Category Archives: The Sportsman’s World

Leon Archer, Outdoors Columnist - Leon has been writing “The Sportsman’s World” column since 1985. He is a five-time first place winner of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association’s Excellence In Craft Award in addition to numerous other writing awards. He is currently an active member and vice president of the New York State Writers Association. His column covers a wide range of outdoor topics far beyond just hunting and fishing.

THE SPORTSMAN’S WORLD: The Art of Worming

By Leon Archer

When I was a kid, I learned to capture, care for and use fish worms.

The capturing and the using I enjoyed, but the caring for worms could be a bit of a pain. I learned early on that you couldn’t just gather a bunch of night crawlers and leave them in a bucket with a few leaves and expect that they were going to live happily ever after.

Nothing smells worse than a container full of dead worms. By trial and error, I learned to keep both the worms and my long-suffering parents happy; I learned the art of worming.

The art of worming consists of two distinct, yet vitally connected parts. The first part is the catching and caring for the worms. The second part is using the worms most efficiently for fishing.

I can’t prove it, but I firmly believe that the number one bait of fishermen, at least in Upstate New York, is the lowly worm. That’s probably why we kids called them fish worms.

More refined folks called them angle worms for the same reason. As long as they were available, they caught just about every kind of fish a kid wanted to fish for.

I even went so far one year as to nurse a few of them along in our basement until the ice was safe for fishing. I thought they might just be the magic bullet on hard water, but although they caught fish, they were no better than the minnows and jigs that we used.

The effort was hardly worth the returns, but other times of the year they were easy to procure and deadly on the fish.

Now when I say worms, there were two main types that I used for everything, night crawlers and what I call rain worms. I majored in night crawlers, but I didn’t ignore the smaller rain worms.

Night crawlers were easy to catch every spring, requiring only a flashlight, digital dexterity, and knees and a back that could stand an hour or two being bent over. On a good wet spring night, I could pick up 200 to 800 worms. It all depended on how wet I was getting and how soon my body started grumbling about the abuse.

I had several large, leaf filled boxes in the basement of our home. Each one was capable of holding up to a thousand worms safely for a long time, but in reality they came and went on a regular basis. I sold night crawlers and my father and I used plenty of them as well.

It wasn’t quite as simple as dumping them in and taking them out; there were certain chores connected with worm ranching.

After a few weeks, the remaining old leaves and worm castings had to be removed and new leaves put in the boxes. The removed residue was great for the family garden, but if left too long in the boxes before being replaced, it became toxic to the inmates.

If maintained properly, the worms were happy and my parents were happy.

It was extremely important to remove any dead worms or even those that did not act very lively. Usually dying worms would come to the surface of the leaves, but not always, so as I took worms out for sale or use, I was constantly on watch for the dead or dying.

When I did change the leaves in a box, I counted the worms into a bucket, allowing me to keep track of my inventory, before returning them to their refurbished home.

When picking up night crawlers, inevitably some will be broken as they are pulled from their burrows. Usually I dropped them back on the ground where most of them would survive if they got back underground. The others ended up feeding the robins the next morning.

If I knew we would be fishing in the next day or so, I would keep them, but sort them out when I got home. It was very unwise to try to keep them with the other worms. I tried to never put a damaged worm in the boxes; it was just asking for trouble down the road.

Rain worms are a different story. Because of their smaller size and very pale pinkish color, they were the very best worms for fishing for small brook trout. They were tougher and stayed on the hook better than a night crawler, which made them a pretty good bait for pan fish that could often rip a piece of night crawler off the hook without paying any penalty.

There were many times when a rain worm would do a better job than a night crawler.

I usually picked rain worms up off driveways, roads and sidewalks early in the morning. I also dug them. They are found in much larger numbers than night crawlers when digging worms.

I never tried to keep any great number of them, but they did very well in smaller containers with soil in the bottom and a layer of leaves over that.

Fishing with live worms is an art as well; one size does not fit all. Worm fishing for pan fish and small trout was the easiest; simple and straight forward, small worms and small hooks but larger species each had their own likes and dislikes when it came to worms. Big night crawlers became the go to bait, but how it was hooked made a difference.

