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Rod, Gun & Game Outdoors Column: Great characters help make outdoors

Forrest Fisher writes a weekly outdoorsman column for The Sun.
Remember in the old days when it seemed like our interest in the outdoors was not something that we would always have to fight for. Today, there are lots of folks out there interested in keeping fishermen out of their boats to catch fish by hook and line, and to keep hunters from the woods because a rabbit, squirrel or deer might be dinner tomorrow evening.

It is during these times of ultimate challenge to sportsmen’s rights that the true character of outdoor folks becomes more known to everyone. Those character folks are fortified with the combination of honest simplicity and an unmistakable love for the outdoors, especially fishing, hunting, firearms, shooting, hiking, camping, boating, planning strategy, hours of fun table talk over a good cup of percolated coffee with a long list of similar outdoor friends, and the occasional trophy dream in our off-hours that help to keep that eternal flame lit and headed for the next outdoor adventure just around the corner.

While gleening the best information about how to do just about anything outdoors is available from so many electronic communication sources these days, including the internet links to Facebook and a host of other e-social lines, the internet with You-Tube self-made video’s and access to every outdoor equipment manufacturer with a few simple clicks, many of which can offer totally unique tips that can bring new valuable advice to many.

Yet, there are those old timers that absolutely refuse to “sign-on” to the new wireless information circles — they really don’t care that folks trying to reach them can’t find them because they refuse to carry a cell phone — and they openly chuckle about it. Most of the time, these are the “old fellas,” the guys who speak with a hearty, deep voice and conviction for their past with an explanation of why some hunting and fishing trips are important and need story-telling, and re-telling.

All of us in the outdoor world know folks that meet these unmistakable criteria and most of us have been fortunate to know many such folks, of course, as they are everywhere in our lives if we are lucky enough to have learned how to say “hello” and “good morning” and “how’s the fishing out there today?” As I have started to stop looking for the silver lining in the hair on my head — it’s all silver now, I realize more each day how much outdoor friends mean to each of us as the modern world evolves to present new challenges amidst the simplicity of the outdoors.

All of these older folks seem to have another “elderly degree” of specialty; they all believe there is a higher calling and they don’t mind sharing tales about their own mortality. It takes a brave man who understands his soul and accepts that ultimate destiny that we will all find a trail to the happy hunting ground at some point — though none of them is in a hurry to get there! They don’t mind talking about it, maybe that’s because they accept the donations made the other way around by the ducks, deer, fish and other wildlife that has fed them for multiple decades.

Of course, today, as evidenced by the cost of starter boats at the Bass Classic Expo in Tulsa this past weekend, with prices in the $20,000 to $24,000 range and top end bass boat models going in the low $70,000 range, there are pro anglers who are thinking about eating what they catch. To be specific, most of the character guys wouldn’t be caught dead in a bass boat, they prefer simple stuff and simple fishing; bass boats are too fancy and not part of their deal.

The character guys don’t cheat anywhere at any time under any circumstances and they pay for anything they need; they don’t accept gifts, they know that nothing in life is free and that everything in life has a price. Most of these guys are never afraid of trouble either, in fact, sometimes they don’t mind standing up in a crowd of well-wishers supporting goals that others seem to support but do not believe in and start telling it the way it is. They earn our respect and we learn invaluable lessons from them.

My father was one of these old guys that left so many people awestruck after just a simple hello and five minutes of conversation. He did the same to me as he raised me as a youth. At least a half-dozen other such folks are still in my life, most of them are in their elder days, but today I make it a point to call them by phone or stop in to see them once in a while, check on how they’re doing and ask when they plan to visit that next outdoor meeting around the corner or head out on their next outdoor trip.

I can look back on every one of these visits and honestly admit that there is nothing like a real conversation with one of these real outdoor character folks. Sometimes we talk about fishing trips from 30 years ago, the time when the old 35 horsepower Johnson Sea-Horse wouldn’t start at midnight as we drifted toward the Peace Bridge – and we left the anchor in the truck. It was scary, but we lived through it and today, we laugh about it.

There was the time when I had sprained my foot and couldn’t walk very well more than 10 feet or so, but it was the day before firearm deer season. My elderly buddy, Russ Johnson, called me up and announced he was picking me up in the morning and we were going road hunting with a camera, something he has always wanted to do — or so he said. We sat in his 14-year-old 1974 Volvo on the side or an old logging road in Allegheny County and he prepped me by saying, “today, we are gonna see more deer than we ever have before, you’re not gonna believe it!”

