A couple weeks ago I talked about how things slow down for hunters and anglers in late January (or mid February if you still squirrel or rabbit hunt) and doesn't really get going again until April and May.
It's said that April showers bring May flowers. But there are very few flowers that taste worth eating. The really great thing brought on by April showers are morel mushrooms. It'll soon be time to start looking for the springtime treats.
I will tell you the terrain and conditions in which to best your odds of finding the “lord of the woods” treats. But the actual “where” is a secret closely guarded by anyone who knows where morels grow. It’s usually up to each new hunter to discover his or her own honey hole spots.
April is a great month. It rivals fall, when you can you can hunt both deer and turkey using archery methods. In late summer you can fish for smallmouth in streams and hunt squirrels at the same time. Later winter offers overlapping squirrel and rabbit seasons. But in April you can fish for crappie, hunt for that spring gobbler, and forage for morels all in the same day if you like.
As for crappie, it takes a little more warm up before they really turn on in lakes like Clearwater or Wappapello or smaller bodies of water. These lakes are not as deep and filled by spring-fed streams as opposed to Lake of the Ozarks and some other large impoundments to the west. “The Lake," as Lake of the Ozarks is often referred to, is deeper and fed by warm-water creeks and rivers, and therefore maintains a warmer temperature in early spring. Crappie start biting good there before they do elsewhere, but you also tend to have to fish deeper to find them.
Many things in nature are controlled by temperature. Take morel mushrooms for instance. Scientists tell us that morels sprout out of the ground earlier in the year than many other mushrooms solely because of temperature. You see, morels are only the “fruit” of a mushroom. The real magic happens beneath the soil where a stringy, root-type network called a mycelium can spread for hundreds of yards, or even up to several square miles.
The largest recorded mycelium was found in eastern Oregon and covered 2,400 square acres and was estimated to be about 2,200 years old before it was destroyed to make way for a new road. The mycelium lives beneath the soil, and only occasionally sprouts the visible fruit when conditions are perfect.
In fact, like so many other things in nature, it “takes two to tango”. Alone, a single mycelium cannot bear mushrooms, but when two underground networks cross paths the magic happens and a mushroom is birthed. But even then the conditions have to be ideal ... damp and warm.
So what’s the difference between a morel mycelium and the subterranean network of other mushrooms such as Hen of the Woods, Sheepshead or others? Experts say the mycelium that produces morels has a thicker outer coating that is more resistant to cold, meaning they warm to the correct temperature for (their own form of reproduction) earlier in the year than other mycelium species.
Around here that usually means the first morels will be found in mid to late April and on through May — depending, of course, on weather patterns that particular spring. The best time to search is on a warm day after a spring rain.
I went out this past week in search of morels but to no avail. I wasn't visiting an old "honey hole" spot where I had found them before, but was searching new ground. I'll be out again this morning, but I'm concerned the cold snap yesterday might have had a negative impact to offset the spring rain of the past two days.
And last, but definitely not least, mid April marks the start of spring turkey season ... which is in full swing through May 5.
Just like crappie and morels, turkey activity in the spring is dictated by weather. Spring is the mating season for the big birds. And mating activities are controlled at least in part by the weather. The main motivation for all that clucking, kee-ing and gobbling is a biological growing urge to find an acceptable mate and reproduce. It’s not all that unlike the urges often experienced by teenagers ... primarily teenage boys.
In the “turkey world” the teenagers are called “jakes”, and they tend to really go at the mating process with some vigor. But the older hens and gobblers also feel an urge to get in on the action. It is scary how the animal and human worlds can be so much alike. After all, the same things are happening in the nursing homes as are happening in the night clubs or down by the river ... just often times with much less fanfare. But let the weather warm up and conditions outside turn nice and everyone gets a little more frisky.
The state conservation officials set spring turkey hunting season to coincide with the spring mating season for the birds. That’s when they’re calling back and forth to find potential mating partners (the turkeys, that is). A good turkey caller can draw in an unsuspecting tom, or “gobbler”, to what the bird believes is one or more love-starved hens pining away for his affection and attention. One well-placed shotgun blast, and it’s fresh fried wild turkey breast for supper.
And what goes better with fresh wild turkey than a side of breaded and pan-fried morel mushrooms? Not much, unless it’s a mess of deep-fried crappie fillets.
And that’s why April is a great month to be an outdoorsman (or outdoors woman).