Sunday, August 30, 2009

My First Elk

On August 19th, I took a trip to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa. The Iowa State Fair is one of the best in the nation--having a plethora of live entertainment opportunities, interesting exhibits, and roughly 50 different foods on a stick. Since Iowa is one of the premier states of the midwest, you can be sure the livestock building is a hot spot for all visitors. It appears Iowan farmers do their best to raise the largest livestock possible(which seems more cruel than anything else...true, I saw the biggest hog of my life, but it looked like standing was one heck of a chore for that 1300 pound monster!).

The livestock barn had more to offer than simply obese mammals with awards pinned to the stalls. Many exotic animals not necessarily native to the state are being raised by farmers, and they love to show them off. Many species of sheep and goat were on display, as well as rabbits and other small game. As I was perusing through the various animals, it was brought to my attention that an animal down the way should really grab my attention. I glanced down to see a tall green stall with large antlers moving about. The antlers were very recognizable--it was an elk!

Up to this point, I had never seen a live elk before. Iowa doesn't necessarily offer the correct terrain for elk to thrive. Every now and again, an elk will make its way from the west and wander in the state, but it usually vacates the area rather quickly. The same happens with moose and bear. Since I live in the central part of the state, the straying animals rarely make it that far into the state without being run off.

Finally, I made my way down to the elk stall. I was very surprised at the size of this beast! I've watched many elk hunts on television and internet, but it is almost impossible to understand the size of an elk unless you are standing right next to one.

The elk you see here is one of many being raised in Iowa. To my knowledge, these elk are not being raised for any type of hunting. They are treated more as cattle and are butchered for the meat.

Exotic game farms do exist in Iowa. Whether or not they use elk in these game farms, I am not sure. I want to say I have heard of elk hunts taking place, but it isn't something I've followed very closely or really have an interest in. I would certainly love to take a gander at one of these big guys in the wild!

Have you ever had the chance to hunt elk in the Western United States? If so, what was it like? If not, what stops you from going?

Friday, August 28, 2009

I Finally Found a Good Buy!

Before I embarked on my last trout flyfishing excursion, I stopped at Scheels Sporting Goods to pick up some tools to work on my bow. I don't usually find myself near a Scheels or large sports store often, but Brad needed to pick up some hooks before the trip, so I took advantage of the stop. After finding what I needed for my bow, we soon found that Scheels clearanced ALL of their fly fishing and flytying items earlier in the Summer. Just as we were leaving, however, I noticed the only things left in the section were wading shoes and sandals. The sandals I had been using to cross the streams were getting extremely old and tattered. The binding on the soles had come loose, and small rocks were getting stuck in my sandal, making walking painful. When I saw the clearance sign, I was very interested in the display.

The sandals turned out to be Orvis Wading Sandals. The construction of these sandals appeared to be very good. The straps have a very neoprene feel that use velcro to firmly fit to the foot with amazing comfort. The sole of the sandal is very firm, giving a great feeling of stability, especially in the water and on rocks. The bottom of the sandal has a felt-like section running down the middle that, mixed with the tread on the sandal, creates excellent traction in the water and on slippery rocks.

Fitting: Like usual, I went straight for the size 12 they had on the shelf. The sandal proved to be a hair bigger than what I need, but stuck with the 12 anyway. Who knows...I might have another growth spurt. As I said before, the bottom of the sandal feels very firm and secure. When I used them in the stream, I had no problem with them easily bending or giving on the stream bottom.

Construction: The sole of this sandal is VERY well made. It appears that there is no way for the sole to come apart and have small rocks get underneath your feet. Good construction means increased durability and overall longer comfort in the field. The sole of the sandal is made of a rubber material which stays waterproof. The straps as I said before have a neoprene feel to them.

Style: The style of these sandals is very basic. Two straps secure the foot in the front, while one strap goes around the back of the foot for a tight and comfortable fit. These straps are adjustable to fit just about any foot that goes in them. The sandals only came in a tan/green pattern, but it certainly fits the outdoor endeavors of those who fish.

