Follow by Email

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A day in the woods

We started off with a walk in the woods along the LMR with my granddaughter Kally. The woods this time of year I find really fascinating with all kinds of little plants you wont find the rest of the year. These are called spring ephemerals. The idea is to pop up flowers, grow, and start setting seed before the trees overhead leaf out and shade the understory. So these guys are raring to go and are the first things you'll run into this time of the year. Everywhere this trip we found Dutchman's breeches. The flowers hang off a droopy arching stem and I guess reminded people of little pants hanging out on the line to dry.

We also found bloodroot blooming even before the leaves had uncurled fully. Bloodroot gets its name from the bright red sap inside the root that looks like blood. This sap will burn you and was used in old time remedies for warts or skin tags even melinoma. But can result in serious scarring if not done properly. The FDA has prosecuted practitioners for carrying out this remedy. Bloodroot is very big with practitioners of magic and witchcraft. Supposedly you put a piece of dried root in alcohol let it soak and drink a shot. Supposedly it, umm, well, makes things work better if your a guy. Bloodroot carried and spread around the house in voodoo is used as a hex breaker and to avoid negative energy and bad luck. Also if you fear someone is trying to break up your marriage, put some dried bloodroot into yours and your spouse's pillows. Its also used by burning it to negate bad juu juu.

Up higher on the hill we began to find large patches of ramps and a very cool plant. Trout Lily.

Trout lily is so named because in the southern mountains it is a sign that the time has come to catch trout. The corm of trout lily is edible. Some believe that wounds will be healed if the plant is soaked in cold water, then removed and wrapped it in cloth and applied to a wound or bruise. It is left there until the bundle is warm, and then removed and buried in a muddy place.
According to legend native Americans would chew up leaves and then spit them on whatever waters they were going to fish to ensure good luck.

Back off the trail we found some frogs in a little pond. Several small frogs were around the edges and still seemed a bit lethargic in the cool water. I took a snapshot of this guy then managed to catch him in my hands. He jumped out then, causing Kally to scream and run. His next big jump was right at her causing even more panic, it was pretty awesome!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Some spring bassin

today I went bassing in a gravel pit. After a couple hours with absolutely no luck I was bumming pretty good. I tried jigs, grubs, various soft plastics all with no luck. I finally tied on a suspending minnow. Being a cheap bastard I'd rigged these myself. Last spring Wallyworld had boxes of rebel minnows for sale at a $1.50. So I replaced the trebles with bigger ones and wrapped the forward treble with lead wire. Voila, a suspending minnow plug that doesn't cost nine dollars.A couple jerks to get it down and I let it set. Then a very slow retrieve with more setting than moving. Whack a pound or largemouth hits it. First cast after two hours catching nothing on anything else! I'd like to say they hammered it every cast but they did hit every ten minutes or so. Nothing big, just decent fish. A big improvement over the rest of what's been so far a slow spring.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Superfoods, the Sauk Sea and fungi.

With the river too high to fish but the day being close to perfect I decided to head to the woods to see if the ramps were up. What are ramps you say? Ramps or wild leeks are the first wild food that pops up every spring. So where do you find this wonder food? In moist woodlands and in shady hollows and creeks. Good wildflower and ginseng woods are usually good places to find ramps. Among the first plants to emerge in spring, ramps let you get back in the woods before turkey hunting season or even before the start of morel hunting season. In good woods, patches of ramps show up as islands of green in an otherwise sea of early season brown. As spring wears on and trees leaf out ramps begin to yellow and die back. As the leaves yellow and die a smooth stalk appears with a small purplish tip. After the leaves have completely died back this tip opens into a small globe of delicate flowers. This stalk then bears small seeds and then dies. In my experience you can, if you know what to look for, still find ramps in late summer and fall by looking carefully for this dried stalk which stands even when dead. But by then the ramp bulb is very very strong, too strong for my tastes. For me early spring is the time to gather ramps. Besides, the leaves themselves are as usefull as the bulbs. You can use the leaves green in salads. Or gather them and fill the dehydrator with them for later use. We usually use a big mason jar full of dried leaves every year as seasoning. Almost everything that's grilled at my house gets sprinkled with dried ramps. Chicken, venison steaks, zucchini and squash all taste better grilled when liberally sprinkled with a pinch or two of ramps. A baked potato is better when slathered in butter and sprinkled with dried ramps too.
The classic meal for ramp lovers is fried potatoes and ramps. Fry your potatoes till they are just about to start to brown and then throw in about half as many ramps as potatoes and brown both. Simply the best fried taters you will ever have. Want a dip that's actually good for you? Make ramp hummus with a cup of chick peas thrown in the food processor with a heaping spoonfull of chopped ramps and a spoonfull of chili powder. A great campfire meal is ramps and mushrooms sauteed in butter. The bulbs can also be dried like the leaves and added to soups or added to anything that could use a strong garlicy flavor. Or as Pulitzer Prize nominated food writer Jane Snow once described it, "like fried green onions with a dash of funky feet". Ramps were called chicagou in the language of native tribes and local abundance gave the city of Chicago it's name. The name ramps is one of the many dialectical variants of the English word ramson, a common name of the European leek.

