Stay Well, Stay Sane

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It’s been about three days since all the closures started, and one day since Minnesota declared a state of emergency. Everyone in my household is already feeling cooped up and anxious about how we will spend the next days and weeks. And we’ve already told the kids they’re going to have limited time with friends for a while. So, if we’re going to spend less time in public, avoid movie theaters and restaurants, and otherwise practice hermit life, what can we do?

That is a question millions of people are asking, I’m sure. There don’t seem to be many good answers. One thing I know for sure: time in the outdoors is the original form of social distancing. You literally cannot catch a virus from someone who isn’t there. And even if accompanied by others, observing the 6-foot rule isn’t hard; in fact, it’s much harder to break it than observe it. 

Coronavirus CureOff the top of my head, I can think of several things average folks can do to get outside in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully these things and others will help you get outside, find fresh air and exercise, and fight the urge to join the hordes- and their germs. 

Cut Pussy Willows- I expect the pussy willow catkins to begin emerging here in southern Minnesota sometime in the next week or two. There might already be some now; I haven’t been looking too closely. If you’re not interested in them for yourself, perhaps you know somebody who would appreciate a bundle. 

Go Ice Fishing- Until the ice is fully warm and rotting, there is still ice fishing to be done. Perch, panfish, eelpout, tullibee/whitefish, trout, and rough fish are still legal targets (and that list is not exhaustive). In fact, now can be a downright great time for perch and eelpout. Maybe this would be a good opportunity to add a new fish to your “life list.” 

Try Maple Syruping- Everyone really should try it once. It’s a great way to connect with a food source and spend some time outside on a warm day. I don’t know a kid who doesn’t love syrup, so it’s a great way to involve them, too. All you need is one good-sized maple tree, and not necessarily a sugar maple. Many Minnesota yards have one or more Silver maples in them, which makes this activity more accessible than you might initially think. We tried it last year for the first time, and it won’t be our last. 

Take A Walk In The Woods- It sounds simple enough, but this could take many forms. For instance, if you made a routine of walking in the same place several times over the next 6 or 8 weeks, you would be witness to the waking of the woods, observing all the incremental changes from dormancy to full green-up. If you go out on a still night, owls may be heard hooting this time of year. As the snow recedes from the landscape now, the timing is also excellent to find and collect antlers shed by deer. Use your imagination. The possibilities are endless, especially when you consider how different any two locations can be. 

Not Outside?

If you’re less inclined to get outside due to mobility or seasonal allergies (as I am at this time every year), there are still things you can do at home. Each of these could easily occupy half a day or more. 

Make Jellies and Jams- Remember those bags of fruits you put down in the freezer last summer? Well, now would be a great time to make jellies, jams, and syrups. If by any chance you have chokecherries you don’t know what to do with, check out my recipe page from last February. Chokecherry lemonade remains one of my very best ideas ever…

Try New Fish and Game Recipes- I always have good intentions when it comes to cooking my fish and game, but let’s face it: the best recipes are not well suited for the average busy weeknight. It seems I need a good chunk of time on my hands in order to pull off the best dishes. Well, guess what? We have that time now! Need some new ideas? Hank Shaw’s recipes have never once let me down. A (short) list of my favorites would include Jaegerschnitzel, Steak Diane, Turkey Parmesan, Corned Venison, Venison Barbacoa, and General Tso’s Pheasant. Do yourself a favor and head over to Hank’s website (and sign up for his email list). 

Smoke Those Fish- If you’re like me, you still have 5 or 10 tullibees in the freezer, waiting to get smoked in the next batch. I only have one left from the last batch, so this is good timing. Don’t have any Coregonus to smoke? How about other fish? Or birds? This is a great time to produce some stuff for the freezer. And considering how crazy the grocery store was today, it might come in handy to have some thaw-and-eat meals on hand. 

