After Monday's ecliptic start and Tuesday's early morning rainshowers, the week has turned out to be one fine stretch of August weather ... not typical for this time of year mind you, but that's what has made it great.
I, for one, am ready for fall. This has been a great summer of adventures both local and distant, but I'm ready to settle into that fall mindset - cool mornings and evenings, falling leaves, the first warming fire, harvesting the last of the garden goodies, and hunting (... squirrel, rabbit, fall turkey, deer).
This past Wednesday morning I took some time off and visited my favorite of the state's four trout parks, Maramec Spring Trout Park near St. James, with my trout fishing mentor and buddy, Ray May. It was Ray who invited me trout angling for the first time some 25 years ago and I've had countless memorable days enjoying the hobby ever since, most of those fishing upstream or downstream from him.
I'm glad to say we both limited out this time, which is typical for us but not always guaranteed. This time he caught his limit before I did, but I seemingly matched him in size of our fish. Later that evening when we met again at church we discussed the fish fry we'd each enjoyed for supper at our separate houses.
While we've tried a variety of recipes over the years, including baking and poaching, it's hard to find a better way than dipping and rolling the fillets in cornmeal and flour and frying in Canola or another high-temp oil. Get that oil up about 350-375 degrees and drop them in, stir 'em once to make sure they're not sticking together, then pull them out when they float to the top and the crust turns a light golden brown.
Just with any fried fish, set them on a plate lined with good paper towels for a couple minutes to absorb any excess cooking oil, and enjoy!
Each time I talk trout fishing with a person for the first time the questions nearly always turn to how to handle a fly rod. While I have a couple fly rods, including one on display in my office, I have never caught a trout on one. I like to use a fly rod to occasionally catch bluegill in May when they're nesting in gravely edges of ponds or Ozark streams, but I've never had success catching a trout at Maramec on a fly rod.
The preferred tools for the job are an ultralight rod and reel, 2-pound test line (green), a size 14 treble hook tied (no swivel) and two split shot sinkers. I prefer a spincasting reel such as is sold for crappie fishing, while Ray has always preferred an open face spinning reel. Other than that our gear and methods are nearly identical. However, he tends to prefer to have a little slack in his line between the rod tip and the water (where the line makes a slight arch downward) while I prefer a little tighter line (the sinkers will always catch on the bottom or vegetation and slowly bounce along as the current overtakes them, so its easy to keep a taut line if your prefer that method).
I'll admit, he has often outfished me, or at least caught his limit first on any given day. But I've been consistent enough in my methods that I'm not ready to mess with what works for me.
Trout season in the state's four dedicated trout parks (Maramec, Montauk, Roaring Rivers and Bennett Spring) runs from March 1 through Oct. 31, so there's still plenty of time this fall to get out and put some trout in the skillet or freezer.
Speaking of freezer, this weekend I'm delving into a new sidebar to my rural living/outdoor lifestyle. For the first time I'm purchasing and using a vacuum sealer. Those who know me know how I'm not real quick to change or adapt to new technology, or spend big dollars on the latest gadget. But I think vacuum sealers have been around long enough now that many of the bugs are worked out of them, and I'm ready to give one a try.
If you have any suggestions on brands or models of sealers, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (573) 518-3615 and leave a message. I'll let you know in a few weeks how it worked out.
While my main goal for the vacuum sealer is storage of squirrel, rabbit and venison, my wife and I will also look into possible uses for storing vegetables and fruits. The garden is producing more of some things than we can use - which, I suppose, is always the case with anyone who gardens - and while she has experimented with canning in the past we've just never really embraced using our own canned goods ... with the exception of her salsa made with her granny's recipe. We're hoping vacuum sealing will open up some new possibilities in long-term vegetable and fruit storage.
We won't have to deal with how to handle too many apples this fall. Our small orchard is bare of a single apple or peach. A big storm last fall damaged many of the larger limbs on our trees and required a heavy pruning. This year the peach and apple trees neither one produced anything close to what they'd done in recent years. And then while we were gone much of July (a vacation and a mission trip back to back) the squirrels made away or destroyed every peach and apple we had.
The good news is, though, that we have a bumper crop of squirrels. I've already put a couple in the freezer and intend to thin them down considerably in coming months. Not only did they steal or ruin all the peaches and apples, but last week one discovered my storage area in the barn where I keep animal feed and dug into a 50 pound bag of corn. The next day I set out a live trap near the barn, and that afternoon I put that big corn-fed gray squirrel in the freezer in pieces.
A day afield last week revealed that hickory nuts and acorns just haven't made real well this year, at least not on our hunting property. It looks like I might take the majority of my squirrels this year from the back yard. I did, however, clean off the SD cards of the game cameras while I was there and hope to have some good snapshots of the class of 2017 bucks and does when I get back to check the cameras sometime in the next few days.
I said at the start that this time of the year is "harvest" time. Besides all the garden goods, our flock of chickens (this year's spring chicks all grown up) are producing a couple dozen eggs a day. Once all of them start laying in coming weeks we should average about 30 eggs a day.
And next week I'll be butchering meat rabbits. And two weeks later we'll be hauling our hogs to the butcher shop.
Then the month of October brings fall turkey hunting, and mid-November means firearms deer season. I have my farm tags printed out and ready to go.
By December thoughts will turn to rabbit hunting and late season squirrels.
Years ago I'd also spend some hours this time of year gathering walnuts and hickory nuts to dry, pick and use in meals throughout the winter. But these days it seems there's just not enough hours in the days and days in the weeks to get everything accomplished, so I focus on family, work, other obligations, and then what time is left is divvied up between those occasional interests. But as I've said before, quoting a good friend, we are "blessed to be busy."
On a related but very non-outdoor side note, yesterday I shared a thought on my personal Facebook page which came from that morning's Bible study time (I'm not gonna get 'preachy' here, but just stating the facts. My best days start with a little talk with my Creator. If that's not your thing ... well, good luck with that and I hope it works out in the end.) Anyway, the guy doing the teaching I was listening to mentioned how we should always "... do something everyday that has the potential to last forever." I'd say that's pretty sound advice to live by no matter what your affiliation or beliefs. And it can even be applied to the way we view the environment, animals and land we've been entrusted to tend while on this Earth.
There's not doubt that this time of the year we are blessed to be harvesting.