The Water Trough, July 31, 2011

Almost everything has to have water to thrive and with our severe drought conditions, water is a premium.  The closest water near us is about a half mile away and yesterday, Layla and I drove by it and saw the spring fed pool is almost dry obviously the spring is drying up.

Our home is watered with a 150 foot well and the livestock by a 60, foot well that has been is service since 1920, however the livestock has been sold off.  In fact we still have the old wind pump, or windmill, anchored above the well.  In normal times, this 60, foot well pumps water to the livestock and furnishes water for my garden, now it is dedicated solely to wildlife.

Wildlife are taking advantage of this supply too, in one 28, hour stretch, a raptor, deer and coons showed up.   First, were two doe and four spotted fawns, followed by a young, Coopers hawk.
Later that night, 3 bucks and an unknown variety of a deer came in for a drink.  At midnight, 2 nice 6 pointers came in.  All of these bucks should have much heavier racks, but our drought conditions, since last September, have severely limited production of forbs, acorns and pecans (pronounced in Texas as pe-cons’).  Yes, deer do eat pecans and many times, before and during deer season, we hear the booming guns used to scare deer out of the vast pecan orchards in our area.
Just past midnight, this pot bellied, buck was scared by the camera, or something else, and took off at high speed, but he couldn’t hide his pot.  He’s probably 7 or 8 years old, but who knows, until we check his teeth.  Then, here came the coons for a drink.
Finally, in mid afternoon, came a doe and her two spotted fawns and up walked our long horn, spike.  His days are numbered.

The Corn Feeder, July 28, 2011

The great State of Texas allows hunters and landowners to feed wildlife, both in season and out of season and this becomes very important especially during periods of extended drought like we are experiencing now!  For the deer, food is scarce, water is scarce and it’s really tough times for wildlife!  Ranchers are feeding cows that haven’t been sold, paying exorbitant prices for baled hay, or feeding them hay baled last summer, or coastal Bermuda baled this spring, corn prices are skyrocketing, beef prices falling, stock tanks and water wells are drying up, tough times in Texas, in fact the entire southwest, for ranchers and livestock too!

Based on the preceding background, this week I started my corn feeder over a month early, generally starting them after Labor Day. Putting game cameras on a fence post around the corn feeder and a tree by the water trough, I was expecting some great “shots”, the pressure overcame me and I fudged on some shots from the trough, posting them on July 25.   Finally getting the memory cards out of the game cameras, then checking all of the pictures, it dawned on me that because there were so many good “shots”, I should split the posts and make one about the corn feeder and the other about the water trough.  Today’s post are pictures from the corn feeder.

The first deer to show up on the 22nd was a big spike.  First chance we get, he’ll get smoked!

Early Saturday morning, five more deer, four doe and a fawn stopped by for a bite.  After the deer left, four coons, a coon family, was picking up the corn.
Later Saturday morning, two squirrel and a doe showed up.  This goes to prove my theory that wildlife benefits from deer feeding.  So far deer, coons and squirrels are dining on the corn and who knows what else will show up?

Sunday morning, a spotted fawn and a doe were feeding and shortly a doe, a six pointer and button buck, along with a squirrel, posed for a “shot”.  A deer family, who knows, but it looks like it?
In the middle of the night on the 25th, this is a most unusual picture of a fawn nursing, while the mother picks up corn!  Everyone has to eat!  Later that morning a doe, spike and button buck stopped by, probably, adding the six pointer, the same deer family?
Monday afternoon, in my truck, I went out and replaced the memory card in the game camera, notice the “shot”, I’m in my summer outfit, boots, shorts, tee shirt and let me tell you, it was plenty hot!  The camera was almost too hot to touch, showing 118, but it was “cooking” in the sun.

More Outdoors Pictures, July 25, 2011

For months since last spring, the entire southwestern United States has been under severe drought conditions, so it dawned on me, that with no rain, the price of cattle dropping and food crops non existent, I’d better start feeding the deer and other wildlife. So, Tuesday, after many trials and tribulations that included buying a complete new feeder, I finally fixed the old one and I’ll just use the new one in another spot.

