When the opening of the squirrel season nears--August 15 this year--it
is difficult for me to think of anything else, but it is just as difficult
for me to forget about stream and river fishing.
This, of course, is not a situation that pops up like the first morel
of spring, nor is it any newer. I had to face this dilemma as an early-teener,
and I still try to think up new scenarios for combining fishing and squirrel
It was hot that day in good ol' Crothersville, a typically dry August
day made more for immersing one's self in the Muscatatuck River with a
fishing pole and an assortment of artificial lures.
I found the late Jack Cain, one of my squirrel-hunting mentors, on one
of the liars' benches downtown and asked if he would like get his fishing
paraphernalia and join me.
Jack opined that it was too hot for such activity, that he thought we
would get rain before the afternoon was done. He thought he would just
wait until after the rain and do some squirrel hunting under ideal conditions.
So I went my way, solo.
I was three or four miles north and west of town on the Vernon Fork
of the Muscatatuck when I first noticed dark clouds building up in
the southwest. Fishing wasn't real good, but it was never bad, so I kept
However an hour or so later the clouds were becoming darker, more ominous,
and I was a good three miles from home. It soon became apparent that I
would have to find shelter soon or get soaked.
With my shoulder-strap tackle bag pounding me in the side on every step,
I headed for a river bank thicket a mile downstream. My thoughts were on
a large beech tree (four or five feet in diameter and hollow at ground
level) with an oval-shaped opening two feet above the ground through which
a boy--this boy--had often had squeezed to escape storms.
I was aware of the dangers of being around, under or in big trees during
an electrical storm, but I had never seen a beech tree (nor a sycamore,
for that matter) that had been struck by lightning.
As the first patter or rain came to the thicket, I slid through the
opening in the tree and settled down to watch the storm. The opening to
the beech hollow faced south, but by looking to the southwest I had a catbird
seat for observing the coming storm.
It hit with a fury I had never before seen in nature. At times the rain
was so hard that I could scarcely see the fields of corn. And wide, jagged
bolts of lightning came to the earth amid rolling claps of thunder as far
as I could see and hear.
Yes, I was scared and awe-struck by it all. But it was over in half
an hour or so. When a slight breeze had dried up the rain, I eased out
of my shelter with the notion that I would resume my fishing.
Unfortunately, when I walked the short distance to the river, I found
that the rain had made the clear water the color of a cup of coffee with
too much cream. It also was rising very fast.
The sun had popped out and birds of many species celebrated the end
of the storm while squirrels sprang from tree to tree almost everywhere
My fishing was done for that day and the squirrels were safe because
fishing rods do not handle rifle bullets well.
What a shame, I thought, as I trudged into town empty handed. That aspect
of my venture took on added significance after supper that night when I
strolled downtown to find Jack sitting in the same place I had last seen
"Catch any fish?" he asked.
"Rained out," I said.
"Should have been with me," Jack said. "After the rain I went to the
thickets out east of town and got my limit of squirrels."
Jack spared no detail of his ultra-successful, late-afternoon hunt.
He didn't gloat. He didn't need to. By the time he had bagged his fifth
squirrel--a head shot on a little hickory tree, as I recall--I was convinced
that there had to be a way to be more versatile while fishing the river
for bass. I had to find a way to carry my little .22 Springfield single-shot,
bolt-action rifle with me when I fished.
Jack lived with his mother three blocks east of our house. We often
walked part of the way home together when we were downtown at night. We
would part about equal distance between our homes. When Jack was home,
he would give me a resounding hoot owl call and I would answer. This was
a mode of communication, as well, when we hunted squirrels together. For
various reasons--some ulterior, I fear--we did not want others to know
we were about and what we were doing. Thus, our prearranged "hoots" conveyed
a variety of messages between us, even though we might be fair distances
Jack's "hoots" that night, and my return "hoots," probably still
were ringing when I went into our darkened house (everybody else was long
since abed) and launched the brainstorm that I worked out subconsciously
while talking with Jack and walking home.
With a few feet of my dad's set line cord (we called it stagen), I tied
nail knots on my rifle barrel just in front of the forearm and on the small
part of the stock just behind the bolt. The protruding cord from these
knots was secured to the two ends of a strip of a leather belt.
Presto! My rudimentary sling did not look much like something that would
have come from Abercrombie & Fitch, but I was totally unaware of those
fine folks, and I would doubt that they had read any rave notices of me,
even though I was building a middling local reputation for plunking squirrels
in the head.
Nevertheless, my rudimentary sling would keep my rifle high and dry--both
literally and figuratively--except when I waded into deep potholes to float
the hat I never wore. The old rifle never seemed to be worse for the wear.
I still have it and still shoot it occasionally, although I spits a little
powder in my face if I stuff it with a long-rifle hollow point.
Incidentally, my dad used to tell me my hair looked like a brush pile.
And, when I was a freshman in high school, my shop and English teacher
(a young buck who was totally aware of the likes and dislikes of the fair
sex) would spend part of our class time each day grooming me with the declaration
that I had a 50-50 chance of growing up some day and falling in love with
some nice girl whom, he said, would not tell me the time of day after taking
a cursory glance at my hair. It may be that while I mastered the "who whos"
of mimicking owls, I still have a piece to go in being proficient in the
usage of nominative and objective pronouns. But whoo cares? Or should
it be Whoo Whoo Whoo Whoom? Only the wise old owl knows!
The rain we had that day kept both forks of the ol' Muscatatuck high
and muddy for more than a week. But when it was back to normal levels and
clear, I was there to invent "squirlishing," which still rates high on
my outdoor agenda.
I would simply carry four or five cartridges in my shirt pocket .22
while I waded the river or mucked along the banks while flipping artificial
lures to largemouth, smallmouth and rock (goggle-eye) bass.
When a feisty fox squirrel showed in the trees that lined and canopied
the river, I would ease the little rifle off my shoulder, fish a cartridge
from my shirt pocket, and turn my fishing trip into a hunting venture.
I don't remember ever bringing in my limit of both bass and squirrels
on the same day, but my squirlishing provided many a good mixed bag dinner
at our house. It still does.
As noted above, the ways of combining fishing for many species with
squirrel--or even dove or duck--hunting are limited only by the outdoors
Over the years I have, on occasions, forsaken the little Springfield
rifle and used a Harrington & Richardson .22 revolver, a little Companion
20-gauge single shot shotgun that folds at the middle to cut its length
by 50 percent, and, of course, a slingshot.
I also, on occasions, have used a small, car-top boat and an auto inner
tube float to hunt stretches of streams and rivers that are too deep for
wading and have banks that are too steep for scrambling.
Success of any fishing-hunting combo, of course, is contingent on the
hunter-angler's ability to shoot the weapon of choice. Missed shots may
prove exciting--even fun--but they do not lead to platters of fried squirrel.
The use of artificial lures lends itself well to squirlishing. But live-bait
angling will often produce more action with both fish and game because
it slows movement of the angler and gives the hunter more time to find
animals that might otherwise be passed. A squirrel will often lie flat
on a big limb when it detects the presence of an enemy.
Boil it all down to the simplest of terms and you will find that the
outdoors person who mixes and matches the opportunities offered by the
many species of fish and game smiles a lot when his feet are under the
table or in the muck.