"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres
It isn’t always easy to quit the couch when there is the promise of some great sports event or entertainment scheduled by the many TV channels and networks, but the great outdoors can match anything the tube has to offer in January.
Oh, sure! The Super Bowl is exciting, and so are some of the college and pro basketbrawls, but January offers a variety of activities that provide both entertainment and the prime ingredients for gourmet dinners.
Ice fishing for numerous species of fish probably is the most popular of the lot. But if January fails to live up to its frigid expectations, open water angling for suckers, sauger and numerous other game fish species offers a head start on spring and summer angling. Then, of course, a late winter rabbit hunt can be very interesting and productive, especially if we have a good tracking snow.

January also signals the beginning late hunts for geese and ducks in the southern half of the state, late-winter squirrel hunts south of U.S. Highway 40, shed hunting (looking for the antlers dropped by male deer), and simple walks in the outdoors to view and photographically record the activities of birds and animals in the wild.

Then, of course, procedures for many of these activities are so closely related that they can be combined to enhance the chance of success in the field. 
Although January must wear the mantle of the most drab and coldest month of the year, Hoosiers can almost always count on some days of bright sunshine and downright comfortable air temperatures before February nudges into the picture.
In the early days of January this year ice fishermen will do well to be suspicious of all ice, especially in the southern two-thirds of the state. The pre-Christmas snow is almost gone in most parts of the state, but this is expected to take streams to well above normal levels, and this should bring about good conditions for floating jump shoots for both ducks and squirrels.
During the last week of December northern lakes were covered by about eight inches of ice and anglers were fishing even the big parts of the big lakes. Rain could bring that to a temporary halt in the early days of January, but another cold snap could make the ice even better and more safe.
Although the northern tier counties recorded only about three inches of snow in the pre-Christmas storms, central and southern parts of the state were hit much harder--nearly two feet in some area--and that heavy snow cover could make ice in these parts of the state very treacherous until another cold front comes through.
As the month opens, fishing for suckers and sauger on rivers and streams appears to be the best bet for angling. Streams and rivers did not freeze up in winter’s initial onslaught, and the melting snow is sure to bring streams up somewhat and slightly discolor the water.
This creates ideal conditions for hook and line fishing for both suckers and sauger. Any stream could offer some good sucker fishing this month, but sauger fishing is most productive on the Ohio and Wabash rivers. Tributaries of the states two largest rivers also offer some sauger fishing, especially in stretches immediately upstream from the larger rivers.
If winter roars in again with sub-zero temperatures, mid-sized streams could ice up and that would bring an opportunity for “lassoing” suckers at the upper and lower ends of riffles (fast water). Suckers start moving onto the riffles at this time of year. They will spawn on the riffles later  in the winter and in the early spring.
For additional information on both suckers and sauger, punch the  “Archives” button on this web page and look up my January (2004) column. While you are in archives of this web site, look up “Catching, Cooking and Eating Suckers,” “Lassoing Suckers,” and “Cleaning, Preserving, Cooking Suckers."
A nice feature of fishing suckers with hook and line lies in the fact that air temperatures don’t have a lot to do with angling success. I have caught suckers on hook and line when thermometers were reading 50 degrees and near zero. 
It is rather easy for me to recall a January day in the ‘70s on Salt Creek’s Muddy Fork near the town of Kurtz, when air temperatures were well below freezing and drifted snow was well above my knee boots along the banks of the stream. It was a frigid, drab day, but I managed to get to water’s edge just below the mouth of a small drainage ditch.
Armed with a brace of thumb-sized dead ash poles rigged with lines the length of the poles, small wrap on sinkers and single No. 6 (short-shanked) hooks gobbed with garden worms, I slid down the high banks to the edge of the water.
Current of the stream slid down my side of the creek, and rolled over a clean bottom five or six feet below. Once depth was determined, I wrapped surplus line around the pole tips until there was just enough line to reach the bottom and keep the pole tips a foot above the water.
From there it was a waiting game, and for a chilly hour or so there appeared to be no reason for me to be there. Then, with an eye on the black braided lines at the point where they entered the water, one of my lines appeared to be moving into the current and there was a rather dead-weight feeling coming up the line and pole and into my hand.
“That’s a fish,” I told myself, and lifted the pole tip sharply to set the hook.
In a matter of seconds I had a two-poundish white sucker flouncing in the snow at my feet. In a matter of minutes I pulled out another fish of about the same size and stashed both in a snow bank a safe distance from the water.
The fishing was just as slow in the next hour or so as it had been before the action started. I theorized that I had taken the fish as they moved upstream and that I might fish the rest of the day without a bite. So I quit with the prime ingredient for a fried sucker dinner in the game bag of my hunting coat.
That episode involving suckers, may indicate that this is my favorite January outdoor activity. I will admit that suckers are high on my wintertime repertoire, but if I had to confine my January outdoor activities to one type, I would have to go with floating one of the state’s southern rivers for ducks and squirrels, primarily the two forks of the White--downstream from Seymour on the East Fork, and downstream from Spencer on the West Fork.
This would be a good bet now because the heavy pre-Christmas snow has melted in most areas and streams are above normal. Conditions for a floating jump soot would be even better if streams and rivers should reach flood stage, but that probably will not happen unless we get heavy rain.
The state is not overrun with ducks, but when the Division of Fish and Wildlife conducted its weekly waterfowl survey in the last week of December, some 2,600 mallards were found on the census areas, most of them on Muscatatuck National Wildlife Area near Seymour.
However, the weekly waterfowl survey does not include rivers and streams. If wintertime waterfowl numbers run true to form, there may be considerably greater numbers of mallards and blacks on the rivers where birds feed on nearby harvested cornfields.

If streams and rivers are not high enough to make floating hunts possible, good hunts can come on riffles with decoys because birds use the fast shallow waters for getting grit for their digestive systems, or just as resting areas.
Squirrel hunting at this time of year is best along tree-lined rivers and streams that are bordered by harvested cornfields. Field corn is a wintertime staple for squirrels in any winter, but it is more important this year because last year’s mast crop was very poor.
For related information on river hunting for waterfowl and squirrels search this website for ”Fine Art--Getting Within Shooting Distance of Ducks" (December 14, 2002) and “Jump Shooting --A Rewarding Experience” (December 1, 2003).

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All columns, stories, and photos 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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