Sunday, March 25, 2018

Ellie's glass

Ellie and I have gone fishing a couple of times lately; below is her first trout on her new CGR rod. (Photo by Ellie herself.) She likes the slow-flexing fiberglass, and it obviously gets the job done, as she out-fished me at Fremont on Friday.


We have loads of photos to share, but the laptop is out of commission again, so it may be a while before they're posted. Please check back from time to time...

Saturday, March 3, 2018

(Almost) like old times

I've just wrapped up my hawking season, but here are a couple of photos from a day out hawking with Pat Stull on a warm day back in late January. These were taken on the northeast side of Wagon Train Lake; I flushed a rabbit from what we call "carpet grass"—dry yellow grass that tends to cover not only the ground but also brushpiles and deadfalls near some of our local lakes—and Stekoa took it in a nice sprint.

The only story here is how hard we worked, and how far we had to walk, for that rabbit. Wagon Train used to be one of our most productive spots; Mike Cox, Karl Linderholm, and I used to hawk it nearly every day throughout the season, and there were plenty of cottontails for our three hawks plus the resident redtails. In recent years, though, I've barely hawked Wagon Train at all—it's hardly worth the effort.

The winter of 2009-2010 was a tough one; it certainly took its toll on local rabbit populations, and it's possible, I suppose, that some localities might still be experiencing aftereffects. But I put the decline of Wagon Train and several other spots as hawking grounds down to management. The Game and Parks Commission has cut down huge numbers of trees, mostly invasive red cedar, ostensibly to benefit pheasants and other game- and non-game grassland-nesting birds. I would support these efforts if they were effective, but unfortunately there has been no follow-through on the cutting. The cut trees are heaped into huge brushpiles—often the size of houses—and left there. For years. Coming up on a decade at Wagon Train. 

Pheasants, meadowlarks, dickcissels, etc. don't nest in cedar groves, but neither do they nest amidst enormous brushpiles. Meanwhile, there may be rabbits in those brushpiles, but they're inaccessible in their fortresses. I strongly suspect that great horned owls are the only one getting these rabbits, as they need hardly venture out in the daytime. So a rabbit like this one is in some ways a nostalgia trip, but I want something better: I want my hawking grounds back!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Noise for the sake of noise (plus music)

Phil Bourjaily, one of Field & Stream's resident "Gun Nuts", posted recently on the blog of that name about a recent phenomenon: the profligate expenditure of ammunition for no other apparent reason than to make noise. Framing this as a generational issue, he notes of this "new breed of shooter", "I don't understand them. They don't like to shoot things--they just like to shoot." A friend of Bourjaily's seconds his observations:

Two men showed up in a Mercedes, parked, and left it running for two hours while they shot. They would burn through 30-round magazines in their ARs as fast as they could, warm their hands over the ventilated handguard, and then reload and shoot some more. At nothing. Not once in two hours did they go downrange to set up a target.

I encountered some shooters of this ilk recently while out hawking. Stekoa, Anya, and I were chasing rabbits on a local WMA when the shooters opened up on private land immediately adjacent. Four or five of them—young, in accordance with Bourjaily's generational thesis—with a high-powered rifle. Emphatically not an AR; the repeated boom-boom-boom-boom-boom...long pause...boom-boom-boom-boom-boom made it apparent they were using something with a 4-round box magazine—a Savage Axis, perhaps, or a Remington 700. They were clustered near the property boundary, just the other side of the treeline, and I quickly realised they were shooting away in the opposite direction, so I felt more annoyed than threatened...but also perplexed, like Bourjaily, at the utter pointlessness of the exercise.

I feel it necessary, at this point, to note that I'm not opposed to shooting per se. I shoot (a little) myself, and I make my living in part by selling firearms and ammunition. (And, obviously, I read the Gun Nuts blog occasionally; Bourjaily and his writing partner David Petzal are both informative and entertaining.) Nor am I claiming that the shooters were doing anything they didn't have the right to do, though I will fault them for being inconsiderate of another sportsman in the field, namely me. It's just, you know...why?!?

The day wasn't a complete loss, I'm happy to say. Stekoa grabbed and then lost a rabbit shortly after the shooting began (distracted?), but then caught another twenty minutes later even as the fusillade continued. By definition, any day the hawks and dogs come home is a good in the bag makes an even better one.

And here, for no other reason than I've been hearing it in my head for a few paragraphs now, is a song that, as the man says, "will never die, it will live on down through the years"... Two songs, actually: after "Boom Boom", stay tuned for "Never Get Out of These Blues Alive".

Monday, January 15, 2018


R.I.P. Dolores O'Riordan.

Mind the redd

Colorado guide service 5280 Angler is trying to raise awareness among fishermen of sensitive breeding locations (redds) for trout. To read more (or to spread the word by purchasing decals), see #MindTheRedd. And remember, it's rainbows and cutthroat in the spring, brookies and browns in the autumn.

HT Matt at Casting Across. See also this post from Postfly.

The man himself

Jessa and me with bust of Nathan J. Gold, businessman, civic leader, philanthropist, and member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame (where this photo was taken). Jessa and I met while working in the Gold's Building not far away—an unforeseeable event, but we're grateful and do consider Mr. Gold a benefactor.


The view from the living-room windows; photos by yours truly.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


The last day of the NAFA meet promised to be warm and windy (gusts up to 50 mph), so we left Stekoa in his box and Maxine and Anya in the hotel room. Jess and I had received an invitation for something out of our usual routine, in any case...

Chris Remmenga was hosting Minnesota falconer Chase Delles and his golden eagle, Dexter. Chris, who lives near Kearney, has cultivated excellent relations with local landowners and was confident he could provide Dexter with slips at black-tailed jackrabbits.

[Chase and Dexter.]

