"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

There are many things for outdoors folks to like about February, the least of which is not the fact that it is the beginning of the end of winter.

The big feature of February for Hoosiers--at least those who do their outdoorsing in the central part of the state--is the 10-day run of the Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show, which will unfurl its flags February 14 through 23 in Pepsi Coliseum and several other buildings at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

For more on the 49th edition of the so-called Sports Show check the "Upcoming Events" page of this site.

But first, we must point out that with most hunting and trapping seasons closed, February may be considered a pretty dull month. It is true. Rank-and-file February days often are drab and dreary, but the month has a silver lining in the form of some days of bright sunshine and temperatures that bring happy thoughts of spring.

This, of course, spawns notions of open-water bass fishing in smaller impoundments, not to mention crappies, even in larger waters.

Take the case, a few years back--more like 30 years--when a group of dedicated, gregarious bassers gathered at the casting tank in the Coliseum during a session of the Sports Show.

"They (apparently the TV weather prognosticators) say it is going to be sunny and 65 tomorrow," saith one.

"Maybe we should go to Monroe (reservoir) tomorrow and try our luck with the bass," chimed in another.

The die was cast.

The next morning at 10 a.m. there were enough Hoosier residents--and a couple of non-residents like the late Bill Hughes, in those days Mr. Fishing Tackle Representative in many Midwestern states--to fill three boats with bass-fishing machines.

As I recall, the Monroe bass cooperated fully that day, but if they hadn't, we all could have been identified at the Sports Show that night by sunburned hands, arms and faces.

That night at the Sports Show, the coolers filled with ice and sporting top layers of several limits of husky Monroe bass, created more of a stir than the lady whip-cracker, The Great Sebastian (he caught .22 bullets with his teeth), or any of the other stage-show acts.

There may have been snow on the roof of the Coliseum that night, but down below spring was in the air.

It was a February day to remember, but weather-wise the shortest month of the year normally is crammed with weather changes. This, of course, means the month offers a variety of outdoor pleasures.

You got to watch February. It can sneak up on you with such meteorological misfires. 

Another open-water bass fishing scenario develops in some Februaries if the weatherman provides good thaws of snow or gives us enough rain to push water levels eight feet or so above winter pool levels of reservoirs and lakes--even small lakes, if they are fed by streams or have other sources of runoff.

When such conditions prevail, water levels invade the brush-filled shores of lakes and other standing waters, and marauding bass (having their reproduction switches flipped by the northern movement of the sun) go into the inundated brush in search of food. Bass are voracious feeders in late winter and early spring when they are preparing to spawn.

A wading angler can don waders, hip boots, or sneak around in a small boat, to put weedless artificials (black is a good color because it shows up well in murky water) in the brush.

One time several years back (after the old Browning Bridge had given up the ghost and had fallen into Salt Creek south of Monroe's Crooked Creek ramp) I walked and waded into the big bay near the bridge site from Robinson Cemetery, a distance of some two or three miles.

I followed the road as much as possible, switching back and forth from knee boots to chest waders as water depths dictated. On arriving at the bridge site, I donned the waders, stashed my knee boots in a safe spot, and headed for the bay that was/is fed by Jones Creek. Jones Creek is dry through most of the year, but when late-winter thaws, or runoff from heavy rains hit, it falls out of the wooded hills like a bear cascading full-tilt down a steep hill.

With a little spinning outfit, I edged around the flood-level shore of the bay, picking my way with wading staff testing water depth before each step.

I was throwing a black Johnson Spoon, its lone hook dressed with a 20-tail black-yellow Hawaiian Wiggler skirt reversed (to give it a more fluttery action).

The water was cold and the action slow, but warmth of the sun, and good vibes about being outside, made me feel good about my brainstorm.

An hour or so into the fishing, I nailed a keeper bass and placed it in the burlap bag that hung suspended in the water from a strong cord around my waist.

Then I came to this place where a pair of dead elm trees stood in some four or five feet of water. They were covered by grapevines that extended down into the water. 

My second or third cast brought what I thought might be a light strike and that prompted me to whip the place to a rich, creamy lather with my casts--all the time thinking that those elms and their grapevine shrouds looked familiar.

I kept shooting my lure into the thick tangle of vines and working it back to shallow water for several minutes before my patience was rewarded by a swirl in the water no more than six feet away.