 

 

 

The Season for Outdoor Savings

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It seems every year I tell myself I’m going to get new hiking boots. And ice fishing boots. And snow bibs. And winter clothing layers. And a new backpacking stove. I’m sure I’ll get around to all those, but most of my procrastination has to do with finding the right items at the right prices. Well, now is the time of year when prices get slashed and I need to be on top of my shopping game. You should too, especially if you need any type of outdoor clothing. 

The average retail shopper is usually thinking in terms of the upcoming season; at least that’s the way retailers act when it comes to their merchandising. But if you’re willing to think about the things you’ll need next year rather than the next season, you can often get clothing and gear for half or less of what you would otherwise pay. 

The Lowdown

Almost 20 years ago I learned that the end of the winter is prime time for snatching up clothing and gear for good (sometimes crazy-good) prices. I was working in fishing retail, watching the clothing and camping employees marking things down, trying to clear the shelves for all the merchandise that was to flood the store in the lead-up to Spring. You see, they do not want to store any more than they have to for the next six to nine months.    

What’s more, things like tents, sleeping bags, outerwear, and all manner of casual clothing are subject to major styling changes- every single year. It stands to reason, then, that the old stuff has to make room for the new stuff. And this is the golden time every year when ice fishing gear is also leaving the showroom floor, which means the fishing department can have steep discounts too. 

The Internet is No Different

Now, the the savings don’t just apply to retail stores; companies with an online presence are doing a lot of the same things. Here are some of my favorites, my go-to sites when I need a deal on new goods. 

REI

Let me say at the outset that if you’re not a member, you should probably consider it. A permanent membership is still only $20 (To me, that is incredible). What does that get you? For starters, you get a percentage of your purchases back every year as a store credit. My dividend- as they call it- has more than paid me back over the years, and my main purchases there are dehydrated food and fuel for my backpacking stove. 

The even-better reason to become a member is that you will be alerted to their big sales and issued coupons several times over the year. Those coupons are usually 20% off a regular price item and 20% off an REI outlet item. One of those big sales is coming up in June- I hope to find my new hiking boots then. 

Regardless of one’s membership status, the REI Outlet is always there. That part of the site features their clearance goods, and is largely clothing. It seems the longer an item waits there, the steeper the discount. And those who shop on the extreme end of the size spectrums will do well. 

Backcountry.com

This website ranks up near REI for my first and favorite place to look for low prices on things I need. If I had to classify it, I’d say it’s “An online store with clothing and gear in current styles, with sometimes extensive selection of sale and clearance merchandise.” Backcountry offers goods from top-shelf companies like The North Face and Patagonia, but also has exclusive brands like Montane and Stoic. I’ve picked up some clothing there as well as my warmest sleeping bag. The Stoic fleece jacket I bought from them last year has become one of my go-to layers (seen in this photo from the About Roy and NAGC page).

EverestGear

Like Backcountry, Everest Gear seems to be a dumping ground for old styles. Sure, they have some regular-priced stuff, but their regular prices are nothing special. I first stumbled on Everest Gear when I was looking for sleeping bags. They have lots of clothing and other gear, but it remains one of the best places I’ve found for discounts on sleeping bags. 

If I had a complaint, it would be that I haven’t found a way to refine/sort the merchandise listings (by brand, price, size, etc.). So if you’re looking at tents, for instance, you have no choice but to scan through all the tents. If you’d like to keep your purchase under a certain price, they don’t make it easy. It can make shopping there a bit more time consuming, but it’s still worth a look. 

Midway USA

The people at Midway USA are pretty much no-nonsense. They offer whatever they offer, and it won’t be everything on the market. But when they want to get rid of something, they’ll put a good price on it until it’s gone. I finally found the price I wanted on a hunting backpack there a couple years ago, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Again, they don’t try to offer everything that’s out there, but it’s one of the best places online to find good discounts on hunting gear. 