[Chris, our guide.]

Chris and Chase were good field marshals, and though some of the non-falconers occasionally struggled to keep a straight, evenly-spaced line, we were soon flushing hares.

[A jackrabbit, having evaded the eagle, runs back toward the line.]

The blacktails, naturally, used the wind to their advantage, and the first several slips were unsuccessful. We soon re-grouped with a view toward producing some cross-wind slips, and shortly thereafter Dexter had his first kill—a cottontail.

The rabbit was a good start, but we had bigger game in mind, and Dexter was more than willing. He's accustomed to taking multiple head in the course of a day; fist response was excellent (Chase called him to the fist dozens of times in the course of the hunt), and eagle and trainer clearly have a comfortable working relationship, as evidenced by Dexter's willingness to feak on Chase's hand.

Open-field hare hawking is decidedly a group effort; we had a field of approximately fifteen people, but I will note for the record that Jessica flushed and called the first jackrabbit taken, and I the third and final one. Dexter was an astonishingly good footer; more blacktails escaped than were taken, but none got away once contact was made.

[Large and in charge.]

This is, to a certain extent, golden eagle country—we noted a wild one working one of the fields we had already covered—but it was a treat to hunt with such a capable and well-mannered eagle. He certainly looked good in the landscape...

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Jess and I picnicked Thanksgiving afternoon at a prairie dog town south of Kearney. Some of their holes were simply holes; others, the ones used for sentry duty, looked like little Vesuvii on the prairie.

The prairie dogs themselves kept mostly out of sight, but their usual paths of travel were readily discernible in the grass.

These were the only well-beaten paths; in an hour and a half, only one vehicle passed nearby. No complaints from us; we enjoyed the quiet and solitude as much as we enjoyed the afternoon sunshine, and the sausage, cheese, dates, and apple cider that were our Thanksgiving dinner.

Had we had more time, we might have hidden under the only nearby tree, a red cedar, and waited for photos of the town's residents; as it was, there was hawking to be done, so we took our leave and presumably the colony returned to its normal routine under the Nebraska sky. (A sky that from time to time brings golden eagles and ferruginous hawks, so being underground is part of the routine, too, I suppose.)

Monday, December 4, 2017

A week of hawks and dogs

I took some much-needed time off over Thanksgiving week—the occasion was the North American Falconers' Association field meet in Kearney, but as with the last time NAFA was in Nebraska, I actually split my time between Kearney and more familiar fields close to Lincoln. Still, it was good to focus on hawking for an entire week.

Stekoa did well, taking a couple of cottontails in addition to a mouse and, a first for us, a wood rat (a.k.a. pack rat). And the dogs clearly loved the combination of time afield and luxurious accommodations.

Some photos by Jessa by way of illustration:

[Anya in the car, atop the cooler.]

[Maxine in the field, attentive as ever. Not to me, necessarily, but to the possibility that Stekoa might drop something edible.]

[Stekoa about to launch.]

[One of the places we hawked, on the south shore of Harlan Lake not far from the Kansas line.]

[Stekoa finishes off his wood rat.]

[The lap of luxury: Anya settles for a towel on the washroom floor, while Maxie considers ringing room service for more pillows.]

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Too personal

On seeing a kayak at the farm store:

J: "Why would they sell kayaks at the farm store?"

M: "The same reason they sell kayaks anywhere else, for boating. It's a one-person boat. A personal boat, you might say. [Faltering.] A one-personal boat."

J: "How about a tandem kayak? Would that be two-personal?"

M: "No, we can talk about that."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Mule deer near Van Tassel, Wyoming. Photos by Jessa.

Is it just me, or do muleys look like kangaroos from the neck up, especially in profile? They're ecological equivalents, anyway. Gorgeous critters...

Monday, October 23, 2017

Keep your fish

Our recent trip to the Pine Ridge region of Nebraska was not primarily a fishing trip...but to the extent that it was a fishing trip, the Pine Ridge, with its skinny water and hyper-spooky fish, left me soundly defeated.

The draw here, apart from stunning scenery, is salmonid diversity not available elsewhere in Nebraska. Rainbows and brown trout can be found in other waters, but for cutts and brookies, the Pine Ridge is the only destination.

Soldier Creek was going to be my primary spot, but the section I happened upon was largely choked with cattails. The few open stretches were narrow enough to step across, but only if one could manage to negotiate the steep, heavily vegetated banks without falling in. Not counting trees and bushes, of which I hooked plenty, I got one strike (and no hookup) in an hour or two of trying.

The White River was much more conducive to casting, a beautiful stream with clear banks and no overhead cover, just blue western skies and towering sandstone bluffs. Unfortunately, fish were few and far between, and no takers among them.

I had access to a very short stretch of Sowbelly Creek, a tiny sluice with one pool, where five or six brookies lay finning in gin-clear water. The moment I spotted them, they spotted me, and that was more or less the ballgame.

Because it was closest to our lodgings, and because intermittent reinforcement is a powerful motivator (I hadn't forgot that single tantalising strike), on our last morning I rose before the sun to have another go at Soldier Creek. I did find better water, but that's as far as my luck extended.

Jess reminded me that I've caught four indisputably wild trout this year, and assured me that given adequate time I would figure out these streams. And whatever frustration I experienced at least took place in glorious weather amidst some of the most striking scenery Nebraska has to offer. Still, it helped that we stopped at Grabel Pond, over by the old Red Cloud Agency, before leaving Fort Robinson. Catching and releasing a bunch of rainbows was a salve for my confidence.

And really, who really needs brook trout in their extravagant autumn colours? What's so special about a silvery cutthroat pulled from a coldwater creek, anyway? You can keep your fancy fish, Pine Ridge. I just have one question...

May I please come back next year?