A number 2 hook baited with a whole night crawler was our basic bait for bullheads. We wadded it up on the hook in small folds, going in and out the length of the worm. If much was left hanging off, the bullheads would just tear it loose and be gone. Rock bass were always eager to take a similar bait. Black bass, on the other hand wanted the worm loose and flowing, so we hooked them once or twice near the collar band of the worm. With walleyes, we hooked the worm as near to the head end as was feasible.

Rainbow and brown trout were the fussiest. The worm needed to look natural and whole. Part of a worm was usually ignored, and a worm bunched up on the hook like one was fishing for bullheads was a no starter right from the get go.

Most of my worm fishing for larger trout was done in the spring or after a heavy rain in the summer. High roily water increased one’s odds considerably. I almost always used a single snelled number 6 hook below a willow leaf or Dixie spinner.

The spinner caught the fish’s attention in the cloudy water, and as they homed in on it they would grab the night crawler. It was a deadly combination.

Even today, my favorite bait is the lowly earthworm. I still catch them and use them successfully. I know it is still cold and the snow cover is tenacious, but before long it will be time to start harvesting those wonderful night crawlers, and when that happens, spring fishing will be close behind.

Time for the art of worming.

THE SPORTSMAN’S WORLD: Watching the Snow Belt

By Leon Archer

As I write this week’s column, I am warmed by the sunshine pouring through my westward facing window.

I was just outside pruning some bushes and cleaning up the yard, and I noted the grass needs mowing. The daffodils are in full bloom and the maple trees are budded with their bright red blossoms already starting to shrivel up after the bees have done their work.

The thermometer tells me it is 63 degrees and it is 4:30 in the afternoon. That’s the way it is in Sammamish, Washington.

I check the weather in Oswego County nearly every day, and even though there was another snow storm this week, there appear to be signs that winter is starting to lose its grip.

No one will be picking up night crawlers right away, but they might be starting to stir deep underground. This is the time of year that I would be running a trap line when I was back in high school, and I can remember the weather bouncing around a lot in March.

I would pop out of bed about 4:30 in the morning, slip on my clothes and head out for the line. Some mornings were decent, but often it would be cold, windy and snowing.

Later in the month, it might be raining, but no matter what the weather, traps had to be checked once every 24 hours.

It was pretty good exercise, but if I figured what I made on average for the time I put in, trapping was a losing proposition. I enjoyed trapping, and if I ignored the hours I put in (which I always did.) the money was nice to have, and I knew I had earned it.

A few of my friends trapped also, but I don’t think any of them worked harder at it than I did.

April was always the better month for muskrat trapping, especially for me since most of my trapping was on streams, large and small.

Ice and snow made trapping streams like Sandy Creek difficult and provided poor returns, but when things warmed up a bit the rats would really be moving and I caught quite a few. An added bonus was that I could run my traps on Sandy Creek a second time, after school, and do some trout fishing at the same time.

Of course, April meant I was able to pick up night crawlers at least by mid–month and do some bullhead fishing at night. My schedule got pretty hectic in April; I loved it though.

Sometime in the hustle-bustle each day, I had to skin my trapping catch, flesh them, and stretch them, and if I had caught any bullheads the night before, they needed to be dressed as well. I was tired when I went to bed.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention, my parents also insisted that I get my homework done for school, no excuses.

So I sit here in Sammamish, envying you for what’s coming up, but being glad that I’m here right now enjoying the early spring while Oswego County snow keeps flying.

However, as I look back on the many years I have spent in Oswego County, and the winters I plodded through, I don’t believe I would rather have grown up anywhere else in the world.

I’ll be back before too long now, and if a late spring snowstorm should greet me, I’ll grin and bear it. I sure am looking forward to the fishing.

THE SPORTSMAN’S WORLD: Will March go out like a lamb?

By Leon Archer

The old saying is, if March comes in like a Lion, it will go out like a lamb, and conversely, if March comes in like a lamb, it will go out like a lion.

If there is any truth to that, the end of the month should be pretty darned good.

In the meantime, there is plenty of ice for the ice fishermen and probably way too much snow and ice for the steelhead fishermen. Both the ice fisherman and the steelheader are a hardy breed.

The conditions on the streams and rivers should be much more conducive for catching those big trout as March slowly starts to mellow. I never fished for them much until April arrived, but once the weather started to get warm enough to tempt me to wet a line, I caught some nice ones.

