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“Goose” Chase

After a hiatus that literally spanned months, it is with my great pleasure to inform you that the Goose is no longer on the loose.

Yes, it’s true. I, Mitch “Goose” Larson, have returned to spew my outdoor-focused ramblings. Encouraged by two of the greatest music videos of all time (“Ice Fish, Baby” by Shad Rapp and “Mamma Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J) I have decided to once more take on the world of walleyes, turkeys, and everything else out related to God’s great outdoors. Whether that’s for better or worse…well, you can be the judge.

While I have been absent the past six months, a lot has changed, but in a way, nothing has changed at all. Fall, like it always does, wisped by too quickly. Winter, in all its bleakness, gave us–as outdoors enthusiasts–the opportunity to find beauty where others only see hinderance. And where just six months ago our fowl were finishing rearing its hatch, they’re now on the verge of returning back to their nesting grounds. So despite the changes we’ve all seen in our lives since I last wrote, it’s fun to realize that nature has never left us. It’s always changing, but just as the certainty of the seasons, it’s always the same.

So as we begin to prep for the return of spring, I hope you also begin to check back in with the blog here at Mitch Larson Outdoors! It’s my goal to once again bring you fun and useful posts from the heartland of God’s Country.

So with that, in the genius words of our dear outdoor poet LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback!”

-Mitch Larson

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Well, put it this way, I began chipping away at my 10,000  casts over opening weekend. Besides that, not much else went my way during my first few days of northern Wisconsin’s muskie season.

Friday afternoon, with the muskie opener approaching with every tick of the second hand, found my anticipation building. Giddy, instead of antsy, might be a better way to describe my emotional state that afternoon. I had been waiting all winter for this. My mom compared me to a kid on Christmas morning as I re-organized my tackle box no less than three times, playing with each respective bait, as Friday evening began to draw on. My rods were readies, leaning against the wall by the door. Everything was ready and prepared for 3:30 am when my dad and I had our alarms set for.

My alarm clock rang out once before I rolled out of bed (a rarity, usually the snooze button is enticed at least twice) and headed for the coffee pot. Excitement turned to disappointment as lightning lit up the pre-dawn darkness. The Larson fishing team has few rules, but one that we always heed: no fishing when you can see lightning. Muskies:1, Larsons: 0.

It stormed all morning and by the time thunder rolled to the east, the wind jumped at the opportunity to play spoiler. Sending whitecaps rolling down the length of the lake, we beat our way toward the leeward side of the lake. It seemed like every other muskie, walleye, and bass fisherman in Vilas County met us there. We played bumper boats for the rest of the day, throwing bucktails above new weed growth while zig-zagging around the casts of our fellow fisherman. Not a fish was caught, not a fish was seen. Muskies: 2, Larsons: 0.

Sunday morning found us with renewed hope. The weather looked much nicer. Overcast with slight winds beckoned us to the water. I started out throwing a Showgirl, working some deeper depths than we did the previous day. The non-existent wind gave us opportunity to fish the lake in its entirety. Things were looking up for the Larson fishing duo.

That is, til our trolling motor stopped working 20 minutes into the adventure.

One doesn’t really realize how much they rely on their Minnkota til it’s unresponsive. No ability to effectively control your boat made for difficult muskie fishing for the rest of the day. Muskies: 3, Larsons: 0.

So while my first weekend of fishing was difficult and frustrating, to say the least, I’m not terribly disappointed. When I made the decision to hunt down my first muskie I knew it was going to be a work-in-progress. I never expected it to be easy.

Just 9,500 casts to go.

-Mitch Larson

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As ice finally leaves the last of Wisconsin’s lakes and sports fisherman make their final preparations for the opening of the fishing season this weekend, I think it’s important for them to take some time to remember who they’ll be sharing the water with.  The following is the first of a three part reflection on Ojibwe spearing and the importance, tradition, and future of walleye spearing in their culture.

The throbbing cadence of tribal drums blaring over Justin Schlender’s speakers drowned out the rest of rush hour’s traffic.  The rise and fall of the traditional native chants offered a stark contrast to the usual bass beats and techno that bump out of downtown subwoofers. At first, I couldn’t help but to find it ironic. Here, in downtown Madison, who would imagine that Ojibwe music would be causing all this ruckus? After all, aren’t the Native Americans supposed to be the quiet, reserved ones?

But after sitting down with Schlender for a few hours I realized that those thumping drum beats weren’t noise pollution, at all. They were a reminder. Now, even hundreds of years after European encroachment on Indian lands, Wisconsin’s native American tribes are still here–still going strong in their traditions—and won’t easily be forgotten.

The struggle

The Ojibwe have always been spearers. It’s a tradition that’s nearly as deep-rooted as the wild rice that brought them to the land that would become Wisconsin.