Lets check out some facts. Ramps are the ultimate superfood. No pesticides ever... heck most ramps grow in ground that has never even been cultivated for anything ...ever. This is a big deal since farmers harvest crops and in removing them thus take trace minerals trapped in the plants out of the soil, while in the woodland habitats that ramps grow in, nutrients are recycled in a loop and are not depleted. Let's look in more detail at ramps nutritional value.

Wild leeks are high in antioxidants. Ramps have a high Total Polyphenol Content (TPC) which is the way foods are graded on their antioxidant capability. Ramps are higher than tomatoes and red bell peppers and carrots. These polyphenols are considered active cancer fighting agents. Ramps help support brain function and development because they contain choline which is a used as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Adequate amounts of choline in the diet have been shown to support proper cognitive function and facilitate learning in adults and children. Ramps or wild leeks help prevent high blood pressure and stroke because they contain folate which is an essential B vitamin that keeps our bodies levels of homocysteine in check. Homocysteine is a protein found in the blood that contributes to atherosclerosis when it is in high amounts.
Being closely related to garlic, ramps contain the same sulphur compounds including kaempferol. Kaempferol works to protect the lining of the blood vessels against damage while supporting the liver in elimination of cholesterol. Ramps have basically all the well known health benifits of garlic or onions without the danger of pestacides and mineral depletion.
Ramps are an excellent source of vitamin A (immune-supportive) and vitamin K (anti-inflammatory). They are very good source of manganese as well as vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Ramps are also a good source of dietary fiber, magnesium, calcium, and copper; enzyme-generating molybdenum; and potassium. Ramps are rich in the B9 vitamin known as folate (folic acid), thus helping the body build new cells and keeping the blood healthy so that it can oxygenate the body. Everyone needs folate in their diet, but it is doubly important for woman who are pregnant. By eating folate-rich ramps, women can prevent some birth defects such as problems associated with the baby's spine (spina bifida) and brain (encephalitis).
Ramps are also a great source of potassium, a mineral that balances the body's pH and water levels and contributes to muscle growth, brain function and nervous system stability. Potassium also plays an important role in the body's metabolic rate and is critical for proper functioning of cells, tissues and organs. Besides their basic nutritional benefits, eating a mess of ramps also aids the body in certain medicinal ways. Ramps have natural antiseptic properties, which help the body fight infection, as well as laxative benefits. Ramps also help lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol blood levels. Ramps reduce the risk of prostate, colon and ovarian cancer and contain diuretic and anti-arthritic properties.

While walking out I found a horn coral fossil in the creek running thru the hollow the ramps were growing in. Horn corals are fossils of when Ohio was covered by an ancient sea called the Sauk Sea during the Ordovician Period, which if I remember right was like 400 million years ago!

I also snapped a photo of some cool lichen growing on a tree trunk.

Lichens are actually two different life forms that combine to help each other an algae and a fungus. The fungus helps the algae by retaining water while the algae performs that miracle of miracles, photosynthesis. Or as the great lichenologist Trevor Goward once said: Lichens are a case of fungi that have discovered agriculture. How cool is that?? That's also why lichens are always happy because on the inside they are always a fun guy. (sorry couldn't resist) And believe it or not but deer, flying squirrels, and voles also use lichens as an important food. I remember once watching a doe out of a treestand feed on lichens covering a downed tree top. At the time I thought it might be rare behavior but it turns out it's just business as usual for whitetails.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Long Winters Night

