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.

Winter garden

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

Last week, I began a series on hunting, not a defense of hunting, but rather an exploration of it and I hope it may have caused you to examine your own views on hunting.

As I continue the series next week, I hope you will be drawn into the conversation. If you have strong feelings either pro or con, or if you would just like to comment, please feel free to email me with your thoughts. is the proper address for such comments.

I had planned to have part two in the paper this week, but I have found the topic to be more involved and more difficult to put into the right words. Sometimes, semantics have been a great barrier between hunter and non-hunter and I would rather help to span the gulf than widen it. So this week, as I ponder what I have written and do some self-editing, I will bring you up to date on what Sweet Thing and I are doing.

First of all, because this is an outdoors column, I’m going to take some leeway and mention our winter garden. Sweet Thing gets as much of a kick out of home grown fresh veggies as she does from a bunch of sea trout.

One of the first tasks I have each year when we hit Florida is to get the garden worked up and planted. The season is short and time is important.

This year, I had the garden in the first week we were here. It is growing really well, and some early items have already found their way to our table.

First we had radishes. They come so fast and are welcome in our salads, being sweet without much heat in them. The next item is always greens and I have grown to really like collards with olive oil, garlic and bacon.

I put in collard plants and they are very hardy and fast growing. We had our first collard greens last week and we will be getting more each week now. Everything else takes a bit longer, but the garden is looking great.

On the real outdoor front, I have done some fishing, but the results have been far from spectacular. In the fall of 2011 I met Dean and Ann Drake from Central Square through my column. He called me and we got together up home. He is a long time hunter and fishermen and we had a great time swapping tales. He came to Florida for a week last spring. I told him if he came to let me know and we would get out fishing. He did and we did.

We caught some fish, but what Dean enjoyed the most was gathering oysters and then the eating of them afterwards. We had oysters on the half shell, oyster stew and fried oysters. Dean liked them so well that he came back to Florida this February for a month and we have been fishing and oystering.

We fished from the Wabasso Causeway south of us here, but the fishing there is not much better than it is right up here near Barefoot Bay — and it stinks here.

We caught some small stuff, but one fisherman near us caught a very nice bluefish. He didn’t want him and asked us if we would. I took the blue, bled him out and put him on ice in our cooler. Some folks are not very fond of bluefish, and in their defense, I would be the first to admit that if they are not cared for properly and quickly, bluefish are not good for much other than fertilizer in the garden.

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More to hunting

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

I have been thinking a great deal lately about hunting, not about going, but about what hunting is.

I have been a hunter for most of my life, but it is just in the past year or two that I have taken the time to reflect on the hunter and the practice of hunting.

On the face of it, hunting seems so simple. A hunter goes out with his gun or bow, locates what he desires to shoot, and he kills it.

For way too long, that was the way it was for me; although, the more I hunted, the more I could feel a nagging reality that beneath the surface there was so much more to it than that.

I hope you will bear with me for a few columns as I try to share my memories, ramblings, and thoughts on the topic of hunting. I know it will be impossible for me to fully explore every facet of hunting, and I’m also willing to bet that others have undertaken the same task before me, and may well have done a better job of it, but as I sit here, I know It is time for me to try to explain why I hunt.

First of all, man has always been a predator, and during the time of his existence he has always been at or near the top of the food chain.

In spite of an occasional encounter that turned out badly with a bear, tiger, shark, crocodile, or other top of the line predator, most of the time man came out on top, either by avoiding other hungry meat eaters or using his tools and intellect to turn the tables on them.

The most successful hunters ended up being the humans that were most likely to survive and produce the next generation.

They passed their hunting knowledge down to their children, and it was used, enlarged and adapted over the years.

I expect that the best hunters were revered for their skill and some of them probably became the stuff of legends told around stone-age campfires.

The more animals a prehistoric hunter killed, the greater and more respected man he became among his people. Life was so simple then.

I doubt very much if any tribe member ever asked the hunters how they could be so cruel as to kill those beautiful animals. Although humans were omnivores, it was meat that kept them going, and it remained so for eons, no questions asked.

While it is true, from the earliest days of man, he has been a hunter–gatherer, yet first and foremost, he was a hunter. Is it so odd that we are still predators? It has been bred into us from times unrecorded.

Yes, we have learned how to raise meat animals and grow crops, but the cave man still lurks inside us. So on the basis of my ageless heritage, I feel no guilt when I hunt, nor remorse when I sit down to a venison dinner. Truly, I am only doing what comes naturally.