Fact is, the really good steelhead fishing started on the Salmon River and other area streams after I had nearly given up fishing in the coldest months. I guess I had become a wimp.

I was trying to remember years when March was a docile as a summer night. I don’t have any dates in my head, but sweet thing’s birthday comes on March 27, and I remember us having a picnic on her birthday one year when the temperature was 75 degrees and the daffodils had been in blossom for at least a week and a half before.

I also collected sap a number of years with my father-in-law, Harvey Yerdon, when the ground was getting mostly bare before the end of March, and the maple season was nearly over.

With temperatures finally giving us a little break, it looks like the maple syrup season should be up and running.

Harvey always said there were a few things you needed for a good syrup season. They were: thawing days and freezing nights, snow on the ground – preferably with several crusts – rain, and reasonably calm days.

The season lasted longer if the weather didn’t warm up too much, too quickly. I think the conditions are pretty good this year for a better than average syrup season, but I’m really not much better at predicting the weather than Punxsutawney Phil, so who knows?

One thing is certain, spring always comes. I am a great fan of spring. I like fishing the streams before the rocks have become too slippery for an old guy like me.

I live for the tug of a bullhead at the end of my line on a warm night on Sandy Pond. I take great pleasure in picking up a couple hundred night crawlers on a damp evening. I even enjoy just sitting outside and listening to the spring peepers.

And I love the smell of spring, the odor of promise of great days to come.

After this winter, just about anything March has to offer is going to look good.

I’m hoping for a good bullhead season. My favorite fish is likely still snoring away safely tucked into a soft bottom underneath the ice, but as soon as the sun gets higher, the water starts to warm and the ice gets rotten, his alarm clock will go off. I’ll be waiting for Mr. Whiskers.

Nothing brings back memories any stronger than sitting beside a gas lantern, listening to the frogs and peepers, hoping to see my rod tip jump as a bullhead takes the bait. My father and I passed many pleasant night hours together in friendly competition at the expense of Mr. Whiskers.

It doesn’t get much better than that. It gets my heart pumping just thinking about it.

Yep, I love the spring.

The Sportsman’s World, by Leon Archer Fur trapping

The fur trade today bears very little resemblance to that of Colonial America through the first half of the 1800s.

The most important fur in those days came from the beaver, but fur, whether from beaver, or muskrat, was destined to become felt. The felt produced from beaver fur was of the highest quality and demanded a high price.

The felt hat or “beaver” actually went into production in the early 1500s, but it grew in popularity until by the mid-1600s it was a must have item for many people and classes.

The well-recognized stove pipe hat such as we see Lincoln wearing in photographs and paintings, was an absolute necessity for the well-bred gentleman. The 17th century cardinals wore red, wide brimmed beaver felt hats worthy of their rank, and every naval officer from lieutenant to Admiral had to have his cocked hat, made of beaver felt, of course.

I do not know if any beaver fur is used for the production of felt top hats today, because silk top hats became more popular by the 20th century, in a short time displacing the beaver.

But furs have become valuable and popular throughout the past hundred years, being desired for coats, jackets and stoles. Not many folks were around when every college man or up and comer had to have a raccoon coat, but more of us can remember the 1950s when mink coats were all the rage, commanding prices in the thousands, and a trapper catching two of the critters could earn as much as a full week’s wages from their sale.

I entered the world of trapping as a boy of 11, which coincided almost perfectly with the decline of many fur prices. I trapped mostly muskrat, but I tried my hand at raccoon, mink and ermine as well.

I did fairly well with the rats, caught a few raccoon, a couple of mink, and racked up a fair number of ermine during seven years of trapping. Above all the rest, each year I looked forward to March 1, the opening day of muskrat season.

Before I started trapping, muskrats were bringing close to $4 apiece; once I was trapping, they were bringing $1.35. The most I ever got for rats in the 50s was $2.35.

I skinned and fleshed the first few coon I caught, but quit trapping them entirely after I got 75 cents apiece for the ones I sold. I caught two mink. One was a beautiful dark male that brought me $48, the other smaller one brought me $32. The ermine were a buck apiece, but they were not hard to catch or clean, and I hunted small game as I checked my traps.

I trapped a few times after that, notably two years around 1981, when fur prices were high, and I received $10 apiece for the biggest muskrat pelts. I caught a number of raccoon and averaged $32 apiece for them.