I don't remember ever making the decision to fish thru the winter. Every year I still feel that panic every fall to get in that last frantic few trips before winter sets in. But now afterward I still fish. I'll look up startled by the absolute quiet of the streamside woods and realize nothing at all is moving,seeming nothing alive is out there, that I've crossed some line into real and absolute winter. But every cast upstream, every drift of the jig downstream just pulls spring that much closer. I am a fisherman and I fish. It's what I do. I think sometimes that maybe on some subconscious level part of me even sees this winter fishing as the price I pay for the easy fishing that will come later. Some misplaced Midwestern ethic that feels nothing is ever really for free.
You can cheat winter though. I'll have had enough and three or four times during the winter make the two hour drive to the nuclear plant on the Ohio for hybrids. Or take a morning and make some sort of dumpster love to the carp and buffalo that stack up in the discharge of the local wastewater treatment plant. Or, if the years cold enough like this one, chop holes in the ice and haul up startled bluegills on waxworms. But these are just stunts, parlor tricks to pass the time till the real fishing starts.
I don't even mind not catching fish in winter. I do mind the short dark days. For someone used to spending every available second outdoors so much cold darkness can suck the spirit right out of the soul. So I fish. The river is still alive. Just today a friend showed me a sturdy little stonefly crawling on riverside stones. I might even catch the occasional small fish. I am not reassured.
But I know it can happen. The magic of fishing that is. It has in winters past and it can again. There was the day we found bass stacked on a bluff and caught them all day while the other half of the lake was covered in ice. The day the only strike was a soft tap that turned out to be a twenty six inch sauger. Or the big smallmouth that hit a January hair jig swirling in a river eddy like a bat out of hell. And all the while the river keeps up it's inexplicable journey towards the sea as generous or as unforgiving as time. And so we fish. Until, like now we have finally made it thru another winter and fishing, real fishing is at hand.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

It's coming...

Mar 55°F 35°F

Apr 66°F 43°F

Average temperatures for March & April. It's coming soon now. I don't know about you but I'm really sick of this whole winter thing. So let's talk about smallmouth in spring. Right now smallmouth are pretty much completely inactive. Somewhere they can be safe and get out of the current and stay out of the current even if things flood. But give us some moderate weather and then a warm spell of a few days and things will change. In the fall smallmouth start shutting down when the water temps sink into the forties. You can catch one then but it's hard. Real hard. But by late winter they are seemingly as tired of old man winter as we are and you can sometimes get one to bite in cold water if its warmed up just a bit. Try a float n fly or better yet a minnow under that float. your still fishing in that wintering hole but it seems like Ill find them right where the soft bottom of the hole hits the hard bottom of rock or gravel.
Then as water temps climb further, say in the upper forties to low fifties, they begin to move. I look for the first staging areas out of their wintering holes. Spots where they can get out of the current, big boulders, rock rubble, small eddies. My favorite baits in this situation are still hair jigs and grubs but I'll also throw something like a square billed crankbait, especially in the heat of the day. On a warm spring day the water might be 48 at daylight but 52 by four in the afternoon. I try to throw right at something. If I'm fishing a couple big boulders or an old bridge abutment I'll try and bounce my crankbait off it or hit it with my jig. Some days this seems to make a huge difference. Another bait I have a lot of confidence in during this time of transition is a hair jig or jig made of craft fur tipped with a salted minnow. Save those crappie minnows and preserve them in salt. Lay them out in a Tupperware bowl so they aren't touching then cover them with salt. lay out another layer and repeat. I'm also fond of gulp type baits or salted plastics on the back of the jig but the real thing works best for me. Eddies below lowhead dams can really produce right now as well. One nice thing about lowheads is if the bass aren't biting in the eddy saugfish should be biting out in the current.
Next as the water warms thru the mid fifties to sixty the bass will begin to gather in their spawning grounds. Try to find a backwater that has a solid bottom. You need a bottom that when you swipe it once or twice with your wader boots you get gravel or smaller rock. Good places to look are in the lower end of channels behind islands and sometimes in the mouths of small tributaries. Some tribs just pour right into the river over a shallow gravel bar but some have a quiet backwater where they meet the main river that is ideal spawning territory. From the upper fifties to mid sixties is prime time to catch pre spawn smalljaws. Now the bass are very active and a crankbait or a spinnerbait of some sort can really produce. I might start off the day swimming a grub and then switch to a square bill crank or a spinner as the day warms. Smalljaws start to spawn in rivers around here sometime around mid April to the beginning of May depending on water temperature.

In spring a thermometer can be a big help showing you not only where you should be fishing but how. It will be here before you know it now...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pouring lead and dreaming of spring today...

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Grube

Something else to do while waiting for the Winter That Never Ends to finally be over. Kind of a skirted jig-tube-grub love child, the GRUBE...
Ones a crawfish imitation that isn't too big for river smallmouth like most crayfish imitations and the other a darter imitation with pec fins that have a bit of orange.

Easy to make with some rubber skirt material and some grubs. Use a jig head like a crochet needle, poking it thru the grub, hooking the rubber with the barb and pulling it back thru the body.

Pretty close to the average assortment of stuff you can fish on a jighead that ill carry in my wading pack...

Several kinds and sizes of hair jigs. (this year there will be a lot of kinds and sizes, its been a long winter and Ive tied a few hundred). Motoroil with red flake grubs made into darter and crayfish imitations. Chartruese, smoke metalflake and glow colored grubs. (The glow is just a great daytime color I don't carry it because it glows in the dark even though it does. Sort of a more natural version of white) And a color or two of shad bodies swim baits to imitate shiners.