Advantages: These sandals are relatively light, even after they have been used in the water for a long period of time. They don't get water-logged like an average sandal will. The secure fit and comfort allow for all day use without any problems of blisters. The sandals are also small and don't take up a lot of room in the car. They can be tossed in for a long road trip or a nice relaxing evening at your favorite local fishing hole.

Disadvantages: While the sandals work great in the water, they do leave your feet exposed as you walk to and from your fishing site. We had to walk through a lot of tall grass and and sharp weeds. The sandals leave a large part of the foot exposed and my feet were slightly cut up from the weekend.

Price: Scheels normally had the sandals for $51.99--I paid $19.99!! Not a shabby deal for a good pair of wading sandals!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Osprey Introduced in Iowa

Early in the Summer, I was horrified by the monstrosity which was being erected at one of my favorite fishing spots. It appeared to be a new observation tower, but the slow progress on its construction made it a complete eye-sore. Soon, a metal sign was posted: "The Osprey Project." I stood with a confused expression wondering, "Do we even have osprey??" For weeks, I walked by the site and shrugged at its construction. It looked like a shabby observation tower to watch osprey out of. A few weeks ago, I finally found out that the tower is not meant to watch the is meant to house the osprey! According to an article I found online on the Iowa DNR Website Minnesota and Wisconsin Osprey Relocation Underway, five Wisconsin Osprey have been introduced into the Annett Nature Center in Warren County, Iowa.

The birds were kept in the tower for roughly a month, and were then released to fly freely.

On my last fly fishing trip, I was actually able to snap a couple photos of the birds flying about the nature center. They were very graceful and beautiful as they flew over the water.
The osprey make a distinctly high-pitched call, which allowed me to locate them when I initially spooked them from the tower. When I saw the osprey, they were often together in the same tree, except when they were flying above the water in search of food. It was a pleasure to see the birds alive and (apparently) thriving in their new home. It is unknown how long they will call the Annett Nature Center "home." From my understanding, they will migrate for the Winter, but return in a few years to make a nest of their own and raise their young. The numbers from the article regarding their return rate didn't seem all too promising, but only time will tell.

Monday, August 24, 2009

To the River!

I decided last night to take a break from all the packing and moving. I absolutely hate moving, and I've found myself doing it two times a year for the past 6 years. My friend Justin was back in town, so we decided to do a little catfishing on the river for a relaxing way to end the evening.

When we got to the river, we found the water to be extremely low. There were exposed sandbars in the river that I haven't seen for years. The channel itself was maybe 6-7 feet at best. There was also very little current in the river. This made it nice for us because we didn't need a lot of weight to hit the bottom of the river and keep our bait stationary, but I would like a little current in the water to attract fish downstream to my bait. Despite the conditions, we decided to fish anyway.

Our bites were few and far between, but I did manage to snag into a decent channel cat after dark. This cat weighed in at 6 pounds. It is a little hard to see in the picture, but this fish was freakishly thin. The head and mouth on this fish was huge! In my opinion, this fish should have been topping out at close to ten pounds. Its length and head size tells me it was an older fish that should have weighed much more than it did. I'm not sure exactly what is causing this fish to be so thin. I think it could be the water level of the river. When the water begins drying up, fish cannot freely swim up and down stream. It is like they become stuck in a puddle. Pretty soon, the food supply begins running out and the fish starve. Hopefully we get some rain soon to put more water back in the rivers and free some of these larger fish.

Poor Justin! The only fish he caught all night was a small drum off a nightcrawler.

I'm using an interesting bluegill rig for my catfishing. I believe I'm heading back out to the river this evening to try my luck again. I'll make a new post tomorrow on the rig and my luck from tonight.