I even tried my hand at fox, getting $75 for a red and $28 for a beautiful grey.

I thought about taking my grandson, Nathaniel, muskrat trapping in the fall of 2012, but ended up not doing it. That was a big mistake, as 2012 found fur prices soaring, and spring fur prices for many furbearers was at record highs.

Muskrats, for example, were averaging $12, with some lots going as high as $17 per pelt. Prices declined a bit from those lofty heights in 2013, but the market predictions are that the big late winter sales will still bring decent prices for good lots.

Beaver are expected to reach $32, up slightly from last year, mink on the other hand may be selling at $17, down nearly half from last year.

My favorite, the lowly muskrat, is expected to bring about $10 with some possibly going as high as $16. Other fur prices are equally impressive to me. I wish I was younger and a bit more agile, I’d be out there with a line somewhere.

One of the problems that arises whenever fur prices get to these levels, especially when the economy is a little lackluster, is that trappers work hard at locking up areas for themselves (which I am not opposed to by the way) but it does make it harder to find areas to trap.

State areas that are open to trappers get hit pretty heavily, even though the DEC limits competition by allowing only so many trappers on some game management areas.

The other problem that I ran into when trapping was paying good money, and to a lesser extent in poorer years, was trap thieves. There are always lowlifes out there who will steal animals from your traps, but the worst of them take your traps too.

One thing I know is that trappers earn their money. If they are like me, they enjoy being good at their craft as well. As long as I cannot be out there with them, I’ll wish them the best of luck and top prices, because trapping and the fur trade lives on.

The Sportsman’s World

By Leon Archer

It might surprise some, but as a writer, I read a huge amount more than I write, and recently while sharing nanny duties with Sweet Thing in Sammamish, Wash., I’ve had the opportunity to do plenty of reading.

When it comes to reading, one of my passions is history, especially North American history. In the last three weeks I have read seven books on the topic.

I am sure some readers will wonder what in the world this has to do with the outdoors, but hang with me for a bit.

I read the following books: “The Frontiersman,” by Allan Eckert (600-plus pages); “Forgotten Allies,” by Joseph Glattharr and James Martin (400-plus pages); “Fusiliers,” by Mark Urban (380 pages); “Betrayals,” by Ian K. Steele (250 pages); “Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley,” by Gavin Watt (432 pages); “A Dirty Trifling Piece Of Business,” by Gavin Watt (500+ pages); and “I Am Heartily Ashamed,” by Gavin Watt (463 pages).

Altogether, I read better than 3,000 pages. It was an adventure for me.

If you got beyond the sixth grade, at some point you should have learned that Europeans came to the new world primarily for three reasons: religious freedom, free land and wealth.

The Spanish were the first to come in any numbers, and their interests carried them across the South to the Southwest, and West of what is now the United States.

However, their real impact was on Mexico, Central America and South America, where they found large quantities of gold and silver in the kingdoms of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans, whom they immediately set about decimating while relieving them of the precious metals.

I confined my reading to colonial North America where settlers arrived primarily from the Netherlands, England and France. I know that ignores the sizeable numbers of Scots and Germans (Palatines) who also came to the new world, but they represented peoples, not nations.

The French claimed Canada, a strip of land on the southern shore of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, as well as the Ohio Valley and vast areas of land surrounding the upper Great Lakes.

The Dutch were modestly situated primarily in our New York state along the Hudson River, and traded for furs with the Iroquois Indians between 1610 and 1664. This brought them into a direct competition with the French and their Indian allies.

The Dutch encouraged the Mohawks to expand their fur gathering into areas that were under the control of the French and the numerous Indian tribes who provided the furs to them.

That brought about the “Beaver Wars,” also called the French and Iroquois wars, as the Iroquois sought to extend their power and the French endeavored to stop them.

The English were not unaware of the Dutch fur monopoly that was developing in New Netherlands. England’s power was growing both north and south of the Dutch colony, and between 1664 and 1674 the two countries fought the three Dutch-Anglo Wars.

As a result of the wars, England relieved the Netherlands of her North American Colonies, leaving only France and England vying for the prize. It mattered little to them that the land was already occupied by various and sundry Indian tribes.

The fly in the ointment was the two European powers now standing astride this vast land were mortal enemies. Hundreds of years of intermittent warfare would now spread to North America.

