abrandon

Follow Me South

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Brandon Fulgham with a 3-pound 5-ounce crappie caught on a live minnow at Lake Washington, Mississippi

By Josh Gowan

Well folks, February has her icy cold fingers wrapped tightly around the throat of the Heartland, and as adept as I’ve become with my snow shovel, I still can’t seem to get her to let go. This is when an outdoor writer has to strap on his literary snow boots and earn those big checks, which aren’t actually oversized, but just appear that way in comparison to the tiny numbers written on them.

With the 9-inches of snow still in my yard and the wind chill nearing absolute zero, I can only fantasize about warmer climates and future plans. I have a trip coming up in a few weeks, and I’d like to invite any of the crappie fishing/boat owning readers of this column to join me, if for no other reason than to thaw out your toes.

Saturday, March 7th is the “Big Mama Open Tournament” at Lake Washington, Mississippi. This tournament is open to anyone, and the winner is determined by one crappie, the Big Mama! Southern Star RV & Cabins and Bait’n’Thangs Bait Shop is hosting their annual tournament and rolling out the red carpet to the participants and anyone who wants to come out and watch the weigh-in.

The cost is $50 per 2-person team, and a 15-year-old or younger child can join you for no additional cost. Registration starts at 6 AM and you can begin fishing at 7 AM. The weigh-in starts at 2 PM at the pavilion at Bait’n’Thangs and at least 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place will be paid. There will be a live band playing, and free food to all those in attendance compliments of Mike Jones, owner of Bait’n’Thangs. Now as if this tournament won’t be fun enough, Karl Kalonka, host of Krappie King’s TV on the Pursuit Channel will be there filming the event for his show!

Now why would I invite you all down? I’ll tell you, because not only is it going to be a blast, but it is a very inexpensive vacation to warmer temperatures and much bigger crappie! Last year during the same time of year I was fishing beside my buddy and local guide Brandon Fulgham (grenadalakecharters.com) and he caught a 3-pound 5-ounce monster crappie. Chippy and I caught multiple 2 to 2.5 pounders, and Lake Washington has become our favorite trip of the year.

The locale will look familiar at first, with vast flatlands where cotton is grown during the summer, and the levee within eyesight of the lake. What will differ from our home here in the Heartland are the old plantation homes and Spanish moss on the cypress trees, that and the size of the crappie!

Lake Washington is about 5 hours south of my house in Sikeston, Missouri, so it’s a bit of a drive, but a very picturesque one that I-55 has deprived most of us from. As soon as you cross the old bridge at Memphis, hang a right on Highway 61 south, and ease through the Mississippi Delta all the way to Lake Washington. I love the drive, and maybe the destination has a bit to do with it, but it truly is a beautiful trip.

Mike Jones at Bait’n’Thangs has extremely affordable lodging right beside the water. He has the bait shop, the boat ramp, the cleaning station, pavilion, laundry mat, and so on, all right on the water within walking distance of each other, and did I mention the size of the crappie?!

The lake is reminiscent of Reelfoot, except without the stumps. There are vast shallow flats, only one area of deep water, and plenty of cypress groves. The best way to fish for crappie during early March is to push multiple poles with a variety of jigs and live minnows and cover a lot of water. Some anglers are drawn to the deeper water with cold water temps, but most of us never get deeper than 8-foot and find plenty of success.

For the one-polers, there are plenty of cypress trees and a healthy population of black crappie that are spawning early, but the biggest fish are usually the white crappie caught out cruising the flats.

So in closing, if you’d like to join me for a couple days of warmer temps and bigger crappie in a historic setting, I’m heading down Wednesday, March 4th ahead of the tourney and will stay all week, so give Mike Jones a call at 662-822-2087 and book a room or a camper spot!

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martin

Justin Martin with a couple Lake D’arbonne slabs

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Snowpacolypse 2015

By Josh Gowan

Reporting live from the igloo that has become my house, I’d like to offer an idea to our friends at the local news channels. It’s evident that nothing tickles the meteorologists more than reporting live from outside in the weather, so how about we strap that microphone to the handle end of a snow shovel, and each segment can be filmed at someone else’s driveway. I could deal with a winded dialogue if it meant a clean driveway!

