There was a time when the now world famous Fryingpan River near Basalt, Colorado, was known mostly by a more local group of fisherman. I was lucky enough to be one of those, and we had things pretty much to ourselves, back in the day.
Anyone who has fished there more recently may find that hard to believe, but it is true.
Here are a couple of images on black and white film, circa 1982, of some more normal looking trout that proceed the introduction of mysis shrimp to Reudi Reservoir and the appearance of the monster, football-shaped trout that soon followed.
But then, that’s another story…
Photographs by Michael Patrick McCarty
Active Member Outdoor Writers Association of America
The Pine Barrens of New Jersey cover 22 percent of the most densely populated state in the country. It is the largest stretch of open space between Boston, Massachusetts, and Richmond, Virginia. It reaches across 56 municipalities and 7 counties. The name came from early settlers who thought the area was a vast wasteland, but it is anything but barren. Underneath this incredible natural resource lies almost 17 trillion gallons of some of the purest water on earth. Stands of pitch pine gave birth to the charcoal industry, and its acidic swamps were used first for bog iron and later for cranberry production. Many firsts came from this area, including cranberry sauce, cultivated blueberries, and grape juice. Numerous industries have risen and fallen over time. Remnants of forgotten ghost towns bear witness to that history, but the real stories come from the people who lived and worked there.
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Born To Hunt…
Memorial Day, Any Year
It has been said that hunter’s are born, not made, and perhaps this is true. Far be it for me, to disagree.
Hunter’s eyes are born of blood, and I, like my father, and his father before him, would seem to prove that out. Well-worn deer trails, mist-filled bogs, and oceans of pitch pines and blackjack oaks were always a large part of our daily landscapes. I cannot help but think that we were all so much better off for our youthful visions.
Just below is a long forgotten photo of my Dad’s first white-tailed deer, taken with a hand-me-down shotgun in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. As you can see, it was a good one too. He was sixteen years old.
I never did hear the story of that first buck, but I have no doubt that it was a big adventure of some kind. Or at least I would like to think so, knowing my father’s penchant for getting the job done. South Jersey was still a wild place in the 1930’s, and a boy could really stretch out and do some roaming. I surely would have loved to have explored it all back then.
Below that is a photograph of my first big game kill with a bow & arrow, taken not very far away from where my father stood for his photo. I was also sixteen at the time, and I could not have been more excited, and proud.
The doe may have been small, and the picture is now tattered, and faded, but the memory is not. I remember everything about that hunt as if it was yesterday, and it remains a thrill that has not nearly begun to wear off after all of these many years.
There are far worse things in life, than to be born a hunter…
*My father became an avid bowhunter in the 1950’s, and I am sure that he would have hunted his first deer with archery tackle, if he could have. New Jersey did not hold its first special bow & arrow deer season until 1948, only ten years before I was born.
See Some of the History Of The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Here
…An elk bugle echoes down and around us in the half-light of early morning, as the towering walls of Dark Canyon take over the skyline. The high, whistling notes are nearly overcome by the falls above, the waters now airborne, flying from the cliffs towards Anthracite Creek. We catch our breath as we climb up the Devil’s Staircase, towards the great unknowns of the Ruby Range and the perils of the Ragged Mountains…
No, this is not the scene of some campy, dramatic flick, as mysterious and foreboding as it may sound. But it was the backdrop, with some poetic license included, of a monumental event in the big game hunting world. It is here, in 1899, that John Plute of Crested Butte, Colorado looked down his rifle barrel and laid down one of the largest set of elk antlers ever recorded.
He has quite a history, this bull, and I can only imagine that his story only survives because of luck and some divine providence. It is said that Mr. Plute was a good hunter, and he often traded wild game for the goods that he needed. More than likely, he was usually not too concerned about the size of a bull’s headgear. Perhaps, in this case, he was.
He was also known to be a colorful character. An inveterate bachelor, a miner, and a mountain man, he traded the head to the local saloon keeper in payment of an overdue bar bill. It later passed to the stepson of the saloon owner, who dragged it out of storage and submitted the first unofficial measurement of its antlers in 1955.
The formalities took a little longer yet, until it was officially recognized by the Boone and Crockett Club as the new World’s Record Elk in 1961, The final score came in at a jaw-dropping 442 3/8 points.
Photographs simply don’t convey the magnificence of this specimen, and you can barely fit it within the view finder anyway. In person it is very nearly overwhelming, and it takes some time to evaluate its true size as the eye struggles to gain perspective.
