Outdoor Report: A chill in the air
There was just a hint of November come early this week, a certain chill in the air, a grayness to the clouds, a feel to the wind that blew strong from the north and the west. Gone the balm of a week prior. In early October, 80 degrees; by midweek a forecast of snow flurries. So it goes, the month of October. If March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb, October comes in riding summer’s shirttails, leaves cloaked in the heavy, drab cloth of wool, ready for the cold season.
This was the week that anglers reached for extra layers, that duck hunters drew deeper into camo parkas, that grouse hunters saw skeletal branches against a gray sky, a week that had archers aquiver with the anticipation of the coming rut season. This week it all changed.
That change heralds the beginning of the end for open water angling. Now is the mean time when fingers go numb, and the wind cuts hard and the fish, the big fish of autumn, come on. This is not the time for the faint of heart and the warm-blooded anglers of summer. This is a time for the serious trophy hunter, the fisherman who waits for now to pursue big walleyes and very large muskies.
Musky and walleye both share one common trait in late autumn: they are both on the feed, bulking up for winter. Those fish, the big ones at least, also share one other commonality: They want a large meal. Now is not the time for dainty tackle and small minnows for walleyes; they want a mouthful, and sucker minnows of 5 or 6 inches fit the bill. Walleyes in the past week have moved into some shallow water on many lakes, 5 feet to 8 feet deep. And they have an appetite.
Muskies also look for big helpings. The tactics for big fish have not changed over the decades. Use a large, slow-moving jerk bait or similar lunker lure. Work it along the edge of weed beds and drop-offs. Big fish can come into shallow water now, so don’t ignore those areas. And back the lure with a second pole rigged with a large sucker. Then it’s a matter of roughing it in some bad weather.
That bad weather, blustery and chill, is the turf of the duck hunter as well. Now is the time that any day can bring new northern birds down, riding that nasty wind. The early, local birds are mostly gone now; the late season goldeneyes yet to come. But now the flocks of divers and some mixed groups of big mallards can carry the day. It can be a fickle sport, with birds here today, gone tomorrow. But the next few weeks will be the key to the season.
Deer archers have waited for this time all year. The first scrapes are now showing up, and bucks are beginning to feel their oats. That intensity will build over the next weeks. It’s a good time for rattling horns; they can be very effective. Mock scrapes will produce starting now, and in the next week the scents that mimic does in heat will begin to pay off. But the bottom line is that now is the time to get serious about archery; bucks will be on the move more frequently as the days pass.
Upland hunters now have very good conditions in terms of leaf cover; it’s pretty bare. Grouse are plentiful in some areas, but not over the entire northern area. Woodcock are moving through, and we expect good numbers of them when conditions are right.
The weather may be turning chilly, but overall, hunting and fishing are heating up. This next week, assuming the weather cooperates, should be a pretty good one.
The Outdoor Report is provided by the staff of Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander.