My family and I made it back “out west” for the long Thanksgiving weekend. We had a “typical” Thanksgiving weekend, lots of family time, lots of food and feasting, some game-playing, lots of football-watching and yes, some hunting and fishing too. Let me give you a report, tell some stories and show some pictures.
I did not do a lot of hunting. The weather was dry and mild and that had me thinking fishing. I did spend some time chasing and cussing the pheasants around my in-laws place before and after the feast on Thanksgiving Day. I have hunted that ground in southwest Nebraska for a long, long time; have seen it in good years and bad; have seen it when it was loaded with birds and well, not so much. I know all the pessimism about pheasant numbers in Nebraska right now; my kids get tired of hearing my old stories about how the bird numbers AND HABITAT are nothing like they used to be. I am not going to tell you I found lots of pheasants, but I did find some. I will tell you that habitat conditions were not good, but I will also tell you that I have seen conditions just as bad a few years ago when we suffered through several years of drought. Bird numbers rebounded nicely after that and they will again if habitat conditions improve. It is all about the habitat.
Believe it or not, the neighbors across the road from my in-laws had a section of corn STILL IN THE FIELD. I did not think there was any corn in the whole state that had not been picked yet. Anyway, of the pheasants I found, that is where they were all at; they went into the corn first thing in the morning and stayed there all day. So, I hatched me a little plan after the Thanksgiving feast–late in the afternoon I sauntered out and just sat down in a spot where I could intercept some birds coming out of the corn for the evening. In all my years of pheasant hunting I have learned that a person can be a lot more successful if they actually HUNT pheasants instead of going on military maneuvers marching across fields expecting to shoot pheasants. I even have a pheasant call, but that is another story for another day.
Sure enough, about 15 minutes after I got hid, a couple of roosters come flying out of the corn and land in the weeds behind me. I got up, hustled over there, got right in the middle of three roosters that flushed, and here is a picture of what I got:
Actually I knocked one down with the first barrel of my old side-by-side, and then spent some time looking for him. My brother-in-law and I looked and looked, could not find that bird anywhere, but then I played a hunch and was feeling really smart when we found his tracks in the dirt. That is how dry it has been–I could track pheasants in the dirt. I have tracked a lot of birds in the snow, but this was the first time I tracked a bird in the dirt. We followed him into a little patch of weeds in some corn and then proceeded to kick him out of there and lose him again back into the thickest patch of weeds in 20 square miles.
I love hunting pheasants, love eating them too, but I hate those birds, they just do not play fair. Any chance I get to legally and safely kill a pheasant, I am killing him, boom, no warnings, no head start, no questions asked, no prisoners taken. I will take ‘em anyway I can get ‘em. I have another one to even the score with now.
So, forget that, I went fishing. My dad and I ran up to Lake Ogallala and caught some trout after watching the Huskers dispatch Iowa (GO BIG RED!).
Dad got the biggest fish, this one was about 19 inches.
Here is proof that I caught at least one.
And then we slipped up there one more day, Dad and I and my son and caught a few more.
Here is one of the prettiest fish we caught.
Now I know some of you are studying those fish pictures really close, so I might as well make some comments on where we were fishing and how we were fishing. You can probably see that we were fishing the North Platte River below Keystone Diversion Dam. If you are real observant, you can see the small bobber attached to my Dad’s fishing line. I like to call the technique we were using “fly-fishing without a fly-rod”. I know a person can go to Lake Ogallala and associated waters and throw some ‘crawlers out and kill their limit of trout. If I wanted to do that, my partners and I could have killed hundreds of trout from those waters in the past two years. But, we discovered a long time ago that other techniques are actually more effective at catching fish and result in fish that can be easily released to grow and be caught again, and again. We like to float small jigs below floats/bobbers. Fly-fishers use the same technique when they fish a variety of nymph patterns and use “strike indicators” on their line. Basically, we do the same thing with spinning equipment and bobbers. The difference is the spinning equipment is a lot easier for us to cast especially if the wind is blowing.
For my fly-fishing buddies, I caught some fish on fly equipment too. I drifted a #8 Hare’s Ear and caught fish on that. On the warm afternoons there was actually some insect activity and a few fish feeding on or just underneath the surface. I suspected those fish were feeding on midges that might have been emerging, so I tied on a #18 parachute dry fly pattern I had in my fly-box, stalked a fish that I saw rising in one location, sneaked in, made a good cast, drifted the dry fly in just the right spot, had that fish roll up to take and then got all excited and set the hook too soon. AAAAaaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!! Could not get another fish to rise. I think my smallest dry fly was still too big for what those fish were eating.
Let me editorialize for a few seconds here, if you do not want to read my opinions, skip the next couple of paragraphs. I have blogged about the Lake Ogallala trout fishery over and over in the past couple of years. That fishery has been something special and truly as good as any rainbow fishery in the country. I mentioned that it is important to my fishing partners and I to release the trout we catch there. We have caught literally hundreds of fish there in the past couple of years, have kept only a handful (and the only reason I kept those was because I needed some fish for a class on cleaning and preparing fish). Our intent is to release those fish so that they have a chance to continue to grow and will be even larger the next time we catch them! When water quality and habitat conditions are good, and in the past two years they have been excellent, that trout fishery has tremendous potential. There are plenty of places in the state where anglers can, and are encouraged, to whack their legal limit of rainbow trout, but we have only one Lake Ogallala and associated waters where we can have a tremendous put-GROW-and-catch fishery capable of producing trophy trout. I wish more anglers would realize that and appreciate that fishery for more than a place where they can fill their freezers and their neighbor’s freezers with trout. I wish we had more anglers there who just followed the regulations let alone voluntarily RELEASED big trout (remember no more than 1 trout larger than 16 inches is allowed in the daily bag limit, statewide).
If that does not result in some nasty e-mails coming my way, let me pile on some more. . . . That fishery is special and the trout fishing is pretty good even when there is darned little water flowing down the river. However, I often look at that water and wonder what it could be with a consistent flow of water, even during the winter? I thought rivers were supposed to have water in them? We could have an even more special resource and an even better trout fishery if we just had some water and some appreciation for catching AND RELEASING trout.
End of rant.
It was a great weekend and once again we got to spend a lot of time with family. I am refreshed and renewed every time I get to get “out west” and do that. There will be better opportunities to kill pheasants later, and I will be back! The weather was mild and it seemed like every evening the sunsets were beautiful. I have been in places where there are trees, forests, and I like trees and forests, but I love the wide open spaces, the prairie, the Great Plains and those beautiful sunsets.
It is even better when a guy can catch some beautiful fish to go along with the sunsets.