My First Pheasant Hunting Adventure

Hunters 1, pheasants 0. That was how I would sum up my first pheasant hunting adventure to the bird rich lands of central South Dakota. Maybe it isn’t quite that clear cut, but the hunting was good, as we got many shots and capitalized on our oppurtunities.

Previously my only pheasant hunting experience was on a pheasant farm where we purchased some birds, then had the opportunity to hunt them. While that experience was valuable, it paled in comparison to dealing with wild birds and some of the tough shots they presented.

My South Dakota experience consisted of 3 days of hunting with my buddy Danno and his dad. We had two great days, but the last day, our territory didn’t have many birds on it, and it was slow. So I’ll just talk about the first two days.

Friday morning, we woke up and purchased some licenses down at a local hardware store in Chamberlain, SD. I purchased a box of size 4 shot, 12 gauge shells and we made our way south to a friend’s farm. As we chatted with the owners, we found out they would be hunting with us, as well as a friend from Tennessee who is 73 years old and had been coming to SD, every year, since he was about 25.

It felt like we were chit chatting at the farm forever in the chilly 35 degree air. I was anxious and ready get my 1.5 year old rookie hunter, yellow lab–Bucky–into some pheasant action. I was nervous for him as I knew his adrenaline was running high from the smells of cows and manure. Getting him to settle down and try to learn what we were doing was going to be quite the task, or so I thought.

We drive away from the house and split our group of 6 hunters into 3 blockers and 3 drivers. Me and Bucky would be on the walk with the 73 year old Tennessean, and the farm owner. About one minute after we exit the vehicle, pheasants are taking off and now my adrenaline is rushing. Not much more than 2 minutes in to the walk, the Tennessean bags his first pheasant. Seconds later, one of the blockers shoots one over a pond. Yet to take a shot, a rooster jumps between me and the Tennessean. I miss my first shot, and we both connect on my next shot, as it was almost simultaneous. Minutes later he shot another rooster and had his limit within 15 minutes of hunting. We shot 4 birds on that first walk, which opened my eyes to what the hunting could be like on my South Dakota trip.

On that first walk, Bucky wasn’t sure what to think as guns were blazing and he was just running around. He found his moment to impress the other hunters as we discussed how to retrieve the pheasant from the middle of the very large pond. They asked me if he would be able to retrieve that bird, and knowing how Bucky loves to swim, I was sure he would get it. My first throw with a rock lands within feet of the floating rooster, and Bucky swims about 50 yards to bring the pheasant back to me, while fellow hunters hoot and holler in amazement of the rookie dog.

The rest of the hunt on friday slowed down, but the more we hunted, the better my lab Bucky got. We finished the end of the day with 3 hunters remaining, needing 2 more roosters for our 3 man limit, and we capped it off in double fashion. As chance would have it, 3 birds jump in front of me, and I drop 2 of them in 2 shots. Bucky retrieved the far bird, and I got the close one. Not a bad start to my first time pheasant hunting in South Dakota. Not a bad start for Bucky’s hunting career either.

Day two we traveled north of Chamberlain to a friend’s ranch. Again with 6 hunters, we were able to use drivers and blockers. Blockers would be the key, this day, as the birds were flushing wildly, and well out of range of most of the drivers. I managed to take down a couple, but as a group, we only got 10 roosters and a grouse. Many tough, long range shots, made it hard to be accurate.

Hunting with this new crew of guys, Bucky did well again, as he was finally learning the smell of the pheasant, and jumping birds using his nose.

Being from Wisconsin, and a fan of all sports teams in Wisconsin, I received my fair share of crap from the Viking fans I shared the field with. Halfway into our hunt, on Saturday, Bucky showed them he was more than a “house, city, Packer fan dog, that had never hunted before.”

In the end of a walk, on the edge of a soybean field, four of us hunters stood there in about a 10 yard square. Breathing a little hard from the walk, and bummed we didn’t shoot any birds, we all kind of stood there ready to walk towards the trucks. Before we knew it, a rooster jumps straight up between us, and nobody shoots. As the bird took off across the open field, the 4th shot finally caught a leg on the bird, but it definately was not a lethal wound.

