Scouting a New Fishing Opportunity

Fifteen years ago I visited with a gentleman from the Nebraska Game and Parks.  He was popular in the area and was on the local TV news giving reports about the outdoors in Nebraska.  He also had an early morning radio program on Saturdays.  Great show, and I had the opportunity to ask some questions.

When Pam and I fish this river, this is what it will be all about.  

One spring at the Omaha Sports Show, there he was in the booth with the Game and Parks people of Nebraska.  You had to stand in line to shake his hand and get a question answered.  What a dream job he had.  Well, getting back to business,  I was always interested in the Missouri River and fishing for sport and game fish that we eat, other than carp (better known as sewer trout) by some and catfish.  The catfish are muddy tasting if caught around here.  I know a lot of people who like the carp that are scored.  My old Indian recipe for Carp is listed below.

Hank Huntington’s Carp Recipe

  1. Build a large fire in your back yard made from oak wood.  (This will irritate the neighbors)
  2. Let the fire settle down to coals.
  3.  Attach the carp fillet to a pine board not any bigger than the fish.
  4. Roast over the coals turning frequently
  5. When carp begins to flake remove from coals and board.
  6. Throw away the carp and eat the board.  (If you have a better recipe send it to me.)

My question was simple.  Is the Missouri River in our area good fishing for walleye, sauger, northern pike walleye and small mouth bass?  The answer was profoundly yes and the place to go is up to the Ponca State Park.  Located west of Sioux City, Iowa on highway 20 and 12, the state park has camping, swimming, and other outdoor activities for the whole family. It is a destination for people that enjoy the outdoors.  With a boat ramp onto the Missouri River, the waters run clear as the bottom is sand and there are lots of islands and bars on the river that hold fish.  He said go there and good luck.

Fifteen years later my wife and I, on a really nice day, decided to make a trip up the river to Ponca.  We are only 90 miles from Sioux City and another 40 miles to Ponca.  This is primarily interstate for us so it is an easy drive.

The park is situated on top of the picturesque Missouri River bluffs in northeastern Nebraska. Ponca State Park is at the eastern gateway of the Missouri National Recreational River, a 59-mile section featuring the only non channelized section of the river along the border of Nebraska.

Towers of Time

 

Designated under the Scenic River Act in 1978, this section of river gives visitors a view of how the untamed river looked before the river was made into a channel for shipping purposes. 

The park is two miles from the town of Ponca. Both the park and the town are named for the proud Native American tribe that once inhabited the area. It was the famed Ponca Chief Standing Bear who fought and won the court battle to have the Indian declared a “person” under American law. His achievement won him a place not only in history but also the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

 Lewis and Clark passed through the area on their journey up the Missouri.The National Park Service has designated Ponca State Park as part of the Lewis and Clark Historical Trail.

 

The park is magnificent.  The overlook gives the viewer the opportunity to look way up and down the river.  It also gave us a good idea on how to attack this stream and find fish. 

 

The river is just beautiful as we look up stream. At home in Council Bluffs, the river is not nearly as wide and does not look as if it is moving as fast. 

Looking across from the look out you can see the width of the river.  As I stood and looked at this site, I was asking myself, “How am I going to fish this?”


Ponca State Park encompasses nearly 1,400 acres of heavily forested rolling hills and Missouri River bottomland. The superbly scenic area offers park visitors all the amenities of a modern state park. Established in 1934, the first 200 acres were donated by local citizens, sponsored by the Ponca American Legion Post.

Giant Oak trees cover the hills and the landscapes

 

The dense woodlands offer a haven for many types of woodland wildlife.  White-tailed deer and wild turkeys often are seen throughout the area. Toward evening, the howls of coyotes and “who-who-are-you” of the barred owl echo through the hills. Red foxes, gray foxes (an uncommon relative of the red fox), bobcats, raccoons, opossums and other small mammals also occasionally are seen by visitors.

In spring, the woodlands come alive with sounds and sights of migrant and resident songbirds. During peak migration (late April and early May), the park attracts both amateur and experienced bird watchers. Warblers, scarlet tanagers, northern orioles, red-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and ruby-throated hummingbirds are just a few of the highlights.

On top of a ridge looking out over the forest. 

The woodlands and prairie ridgetops burst into bloom from late April to early June. Among the most common woodland flowers are Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, Canada violet, blue phlox, columbine, waterleaf and white cicely. Prairie plants include yucca, shell-leaf penstemon, prairie larkspur, purple coneflowers, pasque flower and purple prairie clover. Native shrubs include gooseberry, wild plum, chokecherry, Eastern Wahoo, and buffaloberry.

Bur oaks are the predominant tree species at the park, but they are liberally interspersed with walnut, elm, basswood, Kentucky coffeetree and hackberry. Almost at the heart of the park is the “Old Oak Tree.” In 1964, this ancient specimen was officially aged at 320 years old. It was a sapling 24 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.

You walk down the steps to the left and there it is a really old oak tree. 

Pam in front of the Old Oak Tree.  The tree was enormous. 

On summer nights, the repetitious call of the whippoorwill and a chorus of tree frogs and crickets echo through the bluffs and canyons. Turkey vultures can be seen soaring overhead during warm summer days. In late June, snow-like showers of cotton from nearby cottonwood trees signify it is time to catch catfish in the nearby river.

In the visitor center hangs this magnificent picture of a bald eagle.  The eagles nest in the park. 

In fall, the skies are filled with migrating ducks, geese and other birds. In winter, the park is home to bald eagles, often seen roosting, soaring and now nesting along the river. Winter is also a great time to view a variety of hardy songbirds at the park’s bird feeders.

Boat ramp in the park is big.  We will be unloading into the current so there will have to be some finesse in getting the boat off the trailor and back on.  Hopefully, the live wells will be full of fish.  

 

Ponca State Park has 14 modern, two-bedroom, air-conditioned housekeeping cabins. Each has two double beds, bedding, towels for four, bathroom with shower, kitchenette and large screened porch. Kitchenettes are furnished with a range, refrigerator, cooking utensils, dinette, dishes and tableware for six. Lodging is normally available from late May through September, but dates are subject to change. Reservations are accepted up to one year in advance for two or more nights and will be confirmed with a deposit for two nights lodging.

Ponca State Park provides excellent camping. Paved electrical camp sites in two modern campgrounds with 30/50 amp electrical hookups. There are showers, picnic tables, fire pits, water spigots (not hookups); dump station, and playground. Modern facilities operate from April – October, weather permitting. Primitive camping is available year-round. To learn more about the park go to the following website. (http://outdoornebraska.gov/ponca/)

 
 

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Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck.  Hank. 

Day Two on Beautiful Merritt Reservoir


We were learning the lake and how to maneuver around on it.  That is really important and eliminates wasted time fishing waters and areas that do not hold fish.  That information comes from the local bait shops.  We stopped at the bait shop in Valentine the evening before and visited with the owner.  He said stop back in the morning before you go to the lake as he had a friend that fishes the lake almost every day and comes in for coffee, rolls, and to shoot the bull.  We noticed that the locals live at a really nice pace and do a lot bull shooting.   They visit a lot talking about not much of anything.  This is known as shooting the bull or bull shooting depending on the circle you are in.

Berkley Flicker Shad Crankbait - 2'' - Slick Firetiger


Berkley Flicker Shad Crankbait – 2” – Slick Firetiger

Fisherman: This is the lure to use.  It has rarely let me down.  Click on the link or the pic and buy from Bass Pro.  Available in different colors. 

