ON PATROL: FISHY SMELL SINKS DOCK ANGLERS

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Each issue we share Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement Reports for Northwest Florida. This article originally appeared in our March/April 2019 issue.

OKALOOSA COUNTY

FOLLOW YOUR NOSE – Officers Wilkenson and Lugg were contacted about two subjects catching and keeping 10 undersized and over the bag limit of red drum. Upon the officers’ arrival, the subjects had left the dock. A witness provided the officers with the description of the vehicle the individuals left in. Another witness provided a townhouse in Navarre where he believed the individuals’ families were staying. The officers located the described vehicle and contacted the renters. They admitted that they were fishing earlier and had returned the red drum back into the water. When the officers headed back to their vehicles, they both detected a strong odor of fish emanating from a dumpster located just 125 feet away. Upon inspection, the officers located 38 pieces of cut up, gutted redfish, 11 of which were tail sections. The officers went back to the residence to interview the individuals about the red drum found in the dumpster. Both individuals admitted they caught the red drum, cut them in pieces and disposed of them in the dumpster. Charges were filed for a major resource violation, over the bag limit, and undersized red drum.

FEDERAL WATERS

OUT OF SEASON – Officers Cushing and Clark were on patrol aboard the NW FINCAT in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. During one inspection, Clark discovered two one-gallon bags of reef fish fillets on ice with some skin still attached. Individuals on-board indicated that they were vermilion snapper, grouper and greater amberjack. Reef fish must be landed in whole condition and greater amberjack is currently closed to harvest. The appropriate federal violations were issued.

OKALOOSA COUNTY

SAILBOAT OWNER IS SUNK – Officer Corbin was on land patrol when he received a complaint from United States Coast Guard Station Destin of a sailboat that had sank in Boggy Bayou. The officer located the sailboat and confirmed it was 90 percent submerged with only part of the bow sticking out of the water, which still displayed a Florida registration number. By Florida statue, the sailboat is in derelict condition and a navigational hazard. Corbin identified the vessel owner who resides out of state. The officer was able to secure an arrest warrant.

A TEAM EFFORT – Officers H. Rockwell and P. Rockwell were working a night hunting detail when they heard five rifle shots near their location. The officers conducted a vehicle stop on a truck that was leaving the area. They saw fresh deer blood in the bed of the truck and on the tailgate. The driver stated the deer blood was from two deer that he just dropped off at a deer processor. An interview was conducted with all three occupants. The passengers’ statements conflicted with the driver’s. Officers Maltais and P. Rockwell located two freshly killed doe deer in a cotton field just down the road from where the traffic stop occurred. K-9 Officer Hutchinson, along with Officer Hahr and Officer Schmitt, deployed K-9 Zara and located a blood trail/kill site of the two deer and five 25-06 shell casings. Lieutenant Molnar and Officer H. Rockwell went to the subject’s house and interviewed the driver’s son. A full confession was obtained from the driver’s son and the 25-06 rifle was in the trunk of a car on the suspect’s property. The suspect shot five times out the passenger side window, killing two does. The vehicle was then driven to the suspect’s house where the rifle was placed in the trunk of the car. The subject was attempting to retrieve the illegally killed deer when he saw the officers in the area. He removed the deer from the bed of the truck and started to drive away when the officers conducted the traffic stop. The suspect was cited for night hunting and two counts of possession of doe deer.

WATCH THE CLOCK – Officer Specialist Bartlett and Officer Schmitt were on vessel patrol conducting resource inspections of duck hunters in the Santa Rosa Sound in the Fort Walton Beach area. The officers heard a gunshot 21 minutes after legal shooting hours for ducks. The officers located the subjects and conducted surveillance. The subjects were still actively hunting over their duck decoys. The officers conducted a vessel stop to address the after-hours shooting. One of the two subjects admitted shooting and was issued a notice to appear citation.

LIGHTS ON AT NIGHT – Officer Corbin was on land patrol conducting boating safety/resource inspections on duck hunters returning to Misty Water Boat Ramp in Mary Esther. The officer saw a boat returning with no navigational lights displayed on the vessel. The operator was wearing camouflage, had duck hunting equipment (decoys), and two dogs on board the vessel. He stated he was training one of the dogs to retrieve ducks. He also stated he was attempting to take ducks but was unsuccessful. During the inspection of the 12-gauge shotgun, the officer saw the firearm was not plugged. A notice to appear citation was issued.