Admittedly, I was excited, but how, I wondered, was he going to do this? It was truly simple. He parked the car along the shoulder of a familiar logging road where we had hunted for years and we sat there with his 8mm movie camera, it had a zoom lens. We arrived there at daybreak, watched cars and trucks slowly pass us by, nodding their heads and waving their orange gloves as they passed.

Over the next five hours, we took pictures of 13 deer, including three bucks that crossed that road ahead, there were probably just as many behind the vehicle. On the ride back, he said to me, “so what do you think?” I was a bit speechless; I learned something that day — patience is a virtue and that true outdoor friends are true no matter what ­— even as they age!

As I reminisced about some of my old friends that have passed on and some that are still with us — over this last cabin fever season, I thought about what they would do about the impending NY Safe Act and some of the other changes planned by our politically-minded legislators that don’t always represent the wishes of the law-abiding people that elected them. They would say, “Stand up for what you believe in and what you know is right.”

At West Falls Conservation Society, members there can talk with Jack Bouquin, Art Segool, Mike Cummins, Mike Ventre to know what character guys are all about. At Bison City Rod and Gun, folks look up to Mike Carvelli, Willie Sieber, Paul Kurzdofer and others who are not afraid to tell it like it is. At the Southtowns Walleye Association, Herb Schultz, Dick Smith, Ron Wutz, Dave Woodworth and others lead the lighted path. At East Aurora Fish and Game, Jack Maeder, Bob Carlson, Ben Lewandowski, Conrad Boyle and others share the floor with honest opinions that yield open discussion and good decision making. At Elma Conservation, Frank Miskey, Doug Spink, George Rockey and others share the hard character of honesty for all members.

Many of these character guys are supporting, leading and teaching folks what outdoor character is all about. Let’s not forget them!

WNY ice fishing report

Most of our inland lakes offer four to seven inches of ice. At Silver Lake, the south end is most popular with local anglers and the bluegill and yellow perch bite has been good in just seven to 10 feet of water, though the perch are moving in and out to and from 20 feet. Small jigs tipped with waxworms or spike grubs are best bait right now, but night anglers with salted minnows and in-shelter lights are taking some nice crappie, too. Daytime anglers with tip-ups dangling large shiners near bottom are taking a few northern pike. too.

At Honeoye Lake, most of the lake is covered with about six inches of ice, but care is necessary in certain shore areas that have hidden underwater springs and the ice there is marginal. Anglers are finding good perch in the deep lake water of 20 to 30 feet of water on jigs/grubs and live minnows, with many runt sized perch this year. DEC reports that golden shiners fished in 20 feet and more catch walleye and perch, while tip-ups set the same way in shallower waters along the weedline fool both largemouth bass and pickerel. Since last week, Cuba Lake ice has solidified with between six and seven inches of ice, but fishing has been slow. Anglers that wait out the slow periods catch medium size yellow perch, crappie, bluegill and a few walleye from ice huts that dot the lake on weekends. Tip-ups set near bottom in 20 to 23 feet catch northern pike to 30 plus inches.

Safari Club scholarship being offered to youth

Safari Club of WNY is offering consideration to high school seniors who demonstrate a high level of interest in the environment, outdoor sports like hunting, fishing and related activities. There is a significant weight applied to those who are planning on a course of study that would translate to a career in some form of conservation and wildlife enforcement. The $1,500 scholarship will be given to as many as four students that qualify. The deadline for application submission is April 12. Any questions can be answered by e-mailing Turkeytalkr@aol.com. For an application, visit www.wnysafari.com.

Outdoors Calendar

Feb. 28: Squirrel/cottontail rabbit seasons close in WNY (southern zone).

Feb. 28: Gun Rights Rally to Albany, bus trip to NYS Legislative Office Building (LOB), call Rich Davenport for bus ride information at 510-7952.

March 1-3: Rochester Sportsmen’s Show, Monroe County Fairgrounds, Henrietta, see: www.rochestersportsmansexpo.com.

March 2: Erie County Federation of Sportsmen annual banquet and awards dinner, Father Justin Knights of Columbus Hall, Cheektowaga, call 655-0975 for tickets.

March 2-3: Bass University, Rockland Community College, visit www.thebassuniversity.com for details.

March 7-10: WNY Sport & Travel Show, Erie County Fairgrounds, Hamburg, Thurs/Fri noon-9 pm; Sat 10 am-9 pm; Sun 10 am-5 pm, visit www.sportandtravelexpo.com.

Send outdoor events 10 days in advance to nugdor@yahoo.com.
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