We were at the bait shop by 07:30 a.m. even though it opened up at 8:00.  The door was open and we went in.  The owner remembered us and sure enough there was the local fisherman drinking coffee, eating a roll, and you could tell these two gentleman were shooting the bull.  Wow, he was a fantastic source of information about the lake.  The previous week the fishing had been slow, but he was expecting a big pick up as a high pressure was to prevail.  All the weather had moved to the east.  He had poor luck the day before and gave us some good recommendations.
After pulling out of the boat ramp, we stayed to the right and headed to the face of the dam.  We were told to fish the dam face in the corner of the shore line and move back up the shore at least 200 yards to a boat dock in the water.  He said to stay in 5 to 10 feet of water.  He also stated that pulling spinners was okay, but if the wind was light he wanted us to use a slip bobber and float with the current in about 5 feet of water.  We worked the corner and up the shore line, but had no luck.

Looking straight towards the dam after coming out of the boat ramp.  Fish to the right and up the shoreline. 

The second spot was to the entrance of the long arm just off the dam.  Staying to the left side of the arm, the water moves into about 5 to 10 feet of depth.  We were to stay in that area as it has been productive on a regular basis. We scored nothing at this location.  Next, we moved along the shore down the lake to a point where three pieces of timber stood. Again we stayed in 5 to 10 feet of water.  We changed colors of spinners.  Pam pulled a red one and I pulled a shiny one.  We were thinking that maybe we just didn’t have the right color.  We stayed with leeches as the local fisherman said not to move off the leeches.  We did not have any action at this location.

Just off the left side of the entrance into the long arm is a group of small islands.  We fished those. 
Now, what was happening with the weather was not good.  We were to have overcast to broken clouds and there was not a cloud in the sky.  Also, there was to be westerly flow of 5 to 10 mph but there was hardly any wind at all.  In fact the lake in most areas was dead calm.  This is not good walleye weather, and we had been well toasted yesterday even with sunscreen.  There was an awful lot of light penetrating into the water and the walleye will not hang out in a high light situation.  We started to fish a little deeper, but the lake really drops off into very deep water once you move from the shore.  It was common to see a drop right down to 30 feet and deeper as you moved out.  We have the equipment to fish that, but the feeling was it might be premature.

 Across to the opposite shore was a point sticking out surrounded by a good stand of weeds out into the water.  That looked like good northern pike water and we motored over to give it a try by working the weed lines pulling the spinners.  If there was a northern lurking along the weed line, it did not come out and hit on our baits. Musky are also in this lake, but in all the years I have fished northern waters or waters with musky, I have never had the good fortune to catch one.

The weeds are next to the shoreline, and we worked back and forth, but no luck. 

With the temps rising and the lack of wind, this day was well on the way to giving us a skunking.  Decades ago when my son was young, we fished on Lac Lacroix in Ontario with a good friend from northern Minnesota.  The lake is in the northern part of the BWCA. (Boundary Waters Canoe America).  On days like this one, he would not fish, but went to the tent, read, and generally relaxed.  He loved it when the weather was windy with a good overcast making it a dark day.  We caught a lot of fish in that kind of weather.

There are no fish here. However, look at the beautiful lilac bush along the shoreline.  This particular area was full of these beautiful bushes. 

Not giving up, we shifted gears considering that the fish may be a little deeper.  This was an opportunity to use my true and well tested method of pulling plugs.  The plug is the Berkley Flicker Shad.  It is a sinking lure that has a steady wobble and a little rattle.  A close friend and old walleye killer said this lure made the fish mad.  That was what we wanted, a mad walleye smacking the daylights out of the lure.  I might also add, when using this bait, have a good set of pliers on board with a wire cutter.  My wife said this lure should be called “finger shad” because those little hooks are really sharp.  On two occasions I have had to push the hook through and clip it off after I got it into my finger. With a little neosporin and a band aid, you can continue fishing.

Back to the dam we went and started pulling plugs in 10 to 15 feet of water.  We did not have one hit. This is the first time I have ever had this happen with this plug.

It was time to find Hidden Lake on Merritt Reservoir.  This was the last location the local fisherman told us to hit.  He said it was full of Northern Pike and there would also be some walleye if the pike had not cleaned them all out.  Refer on your map to the Powder Horn Area on the north side of the lake just to the left of the dam.  There is an unimproved boat ramp there and opposite is an arm off the lake.  Getting into it is a little daunting as all of a sudden the bottom comes up to about three feet of water.  Motor slowly for about five yards and it goes back down and opens up into a long narrow channel.  I would recommend stopping at the bait shop in Valentine and getting their free map.

The entrance to hidden lake.  The bait shop in town will give you directions to this arm off the lake.  The waters really looked good. 

Once in, we worked our spinners and plugs along each side of the arm all the way down to the end of the arm.  This was great looking water with plenty of standing weeds and timber with logs into the water.  It was a really fine opportunity to catch a nice fish and also get snagged.  At the end of the lake we followed the recommendation and dropped a single small jig with a leech and hooked up a bobber.  We were in about 5 feet of water and the bait was down about 3.5 feet.  At this location there was no wind and we just drifted slowly to the shore.

The shoreline goes from timber along the side to open banks and underground weeds.  This was a really rough day. 

We were running out of time and we were being cooked off the lake.  We went back to the Flicker Shad and slowly working our way out of the finger. We each had some luck.   Pam hit a keeper walleye and we were in business.

Not bad and it is a legal fish.  Pam caught another one on a Flicker Shad or Finger Shad as she like to call the lure. 
We continued to work the bank moving out toward the middle of the lake arm, but always staying in 10 to 15 feet of water.  I was skunked up to this point until I had the good fortune of picking up a keeper Northern Pike.  He will fillet out and once the Y bones are removed make some great fillets. 
Not a big northern, but one we can get some excellent eating out of once the Y bones are removed. 

Orvis

Good hunting, good fishing and good luck.  Hank
Almond Crusted Walleye

  • 1 or more walleye or northern fillet
  • ½ cup almond meal (ground almonds
  • panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 fresh peach or pear, sliced
  • splash of dry white wine ( chardonnay, etc.)

Mix the almond meal with a little panko and the salt and pepper. Place fish fillet in egg wash then roll in almond meal/panko mixture. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons canola oil in a pan over medium low heat, then add fish and sauté about 4 minutes per side (depending on thickness). Remove the fish to paper towels, turn heat to medium high and add the sliced fruit. Stir and fry for a minute then add 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and cook until butter browns. Add wine & reduce. Place fish fillet on plate surrounded by fruit and drizzled with sauce.  Drink the wine and if available have yourself a couple of bottles of Tusker Beer. Makes 2 servings.

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Day Two on Beautiful Merritt Reservoir

Pam with her favorite lure.  The Berkley Flicker Shad or as she calls it the finger shad.

We were learning the lake and how to maneuver around on it.  That is really important and eliminates wasted time fishing waters and areas that do not hold fish.  That information comes from the local bait shops.  We stopped at the bait shop in Valentine the evening before and visited with the owner.  He said stop back in the morning before you go to the lake as he had a friend that fishes the lake almost every day and comes in for coffee, rolls, and to shoot the bull.  We noticed that the locals live at a really nice pace and do a lot bull shooting.   They visit a lot talking about not much of anything.  This is known as shooting the bull or bull shooting depending on the circle you are in.

Berkley Flicker Shad Crankbait - 2'' - Slick Firetiger


Berkley Flicker Shad Crankbait – 2” – Slick Firetiger

Fisherman: This is the lure to use.  It has rarely let me down.  Click on the link or the pic and buy from Bass Pro.  Available in different colors. 