While that shooting was taking place, I didn’t realize it, but Bucky was watching the bird the whole time, and he took off across the field, as fast as he could (I’d never seen him run so fast), well over 100 yards. I yelled to my buddy to get in the truck and get after the dog before he got too far away. About 150-200 yards away, we see the pheasant finally land, and the dog chase the pheasant up in the air, and wrestle it to the ground. Watching the chase and the wrestling match from so far away, we all couldn’t help but laugh and scratch our heads in amazement that Bucky did that. He earned the tags, “He’s a natural”, “One fast dog”, and “Not bad for a city dog, that sleeps on the bed, that’s a Packer fan that had never hunted before.” I couldn’t have been more proud of my dog, as he earned his praise from everyone in the group.

Overall, the hunting was great. 2 days with lots of shooting, and one day where it seemed like a wasteland. Not perfect, but I’ll take it every time. Most importantly, I got to share the field with some great friends, including my experienced hunting dog, Bucky.

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Good luck hunt’n

Brad @SonarFish

 

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October Full Moon Mille Lacs Walleyes

 

This last weekend, I rented a house on Mille Lacs Lake with my Dad, brothers, and a couple of hometown friends. Our mission was to catch big walleyes and see how the musky action was. Ice cold temperatures and tight lips made it a cold adventure, but we emerged successful, catching many nice October full moon Mille Lacs walleyes.

We started out fishing Friday afternoon. A smallmouth bass in the first 30 seconds of fishing seemed to be a good sign, but we didn’t hook up with another fish until well after dark on Friday evening. A 21.5 and 25 inch walleye met our net and decided they wanted their pictures taken with us. It seemed like it had taken forever to get some walleyes in the boat, but it felt worth the wait, as it warmed us up from the freezing temperatures.

Later in the evening, we decided to try bobbers and casting cranks for some shallow water walleyes that we saw on our way back to the house. Clearly, they would not touch a minnow underneath a bobber and preferred crankbaits. Between the two boats, we caught around 10 walleyes ranging between 20 and 26 inches.

 

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Saturday morning, we got a late start, but it didn’t seem to matter for the walleyes. They were tight lipped and weren’t interested in much. We marked fish, but they wouldn’t take, until Koz had a personal best 26 inch walleye in the boat. Moondog and I shared our congratulations with him and we kept pluggin along, with no more fish.

Koz had to meet his fiance Saturday evening for a Halloween party, so we headed in to drop him off and eat some brats for a late lunch/early dinner. After having some success on casting crankbaits the night before, we decided to try it again. My boat didn’t catch as many, but between both our boats, we got around 10 more walleyes, all ranging from 18.5 to 27 inches. One of the most difficult things to deal with while fishing at night for these fish was our fishing rods icing up on the eyes. Before you knew it, you would cast and you couldn’t reel your line it, because it was frozen stuck. Battling the cold wasn’t easy, but the rewards were worth it.

One thing that really stuck in my mind, was the complete vacancy of eater sized walleyes, 13-17 inches. Mille Lacs has a slot on the lake so all fish between 17-28 inches must be thrown back. We didn’t catch any walleyes under 18.5 and that is depressing for those looking to take some fish home for a meal. Hopefully the fishery will bounce back to produce the eater sized fish which so many fisherman travel hundreds of miles for.  Even though our goal was big walleyes, and we accomplished that, it was a little dishearting to think Mille Lacs may be in line for a walleye population destruction.

 

Our crankbaits that produced for us:

 

 

Good luck fish’n

Brad @SonarFish

 

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If you had to bet $100 on whether you would catch a musky before or after 10,000 casts, what would you pick? I bet most of you would say that you could catch a musky in less than 10,000 casts, I know I would. Sometimes the old toothy fish will test your patience and keep the old addage true.

A good family friend, the Lock Man, finally had some ‘luck’ go his way instead of the other way this weekend as he was able to land a nice 40″ musky. I rarely get opportunities to chuck plugs for muskies with my family anymore, but I can recall fishing with the Lock Man since I was a little kid.

With many of my musky fishing conversations taking place over the phone and email now, I was pleasantly surprised to get an email with pictures of the Lock Man’s fish. I’d been hearing about the Lock Man’s poor luck over the past few years of week long fishing trips of being skunked while others caught fish around him.  It put a big smile on my face to see his pictures and hopefully the law of averages turn back his way as he broke his unlucky streak.

Muskies test every fisherman’s patience, but if you truly love the cameraderie of fishing with someone in the boat, it makes the journey that much more enjoyable when you strike it rich with a musky. Congrats to the Lock Man and hopefully many more muskies find their way from your lure into the net.

 

Good luck fish’n

Brad @SonarFish

 

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This saturday, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary by renting some kayaks from Clearwater Outfitters, a local outfitter in central Minnesota, and we had a great time. I had never kayaked before, and my wife hadn’t done it since she was a child.