NO REST FOR THE WEARY – Officer Corbin was on land patrol conducting resource protection at Liza Jackson Park. He saw a vehicle parked during closed hours with two individuals sleeping inside the vehicle. The officer ran the vehicle registration. The registered owner had an active FWC warrant for a derelict vessel violation. The Fort Walton Beach Police Department was contacted to address the violation for parking during closed hours. The owner of the vehicle was arrested and transported to the Okaloosa County Jail where the intake process was completed.

TO CATCH A FELON – Officer Hahr was on land patrol conducting resource protection in the Blackwater Wildlife Management Area off Rock Hill Road. He saw a truck and trailer parked at the intersection of Forest Road. It appeared that a vehicle had been off-loaded and driven into the management area. Hahr followed the tire sign and saw a white truck parked but the tire sign continued down an unnamed road. A short distance later, he saw a parked Jeep. Hahr heard two men talking about shooting at two deer and tracking to see if they killed them. One of the men was carrying a crossbow and the other was carrying a semi-automatic shotgun. After identifying the two men through their hunting licenses, Hahr recognized the name of one of the individuals in possession of the shotgun as a convicted felon. FWC Tallahassee Regional Communication Center confirmed that the individual was a convicted felon. He was arrested and transported to the Okaloosa County Jail where the intake process was completed.

NO LICENSE, NO LUNCH – Officer Specialist Pifer and Officer Matechik were at a wholesale dealer location in Destin to conduct a commercial inspection of a federally licensed vessel. The crew were offloading gulf reef fish: red snapper, vermilion snapper and amberjack. During the inspection of the required licenses, Pifer noticed the operator’s commercial saltwater products license did not have the required restricted species endorsement to harvest gulf reef fish. The fish were seized and sold to the highest bidder per Florida Statutes. The operator was issued a notice to appear citation.

SANTA ROSA COUNTY

WE’LL WAIT FOR BAIT – While on patrol during the recent archery season on Eglin WMA, Officer Jones found a baited hunting site. After checking the area for several days without contact with the subject, he seized all hunting equipment at the site as evidence. After an investigation, Jones was able to identify the owner of the hunting equipment and was able to file charges for placing bait on a wildlife management area.

IT’S AFTER HOURS, BOYS  – Officer Mullins was on water patrol on the Escambia River working duck hunting. He heard several shots that were after the legal hunting hours. The officer located four subjects who admitted to shooting after hours. Upon inspection, Mullins discovered one of the subjects with an unplugged shotgun, and another hunting with no valid hunting license. Mullins issued the appropriate citations and warnings.

UNBELTED AND BOOKED – K-9 Officer Hutchinson and Officer Schmitt were on land patrol conducting resource protection in the Blackwater WMA. The officers saw a truck being operated with the driver and passenger not wearing their seat belts. The truck’s right passenger side taillight was inoperative. During the vehicle stop, the officers saw two 12-gauge shotguns in the truck, one next to the driver and the other next to the passenger. FWC Tallahassee Regional Communication Center confirmed that the passenger was a convicted felon. The passenger was arrested for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The passenger was transported to the Santa Rosa County Jail where the intake process was completed. Hutchinson recognized the driver as the individual he was currently investigating for violating the antlerless deer possession limit. After his Miranda Rights were read, the driver admitted to killing two does and led the officers to the location of the deer carcasses. Hutchinson later secured an arrest warrant.

SNIFFED OUT – K-9 Officer Hutchinson, along with K-9 Zara and Officer Schmitt, were patrolling the Blackwater State Forest when they saw a vehicle parked on a closed forest road. Officer Hutchinson recognized the vehicle as belonging to a suspect of an illegal bait site in the Blackwater State Forest. He deployed K-9 Zara who tracked the suspect to his hunting blind. While interviewing the subject, Schmitt discovered the subject was hunting without a valid hunting license, deer permit and management area permit. The subject also admitted to placing bait in the management area and hunting over it. The subject was issued the appropriate citations for the hunting violations.

