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Dove Hunting They Zig when you Zag By Gary Howey

  As the sun rises on Saturday, September 1, in South Dakota, Nebraska and throughout the upper Midwest, look for hunters set up on their favorite pond, around sunflower, millet, wheat or CRP fields and near shelterbelts to take a shot at dove hunting. 

Take a shot, may not be the correct words as it may take many shots to down these small birds when the dove hunting seasons opens.

  Believe it or not, doves are the number one game bird in America, forty-two states having dove seasons with over 20 million birds harvested each year. Even, with this large of number of doves taken, their population is growing and the range expanding.

Dove hunting is a challenging sport, as doves are the aerial acrobats of the bird kingdom. They seldom fly straight, darting and dodging from side to side, changing altitude in the blink of an eye as they zig-zag their way across the sky.

It does not take much of a load to bring down a dove, just as long as you can catch up with and get a bead on the little buggers. 

It takes a while to get onto hunting doves, so do not lose your faith and feel bad if you miss several birds, as studies indicate that the average dove hunter will shoot as many as ten shells for each bird that he drops.

I am sure ammunition manufacturers lick their chops because they know that ammunition sales are going to skyrocket just prior to the dove opener.

You can hunt doves with any gauge shotgun, with those hunters I hunt with use every gauge imaginable, hunting with twelve, twenty, twenty-eight and even four-ten gauge shotguns.

When it comes to what what shells to use, we pretty much agree on Winchester AA, eight or nine loads.

Our plan on opening day is to set up around a farm pond or stock pond, with our most productive hunting occurring in the  late afternoon until sun down, as doves make their way to these areas for water just prior to going to roost.

The ponds you want to set up on should have open ground around the edge, those with dead or dying trees nearby really attract the birds as they give doves a place to light, rest and observe the pond before flying down. 

Doves are not in a hurry to do anything until you take a shot at them, as they will set in the trees, on power lines or  hill above a pond for long periods before coming in.

The reason open ground around a pond is important because that is where the birds land before they will saunter down to the water.

Those ponds with heavy vegetation along the edge do not attract doves because the heavy cover makes it impossible for the birds to get to the water to drink.

When hunting around ponds, a good hunting dog is necessity, as much of your shooting will be over water and a dog can retrieve those doves that come down in the pond.   

Doves love weed seed, preferring hemp-marijuana and ragweed. If the pond you are hunting has a weed patch nearby, chances are there will be plenty of dove activity in the area.

When hunting ponds, your best hunting is if there are several groups of hunters on the surrounding ponds, as it keeps the birds moving, jumping from pond to pond.

On larger ponds, it is a good Idea to have several hunters stationed around the water.  Doves are such erratic flyers; you never know from what direction they are coming. By having hunters stationed around the pond or on several different ponds in the area, you have an extra set of eyes letting you know what direction the birds are approaching as well as more shooting opportunities, which helps to keep the birds in the air and on the move.

Hunters will find good numbers of doves in areas adjacent to shelterbelts or heavily wooded areas where the birds roost and near hemp or other weed patches where the birds feed.

During the early season, it does not take much to draw doves into a pond, but as the season progresses, doves become more wary and can be tough to attract.  In the late season, dove decoys will help to bring them in.

  If you use stationary dove decoys, place them as high as possible on the trees as this gives the doves an opportunity to locate and zero in on them at greater distances [Read more…]

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Ringneck Pheasant Facts By Gary Howey

  Even though the pheasant opener is still several months away, I am making plans for my first hunt as things have changed sine the close of last years  season

  As any hunter knows, habitat is the key to good pheasant numbers and over the last several years our pheasant hunting in Nebraska and South Dakota has changed, because of those years higher crop prices due to the disappearance of our habitat,.

  It was not all that long ago, because of our steep hilly terrain, where I reside, we had thousands of acres of heavy thick CRP fields not too far from town. Since that time, the price of row crops has spelled the end of much of that habitat.

