One of the beauties of hunting is that everyone has their own approach. Often times, there is more than one right way to do things and, if you are paying attention, there is a lot to learn from how others approach their time in the woods or in the field.
The same can be said about gear selection. Everyone has their own taste in equipment, but keeping an open mind can lead you to new tools that will improve your hunt.
I surveyed a handful of my hunting buddies to get their must-have hunting gear. Here is what we came up with:
If you haven’t jumped in on this craze, you need to. For a relatively small yearly fee, you can have an entire state’s worth of plat books at your fingertips.
With OnX, you always know where you stand with realtime feedback on your position in relation to property lines and other boundaries. It’ built-in tools can help estimate distances between landmarks while giving you an aerial view of the property in question.
This app helps us plan, scout, and hunt with confidence.
After a long day of hunting or scouting, it’s nice to slip into something comfortable for driving, unpacking, or cleaning your harvest. Crocs provide a quick way to transition away from the footwear you’ve been in all day.
While I still catch some grief form my buddies for wearing these, they all have them to. And I think that speaks for itself.
During our outing, Bailey mentioned that he guides the Sheboygan River for king salmon in the fall and we talked about how those trips compare to trout fishing floats. He told me about the incredible strength displayed by the kings and promised me I would end the day with two sore arms, if we had a good day.
That discussion got my blood pumping. I told him I would definitely be in touch with him regarding a fall salmon trip at some point in the future.
I spent the following months hemming and hawing about calling Bailey and getting on the books. I knew I would eventually schedule a trip with him, but I wondered how much time I should give myself to set aside the cash needed for this adventure.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew this trip was going to be worth every penny. But I wanted to be sure I could make this investment responsibly.
As the run approached, Bailey began posting about his upcoming openings on Instagram using pictures from previous seasons. I couldn’t stop looking at those posts. Just seeing those massive fish made my mind race with excitement.
In late August, I decided to go for it. After speaking with my dad, I sent Bailey a text and we got a trip scheduled for late September.
Once we firmed up a date, the trip couldn’t come fast enough.
Like most things in life, attitude and outlook are everything. I’ve come to learn that those two factors dictate what kind of day you are going to have.
I always try to be even-keeled when approaching guided trips. Being reasonable with expectations is important. I feel as though that it is only fair to the guide, because no matter how good they are, there is always a chance for a slow day. Such is life when dealing with wild animals.
I am yet to encounter a guide who can make fish bite on command. And even if I were to find one, I doubt I could afford their services.
We met at the end point of our float about an hour before sunrise. Bailey gave my dad and I ride to a parking spot closer to where the raft was tied up. We got out of the car, turned on our headlamps and began the trek to our watercraft.
We quietly advanced through the grass at a steady pace. Bailey paused briefly to pick up a couple pieces of litter.
“Have to get that good karma going early,” I said.
“Exactly,” Bailey replied.
Shortly after, we arrived at the raft. We loaded our gear. I hopped in the front seat, my dad in the back with Bailey in the middle manning the oars. As we started our float, we chatted about Bailey’s summer on Lake Michigan working as a first mate for a local charter outfit.
With daylight starting to creep in, I noticed a fisherman assuming his position on the far bank. He organized his tackle as he awaited the start of legal fishing hours. This time of year, tributaries can only be fished from a half hour before sunrise until a half hour after sunset. That time was nearly upon us as we moved downriver.
As we settled-in to our first spot, it became abundantly clear that fish were present. The gentle flow of the river was frequently interrupted by explosions from jumping kings breaching the surface. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it, that sight never gets old.
The plan was to float a combination of skein and soft beads through the pockets of water that held fish. Skein is a cured pouch of fish eggs that is still wrapped in the membrane. The cure adds scent and color to the eggs and helps add toughness to the membrane, which helps it remain on the hook longer.
Given the sticky and slimy nature of the bait, Bailey opted for plastic gloves when putting the skein on our hooks. With how much of this stuff we went through, that choice proved to be the right one.
Within a matter of minutes, my dad had locked horns with one of the many large fish that were in the area. I excitedly reeled in my line to allow more space for the battle to play out. The splashes of the fish echoed off the river bank as the hooked fish thrashed about.
