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.

Covered bridges

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

Washington County has never been at the top of my list in the past when I was thinking about outdoor activities, but that is not a reflection on what they have to offer.

It’s only thaat many of us, including myself, have a tendency to be creatures of habit when it comes to where we fish and hunt, and to some extent, where we vacation.

That’s more than a bit unfortunate when one lives in a state that has such a large variety of activities to offer and some of the country’s greatest venues. From Niagara Falls to the Finger Lakes and on to Lake Champlain, from Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence bordering the North to the Atlantic Ocean with Long Island cradled in her arms to the south, along with and all the streams, rivers, lakes and ponds in between, we have nearly limitless swimming, boating, and fishing opportunities within a few hours drive.

It took me a little over three hours to drive from Fulton to Cambridge in southern Washington County for the New York State Outdoor Writers Association Spring Safari. I took my grandson, Nathaniel, with me, because I knew I would be doing some fishing, and I don’t get as much time as I would like to do that with him.

Lake George and Lake Champlain border Washington County and I am sure I could fish them many times and never be bored, but for this trip I had the famous Battenkill River in mind. Nathaniel and I were going to fish for trout.

Most of the writers stayed at Battenkill Valley Outdoors in their long lodge. The owners, Don and Lisa Oty, were wonderful hosts; the lodge was comfortable and right next to the Battenkill River.

The Eagleville covered bridge is just a short distance down the road from the lodge and that was where Nathaniel and I would begin fishing. We tried hunting turkeys the first morning of our stay, but we had gotten up a little too late for a good hunt and after a couple hours watching leaves grow and song birds flit about, we headed for the stream. It was much more rewarding.

Nathaniel was intrigued by the covered bridge and just like a kid, he had lots of questions which I tried to answer, but I have to admit that I am hardly a covered bridge expert. Don’t laugh! How much do you know about covered bridges?

Here are the practical reasons for covered bridges, just in case one of your grandkids should ask you: the roof allowed water to be kept off the floor planking and beams, allowing them to last many times longer than an uncovered wooden bridge which could rot out in as little as ten years, and thus saved money on repairs and replacement.

The walls protected from the weather also to a lesser extent, but in addition it was claimed that they helped keep horses calm when crossing a swollen, fast moving river (they couldn’t see it). Horses also had no compunction against entering a covered bridge – it looked exactly like the entrance to a barn.

On the romantic side, it was said that a covered bridge was a favorite spot for courting couples to exchange a kiss, sort of like a drive-in movie without the added entertainment. Whatever the reasons for them, they look really great and are a wonderful subject for artists. So there you have it in a nutshell.

There are other covered bridges in Washington County, one of which is the Shushan Bridge that has been made into a museum. It was not far from the Eagleville Bridge, which is still used by regular traffic today.

Nathaniel and I settled down to fishing in the huge picturesque pool under the bridge after we finished admiring the structure. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful setting, and it turned out to be the only place where I outfished my grandson that weekend.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News. You can subscribe by calling 598-6397 or click on the link on our home page.

Turkey season over

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

Well, it happened folks. The turkey season is over and I did nothing to cut the population down.

In fact, near the end of the season, I got so stupid busy that I failed to hunt on a property where the owner told me a gobbler was strutting with impunity. I even had permission to hunt there.

Boy, was that bird ever lucky.

From what I’ve been hearing, I’m not alone in coming up birdless this year. I think the turkey population may be down a bit. Wouldn’t it be nice to have them as common as Canada geese? Well, maybe not. I sort of like a challenge even if I do end up losing it, and it is always okay with me if the turkey wins.

I will have to oil my gun, but I won’t have to do a lot of cleaning. Actually, I didn’t get it wet and I didn’t get it bloody or muddy, and I didn’t even fire a practice shot, so I probably could just put it back in the case. Smells nice when it’s oiled though.

This is the year that my grandson, Nathaniel, turns 11 in August. He will be able to take his hunter safety training then and be ready to get his license when August 2014 rolls around. He already has a lifetime sportsman’s license that his grampa Weaver and I bought for him a few years ago, but that won’t do him any good until he is 12 and has gotten his training. Then we will be set to go. It’s just as hard for me to wait as it is for him – maybe harder.

He wants to begin practicing shooting and archery, and this summer should be a good time to get started. I have a couple of guns that should be very easy for him to manage — under my supervision, of course.

I plan to make his first experience one with a BB gun. What the heck, I started shooting one of those when I was about seven and I never shot my eye out or anyone else’s either.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News. You can subscribe by calling 598-6397 or click on the link on our home page.

New gun laws

by Leon Archer

I don’t know how the majority of America’s citizens feel, because obviously I couldn’t have talked with them, but I know what I have been hearing from gun owners with whom I am actually acquainted and have spoken with about the recent spate of gun laws that have been passed, or are in the process of likely being passed — and they are not happy.