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Indian River Lagoon

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

I learned that the fishing was pretty slow around Sebastian so I have shifted my attention to the Vero Beach area, but I am mostly unfamiliar with that section of the lagoon.

I can catch the same little nuisance fish there that I have often caught nearer our home here, but I would prefer bigger game.

I had a call from Frank Maurer a couple days ago and he confirmed the quality of the fishing in the area. He said it’s the worst he has ever experienced since he started coming to Florida to escape the snow.

He has caught some flounder, but nothing like past years, and the pompano fishing has yet to materialize. The only bright spot has been the sheepshead fishing. He has caught quite a few of them and they have been running decent size. They are very good as table fare, so that is a big plus.

I have yet to go over to the inlet, but the fishing has been rather hit or miss there; however, even on the good days, the fishing is not what it should be.

Maurer lays the lack of fish on the commercial fishermen, but I am convinced that a major factor is the disappearance of the sea grass in this section of the lagoon. The problem is more wide spread, but we seem to be one of the hardest hit sections so far.

I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal to many folks. So what if the little short grasses that grew underwater in the shallows of the lagoon has died off? But it really is a big deal.

The Indian River Lagoon is a huge nursery for many fish species and crabs that have always flourished here thanks to the sea grass, which was the base for the food chain and provided protection for the larval and fry stage of so much of the river life.

With the grass gone, the sand bottom has become a sort of desert, devoid of food or cover for all those who once called it home. Fish may pass through, but they don’t hand around.

The blue crabs that were abundant here up to about three years ago are so scarce and scattered that it hardly pays to put out traps for them. I’ve noticed the commercial crabbers are not working the area. I’m not going to even get my traps out of storage.

The fish and game biologists down here have not been able to pin the problem on one single source, but there are numerous suspects, and some of them may actually be working in concert to bring about the destruction.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News or subscribe today by calling 598-6397

Fishing with dad

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

My father used to take me fishing often when I was a kid, and I have tons of memories from those days, and I learned an awful lot from him by listening and watching.

I am a visual, hands-on learner. If someone shows me how to do something, I am much more likely to understand  than  if I were reading directions. Dad showed me all sorts of ways to be a better fisherman, but he let me experiment and do my own thing when I wanted to.

Once in a great while, he learned something new from me when I had an unexpected success from doing my own thing.

One of the things we did most often was fish from shore; that was because we didn’t own a boat. We sometimes went with someone who did or on even rarer occasions rented a boat for the day.

When we were afloat, I noticed one interesting thing. We would usually not fish very far from shore; in fact, we often ending up casting towards the shoreline. This seemed, to me, to negate the advantage of having a boat since we could have cast about as far from shore as we ended up fishing.

I tried casting my bait in several directions from the boat, but learned rather quickly that my father had the correct combination.

What I learned on those days was that one of the advantages of a boat over a shore bound fisherman was that one could move easily from one spot to another rather quickly.

If the fish weren’t hitting in one area, perhaps they might be more cooperative in another. But I learned another more important thing for an angler. Just like in real estate, when it comes to fishing, it’s location, location, location.

The two most important things are to know where the fish should be, and to fish where the fish should be.

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Gone fishing

Gone fishing
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

“I’m going fishing.”

That’s what I told Sweet Thing Tuesday morning. One way or another, I was going to be wetting a line at the inlet. I haven’t messed up on my New Year’s resolution.

I have been getting in some writing and I have been sitting in the sun, sorting my tackle and rearranging my tackle boxes. I’ve lubricated and relined reels, but as of Wednesday, the time for fishing had come.

Most of the time, I don’t care what I catch, even if it is something other than what I was in search of.

As long as it’s legal and good eating it will go into the cooler unless it happens to be fortunate enough to bite after I already have all the fish I want.

I seldom keep more than what Sweet Thing and I can eat in one or two meals, but if the fish are really good ones, I bring a few back for a couple of friends as well. They never turn them down. Maybe it’s because the fish come all cleaned and pan ready.

A couple of guys from the boat club went out fishing offshore last week. They caught plenty of red snapper, big groupers and black sea bass. Too bad they are all out of season. They threw them all back.

They did catch a couple trigger fish and a mackerel which they could keep. The red snapper and black sea bass are supposed to be severely over fished, but somehow there are more of them coming up on anglers lines than have been seen in more than a decade.

A lot of those fish are bigger too, but there are a ton of smaller fish that often end up grabbing the bait before the big guys can home in on it.

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I am no weatherman

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

Just when I thought that I was safe in believing that Old Man Winter was going to roar into Upstate New York as he did in days of yore, and establish his reign for three or four months like when I was a boy, I found out why I never became a weatherman.