In all seriousness, I should give the fine folks at KFVS12 credit for nailing the forecast, at least for my house. There’s somewhere around 12-inches of snow out in my yard, and with the projected temperatures over the next week, I don’t believe it will be going anywhere. The one positive about snow is obviously playing in it, but this powdery stuff we have won’t make a good snowball, and the nearest hill is 15 miles from my house! However, the white, powdery fluff is ideal for one thing, snow cream! Here’s the recipe: 1 gallon of snow, 1 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of vanilla, and 2 cups of milk – put it in a bowl and stir and voila!! For best results, dump a hefty portion of snow cream on top of a couple warm brownies, and drizzle chocolate sauce on top.

February is just a tough time of year in the outdoors, and being that we’ve had it fairly easy up until now, I suppose it’s only fair that we all get pinned inside for a few days. Us outdoorsmen probably watch more television this time of year than any other, and while I’m not a big proponent of wasting away in front of the TV, thank God for hunting and fishing shows! G3 Sportsman has long been a family favorite, and the new Krappie Kings TV on the World Fishing Network is awesome. I’m one large financial benefactor away from having my own show, and when that happens I’ll expect all of you to tune in!

The crappie, at least prior to Snowmageddon 2015, were biting really well at all area lakes. The long term forecast is just ugly, with Wednesday dipping down to -9 degrees!? I don’t know what exactly that will do to the crappie bite, because I can’t recall it ever getting that cold before. The next 10 days will be well below freezing at night, so much of our water will be freezing. If you’ve never been over to Lake of Egypt in Illinois, now is as good of a time as any to try it out. The lake receives hot water from the power plant and won’t freeze, making it a great (possibly the only) lake to fish during extremely cold weather.

Fishing a power plant lake is different than fishing your average water. Professional angler and guide Kyle Schoenherr said, “At Lake of Egypt, a power plant lake in Southern Illinois, black crappie chase the warm water throughout the winter. As the days grow longer in middle to late February the black crappie will start migrating towards the weedlines, and when the water reaches 50 degrees they’ll move in. Between the power plant pushing hot water out, the wind moving it around, and the tumultuous air temperature swings, the spawn is scattered throughout the lake, but once you get consistent water temps in the upper 50’s the black crappie are done, and the whites are starting the same pattern.”

Chasing water temperature, a novel idea! Crappie are just like you and I though, they will stay where it is most comfortable to them. If someone heated one room of your house to 70 and left the rest at 50, you and your family would migrate to that room. If that temperature alternated around to other rooms in your house, you’d chase the most comfortable air temperature too. It makes sense that fish would do the same thing.

Spider-rigging, casting a jig or minnow under a float, and just casting and retrieving a jig are all viable methods of fishing at Egypt. Be sure to take your net and set your drag, as the lake is loaded with big largemouth bass too!

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perrytrout

Chasing Rainbows

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Picture is: Perry Jackson with a Rotary Lake rainbow trout

By Josh Gowan

Chasing Rainbows

I enjoy an early February warm front as much as the next guy, but the 20 mph south wind that accompanies it I could do without. But alas, that is the nature of early spring, which regardless of what that Pennsylvanian varmint sees or doesn’t see, starts for us outdoorsmen the day after duck season ends.

The golden opportunity for us weekend warriors came Saturday morning, before the wind gusts exceeded the speed limit on most city streets. Thanks to the wonders of social media and my vast array of friends, I was able to see monster crappie coming from every body of water between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Erie! Reelfoot Lake is turning out some slabs in the shallow, stumpy parts of the lake, and Kentucky Lake is turning on as well. The caravan of Missouri boats arrived early enough at Lake of Egypt, IL to waylay the power plant specks, and a couple of locals at Wappapello caught their limits by 9am. From now until early April is the best time to target big crappie, as they are moving shallower and aggressively feeding, fattening up for the spawn.

As for me, I had floor seats Saturday morning to not one, but two elite level basketball games that I couldn’t pass up. The first was watching the highly touted and undefeated Sikeston 9-10 year old Red Team, which dominated again, and I’d say could take on any team of the same age-group in the Midwest and possibly the world. Standout second-string forward and defensive specialist Jameson Gowan did not disappoint! Then it was up to Jackson, MO to watch the also undefeated Jackson 2nd and 3rd grade girl’s Noon Optimist Yellow Team, who continued their streak as well. The other standout second-string forward in my immediate family, my niece Lynn-Avery Crowley, tied four other players for second-highest total points with two.