Justin Schlender, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles band of the Ojibwe, has a long history with walleye spearing. It was, after all, his father, Jim Schlender, former head of GLIFWC (Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission), who locked horns in the ‘80s and 90’s with the state and the DNR in order to ensure that spearing rights were recognized.

“Spearing has always been in our blood,” Justin Schlender says. “When the Europeans first came over long ago, they saw us out on the waters in our canoes. It was night time and we had baskets of flame hanging out over the canoe bows. Burning bright, they lit the waters, guiding our spearing ancestors to the walleye. Thus, the French called it Lac Du Flambeau–Lake of the Torches.”

Since the time the first French settlers met the Ojibwe people, much has changed. More and more Europeans settled the area, the United States won its independence from Britain, and the lands of the Ojibwe began looking more and more desirable to the fledgling country.

Under pressure from the United States, the Ojibwe signed the Treaties of 1837 1842 to cede large tracts of land to the United States government in order to bolster a growing American timber industry. With great foresight, though, the Ojibwe leaders who signed these treaties made sure to retain the right to hunt, fish, and gather in ceded territory. This, they hoped, would ensure the survival of their descendents.

But while the Treaties of 1837 and 1842 represented the supreme laws of the land—a binding promise between the federal government and the Ojibwe—state law and DNR officers began dismissing the importance of treaty rights. Ignoring the rights guaranteed by the federal government, law enforcement and the WDNR began restricting and prosecuting any Ojibwe who speared or violated state resident fishing regulations. When the state of Wisconsin was created, they claimed, the Ojibwe lost the right to spear in ceded territory.

(more…)

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FINALLY! I’ve got some good news to report. No, it’s probably not what you’re thinking. Nope, I didn’t get a bird. Come to think of it, I didn’t even see a bird today. But right now, that fact is besides the point.

Despite my turkey hunting woes, of late, I couldn’t be happier. Today, after another morning of pouring rain, wind gusts, eventual heavy snow, and zero birds, ol’ Mother Nature decided to give me a little pick-me-up. Aware that, after four days of dismal hunting, I was beginning to doubt myself as a turkey hunter and outdoorsman, she decided to restore a little bit of zest into my hunting shoes.

The first shed that Larson found while turkey hunting.

This afternoon, as I begrudgingly willed my way back  into the elements in search of (what seems like non-existant) turkeys, something awesome happened. I was scouting out a new ambush spot on-the-fly when something caught my eye about 15 yards away. I decided to investigate further. Upon inspection I discovered a beautiful five-point whitetail shed. Now let me preface this by saying I’ve spent some serious time in the woods the past few years unsuccesfully looking for sheds. So to stummble across an antler, let alone a gem like this, was an awesome expereince in itself.

Still somewhat awe-struck, I gathered my wits, re-focused, and set up my turkey decoysand began my hunt. But as hard as I tried to focus on watching for turkeys and calling intermittently, I found myself constantly coming back to that shed. I couldn’t take my eyes off it! Had this been a buck I shot, it would have easily been the biggest of my life. I just couldn’t help myself from studying it. It was like I was mezmorized by this suvinere of nature.

After a while, though, I began to focus on turkeys again. Howver, as I surveyed my surroundings searching for movement in the trees, something once more garnered my attention. There, about twenty yards from where I had found the first shed, laid something that just didn’t look like it belonged. I got up, walked over, and to my delight, picked up the matching shed to the one I had found twenty minutes beforehand. It was truely an unforgetable feeling.

Sometimes it takes Mother Nature throwing you a bone--litterly--to get you re-energized for the outdoors. Finding these two beautiful sheds did just that for Larson.

So while this wasn’t really a turkey hunting update, at all, I just wanted to take the time to remind everyone that, even when your chips are down and your hunting isn’t really panning out, you never know what kind of magical expereinces you might have in the woods. It just goes to show that killing a bird or harvesting an animal plays only a small role in the joy that you can find in the outdoors. With a little bit of persistance, a touch more of luck, and a good attitude, anything is possible in the God’s great nature. I never would have drempt when I forced myself to head back into the woods this afternoon that I could’ve returned home so happy–despite not harvesting a turkey. It just took a little nudge from Mother Nature to remind me why I fell in love with her in the first place. It’s her charm, surprise, and beauty that make heading into the woods a constant adventure that should always be cherished.

And who knows, maybe one of these days I might even get a chance at a tom. But let’s not push my luck.

-Mitch Larson

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Wind, wind, go away, come again another day.

And the beat goes on for this Wisconsin turkey hunter as weather conditions once again hindered any possibilities of a succesful  turkey hunt. Sustained winds of 25 miles an hour and gusts exceeding 40 mph swept across most of the state on Friday. The strong wind continued all day before Mother Nature decided to add insult to injury by throwing sleet and down-pours into the mix, as well.