Maybe I am just cursed to jinx all the skiers, snowmobilers and ice fishermen when I make an innocent observation about how the weather has turned in their favor.

The temperatures this week certainly haven’t been very conducive to winter sports; in fact, they have gotten close to Florida levels. However, take heart all you snow and ice lovers, I am making no more observations or predictions about the weather; you now have a chance.

There were a lot of snow geese hanging around in the Montezuma area before the snow came and I suspect that they probably didn’t head out right off. The problem hunting them is trying to figure out how to be in the right spot at the right time.

Unless a hunter has a huge rig of snow goose decoys or reasonable facsimiles of such out to catch their attention, snow geese will pretty much go where they want to — not where hunters want them.

Some guys have had good luck with them, but a lot more have just gotten frustrated in the attempt. My son, Ben, out in Washington State, went hunting for them with several other regular goose hunters – and they got nada, zip.

I’ve pretty well tied my hunting up for this season, so I don’t have to try to figure out the geese. Once I hit the Indian River and the Florida beaches, I will care less about where the geese are flying. It’s easier to predict where the redfish and sea trout are going to be hitting, but I can get frustrated enough trying to get that equation right, forget the geese.

The Indian River has been changing, mostly for the worse, over the past decade, and some of the bad changes have been accelerating for the last two or three years. The sea grass has been disappearing, and it’s nearly non-existent around Sebastian.

It used to foul our hooks when we were fishing with jigs, but it provided cover for fish and nursery areas for their young. Without it, the area is like a very damp desert.

Fish pass through, but there is little to hold them here, so there are never big schools of good eating fish like there used to be.

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Leon Archer

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? I wasn’t going to because I have a tendency to make resolutions that are more like wishes and they are seldom realistic. This year, however, I do have a couple resolutions I believe I can live up to.

My first resolution is: I will not bow to the tyranny of the urgent, but I will give a higher priority to the things I want to do, not those I think I have to do.

Or simply put, I am going to enjoy myself more.

I have spent way too much time trying to live up to the expectations of others, ignoring the fact that I have some needs of my own that only I can fill. I am going to put some balance back into my life.

My second resolution is: I am going to write at least 20 hours a week. This resolution does not contradict or conflict with my first resolution. I started several writing projects that I very much want to get back to, but I have let each one of them languish. That has to cease. I really enjoy getting off by myself with my thoughts and a full pot of coffee.

I enjoy writing this column, but there is so much more that is struggling to get out of my head that has nothing to do with outdoor sports; all I need is time.

There, I’ve gotten that off my chest, now what’s happening out and around? I know the skiers and snowmobilers are in their glory. This winter looks like it is on track to be all that last winter was not for them.  I’m happy for them, but I am no longer a snow person. I used to be, but somewhere along the way I lost that part of me that thrilled to see the first flakes of early winter snow, looking forward to the cold blanket that would wrap my world for the next three or four months.

Even though I now see snow as mostly an inconvenience that needs to be removed from driveway and sidewalk, deep down inside I can’t help but envy those who delight in its presence.

I have fond memories of winters past, sledding as a boy, ice fishing with my father and brother, and hunting small game that usually had better sense than I did when it came to wandering around in deep snow.

We often came home with a pack basket full of jack perch from Sandy Pond and a warm sense of accomplishment that somehow counteracted the stiff aching fingers and chilblains.

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Bird decoys

bird decoys
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

It’s amazing how another year has flown; here we are past Christmas with New Year’s celebrations a couple days away, and to me at least, it hardly seems possible.

It has been a good year with great times spent with family, no really bad things happening to any of us, and Sweet Thing and I have been able to spend some time working on projects that we really enjoy.

She has been working away on quilts with her sisters once a week when we are in the area. I have been making a few decoys, catching some fish with my grandchildren and I had the pleasure of watching Nathaniel complete his first shore bird decoy in time to give it to his father and mother for Christmas.

Nathaniel and I have been learning together how to make shorebirds and I think he might be better than I am at it. He is a good learner and has been able to apply everything that

I have taught him and understands the rational for making decoys that will fool birds, while at the same time not looking like real birds frozen forever in wood.

We don’t make wooden birds with burnt in feathering or every single feather painted perfectly in place. Our birds are impressionistic and pattern painted.

All the old decoy makers made blocks that would fool wild birds long enough to get them into easy range for shooting. None of those old hunting decoys would fool any of us into believing they are real.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News or subscribe today by calling 598-6397