Being that I was already in Jackson and the wind prevented us from a Saturday afternoon trip out on the water, my old fishing buddy and step-dad Perry Jackson and I slipped down to Rotary Lake to target a few fat, rainbow trout. The MDC has been stocking Rotary Lake for years now every November, and after February 1st you can use scented or live bait and take home four trout per day, provided you have a Missouri fishing license and the $7 trout stamp.

I’m not sure the exact year when the program started, but my first trip was around 2005 and I was bound and determined to catch my first trout. February 1st arrived with frigid temperatures and a blizzard, and I showed up wearing my heaviest deer hunting gear, with a casting pole and a can of whole kernel corn. I wasn’t near the expert at stocked-pond trout fishing that I am now, but I felt if I could take the cold and outlast the other fishermen across the lake on the pier, the fishing Gods would surely smile on me. One by one my counterparts succumbed to the wet snow and howling wind and retired to their vehicles, and I stuck with it. Nearing frostbite and without feeling in many parts of my body, my old float sunk, and I set the hook on my first rainbow trout. I recall vividly trying to get the hook out of the fish’s mouth, but being unable to work my fingers, so I instead carried my fish, rod and reel still attached, up to the car and threw them all in!

I gutted the trout, seasoned it, and put it on the smoker at Port Cape Girardeau in downtown Cape, where I managed the bar. A group gathered around and “oohhed and aawweed” over the foreign fish, and we all sampled the white, flaky meat.

Being a salty veteran now, #12 treble hooks equipped with a wad of multi-color dough bait from Foutz’s Fishing and Hunting in Cape, fished about 10 inches behind a 1/4 –ounce sinker is my bait of choice. Cast out and tighten up your line, much like catfishing, and be ready to set the hook quick and hard, and you too can bring in a mess of tasty rainbow trout!

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chad

Cold water crappie bite heats up

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Picture is: Chad Haines from East Prairie, MO with a couple big black crappie from Lake of Egypt, IL

By Josh Gowan

Cold water crappie bite heats up

The guns are cleaned, oiled, and locked up in the safe until September, which means it’s time to drag that wad of poles out and begin the monumental task of untangling and respooling in preparation for fishing season. If you are without a large shop and the next polar vortex is looming, this generally takes place in the living room, much to the joy of your spouse. “How long is this going to take?” is always the question I receive from my wife, and knowing the answer has been difficult up until now.

I’ve developed a simple algorithm that will take the guesswork out of it, which goes as followed: (X x Y) + K = Total hours. X = amount of poles on a 0-10 scale, with 3 poles equaling 1. Y = level of disorganization, where 1 = very organized, 1.5 = moderately organized, 2 = unorganized, and 2.5 = very unorganized. K = amount of children under 12 that will be in and out of the same room.

So, if you have 6 poles (2) and are moderately organized (1.5) and have 2 kids “helping”, you can figure (2 x 1.5) + 2 = 5 hours. Once you have the answer, you divide by two to get the number you tell your wife! My personal algorithm looks like this: (10 x 2) + 1 = 21 hours, maybe I’ll break it up into a couple days!

As indicated by my incoherent rambling about math in the outdoor column, it is February, and there’s not a lot going on. I do however have a few fishing reports, including my first ever first-hand bass report. Now don’t be alarmed, I wasn’t fishing for them intentionally, but they were certainly biting so I figured I’d share.

Saturday afternoon I intended to head over to Reelfoot with Chippy, but being that he wasn’t able to go and I haven’t done all the aforementioned prep on my own gear, I instead took a buddy up on an offer to go “across the creek” a little farther north. Some of my buddies from East Prairie have been piling up big, black crappie from Lake of Egypt in Illinois, and I was tired of just seeing the pictures! Chad Haines has brought home 350+ crappie from his last 7 trips!

My buddy and fellow B’n’M Pro Staffer Kyle Schoenherr is a bit of a phenom in professional crappie fishing. Although he’s only in his early 30′s, he’s already amassed multiple wins, including a state championship, and has finished in the top 3 in the National Championshipship 3 times, which is no easy feat. He owns and operates All Seasons Guide Service out of southern Illinois, fishing Lake of Egypt, Kinkaid, and Rend.

