"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Scifres

To say that April is not best known to Hoosiers for showers and wildflowers would be like adversely critiquing motherhood and warm pie (with a small wedge of cheese), but I do no hesitate to say that those who worship the blossoms of spring probably should raise their sights a few notches.

That is another way of saying that while we are most aware of the flowers of terrestrial plants, if we look to trees, and other woody plants, we will find some flowers, buds and fledgling leaves that are second to none in beauty.

The cause behind this paradoxical composite of the rank-and-file of Hoosiers in the spring can be safely laid to the fact that we are primarily morel hunters. If, in the process of filling our bread sacks with morels, we ogle a few wildflowers, that is just so much gravy on our chins.

Not so with me. I start mushroom hunting long--often two weeks--before even those little blacks with caps the size of a kitchen match poke their way up through the damp humus. And, when I quit the woods with my bread sack still in my hip pocket, the thought that is foremost in my mind is not that I did not see even a hit of a morel, but that the forest floor’s blanket of white, pink, blue and yellow is smashing.

Furthermore, while I am out there at a time when I know my chances are almost nil for finding the prime ingredient for a scrambled-egg/mushroom breakfast, I find time to raise my gaze to search the brush and trees for their entries in the spring parade of beauty.

Here I find the miniature burgundy bells hanging straight down from paw-paw limbs, and their numbers give me the first hint of the potential for a good fall crop of Indiana bananas. But the beauty of the bells, themselves, with their green sepals, deep maroon petals, and style covered with multi-colored “sequins” leave me breathless.

With my little binoculars I marvel at the beautiful, yellowish-green flower of the yellow poplar (tulip tree, our state tree) as I slide through dogwood and redbud “trees” with blossoms that stake their own claims to the “fairest” title, and even the maples (especially the silver maple) show me blossoms so small, intricate and gorgeous that I wonder how it all happens. 

Even the shagbark hickory, with its simple-yet-complicated pale green flower, auditions for my spring wildflower production.

So bring on your terrestrial beauties . . . your dutchman’s breeches, spring beauty,  cut-leaved toothworts, bloodroot, wild ginger, adder’s tongue, trout-lily . . . the whole bloomin’ lot of them . . . I am all eyes.

You see, they are my terrestrials, too . . . even though, in my view, they have competition. 

ABOUT MUSHROOMS--As noted earlier and often on this page and in my columns, the aforementioned wildflowers--terrestrial and tree-dwellers alike--are great barometers for determining when the various species of morels will be “up.”

Incidentally, an e-mail note from Tom Roach informs me that little black morels were up in Greene County as early as last Wednesday (March 29). This could mean that this species could have been up a few days before that.

It also means that we can start looking any time now, especially in the southern third of the state. My all-time earliest contact with morels was March 27. We are having a late spring this year, but snow of late March and ensuing rains have created ideal conditions for mushrooms. All we need to touch off the morel explosion is higher air temperatures and bright, sunny days.

In reality, it may be that the “ideal” mushroom conditions of which we speak (bright, warm and wet days and muggy nights) apply mostly to those who hunt mushrooms, not necessarily the mushrooms. Many of my early spring mushroom hunts have indicated that mushrooms pop when it is time for mushrooms to pop, regardless of air temperatures.

On the other hand, my experiences leave little doubt that dampness in the earth is a prime factor in the emergence of morels and other fungal species. However, I have also learned that dryness of leaves is seldom a true indicator of the amount of moisture in the humus of the forest floor. Furthermore, it is the humus--not a cover of dry leaves--that is most important in the emergence of morels and other terrestrial fungi.

WHERE TO FIND ‘EM--A Muncie reader jangled my phone last week to talk about spring morels--more specifically when/where to find them. 

I told him that there is no standardized pattern for selecting a “best” place to hunt morels because mushrooms, like bass, rabbits, squirrels, and other children of Mother Nature are where you find them. But I did point out that one of my favorite places . . . favorite methods . . . of hunting morels revolves around combining mushroom hunting with fishing. 

This, of course, played back for me a day many years ago when catching a limit of bass at Monroe Reservoir (near Bloomington) was a foregone conclusion when an angler slid a small boat into the water and tied on an artificial lure.