We opted for the shorter trip, which was about 8 miles and lasts between 2-3 hours. Even though this was part of our date, I had to bring a fishing pole along. The stretch of river we took was between Clearwater, MN and Becker, MN and my research told me this was supposed to be good smallmouth fishing.

We headed out the latest the outfitter would let us go, so we mostly had to paddle, but I did hit a few good looking spots to make some casts. I wish I would’ve had more time to fish, because the spots that looked good, had fish in them! The water was very low, so most of the shoreline trees, that are usually submerged, were out of the water. Other areas that had trees in the water definately held bass and pike. A couple different times, I made one or two casts and had fish on in the predictable spots. Fighting the fish in a kayak was a new thrill for me and landing the fish proved to be a little challenging.

Since most of the trip was paddling through slow moving water, I just trolled a J-11 clown colored Rapala behind me. By dumb luck I caught several fish this way, including a 14 inch walleye. I passed the rod over to my wife so she could troll, and she had one little smallmouth on for a little bit before it broke the line. After we lost that bait, we didn’t catch anything else.

We saw a few other people in canoes and kayaks and they were catching some fish as well. Overall it was a fun trip and I’m glad we decided to do it. I have been eyeing up this stretch of the Mississippi for a while now and taking it in a kayak was a great experience. I would not hesitate to take a canoe and fish this river more thoroughly next time out there. Clearwater Outfitters offers different styles of kayaks and canoes to rent, as well as stand up paddle boards and a Huck Finn style raft for small groups. I recommend you go through them if you are interested in floating the Mississippi in central Minnesota.

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Good luck fish’n

Brad @SonarFish

 

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Labor Day Weekend Bluegill Fishing

 

I got the chance to go out fishing with my dad and my two year old son for some bluegill fishing to get him some fishing action before the summer came to an end. We headed to a small lake off the beaten path in northern Wisconsin where there are many bluegills and bass. As expected he was able to catch a handful of fish and it was a great moment for 3 generations of my family.

Whenever we travel to grandma and grandpa’s house, our two year old has two things on his mind as soon as he gets out of the van, find his toy Ranger boat (which he has dismantled) and look for his Lightning McQeen fishing pole
Lightning McQueen fishing pole.

Saturday morning brought great news for him as we were going to take Grandpa’s (Moondog) boat out fishing. We rigged up a couple of bobber poles, including his own little fishing pole, which he got to use for fishing, for the first time.

We got to the lake and had a little trouble finding some biting fish, but once we did, my little guy got to catch several bluegills and he did a great job reeling in the fish. My dad and I helped set the hook, but once we did, he did the rest (with a little help keeping the rod tip up).

He had a blast helping put worms on the hooks, playing with baits in the livewell, and watching the other boats on the lake. Here are some pictures from our Labor Day weekend fishing trip.

 

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Good luck fish’n

Brad @SonarFish

 

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Last weekend I had the opportunity to spend another weekend at my wife’s grandparents cabin on Leech Lake, in Walker, MN (we made the trip last year in July). I have two small children, so I know my chances to get out fishing are limited. We got up to the cabin Thursday evening and we stayed in to relax and acclimate ourselves to our new home for the weekend.

Friday morning, we made the 12 mile drive into Walker and headed to Reed’s Sporting Goods so I could pick up some new musky leaders. I had my grandfather-in-law drop me and my boat off at the park right in Walker and I fished my way back to the cabin. This was on my second time fishing Leech Lake, but I had a Lake Map marked up with key musky areas to help me out. My first stop was a small hump coming out of deep water and I had a mid 30 inch musky follow my Bulldog up to the boat, on my second cast, and it hung around my figure-8s for about 2 minutes, or so it seemed. He just wouldn’t open his mouth. After the quick drift over the hump, I made one more pass and raised the same fish (I think), but he left quickly.

After hitting several other areas marked on my lake map, the fish were not active and I headed back to the cabin for a late lunch. On my way back, I noticed numerous boats with numbered stickers who were in the PMTT Musky tournament. A couple hours go by and a few more of my in-laws make their way up to the cabin. Towards the end of the evening I took my wife, her brother, and his wife out in the boat for a few drinks as we wet a couple lines and shared some stories. Still no fish.

The next morning, I took my brother-in-law out for his first try at muskies. After a quick tutorial on casting a baitcaster rod, he’s got the hang of it and we make our way down a shoreline. I raised one musky in the mid 30 inch range on a homemade jerk bait, but he was lazy and that was all we saw. This would be the last of my musky fishing over the weekend, as there was lots of family time around the cabin and at the beach.