I met up with Kyle at Pyramid Acres Marina and as we eased out of the no wake zone he pointed out 5 crappie on his Lowrance hds 12 depth finder. Now I’ve seen plenty of fish on my depth finder, but I’ve never made that statement. We turned the boat around and pushed 6 poles with minnows through the spot, where we promptly caught 3 crappie and a bass. He said, “guess the other one’s not hungry!”

That was indicative of the rest of the afternoon, finding small pockets of suspended crappie in shallow water and pushing baits through them. And the bass, I cannot leave out the bass! I would safely say we caught 10 bass over the 3-pound mark, with a couple 4.5 – 5-pounders. They were suspended 3 to 4-foot deep in 5 to 6-foot of water, and were hammering the minnows, so I suppose if I was going to fish for them intentionally I’d throw a small crankbait or swimbait and work it slowly. And that my friends, is the first bass fishing advice I believe I’ve ever given!

I got some great pictures and video, and brought home a mess of thick, black crappie, that will hit the fryer sometime later this week. Check my website for the videos in the next few days, and if you’d like to book a trip with one of the best crappie fishermen in the country, give Kyle a call at 618-314-2967.

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dannyducks

The Order Begins, Crappie Report

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Picture is: Danny Bright from East Prairie, Missouri with a pile of “last day” ducks

By Josh Gowan

The Order Begins, Crappie Report

Well folks the Grizzly Jig Spring Tackle Show has come and gone, and I was honored to meet so many people who read this column both online and in the area newspapers. One gentleman came up and introduced himself and said, “Hey I really enjoy your column, and thank God you finally put that boy of yours on a deer!” I thanked him and began to give some of the details of the hunt, and he quickly cut me off and said, “Now do you think you could get back to giving a decent fishing report!?” Yes sir, yes sir I can!

Duck season went out with a bang and I saw a lot of wader-laden water-fowlers posting pictures of rows of mallard ducks, accompanied by camo-vested retrievers and their grinning owners. Outside of a late youth season in West Tennessee, the only migrating “V’s” anyone will be blasting in the next month will belong to snow geese, which has become big business in our neck of the woods.

“The Order”, referring to the late and liberal snow goose season, begins on Feb. 1st and runs through April 30th in Missouri, and Feb. 8th through Mar. 10th in Tennessee. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service started the “Snow Goose Conservation Order” back in 1999, and the conservation departments of most states have been working with them to dramatically decrease the ballooning snow goose population, and I’m happy to help! There are no limits on snows in Missouri, and 20 per day in Tennessee, and both allow you to remove the plug from your shotgun and insert a clip if you’d like! The geese are multiplying faster than their breeding habitat in the Arctic Tundra can handle, so thinning out the population is for their own good.

Getting these big, white birds to decoy is pretty difficult, so in the past I’ve preferred driving around until I find a large flock and stalking them, which although effective and something I’ve done since I was a kid, is quite exhausting. My good friends and waterfowl specialists the Boden brothers of IDHP Outfitters have joined other outfitters in figuring out what it takes to get these birds to come to you, as opposed to you going to them.

The trick is a massive, active spread of decoys. The Boden’s hunt over 2,000 flags, 250 full-bodies, a couple small vortex machines, a huge contraption that swings 24 flying goose decoys in a tornadic motion, and a half dozen other flapping and flying doo-hickeys that I can’t recall. This seems pretty tiring to set up, and it probably is, which is why I show up right before daylight! To show up like I do and enjoy the fruits of their labor, and get in on an amazing hunt and experience, call David Boden at 573-318-4097 or Jaime Boden at 573-275-3633, I guarantee a great time!

Although snow’s are called “sky carp” by many, they can be good table fare if they’re prepared right. Just treat them like a big, Mississippi River catfish. Cut the breasts up into square-inch chunks, and submerge in salt water. Keep them in the refrigerator, changing the water five or six times over a 24 hour period. After “purging” them, you can cook them any way you like and they turn out pretty good. Personally, I prefer them bacon-wrapped and barbequed!

Now on to something that needs no purging! Crappie are biting everywhere right now, and outside of an alleged (I was told by mostly reliable sources) massive shad-kill on lower Kentucky Lake, which makes the fishing very tough until the gamefish have cleaned out the shad, every lake in the region is producing slabs.