Overton’s

When it comes to your ice fishing needs, it can be hard to sniff out the best destinations for deals. Generally speaking, retail stores are trying hard to get rid of everything ice fishing- especially by the middle of March. It seems like you just have to hit the stores you know and hope to get lucky; I have yet to find an online source for ice fishing gear that tries as hard as the aforementioned websites do to get rid of their wares. 

Still, the Overton’s website currently has some good prices on some gear. The selection is by no means comprehensive, but some good deals can be had. I wish now I’d held off on some of my recent lure purchases…

REI Patagonia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ways to Extend Your Ice Fishing Season

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Well, the walleye and northern pike seasons ended yesterday here in Minnesota. This always leaves me feeling a little adrift with respect to the remainder of my ice fishing season. Most of my energy is spent chasing those toothy predators; nothing else quite measures up.

But I love ice fishing. I’d rather make use of the time left than hang my head and stuff my gear back up in the top of the garage again.  

Little perch ice fishingIf you’re like me, you could use a few ways to extend your ice fishing season. Perch and panfish always come to mind here in Minnesota, and there are two good reasons for that. First, the season doesn’t end. Second, they’ll start cooperating again with oxygen levels rising and spawning season approaching. But the number of places to find truly large perch is small these days, and panfish are showing signs of overharvest. Fortunately, there are many more opportunities if a person is willing to branch out and do something new. 

Tullibees and Lake Whitefish

These members of the salmonid family are quite active in the winter months. They are fun to catch and top-notch eating, too. I like to hit Mille Lacs once or twice a year just for the tullibee action, and I’m hoping the “Tullibee Hole” in the south end of the lake will heat up while I can still drive out there this year.

Tullibee ice fishingTullibees and whitefish generally inhabit the colder, deeper lakes in the northern half of Minnesota. Other notable destinations include Leech Lake and sometimes Winnibigoshish for tullibees and Lake of the Woods for lake whitefish. 

These silvery torpedoes cruise the muddy bottoms, sucking up invertebrates. Successful anglers will be found offering smaller baits that cater to that kind of appetite. Catch a few and treat them to a day in your smoker– I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 

Trout

The winter seasons for lake trout and stream trout alike extend until the end of March, which will basically cover the rest of the ice season. The lakes where stream trout are stocked are basically put-and-take fisheries since they don’t reproduce in lakes. For that reason, I’m not bashful about keeping some to eat. When it comes to lake trout, I’m a bit more selective, but still love to take one or two home as allowed by the regulations. The BWCA has many trout lakes a person could walk to and from in a day, and will easily still have ice until the end of March even in warm years. Try your hand at winter camping to make it a real adventure. 

Eelpout

I have yet to catch an eelpout. That’s mostly because I don’t live anywhere near good places to catch eelpout (or burbot, ling, freshwater cod, etc.). When I was young, people used to catch them famously in Mille Lacs and toss them out in the snow like garbage. They’ve all but disappeared from there now, due to a warming lake and probably a host of contributing factors. But the ‘pout are still found in abundance other places; the closer you get to Canada, the more likely you are to find them. 

There has actually been a surge of interest in eelpout the last few years, and that’s kinda cool. This is probably due to their catchability in the late season as they prepare to spawn. The problem is, an increase of interest could put a strain on the population. So it would be wise for anybody seeking them to take smaller specimens for the table and release the larger ones for spawning- as we do with other fish at the top of the food chain. 

Border Waters

Yesterday’s tip-up fishing extravaganza ended in a whimper and I was left with a lot more sucker minnows than I care to admit. Fortunately, the walleye/sauger/pike season is still open until March 1st on the St. Croix border with Wisconsin. I might head there later this week. On the Mississippi, that season doesn’t actually end! Not bad. Plus, the St. Croix is host to an ever-increasing population of large lake sturgeon, which have been getting a fair amount of attention in recent years. 

