Summertime and the pickin’ is easy

In addition to undertaking numerous angling forays in recent days, I have spent several days afield.

Although my days in the fields had nothing to do with the hunting, I did do a lot of stalking, primarily in pursuit of berries. And it has been a very productive berry season!

Pickers, as the berry gathers call themselves are a rather secretive lot. In fact, they often protect their batch of patches with a secrecy often reserved for the finest trout waters.

This season has been particularly productive, as the ample rains have fattened the crop while discouraging many regulars from getting out regularly.

Fresh-picked berries have a unique sweetness that’s simply not available from any store-bought batch. It may come from the morning dew or from the purple fingers of little pickers. Either way, pickin’ berries is a tradition that should be shared.

In addition to secret locations, it is important to consider ease of access to the crop. For this purpose, I prefer rolling, slightly hilly country, where the bushes can be accessed without the need to constantly bend over. The only thing worse than a couple of scratched arms and a few bee stings is the aching that comes with picking all of the berry crop off of the ground level. In such occasions, I’ve learned to kneel rather than bend, especially while working in blueberry bushes, which rarely ever get above knee height.

While there are very few seasonal treats in the North Woods as sweet as fresh raspberries or blackberries, the blueberries have become my favorite mass crop in recent years. I like to find clumps of berries on the fragile limbs, rather than seeking out the individual berry. In fact, I’ve been contemplating the purchase of a small blueberry rake.

The sorer my back gets from bending over all morning, the closer I get to buying a long-handled rake.

I’ve been fortunate to have found a few unworked fields of the delicious seasonal crops located along the high banks of the old railroad bed. So far, the picking has been good, and there has yet to be any sign of bear scat.

In my pursuit of new fields of blueberries, I’ve also discovered an excellent natural indicator. In the early morning hours, I seek out the call of Blue Jays or Berry Jays as I’ve come to name them.

I’ve found flocks of the noisy birds have settled in the fields on numerous occasions, and their loud calls always provide easy directions to these locations.

Another common occurrence – in addition to the mass of morning spider webs and the spooked rabbits in the berry bushes – has been the regular explosions of white miller moths that seem to cluster in the low brush overnight. As I was kneeling down to a bush the other morning, a thick cloud of moths took to the air, and I stumbled as if staggered by a driving snow.

While the blueberries have been plentiful, the blackberries are just now coming into their own. Fortunately, the raspberries have been around and plentiful for almost two weeks. My problem with the red berries is an unwillingness to put them in the basket. I would guess the ratio of collection is about 4-to-1, mouth-to-basket. Needless to say, there likely will be no raspberry pies this season, although it is looking very good for a few blueberry and possibly a couple of blackberry delights.

In the heat of the night

While driving by Lake Colby the other evening, I was startled to see a long line of lights that seemingly stretched from shore to shore. It appeared to be a flotilla or a regatta of sorts, until I realized the night fishing season is already in full swing.

It has been many years since I sat in the middle of an Adirondack lake with a lantern glowing over the side of a boat. Back in the 70s and 80s, we would commonly go out in the evening for kokanee salmon on many of the local lakes and ponds.

Occasionally, we would also take to the lakes for rainbow, which are also a common night fishery. In fact, many species of fish are active during the evening hours, and they can provide some of the most exciting angling opportunities of the season.

While bull heading was always a popular childhood pursuit, it wasn’t until my later years that I learned to fish for other fish species in the darker hours. Most of my bull heading was accomplished from the shore, rather than in a boat.

Since that time, I have taken to the dark night air with a glow on in search of bass, walleye, salmon, brown trout and even brookies. In fact, on certain backwoods ponds, the only reliable brook trout fishing is to be had after dark.

Of all the fish species in the region, I’ve found bass to be the most consistent quarry, whether with a popping bug on a flyrod or a hula popper or chugger on spinning tackle. We often use this equipment to troll the shorelines of islands late into the evening hours, striking on the sound of a splash behind the boat.

With walleye, there is little or no splash. They simply inhale the offering and dive, unlike bass, their leaping cousins.

Salmon are renowned leapers, especially when they catch up with a fast-moving streamer fly that skims just below the surface. Fortunately, like the rainbow, salmon are leapers and their silvery scales tend to reflect the lantern’s light.

Portable headlamps that provide a focused beam are also a helpful tool while fishing at night. While the bright light of a lantern is often necessary to attract the plankton that attracts the larger fish, the lantern light often makes it difficult to see. Because of this, I prefer to wear a focused headlamp, which makes it easy to tie knots, remove hooks and handle bait.

While lantern lights are the standard, I’ve also had success using break-and-glow light sticks that can be secured under water at various depths. I’ve also learned to use chum that doesn’t harm the fish.

Kernel corn has long been the standard for night anglers, however it can cause high mortality among young fish and fingerlings that can’t pass it. Corn is used because it suspends well and reflects the lantern light, however so do oatmeal flakes. In addition, the oatmeal stays suspended longer than corn and doesn’t harm the younger, smaller fish.

Possibly the most exciting evening of angling I’ve ever experienced was bass fishing on Forked Lake with a black light fixed to the gunnel of our boat. Just like the fluorescent black lights that lit up posters on my bedroom wall during the 1970s, the battery-operated models serve the same purpose.

However, the lights don’t just make posters glow. They can make your Stren fluorescent fishing line glow like a laser saber or make a hot pink lure look like a glow stick on the surface from 40 feet away. You can also find lures that have compartments made to accommodate miniature glow sticks.

In fact, American Cyanamid, the company that invented glow sticks, found a ready market for the novelty item when sail fisherman first discovered how effective the sticks were when used inside a trolled lure at night.

Portable black-lights are available at many sporting goods stores or on the web, and most of them run off a trolling motor battery all night long.

A lit-up fishing line is also helpful when judging the distance of a cast, especially when plugging shorelines for bass or walleye in near darkness. It also makes tying knots a whole lot easier in the darkness.

An added attraction to the equation is the underwater light show that results when a glowing line that is connected to a large fish slices through the water. It can be very entertaining for kids, and it’s a great way to get them hooked on the sport.

With the new three rod per person standard, it is often possible to take your daily limit of fish in a short evening of angling at night. It is important for anglers to heed bag limits, for both quantity and size. In addition, it is wise to crimp the barb off your hooks to make for safe and easy release of undersized fish that are returned to the waters.

As always, practice safe boating. If under power of a motor, even an electric trolling motor, state law requires the use of fixed bow and stern lights, as well as current boat registration, flares, horn and a Coast Guard-approved throw device.

Although cumbersome at times, it is wise to wear a PFD especially when traveling at night. If a boat tips over, it is very easy to become disoriented in the dark in the middle of a large water body. Protect your assets. Strap one on especially when traveling to and from a location and watch out for the other guy.

And after looking down all night, be sure to look skyward on the way back to shore in order to enjoy the natural light show as well.