2017-03-30 / Columns

Outdoors This Week in the Eastern U.P.

By Stephen King

It’s official: It’s spring. Around here, all that means is it isn’t snowing quite so much. Not exactly time to break out the new summer wardrobe, at least not yet. But it is time to get outside. With the warmer weather, there are a host of things to do. There is still ice on most of the lakes and although pike and walleye season is closed, pan fishing is still going hot and heavy. The streams are open and the spring steelhead run has begun. These are reasons to get off that couch and get outside.

I cannot emphasize enough how much you really have to watch the ice this time of year. Lake ice this time of year is like that old, nasty lady from the Wizard of Oz: “I’m melting!” This means, first, you have to watch your step out there. The snow cover is gone and it’s pretty slippery. Spring ice usually melts from the shore first. So, early in the morning, you may have had just a bit of water along the shore to wade over to get onto the ice. By late afternoon, you may be looking at a either a long jump or a short swim. Something to keep in mind.

If you are very careful, the fishing is usually good. I have had some really good luck fishing last ice. But the fish can be anywhere, and they move. Sometimes, they’re in deeper water, and sometimes in shallow. You just have to punch a lot of holes and find them. I’ve had the best luck this time of year with wigglers and small minnows. Wax worms and bits of night crawler work also, but not quite as well.

There has been some evidence that bears may occasionally venture out onto the ice in spring. Personally, I have never known bears to venture out like that. But right now, they are just waking up from their winter’s nap and they are hungry. A bear may smell something out there that may get his attention. Maybe some leftover bait, or maybe some leftover lunch.

Because of the bears coming out of hibernation, the Department of Natural Resources is advising people to take down your bird feeders. A couple of pounds of bird feed makes a nice snack, and a suet ball is like ringing the dinner gong. Bears can’t see that well, but they have an awesome sense of smell. They can smell that suet ball from a long way off.

When you’re on the river fishing, you might remember the bears, too. A fish dinner is often on their menu. So, keep your wits about you when you’re on the trout stream.

I have run into bears while fishing this time of year. In once encounter, I looked at him. He looked at me. I was wondering what he was doing on “my” stream. He was wondering what I was doing on “his” stream. Not a happy moment for either of us. What happened was that he was going up and I was going down, and I took the easy way out and just gave him the right of way. I decided going up the bank and down and around him was the best course of action. He agreed.

Use a bit of common sense. In the above incident, I was dealing with a young bear. Young bears are usually pretty happy go lucky, somewhat playful, and not that aggressive. If you really push the issue, often they will run. As a matter of fact, even if you don’t push the issue, they will usually run.

Now, a mother and cubs is much different. Never mess with mamma bear and the kids. Doing that is an easy way to end up in the ER hoping the doctor can sew straight. Same with old bears. These are the big old bears. You can usually tell them because of their size (extra large). And their faces often have a lot of scars on them, that appear like white lines. Old bears are always in a bad mood. Don’t try to scare them. They will see this as a challenge and they just may accept it. If you encounter one, just back off very quietly. Give ground. Whatever you do, don’t run. That could trigger the predator/prey reflex. They will think you’re a prey animal running away. Not good.

In my lifetime in the woods, I have encountered a lot of bears. I never carry a side arm, but even so, I have never felt I had to shoot a bear in self defense. Turned one into a pet once, but never turned one into a rug. Just use your head.

ATV season has started. I will have more on this in upcoming columns. In general, the roads are open unless posted closed. Regulations differ on state, federal, and private land. Just be sure the trail is open to ATVs, before you ride.

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