The rack at its greatest spread tapes at over 51 inches, with 7 points on one side and 8 points on the other. One antler has a basal circumference of over 12 inches, and two points are more than 25 inches long. When first mounted many years after the kill, it was fitted with the biggest elk cape to be found. It was probably not quite big enough.
I have been fortunate to hunt some of the nation’s top trophy areas, and I have come across some big bulls in my time. A 325″ class bull is bigger than many elk hunters will ever encounter; a 350″ elk will really get your attention. I have yet to ground check a Boone and Crockett class elk, though it has not been for lack of trying.
Once, on a Colorado bowhunt, I very nearly harvested a bull that most certainly was approaching that magical 400 point plateau. The memory of that guy can still keep me up at night, and I doubt that I will ever forget the sense of awe he installed within me. I can hardly imagine another 40 or 50 inches of bone on top of his skull.
The Plute bull was the World Record for over 30 years, and many thought that it would never be beaten. The glory days of elk hunting appeared to be long gone, after all, …or were they?
In 1995, the elk hunting world shook once more when an antler buyer purchased a head that he had seen in the back of a pickup truck. Killed by an Arizona cattle rancher in 1968 and never measured, it was eventually determined to be bigger than the bull of Crested Butte. Even then, it only beat out the existing world record by less than 1/2″ of total score.
Obviously, Mr. Plute never knew just how big his elk really was. It does not sound that it would have mattered much to him anyway, though I probably should not speak as if I know. Very little has been passed down about his everyday doings, or his end. Some have said that he died while breaking a spirited horse; others have said that no one really knows. Perhaps the truth of his ultimate fate is lost upon the winds and snow fields of the wild lands that he roamed, like many men of his era. In my way of thinking that only adds another layer to the legend, and to the mysterious nature of a place that once held a bull such as this.
It is impossible to know the full extent of this elk’s legacy. No doubt his genetics still warms the blood of his countless descendants, banked for the day when they can fully express their immeasurable potential. Who knows how many elk like him, have lived, and died, without being seen?
The head now hangs at The Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce, which might seem an ignominious end to such an important animal. Perhaps it may not be the best place to honor him, but I do not get to make that kind of choice. For most, he is a curiosity and a fine tourist attraction, though I doubt that the uninitiated can grasp its true significance. For my part I am grateful for the opportunity to admire him in any way that I can.
The Dark Canyon of Anthracite Creek has yet to hit my eyes for real, but it will. I am drawn to it, curious too, and my hunter’s eye wants to see what it will see. Hunt there, I will, just to say that I did. I hope that John Plute would approve.
Most of all, I would like to think that a giant elk like him still roams those mountains. In my dreams I see him there, hanging back in the dark timber just out of reach of mortal men, suspended on the edge of time and the longing of hunter’s soul.
If you would like to read more about trophy elk and mule deer, we suggest that you acquire a copy of Colorado’s Biggest Bucks and Bulls, by Jack and Susan Reneau. We generally have a copy or two in stock. Feel free to Email for price quote and other details.
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And I Lived To Tell About It…
Sometimes in life it is much better to be lucky than good, and that applies to big game hunts too. I was lucky enough to draw a Colorado Mountain goat tag in 2015, and that’s plenty enough to celebrate. I was lucky in the hunt too, in many more ways than one.
And I did get my billy. And I did live to tell about it.
I made the shot with very little legal shooting light remaining in the long, end of summer day. The good news is that my hunting partner was prescient enough to snap a photograph just after we found him. My camera had decided to quit working, and I would have probably forgotten anyway had it not. I was much too preoccupied with trying to stay upright.
The not so good news is that this is the only photo taken before it was caped and quartered and stowed in our packs.
Don’t get me wrong. I am quite grateful to have it. After all, it is not an easy task to take any kind of photo while balancing upon the slick rocks of an extreme slope in a cold and driving rain. That was the easy part too, compared with the dangerous, almost death-defying hike back down to our spike camp.
We had not planned to be caught on the face of a mountain such as this, far above timberline in the deep black night. Extreme hunts can call for extreme measures, and a mountain goat is nothing if not an extreme animal. Still, I would not recommend such a predicament to anyone, except perhaps another goat hunter. Only another goat or sheep hunter would understand the beauty of it all.
It was, however, the perfect ending to a grueling and treacherous adventure. Adventure and grand pursuit before breakfast I say, or in this case, a long overdue dinner. It was a mountain goat hunt, after all, and I got all that I could have bargained for, and more. I would not have had it any other way.
I don’t mind saying that I could not have pulled this hunt off without my friends and brothers from another mother. You know who you are, and I owe you big. Very, Very big…
May you draw a tag soon – so I can return the favor, God, and screaming leg muscles willing! And for all of my friends that I have not yet met still waiting for a tag, please let us know when you do.