The migrants who came from England came to settle the land. The Dutch before them had come for the same reason, but not with the ferocity and persistence, and numbers of the English.

The French came for the lucrative fur trade, and their settlements were established primarily to facilitate and protect that trade, not to really colonize and settle.

After digesting New Amsterdam, the English set about taking over its fur trade, but they also encouraged settlers to move north towards Lake Champlain and the Mohawk Valley. Over the next 80 years, several wars were fought between the French and English across the vast wilderness they both coveted.

At first the French were victorious, but year after year England’s strength in the new world grew while the French languished.

By 1763, the English had conquered the French and sent them packing but their victory would be short lived south of the Great Lakes, as a great new nation was in the throes of birth.

We are here and English speaking in a significant part, because of fur. That’s where it all began. Fur, mostly beaver, was a vital interest and desirable commodity in the New World, but by 1783, when peace was signed between the new United States of America and England, the beaver had nearly vanished from New York State, and at one point was down to a single small colony.

It may be hard to believe when we have so many beaver today, but 75 years ago, it was illegal to trap the beaver that had just begun to recolonize our state.

Next week, I’m going to be writing about the fur trade today. I would enjoy hearing from trappers, how they have been doing and the recent prices they have been getting for their pelts.

Drop me an email at lfarcher@yahoo.com — I’d love to hear from you.

The Sportsman’s World — The Crossbow War

By Leon Archer

In July, 1863, when the armed forces of the Confederacy lost Vicksburg, their last stronghold on the Mississippi, and suffered the punishing defeat of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg, the South would have been wise to have sued for peace, but they soldiered on for nearly two more years before the civil war finally drew to a close.

The opponents in the Crossbow War could take a lesson from the misfortunes of Old Dixie.

Just as the Confederacy lost the war, imperceptibly at first, battlefield by battlefield, while the invading Yankees became stronger and more numerous, so the forces resisting the coming of the crossbow are facing defeat.

It may not be this year in New York state, but the results from battlefield to battlefield across this country leave little doubt who the winners will be in the end.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his support for the legalization of the crossbow for hunting purposes in New York state during his State of the State message.

And just as importantly, he would give regulation authority for its use to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

I don’t agree with a lot of what our governor has said and done, but I’m with him 100 percent on this.

Of course, we will need both houses of our legislature to produce legislation which the majority will support and pass in order for the governor’s proposal to become reality.

That legislation should include the final battlefield, which is that the classification of the crossbow would be as a legal bow for use in any season and any area where archery is allowed, including archery only areas.

If that final victory doesn’t come this year, it will come soon. The hand writing is on the wall, and further resistance can only damage both sides, not change the final outcome.

Since the early 1970s, when only Arkansas and Ohio allowed hunting with a crossbow, the number of states accepting its use has grown steadily. Today, a total of 34 states have loosened or dropped their restrictions on crossbows since the year 2000.

At present, the battle is completely over in 24 states which now allow the crossbow to be used during any hunting season where archery is allowed, a movement that is gaining popularity in other open-minded states.

This is a civil war, sportsmen fighting sportsmen, both sides believing they are right, but only one side can win, and the empirical evidence is clear, crossbows are in our future.

The strongest resistance comes from a sportsman’s group, The New York Bow Hunters. They argue the crossbow is some sort of superior weapon, a silent super weapon that will allow poachers to decimate the deer herd.

While they claim the crossbow has an effective range of nearly seventy yards, at the same time they suggest more deer will be wounded and run off if crossbows are allowed, because they claim the crossbow is not as efficient as the bow they use.

They say the crossbow is so easy to use that a novice can be slaughtering deer on the same day they buy it. They say the crossbow does not require the same amount of dedication and commitment that is necessary to become a good archer.

A lot of other things they say about the crossbow were used by opponents of the compound bow and releases back in the 70s. Those arguments don’t hold any more water today when applied to the crossbow than they did back when they were applied to the compound bow.

I have to admit that I have never hunted with a crossbow, but I have shot them at targets quite a bit. I can tell you one thing from my own experience. The crossbow is very accurate at close range out to 30 yards or so, but at 70 yards it leaves a great deal to be desired. I would hardly call it effective at that range. At the longer ranges, the compound is much better, but even then, few archers will chance shooting at a deer 70 yards away.

As far as a tool for poaching, it is too cumbersome and why use it when a 22 caliber rifle would do the job far better.