It was a beautiful April day about 11 a.m. when the late Tom Weddle and your reporter left the dock on a combination bass/mushroom outing.

 “I would like to get my limit of bass as soon as possible,” I told Tom, “and spend the rest of the day hunting mushrooms.”

We started fishing for a 12-bass limit in the first bay we encountered, keeping our fish fresh and alive over the side of the boat in the famous “Bayou Bill” creel, a k a gunny sack or burlap bag.

Unfortunately, it was the same bag I had used throughout the preceding summer, and I apparently had stored it for the winter when it still was damp. This, presumably, had caused a weakening (a k a rot) of the burlap in places. But the bag looked good.

About noon I put the eleventh fish in the bag. But, as I lowered it back into the water, I noticed frayed edges on the side of the bag. 

“Burlap bags do not have frayed edges on their sides,” I told myself emphatically, as I raised the bag to look inside.

What I saw was the bass I had just put in the bag and a six-to-eight-inch hole in the side of the bag near the bottom.

Tom watched as I told my version of the rotten-bag story--brush had apparently ripped a hole in the bag. Then I shook out the remaining bass, adding that we should go look for morels and try the bass later in the day.

Soon we beached the boat at the back of a large bay where a dry run between two hills emptied into the lake. Following the gulch (now dry, but still moist) into the hills we encountered numerous dead elm trees (bark slipping), and soon we were filling our bread sacks with beautiful little morels.

We became so enthralled at our mushroom success that the sun was sinking fast . . . almost dark . . . before we made it back to the boat.

At that point I was resigned to the cold, hard fact that those bags of morels were about all a man could want . . . even without the bass. 

But, as Tom eased the boat through the inundated brush and weeds to get back to open water, I noticed fish feeding in the shallow, weed infested water.

I tied on a Johnson Silver Spoon with pork strip tail and flew it into the weeds.

A husky bass nailed it almost before it hit the water, and that touched off a flurry of activity as we raced darkness to see if we could still get a limit of bass.

It was well after dark before we made it back to the dock, but it had been an exciting day with big bags of morels and a double limit of bass to prove it.

I combine fishing and mushroom hunting in many ways and at many locations.

Once, back in the ‘70s when I wanted a picture of bass and mushrooms for a cover of my first book, “Indiana Outdoors,” I drove to one of my favorite little tributaries of one of our upper Wabash reservoirs (there are three of them, and I am not saying which) because I still go there every year in April.

On this day the stream was two feet above normal and murky, but I fished it anyhow, keeping my eyes peeled for bank side morels.

Late in the afternoon, I came to this pool where the water shot through a narrow gap and over a gravel bar before crashing into the inundated roots of a large sycamore tree before shooting to the gar bank and heading back upstream to create an eddy at the center of the pool.

Sliding down a steep bank, I stood in the edge of the water at the base of the pool near the roots of the sycamore.

My first cast into the eddy with an eighth-ounce black Gapen’s Hairy Worm nailed a nice bass, and subsequent casts were equally successful. Halfway home on my limit of six bass my fishing was interrupted by a baseball-sized morel at eye level at the base of the sycamore tree Others popped out as I continued to fish until I had filled my limit of keepers.

By the time I had found all of the morels around the sycamore I realized that I had the prime subjects for the picture I wanted, and headed back to my old Jeep Wagoneer where I would break out the camera gear for a picture-taking session.

However, I was racing a storm coming in from the southwest, and I barely made it back to the Jeep before a toad-strangling storm hit to end hopes for an on-the-spot picture.

It was well after dark before I made it home, but with the fish on ice and the morels in the frig, the pictures could wait until morning. The cover of my first book will verify the story . . . even though the picture was shot on a small creek behind my house.

 Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

spinmorel.JPG (46073 bytes) mapleflr.JPG (39742 bytes) hicflower.jpg (30481 bytes)
This beautiful morel posed with my ultralight spinning outfit to point out that fishing and mushroom hunting can combine to make a great day. Maple trees, though not known for their beautiful flowers, offer interesting blossoms. Hickory trees are better known for the nuts they produce, but the nuts start with beautiful flowers.
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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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