  While I sit here working on this column, I cannot help but think back to the great pheasant hunting and the good times I had in the field.

  It seems like only yesterday, working my way along a meandering creek bottom that worked its way through a steep hillside covered by heavy plum thickets.

  As I approached the plum thicket, my black Lab Mo-Jo locked up, on point and seriously thinking about creeping in on a bird buried deep in the middle of the snarled mess of plum thicket and tumbleweeds.

  The bird seemed content to sit tight and wait for us to pass, but Mo-Jo would have nothing to do with and was having a hard time staying on point.  When I told him to “get it out of there”, he charged into the middle, flushing the bird out the opposite end.

  Unable to see the bird at first because of the thicket, I was not sure what the bird was, but cackle gave him away, I brought my my shotgun up and as he appeared the far end of the thicket, I dropped him with a load of number five shot.

  I praised Mo-Jo as he brought the bird back to me; a beautiful, long spurred rooster with long tail feathers, one of the nicest roosters I have ever taken and one that adorns the wall of my office to this day.

  My Lab did a great job of locating and pointing the bird, the flush with the bird cackling as he cleared the thicket was picture perfect as was the shot, making memories that I will always remember.

  I often think of this and other hunts for the South Dakota state bird, enjoying every one of those past hunts.

 Like any other things I pursue in the outdoors, I want to know as much about what I am after as it can help me to understand them more clearly. [Read more…]

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Channel Catfish Eager Biters, Excellent Eating By Gary Howey

  If you have ever had the opportunity to tangle with a big catfish, you realize how powerful this fish can be.

  Catfish, not the prettiest fish, but are plentiful, accommodating, and fun to catch and great eating.

  They are bottom-hugging creatures, whose eyesight is not the best, where they depend on their sense of smell and taste to find their food.  The barbells, those cats like whiskers protruding from their head and their lips, covered with taste receptors, help the catfish to locate a meal.

  In the upper Midwest, you will find three species of catfish: the channel, blue and the flathead.

  This article will deal with the largest population of catfish, a fish found in rivers, reservoirs, lakes and even farm ponds, the channel catfish.

  Channel catfish are the most abundant catfish species in the upper Midwest and perhaps the entire U.S.

  You will find them in the Glacial Lakes of South Dakota, below the dams of the Missouri River and on most bodies of water throughout the Midwest. 

  Channel catfish lie in the deeper holes in the lakes, and near the Missouri River dams below the spillway, behind the rubble below the turbines and in snag-infested areas adjacent to deeper water.

  Catfish are opportunists when it comes to what they eat; feeding on just about anything, they can get their mouth around.

  With what I do, television and radio, I have had the opportunity to fish for channel cats throughout the Midwest and in Canada and am fortunate to say that two of the channel catfish I caught were line class world records taken on cut bait made from suckers and goldeyes.

  If you have followed my “Of the Outdoors” columns over the years, I preached about the use of lighter line and lighter baits.  However, when choosing the tackle to tangle with catfish, that theory goes out the window and when fishing for cats it is always best to go heavy because there is no finesse bait presentation when it comes to fishing for catfish.  This is especially true since most catfish are taken from areas where there are numerous snags and you never know how big of a fish might be that followed the scent trail to your bait.

  When using heavy line on catfish, once you feel a bite, you will want to reel down towards the fish to take up any slack line before setting the hook, as heavier line will have more memory/coils than lighter line.

  The rods I use for catfishing are long rod with a lot of backbone and a fast tip so you can detect those subtle bites backed up by large bait-casting reels.

  When catfishing, you will find that even the larger cats do not grab your bait and run. They will nibble on it for some time, pulling as much of the bait from the hook before taking the remaining bait and hook into their mouth.

 As far as line goes, I stick with monofilament, as it is much easier to get out of snags than the super braids, like Berkley Fireline.