We can’t wait to hear about your encounters with the peaks and your mountain goat success. With luck, you will get the job done much earlier in the day!
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Today was a big day in the grand scheme of things in this even grander adventure, for today I saw the first goats within the boundaries of my hunting unit. Two billy’s they were, hanging nonchalantly up towards the skyline and feeding on the carpet of shiny new green on the steep side of an open basin.
The sight of the goats and the stunning scenery took my breath away, which you could have said was simply impossible because I had already been gasping for oxygen for more than a mile already. Yet, I did have enough life left in me to grin a little grin and dance a little jig. It made the long hike seem but a small price to pay, and gave me more than a little hope that this quest might just all come together after all.
Still, we came to fish. A lake of indescribable beauty waited near the top of the trail, and my friend knew it to hold some great fish. He was not exaggerating.
As you can see the colors on these Cutthroat’s were almost too stunning to be true. I am sure that my inexpensive camera was simply not up to the task. When first removed from the water these fish were so bright and vibrantly red that it was difficult for the mind to believe the eye, yet, here they were in all their heavenly splendor.
I could say that they had grabbed my complete attention, but that would not be accurate. I spent most of my time fishing with one eye on the fish and the other on the goats, and soon put the rod down and sat to study them with my binoculars.
Both were mature males, and one was, to put it plainly, a bruiser of a big billy. I could see horn and heavy bases from a long way away, and his body shape and attitude told me all that I needed to know. I wanted to be up there with them, right then and now. I wanted to see what they see from their perch at the top of the world, and see it I will.
With some luck and some hard climbing, this goat and I will build some history together. I will be back a time or two before the season, and if he is as good as I think he is once the season begins he may find me quite a bit closer than he ever imagined.
And, oh yes. I will return to have another go at those beautiful cutthroat trout too!
A seasoned and wise old billy of the mountain goat kind is many things, yet above all things, an extreme and elemental force defined by chilling winds, lightning, and mother nature in all her raw and naked glory. He can be found, if you dare, in that dizzying land of avalanche chutes, jumbled boulder fields, and rarefied air far above timberline. And find him you must, for he will not find you.
Add to this mix a man who longs to do just that, yet wonders if the body will still follow the wishes of the mind. Somehow the mountain slopes have become even steeper over the years, and the realities of the inevitable aging of flesh and bone are fast approaching like ominous, black-dark thunderheads over the peaks. This combination of animal and man may or may not be a match made in heaven. But it is a miraculous association none the less, built solidly upon a foundation of hope and lofty dreams.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I was successful in Colorado’s annual big game application lottery this year, and I don’t mind saying that I must have been a perplexing sight at the Post Office a few weeks ago. Only another big game hunter would recognize the shell-shocked posture, wide open mouth, and classic thousand yard stare of a person holding that coveted, newly printed tag.
Ten years are a long time to wait for a hunting permit, so I hope you will forgive me for not being able to think too clearly just yet. The receipt of what is most likely a once in a lifetime permission slip has a way of immediately reorganizing one’s pressing list of priorities.
You might say that the mere thought of this adventure gives me considerable pause, as well as a strange and vague uneasiness in the innards. After all, mountain goat hunting is not for the faint of heart under almost any circumstances. Stories of its practical difficulty and sheer physicality are legendary, and in fact, sometimes terrifying.
Just two years ago a goat hunter died not far from where I will be hunting, and I doubt that I will be able to discount that kind of fact. He had been successful too, but then fell from a cliff while packing out his goat.
My license is for Game Management Unit 12 in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness Area near Aspen, and it would be hard to find a more picturesque backdrop for a backcountry expedition. It may also be one of the more challenging units in the state due to limited access and other factors. In other words, it is brutally rugged and unapologetically unforgiving. The goats are a long, hard hike with a heavy pack from most almost any trailhead.
Legally, I may harvest a male or female goat, and it is a rifle tag. However, in Colorado the regulations allow me to hunt with a bow & arrow if I so choose, and I do. I was born a bowhunter, and a man must stay true to himself in matters such as this
Perhaps it is testing the fates to leave the rifle at home, since it is not easy to get the job done no matter what the weapon. I would also like to locate a mature billy and place myself within range of my recurve bow, a short-range instrument to say the least. But I’ve never had trouble creating boundary stretching goals for myself, and there’s nothing wrong with setting the sights on high.
It would be easy to become overwhelmed with all of the logistics involved. A great deal of contingencies must come together to be successful, which means of course that a lot of things can also go wrong. It would be fair to say that this hunt begins when you open that long-awaited envelope, and I suspect that I will never really feel fully prepared. And the fact is, even though I hunted them in Alaska forty years ago, I really don’t know all that much about goats.