We were at the bait shop by 07:30 a.m. even though it opened up at 8:00.  The door was open and we went in.  The owner remembered us and sure enough there was the local fisherman drinking coffee, eating a roll, and you could tell these two gentleman were shooting the bull.  Wow, he was a fantastic source of information about the lake.  The previous week the fishing had been slow, but he was expecting a big pick up as a high pressure was to prevail.  All the weather had moved to the east.  He had poor luck the day before and gave us some good recommendations.

After pulling out of the boat ramp, we stayed to the right and headed to the face of the dam.  We were told to fish the dam face in the corner of the shore line and move back up the shore at least 200 yards to a boat dock in the water.  He said to stay in 5 to 10 feet of water.  He also stated that pulling spinners was okay, but if the wind was light he wanted us to use a slip bobber and float with the current in about 5 feet of water.  We worked the corner and up the shore line, but had no luck.

Looking straight towards the dam after coming out of the boat ramp.  Fish to the right and up the shoreline. 

The second spot was to the entrance of the long arm just off the dam.  Staying to the left side of the arm, the water moves into about 5 to 10 feet of depth.  We were to stay in that area as it has been productive on a regular basis. We scored nothing at this location.  Next, we moved along the shore down the lake to a point where three pieces of timber stood. Again we stayed in 5 to 10 feet of water.  We changed colors of spinners.  Pam pulled a red one and I pulled a shiny one.  We were thinking that maybe we just didn’t have the right color.  We stayed with leeches as the local fisherman said not to move off the leeches.  We did not have any action at this location.

Just off the left side of the entrance into the long arm is a group of small islands.  We fished those. 

 

Now, what was happening with the weather was not good.  We were to have overcast to broken clouds and there was not a cloud in the sky.  Also, there was to be westerly flow of 5 to 10 mph but there was hardly any wind at all.  In fact the lake in most areas was dead calm.  This is not good walleye weather, and we had been well toasted yesterday even with sunscreen.  There was an awful lot of light penetrating into the water and the walleye will not hang out in a high light situation.  We started to fish a little deeper, but the lake really drops off into very deep water once you move from the shore.  It was common to see a drop right down to 30 feet and deeper as you moved out.  We have the equipment to fish that, but the feeling was it might be premature.

 Across to the opposite shore was a point sticking out surrounded by a good stand of weeds out into the water.  That looked like good northern pike water and we motored over to give it a try by working the weed lines pulling the spinners.  If there was a northern lurking along the weed line, it did not come out and hit on our baits. Musky are also in this lake, but in all the years I have fished northern waters or waters with musky, I have never had the good fortune to catch one.

The weeds are next to the shoreline, and we worked back and forth, but no luck. 
 

With the temps rising and the lack of wind, this day was well on the way to giving us a skunking.  Decades ago when my son was young, we fished on Lac Lacroix in Ontario with a good friend from northern Minnesota.  The lake is in the northern part of the BWCA. (Boundary Waters Canoe America).  On days like this one, he would not fish, but went to the tent, read, and generally relaxed.  He loved it when the weather was windy with a good overcast making it a dark day.  We caught a lot of fish in that kind of weather.

There are no fish here. However, look at the beautiful lilac bush along the shoreline.  This particular area was full of these beautiful bushes. 

Not giving up, we shifted gears considering that the fish may be a little deeper.  This was an opportunity to use my true and well tested method of pulling plugs.  The plug is the Berkley Flicker Shad.  It is a sinking lure that has a steady wobble and a little rattle.  A close friend and old walleye killer said this lure made the fish mad.  That was what we wanted, a mad walleye smacking the daylights out of the lure.  I might also add, when using this bait, have a good set of pliers on board with a wire cutter.  My wife said this lure should be called “finger shad” because those little hooks are really sharp.  On two occasions I have had to push the hook through and clip it off after I got it into my finger. With a little neosporin and a band aid, you can continue fishing.

Back to the dam we went and started pulling plugs in 10 to 15 feet of water.  We did not have one hit. This is the first time I have ever had this happen with this plug.

It was time to find Hidden Lake on Merritt Reservoir.  This was the last location the local fisherman told us to hit.  He said it was full of Northern Pike and there would also be some walleye if the pike had not cleaned them all out.  Refer on your map to the Powder Horn Area on the north side of the lake just to the left of the dam.  There is an unimproved boat ramp there and opposite is an arm off the lake.  Getting into it is a little daunting as all of a sudden the bottom comes up to about three feet of water.  Motor slowly for about five yards and it goes back down and opens up into a long narrow channel.  I would recommend stopping at the bait shop in Valentine and getting their free map.

The entrance to hidden lake.  The bait shop in town will give you directions to this arm off the lake.  The waters really looked good. 

Once in, we worked our spinners and plugs along each side of the arm all the way down to the end of the arm.  This was great looking water with plenty of standing weeds and timber with logs into the water.  It was a really fine opportunity to catch a nice fish and also get snagged.  At the end of the lake we followed the recommendation and dropped a single small jig with a leech and hooked up a bobber.  We were in about 5 feet of water and the bait was down about 3.5 feet.  At this location there was no wind and we just drifted slowly to the shore.

The shoreline goes from timber along the side to open banks and underground weeds.  This was a really rough day. 

We were running out of time and we were being cooked off the lake.  We went back to the Flicker Shad and slowly working our way out of the finger. We each had some luck.   Pam hit a keeper walleye and we were in business.

Not bad and it is a legal fish.  Pam caught another one on a Flicker Shad or Finger Shad as she like to call the lure. 

We continued to work the bank moving out toward the middle of the lake arm, but always staying in 10 to 15 feet of water.  I was skunked up to this point until I had the good fortune of picking up a keeper Northern Pike.  He will fillet out and once the Y bones are removed make some great fillets. 

 

Not a big northern, but one we can get some excellent eating out of once the Y bones are removed

Orvis

 

Good hunting, good fishing and good luck.  Hank

 
 
 

Almond Crusted Walleye

  • 1 or more walleye or northern fillet
  • ½ cup almond meal (ground almonds
  • panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 fresh peach or pear, sliced
  • splash of dry white wine ( chardonnay, etc.)

Mix the almond meal with a little panko and the salt and pepper. Place fish fillet in egg wash then roll in almond meal/panko mixture. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons canola oil in a pan over medium low heat, then add fish and sauté about 4 minutes per side (depending on thickness). Remove the fish to paper towels, turn heat to medium high and add the sliced fruit. Stir and fry for a minute then add 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and cook until butter browns. Add wine & reduce. Place fish fillet on plate surrounded by fruit and drizzled with sauce.  Drink the wine and if available have yourself a couple of bottles of Tusker Beer while stirring this up. . Makes 2 servings.

 

Fishing Nebraska’s Top Lake

The research was started last January as I combed the various states close by that claimed they have a lot of Walleye, Northern Pike, and Small Mouth Bass.  Nebraska has a couple of outstanding lakes, and Merritt Reservoir was named as the number one for the state.  

 
A nice fat walleye typical of the size in the lake. 

Located in a picturesque valley of the Snake River 26 miles southwest of Valentine, Merritt Reservoir offers some of Nebraska’s best fishing, along with boating and camping. It is a deep lake with excellent inflow from the Snake River and Boardman Creek.  This  part of Nebraska is known for the sandhills and cattle ranching.  With the rolling hills, clear blue skies, and a national forest close by plus the Niobrara river, it is a tourist destination for people who enjoy the outdoors.