My home lake in Northwest Tennessee, Reelfoot, is always good in the winter. While I was doing a Q&A seminar with the rest of the Grizzly Jig Pro Staff over the weekend, I heard the same questions reiterated that I’ve been hearing, have the asian carp killed the lake? The answer is absolutely not! There is no killing this lake, nor is there any chance of over-fishing it. All lakes run in cycles, and in smaller, shallow-water basin lakes like Reelfoot the ups and downs in the cycle are more extreme. Crappie live 5-6 years on average unless they’re harvested, and there is no doubt that we lost a couple spawns a few years back due to falling waters. One female crappie lays 250,000 eggs, and it only takes a few good spawns to get back to normal, which I believe we had last year and the year before. Another indication of the crappie population rebounding, are the pictures I saw over the weekend from friends of mine who have been catching big, white crappie spider-rigging in shallow water, and I’m extremely close to joining them!

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perry_edited

Deer, Ducks, and the Big Show

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Picture is: Perry Jackson with a couple big Wappapello Lake crappie

By Josh Gowan

Deer, Ducks, and the Big Show

Is it spring yet? Now that we have the deer in the freezer, the only thing that’s on my mind is crappie fishing, and maybe a bit of snow goose blasting!

First off, I want to say thanks to everyone who called or emailed congratulating us on FINALLY getting my son’s first deer. It’s comforting to know that some of y’all were going through the struggle with me! If you really want to see a kid (and a dad and papa) extremely happy and proud, go to www.joshgowanoutdoors.com and watch the video. You will understand exactly why I drug my son all over the place, spending time and money to try to give him his opportunity to take his first shot.

I made the mistake of burning him out on fishing four or five years ago, completely unaware that everyone didn’t want to stay in the boat all day, every weekend, regardless if we caught anything or not. He enjoys going hunting with me, but I knew there was only so long I could keep dragging him to the woods without the payoff, which is why I was so committed to getting it done this year. I knew that the excitement of taking his first deer would hook him, and if you watch the video, you’ll see that I was right!

While I’m on the subject of deer hunting, we have the harvest totals in for this past year’s deer season here in Missouri, and you’re never going to guess what happened. We killed 8,000 more deer this year than last year, which is perplexing considering that the Kansas City Star and other doomsday writers put us smack-dab in the middle of a massive decline in deer population. It turns out that the most important factor effecting harvest numbers may indeed be weather.

Another interesting tidbit, is that although the MDC severely tightened restrictions on shooting does due to public pressure, we still took 115,161 does, a little over a thousand less than last year when it was still allowed to shoot as many does as you want in most counties. What could be the reason? Simple, although we were allowed to shoot as many does as we pleased in most of the state, less than 2% of hunters actually killed more than two does. But the “public” is fickle, and the MDC has to operate on a heck of a tightrope.

The duck hunting has been much improved over the last week, and with the weather prediction we have over the next week it looks to remain good. There are a lot of ducks in SE Missouri and W Tennessee and the guys out hounding them should be able to make up for the beginning of the season.

January 22-25 marks the 12th Annual Grizzly Jig Spring Tackle Show. This is my favorite weekend of the year to work, and crappie fishermen will pour in from across the country for the show. This is the biggest event in the crappie fishing industry, and the hotels are already near full in the surrounding areas.

The top crappie fishermen in the country will be on hand giving free seminars over the four-day event, with 8-time National Champions Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman, Mr. Crappie Wally Marshall, TV host Russ Bailey, past National Champions Charles Bunting, Richard Williams, Wade Hendren and Roy Logan, and crappie fishing superstars Todd Huckabee, Whitey Outlaw, Brad Whitehead, Sam Heaton, and the young gun Kyle Schoenherr, there is no other line-up that comes close in our industry. The Humminbird guys will be there giving seminars on how to better use your electronics, and I’ll be there telling lies and selling fishing tackle!

If you crappie fish any at all, this is the biggest event of the year, and it’s right here in our backyard. At the very least you can show up early and get in on the free coffee and donuts and buy a t-shirt! Everything is on sale, and it really is a great time to meet the pros and pick their brain, which is what I would be doing if I weren’t so busy selling tackle!

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jamdeer3

Jameson Gowan with his first deer, a Mississippi doe!

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The Best Hunt Ever

By Josh Gowan

This article is best read with Survivor’s 1982 smash hit “Eye of the Tiger” playing in the background.