Starting up the feeder and throwing two loads of corn, it dawned on me that it was time to unlimber my game cameras too.  Putting one on the feeder and the other on a rock, water trough, the water being the only available in a half-mile radius, we’d just see what showed up.  Not being able to withstand the pressure, after the first night I just had to check one of them.  Picking the water trough, not two hours after I installed the camera, up showed two young, doe with their two fawns, then ten minutes later I got this good, “shot” of  two fawns, one fawn jumping over the trough.
Then, just after 1:00 AM, on the 23rd, up shows a young, buck, one I’d never seen before.  Last week, driving down the County Road, a real nice 10 pointer jumped the fence on to my property, first time to see him too, but he hasn’t come to the water yet!

Then at 3:00 AM, three doe showed up for water.  Right after them a spike showed up, but the “shot” was too blurry.

With no rain, it’s useless to plant any food plots, so this week, I’ll crank up another feeder, loading it with corn and protein pellets.


Back in the 90’s, before the low railroad bridge across Highlands Bayou was raised, Bayou Vista’s outlet to Jones Lake and Galveston Bay had probably only 5 feet of clearance above low tide.  This prevented large boats from passing under it, so by necessity, I became a two boat fisherman.  Owning a 20, foot boat that wouldn’t make it under the bridge, it was trailered and used for offshore fishing and fishing around the Galveston Jetties, but I needed something that would make it under the low bridge.

That something turned out to be a 13, foot Boston Whaler.  This particular boat had no motor, no steering controls and was on a worn out trailer.  A new galvanized, trailer fixed one of the problems and the other was fixed with a new 20 horsepower, manual steering, motor, I even added a trolling motor.  My steering position was near the transom, on a small cooler, that also served as a bait bucket.  Maybe this was a little light on safety issues, but with me alone, the boat would run over thirty and it would be great for fishing in Jones Lake.

Here I am, perched on the bait box/cooler, scanning for birds working.

So what was one of the first things I did with my Whaler?   Roy Collins a former Galveston Bay fishing guide, and I trailered it to the base of the Texas City Dike, put in there and went screaming of to the northeast to drift around Dollar Point in Galveston Bay.  Definitely this was big water, not the best place for a 13, footer, even a Whaler!

There were probably a dozen other large boats drifting in the Dollar Reef area.  Never having drifted in the Whaler before, I mistimed and misdirected my first drift and before I knew it was drifting into a 23 footer.  Yanking the starter cord, nothing happened.  Yank, yank, yank, still nothing.  Roy grabbed the side of the big boat to hold us off, while the  owner was giving me some very clear instructions, “Keep that, blankety, blank little thing away from my boat.  Watch it, don’t drift into my engine, blankety, blank, blank!”

Clearing the 23 footer, I saw we were about to drift into some fishing lines from another big boat, 21 footer!  Yank, yank, yank, the motor still wouldn’t start.  More instructions from the other boat owner, “Blankety, blank, blank, keep out of our lines. Blankety , blank, don’t you know what you are doing, blankety, blank!”  This was very embarrassing!  Yank, yank and then I remembered, Viola, turn on the motor’s on/off switch, which I did, yank, put, put, put, put, put, it started and, feeling very embarrassed, we eased away from the fishing lines!

Getting control of our drifts, we began catching some real nice speckled trout, when a small rainsquall popped up south of us and was heading our way. We really didn’t pay much attention to the squall and kept on fishing and catching fish. Then it started to rain, better said, “Then the bottom fell out!”

Blinding rain and the next thing I knew, water was up around my ankles, the gas tank was afloat and the rain was still pouring down!  At the time I didn’t have a two-way drain plug that would have let the water drain out, so the water kept rising and we both started bailing.  Pouring the shrimp out of the 33, quart cooler, also my seat, we finally made headway in our foundering boat.

Ankle deep, the rain stopped.  Starting the engine, I pulled the drain plug and gunned the engine.  We jumped up on a plane and the boat drained.  Whew, that was close!  Reinserting the plug and we went screaming back to our trailer, and thinking to myself, No more big water for this little boat, but I will say one thing about the little Whaler, it didn’t sink.  Whalers are made with positive flotation and as their advertisement shows, you can cut one in half and it won’t sink!

That afternoon, I bought and installed a two-way drain plug!

Rock Hopping

Being in college, this was way before the time we even thought about owning a boat, in fact, fishing boats back then, were few and far between. Our choices were wading, renting a skiff, but we didn’t even have an outboard motor, or rock hopping on the Galveston Jetties. The following is a story about one of the rock hopping days.