If you like to canoe, tube, or kayak this is the location to come visit.  When we were checking out, the motel was filling up with people that were planning to kayak the Niobrara river that weekend.  This is a busy destination for people wanting to enjoy the outdoor attractions in the area. 

The town of Valentine, with only a population of 2,200 people, has really good accommodations and we picked out one that catered to the fisherman.  Besides a free breakfast in the morning, there was a place to park the boat with electrical hookup if needed. Also, the motel had a fish cleaning room and a big freezer to freeze fish.  The Trade Winds Motel was perfect for us.  http://www.tradewindslodge.com

There are plenty of restaurants so you do not have to worry about getting something to eat.  This is ranch country and the servings are really big and good.  We found it better just to enjoy the free breakfast at the motel and really load up.  We took snacks and a lot of water with us in the boat when we took breaks.  It was easier just to grab a sandwich in the evening at one of the local fast food eateries rather than have one of the really great big and good meals offered at the local restaurants. 

We tracked the weather and made a few calls up to the Merritt Lake Trading Post and to the bait shop in Valentine to see how the fishing was going.  It was not very encouraging, as the weather had been cool to cold and the area had experienced lots of rain and inclement weather.  We picked out a week late in May when the temps were warming and partly cloudy skies were forecasted.

In the mere 300+ miles across northern Nebraska the highways are excellent and the local constabulary is very courteous when handing our warning tickets for excessive speed.  If it says 65 mph, drive 65 mph.  Also, the small towns along the route all have a constable. 

After a good night’s sleep it was off to the lake by 8 a.m.  We stopped at the Merritt Trading Post and they helped with a park permit.  To use the good boat ramps you need a Nebraska Park Permit.  You can buy one for the day or get a yearly permit depending on how much you intend to fish the state.  They also have some really good maps that help you find your way around on the lake.  I was surprised when the recommendation was to fish in 4 to 7 feet of water.  For me that is pretty shallow compared to the other lakes I have fished in my lifetime at this time of the year.  A slip bobber with a leech was producing results for the fishermen.  Working the shore line with a spinner and leech was also recommended.  

The boat ramp was excellent and the whole area was paved.  There was also a fish cleaning station. A modern no flush restroom was also available. 

Excellent boat ramp and it was all paved with a really big place to park. 

We launched and headed straight toward the dam.  We were told to fish the arm of the lake northwest from the dam face.  This was the arm of the lake that had been the most productive.  Pam started out with a red and white spinner, and I used a chartreuse.  The wind was not a factor and we easily worked along the shoreline from 5 to 10 feet of water.  The lake is like no other that I have fished over the decades.  It is relatively flat close to the shore gradually dropping off  to around 7 feet and then it plunges right down to 20 to 30 feet in the arm we were fishing.  

 

Typical shoreline 

We both were getting soft hits, but the fish were not aggressive and taking a hold of the lure.  All we did initially was feed them our leeches.  Rather than setting a hook, when I felt the tap and the line started to tighten up, I counted to five to give the fish time to get the leech in its gullet. That produced a lot of snags. On this lake, Nebraska allows you 4 walleye per license per day and three have to be 18 inches or longer.  Only one can be over 22 inches and you are allowed to take one in the 15 to 18 inch range.  Pam and I both picked up fish less than 15 inch and they were promptly thrown back.  We worked up each side of the arm of the lake and were not having great luck, but we each managed to pick up a fish bigger than 18 inches. 

 

Pam landed a really nice walleye

 

Decades ago I fished with a man from northern Minnesota.  He was always glassing (using binoculars) the other fishermen.  He called them the competition.  It was time to study a little so besides fishing, we began studying the competition just to see if they were pulling in fish.  We did not see one boat land anything.

We were also after Northern Pike.  The lake and region is known for big Northerns, but we did not have a hit.  When the Y bones are removed you have a great eating fish.  When fishing with a native guide decades ago, he ate the northern at shore lunch while I ate the walleye.  Follow this link for a good explanation on how to get the bones out.

 

By now it was mid afternoon, and there had not been any cloud cover all day, so we were beginning to burn a  little.  We each picked up a fish, folded our tent for the day, and headed to shore.  This was a really good day even though we did not slaughter the fish.  We caught some really quality ones and it was our first time on the lake.  

Good hunting, good fishing and good luck.  Hank

Walleye with Garlic and Wine Sauce

  • 2 good sized walleye fillets
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • flour, for dredging
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 ounces chopped garlic
  • ½ cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 small diced tomato

Garlic Wine Sauce:

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (I recommend more garlic)
  • 1 cup chicken bouillon, heated
  • ¼ cup white wine (I recommend a good Piesporter)
  • lemon pepper
  • about ½ pound linguine, cooked
  • lemon wedges, for garnish
 

Season both sides of the walleye with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Coat both sides of the walleye fillet with flour. Heat the butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and cook the walleye on one side for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden. Turn the fillets over and cook until fish is opaque and cooked through. Remove to a plate and keep warm. Add the garlic, sliced mushrooms and diced tomatoes to the fish pan and cook until mushrooms are golden and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the bouillon, wine and lemon pepper and simmer until thickened and reduced. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over linguine and top with the pan sauce.  Enjoy a Cosmo or a Vodka Martini before dinner, and then finish off the wine with the meal. .  Makes 2 servings.

He Came, Looked, and Got Waxed

 

If anyone tells you the Funky Chicken Turkey Decoy does not work, do not believe them.  This is the fourth time I have used this decoy and the toms literally hate it.  Once they lay their beady little eyes on it they want to come and beat the living daylights out of it.  

 
flextone Funky Chicken Turkey Decoy

This is it boys, click on the pic or the link and buy from Bass Pro.  Add two feeder decoys to add security to the site


flextone Funky Chicken Turkey Decoy

 

My first day out was good as I saw birds.  This morning I did not see any at all and I did not hear any of them gobbling away.  I tested the air and gave out some “come up and see me, big boy,” calls, but got no response.  What I did see were a lot of deer crossing between the woods to the west of me and into the timber behind me.  I also got on site about an hour and a half earlier than yesterday.  That made no difference. 

 

I placed myself on the opposite side of the valley where I had been yesterday.  I had seen turkey along the hillside and moving up to the northeast end of the valley and into the woods.  Also, I had experienced some really great luck on nice sized birds on the hillside.

I got to the farm around 7:30 a.m. and loaded up my gear which consisted of a gun, lawn chair, personal pack of TP ammo, calls, 22 cal. Ruger pistol, bug and tick spray, and extra strikers for the two calls.  The bug and tick spray is most important as there have been cases of West Nile Virus reported in the area.  At my age, I do not need that problem.

The alfalfa had grown up to just below the knees and this was cause for concern, as my experience has shown that grass too tall was avoided by the turkeys.  It makes for good cover, but they cannot use that magnificent vision to spot danger.  A big bird would not have any trouble, but one smaller might not make the climb up the hill to beat up on Funky Chicken.

 

Putting out Funky and a couple of feeding decoys completed the spread.  This set up was based on the advice of the manufacturer.  It makes a lot of sense as the two feeders show the tom that there is no danger.  All he has to do is come up and kick sand in the face of Funky.

My hiding spot was behind a tree initially and practically at a 90 degree to the decoy.  After sitting there for a little bit, things did not look good.  I was well hidden to the right of me with scrub brush, but the left side was open.  A bird coming down the line of timber to my left could spot me very easily.  There was no distinct pattern of movement for the birds as in the past they would come from any direction.  I moved over to my left and had my left side totally obscured.  To the front was good coverage and to my right was satisfactory but not real great.

