call and his slate, while I had the diaphragm call. We needed some gobbling from our quarter, but Pete was uncharacteristically quiet (normally I damn near have to take the gobble call away from him to shut him up: he’ll gobble furiously when the rest of the woods is as quiet as a Quaker church service). But this time, we needed to rouse these lazy birds by telling them there was a new boy in town. Pete was only about 15 yards downslope from me, so I leaned around the tree and in my best stage whisper, hissed “caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllll!”. Immediately some gorgeous gobbling issued forth from my partner in (attempted) crime. I hissed back “yeeeaaaahh”.

We took things to a new level: one of these birds was really hot, one of the yappiest Toms I have ever dealt with. Pete gave everything back in spades…the Tom would start gobbling and Pete would cut him off, gobble right over him. I helped keep these two big boys at it, alternating between some soft yelps of contentment, telling the boy up the hill what a man I was with, and some more seductive / excited (“but maybe you’re even MORE of a man, why don’t you c’mon down and see"). In creating this little drama I was able to draw extensively on years of observations of human behavior gleaned from teaching large freshman classes. This went on steadily for about a half hour (by now about 615 and getting pretty light). Then I saw him fly down the hill behind us. Pete didn’t see this. The bird was now on the ground about 75 yards away, but there was a big skunky brushpile (“skunky”? it had earlier emitted an actual skunk) between us, and we were between him and the decoys. I worried that he would hang up on the other side of the brushpile and knew he couldn’t see the decoys from his vantage point. But the menage-a trios continued, and he was coming in. He was so close you could heat his “spit-drum” and his gobble shook the earth. If he circled around the brushpile upslope, he would be my bird. Down slope, he’d be squarely in Pete’s sights.

Surely he wouldn’t come THROUGH the brushpile. But of course, finally, I saw his head…bobbing back and forth, making small concerned “putts” that we could feel as well as hear. He was coming through the brushpile and there was no way I could move—I was completely exposed from that direction. The best I could hope for was to get the drop on him if he ducked behind a tree. Turns out I could hope for more: I gave one more soft cluck, he raised his head, Pete’s Beretta boomed, and the good Dr. Dirt had his very first spring turkey. An absolute classic: this bird worked us hard for over an hour, and was within 50 yards for a good 15 minutes. Beautiful.
Not sure who the guy in the red sweatshirt is; he showed up just in time for the picture.

Friday, April 27, 2007

BIRD of a lifetime!!!!

Since Path Walker has basically called me a liar, I'm forced to defend myself. :)) Here's the full story on an amazing, once in a lifetime, hunt.

On Wednesday morning I was guided on my first wild turkey hunt by wildlife biologist, professor and my African travel partner Dr. Harold Prince, and his son Dan, who's a MDNR Conservation Officer. Dan and Hal had both harvested their turkeys for the spring on Monday morning. Hal commented that the spot he was taking me to was one that he hadn't hunted for spring gobblers in a couple years and that there should be some big birds around.

Wednesday morning was rainy overcast morning. I met Hal and Dan at 4:45 am and we drove just a couple miles south of Okemos, MI (near Lansing) to a local farm that Hal has exclusive hunting rights to. Hal commented that he really liked hunting turkeys in the kind of weather we were experiencing that morning. After parking and loading-up our gear, we headed south out across an open unplowed field. We walked about 300-400 yds until we came to a tree line. We stopped for a second. Hal said that the turkeys in the area roosted throughout the woodlot and that we needed to be as quite as possible and walk in single file. We then continued south into the woodlot another couple hundred yards, crossing a small ankle-deep stream, having to climb about 10 feet up the south-side stream bank, and followed deer trails until we came to a small opening in the woods. Hal commented that he and Dan had killed a couple hens from this spot the previous fall. There were several deer trails that crossed this area.