RIGHT OF WRONG – Officer Hutchinson received a call from a property owner who informed him that he saw a truck with a subject standing in the bed of it shoot into his property. Hutchinson obtained a description of the vehicle from the property owner. He recognized the vehicle description as belonging to several subjects that he contacted earlier while en route to the complaint. K-9 Zara was deployed and conducted an area search for more evidence. During the search, they located several trees that were struck by bullets along with other evidence. After collecting all the evidence, Hutchinson drove to the suspects’ residence and interviewed them. All three subjects admitted to shooting at deer from the right of way and onto the private property. The following day, the property owner located a dead deer with buckshot in it on his property. The driver was cited for road hunting. The passenger, who had recently gotten off probation for night hunting, was charged for using an illegal method to take deer, discharging a firearm from a right of way and a felony charge for trespass by projectile.

FOLLOW THE BLOOD – Officer Hutchinson and K-9 Zara responded to a complaint of road hunting and trespassing. Upon arrival, Hutchinson saw fresh boot tracks leading into the private property. He deployed K-9 Zara to conduct a search of the area. During the search, Zara located where the suspect shot into the private property, pools of fresh blood and a wounded deer. Hutchinson interviewed the suspect who admitted to shooting an antlerless deer from the right of way. Warrants were issued for the violation.

TEARING IT UP – Officer Ramos received multiple complaints regarding Jeeps and four-wheel-drive vehicles off-roading in Blackwater River State Forest. The complainants alleged that the vehicles were intentionally damaging state lands, driving carelessly and disrupting legal hunting. Over the course of a couple hours, Ramos tracked and located three vehicles in two separate locations and issued the appropriate citations and warnings for the violations.

WALTON COUNTY

YOU SHALL NOT PASS – Lieutenant Hollinhead patrolled an area of private property after hearing a rifle shot just after daylight. A subject was later seen at a residence standing at the rear of his truck as if he was preparing to process a deer. The subject acted suspicious when Hollinhead contacted him and stated he had not been hunting although he had deer hair on his coat. When questioned about the deer hair he stated his brother gave him a deer. The deer was in the back of the subject’s truck and was a legal buck. Hollinhead left the residence and tracked the subject’s vehicle tire sign to private property where he drove his vehicle around a locked gate onto posted private property. An area on the private property was later located where the subject had parked, hunted, and killed a deer. Once the subject learned what had been located he admitted to killing the deer on the property without permission. The landowner was later contacted and requested that the subject be cited for trespassing due to ongoing trespass problems he has had in the past. Trespass charges will be direct filed.

– Courtesy of FWC Division of Law Enforcement: Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton counties

NOXIOUS PLANTS: BEWARE OUT THERE!

Beware the dreaded urushiol, the oil found in poison ivy (pictured), oak and sumac!

Beware the dreaded urushiol, the oil found in poison ivy (pictured), oak and sumac!

Unwelcome natives lead to itchy outing

BY Kristal Walsh, private lands biologist

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

This year’s warm winter temperatures have many of us itching to get outside for camping, hiking, wildlife viewing and other recreational activities. As trees and plants begin to leaf out and spring’s early blooms draw us to showy forest trails, wildlife management areas and parks, consider the following information on noxious plants so you aren’t itching to get back home! 

As a natural resources’ professional, I spend a lot of time educating the public about how invasive plant species threaten our native wildlife and habitats. So often, discussion about native plants like poison ivy (the most common), poison oak and poison sumac – which all pose a threat of a different kind – is overlooked. 

These three common Florida woody plants contain an oil called urushiol that can cause a severe rash resulting from direct contact with any part of the plants. Symptoms also can occur from indirect contact from objects like clothing, shoes or even pets which have encountered the plants. 

We are born with varying sensitivity to urushiol, and repeated exposure to the source can lead to greater sensitivity. Approximately 15 percent of people are completely resistant, but many know all too well the miserable experience that accompanies the skin irritation caused by these plants. 

The first signs may appear within eight hours of contact and a severe rash can last up to five weeks. Over the counter treatments such as calamine lotion may help temporarily, but in some cases a physician’s visit is required to treat the rash. 

AVOIDING OBNOXIOUS, NOXIOUS PLANTS

• Learn to identify the plants – Catch phrases like “Leaves of three, let them be” apply to poison ivy and poison oak and help us to identify them at the beginner’s level. But plants such as blackberry also have three leaves and can occupy the same general location as these plants, which complicates things. 

Each of these plants also loses their leaves in the winter, making them very difficult to identify. But remember: even in winter when no leaves appear, the urushiol oil is still present and can cause an allergic reaction. Your I.D. skills must be taken up a notch if you frequent the outdoors. 

