No Squirrels Harmed

Archers

In my social circle of “avid” traditionalists, the phrase “small game hunting” should be amended to “small game trying”. Though many would question the accuracy of that statement, as well.

Every year, as the sun sets on deer season, empty promises are belched over the roar of the campfire and into the woods beyond for every squirrel, hare, and partridge to hear, remember, and immediately forget.

“Well I’ll tell you what I’m going to do more of…squirrel hunting. I was covered up in them this year!”

“Me too. Portly blacks and noisy reds mostly. I even had a wirey old gray rummaging through my daypack yesterday. Tried to eat my damn Snickers bar!”

“Had several opportunities, myself! Squirrels the size of house cats no further apart than you and I. Too lazy to shoot.”

“You’ve gotta shoot those! Squirrel cacciatore!”

“Catch them? Why would I want to do that?”

I’ve heard statements like this repeated year-after-year with very little follow up. Michigan tends to go dark from late December to early April. Archers are too busy joining indoor leagues, tying flies, ice fishing, tuning turkey calls, or dodging potholes to brave the elements for a bagful of rodents. The one exception, as far as my band of stick-flinging cronies is concerned, is the annual small game competition at Whitneyville Bible Church in early February.

This particular gathering has been a blessing in disguise for the longbow-toting, winter weary Michigander. While the bulk of its contestants are parishioners with beagles and .22 caliber rifles, a handful of foolhardy outsiders have made it a point to brave the elements with blunted arrows and the hopes that we’ll run over several with the truck on the way there.

That never happens (in case you’re wondering). If it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all and the closest thing to a success was convincing an old, stressed out gray to leap to his death from atop a maple by pestering him with our arrows. Even then, he survived the endeavor, and cursed us all to a lifetime of poor shooting afield.

We’ve had few encounters since and would love nothing more than to blame our lack of opportunities on squirrel sorcery. But I am a realist and positive our ineptitude has more to do with bad hunting than luck. The following outline of a typical Whitneyville hunt should illustrate my point.

Disclaimer: This timeline probably isn’t historically accurate but I can assure you that all of the events are 100% factual.

7 a.m. – We meet at a pre-determined place and the hunt officially starts.

7:30 a.m. – We examine each other’s new gear acquisitions.

8 a.m. – We finish our coffee, string our bows, and toss movie quotes at each other while laughing like idiots.

8:30 a.m. – We don our orange and start walking.

9 a.m. – We take a break to talk about things that irritate us — and bourbon.

10 a.m. – We get back to “hunting”.

10:30 a.m. – We take another break to complain about the weather, the rising coyote population, and why we aren’t seeing anything to shoot at.

11:00 a.m. – We get bored and decide to shoot stumps.

Noon – We run out of stumps but empty our quivers into an open field “just to see how far the arrows go”.

1 p.m. – We collect our arrows and argue about Michigan hunting regulations — and beer.

2 p.m. – We get back to the truck and realize the hunt is over, which is fine because we are hungry anyway and know the church provides chili dogs at the weigh-in.

2:30 p.m. – We fill our faces and hope to win the door prize, while everyone everyone else gives thanks for the woodland bounty adorning their truck beds.

Now, I should clarify a thing or two, less you judge us too harshly. If subjected to heavy questioning, every bowmen in the party would confess this is not the way you harvest a snowshoe hare or Michigan squirrel. However, those same folks would testify to it being the perfect formula for a good time.

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.

I would personally like to thank MLA members Sheri and Matt Stoutjesdyk for inviting us to this event every year and the fantastic folks at Whitneyville Bible Church for having us. We’ll keep coming as long as we are tolerated!

 

 

 

A Bowhunter Goes Fly Fishing – Part II

Jon's first brown trout of the morning, caught on his Sage fly rod.Hello and welcome! If this is your first time reading Life and Longbows, STOP here and read my last post before proceeding. You won’t have the back story otherwise.

We proceeded up the Rogue, Rob in the lead, your’s truly in the rear, and Jon in the middle to better soak up the buffoonery around him. We fished every riffle and every run Rogue provided for the next several hours. Had it not been for a constant stream of Memorial Day kayakers, we’d have had the river to ourselves in addition to the perfect weather.

Nymphing wasn’t at all what I expected. My idea of fly fishing was an arching rod angling skyward, streaks of neon-colored line snapping the air, and colorful monsters leaping into landing nets. Nymphing wasn’t any of those things. It reminded me of bait fishing. You found a place you thought a fish would be, you tossed your line upstream of it, then let the current take it to the spot – rinse and repeat. There wasn’t anything graceful or romantic about it to my novice eyes but my opinion changed after watching Mudry hook his first trout of the morning.

I’d never seen a trout caught on a fly rod in person. Jon was watching his line drift through a riffle one minute and drawing line through a bent rod the next. It happened that fast; no dramatic hook set, no breaching behemoth, no dramatic exclamations. Jon gave a quick jerk of the line with his left hand and continued to draw and pinch until the little brown was splashing around in front of him. He leaned the rod back, gently pulled his catch from the water, removed the fly from its jaw, and returned it to the murky depths of the Rogue. It was quick and he was calm throughout the whole ordeal.

“You didn’t even use your reel.” I said.

“Nah. He was a little guy.” Jon laughed. “You don’t need to use the reel on those guys. You have to watch how you set them. Too light and they’ll get off. Too heavy and you’ll either hit yourself in the face or launch them to the next county.”

“Do you ever use the reel?”

“Oh yeah. If I have a decent fish I do. You’ll know the difference.”

He caught two more that way, leaving me to question my technique or lack thereof. His calmness threw me the most. His movements seemed simple – effortless. He never looked as though he was working, whereas I was analyzing every step of the process and trying not to get snagged.

“Your casting too much. Let your line drift upstream until it starts to work its way in front of you, then let it float a bit longer.”

I did what I was told. I flicked my line upstream and let the nymph drift with the current until my line was straight out in front of me. Suddenly, the line went taut vibrating the rod from tip to cork.

“Woah!” I yelped.

“You’ve got one, man!” Jon laughed. “Keep that rod bent and start drawing line!”

I tried to do as instructed; drawing line with my left and pinching it with my right. Keeping the rod bent was my biggest challenge. I hadn’t fought a fish in over 15 years and was used to letting the reel do the work. This was an entirely different ballgame. Still, I managed to land the little brown and the memory that accompanied it. The size of the catch didn’t matter. I had landed a trout with a fly rod – something I’d only thought of doing a week prior. How quickly things had changed.

We fished well into the afternoon with little effort. Time slipped around us like the current at our waists – only a bit higher in Rob’s case. At around 1:30 he waded through a deep bend and climbed into a stretch of what he assumed was shallow rapids. Jon followed to put a little distance between us. I’d just suffered the loss of an overpriced nymph and stayed put to re-tie. This lucky bit of misfortune resulted in a pristine point of observation for the calamity that was about to befall my comrades.

What Rob thought was “shallow” rapids was actually a rock shelf that gave way into a 3-4 foot mucky hole. He ascended the shelf, lost his footing, then descended in the manner a toddler might a Fisher-Price plastic slide. Jon howled. I howled. Rob’s reaction was…complicated. He splashed. He thrashed. And he howled but not like Jon or I. This was something else entirely. Something I’d only heard at the John Ball Zoo when the chimpanzees discovered something they didn’t agree with.

“Ohh! Ohh! Ohh! Ohh! Ah! Ohh! Ohh! Ohh! Ee! Ohh! Ohh! Ohh! Ah!”

He bobbed around in the hole like this for several seconds, thrashing and spewing and making horrible noises until Jon waded over to help. When he leaned out to give him a hand, Rob took a whole lot more, pulling him and all of his gear in with him. Chaos ensued as my friends fought to retain their footing. The water exploded into a mess of waders, rods, line, and sunglasses. It reminded me of two boar hogs fighting for a wallow that wasn’t big enough for either of them. The ordeal was over in minutes but seemed like an eternity. Neither friend dried out the remainder of the trip. Both carried a little bit of the river back to the truck.

We pulled several fish out of that stretch, including a nice 12″ brown I excitedly butterfingered back into the brine after a solid fight. It would’ve been a major confidence boost but I couldn’t make it happen. The missed opportunity left a bittersweet taste in my mouth the remainder of the trip. I felt inadequate for missing the fish but more legit because of it. I knew the feeling all to well. I felt the same each time I’d slipped an arrow over a deer.

Our day concluded with a handful of trout caught and released, sunburns, squishy waders, and smiles as wide as the Rogue itself.

A new chapter of my life had begun and I’d just penned the first line.

My appetite for fly fishing knowledge has become insatiable between posts and I am happy to report I’ve made major improvements. My casting has improved, I’m catching fish, and I’m having fun. Having a wealth of information available on YouTube has made all the difference and I am thankful for all of the content available on the subject. Check out Joe Humphrey’s video on nymphing, for instance. It is unbelievable and totally changed my perspective on fishing nymphs and wet flies.