While Hal put out 2 sets of hen and jake decoys, Dan set up a pop-up blind. The blind was set on the western edge of the opening with the back against a large tree, facing the decoys to the east. All 3 of us set up our little camp chairs in the blind and got set, Hal sat to my right and Dan to my left. The blind was open to the east facing the decoys, as well as to the north and south. I believe everything was set up and were in the blind and ready by 5:30 am.

Because of the rainy overcast morning, the morning light was very slow coming up. The rain was fairly steady and made a lot of noise on the blind. At about 6:15 Dan started puttin' and purrin' on a slate call. The air was moist enough that it made using the slate call difficult, and he switched to a push-button box call after a while. At times Hal and Dan, called in tandem with their push-button box calls. I was eagerly waiting for a Tom to start gobbling from the roost, but we heard nothing. Every ten minutes or so Dan or Hal and Dan would call, but we heard nothing but the rain hitting the blind. Unfortunately, with no activity my need for sleep kicked in and I nodded off a couple times.

7:00 am came and the only thing we'd heard were a few robins. By this time on Monday, Hal and Dan had both harvested their double and were on their way home. Dan was getting a bit ancy. We checked around the blind and saw nothing, so Dan stepped out drained his bladder and Hal and I stretched. Dan adjusted the decoys and we got back in the blind. Hal said that we were going to give it another hour or so. The weather was really crappy and we were all starting to loose hope.

Again, Hal and Dan continued to call every 10 minutes or so. Hal had unzipped the blind flap to our backs just a bit and kept checking the area behind us. I tried to sit there quietly and scan from left to right. 7:30 am came and went. We continued our routine of calling and scanning. And we still had not heard a putt, pir, gobble, nothing!

At about 7:45 am, I remember Hal was straining to his right to look through the little unzipped opening behind us (over my left shoulder). I just happened to scan to my left past Hal and right in the middle of blind window to the north was largest fricken TOM turkey I had ever seen. I think the first thing I said to myself was HOLY SHIT!!! He was no more than 10 yards from the blind. His head was absolutely white and he was all puffed up. He seemed to fill up nearly half of the blind window. He was an AWESOME sight. It appears that he came down a deer trail from the northwest. From the direction he came, he'd had a long unobstructed view of the decoys and he was bee-lining for the jakes. All the calling that Hal and Dan had done must have gotten his attention, but he came in silent. We never ever heard him. I tapped Hal on the leg and whispered "don't move - he's right there" pointing to the left. Dan said he remembers his dad saying "ut-oh" just after I said don't move, which I guess is Hal's standard phrase for "here we go boys"! As I said, the TOM was really fixated on the decoys. I had hoped to get the full show with gobbling, tails fanned and wings scraping on the ground, but got none of that. He wanted to kick the shit out the jakes and was headed their way at a pretty fast walk. When Mr. TOM walked behind the northeast corner of the blind where my view was obstructed and I couldn't see him and I hoped he couldn't see me, I raised my new Benelli M2 12 ga to my shoulder behind the obstructed view, pointing it towards where Mr. TOM should be and took the safety off. I leaned slightly to my right and peered around the corner of the blind and Mr. TOM was preoccupied with the decoys. We probably could have danced around in the blind and he wouldn't have realized we were there. He was now about 15 yards from the blind. I moved the Benelli about 6 inches to the right from behind the corner of the blind and put the bead right on Mr. TOM's noggin. I really wanted to watch him for a while and see what he was going to do, but I wasn't about to muck this up. I didn't wait long and pulled the trigger, letting him have a load of 3" 12 ga. #5 shot Winchester Supreme High Velocity Turkey Loads. The full choke patterned true and Mr. TOM dropped in his tracks. It was all over in a flash. From the point in time when I first saw Mr. TOM in the blind window to the time the Benelli did it's job, was all of about 1 minute.

