Ted Peck

Outdoors talk with certified Merchant Marine Captain Ted Peck.

Hunting season nears, but anglers still active

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Ted Peck
Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nearly two-thirds of an extremely unusual year is behind us.

In just more than two weeks, we will enter the fields with guns again, seeking both mourning doves and Canada geese.

Archery deer, squirrel and rabbit seasons come in just a couple weeks after that, followed by the north winds of seasonal change.

Summer didn’t really arrive until shortly after Independence Day, with perpetual rain making fishing generally tough, especially in rivers. We didn’t know that fireworks would kick off the most pleasant summer weather most folks can remember.

Seasonal change will eventually occur. Just when and how severe the change will be has mixed indicators in the natural world.

Turtles didn’t lay eggs until late June, almost a month past the usual time they attempt the annual death-defying crawl across busy roadways. Conventional wisdom says this is a strong indicator that autumn’s seasonal change will arrive late—just like summer did.

Recent crisp mornings certainly feel like September. There seem to be more hummingbirds around the feeders lately, but no notable increase of doves sitting on power lines, as is usually the case by mid-August.

Sunflowers have a magnetic attraction for doves. A sunflower field needs to be free of weeds between the rows and the sunflower heads need to be dead and bending over to attract this tasty migratory bird in great numbers.

The sunflower plants in my small patch are almost 7 feet tall. But the flowers are just starting to grow. Our cool summer weather gets the credit—or blame—for this stunted development.

The plants won’t be ready for doves when the season starts Sept. 1.

But early migrating doves aren’t here yet. At least not in numbers you would expect to see. Is the tardy turtle phenomenon an accurate harbinger of a late autumn?

Our cool summer is having a positive impact on fishing success. On many waters, the surface temperature hasn’t hit 80 degrees, hovering in the mid-to-upper 70s on lakes and rivers alike.

The most popular fish species are most active in mid-70s water. This is fortunate because high-water conditions in the spring were nearly ideal for baitfish production. With so many minnows in the water, why would a fish want to eat something with a hook?

Lake Winnebago is the most profound example of the predator/prey relationship’s impact on sport fishing. When prey species representation is low on Winnebago, the fishing is great. When there is abundant bait in the water, fishing tends to be tough, even though Lake Winnebago has a stunning population of walleyes.

This year, fishing has been good on Winnebago, even though forage fish are swimming everywhere.

DNR surveys indicate the walleye is the most popular gamefish to Wisconsin fishers. During most years, walleye fishing is tough when mid-August rolls around. Not this year.

On many waters across the state, the walleye bite has been somewhere between good and excellent.

Catching a nice mess of walleyes on a mid-August afternoon with mild temperatures and low humidity whispers a similar pursuit the following day would be a wonderful idea.

Moving tree stands and rigging goose decoys can wait a few more days. Right now there are bigger fish to fry.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.

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