Then, without warning, I heard a sharp snap followed by the whistling of the float and hook setup flying toward us. Nothing was broken, the fish had simply popped off the hook.
While I was disappointed that we missed out on our first opportunity, I was energized by the quick action.
Before long, I was hooked up. Fortunately, my fish remained hooked long enough to end up in Bailey’s net. It was a nice fat female, one of the largest kings I had caught in my life. We estimated it to be somewhere over 22 pounds.
A few casts later, I had another fish on the line. This one was also a solid hen, nearly a carbon copy of the fish I landed earlier. After securing the creature in the net, we took a few pictures and sent the fish on its way, just as we had the first time.
As the sun rose in the sky, the fish continued to put on impressive displays of aerial acrobatics as we floated to our next spot.
This location featured a deep pocket, probably 40 yards long and about 10 yards wide. Bailey estimated that this hole could hold over 100 king salmon on a good day.
We exited the raft and stood in the shallow water near the opposite shore. It felt good to give our legs a stretch.
Almost immediately, my dad’s bobber disappeared under the surface. But, with a little too much slack in the line, my dad was unable to pull off the hookset.
Managing slack in the current with spinning tackle can be tricky, but it is the key to providing the natural presentation these fish can’t resist. It’s also a crucial part of giving yourself a chance at a quality hookset. Though these fish are large and powerful, their strikes don’t last long. It’s amazing how the bite of a 20-pound specimen can look much like the small nibbles of a bluegill, with the float subtly twitching as it slowly advances downward.
Even when the fish absolutely hammer a bait and bury the bobber, it usually doesn’t take long for them to realize they are hooked. Without a proper tug, they can masterfully evade the barb.
On the very next cast, my dad’s bobber vanished once again. This time, he connected. A series of splashes rang out and the fight was on. The fish began peeling line and the drag on my dad’s reel was singing. Eventually, he began making headway and pulled the fish closer to us.
Just as Bailey readied the net, we heard the dreaded pop. Another fish had managed to free itself from my dad’s hook.
I felt awful. We all did. It’s tough being so close, yet so far, from success.
On the subsequent float, my dad’s bobber went down again. The third time as the charm as this fish remained pinned until it was safely in the net. A sense of relief came over all of us. My dad informed us that this was his first ever lake run king, a significant milestone for someone who has been fishing for over four decades.
Now that my dad was on the board, I was confident we already got our money’s worth from the trip (and we still had over half a day left).
After watching my dad get three strikes on three casts, I was determined to get in on the action. It was clear this hole was hot.
I was just about to let another cast fly when Bailey excitedly said “dude, don’t move!”
“Do you see that fish by your feet? That’s a pink salmon. You can tell by the big hump on its back.”
I glanced down and, sure enough, here sat the fish just a couple yards from my boots. Bailey pulled off his polarized sunglasses and put one of the lenses over his phone’s camera and snapped a few pictures.
Pink salmon do not occur naturally in Lake Michigan. In fact, they aren’t planted here either. These fish are often found in other Great Lakes. But, like all sport fish, they are willing to follow the bait fish wherever they go and, on rare occasion, end up in places they wouldn’t be otherwise, all in pursuit of their next meal.
Bailey guessed this fish may have come all the way from Lake Huron. It’s an incredibly rare thing to encounter.
Before we departed this particular spot, I managed to land my third fish of the day and we missed a couple more. We then hopped back in the raft for a click float to the next hole.
This spot was considerably more condensed than our prior location. We would again fish while standing in the shallows on one side while depositing our floats into a pocket on the other. But this hole was only about 20 yards long and about five yards wide.
My dad was the first one to connect with a fish. Within his first few casts, he landed a “jack” king salmon.
Most kings make their spawning run in their fourth year of life and then die shortly after accomplishing what they set out to do. Jacks are male kings that have a genetic mutation that causes them to reach sexual maturity at the age of two. They are easily identified by their much smaller stature. They are often between 8-10 pounds compared to the fully mature fish that can reach weights of over 30.
It wasn’t long before my dad was once again battling a fish. And this one was no jack. As it splashed, its massive tail showed itself and gave us a good indication of the fish’s overall size. After a formidable skirmish, the fish was in the net. This female was likely our largest catch of the day, weighing somewhere in the mid-20-pound range.