Virginia creeper also commonly is mistaken for poison ivy, because it too is a vine and turns a brilliant red color in the fall, but it has a cluster of five leaves instead of three. To make matters worse, this look-alike has also been known to cause a contact dermatitis in a very small percentage of the population because of needle-like calcium oxalate crystals called raphides, which can be found on the leaves and berries. 

Poison ivy, a member of the cashew family, also is deceiving because it may appear as a shrub or a trailing or climbing vine in different locations at different stages of growth. To learn more about identification of these plants, go to https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep220. 

• Location, location, location – Be familiar with the areas where these plants grow. While poison ivy can be found in almost every state, you probably won’t find this plant in dry ecosystems like sandhills or beach dunes. You will, however, find it in part sun to shade in moist to wet areas, often near the edge of a road or trail. Similarly, poison sumac thrives in moist soils and in the forest understory. Alternatively, poison oak thrives in sunny, dry locations. 

• Protection and treatment – If you will be in an area where you may encounter these plants or know you are susceptible to an allergic reaction, take precautions by wearing close-toed shoes or boots, long pants and long sleeves. Always err on the side of caution if you are unsure of the plant’s identity and avoid it. 

If you come in contact with one of these plants, wash the affected area with soap and water immediately, or at least as soon as possible. Clean all other tools, shoes and other items that may have been affected and wash all your clothes separately from other laundry. Even if you’re not sure, it’s safer to shower after a hike and take these other measures since you may have encountered these plants without knowing you did.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Landowner Assistance Program works cooperatively with private landowners in Florida who want to restore and conserve fish and wildlife and their habitats on their property. To learn more about managing wildlife and habitat on your property, check out our habitat how-to section at the FWC’s Landowner Assistance Program by going to MyFWC.com/LAP. You can also contact a LAP regional biologist for technical assistance.

Come visit the FWC’s wildlife management areas to experience and have fun in Florida’s great outdoors: https://myfwc.com/recreation/wild-lands/

HERE COMES COGONGRASS

As heavy equipment runs through a patch of cogongrass during the Hurricane Michael cleanup effort, the plant’s rhizomes are broken off and transported on tires and other parts of equipment.

As heavy equipment runs through a patch of cogongrass during the Hurricane Michael cleanup effort, the plant’s rhizomes are broken off and transported on tires and other parts of equipment.

Hurricane clears the way for invasive weed

BY Arlo Kane, private lands biologist

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Hurricane Michael brought with it not only destruction to homes but also damage to 3 million acres of timber in Florida’s central panhandle. Much of the timber will not be salvageable and most downed timber will have to be raked into piles and burned before the forest can be re-planted. As this reclamation process begins, there is a green monster waiting to raise its ugly head. 

Cogongrass – one of the top 10 worst weeds worldwide – will be inadvertently spread by heavy equipment during the post-hurricane cleanup phase. Operations in forested landscapes is one of the most common ways this plant spreads. Cogongrass spreads by rhizomes, which are underground plant stems that send up roots and shoots from its nodes. As equipment runs through a patch of cogongrass, the rhizomes are broken off and transported on tires and other parts of equipment. The disturbed soil is a perfect medium for growing cogongrass. Each piece of rhizome that lands back in the dirt starts a new plant. 

The new plant is unlike any other you have encountered in your daily life. It forms dense mats that can spread rapidly. On clay soils, the rhizomes can reach down almost 3 feet deep. These aggressive rhizomes are thought to be the plant’s main means of survival. Cogongrass already covers over 1.25 million acres of forestland in the southeastern U.S. and is increasing every year. I have seen a five-acre patch of cogongrass explode to 40 acres in less than five years. 

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

As a landowner, you may be wondering why you should care? Cogongrass is an aggressive weed that can choke out even the hardiest native plant, creating a monoculture in the understory of a forest. It can grow up to 5 feet tall and burn hot enough to kill pine trees, making management with prescribed fire difficult and the potential for wildfires destroying your timber stand even greater. 

On top of everything else, this is not an easy plant to get rid of. It has been estimated that it may take over five years of treatments with herbicides to control cogongrass. The older the stand, the harder it is to control. The rhizomes have segmented nodes all along the rhizomes. These nodes can close off and prevent herbicides from reaching all of the root. Younger plants have less root system and are therefore easier to treat effectively.