After a marathon year of taking my son deer hunting, we eventually exhausted both Kentucky and Missouri’s seasons, and conceded defeat. It was bittersweet unpacking the guns and hunting totes and folding chairs and extra honey buns from the truck. We were both disheartened that we didn’t close the deal, but it took a heavier toll on me. The boy hunted hard and well, and really wanted to get a deer, and not just for himself but also because he knew how important it was to me, because he’s just that kind of a kid.

We practiced plenty with his rifle, and I knew he could shoot, but it was up to me to put him in a position where he’d have an opportunity. I had to get a deer in front of him, and after 24 hunts, I had failed. The “sweet” part was that we were exhausted and ready for a break, both having neglected everything else in our lives during the season, my wife, job, and writing assignments for me, and friends, basketball, and video games for him.

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Fast forward to last Wednesday, when a friend of mine from Grenada, Mississippi read my last woeful article, and called me up with the words (and I’m paraphrasing and editing a bit) “put that boy in the truck and get your butts down here!” Brandon Fulgham is a crappie and duck guide in Grenada, and we met last winter pre-fishing for the Crappie Master’s tourney on Lake Washington. He showed me around the lake and offered some advice, and we just sort of hit it off, being birds of a feather and all.

I’d told Jameson about these shooting houses looking out over fields where deer come out every day, and Brandon guaranteed that he had the set up and we’d see deer and get an opportunity if we came down. I was concerned about pitching the idea to my wife, but she said, “If he guarantees Jameson will get a shot at a deer, then what do I need to pack?!”

I’d talked to dad about him going deer hunting with us before, and since he’d never been, Brandon told me to bring him on too. We were put up at the luxurious cabin used by Grenadalakecharters.com (which is Brandon’s crappie fishing guide service) which was fully equipped with a stone fireplace, hand-carved wooden everything, top-end appliances and furnishings and all. I figured after the year we’d had, we deserved it!

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Saturday afternoon Brandon picked us up and took us out to the field, instructing me not to wear much clothes even though it was just above freezing, because we would get hot walking in. I’ve gotten hot about every time I’ve ever walked and climbed into a stand wearing my hunting gear, so I wasn’t concerned. What I didn’t know was that Mississippi had a mountain chain, and the shooting house was at the peak! Three-quarters of the way there, I stopped to catch my breath, and gave my guide who was be-bopping up the slope like a mountain goat a look that he understood, and he walked back and said, “if you drive a 4-wheeler in and shut it off the deer won’t come out, but if you walk all the way they’ll always come out.” I couldn’t argue with that, mostly because I couldn’t breathe, but regardless we continued our trek up Mount Grenada until we arrived at a shooting house on stilts. It was a picture generally reserved for the Outdoor Channel, three strips of green vegetation 40 yards in width, 300 yards to the left, 150 yards in front, and likewise to the right, cut out of an extremely dense forest.

We got in and did some maneuvering so that we were ready in any situation. Once I get everything settled we always practice “deer to the left,” “the right,” and so on. That way regardless of the situation we are ready, and are able to detect any issues that may arise.

At around 4:30, I saw what looked like a deer way out in the green field. After looking through my binoculars I saw that it was a doe, and got Jameson’s gun up for him. I generally wouldn’t let him take a shot that far, but we’d had a tough season without him ever firing a shot, and he was confident that he was on her. The first squeeze of the trigger resulted in a “click”, as I hadn’t turned the safety off, but after a quick adjustment he was ready again. I made him wait until I could get my binoculars back up and make sure she was broadside, and then gave him the green light.

He was as steady as a military sniper when he squeezed the trigger. Leaning into him I shared the jolt of the rifle and didn’t see the impact, but afterwards the deer appeared to limp across the field. He said he saw her and wanted to shoot again, but by the time I got another bullet into the single-shot .243 she was gone. I assumed that he’d clipped her in the leg by the way she was limping, and began telling him that it was an incredibly long shot and just hitting her was awesome, and that more deer would probably come out.

We were both hanging our head, and not just because he didn’t kill his first deer, but because, as he put it, “I don’t want to just injure her and she has to live with a broken foot.” That made me proud and showed me that some of what I’d been telling him in our countless hours in the woods had sunk in. Before I could respond, something caught my eye way down the green field on the side the deer disappeared into. Behind a log on the edge of the woods there was a flurry of white, zigzagging around for just a few seconds. We’d both seen it, and I said “Jameson, you may have just killed your first deer!”

