"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Outdoor Calendar - February
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

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 there. 

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 Patoka. 

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. 

Happy Februarying! 

All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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