This was the initial hiding place behind the tree.  Good coverage to my right but not to my left.  I moved.

I pushed myself into the dark spot you see in the bushes. In the foreground you can see the two hen decoys.  A little open to my right, but I am really pushed into the bush.  

A “come up and see me sometime, big boy” call was made, but there was no answer.  No one was home or so it appeared.  It was now 08:30 a.m. and as an old friend with loads of turkey experience told me, most big toms are shot after 08:30 and before 01:00 p.m.  I was on time and waiting for the fun to begin.

The morning could not have been more pleasant.  Comfortable, but not too warm or cool made this the time to be outdoors.  A high overcast kept the glaring sun away from making it too hot.  My Kindle was opened up and a book that was in the process of being read was underway as I waited for Mr. Tom to show up.  Periodically a couple of calls were made just to see if an answer could be made, but still, no one was at home.  Slowly my eyes got heavy, my head dropped, and I fell asleep.

Suddenly a loud noise broke the quiet as a jet going into Omaha Eppley Airfield flew over and ended a really nice peaceful snooze.  Forty-five minutes had gone by and it was now 09:45 a.m.

Down toward the bottom of the hill and in the alfalfa, a dark body was seen moving in a direction directly toward me.  Then a head stuck up and it was the white head of a mature tom.  With that magnificent eyesight, the Funky Chicken had been spotted.  He was at a perfect angle where he could not see me.  That was good, but what was bad is that I would have to shoot through the bush in front of me.  I wanted a picture of him, but he just might see the movement, and the only movement now was to get the gun into position to shoot.

Slowly, but very steadily, he came toward the decoy.  The gun was laying across the arms on the lawn chair, and slowly the gun was eased until it was pointing outward.  This was done with each step he took.  The gun was now eased into my shoulder.  I waited as he slowed his pace.  This was unusual as I had seen the toms get violent as they approached the decoy.  He was within range.  He continued onward toward the decoy as the gun was slowly lifted and the barrel gently eased through the bush.

Now I was looking straight down the barrel and the barrel covered his head.  The safe was clicked off and my finger slid slowly onto the trigger and rested on it.   Still he came with caution and was now well within range.  This was going to be a close shot.  I said to myself, “Do not pull or jerk on the trigger and  shoot over the top of him.” The gun was now getting heavy as the barrel was kept on his head to allow him to get closer. I took a  partial breath and held it.  My finger now gradually tightened on the trigger and then there was a loud explosion as the 3.5 inch shell found its mark.  The shot rolled him over backward and there was no doubt, this was a dead bird.

HEVI-Shot Magnum Blend Turkey Load Shotshells - 20 ga. 1-1/4 oz - 5 Rounds
Click on the picture to buy from Bass Pro. This is the shell I shot in 3.5 inch. 

Putting the safe on the shotgun, I grabbed the Ruger 22 cal pistol and ran out to where this fine looking bird was laying.  A quick coup-de-grace to the head eliminated any chance of him coming back to life.  This allows the bird to bleed out so that you don’t have blood all over your outfit. Also,  I have had them get up and take off before, so it is an added insurance policy.  These are amazing birds and really tough customers.

Funky is off to the top left of the picture.  Beautiful bird. 

 

After a successful hunt with Funky Chicken and friends, I took him home and got him dressed out by 11 a.m.  He weighed in at 18 pounds with a 12 inch beard.  My good friend John came to get the thighs and legs, and my wife and I kept the big breasts.

A beautiful bird.  He had a 12 inch beard and weighed about 18 pounds. This picture was taken by my wife at our home. 
 

Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck. Hank

My wife and I cooked this recipe first to try it out before inviting friends.  Outstanding.

Baked Rigatoni; Wild Turkey Meatballs

Ingredients:

 

Meatballs

1 pound of ground wild turkey

1 egg

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons of flat leaf parsley chopped

1/2 cup of Italian style breadcrumbs

4 cloves of garlic minced (sounds good already doesn’t it)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Other Ingredients:

3 tablespoons of olive

2 cloves of garlic chopped

4 slices of bacon chopped

8 ounces of mushroom

2 (14) ounce cans of chopped Italian tomatoes

1/3 cup of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 pound of uncooked rigatoni pasta

8 ounces of grated mozzarella cheese

1 cup of whole milk ricotta cheese

1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bring a pot of water to boil with a generous pinch of salt.  Cook rigatoni per directions.  Drain and set aside reserving some of the cooking liquid for later. 

2. Make meatballs, combine ground turkey, 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan, parsley, breadcrumbs, garlic salt and pepper.  Roll into balls and brown in olive oil until browned on all sides.  Remove meat balls and set aside. 

3. In the same pan lower heat and cook the bacon in the remaining oil.  Add mushrooms to the bacon and saute for 5 to 10 minutes.  Add 2 cloves of chopped garlic and stir for a minute or so.  Add tomatoes with juice and parsley.

4. Simmer until thickened 20 to 30 minutes. 

5. Take the tomato sauce off the heat.  In a large bowl, combine the cooked rigatoni, tomato sauce, meatballs, grated mozzarella cheese, ricotta and 1/3 cup grated Parmesan.  Add some of the reserved pasta liquid to keep mixture moist.

6. Transfer mixture to a baking dish and bake the mixture for 20 to 30 minutes at 400 or until the top turns gold and the cheese has melted. 

7. Serve with a good Piesporter wine or Tusker Beer, if you can find it. 

 

We are looking forward to having guests over to enjoy this recipe. 

Turkey Day in the Loess Hills

Spring did not appear and it felt like we went from winter to summer in southwest Iowa.  It is turkey season and the toms have been out looking for love.  With the number of hens I have seen, they should not have any problem, other than competition from another love sick big boy.  

The place to be hunted has produced for me in the past four years.  North of Council Bluffs in the Loess hills, this farm has it all.  There are plenty of woods for hiding and roosting.  With plenty of  water in the dams in the valley and the gravel on the roads for their gizzards, what more could a turkey want.  

A gentleman that I hunted ducks with for 17 years had the good fortune and luck to be an excellent turkey hunter.  He once told me that more big toms are shot between 08:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. than any other time.  With that in mind, I was in no hurry to head to the hills and set up on a good spot.  I did not do any scouting of the area first as I felt that I knew the farm well enough just to pick a spot that was successful in the past.  Plus, I had been following this advice for the last four turkey seasons and was having excellent luck.

flextone Funky Chicken Turkey Decoy

Click on the link or the pic to buy from Bass Pro. 

On this morning I was up early, and had a healthy breakfast.  Plus, watching all the news and the weather for the area, I enjoyed several cups of coffee.  Drinking at least a half a liter of water, in addition to the coffee, is important for me.  If you drink a lot of water when you are sitting or scrunched up in the woods, I believe you eliminate the chance of leg cramps.  The turkeys have, as their defense for survival, an excellent set of eyes and can recognize movement if it is not quite right.

icon

Zink Calls Avian-X LCD Feeder HenDecoy
Click on the pic to order from Gander Outdoors. icon

As I pulled into the farm, I noticed up the valley were a couple of toms following a group of hens.  After parking about 200 yards from where they were pecking around, the truck was well out of their view.  I made my way to a hiding place I had picked out on the side of a hill where a fine bird was harvested last year.  Obviously, they split when their eyesight caught me walking to the hillside.  So I put out the funky chicken and a couple of feeder hens and climbed up behind a tree and was surrounded on the side by undergrowth of small branches and weeds.