Shortly thereafter, I was the one doing the heavy lifting. Upon realizing it was hooked, this fish made a lengthy run downstream. I had a difficult time making headway. That’s when Bailey instructed me to dip my rod tip in the water. The current would create a bow in the line, which provided a different feel for the fish. The change in sensation would confuse the fish about which direction in needed to go to gain leverage.
Sure enough, the trick worked. After a few more minutes, we were able to secure it in the landing net.
A few casts later, my bobber disappeared. I set the hook and the fish darted up river, 30 yards or more, like it had been shot out of a cannon.
“That fish is snagged,” Bailey said. “Put your hand on the reel and let the line snap.”
I was a little confused by this order. At the rate the reel was spinning, I was worried about losing a finger (I’m only half-joking about that).
But I did as instructed and the fish popped free.
As he was re-tying my line, Bailey explained his philosophy on snagged kings. While you could, in theory, fight the fish and hope to remove the hook after landing it, there wasn’t much of a point to that approach. These fish are all dying within a week or two. Straining the fish by fighting it just so you can remove the hook could fatigue the animal to the point of premature death. When you know one is snagged, it’s best to cut your losses.
I landed one more fish before we moved on to our next spot, which was roughly a 30-minute float away. Bailey rowed with a set of oars from his seat in the middle of the raft to help move us a long at a more favorable pace.
We came across two bald eagles along the way. While the fishing had been good, it was also hard to complain about the scenery.
It was nearly noon and this was likely to be our final hole of the day. But Bailey added that it was one that had been producing well for him over the course of the week.
I quickly landed a Jack of my own, to bring our total to eight.
My dad stood to my right as we took turns floating our baits through the pocket as Bailey coached us to make sure we were hitting our marks.
As my dad’s bobber crossed a few yards in front of me, it suddenly went missing. A tan mass emerged from the river bed as my dad set the hook. After a couple head shakes, the fish was gone.
While both my dad and I were happy with the fact he was able to land three fish that day, converting at rate of even 50 percent would have given him at least three more fish to his credit. He was simply the victim of bad luck at times throughout our trip. It happens to all of us, if we fish long enough.
Later on, I landed another big female. This was likely my largest fish of the day.
With our remaining time dripping away, the goal was to get to double-digit catches. We needed just one more fish to make it happen.
With about a half hour of fishing time left, my bobber was down once again. I pulled hard and immediately felt the force of new adversary. This was it, No. 10.
But shortly into our exchange, the fish came flying out of the water at a height that was over my head. This male was so dark that he was nearly black. As he went airborne it became clear that he was hooked in the back, just below the dorsal fin.
“Cut it,” Bailey said.
I promptly placed the palm of my hand on the reel and the fish was quickly freed.
Not long after that, we began the float to our end point. We enjoyed some nice conversation while snacking on venison summer sausage sandwiches on fresh-baked white bread from our local grocery store.
Once we arrived at our destination, my dad and I helped Bailey load up and we went our separate ways.
We weren’t even back in the truck before my dad had already started talking about next year.
As if the nine fish weren’t enough, I went home and wrote out a note detailing everything I had learned from Bailey that day. The final word count stood at over a thousand.
Between the steady action, quality time with my dad, and invaluable information gained, this was truly a trip fit for a king.
It’s Episode 15 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast!
Joel Brice, Chief Conservation Officer of Delta Waterfowl, is back to discuss the flight forecast for the upcoming duck season. What does the drought in the prairie pothole region mean for this season? How does it impact the health of duck populations long term? Is it OK to continue to harvest your daily bag limit of ducks?
Joel answers all of that and more.
Then, Nathan and Joel chat about Delta’s HunteR3 initiative as we highlight the importance of hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation.
If I had to choose, fall is my favorite season. I suspect that many of us who enjoy the outdoors share this opinion.
That’s because this season, arguably, provides more opportunities to connect with nature than any other. The final few months of the year offer fantastic fishing, foliage that serves up an incredible backdrop, and, in Wisconsin, the bulk of our hunting seasons.
From September through November, I spend nearly all of my free time outside. Between chasing river run salmon, targeting smallmouth bass that are strapping on the feedbag prior to the arrival of winter, finding “the X” for that next waterfowl hunt, and ensuring I have a few hours to sit in the deer stand on occasion, it seems that there just isn’t enough time in the day come autumn.