Some people might say to gun owners like myself, “Too bad, I’m glad that you aren’t happy about the laws and I hope the government makes it even tougher for you,” but they and the government are aiming their efforts and their barbs at the wrong people. I understand the intentions and the hopes of people and legislators who support more stringent gun laws while at the same time I feel sorry for them.

Why? Because not a single piece of legislation that has been passed in any state since the school shootings in Connecticut would prevent the same thing or something even worse from happening now or in the future in any place in the United States. At best, the laws will eventually make criminals out of law abiding citizens, and at worst, will make it easier for such massacres to take place. All laws, but especially gun laws, only constrain the honest person.

Criminals and terrorists, domestic or alien, could care less about our precious laws. Adding more laws only makes life tougher for the honest person; the criminals and terrorists could care less, or perhaps might be cheered by them as they only make their life and their nefarious activities that much safer and easier.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News

Bullhead fishermen

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

This is the time of year that fishing a place like Sandy Pond is a real crap shoot.

The bullheads will still bite if you are in the right spot, but before you get one of them on your line, you are more likely to end up with a rambunctious sunfish or small perch.

Sometimes rock bass or even a black bass may find your night crawler to their liking. Of course, once night actually closes in, the panfish and other interlopers gradually quit biting, or at least they slow down greatly, but if you are in the wrong spot the bites will end entirely with no bullheads to replace them.

My father didn’t like to keep all the panfish when we were fishing for bullheads, but I usually put the biggest sunfish and any perch over 9 inches into my bucket.

Dad would give me a disapproving glance that could be translated as “What the heck are you doing?”

He would also remind me about the time I had stowed away my fifth or sixth panfish that it was going to be my job to clean the perch and sunfish, because he wasn’t going to do it. I noticed later on, however, that he wasn’t opposed to eating some of those same fish. I preferred bullheads just like he did, but I wasn’t ready to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Bullhead fishermen catch a lot fewer eels now than they did back before the big power dams went into the St. Lawrence River and the turbines began chopping up the mature eels as they migrated to the ocean to spawn.

My grandfather really liked eels and when dad or I caught a good sized one it went into the bucket for him. We caught a fair number of mud puppies at times, but they got a free pass back to the bottom. We never killed them, and we tried to unhook them without doing any more damage to them than we had to.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News. You can subscribe by calling 598-6397 or click on the link on our home page.

Little Sandy Creek

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

Well, I know I’m back on track now. Sweet Thing and I returned from Seattle and it took a couple of days to get the time sorted out, but we are now getting to bed before midnight and rising before 9 a.m.

It has been pretty dry, so a couple days after our return I watered the back yard and picked up 150 night crawlers that evening. I knew it was supposed to rain later in the week, but I wasn’t taking any chances. It feels good to be ready when the time comes to fish.

I got out my lantern and filled it up, pumped it up, and fired it up. The mantles were in great shape and gave out a perfect glow.

I fitted my rods with bullhead rigs and waited a couple of days for cooler and hopefully wetter weather to get the bullheads in the mood.

Next weekend is the New York State Outdoor Writers’ Spring Safari and I will need a few worms for that as well.

I am going to take my grandson, Nathaniel with me to the gathering. He is excited about the prospect of going, because he will get a chance to go with me for turkeys one morning and fishing on the next.

I am not sure if we will be fishing for panfish or trout, but either one will suffice as long as the fish are willing. I am sure it will be fun for grampa, too.

Being in Seattle has slowed my turkey hunting down. I’ve only seen one hen so far, but I have a couple spots to check out, and maybe I’ll get lucky. I have done well some years at our spring safari, so it could be that it will pan out for Nathaniel and me next week.

No matter what, Nathaniel and I will have a great time hanging out with some of the best outdoor writers in the state.

The big steelheads have mostly gone back down to the lake to recover from their spawning run and start putting some weight back on.

Every once in a while in May a fisherman may catch one of the big trout that has lingered longer than usual in a stream, but they are few and far between.

I caught one several years ago from Little Sandy Creek when I was looking for a good brown trout. It was a spawned out female and she didn’t put up a fight worthy of her size.

I guessed her weight at about ten pounds. I am no fan of large steelhead for eating, so I released her and wished her well.

A few days later, there was a big rain storm, and I would expect she probably rode that freshet and made it back to the lake.

When I was a kid, Little Sandy Creek was not considered a trout stream by the state and that was why we could spear in it as I wrote in last week’s column.

The trout apparently never heard that Little Sandy was not a trout stream as there were plenty of them in residence in those days.

I never caught a rainbow over 20 inches or a brown trout over 22 inches out of that stream during the years I was growing up, but what it lacked in sizeable fish, it made up for in numbers.

I am pretty sure the biggest rainbows ran up out of the lake, because they sometimes had a lamprey scar on their side.

