We're staring September square in the eyes. It's hard to believe that the "Summer that Never Was, Part II" is just about over. But with the arrival of the back-end holiday bookend, we find ourselves sandwiched between two worlds, grabbing for shotguns and compound bows, while doing our best to keep a grip on fishing rods and tackleboxes when any nice day will allow. Disjointed, exciting, unpredictable and ever changing, this transition time has me out and about, sampling all the small things the outdoors has to offer.
It seems that in this slow summer, the usual patterns just haven't set up, or only now have started to. Last weekend at the lake we were able to find the fish stacked up in a corner pocket of an inside bend as they were in seasons past. It's been said numerous times in my boat that you "shouldn't fish memories." But when the memories are of stringer baskets full of specks, and fryer baskets full of golden fillets for lunch the next day, it's tough not to go where you think the fish are.
Fields of Gold: Wildflowers flourish in a prairie planting along a small creek. These grassy areas help filter run-off from nearby agricultural fields, increase habitat for game and non-game species and add beauty to the landscape.
Armed with tubes and tinsel jigs we turned cookie-cutter 10-inchers and a number of smaller crappies, along with a few big bluegills as the sun settled in the purple trimmed west. It was like the good ol' days, when my uncle would take us to the spot he dead-reckoned by the inlet to Deadshot bay and the old family cabin. Guided these days by GPS, the results came quicker, but were no less satisfying in the waning days of summer.
I couldn't help but think as I drove out to check the cards on my trail cameras, how much greener everything was in the area. A recent shot of rain took care of a lot of the burned-beige lawns and seemed to revive the slightly dry row crops that were nearing maturity. But what caught my eye were colorful stretches of riparian lands along the small creek west of town. It seemed as if buffer strips along the flow were the fashionable thing, as wildflowers beamed back bright shades of purple and yellow.
As I made my way through the creek bottom on foot to my camera, I marveled at the fluid yellow highlights dotted with blue specks and interspersed with lavender flows around the small creek. And it wasn't only on the land my friend allowed me access to for the upcoming bow season. Neighboring properties now sported the same conservation plantings, as I turned on the gravel roads leading out and around his place, I saw it again and again. Where he had started the trend, others had continued it, helping to improve habitat for wildlife, decrease the flow of sediments and chemicals into the small stream and brighten the landscape in the process.
"I figured it out," I hollered back to my buddy who was pulling and keeping score on the tower behind me on the trap station, "I've got to cover it the clay up," I said.
I mean, after all, it seemed simple enough. I'd worked on my stance all summer. I'd tried to improve my follow-through on the swing. I'd modified just about everything in my shooting form to try and get my shots to connect and get me out of single digits. (Hey, one thing I'll never admit to is being a great shooter.) But as the clays busted and my confidence improved in the humid half-sunshine of Sunday afternoon at the range, and my average began threatening to creep into the lower teens, I felt some relief that I had finally strung something together.
I've never been a great shot. The 27 shells it took to bring down my first rooster should have been evidence enough of that. And admittedly, I've never practiced as much as I'd like to, or should. But to start to connect more regularly, at least with the straight-away "easy" targets I have been missing, was a good feeling going into fall when my much less forgiving quarry would throw every juke and dodge at me to escape my aim. Now, if only I can figure out those fast-moving left and right runners that I seem to get exclusively from the trap house.
It's a mix of everything these days: fish and game; sunflower gold and sumac red; shotgun shells and walleye snells. But when these bits and pieces come together, it makes the transition from summer to fall an exciting season all its ownin our outdoors.