But it is September 1 that is the gateway to all of these wonderful things. That day marks the beginning of the early goose, mourning dove, and, more recently, the early teal hunting seasons in Wisconsin.
I have been in the field, shotgun in-hand, on the first day of September each of the last 11 years. Every one of these trips has brought varying degrees of success. But none of that dampens the excitement that comes with the first hunt of the year.
The key ingredients for this excitement are a combination of reflection and anticipation. Remembering the past while looking to the future with an eye on all the possibilities that await can stir up powerful emotions. Even the act of preparing for Opening Day gets my mind racing.
Sure, the potential of filling my freezer with game and the allure of successful hunts is exciting. But hunting is about so much more than that.
In late August, I begin to get my hunting gear in order. I purchase my duck stamp, dust off my decoys, organize my shotgun shells, and make sure my blind bag is properly stocked. Every part of the process brings its own little trip down memory lane. From hunts with those who are no longer with us to remembrances of legendary outings in brutal weather, these memories quickly transition into a glance into the future and all of the potential that is waiting to be tapped.
On August 31, I go to bed with the special feeling of knowing that I have the ability to go hunting every single day for the next 90 days or so. Each of those trips has the power to turn into something special.
The dawn of fall means the chance to find adventure in places both new and old. It brings about the chance to create new memories that will be cherished and shared for years to come.
Opening Day ushers in more opportunities to catch up with old friends and keep meaningful connections alive. It means crisp days in the field that transition into cleaning birds on tailgates which leads to campfire-lit socials with plenty of cold beer and an even steadier supply of laughs.
Perhaps most importantly, Opening Day is a chance for those of us who invest time in the outdoors to reap what we’ve sown. It’s an opportunity to realize the fruits of our labor.
All of the hours spent brushing-in blinds, scouting spots, improving our accuracy, practicing our calling, learning our craft: it’s all for this. When daylight breaks on the first day of the season, the dividends of those efforts begin to pay out.
Those who spend time and invest money in protecting habit and promoting conservation will see that first flock of birds crest the horizon and get to enjoy the realization that those efforts played a part in making that moment a reality.
There’s a feeling that comes with all of this. And I’ve learned it’s impossible to find anywhere else.
Opening Day is a chance to reflect while also a looking ahead — a reminder of all that has been and all that could be.
If you have a bird feeder or bird bath on your property, there are several steps you can take to care for the birds in your yard.
Avian diseases are a threat to all types of bird species and, if you’re not paying close attention, your yard can become a breeding ground for some of these ailments.
Earlier this summer, reports surfaced that a mysterious illness is killing off a variety of birds in portions of the Midwest and South.
This sickness impacted a variety of birds that frequent backyards and feeder areas including: common grackles, European starlings, and blue jays — species that are commonly found in Wisconsin.
Affected birds can show several symptoms such as the inability to balance, crusty or puffy eyes, or signs of seizures.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first or the last time something like this will happen. In fact, disease is a risk many birds have to deal with, even when it doesn’t make headlines. This is especially true in summertime.
Oddly (but thankfully), this illness appears to have vanished.
However, there are still some things you can do to help keep the birds in your backyard healthy. These procedures are best practice to keep the birds in your yard healthy, regardless of if there are known bird diseases circulating in your area or not.
Reduce or eliminate feeders in summer
Many people choose to take down their bird feeders in the summer months. There are two primary reasons for this decision. The first is that food is readily available to birds during warmer times of year. Removing feeders forces birds to rely on their natural food-gathering skills and helps keep them wild.
The second reason is to help prevent the spread of disease. Many avian ailments are spread through contact. Congregating birds in an unnatural setting can increase the chances that a virus, fungus, or disease can work its way through a larger segment of the population.
Personally, I choose to reduce the number of feeders in my yard from two to one starting in late June. I maintain this setup through early September. I find this to be a happy balance between suddenly taking away a reliable food supply from my local birds while taking a step toward promoting the safety of the animals through minimizing close contact between birds or encounters with surfaces that are often used by other birds.
