On The Road
Notes from Dan's travels

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

A good rule of thumb for picking eateries when traveling is to eat where the locals eat.

Well, Steamboat Bill's, on the lake at Lake Charles, LA, was voted the best seafood place in SW Louisiana by area residents, so that was good enough for two Michiganders and a Wisconsinite in town for a writers conference.

Your reporter joined Dan Donarski, of Sault Ste. Marie, and Bob Gwidz, of East Lansing, to celebrate Donarski's 29th (or so he claims) birthday this evening at this no-frills restaurant with the best Cajun seafood for miles around.

Actually, our first choice was a barbecue joint, but it was closed for a company vacation. Fortunately, we had a backup plan. With the aid of a map provided by the hotel concierge, we managed to find Steamboat Bill's, a centerfield toss from yet another on-water gambling casino, apparently the only kind allowed by state law.

We started off with a pound of peel-and-eat boiled shrimp. Then we all had a large serving of crawfish etoufee, a mildly spicy soupy concoction served in a bowl over rice. Birthday Boy added a pair of stuffed crabs, while Bob had a boudin ball and I, a bowl of crawfish gumbo.

The beer list included a Shiner Bock, so I ordered one and told the story of the Texas brewery road trip I did one summer with grad-school colleague, John Shell. Leaving from Houston, we stopped at the Pearl, Lone Star and Spoetzl breweries. Our favorite was the last of these, situated in an unassuming building on the main drag in Shiner, TX, where the only other visitors in the tasting room were a pair of sun-dried farmers in faded overalls, whose demeanor and obvious familiarity suggested that they tossed down a few free cold ones here every evening before heading home to Mama.

If I had enough energy left tonight, I'd add the web links for all those breweries, but I'm willing to bet anyone curious enough to check them out is resourceful enough to do his own Googling. You'll find more on Shiner, the last of the original Texas brews, on the Beer Can Blog.


12:35:21 AM    comment []

Friday, June 16, 2006

Lake Charles, LA. While most OWAA members and guests arriving yesterday and today were unpacking their luggage or complaining about the hot, muggy weather they knew would await them here, Jason Mitchell, a new member and fishing guide from Devil's Lake, ND attending his first conference, bought a 5-day fishing license, a Zebco 202 and rod and a bucket of shrimp, and had a ball catching about a hundred redfish, speckled trout and other species today, right from the beach about 12 miles from the hotel. Most fish weighed several pounds, but one red drum may have tipped the scales at 20 pounds or more.

"He burned out the drag on my Zebco 202," Mitchell said.

Mitchell waded in shorts and sandals, and reported finding not only good numbers of feisty fish, but also plenty of evidence of Hurricane Rita.

"I bumped into stoves, refrigerators, high chairs, just about everything you'd find in a house," Mitchell said. "I ran out of bait three times and had to buy more."

Well, he didn't have to, he wanted to because he loves to fish, and the brackish waters here are teeming with reds (channel bass) and specks (weakfish, or speckled trout). Rita, it seems, brought in the salt water, and these ocean species came with it. Lake Charles is teeming with shrimp, too, reported South Dakota TV and radio personality Tony Dean, and that has given the fishing a boost.

"Most of the commercial fishermen can't work because they lost their docks," Dean pointed out. "They have nowhere to put their boats, so no one's catching the shrimp, and the fish are just going nuts! One of the locals also showed Jason how to catch crabs, and he's got a cooler full of them."

Some folks just know how to get a conference off to a rousing start. Mitchell is one green-ribbon member who will be going home with more than just a story.

Mitchell almost didn't get to tell that story, however. He was literally swept off his feet by a passing freighter that sent a wave over his head. Fortunately, he regained his footage and continued fishing.


11:59:23 PM    comment []

LAKE CHARLES, LA. June 16, 2006.

Heavy rains held off long enough for all teams to finish the 8th Annual OWAA Golf Scramble, held here today at Mallard Cove Golf Course. Claude Bain, D.A. Ray and Chris Nelson won the 18-hole best-ball event with a scorching 8-under par score of 64. Skip Jernigan, Bruce Brown and Dan Small placed second, with a respectable 4-under par score of 68.

Merchandise prizes were awarded to first- and second-place teams and to individual golfers as follows:

Closest to left bunker on drive: Dan Small
Closest to pin, hole 4: Skip Jernigan
Longest drive: Claude Bain
Closest to tree in fairway: Bruce Brown
Closest to pin, hole 16: Claude Bain

Bain, of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, is already planning next year's golf tournament, to be held June 15, 2007, at the Roanoke conference. Roanoke's more temperate climate may allow next year's event to be scheduled in the afternoon, which Bain hopes will encourage more golfers to participate.

Keep checking this site for more news from the OWAA conference, being held here at l"Auberge du Lac, June 17-20.