It was a beautiful summer day on the beach in Galveston, the girls out in force with their 1950’s, “skimpy” bathing suits, nothing like now a days Bikinis, light wind from the southeast and no waves crashing on or over Galveston’s South Jetty. However, this trip, Bobby Baldwin and I didn’t have eyes for the girls, but we had walked out the concrete walkway then, holding on to our rod and reels and carrying our live shrimp in a bait bucket along with one tackle box, literally climbed out on the slick, rocks of the jetty, ending up a hundred yards past the topping.

This was to be our fishing spot and our target for the morning would be speckled trout. Both of us were armed with six foot, popping rods, direct drive reels spooled with fifteen pound braided line, both reels having the luxury of a star drag system and later in the morning, mine would be tested severely! We were both using popping corks with a two to three foot, leader, the bait of choice was live shrimp. We’d cast along the rocks and slowly reel in while popping the corks, the pop simulating the sound a trout makes while feeding on the surface, hopefully attracting other fish to the shrimp.

Casting our baits out, it was no time until both corks went under, setting the hooks, mine came back hookless, but Bobby was fast into a Spanish mackerel and obviously, my leader was cut by another’s sharp teeth! Swinging his mackerel up on to the rocks, in our haste to get to fishing, we both remembered we’d left the net in the car, so for the morning we practiced swing and catch the fish. This proved much easier said then done, since a three, pound trout doesn’t swing very good, let alone they’re slimy and hard to hold on to!

Threading the mackerel on to the stringer, it dawned on us there was no place to tie it off, our choices being a cleft between two of the massive stones used to construct the jetty, or loop it around the tackle box that was wedged in securely, we chose the tackle box. Wouldn’t you know it, after I rehooked and cast out, I had a big strike, with the fish wallowing and splashing on the surface, quickly identifying it as a big trout, I tried my best to land it, but as I swung it up out of the water, it didn’t swing very good, the hook dislodged and, plop, back into the deep with it. Smaller trout, along with the occasional mackerel, were no problem, but how do you tell a big fish not to eat your shrimp?

We’d caught maybe a dozen trout and two mackerel, when I cast out and had a huge strike, really a pole bender! All I could do was hold on as the reel’s star drag was zinging as the unknown fish took out line. Zzzz, zzzz, zzzz, the star drag was singing as the fish headed down the jetty for parts unknown. Finally the end of my line was reached, pop, it gave way, leaving me with an empty reel and unbowed rod. That was some fish!

With me with no line and since I drove, I called it a day and Bobby followed suit. The fishing and catching was fun, the rock hopping proved to be dangerous because a friend, not two weeks later, slipped and fell, cut his leg, that required ten stitches to close. This one event brought our rock hopping to an early end!

Years later, I finally figured out what kind of fish was probably on the end of my line. After catching many kingfish on light tackle, I bet it was a fifteen pounder that stripped me. It was too fast for a shark, they fight more doggedly; not a tarpon, no jumps; not a big redfish, no head shaking and not a king size speckled trout, no wallowing; had to be a king!


What is it best called, frog hunting, gigging, grabbing or shooting?  I’ll choose just plain froggin’.  It is the most different of all the hunting/fishing sports.  Thinking about it, I have never gone frog fishing, as such, but once I caught a bull frog on a small, frog colored popper and was rewarded with quite a battle on a fly rod.  With Buck, one time, I saw him catch a bull frog on his jigger pole.

Most of the time froggin’ is a nocturnal sport and a must, for success, is a good strong, spotlight.  I guess that when the light is shined in a frog’s eyes it mesmerizes, hypnotizes or paralyzes them.

My start at froggin’ was in a group of stock tanks on my Uncle Shelton Gafford’s ranch in Falls County, Texas.  We would take a light, along with a .22 rifle and walk slowly around the bank of the tank and when a frog was spotted, Pow, dead frog.  Shooting .22 shorts into the banks was safe, but we constantly had to be on the lookout for cotton mouth water moccasins.  This was a good way to work the tanks, but about a third to one half of our frogs, when shot, would reflexively jump into the water and sink.  On a larger lake, this method is not encouraged.