Two herbicides have been shown to be the most effective at treating cogongrass: Imazapyr and glyphosate, which work best when used with a surfactant. Glyphosate is used in the early spring to prevent flowering and is combined with imazapyr in the late fall to kill the plant. Imazapyr is the most effective but it has its dangers. It is soil active and will kill hardwoods. Using it in pine stands year after year can harm the pines as well. In pines, you need to take a year break between applications. Switch to glyphosate in the intervening years.

The most effective treatment is one that starts as soon as the plant appears. As you begin your clean up, be on the lookout for small patches of cogongrass. It’s much easier to control when its young. Cogongrass has a white fluffy seed head in April and May, that is easy to identify. The leaves have an offset mid-rib but so do some other grasses. The rhizomes are the best identifier. They are segmented and have a very sharp tip.

For the next few years, be on the lookout. Cogongrass may not show up right away. If you already have some on your property, it will be spread by logging equipment, so it is unavoidable. Look for new patches and treat it as soon as you can, and you should be able to prevent its spread on your property. This will be a long-term battle, but ignoring cogongrass can be a devastating mistake for a newly planted stand of timber.

If you need financial assistance to treat your cogongrass, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has a program that can help defray some of the costs. Contact your local NRCS district conservationist and ask about the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. To learn more about managing wildlife and habitat on your property, check out our habitat how-to section at the FWC’s Landowner Assistance Program by going to MyFWC.com/LAP. You can also contact a LAP regional biologist for technical assistance. 

For more information on how to identify and treat invasive cogongrass, go to http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/plant-directory/imperata-cylindrica/

REDFISH SPOTS LEAD TO POTS

Shawn Dahnke (right) accepted his first place prize from SWC’s Vince Stegura, after realing in 80 spots on two fish.

Shawn Dahnke (right) accepted his first place prize from SWC’s Vince Stegura, after realing in 80 spots on two fish.

Red Drum Classic raises $600 for CBA

BY Erika Zambello

Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance

Skinny Water Culture hosted the first annual SWC Red Drum Classic in Destin late last fall, donating $600 to the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance’s water quality programs.

Operating the tournament from Local Market, the target species was red drum. As they explain in their blog about the event, “The format for the tournament is really fun and easy.” The more spots on the redfish, the more points an angler racks up. All fish caught with a fly earned double points.

Over 40 entrants participated in the tournament, which took place on a chilly November day. Destin guide Captain Shawn Dahnke came in first place ($500), with 80 spots on two fish. 

Charlie Breitenbach and Tim Creasy tied for second with 16 spots each, agreeing to split the checks ($250, $100) for the two spots rather than try to figure out who was back at check-in first.

Hunter Campbell won the Skunk Pot award, taking home Campbell’s Tough Traps, while Royce Dahnke won the casting challenge and the $250 gift card.

The team looks forward to bringing the tournament back to Destin in 2019.

“Anglers are critical stakeholders in our Choctawhatchee Bay watershed. They’re on the water every day, and many help us monitor changing conditions as well as build living shorelines,” said Alison McDowell, CBA director. “Tournaments like this are a great way to have fun and give back, and we so appreciate Skinny Water Culture choosing CBA as their nonprofit beneficiary!”

Skinny Water Culture is a Florida-based outdoor apparel brand with a full line of clothing. The CBA is a non-profit organization striving to enhance swimmable, fishable waterways through monitoring, education, restoration, and research.

NO SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPERIENCE

Bowen bags 18-point buck of a lifetime

By DARRYL WILLIAMS

District Conservationist

USDA NRCS, Crestview

My definition of hunting is applying the fair chase doctrine when pursing game. The Boone and Crockett Club defines it as “the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.”

Frank Bowen exemplifies this hunting ethic. When it comes to hunting, there is no substitute for experience and Bowen has decades. A truly experienced hunter has these traits, or he or she would not be a successful and long-time hunter.

If you talk with Frank, you will quickly learn he shares his knowledge freely through very detailed and colorful stories, describing a particular hunt. Of course, you better have the time to talk hunting because he certainly has plenty of stories to share, and everyone who has met him knows he is the consummate story teller around the Laurel Hill community. 