6:16:40 PM    comment []

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Hunted ducks in a North Dakota wheatfield this morning with Bill Cooksey, Rick Frisch, Mike Faw, Andy Tweed and Steve Pitt. Faw is from Iowa, Frisch from Fargo, the others from Tennessee. Bill and Rick work for Avery Outdoors, which supplied some new and prototype gear for us to field test, and believe me it worked!

We set out about 50 magnum Avery mallard field decoys, a few Canadas and a couple dozen snows and hunted out of layout blinds. The decoys are lifelike oversize hard-shells, with an ingenious cone molded into the back on the inside of the hollow body. You set these dekes on an L-shaped stake that lets it wobble and rotate, something like a bobble-head toy. In the steady 20-mph west wind, those dekes bobbled and wobbled realistically, creating the effect of constant movement in our spread.

We shot several mallards that came in in small groups, then a large flock came in and just hung over us and the decoys, some of them just 20 feet in front of us. Bill, who was calling the shots, let them hang there for our viewing pleasure. When they finally left, I asked "What was all that about?"

"Wasn't that beautiful to watch?" he asked.

It was in fact, one of the most remarkable things I have seen in years of duck hunting. Bill had these ducks right where we wanted them for a minute or two before they slipped out of range. Died I mention that Bill won tghe Grand American Duck Calling Championship last year?

After that show, we were all business. As birds came in in small flocks, pairs and a single or two, we shot for three hours, with a few minutes of down time while we ran out to collect our birds. We saw several flocks of snows and blues and managed to call one in. We dropped six from that group before they climbed out of range. We ended up with those 6 blue geese and 32 ducks -- mostly mallards, a few teal, one gadwall and one widgeon.

We picked up the decoys at about 11:00 and headed back to camp, where we took some photos and cleaned the birds. Some were destined for tonight's dinner, the rest we packaged and froze.

After lunch and a couple hours of college football, we headed out to scout fields for tomorrow's hunt and stopped at several grain bins to give the local pigeons some exercise. We'll clean them tomorrow for pigeon pie when we dress the morning's ducks.

Dinner tonight was grilled duck and goose breast. We filleted the breasts on a couple Fillet King fillet boards, then Andy wrapped them in bacon and put them in a marinade while we went pigeon shooting. Later, we grilled them outside and they were absolutely delicious.

Tomorrow night, we'll roast a half-dozen mallards for dinner.

Bed time already! Man, this is a tough life!


10:46:42 PM    comment []

Friday, October 21, 2005

Spent the morning hunting prairie grouse with Gari Sisk an hour east of Pierre. Gari put down two dogs, her English pointer Jack and a black Lab named chukar. We worked several shelter belts first, thinking they might be out of the wind. Jack pointed a snipe and a hen pheasant, and we bumped a couple deer.

Then, on the advice of the landowner, we hoofed it across a big pasture and were soon into birds. One sharptail flushed wild and sailed a mile on the 30 mph NW wind. Then Jack locked up, but Chukar bumped a flock before we could get into position. Several more small flocks flushed, some downwind, some upwind, but all flew over at least one hill, so we turned around and worked back to the vehicles.

Thus ended my quest for a SD grand slam. I at least saw some live grouse, tho I think they were all sharptails because I thought I heard a chuckle when one flock jumped.

Then I tried to stay awake as I drove east and north to Alsen, ND, where I met up with Rick Frisch and Bill Cooksey of Avery Outdoors and fellow writer Mike Faw. We're hunting ducks in the morning, so I'll have a report on that sometime tomorrow afternoon or evening.


9:28:23 PM    comment []

Bone tired and need to get up early to hunt grouse in the morning on the way to ND, so this will be bullet points only.

Hunted pheasants at Cody Warne's operation this morning (a preserve, but loaded with wild birds) with Lee Harstad, Dean Bortz and Rick Windham, from NE. We started off slowly. I missed the only shot we had on the first drive, then Rick smoked one on the second drive with his 1880 Husqvarna side-by-side.

On drive three, Rick, Dean and I each shot one. Then we drove to a stock dam to water the dogs and Cody said we should rush up to the cover because there might be a few pheasants there.  Dean and I did that, and 150-200 pheasants boiled out of there. We each shot two, but one of mine eluded the dogs.

We made one more drive, where Rick shot one with his Winchester 94-410 and he and I each missed another.  A group of hunters was driving a nearby field, so we waited for them to push one to us and sure enough, a rooster came over me, and we were suddenly filled out.

After sandwiches at Cody's clubhouse, Dean, Rick and I drove to the National Grasslands south of Pierre, where we ran into two hunters from WI and MN who hadn't seen a bird. Not a good sign, we figured.

We drove on the Sheriff Lake, where we saw 4 roosters as we drove up, and several hens bailed out as we walked to the dam. Later, we found a prairie chicken carcass. It had been killed earlier today by a hawk and mostly eaten.

Dean missed a rooster on the way back to the truck and a couple more ran off and flushed wild.