Later, my son, Randy, went a step farther with his shooting of frogs.  He found a honey hole for frogs on our deer lease in McCulloch County, Texas.  He would sneak along the bank, spy a frog, and shoot.  He shot five in a row, but each, reflexively, jumped into the water and sank.  Randy is a former student at Texas A&M and correctly figured that if he waded out, arm pit deep into the tank, and shot the frogs from the water, the impact of the bullet would push the frogs back up on the bank.  His surmise was correct and we had a frog leg feast (after he dried off) that night.

Gigging is the best way to capture frogs on larger bodies of water.  A gig is a simple tool, a four foot, or longer, pole with a sharp instrument attached.  It helps if the instrument also has a barb on it.  If you know the bottom, and the lake is free of gators, wading is a fine method to use to sneak up on them, otherwise, a boat, or skiff, is required.  Just shine the light in their eyes, sneak up quietly and stick ‘em with the gig and into the toe sack with them.

The most exciting method of capturing a bull frog is grabbing them with your bare hands.  It is a lot like gigging, but without a gig.  One thing, for sure, you really check out the bank closely before you grab one.  Shine their eyes, sneak up on them, a boat is best, check the surroundings for snakes, then quickly grab the frog, whack its head and into the toe sack with it.

The most unusual capture of frogs that I ever encountered was after O.H Buck and I were returning, on a Farm to Market Road, from a successful froggin’ trip to a private lake, when it began to rain.  Rice fields and their canals were on both sides of the road, when we noticed, what looked like cow paddies, in the road.  Stopping, we saw that it was bull frogs instead and quickly getting our lights and toe sacks, added another dozen frogs to our “catch”.  I still can’t say what the frogs were doing just sitting on the road in the rain?

The best part of froggin’ is the eating.  Just skin the legs, cut them off of the Frog, wash them, dip them in corn meal and fry.  Smaller legs are very good grilled and my favorite, are legs cooked in a butter, jalapeno, garlic and lemon/lime sauce – Frog Legs Jon.

But caution!  Watch out for snakes!  One night we were easing along the dam of a rice field reservoir, when from out of a tree, dropped, “plop”, a four foot cotton mouth, right into the boat.  We both vacated the premises quickly and dispatched the snake with our gig.  But that ended our night’s froggin’.

Morning Walk, July 14, 2011

This past Monday, the sun was just peeking over the horizon when I turned on to the County road beginning my one and a half mile morning walk.  Not having walked in almost two weeks, who knows what I’ll see this morning?  Not two hundred yards into my walk, looking toward my left, as I turned back to my right, a spotted fawn ran into the thick stuff and I was too slow to get a “shot”!

Walking on and bemoaning my loss of a pic of a spotted fawn, looking down a sendero I saw, with tail raised a doe with two, fawn, preparing for a quick departure.  The fawn on the left, finding out later when I transferred the pictures, that its tail was raised too.  All three took off in a sprint, but my hurried “shot” captured their escape.

Walking to my turn around point, nothing else was stirring, so I began heading back.  Soon, in the road ahead, a cardinal (northern cardinal) lit, I’m sure looking for some small pebbles.  It pecked around until I walked too close, then took off.

Getting this “shot” of the cardinal and not expecting anything else, all of a sudden, a male dove (mourning dove), sharp tail and all, lit on a utility wire close to me.  As I walked past, it kept sitting there.  I guess he was enjoying the morning?

Not many “shots” on this walk, but at least I worked up a good sweat!

Fishing Large Pike and Muskie in Northern Minnesota

Today I’m happy to offer a guest post about chasing, along with some how to’s, about fishing for large northern pike and muskies.  This post is by John Olson who has a new blog about bow hunting,[Bow Hunter Guides].  John is an avid fisherman and bow hunter and his blog features reviews of high end, [bow hunting equipment] and tips and techniques to harvest a big buck.  Down here the closest thing we have to northern pike are chain pickerel, good table fare, but really bony and most we catch are thrown back.  Enjoy this post, I did!

More than any other fish in the state of Minnesota, the walleye is chased, studied and fished for, but while a very good tasting fish and a challenge to catch, many anglers are missing the joy of chasing down large northern pike in the many lakes of the state.  Large northern pike, or “gators”, named for their impressive display of teeth, are a unique challenge to fish for and can offer the opportunity to catch a fish of a lifetime.  Many pike grow in excess of forty inches and can weight twenty pounds, or more!  They are tremendous fighters and, on the end of the line, will give any angler more than they can handle.  Unlike their close cousin the muskie, northern pike are more aggressive and easier to catch.