Wash your feeders and bird baths
Cleaning your bird feeders and baths is always critical. But frequent washing becomes absolutely crucial in the summer time.
Be sure to regularly wash your feeders and baths in a solution made of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water. Use a brush to help work the solution into all the nooks and crannies.
If you have a bird bath, be sure to frequently change the water between cleanings. Stagnant water can quickly become a breeding ground for all sorts of nasty things that can negatively impact birds.
It’s is also important to keep the food in your feeders fresh. As bird seed ages, it can become damp. This promotes bacterial and fungal growth that can be harmful to flying critters.
Monitor the birds in your yard
Even if you don’t have a feeder or bird bath in your yard, you can still do your part to help prevent the spread of bird diseases.
Take an extra second each day to observe the birds in your yard. Make note of any that are acting oddly or appear to have any sort of crusty buildup or puffiness near their eyes or beaks.
If you notice a bird that fits that description, be sure to take down any feeders or bird baths you have and give them a thorough cleaning. Wait a week or two before putting the feeders and/or bird baths back out and be sure to watch them closely once you do.
Report suspicious-looking birds
If you see a bird that looks sickly, either due to its appearance or its behavior, notify your local department of natural resources office. They will be able to point you in a direction that will help you provide the information to the proper wildlife official.
Also, as tempting as it may be to try to rush to the bird’s aid, don’t do it. For the safety of you and the bird, it is best to not attempt to approach or handle it. Let your local wildlife officials take care of that side of things.
If you enjoyed this article you may also like Episode 14 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast, featuring tips on birding an maintaining bird feeders from Nick Anich of the Wisconsin DNR. Listen below or wherever you get your podcasts.
Each year, I am lucky enough to enjoy catching some of the bountiful salmon that inhabit Lake Michigan. Below is the best baked salmon recipe in my collection. Read on for an ingredient list, step-by-step instructions, as well as tips and substitutions.
Basil-Parmesan Salmon Recipe
Two, eight-ounce salmon fillets, skin removed
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup Mayonnaise
5 Basil leaves
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Step 1: Coat baking sheet lightly in olive oil. Then pre-heat oven to 425° F.
Step 2: Place seasoned salmon on prepared baking sheet.
Step 3: Sprinkle desired amount of salt and pepper over the fillets.
Step 4: Chiffonade the basil leaves. Mix them in with the mayonnaise and cheese in a bowl. Stir until combined.
Step 5: Gently and evenly spread the mixture over the top of the salmon with a spoon.
Step 6: Place baking sheet on the middle rack of your oven until the salmon flakes easily and the spread has browned slightly, about 10-12 minutes.
Substitutions and Tips
This dish can be super rich. I actually prefer it that way. But if you want something a little more refined, there are two options for you.
The first is adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to the fillets prior to seasoning with salt and pepper. The acid from the citrus will help balance the richness of the topping.
Another method to contemplate is pairing this protein with a fresh side salad. Again, for the sake of balance.
Be sure to check on the salmon at around the 9-10-minute mark. If the fish is close to done, but the mayonnaise and cheese mixture isn’t showing signs of browning, move the fish up the top rack for a minute or two. If you take this route, be sure to keep a close eye on the fish to avoid overcooking.
It’s Episode 2 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast!
In this show, I discuss my experiences during my first season fishing the steelhead run in the Sheboygan and Pigeon Rivers. Then, I offer up some thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of sight fishing.
Listen here by using the player below or find the show wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a future episode.
I am extremely pleased to announce that the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors podcast is now available on most major podcast platforms.
After much deliberation and a lot of encouragement from some impactful people in my life, I have decided to take the plunge into the podcasting space.
The show will focus on providing perspective and advice on a host of outdoor topics including hunting, fishing, and birding. The format will include a mix of solo episodes as well as appearances from guests who are involved in the outdoors.
It is my hope that this podcast will be an extension of the community I am trying to create with this website. I encourage each and every one of you to submit questions or provide topics you would like to hear discussed on the show either via email or by reaching out on Facebook or Instagram.
Follow the links below to listen. If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe on your platform of choice so you can be sure you’ll never miss a new episode.
Thank you for your continued support of Nathan Woelfel Outdoors. This is an extremely exciting time, but we are just getting started.
The Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast is currently available on: