Well mother nature can’t seem to make her mind up about spring. It seems we get a couple of teaser days of 50 degrees then old man winter shows up for the next four or five days. Not that I should be complaining, it has been one of the mildest winters I can remember.
A couple of weeks ago we had a nice weekend of 50 degree plus weather and really didn’t have anything to do. Usually, I would go look for sheds on a day like this but most of the deer I have on camera still have both sides. So, for now I put the shed hunting on the back burner and called a couple of friends to see what their plans were for the weekend.
Of course, after calling my buddy Al the only thing he had on his mind was fishing. No real surprise there. He is a fishing junky. After talking with Al and Tim we decided to head to Farmington, IL to a strip pit to see if we could find some crappie. I really didn’t have high expectations. The water temperature was around 40 degrees and to be honest I have never fished on the water in late February. If I do fish in February, it is always on the hard water. Unfortunately, this year is the first in many I never stepped foot on the ice.
We arrived around 10am to our fishing spot. We unloaded the boat into the water and off we set. We went to apart of the lake we usually find the crappie and dropped out to a deep ledge to see if we could find the school. As time past, we really weren’t really getting any bites. I started to change jig colors and Al was using minnow. Our first fish of the year was caught by Al and it was a little largemouth bass. I tried fishing for bass and crappie and finally I received a hit on my Tophat Jig and it was a nice 13” crappie. I thought to myself finally maybe we can catch a few in this area. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
As the day continued, Tim, Al and I caught a couple of fish but nothing to write home about. We finally moved to a tree that was in the strip mine lake and has always been a good place to catch fish around the spawn so we decided to go anchor up for little bit and see what we could catch.
I fixed up a pole with a bobber and dropped it right in the middle of the tree. As soon as the bobber hit the bobber stop down she went. When I set the hook, I knew this wasn’t your ordinary crappie. I have caught many crappie that were 12 to 13 inches but this one felt bigger. Last year on this very same lake I caught my personal best of 14”. I knew this had a chance to top that. Al grabbed the next and fumbled it around for a few seconds which seemed like minutes. Finally, he takes a stab at the fish and misses. My heart sank. I could see the hook didn’t have a great set in the crappies mouth and knew if we don’t get her soon, she will head back to the deep. As I circled the fish around one more time Al scooped the fish up and I knew it was bigger than 14”. I put the crappie on the measuring board, and it was just shy of 15”. Next, I grabbed my weigher, and she was 1.73 pounds. I would have sworn it was a two pounder, but I was wrong. We weren’t keeping fish and definitely not something of that size, so we took a couple of pictures and sent her back to lake.
We probably caught ten or so fish that day. It was so nice to sit on the lake and fill the sun in your face. We really weren’t there to catch fish. We were there to hang out with friends on a beautiful day and if we caught a few fish that was a bonus.
During the first week of March, I started to see where some of the deer were dropping their antlers. My buddy Marc and I have been watching this one buck now since last October. We know where he lives, eats, and travels. We usually get him on camera several times of week and until a couple of weeks ago he had both sides. Now we have a picture of him with one side gone and know we must get to Missouri before the squirrels find it before we do.
Since seeing our Missouri deer dropping antlers, I was anxious to get out into the woods. I usually find a couple of sheds a year but its more about walking the property and seeing what signs the deer have left throughout the winter. I headed out to our deer hunting swamp with very little expectations. I decided my old dog coca could use some exercise, so she tagged along on this adventure. Even though she is ten years old if she thinks its hunting time, she is like a two-year-old bouncing off the windows of my truck. I couldn’t get her calmed down to save my life. As soon as we arrived, I opened the door, and she shot out like a cannon. I guess she had cabin fever as well.
As I took my time walking deer trail after deer trail Cocoa was running around like it was opening day of duck season. After about an hour or so of here acting like a teenager she started to settle down. We covered the first half of mile of set aside walking back and forth to bedding areas and finding lots of signs of does, but not really seeing the buck traffic in this area. I decided to head to the back of the property along the creek that has some really thick old willow patches that are extremely hard to navigate through. Right before these thickets begin, we have a few patch of switch back grass and to the back of the grass is a cattail thicket. This little area has produced more than half of the sheds I have found on this property, so I was excited to get to a place I had some confidence. One thing I have learned over the last several years of shed hunting is I find sheds in the same area year after year. Sometimes its going to or front those specific bedding areas and many times the mature buck in that area gets harvested in the fall a new buck will tend to move into that same territory.
As I neared the bedding area, I started to see heavier trails. As I was about 100 yards from my target area, I look down and there is my first shed of the season. A four-point shed that had some broken tines. Nice way to start the year. I continued to the bedding area and scoured the area for quite some time. I didn’t see anything in the bedding area so I started walking trails around the area I found the antler to see if I could come up with the other side. After an hour or so of covering a 10 area, I decided to move to the south side of the property where I have a similar situation with thickets, switch grass and set aside ground.
I cover most of the south bedding area and to be honest my hips started barking. I was in the back of the hundred acres so I had a ways to get back to my truck. Cocoa was getting exhausted and to be honest we both pushed it a little farther than planned. We grabbed the heaviest trail from the back of the property and headed towards the front. As we crossed a food plot we entered back into the set aside and I look down and low and behold another shed. As I looked at the shed it was another four point with pretty much all of the antlers broke off. After examining them for a few minutes I am pretty sure this is a set. I have never had the luck of saying I found a matching set. I have found a few I questioned but these almost match side to side and base is identical. Maybe I finally found a matching set but until I find them side by side I can’t say for sure.
Now I as enter deadline time for the May issue, my wife and I along with my sister and her boyfriend, will be spending the weekend in Missouri looking for sheds. My wife has never shed hunted with me before, and I am excited for her to spend the day walking in the woods with me. Hopefully with some luck, she can find her first shed. Note to self, don’t push her to walk five miles or she will never return.
I am also excited to write next months article. A bucket list fishing trip to Lake Grenada is happening March 24-26 and I will bring you all of the excitement of giant crappie from the land of the three-pound crappie. I don’t expect to get one that size but I am hoping to get a two pounder. I have loaded up on Tophat Jigs and Midsouth Tackle so let the thumping begin.
Until next month. May your sunrises and sunsets be magical!