The best time of year to chase big gators is in the mid to late fall when the trees are in color.  Smaller fish slow down this time of year and the big ones are in a feeding frenzy.  The fish are fattening up for winter and know that the ice will soon cover the lake limiting oxygen making food sources harder to acquire.  Fish this time of year are extremely aggressive and are fairly easy to trigger a strike.  Here are some keys to fishing pike in Minnesota during the fall season.

1.  Big lake equals big fish.  You can catch large pike in many northern lakes in Minnesota, however, if you are going to consistently catch big fish, you need to go to larger bodies of water that have huge food sources.  Some prime suspects include Lake Mille Lacs, Lake Vermillion, Lake of the Woods and Leech Lake.  You can find big pike in many other lakes but these lakes consistently produce large fish.

2.  Shallow bays with weed lines that break to deep water.  My personal favorite is to find bays in these large bodies of water with well-developed weed lines that break sharply toward deep water.  The weeds are dying this time of year and the fish move out of them.  These voracious eaters sit on break line feasting on baitfish.  They have multiple ways to attack baitfish from these situations including, coming from the deep like a lightning bolt, or sitting in the edge of the weeds to pounce on fish that do not see them.

3  .Sunny days fish top water lures.  These pike will sun themselves in bays and top water lures are the ticket to get a big fish to strike.  Personally, I like jerk baits on the surface retrieved at a very fast rate.  There is nothing more exciting that seeing a big gator pounce on your top water lure then watching it disappear.  Sometime, if you are lucky, they will come completely out of the water, creating an awesome spectacle!  A side benefit is that these lakes also produce record class muskie and this technique is effective for those fish as well.

4.  Cloudy days fish deepwater breaks with crank baits and spinners.  Cloudy days usually produce more fish than sunny days and deep water cranks and spinners will produce some big fish.  The pike often will sit deep and strike any baitfish that comes out of the weeds.  I like to throw big rattling cranks parallel along the weed then retrieve with a stop and go pattern.  Rapalla X-raps work great in these situations since they mimic a wounded fish.

So, this fall if you want to enjoy a great weekend of fishing, grab your tackle box and heavy equipment, then go chase down some big pike.  These exciting fish are fun to catch and, when on the end of your line, will get your heart to racing!

The Race Is On

During the summer of 1987 we could plan an offshore trip a week ahead and the weather would cooperate, beautiful weather!  Based on this, Bob Baugh and I had planned a trip a week ahead and, sure enough, in his boat, the “Bill Collector”, we were tied up to a rig, sixty miles out of Freeport, Texas.  The rig was anchored on the bottom in one hundred ten feet of water.

Checking for baitfish, we cruised around the rig and noticed, not five feet under the surface, some small amberjack, so I cast out a cigar minnow and from the depths, a bigger amberjack quickly darted in and gobbled the bait, and the fight was on.  Finally subduing the fish, we netted and released it, a 20 pounder.

After we tied up to the rig, we really got a workout from several sixty to eighty-pound amberjacks, members of the tuna family, and pound for pound, they are the hardest fighting fish in the Gulf.  We were using eighty-pound class tackle and after each bout with a big ‘jack we’d take a five or ten minute break.

Having recently bought a new, medium weight, rod that I’d been wanting to try out, during one of these breaks, I got it out.  Earlier, to it, I’d added a wide spool, red reel, wrapped with twenty, pound line and on the end of the line was a wire leader and hook, to which I added a cigar minnow.  Casting the minnow out, it would drift with the current and maybe a whopper would attack it?  We also noticed a squall line looming to our east, but didn’t worry about it since NOAA was predicting calm, storm free, weather.

For every five big, amberjack we hooked, we may have landed one.  If, they got their head pointing down, you were done for and he’d cut you off in the rig.  After loosing another one, I was re-rigging and I happened to look up and noticed the squall line was getting closer.  “Bob, should we worry about the weather?” I asked.  He replied, “Naw, doesn’t look like a problem.”  Later, we laughed over his reply.

Just then, my new rod bent nearly double and the line was peeling off at a rapid rate.  Bob said, “I told you that new rod was too light for these big fish out here!”  Setting the hook, the big, bull dolphin (dorado) cleared the water by about ten feet then took off in passing gear!