I hope everyone is taking advantage of the late Summer weather. Take some time off and enjoy a sunny evening of fishing! (And don't forget your camera at home!! It is a great time of year to get beautiful outdoor photos!!)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Back to School

The time has come for me to pack up my belongings and migrate back to Simpson College. This will mark my 6th year at this institution, and I am happy to say it will be my last. Changing majors and falling into the Education Program at Simpson has prolonged my stay, but I feel that I have become an educated individual nonetheless. I'm afraid this year will drag on with the monotony of the previous years, but I've been trying to spark my enthusiasm with a few positives:

1) If I'm still in school, I don't need to start paying off my student loans...which is good because it is difficult to find a decent job. Hopefully the job market will improve by next May.

2) I get to further my education. If there is one thing I have truly learned in college, it is the fact you can never learn too much.

3) I get to spend the next 9 months living with my friends. (Side note: I like to pull pranks on my friends...I can't wait to cover someone's bed in peanut butter this year!!!)

4) Since I'm close to home and taking classes in the Fall, I will still be able to visit all the same hunting and fishing spots. I thought I was going to be student teaching this Fall, which would limit my hunting and fishing time severely. I've decided to student teach in the Spring, however, which means I will only miss turkey season (and with the last few turkey seasons I've had, I'm really not too torn up about missing it).

With a new school year comes new school work. I imagine my schedule will be relatively busy as I bust my butt trying to complete a 25 page Senior Research Project. With a full load of classes, I still hope to have time for some blogging. This might be my last devoted bow season for a few years, so I hope to make it count and share it with everyone who would like to read it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Map Your Land

A month or two ago, I read several blogs regarding pre-season tactics for Fall bowhunting. One thing I saw from Hunting Wisconsin's "Bow Season Prep Starts Now" that I really liked was the idea of using a geographical map of the land beforehand to get a feel for the land before you ever take a step into the woods. I've spent many hours wandering the land where I hunt, and I know it rather well, so I decided to take the geographic map a step further and highlight some of the aspects of the land. The finished product was this...

I used the simple Microsoft Paint program on my computer to highlight aspects about the land. I've done this type of work before on a different piece of land, and I've found a couple advantages for doing so. 1) You can test your own knowledge of the land and fence lines. 2) It can become easier to pattern deer movement with a larger view of the land. 3) If two or more people are hunting the same piece of land, you can each have a map and coordinate where you are going to hunt together. You know exactly where they are going to be, and they know exactly where you are going to be. In the past, I have printed and laminated these maps and handed them out before the hunt started. You can also use dry-erase markers on the laminated surface and create a plan of action for your group right on the map. With this map, there is no more fear of firing in the wrong direction.

For my geographic map, I found a handy website that is updated every now and again by Iowa State University. From what I understand, Google Earth will also generate a geographic map for you (and possibly topographic/other helpful maps).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Those Pesky Trout...

Last weekend, my friend Brad and I took to the stocked trout streams of Northeast Iowa. With this being our third trip to the streams, we had higher hopes than before. Through our experiences in the past, we really felt like we had a better understanding of how to fish the streams. We equipped ourselves with many new flies we had researched and hand-tied. As is in every trip we take, our enthusiasm was very high in the beginning of the trip, and we were looking forward to finally catching a decent number of trout.

Many counties in Northeast Iowa are riddled with small streams that are stocked with "catchable" trout, as the Iowa DNR puts it in their online resources. We wanted to try out different streams with this trip, so we went to Clayton County--one county North of Delaware County where we usually fish. Our first stop proved to be a very difficult stream to fish because of the dense cover that had grown around the stream. Simply finding a place to get in the stream became a challenge. When I finally got situated, I managed to have several bites and lost one decent Rainbow Trout. I moved to a different spot on the stream and caught this little guy.

When I brought this thing in, I thought to myself, "Wow...that is one goofy looking trout!" I pulled it up and was dumbfounded. It was a CREEK CHUB!! I couldn't believe it--I've never actually caught one before...but I've never really wanted to. I don't even use them for catfish bait...although I hear they work well. With all the small creeks and tributaries running through the land, it isn't surprising that the chubs get into the "trout waters." I was very disappointed with my catch thus far, so we picked a new spot in Clayton County. With no luck there, we camped the night and headed for a new spot in the morning.