South Dakota border waters also offer walleye/northern fishing until March 1st, and Iowa border waters boast a non-closing season just like the Mississippi. I’m actually contemplating a run for the Iowa border this year because I’d like to catch my first yellow bass. That would be a fun way to spend a warm afternoon…

Rules for our border waters with Canada are also generous, albeit somewhat complicated. Check the regulations before you go. 

 

 

 

 

Trip Report: The Jumbo Perch of Devils Lake

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I don’t keep a bucket list. If I did, one of the items on it going into 2020 would have been ice fishing Devils Lake. When that opportunity recently landed in my lap, I couldn’t resist. It was a “Communicator Camp,” arranged by the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), where Devils Lake Tourism and Clam Outdoors hosted several media professionals like myself. 

We assembled the first night, and were given a warm welcome (and the game plan) by Devils Lake Tourism’s Suzie Kenner and Tanner Cherney. Two members of the Clam Outdoors Ice Team– Thayne Jensen and Tony Mariotti- also gave us an overview of all the equipment we’d be using. Everything sounded so good until the conversation turned to the weather.  Continue reading “Trip Report: The Jumbo Perch of Devils Lake”

Tullibees and Happy Kids on Mille Lacs Lake

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Nobody smiles at 4:40 am. Nobody at my house, anyway. But Friday morning, I woke my kids up that early, knowing they would be smiling a lot that day- eventually. They had the day off from school, and we had a big day planned at Mille Lacs Lake. 

Our little Ford Escape slinked down the resort ramp between rumbling trucks and wheelhouses, out onto the white expanse. It was a few minutes before sunrise, but we wouldn’t see the sun that day due to thick cloud cover. Temps were expected to rise about ten degrees to near 30 by day’s end. It wasn’t a picture-perfect day, but it could have been a lot worse.  Continue reading “Tullibees and Happy Kids on Mille Lacs Lake”

New Year, New Adventures

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I’m not a new-year’s-resolution kind of person. Rare are the times I am moved to state such aspirations formally, and rarer yet are the years when they survive to see the next changing of the calendar. Still, I will frequently look back on the past 12 months as that milestone approaches each year. My reflections have been more rewarding than usual this time around.  Continue reading “New Year, New Adventures”

Do Something New: Harvest Your Own Christmas Tree

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Normally, I wouldn’t be thinking about our Christmas tree in October. In fact, we’ve had a hand-me-down artificial tree for about the last 15 years, so it wouldn’t occur to me at all. But some relatives were telling us they’d be at the cabin this year for Christmas, and I suggested they get a permit to take their tree from the woods for the occasion. So in the interest of encouraging others into the outdoors, I snooped around for information from Minnesota DNR and the Forest Service, and emailed them some web links. 

What I found actually surprised me. As far as I could tell, the permit for harvesting a tree from Minnesota’s state forest lands would cost $25. That was a higher price than I expected. However, the permit for a tree from Chippewa National Forest costs only $5. 

Yes, FIVE DOLLARS.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Harvest Your Own Christmas Tree”

Product Review: Irish Setter VaprTrek Boot

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”13″ display=”basic_slideshow” gallery_width=”600″ gallery_height=”400″ arrows=”1″]It all started in 2014. A great pair of leather boots had given up the ghost and I needed something new. Another pair of leather boots seemed a good idea, but with all the walking I do in the bird hunting season, I didn’t want anything too heavy. One boot caught my attention, marketed as light in weight and tough as nails. I’d never owned anything in kangaroo leather before, so who was I to doubt their claims? 