Overall, it was very disappointing fishing, but my two and a half year old did catch a crayfish off the dock which was very exciting. He definitely has the fishing genes built in him, as all he wanted to do was go in the boat and cast the fishing poles. So I hope to have many future fishing trips with him at the cabin.

Good luck fish’n

Brad @SonarFish

 

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3 of My Previous Blog Posts to Help You

 

Below I have some links to 3 blog posts I made earlier this year. Each post gives you something you can add to your fishing arsenal to help you become a better, more versed fisherman.

Navionics App for Your Smartphone

This can be a very helpful, cheap alternative to help you use lake maps for finding structure in the open water.

Thermocell – Keeping Mosquitos Away

A Thermocell appliance helps keep mosquitos away and is a friendly alternative to bug sprays.

Driftsocks

Use them to your advantage on windy days.

 

Good luck fish’n

Brad @SonarFish

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Fish Finders Are Key in the Summertime

 

As water temperatures are high, walleyes typically will head for deeper water, where it is cooler. Using your fish finder, drive and drive until you locate fish before you start fishing. The new spawn of baitfish are growing large enough this time of year to entice walleyes to follow them around. Using your fish finder, look for distinct marks and also look for schools of baitfish. If you mark a blob of baitfish on your locator, you can be confident the bigger fish are nearby. If you have a quality fish finder, such as the Lowrance HDS 10, you can give your self the best advantage with imaging capabilities.

Knowing the forage base for walleyes in the body of water is key to getting fish to bite your lures. Try to match the hatch the best you can to give yourself the best chances for catching fish.

Another thing to consider is looking for suspended fish this time of year. Walleyes are typically bottom hugging fish, but suspended fish are often ‘active’ feeders and you will want to make sure to get your lures the same depth of the suspended fish, or a few feet above them. If your lures are below the depth of the fish, your chances of catching them will go down drastically.

By paying attention to the depth of the fish on your fish finder, you can create a plan of attack and give yourself the best opportunity to get on the bite.

 

Good luck fish’n

Brad @SonarFish

 

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Tune Up Your Ice Fishing Equipment in the Summertime

Something I like to do during the summer is check out my ice fishing equipment. Particularly my flasher (Marcum LX-5) and my Strikemaster auger. More than just ‘checking them out’, I like to charge up the battery for my LX-5 and fire up the Strikemaster auger.

These tasks end up taking about a half hour or less and it helps me find any issues I might have with my equipment. Another good reason for checking out your auger during the summertime is that it is a lot easier to work on it, change blades, etc, when it is warm out and not freezing.

Other than a few other things here and there, I focus on the flasher and auger. Is there any ice fishing equipment that you also check in the summertime? Please leave a comment below.

 

Good luck fish’n

Brad @SonarFish

 

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Fishing Tip – Measure Fish Without A Measuring Stick

 

We’ve all been there before. You catch a big fish, look around for the measuring stick and all of the sudden it hits you, you forgot it at home. So how do you measure your great catch? How can you tell everyone how big of a fish you caught, and have them believe you? Being stuck in this predicament before, there a few different ways you can still measure your fish.

Fishing Line

After you’ve caught the fish, pull out some extra line off of a reel or spool you have along with you. Simply hold one end of the line at one end of the fish, and stretch the line to the other end. You can then mark the line with a marker, or cut it to the length of the fish and measure the line when you get home. This is still a reliable way to measure your fish and will never leave you wondering how big that fish was.

Leatherman & Net handle (or anything else that is straight)

A lot of multi tools have a small ruler on them, even though it may only be 4 or 5 inches. Before you start fishing, hold the measuring part of the tool along the end of your net handle, and keep moving it down the handle, the length of the ruler each time. After you’ve reached a couple of lengths of the tool (15 inches or 20 inches), start scratching marks into the net handle at the lengths you will need for your species. Last fall, we forgot our measuring stick while fishing Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota, and we used this method to measure our trophy walleyes and smallmouth bass.  Obviously this wasn’t ideal, but it got the job done, and we could reliably measure the fish.

Another good reason for marking the length of your net handle is for the next time you forget the measuring stick, it will still be scratched on there. Saving you the embarrassment of forgetting your measuring stick. What have you done to measure fish without a measuring stick?

 

Good luck fish’n

Brad @SonarFish

 

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