Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Refuge in the Back Country by Luke Clayton

Everyone that loves the outdoors needs a retreat to go to, a place to get away from computers, cell phones, deadlines and civilization in general. A place where one can pause to listen to what some people would call nothing. For those of us that love the natural world and know what to listen for this quietness that the untrained ear might call ‘nothing’ is filled with sounds. I know. I spend a great deal of time on a remote piece of land that once was an active sand and gravel pit. My outdoor haven is located one mile from my home and I go there often. The pits that were excavated back in the fifties and sixties are now, deep, spring fed havens for catfish, bass and crappie. The shallows in the backwaters attract duck in large numbers each year. Deer, rabbits, squirrel and hogs frequent the woods adjacent the 40 or so acres of water. During their fall and winter migration, it’s common to see woodcock digging for earthworms in the soft soil along the waters edge.

Just yesterday, I used my NuCanoe, a 12 foot craft designed perfectly for negotiating the backwaters, to paddle back through the many little cuts and channels connecting the small lakes to the backwaters where ducks flock in large numbers and, where I’ve enjoyed many fun filled hours hunting and photographing them.

I paddled as far as I could go and nosed my NuCanoe up to shore. When the water is high, it’s possible to paddle all the way to the very back but with the current low water levels, I had to drag the craft about fifty feet through a beaver slide that connects the back marsh with the deeper waters that I had just navigated.

Before dragging the boat through the little cut, I decided to walk over, sit down and observe the sights and sounds of this backwater wonderland. As I walked through the cut into the more shallow water, I flushed several wood ducks that were rafted close by. I set down in some brush and soon everything became quiet again. Well, not really quiet, not if one really listens!

A hundred yards, behind a little island, I heard a small flock of mallards feeding on the aquatic vegetation. They were making the contented quacks that mallards make when they are in a safe, sheltered place feeding. I could hear the squeal of wood ducks, the whistle of widgeon and the deep throated buzzing sound made by gadwall in flight. I watched ducks of several species circle high over the backwaters and begin their beautiful spiraling decent to join their kind on the water.

My vantage point was close to the waters edge and occasionally, I would see a crappie in the shallow water slapping its tail on the surface. Each spring during the spawn, the fish pull out of the deeper channels and stage in the shallows in the remote marsh.

From this same spot a few weeks earlier, I set and watched a family of nutria playing on a little island fifty yards out into the marsh. They were engaged in a game of tag and would chase each other around the island, dive into the water, in pursuit of one of the adults. Then, they would back paddle on the surface, flipping over on their backs with their front paws exposed on their chest. I was privy to their antics for a good ten minutes, until the entire family decided to go subsurface into their den underneath the island.

In the woods, behind the marsh, I heard the unmistakable squeal of feral hogs, probably a sounder made up of sows and piglets. Hog tracks were everywhere along the shoreline. I have a couple of feeders that throw corn at 6 and again at 7 pm every evening and fresh pork for the freezer is usually, but not always, obtained easily by setting on stand in late afternoon. I watch the wind and set my GhostBlind up downwind of where I expect the hogs to appear.

I often stalk hogs and have killed them back in some pretty remote spots. Since the connecting gravel pits are well distributed throughout the property, I use my NuCanoe to get to areas that are next to impossible to access by foot. The craft is also worth its weight in gold when it comes time to haul the pork out of the woods. I know the area well and regardless where I kill a hog, the drag is short to waters edge.

Crappie can quickly overpopulate and keeping their numbers in check is important on private waters. I relish this task and do my part with jig pole and crappie jig but, while setting alone in the secluded backwaters waters, watching those shallow water crappie splashing the surface, I’m devising a plan! I’ve got a light trot line back at home and there’s a bait shop with minnows not far from home! Some #1 gold Aberdeen crappie hooks to replace the larger catfish hooks on the trotline and I’d be in business to collect a big ‘mess’ of crappie for an evening fish fry. Better leave a few larger hooks on the ‘line’. There is a healthy population of Flathead catfish as well and they love to lay in ambush close to the bank in the tangles roots of shoreline trees. The first two or three hooks from bank will be baited for catfish!

Sure hate to cut this week’s column short but duty calls and I do need to get back to civilization. Hopefully we will be dining on crispy fried crappie fillets tonight with possibly a few flathead fillets thrown in for good measure. You know, it’s tough to beat the flavor of fillets from smaller flatheads!

Go to http://www.catfishradio.com to read more of Luke's writings.