Well, I should have. Astonishingly, I wore those boots out in just one October. The leather in the toes completely disintegrated, and the waterproof layer underneath could clearly be seen. I regret to this day I didn’t take pictures, but I was livid as I packed up the box. I just wanted them out of my sight. Ever since then, I’ve been in search of a boot that could stand up to the way I hunt.  Continue reading “Product Review: Irish Setter VaprTrek Boot”

Do Something New: Quarter and Pack Out a Deer

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I’ve long dreamed of hunting in the mountains, spending days climbing, glassing, and stalking. This kind of trip has always seemed quite accessible to me, except for one aspect: getting the meat out of the woods. It would be impractical to expect to drag a deer back to the truck. Foolish, really, and out of the question with an elk. So that would mean quartering and packing the animal out. This is nothing to the hunter on horseback, or even one who is accustomed to doing it. Continue reading “Do Something New: Quarter and Pack Out a Deer”

NAGC’s Best Adventurer Food, 2019

Read More Nordhem Karlstad MN

Even when you’re on the road, everybody’s gotta eat. There are the hidden gems, and there are the inevitable sore disappointments. On my adventures, I’ve found my share of each. In the interest of rewarding the proprietors of first-rate eateries, I would like to share some of my favorites with you. Hopefully this will also serve to help you avoid some of the duds lurking out there. The map below is interactive, so click on the icons to obtain addresses, phone numbers, and websites. Have at it, and let me know what you think!

Continue reading “NAGC’s Best Adventurer Food, 2019”

NAGC News, 2019 Highlights

Tribute to a Vizsla

Grouse hunting VizslaRoy’s article entitled “For The Good Times” was included in the March/April issue of the magazine Pointing Dog Journal. It was the narrative of the final hunt with his longtime hunting buddy, Johann. 13-year-old Johann is still with us, but his hunting days are, sadly, in the past. That hunt last November seemed like a perfect time to pay tribute to this hard-working, bird-crazy, lovable family dog, and the folks at PDJ were gracious to let the bird dog community read it. Thanks go out to Jake Smith and Pointing Dog Journal.  

Video Venture

Never A Goose Chase is now also available in video form! YouTube has been hosting an NAGC channel since March. Currently, there are 2 videos up: one from Roy’s maple syrup making venture, and one from Roy’s solo trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in May. Nut foraging videos are currently in production, and a video log is in the works. Subscribe to NAGC’s YouTube home so you don’t miss videos as they come out. 

Awards for Never A Goose Chase

Roy recently became a member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), and attended the annual conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in September. It was a week rich in networking and story ideas, and he received Awards-In-Craft prizes for Never A Goose Chase content from the last year. The featured photo from “BWCA Entry Point 44: Ice-Out Lake Trout” won third place in the Photography division in the fishing category. That very blog post won second place in the Electronic Media/Blog division, fishing category. As if that wasn’t enough, Roy’s post “Do Something New: Spot & Stalk Duck Hunting” also won second place in the Electronic Media/Blog division, hunting category. He was pleased with his first showing, and that first AGLOW conference will not be his last. 

 

 

 

Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Black Cherry

Read More Minnesota black cherry

I’m sure you’ve heard of “black cherry,” either as a flavoring or as a type of wood. For me, the name evokes a certain flavor of candy. But did you know it’s a harvestable fruit here in Minnesota? Yes, it is. And this year’s harvest was outstanding. 

I’d been waiting several years for a good crop of these cherries- perhaps 4 or 5. They were not something I went out of my way for, but I usually checked on a couple different trees at least once toward the end of each summer. Well, this year, it was clear conditions were somehow just right. Branches were full of green clusters by July all over in my area.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Black Cherry”

How My Alma Mater Prepared Me To Sleep On The Ground

Read More Gustavus Adolphus College

Waking up somewhere cold and hard is not an occasional occurrence for me. Just a few weeks ago, I took my first solo trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area as the snow and ice receded from the landscape. Earlier this year, I slept a night on the ice of Lake Mille Lacs while I explored a lake that is still big and new to me. A couple months before that, I endured one late-October night (in a slightly leaky tent) while I tried my hand at netting whitefish in far northern Minnesota. I was fortunate enough to catch a modest number of fish each time, for which I was grateful, but everyone knows there are easier ways to bring food home for the table. So what makes me embrace physical exertion and discomfort doing these or any such things? 

Continue reading “How My Alma Mater Prepared Me To Sleep On The Ground”