I was hiding right behind the tree.  Sitting down there was good coverage on both sides and to the front
There is funky chicken and the two feeder decoys.  The manufacturer recommending a couple of feeders.  Also the hunter who recommended using this decoy said it adds to the area looking more secure. 

My past experience with the funky chicken decoy has been fantastic.  Each time it has been used, it has drawn the toms.  When they see it they get really mad and try to beat up on it.  It is really funny to watch.  The turkey hunter that told me to buy one, said after a couple of seasons with it you will have to buy another one as the toms will wreck it.  Putting out a couple of feeder hens helps provide a feeling of safety for the toms, which was recommended by the manufacturer and my friend.  It makes sense and seemed like the right thing to do.  Plus, it gives you the opportunity to buy more equipment.  It is important for a hunter to have a lot of stuff.  It makes hunting more fun.  When I am questioned about some of this stuff, I just say, “I don’t know where it came from.”  It works for me. 

 
Looking straight ahead. 

On the ground by 08:15, it was important to let the woods settle down, and so I pulled out my Kindle and began reading.  No movement was made.  Soon after 08:30 I could hear the squirrels running around and the birds began to sing and fly around.  A couple of doe stepped out of the woods and strolled by me about 30 yards out. A light wind was in my face.  They never even looked my way and went across the open fields to the next stand of timber.   Turkey hunting was now beginning.

Looking to my right
Looking forward
Looking to my left. 

Soon off to my left was a distinct gobble.  Loud and clear the big boy was out looking for love.  He was promptly given some quick calls and promptly answered.  I have always wonder what they are saying.  One evening when talking with a fellow hunter, we came up with the idea that the gobbler is saying, “Where are you my darling? I am looking to find you.”  The answer by the hen is, “Over here, big boy, come and see me some time.”  Calling has produced a response and results.  It has also produced nothing for me, but I keep doing it.  The one thing I do differently now is limiting the calling.  I give a few responses to a gobble and then wait.  This time he just shut up and shut down.  Who knows, maybe he saw me or something just wasn’t quite right, but he failed to answer anymore and was silent.  He never stepped out of the woods to beat up on Funky Chicken.  

Anyway, that was fun and it always gets a person excited.  After calming down and wiggling around, it was back to my kindle and to the spot I had just left.  

Then it happened.  Mother nature and three cups of coffee plus all the water that was drank this morning began to have its effect.  I should have seen to this need before sitting down, but I didn’t.  At the same time, I looked up and there was a big tom about 150 yards out heading straight for me very slowly.  He responded to a quick call and puffed himself all up and showed his fan.  As he slowly drew nearer, I saw a white head through my cataract eyes. He was a mature big boy and was looking for some action.  I needed to pee badly, but did not want to foul up this shot.

I took time for some deep breaths.  Then I placed my hands on each side of the tree and with my arms and legs pulled myself into a standing position.  This relieved the immediate pain and pressure and gave me a little time to re-position the gun.  It would be better to stand up and shoot rather than sit in the previous sitting position.  The bird was now out about 80 yards.  I slowly peeked around the side of the tree and saw that he definitely was a fine looking specimen and would taste very good.  He slowly made his way toward me.  By now he should have seen the funky chicken and should have begun to show some anger.  But instead he seemed to move off to my left.  

He got another short call and then turned and puffed himself up and gobbled real big.  What a phony big shot. Still, this was a really nice bird and I wanted to shoot him.  I keep the turkey breasts, but give the legs and thighs to my good friend John, a long time hunting friend.  He is from West Virginia and will eat anything. 

 
At least, I got a picture of him.  He was probably 100 yards out and I stuck the camera around the side of the tree and put in its max magnification and when I got home the picture turned out pretty well.  He has no idea what he just missed out on.  Notice his neck all stretched out.  I had just given him a couple of clucks and he stopped to gobble.  

Still, he was no longer coming toward me but moving off more to my left and it became obvious he was not going to come into the decoys.  Finally, with his actions it was time to step out of my hiding place and look after myself.  All that pain and no shot.  It is called hunting, not shooting.  Tomorrow is another day.  

 

LOGO_234x60

Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck.  Hank

The Flower Festival of St. Cecilia’s

During January in Omaha/Council Bluffs and it was really cold.  We were having sub zero temps at night and during the day the temp never went above ten.  Add the wind chill and it was really cold outside.  My wife Pam always finds things for us to do instead of sitting around in blankets reading and watching the idiot tube.  You watch that thing for any length of time and your eyes get bigger and your brain gets smaller.  My father said that to me when we got our first TV. 

 
OmahaNE StCecilia.jpg
“We shape our buildings; Thereafter they shape us.”

Winston Churchill

 
 

This weekend was St. Cecila’s Cathedral for their annual Flower Festival.  This is an Omaha tradition and one that will give you a bright break from the middle-of-winter doldrums.  Construction began on the Cathedral in 1905 and was consecrated in 1959.  It was listed as one of the ten largest Cathedrals in the country when it was completed.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

 

Pam and I have traveled all over Europe and especially eastern Europe and have been in many churches and cathedrals.  St. Cecilia is one of the grandest we have ever been in.  We always look forward to attending the festival every year.  

 

More than 30 area florists created displays for the event.  Last year the event celebrated Nebraska’s 150th anniversary with exhibits honoring the state’s history.  This year the planners built on last year’s success with numerous displays.  The event also honored the the American Institute of Architects, Nebraska Chapter.  Enjoy the displays. 

 

 

 
The Cathedral dome is magnificent.

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

 
 

I have been following the temperatures up at Spirit River in Alberta, Canada where I will be hunting moose.  They have been warmer than we have been.  Also, St. Anthony, Idaho where I hunted Elk last year has been warmer than our area and they are only an hour from Yellowstone. 

 

Stay Warm my Friends 

 

Good Hunting, Good Fishing, and Good Luck, Hank

 
 

Nebraska’s Best Walleye Spot

I  need a new lake to hammer some walleye.  Eastern South Dakota did not treat me very well last year and it is not like it was 20 years ago when I first went up there to fish.  The one advantage to the area is that there are a lot of lakes to fish all within a 30 mile radius of Webster, SD. 

 

The Merritt Reservoir in northwestern Nebraska is an oasis amid the giant oasis of the sandhills. The second deepest lake in Nebraska is just  a few miles south of the Snake River Falls and the Samule R. McKelvie National Forest.  Surrounded by gentle bluffs, there exists 44 mils of tree-lined shores baked in sugar-sand beaches. The lake is 11 miles long, and with 3000 acres of pure waters, this is a fishing adventure land. Maximum depth is 111 feet with an average depth of 25 feet.  This is outstanding and makes for excellent fishing.  Water levels are stable, except during the summer irrigation season when they drop.

The source of water for the lake is an impoundment of the Snake River completed in 1964 by the Bureau of Reclamation.  Boardman Creek is the only other significant tributary that supplies water to the lake.  Another plus is the lake is 98% composed of sand.  What do walleyes like?  It is sand and running water.  The more I read about the lake, it just kept getting better.

Weed growth develops in various coves and shallows from late spring until the summer draw down.  Areas of submerged timber remaining from pre-impoundment years provide good habitat for fish.  As reported a local organization constructs tire-reef that attract fish each summer.  The local Fire Department has an on-going habitat improvement program using discarded Christmas Trees.