I gotta admit, it’s weeks like this that really test a hunter’s will to get a turkey. And at times, so far, I’ve been on the verge of giving in.

So far I've tried everything from field edges to harwood river bottoms without any success. Sometimes, no matter how well prepared you are, Mother Nature can still throw too many variables at you to handle.

Like I mentioned earlier, when it’s windy, more often than not I’ll venture out of the woods and hit up a field line because turkeys tend to leave the woods when it’s windy out. That’s what I did Friday morning. I snuck in early, found a spot that was semi out of the wind (there were no places that were 100% out of the wind, mind you) and set up well before dawn. Then the waiting game began. Per Wednesday and Thursday morning, gobbles were at a minimum. And as the sun climbed higher and the wind picked up even more, the chances of hearing a gobbler more than 75 yards away quickly diminished as they would be drowned out by the howls of wind hissing through tree limbs.

 This is how windy it was: one of my buddies told me that, while he was sitting in his blind,  a gust of wind blew away his blind on him. When I was picking up and leaving a spot I plucked up one of my decoy from its stake and the decoy blew out of my hands. I must have looked like a fool as I chased it down across the field. Out of the five hunters I talked to on Friday, not a one heard a gobble. As much as I don’t like writing about doom-and-gloom, with this weather keeping up, this may go down as one of the worst first seasons on record.

At this point, I’m just going to remain optimistic and hope for the best. Sometimes old Mother Nature has a way of rewarding those who are either too committed–or too stupid–to give up easily.

Best of luck out there,

Mitch Larson

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When talking about the Wolf River, there’s only one thing to say: she’s a rockin’.

Wolf River discharge at New London (USGS)

There were some brave boats out there, but I, for one, would not be one of them. Recent heavy rains and snow melt, combined with colder temperatures slowing thaw-out, have brought the Wolf’s water levels to flood levels. Real-time data collected by the USGS shows that in New London, water discharge levels have doubled in the past ten days running at 9220 cubic feet per second (the 97 year median discharge is only 3770).

Wolf River flooding at Gills Landing.

This means that, as of today, the Wolf is running about a foot and a half above the National Weather Service Flood Stage. Water is over the bank in most places and in lower basins (like the Rat River) flooding can be substantial. While checking out boat landings earlier today, I took this picture of Gills’ Landing near Weyauwega, WI. The water has come over the sea walls and is spilling into the parking lot. If you are going to head out fishing, remember that the DNR has issued slow-no-wake advisories within 500 feet of a permanent structure due to the extremely high water.

The fishing reports I’ve heard are reporting slow action. The sustained cold weather and recent rain/snow/sleet has made the Wolf’s water temperature to fall from 51.2 degrees on Wednesday afternoon to 43.8 degrees today. Looking at the long-range forecast, there is supposed to be a warm-up in the next five days which should help the fishing pick back up. And as always, especially with high water, use the utmost caution when on the water. No fish is worth the risk of a life. Wear life jackets, make sure you have a throwable life preserver, and never try to fish alone. Best of luck and be safe.

-Mitch Larson

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After day 1 of the Wisconsin Turkey Season the score stands at: Turkeys 1, Mitch 0.

I’m going to completely chalk this one up as another example of why scouting is so important. I just can’t stress it enough. Just because you’ve had success in a particular spot before doesn’t necessarily guarantee it’ll happen again. This morning I walked into my spot where I really thought there’d be birds. Guess what I saw? Not a single turkey, tom or hen. Guess what I heard? Peepers, chickadees, and wood ducks but not a single gobble. Not. A. One.

Obviously, my scouting was a bit, shall we say, ineffective.

While the hardwoods failed me this morning, Im hoping some open fields and tree lines like this can provide some late afternoon action.

Now, in my defense I was hunting this morning two hours from where I live. By the time I arrived last night, it was too dark to “put the birds to bed” and all I had to go off of was an educated guess of where I thought there’d be birds. I had seen birds there the last time I scouted it and had done well there in the past, but guess what? Things change, and change quickly. All I got off my educated guess was an old school butt whooping by the turkeys. Advantage, turkeys.

This is a situation that anyone can fall into. Sometimes a sure-bet location can turn into a dead zone in a hurry. It’s here where having back-up options is absolutely pivotal. If you put your time in this spring, and followed a few scouting tips, you should hopefully have a few places to fall back on. And that’s what I’m planning on doing tonight.

I’m going to go do some drive-by scouting and see what’s happening in a few of my spots. Depending on what’s going on out there, I’ll try to set up and intercept a late-day gobbler heading back to the roost. While the score is 1-0 turkeys right now, hopefully by nightfall, I’ll have evened the tally.

-Mitch Larson

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