We unzipped the blind and high-fived, and I think I must have said several very excited swear words. Dan was the first person to the bird and was absolutely gitty. "This bird is huge!" "It's a Godzilla bird!" "Oh my god it's a double bearded bird!" "NO IT'S GOT 3, NO FOUR BEARDS" "HOLY SHIT ITS GOT FOUR BEARDS!!!" "THIS IS A GODZILLA BIRD!!" "I think this is a record book turkey!!" I thought he was over exaggerating, but I really should have taken him more seriously. We stood around for a while in the rain, just in awe of this awesome bird. I think Dan called a couple of his buddies to tell them about our prize. We then packed everything up and headed back to the car. The bird was really heavy and it took two hands on the legs with the bird over my shoulder to carry it out.

We took some pics at the vehicle and headed for Cracker Barrel for breakfast. After breakfast Dan headed home and Hal and I headed back to his house to process the bird. Unfortunately, Hal isn't much into trophy turkeys and I didn't realize what we had. We really should have gone to a certified scale and got the bird weighed, but we didn't. We weighed the bird in Hal's garage using one of his research scales. I held the scale and bird up, and Hal read the scale. 11.5 kg he said, which equated to 25.35 lbs. A HUGE bird! We processed the bird and it now resides in my freezer.

Dan called Hal later and wanted to know what the beard lengths and spur lengths were. He thought we could get this bird recorded. Measurements were: beard 1 - 10 1/16", beard 2 - 9 3/8", beard 3 - 9 1/16", beard 4 - 6 15/16", and both spurs were 1 1/8" long. Turns out a 4 bearded bird is fairly rare. NO Path Walker there are no feathers splitting a beard, making it seem like separate beards. There are FOUR separate beard follicles and FOUR distinct beards. Well after checking out the turkey records on the NWTF web site and plugging in all these measurements, my turkey would score 118.6875. Turns out that this is 3rd highest score for a turkey EVER harvested in Michigan!! HOLY SHIT - my first turkey is a record book turkey. My Benelli's first kill is a record book turkey!! The #3 bird in Michigan!! Unbelievable!!

Well the weight issue has come back to haunt us a bit. For the records books, NWTF requires that any bird over 22 lbs must be weighed on a certified scale. Since my bird weighed over 22 pounds and we didn't a have certified scale, it looked like no one but Hal, Dan and I would know what we took that day. But, after talking with the folks at NWTF about the situation it sounds like they will accept the measurements since the weight was taken on a research scale, Dan and Hal are both willing to sign their names in blood vouching for the measurements, and the fact that Hal is a wildlife biologist and Dan is a Conservation Officer. It's going to take a month or so, a fair bit of paperwork and $50, but we should be able to get this bird officially recorded as the #3 turkey ever taken in Michigan. Not that I'm a huge trophy game guy, it's still pretty damn cool!!

So there's the tale. I look forward to eating my first turkey later on this summer. And, I hope we'll all be able to see this bird receive the record status it deserves with the NWTF. I'll keep you posted.

Safari Jim

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Jim's Dad Died

there are no new words
spent shells and worn boot leather
tired stand-ins for Dad

(with condolences, from your friend Cagey)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Steelhead Report

Updated April 10, 2007

Just as the spring steelhead fishing was turning on, winter returned to the Great Lakes. On some of the streams the fish were a little late getting started due to the slow warm up in March. Then we got slammed with snow and cold temps a week into April. We managed to catch steelhead every day despite the cold and snow. During that stretch the best fishing was in the afternoon; the warmest part of the day. Fish that were in the riffles and runs dropped back to the deep pools as the cold kept on. The best flies have been Cherry Blossum attractors in size 10 and small glow bugs in pale orange and pink. Before the cool down in temps and the water dropping , bigger flies in a variety of colors were working but pink ( Cherry Blossum) was the best.

Warmer weather is finally here and the fish will respond accordingly. As it continues to warm up steelhead will move back to the riffles and runs and become aggressive again. Next week should be outstanding. Since the past weeks weather stalled the spawning urge, the season will extend at least a week longer than usual. I will have steelhead in my streams till the end of April this year. Hang in there, the best fishing is yet to come.


