The Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers staged a “Cast & Blast” gathering at Chautauqua Lake last week, and writers from around and beyond the Great Lakes had a great time on Chautauqua County woods, fields, streams and waters.
Cold, rough conditions on Lake Erie canceled walleye, bass and perch-fishing prospects there, but the open waters at Chautauqua Lake gave writers a chance to hook into nice numbers of smallmouth bass during the catch-and-release season and some respectable sizes and numbers of crappie (calico) bass that also were released after an admiring, a measuring and a photo or two.
Dan Small, Wisconsin-based scribe formerly of Western New York, informally guided fellow writers to Cattaraugus Creek for a shot at the final run of winter steelies (steelhead trout) for which the “Catt” is so well known.
Area anglers await the statewide season opener for bass and muskies, but charter captain Mike Sperry, best known for targeting muskies, did well on bass around 5 pounds, but catch-and-release tallies without a tape or scale can vary, even among fact-based outdoor writer/reporters.
The turkey tally was easy to score. They either got them or the birds got away. But as every seasoned turkey hunter knows, stories abound even without a tagged bird.
My good fortune was to be paired up both hunt days with Kevin Howard of Howard Communications, based in Missouri, and local turkey-hunt guru Pat Hoover of Frewsburg. Howard reps for many well-known outdoors products, but afield he targets and talks only turkey. He asks insightful questions at just the right time during the hunt; Hoover is just the guy to make things clear and promising for a successful hunt.
The hunt was a success, pure fun from the 3 a.m. wake-up alarm until the noon close each day, even without a tagged bird to bring back to the Athenaeum Hotel from group photos.
Wednesday, the first day of the hunt, had Hoover taking us along a mile-long ridge that reeked of turkey traffic, but neither sight nor sound came from a bird anywhere. Two other hunting trios in the area had the same lack-of responses.
The second day changed everything. A setup in a field corner along a creek bed began with a post-roost gobble less than five minutes after we had set up under a willow-tree clump. One lone hen showed without a sound and then turned back into the bush neither alarmed nor at ease.
Less than an hour later we discovered why Pat Hoover’s pat turkey spot was not hot; a hunter emerged from the corner brush of posted property on which only Hoover had permission to access and hunt. We soon saw that this hunter had parked where we parked and circled around in the dark to post near roost trees.
Hunters have various names for this behavior: poachers, jumpers, flaggers and other appellations not fit for print. But Hoover’s optimism did not fade; Howard’s calling skills had us hearing birds. So we headed to another 200-acre site that showed good promise.
Good became great. The first call made about 100 yards into the woods got a resounding gobble. We set up, called and moved twice before birds began showing. A lone hen, romping gray squirrels and at least one coyote moved by before we saw what looked like a trio of longbeards headed directly at us up a lane.
Four bearded brothers and a hen made a showing, but the brotherhood was merely a family of healthy looking jakes. Our goal was to take a mature, long-bearded bird, so we took a bye on all four as they passed within 25 yards of our tree-root seats; the hen walked almost close enough for Hoover to pet it.
No kill, no trophy, no turkey dinners, but hearing the gobbles, seeing birds legal to harvest and the good company all around made this a most enjoyable hunt. The other 18 Great Lakes writers have similar stories to share after this Chautauqua Institute gathering. For tourism and outing options any season in Chautauqua County, visit tourchautauqua.com.