While running away from the boat the dolphin jumped three times, each jump displaying the fish’s bright coloration, green, blue, gold against the approaching dark blue squall line.  If I was an artist, it would have made a beautiful picture, but Captain Bly (Bob) spoiled it saying, “We better git, that storm looks like a good one!”

What a fight this bruiser put on!

Horsing in the fish wasn’t an option because I would get him near the boat and jump, jump, run!  We finally got him subdued and into the boat, then the wind changed from south and hot to northeast and cool.  Thinking, Oh, oh, I’ve been down this road before, we quickly whacked the fish on the head, put him in the big cooler, un-looped the rope from the rig and backed away.

Then Bob did something funny, reaching into the boat storage area, he got out a motorcycle helmet and slipped it on.  Back then, before laser surgery, he wore very heavy, thick glasses and he used the helmet and visor to keep the rain off.  He wiped the clear visor with a towel and told me, “We’re going to get wet, so hold on tight!”

We headed directly into the storm and broached each wave crest, probably eight footers, the rain, worse than when I was caught in a severe storm in 1982, and like then, this storm was between us, and the shore.  Wind was about forty, no lightning, but the rain almost obscured the bow of the boat, ten feet in front of us.

All we could do was trust the LORAN, this was before GPS, and keep going for almost sixty miles. The easy hour run took us two and a half hours.  The last twenty miles were in relative calm seas and the last five miles were spent in a race with a twenty-four foot outboard powered, sleek looking boat.  Winning the race, our speed showing on the LORAN was fifty-two!  The big dolphin weighed thirty-one pounds, but NOAA never said anything about the storm that never was.


After I had completed 6 weeks of ROTC Summer Camp, my mom and dad picked me up at Ft Hood, Texas and we headed off to Boulder, Colorado to visit my aunt and uncle, Cordie and George Howard, and their son, Milton.  Milton had just finished his military obligation with the Army in Europe and it had been 9 years since we had visited them.  At the time Boulder was not surrounded by Denver, but was a pleasant college town, later I found out just how liberal it was back then!

As soon as we arrived, Milton told us he had a big fishing trip planned – rainbow and brown trout in Big Thompson Canyon.  Dad and I, being “flatlanders” couldn’t imagine why we had to go to a canyon to catch fish, but “when in Rome, etc”.

Up early the next morning we drove north up into the foothills and soon parked beside a railroad tunnel.  Where’s the canyon?  Why this tunnel?  We’d find out soon enough!

Trekking through the tunnel, Moffatt Tunnel, it seems to be at least a mile long, through solid rock and every two to three hundred yards there was a cutout in the side, where, I hoped, we could get to before a train came through.  I’m sure Milton planned the trip so a train would come roaring through while we were trapped in the tunnel.  One did, of course, and we made it to the cutout in plenty of time.

We also found out why Milton told us, “Don’t forget your flashlights!”  After we rounded a long curve, it was pitch dark in the tunnel!  Once through, we walked for almost a half mile and could hear water flowing and saw a steep canyon wall on our left.  Trying not to stumble and tumble down the slope, we went slipping and sliding, balancing our rods and lunches, until we reached the floor of the canyon and were greeted by the Big Thompson River flowing east toward its rendezvous with the Platte.  We had “enjoyed” almost an hour of walking time from our car, through the tunnel and down the canyon wall.

As we tied on our small spinners, Milton commented, “Be alert for quicksand.  There’s some scattered along the edges of the river.  If you step in it, don’t fight it and I will come and pull you out.”  Why did he wait until we were in the water to tell us about quicksand?  Of course, when I was wading along, one step and the bottom disappeared.  I had found the quicksand, but was quickly retrieved and went back to fishing.

Milton is sitting on the rock, while I fish, in Big Thompson Canyon, near Boulder Colorado.

I had one fish on and two more real nice strikes, including at least a twenty, inch rainbow that was on for several jumps and rolls, but when I reached down to grab hold, it got away!  Milton and my dad had the same results, no fish, but lots of fun.

We fished until the sun was past the canyon walls then started our trek back.  When we got back to the car it was completely dark inside and outside the tunnel, but what an unusual and exciting experience we had just completed, quicksand included!