Sand, running water, and structure makes this lake an outstanding opportunity to spend some serious time this spring to catch some really nice walleyes.  The lake also has Northern Pike, large mouth and small mouth bass.  It appears that whatever you want to fish for, this lake has it all. According to the DNR this is the best walleye lake in the state.

It is big, but narrow.  The question is what is the best way to fish it. Several recommendations were made as I reviewed all the information I could find on the lake.  The walleye spawn the first week or two in April and it was advised to fish along the face of the dam in 18 inches to six feet of water.  Floating minnow plugs such a Rapalas work best.  It was also advised to fish in low light conditions.

The post spawn bite will heat up around the 2nd week of May. Suspending live bait just off the bottom in 7 to 10 feet of water along brushy banks and over the tops and near edges of submerged weed beds is a good pattern to work. Mid June was recommended to fish with leeches and night crawlers.  As fall moves in and the lake is taken down for irrigation, the fish move deeper on flats humps and points.  Trolled baits, it was said, work best in the late fall.

This is really interesting.  Anglers at Merritt are allowed a daily bag limit of four walleye which may include one from 15 to 18 inches.  The rest of catch has to be 18 inches or above.  Only one fish can be over 22 inches.  Now think about this and concentrate on four 18 inch walleye.  It has been decades since I have had such success.

Another fish we like to catch and eat is the Northern Pike.  Besides being a really fun fish to catch, They are excellent eating.  Decades ago, my son and I fished with a local native guide in northern Manitoba.  He cooked shore lunch for us and we always ate the walleye.  He was always after a medium size northern, took out the Y bones and dined on fillet of northern pike.

After that we never threw a decent sized pike back again, and learned how to take out the Y bones. One of the first fish to turn on after the ice is out is the Northern.  It can be caught in shallow water on spoons, spinners tipped with a minnow.  Chartreuse or white is a good choice and the northern go for flash or a red and white daredevil.  We have caught them deep, mid lake, and shallow.  An outfitter decades ago told us when you find the northern, move off to one side or the other and there will be the walleye.  Northern feed on walleye, but I believe they will feed on anything.  Taking out the Y bones will leave you with a great eating piece of fish.  Watch this link and see how it is done . (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VS_cHdKS-_A)

The fishing descriptions and reports look like this is the place to go.  Now, where do I stay and where do I eat, clean and store fish?  Where to stay is important to me if you read my book, “How to Hunt Like a Gentleman.”  The same concept applies to me now when it comes to fishing.  You do not have to rough it in life to have great experiences.  In fact, over the many decades that I have fished and hunted, I have found that not roughing it is the way to go.  You just have a more enjoyable experience, plus, if the hunting or fishing stinks, you have still enjoyed yourself and those with you will have a better experience.  Camping out sucks. 

So now, I noticed that there is a trading post and a resort at the lake.  You can find them on line or call at 402 376 3437.  There is also the Water’s Edge Restaurant.  I did not find anything on line for this business, but you can call at 402 376 5934.  As I am writing this blog it is February and everything is probably closed.  I will keep on checking as we get into March.  You can rent a cabin at the lake and I believe you can store your boat in the lake at a slip if you rent a cabin.  If you do not rent a cabin, there is a charge.  Either way, this is a convenient way of not having to take the boat in and out of the water.

When we fish the glacial lakes in SD we do that a couple of times a day and it just gets to be a nuisance.  When we fish this lake we are going to rent a slip and just leave the boat in the lake and pull it out when we leave.  It is gentleman fishing.

Valentine, Nebraska is only 26 miles from the lake and the area is a tourist mecca for people that love the outdoors.  The Niobrara River flows through the area and there is a plethora of campgrounds and outfitters for a really nice river experience.  Finding a motel that caters to hunters and fishermen was not a problem.  I talked with the people at the Trade Winds Motel in Valentine, and they have a place to clean and freeze fish plus they serve a free breakfast every morning.  In addition, they have parking for my boat and trailor if I decide to pull it out every day.  Follow the link to learn more about Valentine and the entertainment they offer or just go to the site visit Valentine.  (https://visitvalentine.org/explore-here/)

All in all, this looks like a fishing adventure to spend a few days, and experience the beauty of the sandhills of Nebraska.

Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck. Hank

 

One of my favorite recipes.

Almond Crusted Walleye

  • 1 or more walleye or saugeye fillet
  • ½ cup almond meal (ground almonds
  • panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 fresh peach or pear, sliced
  • splash of dry white wine (sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, etc.)

Mix the almond meal with a little panko and the salt and pepper. Place fish fillet in egg wash then roll in almond meal/panko mixture. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons canola oil in a pan over medium low heat, then add fish and sauté about 4 minutes per side (depending on thickness). Remove the walleye to paper towels, turn heat to medium high and add the sliced fruit. Stir and fry for a minute then add 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and cook until butter browns. Add wine; reduce. Place fish fillet on plate surrounded by fruit and drizzled with sauce. Makes 2 servings.  Once you open the wine, you will have to drink it.  I recommend this recipe with a bottle or two of Tusker Beer if you can find it.  I have a friend bringing us a supply for the summer from Sante Fe, New Mexico.  I will post the place they bought it on my next blog.

The Snow Geese Have Returned

 

A couple of  decades ago the refuge at Desoto Bend was a stop over for the migrating snow geese and other birds.  I knew some farmers that cultivated some of the refuge and they were required to leave 1/3 of the crop on the ground.  Well to waterfowl, corn is like cocaine and they will gorge themselves on it.  A beautiful facility was erected with viewing areas out over the water where you could come and see all the migratory wild fowl.  It went unused for several years, but now the birds are back. There is not a few thousand but hundreds of thousands of snow geese with some blues mixed in, and my wife and I drove up to DeSoto Bend to see the birds.  It was phenomenal.

 

Every year they go through, and now they are stopping at DeSoto Bend Wildlife Refuge just east of Blair, Nebraska. That is a 45 minute drive for us.  As they make their way up the Missouri river to their nesting grounds above the arctic circle, it is a sight to see.  The snow geese have become so plentiful that there are now no limits as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife want to thin the numbers before Mother Nature does. As they migrate they stay just south of the snow line.  As it melts off in the northern states they are gone and it may be only a few days but not over a week that they will be here.

Save $10 on your order of $50 or more. Sign up for Orvis Email and Save.

 Mother Nature is not very kind when it comes to thinning the numbers.  Some day there may a disease as they are thinned out.  Hunting them in the fall at our blinds has not been very successful as they fly over in enormous flocks, flying very high, and going from refuge to refuge.

 

 

When stepping out of the vehicle at DeSoto, the first sound you hear is a high pitched yelping, that when multiplied by many thousands, will leave an indelible print on your memory.  When massed together they look like an enormous island of geese. Then all at once they begin to yelp, rise up off the water, swirl around and land back again.  We stood for an hour and watched this spectacle several times. 

 

I truly believe snow geese are smarter than other waterfowl.  If there is one important lesson that snow geese have learned and learned well, it is that there is safety in numbers.  When my friends and I began hunting the birds during the mid 1960s, snow geese migrated across Iowa in small flocks that usually consisted of anywhere from a dozen on up to 20 or so birds.  The migration was well distributed statewide, and the geese stopped wherever there were suitable marshes. 

 

How times have changed.  Today, most of the snow geese are hunted in open fields with big spreads of decoys and with the use of electronic calls.  They do not decoy as in the past.  If you do get them to start coming in, a 20 yard shot is about all you can get.  I really believe the snow goose is the hardest bird to deceive and that includes the wild turkey.  I had a chance to hunt in western Nebraska with an outfitter that specializes in snows.  They put out over 1000 decoys in wheat stubble and hunt out of layout blinds.  