Recently, I asked Frank at what age he started hunting and he said he took a wild hog when he was 8 years old while hunting with a friend. Of course, he was very excited and couldn’t wait to get home and share his excitement with his family. He told his granddad about his first kill and then he was told to clean it. He thought for a few seconds and then asked how do you clean it? He granddad told him he’d figure it out, which he did. Ever since, he’s been hooked on hunting.

As a Laurel Hill native, hunting for him is part of his heritage and lifestyle. Wild game has been an important food source for his family for generations. His son, daughter-in-law, grandson, and other family members follow in his footsteps. He has taught them how to scout, plant food plots, study wildlife movements, follow a blood trail, and all about processing game for the dinner table.

The big one

Now for the story on this year’s biggest buck harvest. You see, Frank missed a giant buck last hunting season which he said was the result of a bad scope. He decided that he would hunt this trophy until he got him in his hands.

He got in the stand before daylight that fateful morning, hoping the deer would show up. 

“When it got light enough, he was out in the green field eating. I couldn’t get a bullet into him fast enough!” Bowen said.

He shot this bruiser at 96 yards and this giant came in with 18 points and weighed in at 180 pounds. The green measurement score was 170 and the buck was estimated to be 7- to 7.5-years old. For North Okaloosa County, a buck of this caliber is rarely harvested – or should I say – made known. Mission accomplished!

I asked, “Well Frank, how do you describe this hunt, which is a buck of a lifetime for many?” 

“Pure luck,” he replied with a chuckle. Sure, enough he did put his new scope (a Vortex Hog Hunter line optic with a red dot) to the test. 

After the shot, he sat back and thought about the shot placement. He picked up his rifle to look through the scope for his deer and noticed he didn’t have the red dot on. It was the biggest buck he ever shot and he didn’t have the red dot on. He added that the scope was meant to help him with his bad eyesight, and now we are back to his “pure luck” theory. Frank told me this story with a lot of animation and laughter in a way that only Frank can incorporate in a story.

Bowen has accomplished much with his determination and grit to finish a task and bring a smile to all who have heard his story. It is a fact that a good hunter has the experience, the patience, and finally the persistence to bag a buck of a lifetime in his own backyard. Congratulations, Frank!

Frank Bowen of Laurel Hill nabbed this 18-point, 180-pound buck from 96 yards.

Frank Bowen of Laurel Hill nabbed this 18-point, 180-pound buck from 96 yards.

SNAGGING THE SPAWNING CRAPPIE

Terry Breland takes stock of a mess of crappie.

Terry Breland takes stock of a mess of crappie.

Pole selection and timing can by key

By ERNIE MARTIN

Hook & Trigger

Crappie is the fish of many names. Sac-a-lait, white perch and specks are all common aliases of the famous crappie. It’s spring time, the water is warming up and the crappie spawn is on the way. I love to catch this fish of many names. I use a couple of tried and true techniques to help me attain enough for the fryer. The two main techniques I will discuss are slow trolling with jigs and slash fishing with minnows. I understand and have seen other techniques in different parts of the south and Midwest, but I believe for our neck of the woods, these two techniques are the most productive.

How To: Gear

Before I start on the technical aspect of crappie fishing, let me run down the type of gear one will need to catch a “mess” of these tasty fillets. One of the most popular and time-tested setups is the trusty cane pole. A cane pole rigged with 6-10-pound test line with a small split shot for weight, a #6 light wire hook, and a bobber is used to adjust the depth. Take a medium-sized crappie minnow and hook it so it will stay alive, then you are in business. I have caught plenty of crappie with this set-up. 

Another popular rig is the jig pole. The jig pole is merely a light weight fly rod with a spinning reel attached where the fly reel usually sits. This setup is primarily used when slow trolling in order to cover water in search of the crappie spawning areas.

How To: Technique

Now let’s talk techniques. Slow trolling is one of the best techniques to help anglers find the spawning fish. Depending on water clarity and temperature, the crappie will spawn from 4 feet to 6 inches. Being able to cover the water by slow trolling will allow you to pinpoint their depth and the type of cover they are using. 

For this technique, I recommend the jig pole and crappie jigs. Crappie jigs are usually built on #4 and #6 light wire hooks with the corresponding lead weight molded on the front of the hook. A fishing buddy of mine from Mississippi uses this technique exclusively. He believes that this technique is good for all two phases of a crappie’s life: pre-spawn and post-spawn. He will use his jug pole as he is trolling an area looking for the fish. Depending on the season, he is assisted by his electronics. Finding structure and marking the fish as well as constant monitoring of the water temperature makes his electronics a very valuable asset. 