I believed that commotion was the last efforts of a dying deer, but at that distance there was no way to know for sure, and after our prior experiences I was still a skeptic and didn’t want him to get his hopes up too high.

I couldn’t see anything with my binoculars, and although waiting may have been a better option, my instincts and gut said that what I saw was exactly what it looked like. I told them to stay put and that I’d ease up on the other side and look with my binoculars. I kept stopping and glassing, but to no avail, and finally reached the other side of the field parallel to the log, and right behind it was a doe, hammer-dead!

220 yards was the final count, and he center-punched her. I don’t know how to describe our excitement or emotions, but I’ll have the video up in a few days and you can see for yourself. I’m wrapping this up with Jameson’s version, and then we’re going to debone and cook some of his deer, letting him enjoy feeding the family for the first time!

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Per Jameson, entitled “My First Deer” – I was deer hunting with my dad and my papa down in Mississippi. My dad’s friend Brandon let us hunt on his property in the creakiest stand you’ve ever heard. Then around prime time which was around 4:30 for us, a good sized doe came out of the woods. Dad helped me get my gun out the window, then I aimed the crosshairs on the doe and pulled the trigger, but when I did, the safety was on but luckily the deer didn’t hear it. So my dad turned the safety off, and then I shot the deer.

After that the deer limped across the field and fell behind a dead tree. A few minutes later it went crazy and shook its tail like a mad man. We didn’t know if I killed it. At first we thought I hit it in the leg. So my dad went down to check it out, and he came back and said I KILLED IT!! It was the best hunt ever!

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aycockcat_edited

Jason Aycock with a big Mississippi River blue catfish

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The Big Year-Ender

By Josh Gowan

What an awesome year we’ve had in the great outdoors, and hopefully 2015 will be even better! There’s a bit of a cold snap bearing down on us that should bring at least a few ducks down to our area. Deer season is all but over, with just a week of archery hunting left, and the fishing has been fantastic everywhere in the Midwest and will continue to get better as long as Mother Nature will refrain from freezing all the water again! To keep from crying on my computer over the sad story that culminated last Tuesday without filling that youth deer tag I’ve been carrying around, I figured a look back at the year was in order.

If you recall, last winter brought the longest and most severe stretch of arctic air that has descended on the Heartland in at least the last 20 years. Everything, everywhere was frozen, and this took quite a toll on the fishing. Anglers were unable to get on the water until late February, and the shad kill that was the result of the extended freeze made it nearly impossible to catch fish. The good news though, was that once the gamefish had finally eaten their weight in shad enough times to clear them out and give us a chance at catching them, they were fat and healthy!

Early March found Chippy and I in southern Mississippi fishing a BassProShop’s CrappieMaster’s tournament on new water. Lake Washington has since become our favorite place to visit. The oxbow lake in the Lower Mississippi Delta is not only full of gargantuan crappie, it also houses one of the most picturesque landscapes I’ve ever seen, wrapped on one side by ancient, moss-covered cypress trees, with the other side dotted with old plantation mansions, some renovated and some hollowed out and covered in vines. I also got to meet Mike Jones, owner/operator of Bait’n’Thangs and Southern Star R.V. and Cabins on the bank of Lake Washington, who has since become a good friend and was instrumental in the highlight of my year in the outdoors, but we’ll get to that.

April, May, and June were an absolute blast, and on April 12th, my 34th birthday, I had one of the best days crappie fishing I’ve ever had, and was lucky enough to share it with my wife. The video from that day has well over 20,000 views, with my wife and I smashing big black crappie from the shallow swamp that is my home lake, Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee (if you haven’t seen it, it’s at www.youtube.com/wylecat1). We caught fish all the way through late June, and completely made up for the late start the frigid winter caused.

Summertime often found me poolside and spending a lot of weekends playing volleyball, as well as sharing my love for carpentry with my son, as we built numerous whatnots out of free pallet wood I’d collected from work. I also managed to make time for a bit of fishing, slipping over to Kinkaid Lake in Illinois for some big crappie. Another vacation at our favorite beachfront locale in Mexico Beach, Florida took my brother-in-law Crowley from deep-sea fishing to pier fishing to shore fishing for a myriad of saltwater fish.