I have never been a poacher, but I knew an old fellow years ago who lived up on the Tug Hill east of Sandy Creek, and my father told me that man fed his family on venison year round that he took with a single shot 22 rifle. It is quiet, doesn’t draw attention, and it is lethal well beyond the effective range of the crossbow or compound.

As far as wounding more deer, think about this. There is no reason why a bolt from a crossbow should cause the loss of any more deer than one might expect from an arrow from a compound bow.

They both work exactly the same way, causing reasonably quick death from massive bleeding due to the razor sharp blades. To put down the crossbow on this account is to damn the compound bow as well.

When I bought my first compound bow, I was able to hit the bullseye at 30 yards after just a couple of shots to adjust my aiming pin. After that I was pretty consistent.

Later that week, I was shooting from the roof on my shed, putting arrows through styrofoam cups on the ground. It didn’t require any great amount of dedication and commitment to use the compound bow well enough to hit any deer that wandered by my tree stand.

The dedication and commitment has little to do with the ease of use of either the crossbow or the modern compound bow. It is learning to hunt successfully and consistently that requires dedication and commitment, and that is true whether you hunt with a rifle, shotgun, crossbow, compound bow or black powder rifle.

I truly believe that bow hunters just don’t want to share their archery season with anyone carrying a crossbow. They deny that, but the denial has a false ring to it in my ears.

I believe it is time to end the war. It is time for bow hunters and crossbow hunters to learn to live together. I’m pretty sure, in a few years, everyone will be wondering what all the fuss was about.

That’s what has happened in the 24 states that have led the way.

States Allowing Crossbow Hunting

Arkansas 

Ohio

Michigan

Florida

Kansas

Delaware

Indiana

Alabama

Maryland

Texas

Pennsylvania

Nebraska

Mississippi

Rhode Island

North Dakota

Virginia

New Jersey

Georgia

Kentucky

South Carolina

North Carolina

Tennessee

Oklahoma

Wyoming

 

The Sportsman’s World — Of Flounder and Sheepheads

By Leon Archer

I was just this week talking with a friend in Florida about fishing.

I was interested specifically in the fishing in the Indian River Lagoon, because it had been so poor the past couple of years. He told me it was still nothing to get excited about in the Sebastian area, but it was a little better than last year.

Apparently some sea grass has started to grow here and there on the sand flats. He said it is a red grass, but it must be better than nothing. Grass makes all the difference in the river fishing.

I can’t begin to remember the number of times I’ve grumbled about the grass back when it was thick, and I had to keep removing it from my lures or bait. How I wish it were that way again.

Most of the grass then was some shade of pale green depending on the species and area it was growing in. There were patches of the red grass even then, but not any great amount of it.

When I fished in and around the grassy patches, I caught fish and grass. When I avoided grassy areas, I came up with less grass, but I also caught a lot fewer fish.

The reasons are simple. The grass acts as a nursery for small fish and crabs, providing food and cover. Most people would not believe the huge number of organisms that can inhabit a relatively small patch of grass, many of them are the microscopic creatures that baby fish and crabs capture for their early meals.

Just as the grass provides food and cover for the smaller inhabitants, at the same time it provides cover for larger fish who prey on the smaller, and so it goes right up the old food chain. But without that first link made of grass, the chain never forms.

I sure hope the grass makes a strong comeback. Even though I am not in Florida this winter, I certainly plan to be back there next winter, and I’d like to find the fishing better than I did the last two years.

My friend was telling me that it had been a good winter for sheepshead and flounder. They aren’t the kind of fish that prowl the grass beds.

The sheepies hang around docks and pilings. They seldom eat fish. Their teeth are made for nipping barnacles and small oysters off pilings. They are also fond of crabs, shrimp and sand fleas. They aren’t the easiest things to hook, being probably the most proficient bait stealers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

They are well worth pursuing, because they rival snappers for their table qualities. They are yummy.

The flounder are occasionally found in the grass, but more likely, if they are there at all, they will lurk just outside the beds waiting for an unwary small fish to wander out to see what the big world outside the grass looks like.

Flounder are fast predators when they strike, and a small fish seldom gets a do-over. Flounder are more often found on the flats at the edge of channels and in inlets where the current constantly brings them small fish struggling to hold their place in the fast tide water.