 

 

DeSoto is not only a stopping off place for snow geese, but for waterfowl of all types.  There was also a migration of Trumpeter Swans which we were able to photograph.  They stayed at a considerable distance.  In addition, there were bald eagles everywhere in the trees. 

 
 

A decade or so ago, I had the privilege of hunting with Richard Hart.  It was great seeing the sculpture of the eagle he had made. 

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Good Hunting, Good Fishing and Good Luck.  Hank


It is almost time to head to the fields and whack on a big tom turkey.   

Turkey and Broccoli Almondine

  • 2 cups medium noodles
  • 1 package (10 ounces) broccoli (fresh or frozen), cooked
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup turkey or chicken broth
  • 1 cup diced Cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups diced cooked turkey
  • salt
  • ¼ cup toasted slivered almonds
  • Tusker Beer

Cook and drain noodles, put in shallow baking dish. Add broccoli to the noodles. Make a sauce with the butter, flour and liquids. Add cheese, Worcestershire and pepper; stir until cheese is melted. Add turkey and salt to taste; pour over ingredients in dish. Arrange broccoli blossoms on top and sprinkle with almonds. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes.  This goes really good with Tusker Beer or a really good Piesporter wine from Germany.  Our recommended brand is Hirschbach & Sohne Piesporter Michelsbers Riesling Spatlese.  It has a big stag on the front of the label.  Your choice the beer or the wine.

Ducks and the WRP

A close friend of mine who is an avid duck hunter is in the process of developing his own private duck hunting hole.  I hate to use the term old friends, but we have known each other for decades and he is an expert when is comes to hunting ducks and especially mallard ducks.  

His experience goes back to when he was thirteen years old and he hunted on a well known commercial hunting site and became a close friend of the owner, and still is.  He was the senior member in the club I belonged to for seventeen years.  Last year before the season, we lost the owner of the land we hunted on who also managed the club.  This club had been in existence for 25+ years and consisted of 80 acres with 40 acres of water and less than a mile from the Missouri River. It has a well and a pump to circulate the water,  so we always had open water even in the coldest of days.  The blinds buried in the ground were heated with comfortable padding for seating and hot plates for cooking. The best part of the hunt at this location was the dogs.  Some of the club members had outstanding dogs that were well trained.  We never lost a cripple.  This was gentlemen hunting at it’s finest.  Read my book “How to Hunt Like a Gentleman.”  There are real life experiences hunting ducks in the book. The book can be bought through Amazon or Lulu. 

I really miss those days of the bounty of ducks produced at this spot.  All I had to do was show up before shooting time, find a place to sit in the blind and wait.  I never had to get out.  The decoys were always located at the right location for the wind and conditions. There was always an excellent duck caller in the blind.   But with our leader gone, the family leased the blinds back to the club.  For club members like myself, that was a good thing.  They could have sold it.  This has been prime duck and goose hunting property for years and fully developed.  Still it just wasn’t the same for me.  Several of my close friends also decided not to renew their membership.  I am looking at other options.

In the meantime, my friend decided it was time to live his dream of a place of his own design based on 40+ years of hunting experience and a lifetime of studying the habits of migrating ducks.  And so he found a place near the river that was in WRP and it was for sale.  

 

The question is, what is WRP? The information below is taken from The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) a division of the USDA.

The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) was a voluntary program that offered landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. 

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided technical and financial support to help landowners with their wetland restoration efforts through WRP.

This program offered landowners an opportunity to establish long-term conservation and wildlife practices and protection.

The goal of NRCS was to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every acre enrolled in the program.

Lands that were eligible for WRP:

  • Wetlands farmed under natural conditions
  • Farmed wetlands
  • Prior converted cropland
  • Farmed wetland pasture
  • Certain lands that had the potential to become a wetland as a result of flooding
  • Rangeland, pasture, or forest production lands where the hydrology had been significantly degraded and could be restored
  • Riparian areas that linked protected wetlands
  • Lands adjacent to protected wetlands that contributed significantly to wetland functions and values
  • Wetlands that had previously been restored under a local, State, or Federal Program that need long-term protection 

Lands established to trees through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) were ineligible for WRP enrollment.

NRCS was committed to delivering all Farm Bill programs authorized through the 2008 Farm Bill and was eager to discuss with all interested parties about the many potential benefits that the WRP offered.

Former Enrollment Options

Under the easement options, the USDA paid all costs associated with recording the easement in the local land records office, including recording fees, charges for abstracts, survey and appraisal fees, and title insurance.

  • Permanent Easement: A conservation easement in perpetuity. USDA pays 100 percent of the easement value and up to 100 percent of the restoration costs.
  • 30-Year Easement: An easement that expires after 30 years. USDA pays up to 75 percent of the easement value and up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
  • Restoration Cost-Share Agreement: An agreement to restore or enhance the wetland functions and values without placing an easement on the enrolled acres. USDA pays up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
  • 30-Year Contract: A 30-year contract option is only available on tribal lands. USDA pays up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.

Rights Retained By Landowners

Speaking generally, under the voluntary easement the landowner retains the rights to:

  1. control of access
  2. title and right to convey title
  3. quiet enjoyment
  4. undeveloped recreational uses
  5. subsurface resources
  6. and water rights
Wild sunflower.  A native to the area.
Looking southwest across the wetland
Looking south across the wetland  The trees at the south form the southern boundary. 

My friend will be buying the 80 acres provided approval is given by the government for the land changes and arrangement he wants to do to the ground.  The focus on the spot will be to provide ducks with a resting place and feed obtained from native moist soil annual plants.  These produce the most seed. The whole 80 will not be for hunting but only a few acres will be shallow flooded for hunting.  No permanent blinds will be built or sunk into the ground.  Instead  the hunters will hide in the natural grass lands of the prairie consisting of switch grass and other native grasses.  You will have to hide.

Barnyard grass, a native to the area.
Crawdad hole.  The holes are everywhere. 

Most importantly, the spot will not be hunted every day but only on certain days of the week and only with a limited numbers of hunters.  Ducks will have an opportunity to feed and rest, move on or stay until the weather drives them out.  This is a great way to give the birds a rest and still have some excellent hunting.

White Wing Stem
 
Ironweed

In the spring when the birds move north the area will provide a great place to stop, rest, feed, and possibly stay and produce more ducks.  

 
Canada Wild Rye

I usually only harvest a two day limit for the season of Mallards.  That is all we will eat during the next six months after the season closes.  There are other meats to dine on besides ducks.

Recipe of the Week

       Duck Fajitas

  •  four duck breasts
  • 1 box of frozen red, green and yellow peppers
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 fajitas spices/seasoning packets
  • 1 pack medium sized flour tortillas
  • salsa
  • sour cream
  • tomato
  • cilantro
  • guacamole
  • shredded cheese
  • toothpicks
 

Cut goose or duck breasts into thin strips. Place in a skillet with a small amount of hot oil, cook thoroughly. Add fajita seasoning packet to duck. At the same time in another skillet sauté the frozen peppers with chopped red onion. Cook until tender. When both pepper and meat are done, place flour tortillas in microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. This will warm the tortillas and allow them to separate easier. Take out one tortilla and add meat, peppers, shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, etc. Wrap the fixings inside the tortilla and use a toothpick through the middle to hold it together. Accompany with Spanish rice and refried beans. Serve with Tusker Beer.

Orvis

Good hunting, good fishing and good luck. Hank