When February comes to Hoosierland, most of the
hunting is past and the best fishing and mushroom hunting still is in the
offing. Still, there is plenty to do outdoors for those who will quit the
couch and get out there.
Except fox (red and gray), and coyote, the hunting
seasons joined January in the trek to the archives, and likewise did the
trapping seasons on all fur-bearing animals except beaver.
Although those who quest for these critters are
more like a squad than an army, the opportunity to hunt foxes and coyotes
remains open throughout the hearts-and-flowers month. Trapping continues
through March 15 for beaver.
Fox and coyote hunting--with or without dogs--can
offer an interesting late-winter experience, especially for those who track
the animals in the snow (weather permitting), and those who use calls to
lure the animals within shooting distance.
Still, if February were without any form of hunting
or trapping, it still would be a month worthy of an outdoors person's attention.
February almost always offers great ice fishing
for a wide variety of species in the northern third of the state. In some
years this great late-winter activity can be enjoyed all the way to the
Ohio River, especially on small, shallow farm ponds.
If the elements offer air temperatures cold enough
to freeze creeks and smaller rivers, there also is the possibility of lassoing
suckers with copper-wire loops attached to short, stiff poles as you lie
flat on your tummy on the ice (or a piece of cardboard) and peer through
holes in the ice.
Should the fickle weatherman fail to cooperate
by icing up the streams, suckers can be taken on just about any kind of
rod and reel with garden worms or leftover ice-fishing. Long poles and
relatively short lines are best because such tackle is better for fishing
vertically. The only terminal tackle needed is a hook and just enough sinker
(six inches above the hook) to take your bait to the bottom and keep it
Because suckers are characteristically slow biters,
the angler at times does not know there is action in the offing unless
he sees his line moving at the point where it enters the water. A long,
strong pole becomes an even greater asset when a fish is hooked because
it is best to get the fish out of the water without creating a big disturbance
in the water.
Suckers are skittish critters--so skittish, indeed,
that even shadows on the water can spook them.
It also is legal to gig (spear) suckers by day
on smaller streams or by night on stretches of a few rivers with a flow
of 1,500 cubic feet of water per second or greater. Before trying this,
the potential gigger should check with the Division of Fish and Wildlife
for the list of rivers where night gigging is permitted.
Incidentally, the white sucker, our most common
species of this family, is one of the tastiest fish found in Hoosier waters,
albeit bonier than a northern pike. Learn how to eliminate the needle-like
bones in the flesh of the sucker and your fishing trip becomes smorgasbordish
(see Recipes for details).
On the other hand, if the befuddled weatherman
is thinking April instead of February (as he almost always does), there
is an opportunity for early crappie fishing (especially on small impoundments
of the southern half of the state), and if we get some spring-like rain,
bass fishing can be great on larger lakes and reservoirs like Monroe and
When the larger reservoirs rise because of late
winter rains, the shallows of their upper reaches become infested by bass
that are waiting for an excuse to start a feeding bonanza as they prepare
their bodies for the coming nesting season. Weedless lures fished around
inundated brush and weeds can produce big benefits in high water, even
if the water is murky. Big bays fed by runoff from the surrounding hills
are ideal locations for this kind of fishing. Mouths of small creeks are
excellent places for this action.
How it could happen I will never know, but let's
suppose (in our wildest dreams) that there are people out there who are
not even remotely interested in fishing. I know it is crazy thinking, but
as Harry the Horseplayer used to tell me: "Sometime you got to hedge your
bet!" So, if you are dead set on beating the blahs of February without
wetting a line, why not take the ax and shovel and hie off to the southern
part of the state to dig some sassafras roots for tea (see Recipes
for additional details); take a walk in the woods to look for the nest
of a great horned owl (they are incubating now), or go shed (antler) hunting.
Nearly every male deer in the state has dropped
its antlers by now (lady deer do not often wear them), and there are some
real wall-hanging prizes out there waiting to be picked up--if you can
find them before squirrels, mice and other critters chew them up
for the bonemeal therein.
A mere walk on a brisk, sunshiny day in February
can be a great experience with camera, binoculars or both because one never
knows what this shortest of months will bring.