Flounder are fun to fish for, and the greatest challenge is to keep from getting hung up on bottom as one fishes. Most fishing is done with mud minnows or finger mullet kept near the bottom with a sinker weighing two to four ounces.

The bait needs to move back with the current until it is right in front of the waiting flounder. If everything goes right, and one has a bit of luck, a tap and then a feeling of weight almost like being hung up, will be transmitted up the line to the rod. Sometimes it is a false signal and one is actually hung up on bottom, but when the rod responds with a throbbing bend when the hook is set, it becomes worth all the time and effort.

Flounder are wonderful table fare, and one that weighs seven or eight pounds will feed a family with some left over for a snack later. They are mild and do not have the delicate flavor of the sheepshead or snapper.

I have never caught a lot of southern flounder, but I have caught enough to appreciate everything about them. They are a great fish, and the lack of grass has not had as negative an effect on them as it has with fish like the spotted sea trout.

I have enjoyed my time in Washington with our grandson, but I sure have missed Florida. I haven’t missed the weather Fulton has been getting, however.

Stay warm. Spring is coming.

The Sportsman’s World, by Leon Archer

Memories of Ice Fishing

 

By Leon Archer

My father was a die-hard ice fisherman, and I fished many a cold winter day on Sandy Pond with him.

We mostly fished for perch, but sometimes I’d put in a line for Northern Pike, not because they were a favorite fish for the family table, but because I liked to catch them.

We seldom came off the ice without enough perch for several meals. We usually fished off the Elms or on Renshaw Bay. On Renshaw, we sometimes got into the big bluegills or crappies, and late in the season we occasionally caught a few bullheads through the weakening spring ice.

I probably wasn’t older than 4 when I started going with my father, and by the time I was 10, I was an old hand at the game. I can’t remember a time when it was too cold for us to fish for a half a day or more, but maybe that was because my father was wise enough to avoid going on the blisteringly cold days and the ones when a mean wind was blowing.

That doesn’t mean I never got cold. My hands suffered the most, because we used buckeye minnows for bait, and my hands were constantly getting wet if the perch were biting well. After a few hours, I could hardly move them.

Dad knew it was time to leave when I stood around with my hands tucked into some place out of the cold instead of holding a pole.

When I was about 13 or 14, people started fishing on Sandy Pond with Swedish Pimple jigs. That was a wonderful innovation for us, and we completely gave up using minnows, which kept my hands a great deal warmer.

The pimples caught perch just as well as the minnows had, and often even better. I think it was Louie Ten Gauge who introduced us to the jigs. We still used mousies some days when we were on Renshaw and wanted to catch some big bluegills and sunfish, but if they didn’t show, we’d change over to pimples.

We used to take one or two trips to Black Lake and fish for walleyes. That was when I was fairly young. As I grew older, walleyes grew ever scarcer on Black Lake until it didn’t pay to drive up there for them.

It wasn’t until years later that dad and I started to fish tip-ups on Oneida for walleyes, and for several years we did really well on them, but dad never lost his love for fishing perch on Sandy Pond.

After I was married and had a family, he would hit the pond on his own if I wasn’t able to go with him. It was just in his blood.

I took my boys ice fishing a few times, but I’m not sure they enjoyed it as much as I did, and after they were grown, I pretty much gave up ice fishing. I had too many other things that interested me more than freezing my buns off out on a frozen pond or lake.

The final straw came when I started spending the winters in Florida. Once I learned I could catch fish in January while wearing shorts and a T-shirt, I was done.

As long as it has been now since I fished on hard water, I still don’t even have to close my eyes to see a bobber floating in a hole filled with slushy water trying to freeze over. I can picture the bobber slowly sink as a big perch gently took the bait, or jump and plunge beneath the ice as a smaller, hungry perch grabbed the bait and ran.

On Sandy Pond, I always used a small bobber even with a Swedish Pimple. I think watching the bobber move was one thing that gave me great pleasure, almost as much as pulling in a nice jack perch that I had enticed with my lure.

If I was ever to venture out on the ice again, I would want one of the collapsible ice fishing shelters with a small heater, and I’d want to get on and off the ice with a snowmobile. Cold just isn’t in my repertoire any longer.

How things have changed, but I don’t regret a single moment of those icy days of yesteryear, especially the ones with my dad.