Keith here...I will be in the Lake Ontario tribs again this weekend...any and all welcome to come along.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Opening Day 2007

Originally, our plans were to try out Yawgers Creek for rainbows and then hit the Canandaigua Outlet for browns. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Yawgers has been heavily posted against trespass, striking that option from the playbook. George asked me "What about that creek where you caught that lake run steelhead, the one by your mother-in-law's?"

So, I faced a dilemma. George has taken me on countless productive open water fishing expeditions for salmon and trout, so I owed him big...but he was asking for my top secret honeyhole!! Well, of course, I agreed almost immediately and we changed our plans to a 5:30 AM departure for the Irondequoit Creek watershed, where I caught the below bruiser a few years back.

We arrived just a few minutes before sunrise, and scouted the beat I call "Maggie's." It didn't look hot, and there were suckers. We tried it for about an hour...George caught and released a pike, and Zack, George's son, and I both hooked up with suckers, but no salmonids.

Zack is a great kid. He's really into fly-fishing, fly-tying, entomology, and just anything that has to do with stream fishing. I badly wanted to get him into some good fishing, something besides the regular stocker fare, as did George. Things didn't feel right, so I pulled the plug and announced we'd be heading to another spot about a mile away. The water was up, the riffles more like rapids, and the opening day crowds were out in force. We snuck past most of them and headed into more remote sections of the stream. I posted Zack at the head of a long series of riffles, while George and I went further upstream where the water was slower and wider. We were after Great Lakes steelhead, and perhaps a bonus stocked brown or rainbow.

George and I poked around for about half an hour, seeing very fish running and no hatches. Suddenly, Zack appeared on the trail with a nice 2 lb rainbow trout. looking for forceps to remove the hook. Zack shared with us that he had actually been sight fishing, and had hooked the smallest of three fish in the pool. We congratulated Zack and reveled in the overall renewed zeal and optimism brought back into the day. Zack was excited and wanted to show me where he caught the fish, so I ambled back down stream to where he had run back to.

Zack was keying on a small shelf with gravel at its head, where a female steelhead seemed to be working on a redd. It was only 5 meters off of the bank, and easily "dappled" with an 8 ft plus rod. There were at least two males competing for this female's attention, one of which Zack had added to the dinner menu. I stood and chatted with Zack about his situation, his presentation of the egg sack imitation he had made, and how his persistence in multiple presentations had paid off. The kid was a picture of concentration, plopping the fly in the fast-moving current right in front of the fish over and over and over. I excused myself from his spot, having seen a tail and fin about 50 yards down stream. No sooner had I reached the spot and made a cast, I heard Zack whistle.

I looked up to see his #8 rod bending alarmingly, his line slashing through the current, and a huge fish wagging his thick head. This fish wanted out of there and in a hurry. He literally was dragging Zack down the rocky bank of the stream towards me. When Zack had played him about half the distance to me I shouted to him over the roar of the rapids "Play him over to that shoal... I'll run down there and tail him." Zack worked mightily as the fish surged repeatedly into the main current, each time Zack easing him back to the shallows where I waited for an opportunity. After a few failed attempts, I was able to finally get a hold of him. It was like wrestling an alligator at first, but he finally tired and gave up his noble fight. Once I had him secure, Zack reeled in and came over to claim his trophy. My fish in the picture above weighed just over ten pounds. This in one is bigger.

Congratulations Zack! What a fish! I look forward to seeing that one on your wall.

We did some back slapping and picture taking and the thunder rolled in. We Packed up just before it started to pour, deciding to use the rain time to make for Canandaigua outlet

We caught quite a few brown trout in the Outlet. All three of us released many fish, keeping mostly only fin damaged or badly hooked fish. One fish haunts me, a nice 15-18 incher that lept beautifully when hooked, entertaining four or five onlookers, and promptly snapping my line. That would have been my biggest brown. Would have. The picture below is of cold, wet, tired, but happy fisherman, back in town, ending opening day with smiles on our faces and memories to cherish.