I also suspect that once those rainbows got over 20 inches they were killed in the lake by lamprey predation.

That was long before they started treating the streams to kill off the lamprey.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News. You can subscribe by calling 598-6397 or click on the link on our home page.

Spearing on Little Sandy Creek

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

Although it has been many years since I speared my last sucker in the cold waters of spring, I still smile thinking about the deliciously wet and frigid outings with my school days friends on Little Sandy Creek. 

The suckers would make their annual spawning run somewhere between mid-April and mid-May, and we would anxiously await them.

The run came fairly close to the end of muskrat trapping season, and sometimes I would see the newly arrived fish while running my trap line, but more often trapping would be over and my first sighting would be from the Route 11 Bridge as I looked down at the stream on my way to school.

The day I would see a school of suckers at the tail of the big pool under the bridge would also find me inattentively fidgeting during the day’s classes. I would notify my spearing buddies that I had seen the fish, making their day in classes just as long as my own had become.

We could hardly wait for school to let out so we could rush home and grab our boots and spears. Before nightfall, we would have wreaked havoc on the poor fish, noisily pursuing and stabbing at them as they fled upstream and down seeking shelter from our attack.

It was almost like a scene out of Golding’s “Lord of the Flies.”

As young boys in that setting, we were probably as much akin to blood thirsty savages as we could ever have been, but it was sheer joy of the chase that inspired us, not any dark, evil intent.

It never occurred to me, and probably not to my friends either, how cruel a fate we were visiting upon those unfortunate, terrified fish. Sometimes it is good not to think too deeply about one’s actions, which an atavistic boy can seldom be accused of doing.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News. You can subscribe by calling 598-6397 or click on the link on our home page.

New grandchild

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

I drove by a restaurant just a few days ago and saw a sign advertising Bullhead dinners and I was almost tempted to stop.

I hope it wasn’t a mistake. I expect to catch my own in a week or so, but a side trip to Seattle was in the cards first, so Mr. Whiskers will be safe from me for a few more days.

I did stop at Greene Point up on Sandy Pond to see what the rquirements were for launching a boat there and I inquired about the bullhead fishing. The owner said that they hadn’t been biting much and that even the crappie fishing was sort of slow.

I did get the information I needed about launching after closing hours and I wasn’t upset by the fishing report seeing as how I wouldn’t be hitting the water just yet anyway.

Ever since my father died years ago, my fishing at Sandy Pond became a lot more sporadic. Dad used to call me just about every good afternoon during the spring bullhead run to see if I could make the run up to go fishing.

Unless I had other commitments, I usually gave Sweet Thing a kiss and loaded up my gear and spent the evening with my Dad.

I truly believe there was something special, almost magical, about those evenings we spent together. I know I always came away with a whole lot more than fish.

Now here we are just a half a week from turkey season and I know that you turkey hunters are itching to have at them. I’ve heard a couple birds, but I won’t get out until May 5th at least, so maybe one of you will beat me to them. I know, I know, what is so important that it keeps me out of the woods? It’s a fair question so I’ll fill you in.

My son, Ben, and his wife, Meghan, became first time parents less than two weeks ago. Sweet Thing and I had been planning to go out and get our hands on our new grandchild as soon as we could and thus our current trip to Seattle.

Beckett Hunter Archer was born April 16, 2013, and the little guy weighed in at seven pounds and 13 ounces. After seeing him, I have to tell you he is a keeper. He looks a lot like his father did when he came into the world. I tell Ben that Beckett looks a lot like me, only younger and with darker hair, but mostly he looks like himself.

So while you lucky people are out harassing the turkeys, I’ll be patting and rocking one good looking baby any time I can get him away from grandma.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News. You can subscribe by calling 598-6397 or click on the link on our home page.

Back from Florida

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

I was hoping that the weather would be a little more welcoming, but we are home all the same.

We left temperatures in the high 80s on Monday and enjoyed the mid 70s as we travelled up through the Carolinas and Virginia.

Things started to change by degrees Wednesday as we moved through Pennsylvania and then New York. By the time we were unloading some of the items from our truck, the afternoon temperatures were diving and we locked the truck, leaving the rest until the next day.

There would be no night crawlers on our first night home — that was for sure.

The pontoon boat travelled very well on our new trailer, and our truck hauled them both with ease. I think the most pleasant thing was having a trailer on which all the lights worked without a bunch of dinging on my part.

I get really bent out of shape sometimes when lights absolutely resist working properly on a trailer, and it’s not pretty.

I hope everyone read the information about bears from the DEC a couple weeks ago and took it to heart. While bears are seldom seen right here in the Fulton area, it is just a matter of time before readers will start seeing them or signs of their presence.


To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News. You can subscribe by calling 598-6397 or click on the link on our home page.