The crappie jig will work on a cane pole and I know of people who use cane poles for slow trolling, but I prefer the jig pole.

When it comes to crappie fishing with minnows, I’d rather have my seasoned cane pole. I usually use this technique when the spawn is happening and I have located the areas. I will anchor up on the edge of the spawning area and use a rather lengthy cane pole to drop the minnow quietly into the zone. Let the mayhem begin! 

I have had the pleasure of crappie fishing on Lake Seminole in Marianna with an old soul who has since passed on. We would get a very early start so that we could be first in line at the bait shop to purchase our minnows. Once on the water, he would ease his old Kennedy Craft up on fallen logs next to the spot. We would then deploy about six cane poles each. Every cane pole was equipped just as I mentioned. We were usually culling fish after the second or third hour of fishing.

How To: Weather

The spring crappie spawn offers the best opportunity to catch fish in shallow water. The fish are hitting at anything moving into their spawning territory. They’re not really feeding, but just protecting their beds from predators. Jigs of all colors and live minnows will perform well once you have located the spawning area. 

March weather is something that needs to be considered when looking for spawning crappie. A cold front that sweeps through our area and drops the water temperature will cause the fish to adjust their spawning areas to match the water temperature needed to spawn. Sometimes they will be in deeper water during the spawn to adjust for the cold front. The deeper water may only be 6 inches to 3 feet deep, but the fish will find the temperature consistency that allows the spawning to continue. 

The other weather consideration is the March winds. Don’t be hard-headed and try to make the much-needed subtle presentation while battling the wind-blown part of the lake. Move to calmer water and start your search for crappie. The crappie will move around a lot in the springtime until they spawn. Be flexible and make the necessary adjustments to ensure a successful crappie fishing trip. 

Until next time, good fishing and God bless.

WHERE IS THAT TURKEY LURKING?

A couple of Panhandle long beards unknowingly strut into range.

A couple of Panhandle long beards unknowingly strut into range.

Hunters should master the call early

There are plenty of turkeys in our area that were spotted during deer season. Public land hunts should be better than average this season and private land hunts will be excellent.

Let’s break down turkey hunting into two categories: preseason issues, and what to expect when the season arrives. Hopefully this article will help you increase your turkey hunting success.

PRESEASON

First, let’s focus on pre-spring turkey season must-dos. Long before Day One of turkey season arrives, the successful turkey hunters are practicing their calling abilities with a variety of instruments. Box calls, slate calls, and mouth calls are all effective. Some of the veteran turkey hunters that I talk to use a variety of calls when chasing after the elusive bird. 

Practicing with each device will increase your confidence and your ability to “sweet talk” big boy into range for a clean kill shot. Each sound that a hen or gobbler makes during the mating season can be reproduced on any of the calls. 

At this point, I need to bring to your attention that there are some other calls that are used by turkey hunters. These are simply known as the shock calls. A big gobbler will reveal his location by gobbling at other animals. When my uncle wanted to locate a gobbler, he would use a shock call. An owl, crow, young gobbler and even a peacock call was used to mark the bird’s whereabouts. 

From my perspective, having a plethora of calls and practicing diligently with all of them will greatly increase your chances of a successful turkey hunt. Just make sure to take all your calls with you on the hunt and make sure they don’t rattle around in your pockets!

SCOUTING

Now that the season has begun, let’s talk about dealing with scouting and some techniques that you may have used in your arsenal. How do you find out where the turkeys are calling home? You need to look and listen for clues that tell you where they roost, feed and also the areas they travel to and from. 

Tracks in the fields and roads will give you a starting place. Turkeys will fly to roost every evening. They will usually go to roost in pine trees on the lower branches. When you find the tracks in the road or in the field you need to figure out if they are leading to the roost or to the food. The idea is to hear them but to remain undetected by the birds. 

When trying to find the turkeys, I would much rather find their roosting spot than where they are feeding. One technique used in trying to find a roosting spot is to quietly slip into an area about an hour before dark and sit down. Eventually the turkeys will fly up to roost. Then wait until dark and slip back out of the area.

Turkey hunting is a sport that will get your blood pumping. It is a sport that will put your calling prowess to the test. I highly recommend you give it a try. 

Until next time, God bless and good, safe hunting.