  Another reason I do not care to use super braids on catfish is that once hooked, catfish

roll, and rollover again trying to shake the hook and I have seen catfish that have rolled up so tight in super braid line that it cut their skin.

  Because we release quite a few of our fish, monofilament allows us to release more fish unharmed.

  I mentioned earlier that channels are opportunist, not being terribly fussy about what they eat and caught on numerous baits including; nightcrawlers, worms, cut bait (suckers, shad & skipjack), shad entrails, chicken or turkey liver and of course stink baits.

  Stink baits are popular on the Missouri River and as their name suggests, they are a smelly concoction.  The reason that they are so popular is because they are easy to use and very productive, yet very messy.

  Many people make up their own mixture using a smelly cheese, blood and other “secret” ingredients.

  If you do not have your own recipe for stink bait, you can find it and plastic stink bait worms at most bait shops. Sonny’s stink bait is my choice when it comes to a stink-bait and I have taken both small and large catfish using it with a stinkbait worm rig.

 Stink bait worms are pre-rigged with a short heavy monofilament leader with a small treble hook that straddles the bottom of the worm.

  These rigs are nothing more than a large egg sinker, snap swivel and plastic stink bait worm.  Putting this rig together is simple. First, your main line goes through the egg sinker and then ties to the snap swivel.   Attach the leader from the stink bait worm to the snap and then, using a stick, dip the worm into the stink bait, getting as much of it as possible on and around the worm.

 There are several other rigs that work well for catfish, especially in the swifter water found below the dams.

  One of these is the Wolf River rig, a simple rig, made up using a three-way swivel, a sinker and a large circle or other type of bait hook.

  Using your heavier main monofilament line, tie it to one of the three swivels, on another swivel; you will attach a heavy line monofilament leader with a large strong hook, a creek chub or some other bait.

  The dropper, the bottom line, is a six to ten inch piece of lighter monofilament line and where your sinker attaches, the sinker rides along the bottom allowing your bait to ride just off the bottom keeping your hook and bait out of the snags.

  If snagged, the lighter line can be broke off and all you will lose is your sinker. This rig excels when fishing in heavy current, but you may have to re-bait from time to time as swifter current can beat up your bait. [Read more…]

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Livebait Rigging with Spinners, There’s Differences By Gary Howey

  Livebait rigging, bottom bouncers and spinners is effective bait anytime of the year and does not take long for an angler to learn and to master them. 

  It is one of those rigs that pretty much fish themselves, where all you need to do is to lower the rig down  to the bottom, put the rod in the rod holder and wait for the rod to bend, indicating you have a fish on.

  Bottom bouncing with spinners or other live bait rigs is very simple.

  The bouncer is an inverted “L” shaped piece of bent-wire with a weight attached about halfway down the longer of the two wires.

  This weight on the rig allows the bouncer and spinner to get down on or just off the bottom, where the fish are located and if used correctly will stand up and work its way through all the rocks and snags, with the spinner following close behind.  The spinner creates a vibration and the flash, which attracts the fish as it, works up off the bottom through the structure, the rock and rubble, areas where the fish will be holding.

  Where the two wires twist, forming a circle, is where you attach the snap tied to your line, there is also a snap on the shorter top wire, which is where your spinner attaches.

  The key to using this set up correctly is to keep a tight line, fishing vertically, allowing the rig to stand up and to work its way along the bottom, with the longer weighted bottom wire keeping the spinner up above many of the snags. If you are not fishing vertically and have too much line out, the bouncer will drag and more than likely become snagged.

  I found that when fishing bottom bouncer in the Glacial Lakes , Missouri River reservoirs,  Lewis & Clark Lake, Lake Francis Case, Lake Sharpe and Lake Oahe, that the bottom bouncers most often used are those in the one to two ounce range.  There are heavier ones, but I have never had to use them in the depths of the Glacial Lakes of South Dakota, Minnesota, the reservoirs and the rivers that I fish.