In September I landed a new gig as the “crappie writer” for Wired2Fish.com, one of the biggest fishing websites around, and with their help and Mr. Mike Jones, along with some beloved local sponsors, Chippy and I were able to attend our first National Championship back on Lake Washington. I lost my outboard to a rogue stump and we took a whooping in the process, but the experience was incredible and something we’ll never forget!

Fall fell and I returned to the woods, chasing the elusive whitetail buck with my favorite, albeit most unlucky weapon, my 9-year-old son. We hunted a total of 24 hunts, spanning two states and five counties, and as previously mentioned were unsuccessful, but only if you measure success by your harvest. We had a lot of great times in the woods and I really appreciate everyone who invited us out.

The only week I hunted without him was during rifle season when I traveled north and left him in school, and of course the deer were running all over each other, and I shot a good buck, which my son was very proud of and we have been dining on venison ever since!

I’d like to thank all the readers that follow this column throughout the year, and especially the folks that send in pictures and stories! If you ever have a good picture or story, shoot me an email at joshmgowan@yahoo.com

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damon1 (2)

Terry Shands and Damon Secoy from East Prairie, Mo with some Illinois slabs

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The Saga Continues

By Josh Gowan

Well, the story I’ve been waiting to write since the ultrasound nurse detected an extra appendage will have to wait at least another week, as my son and I are continuing our time-honored tradition of not shooting deer. The good news is, our sorrowful story is getting out and my friends in the hunting community are stepping up and inviting us to their farms, where we subsequently shut down all deer activity for the next 24 hours.

It is not out of the norm to ask permission to dove or rabbit hunt on someone’s property, or even ask to duck or goose hunt if no one is hunting there, but you simply don’t ask someone to deer hunt on their property. In Southeast Missouri, if there are deer there, someone is hunting them, or at the very least watching them until next year when they’ll resume hunting them.

Fortunately I have a few friends who are familiar with our plight, and Kevin Murphy invited us up to hunt with him in what I believe is northeastern Scott County. Being that we hadn’t hunted there before, I thought there may be a few deer that were not yet familiar with our scent.

As Kevin and I were planning what time to meet, he asked what time it gets light, and during a complete lapse of judgment I repeated the question to my wife, whom I know has a terrible track record at such things. “6 AM” she said confidently, and we decided on a 5:15 meeting time, which had us in the stand by 5:30, an hour and 15 minutes before it was light enough to shoot…

My son was a bit more difficult to rise than usual, and he was open about the fact that he was quite tired, possibly from our late night viewing of Tim Allen’s Santa Clause trilogy. I wasn’t concerned, as he has a form of controlled narcolepsy and possesses the ability to stop anything he’s doing and declare that he’s taking a nap, and fall into a deep sleep within minutes, so I knew he’d catch up on the ride.

We arrived a bit early at Casa de Murphy, and I managed to wake my son long enough to get him from the truck to the Bad Boy, were he resumed his slumber. We had a very short walk to the stand, and while I’m not positive, I believe he stopped on the 4th rung of the 15 ft ladder for a quick cat nap. I nudged him and he lumbered the rest of the way up.

He barely got his butt in the seat and was dozing off again, but our stand had a bit of a forward lean, which kept his head bobbing irregularly and offbeat, and occasionally jarring him enough that he’d open his eyes for a second and say “what?” I pondered a decent simile, and how I imagine Joe Biden at a Jay Z concert came to mind, if that makes any sense.

I don’t mind him sleeping in the stand, the boy’s slept in more trees than a band of gypsy coons, and it usually allows us to stay out longer in cold weather and with little activity. I can intently scan the area while he is still and quiet. However with our stand’s forward tilt causing his awkward head bobbing, still, he was not. As it finally became light I let him lay down on the seat and I stood up. Unfortunately after he became comfortable, his deep sleeping caused the loudest breathing those woods have ever heard. He sounded like an obese chain smoker who was one spot away from a blackout jackpot at the VFW’s bingo night (no offense Memaw).

Needless to say, although we were on a beautiful farm sitting over a classic natural funnel, we never saw a deer. Fortunately for Kevin we were only there for one hunt, and deer activity resumed to normal the next day. I have received another invite from another sympathetic landowner in a new county, and we will be trying every chance we get over the next week!

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