Had dinner with Lee and his supervisor, Nicole Nordbye, of SD Tourism and M.D. and Julie McClelland-Johnson, in town for the Governor's Pheasant Hunt, which starts tomorrow.

By the time that party starts, I'll be hunting grouse with Gari Sisk and on my way to Devil's Lake, ND.


12:48:59 AM    comment []

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Today I spent a couple hours hunting at Tumbleweed Lodge with Lee Harstad, SD Dept. of Tourism rep who helped arrange my trip. We flushed a bunch of pheasants, or I should say, Lee's yellow Lab, Maggie, did. My shooting fell apart today, however. I missed four roosters and dropped one on preserve land near the lodge, while we watched dozens more skedaddle in every direction. Tumbleweed has a very nice layout, with good food and holding cover and tons of birds, but we needed another gunner or two today...

Lee and I then spent the last two hours hunting the old Tumbleweed property several miles west of the lodge, where we walked though high grass and cattails around a big stock dam and then pushed two cedar shelterbelts, where we flushed some hens and a half-dozen Hungarian (gray) partridge.

I managed to miss two Huns and drop two, while Lee got one and missed a couple. I also dropped a nice rooster that Maggie flushed from some dense cattails. The Huns gave us the second leg of a South Dakota Upland Grand Slam. All that remains is to bag a sharptail and a prairie chicken.

I'll hunt pheasants tomorrow again with Lee and some other writers, then Friday I plan to try for the prairie grouse with Gari Sisk, a gal from Alaska who is staying at Tumbleweed. Gari runs pointing setters, so that should be fun. Lee tells me some folks hunt sharptails on horseback here. I'd love to try that on a future trip!

(Tumbleweed owner Michael Bollweg told me there are also some antelope and one small herd of mule deer in the area, and we saw a flock of eastern wild turkeys picking up gravel on the road as we drove out to hunt the old place. No shortage of game here!)

I stayed at Tumbleweed for a delicious prime rib dinner, shot a bunch of photos of guests enjoying themselves and then headed for Pierre and the Ramkota Inn.

Tumbleweed is definitely a first class establishment. Check out their Web site!


Once again, I'm bushed from all the driving and a little walking.

11:58:32 PM    comment []

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

We worked hard for our birds today. A strong SW wind shifted to the N by 1:00 and picked up in speed to where it had to be roaring along at 30 mph. Walk through a field of switchgrass in that wind and the grass is waving so madly you come close to getting seasick. Then drop a pheasant in it and try to find him!

The birds got up and rode that wind, sailing for hundreds of yards and making for some tough shooting. I was walking on the downwind side of a drive and dropped one that Danny Myke and I both had a line on, but I couldn't find it. I marked where it fell by noting a big rock at the edge of a cornfield, and Travis said we'd look for it on the next drive. At the end of that drive, Danny, Travis and one of Travis's springers (Timber) worked all around where we had seen that bird come down to no avail. We were walking back out, having reluctantly given up, when I stepped on something soft. I thought it was an anthill, but when I parted the switchgrass, there lay my pheasant, dead.

Earlier in the day, I shot a bird with spurs longer than any I have ever seen. I'll forward a photo of the best spur to a couple biologists and see if they have an idea of its age.

Delicious pheasant dinner at Golden Upland tonight, after which we all watched KSFY news for the short piece reporter Brittany Benner did on our hunt. Danny Myke was the hero, since he was the only one to shoot a bird on that drive.

It's way past bedtime, and tomorrow I'm driving to Tumbleweed Lodge near Harrold for another hunt.


11:45:18 PM    comment []

Monday, October 17, 2005

To hunt pheasants in South Dakota, you need a small army of well-organized troops. Travis Haglin was our guide and dog handler today for a half-dozen drives through CRP land, which stretches as far as the proverbial eye can see. I joined the standers for the first three drives, during which I shot three roosters - my one-day limit. For the rest of the afternoon, I walked with the drivers, trying to get photos of hunters and birds. The number of birds we saw today was simply unbelievable. Travis was counting roosters flushed, but I lost track after the second drive.

Shortly after a drive starts, pheasants begin pouring out of sides of the corn and sunflower food plots. I posted on the far corner, hoping to cut off any birds heading my way. Dozens of hens took to the air, with a scattering of roosters among them. The guns took their toll of the big birds, however, so I'm betting we'll see fewer of them tomorrow.

After two hours, we had 26 birds in the trailer, leaving 19 to fill our 15-gun limit. Darned if we didn't do that in the last drive, which rousted more roosters than all the previous drives combined.

I'm simply exhausted from walking, and the incredible number of birds we saw and shot has overloaded my circuits. If you had told me there were this many birds here, I would have scoffed. Whatever the pheasant population is, I've never seen anything like it.

Mayber I'll think of something more intelligent to say tomorrow. If you've never hunted South Dakota, you've got to experience it once, at least.


10:37:14 PM    comment []

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