  A good general rule to follow for using bottom bouncers when trolled from speeds of one to two miles per hour is to use a one-ounce bottom bouncer when fishing shallower depths, those from ten to fifteen-foot deep.  If you fish water that is fifteen to twenty-five foot in depth, you will want to go with a one and a half ounce bouncer and when fishing deeper than that, to go with a larger, a two-ounce size bottom bouncer.

    Another thing I learned when fishing bottom bouncers is that its stiff wire helps me to feel the

bottom changes, where it goes from soft or hard bottom to rocks or other structure as it works its way into and through it, I can feel the vibration or change the bouncer  through my rod.

  Now that we have a good idea as to what a bottom bouncer is, let’s talk about spinner blades and spinner rigs.

  Spinner blades come in numerous shapes and sizes with each style of blades performing differently under different fishing conditions.

  You will find most metal blades stamped from brass; those plated or have a painted finish one the top while others are Mylar plastic.

  Their flashy side and vibration of a spinner helps draw the fish in, and once a fish moves up and directly behind it , closing in on your bait, the flash and vibration become less of an attraction as the fish has seen and zeroed onto the bait, the hook and the its movement.

  Which spinner blade you use has a lot to do with where you are fishing, the clarity of the water, how deep you will be fishing and the speed you drift or troll.

  Some spinner rigs, those rigged with the smaller metal blades will not work well or spin when fishing at slower speeds,  less than one mile per hour. The smaller blades like many of the other blades work best when trolled at around one and a half miles per hour and faster.

  Each spinner rig is somewhat different depending on its size, the style of the blade, their color, the way they are painted, the different size beads, as well as the number of beads used on the rig and their different colors. This along with the line test used on the spinner rig, how many hooks are on the rig,  all may making a big difference from one day to the next  when it comes to catching fish.

  The attractor on spinner rigs is the blade, which performs best when fished at a certain speeds and depth.

  Spinner lengths may vary depending on how clear the water you fish,  running from about forty-eight inches long to seventy-two inches long, as anglers fishing clearer water prefer the longer snells.

   There is a lot of discussion out there when it comes to blade or bait color, I believe the best color to use is generally the color of the spinner or bait you use the most.  That color of spinner or bait is on your line and in the water the most, it is a bait you have used to catch fish, unlike many of those other colored spinners and baits you have in your tackle bag or tackle box.

  As I have mentioned before, if I have a choice between a solid color spinner or bait and a multi colored spinner such as the Firetiger, I am going to go with Firetiger. Firetiger has numerous colors on the blade not just one and any one of those colors might be the color that the walleyes want that day. 

  By using a multi-colored spinners or bait, you have it in the water longer and do not have to waste time attaching and retying baits.

   Listed below are several spinner blade variations available to the angler, information I have learned over the years about the spinners and some I have used when fishing different bodies of water, water of different clarities and other fishing situations.

Smile Blade Spinners

  Unlike the metal spinners, Mack’s Lure Smile Blade spinners are not metal, but constructed from a Mylar plastic allowing the angler to change the Smile Blade action by simply squeezing or flattening the blade.

  If you want to make the Smile Blade Spinner rotate slower, flatten the blade and to have it rotate faster, all you need to do is to pinch the blade down.

  This blade works at all speeds and can be trolled or drifted down to one-quarter mile per hour, as the these blades spin at much slower speeds than the metal blades.

  Where this blade really stands out is when fish are not aggressive, how you present the bait where the spinner still has action and catches those non-aggressive fish.

  These blades are available in four patterns, thirty-six colors, available in six sizes, allowing the angler to fish the Smile Blade spinners in all fishing conditions baited with minnows, night crawlers and leeches.

  They come in two leader lengths, the longer seventy -two inch leader, tied with either twelve and fourteen-pound test, longer leaders work well when fishing clearer water conditions where you want your bait farther away from your bottom bouncer and when and if fishing conditions change your leader  length can be shortened. [Read more…]