The next stream we hit was very small--only 10-12 feet wide with shallow depths. I thought our luck would be like the day before, but I did manage to find a small pool and caught this little Brown Trout. Even though this fish was small, I was very excited. If you have followed my trout experiences on my blog, you know that my success with trout tends to be slim. Any trout caught on my fly rod is a definite trophy!!

With the sands of time quickly dripping away in the weekend hourglass, we agreed to go back to our usual spot in Delaware County. We were more familiar with the streams and thought we would have a better shot at catching some fish.

Sadly, I didn't get a bite the rest of the day. For me, exhaustion and frustration had thoroughly set in. I don't necessarily need to be catching fish to have fun fishing, but I do at least need some bites to keep my attention. Brad had managed to reel in 5 or 6, but I was striking out with every cast.

On Sunday, my enthusiasm was low as we went back to the same spot we ended the day before. Half-heartedly, I fished the stream and managed to catch two fish: a spunky little Brown Trout (left) and my first Brook Trout (right).

Although I managed to catch a few fish before we departed, I constantly question whether the trip was worth it or not. Of the hundreds, if not thousands of casts I made throughout the weekend, only 3 fish and a few bites were the outcome. This experience (much like the previous experiences on the streams) makes me want to stick to the bass and bluegill fishing on my fly rod. I think we're planning on heading to the streams one more time in the Fall. Since we bought our trout stamps, we want to make sure we get use out of them. Plus, we want to see if the time of year might produce a better outcome on our fishing. Hopefully, I will have better luck next time!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Froggin' on a Farm Pond

Saturday evening, we took to a local farm pond for some bass action. I would refer to myself as a "retired" bass fisherman. Although I am only 23, I have spent a significant chunk of my fishing career chasing after Largemouth Bass. For years, I did no other type of fishing (except maybe ice fishing). After catching many large bass, as well as getting a 23" 8 pounder on my wall, I decided to hang up my bass rod a few years ago and focus on fly fishing and cat fishing...both I had seriously neglected over the years. From years of experience, I know that Summer time bass fishing can be great if you know how to coax them into biting. The evening looked like it was going to be a perfect one, so I broke out the bass rod for a small cameo role...which turned into the main attraction!

I've never really been into top-water fishing for bass. I've found that most big bass search for deeper and cooler water in the Summer. Smaller bass can be caught using top water, but I would rather go after the big bass if I take the time to fish for them. Grass and moss had taken over the edges of the pond and made it rather difficult to fish my usual Berkley Powerworm Texas Rig. My friend Brad suggested I tie on one of his top-water plastic frogs and run it on top the grass and moss on the bank. I've never fished any type of moss-running bait before, but he claimed it would be successful. I tied it on to see how well I could do.

Within 10 casts, I pulled in this 4 pound brute from the thick grass...

I had several other bites throughout the evening, but the only other confirmed catch was actually another frog!

We continued to fish late into the night because only the faintest bit of light was needed to see a strike on the top of the water. Brad snagged into this little guy just before it was completely dark.

I think I'm sold on the moss-runner baits. Although I didn't actually catch anymore fish, the amount of strikes made it a new and very fun fishing scenario. For the best results, I would suggest a slow and bouncy retrieve. Walk along your pond or lake and watch the speed and action of the frogs you see in the water. Do your best to mimic that and you will be getting plenty of bass bites!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What is wrong with this fish??

As I was going through some pictures of fish I have caught this Summer, I found this one and just had to share it. When I picked it up out of the water, it looked like every other decently sized bluegill I have caught out of the pond. Just as I was about to release the fish back in the water, I noticed something a little bizzare about the fish...

The bluegill has a HUGE chunk taken out of its back and dorsal fin!!

My jaw dropped in awe as I started to examine the creature. The wound or deformity seems to be well healed. It is covered completely with scales and doesn't have an effect on the swimming abilities of the fish.

The big question: What do you think happened to this fish?? Let me know what you think!