I struck with a vengeance and soon the little rod throbbed in my hand, its tip no more than a few inches from the handle.

By playing the fish carefully, I kept it out of the grapevines and soon I picked it up, recorded a not-so-instant replay of the incident on film with my camera on a tripod and the help of my self-styled shutter tripper.

There is a neat story in the development of the shutter tripper, too, but I will temporarily stifle my inherent propensities for story-telling . . . but be forewarned, I intend to tell that story on this page soon--I enjoy telling that story much too much. 

After sacking the bruiser--a little over six pounds--I took another keeper I judged at 16 or 17 inches--from the grape vines.

I might have caught my limit of six bass right there had I not outsmarted myself. I always carry an extra reel or two in my shoulder tackle bag when I am fishing. However, facing the lengthy trek in to the bridge site and back to my car, I decided to take only the reel on the little rod I would use.

Soon after moving away from the vine-covered elms--and while standing waist deep in the murky water--I head a strange little splash soon after I had watched my lure settle into the water.

Reaching for the reel handle to retrieve the lure, I suddenly realized it was missing.

I started bringing in the lure hand-over-hand, and I know you are thinking I caught another bass in this manner. But I didn't. Matter of fact, I was so disgusted with myself at this point that I released the two smaller bass and hoofed it back to my car with a lot of fishing time left.

Oh, yes! On the way back to my car, I realized the reason those two vine-covered dead elms looked so familiar, was that I had flushed a brace of grouse there the previous fall. Wish I could tell you I had picked some morels there the spring before that. No such luck . . . but it was not because I had not been in the area when morels were up. 

The thing we must remember about February is that it is no further removed from January than cousinship. Thus, the month of change can be the month of no change, an extension of winter.

Let's just say, hypothetically, that your TV weatherman is upset because his wife's great aunt Matilda has descended on his abode, unannounced, with a prolonged stay in mind. You can order another rick of firewood; you may need it before he gives you anything that resembles spring.

Still, if February is bleak and cold, there still will be plenty of good ice for fishing. And at the slightest hint of spring, an icer can spud in his holes and enjoy some of the best fishing of the winter.

It has been said that first and last ice offer the best fishing of the winter, and I believe it, even though both can be dangerous. I have fished through several inches of ice on the early days of thaws while standing in nearly an inch of water.

Under questionable conditions, it is wise to take greater precautions for staying dry. Many years ago, Phil Hawkins, one of my all-time great outdoors buddies, taught me to take a light, flat bottom boat onto ice if there is the slightest hint of danger.

Phil pushes his boat onto the ice, climbs in, and pushes the boat to the spot he wants to fish with an ice spud. Using a small boat in this manner not only provides a comfortable seat, but also makes it possible to take more gear onto the ice. 

Then, if the weatherman has a change of heart, some of the best ice fishing of the winter can come while fishing in shirtsleeves.

The January feeding binge of suckers carries over into February--even further into the spring. This turns to spearing and snaring. In addition, when streams and rivers come out of their banks with late winter and early spring floods, pitchforking rough fish (carp and buffalo) can be interesting at points where flood waters are crossing roads.

February and March, when the sap of deciduous trees still is in the roots, also offer the opportunity to dig sassafras roots and make the steaming brew--sassafras tea (see procedure on the Recipe page of this site)--that is so pleasant to the taste.

And last, but certainly not least, comes the activity of hunting deer antler sheds. Bucks start losing their antlers as early as late November and by this time the "horns" of every male deer are waiting to be discovered by those who like activities as simple as outdoor walks.

February Photo Gallery
Click link to view photo.

Phil Hawkins uses an ice spud to push his little car-top boat across thin ice for some ice fishing on a Johnson County Farm Pond. 

Bayou Bill hefts a spunky farm pond bass soon after a winter thaw in February . . . A sweatshirt will feel good on a sunny day in February.

This is the big 'un I snaked out of the grapevines on the dead elm trees . . . sorry I couldn't get the elms and grapevines in the pix, but the ancient axiom, "any port in a storm" when one is taking one's own picture (regardless of the size of the bass).

Bookmark us and stay in touch . . . come back for next month's new "Ramble," a regular feature of this website.

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All columns and stories 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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