Luckily, Douglas Chadwick does. A wildlife biologist, Chadwick spent many years studying this fascinating animal and famously called him “The Beast The Color of Winter”, in his book so aptly named. He was the first biologist to immerse himself in their everyday doings so completely, and to read his words about his life among the goats leaves one in awe and admiration of an animal that frolics so easily upon a place of such majesty and formidable beauty.
Every aspect of a mountain goat is improbable. At first glance their outward appearance can severely contrast with the splendor around them, for they do seem to be built from an odd and incongruent collection of body parts. They perform highly impossible, unbelievable feats in impassable terrain, clinging to tiny footholds on cliffs where even angels fear to tread.
Few people get to spend much time with them, if at all. If you do the encounters are more like the desperate escapades of a tethered astronaut who must return to base after a measured length of time, or face terminal consequences. To hunt them is a hard-won and precious gift.
Yet, Chadwick also refers to them as creatures of habit, perhaps to a fault. Throughout the year they move from winter and summer ranges as conditions dictate, returning to the same areas each season. In late summer and early fall they will often feed in the same sunlit meadow in the early morning, and then return along a well-worn path to bed for the day on the same protective ledge.
That’s a very exciting bit of news, since I am a creature of habit myself. I also have a large reservoir of patience, gathered over a lifetime of hunting experiences.
There’s some other things I know too. Concealment and ambush are the bowhunter’s stock in trade, and it is an extremely effective hunting strategy under the right circumstances. It is one of the few advantages in our little bag of tricks, and if you know anything at all about the severe limitations of archery equipment, you will know that we need and welcome any advantage that we can find. It’s not much, but it is…enough.
And so, the time is at hand. The exercise program and the preparations have begun.
“Let the games begin”, I cry, and I pray that the arrow flies swift and true. I plan to savor every breathless, lung-busting, leg-muscles-turned-to-jelly thrill of it all.
You can believe that I will be in that special place called mountain goat country this September; watching, high on a ridge where brilliant blue sky crashes hard against rock and snow. I shall sit with back to granite, eternally waiting for that great white beast to turn in my direction. Hanging there on the mountain, part of it, with a shining smile upon my face and a razor-sharp shaft on the string.
Wish for me to possess, if just for a moment, the fortitude and wilderness spirit of the goats themselves. Wish me the providence and predatory skills of all high country hunters everywhere, be they two-legged or four. I am no doubt going to need all the moral support I can muster, and perhaps a portable oxygen tank to go.
It is what mountain dreams and big adventures are all about, and it looks like I am on my way at last, god willing…
Manitoba’s Long Green Jewel. Photo by Rocky Tschappat
By Michael Patrick McCarty
July 14, 2013
There is a place in the world that calls my name, with a voice as strong and true as could ever be. It thrums in my head, somewhere deep behind the bustle and noise of everyday living. Searching, beckoning – for me, since the first time I learned of it through my readings long ago. It became some vague and unfilled need, an itch I could not scratch, leaving me in want of something I could not capture. I did not know if I could ever get there.
It is a land of windswept waters and shimmering weed beds, dark timbered islands with ledges of stone, and jagged, multi-dimensional rocks that wrap the untamed shoreline as far as the eye can see.
There are loons here, lonely gulls and bright headed eagles, moose and bear, and the occasional otter slipping gracefully through the waves. There are fish here too, toothy critters, and some as long as your leg. It’s about hovering clouds of blood sipping mosquitos, and impossible days of light that do not end, but only change in tone and hue. It’s all about boats and motors and good friends laughing, eager to see what lies around the next bend.
41 1/2″ of Fun and Fury
They call the place Manitoba, and she is a crown jewel of boundless and spellbinding beauty. To my everlasting satisfaction I finally made it, having returned from her just now. With focus and joy I hold the spirit of it all close to my breast, lest she slip away quietly like a dark shadow in the night. I miss her already, with a depth and breadth of longing indescribable by mere mortals.
To say that Manitoba is all about game fish would be a vast understatement. There are Northern Pike and Walleye in numbers and size that would give any hard-core angler a tingle. Both species have legions of diehard fans, of one or the other, or both. They do seem to go together as naturally as warm sourdough bread and butter, and that’s just fine with me.
It’s easy to become obsessed with this kind of fishing, and it doesn’t take long to discover why. You simply have not lived an outdoor life in full until you’ve seen a green backed missile smash a brightly colored floating Rapala dropped perfectly at the water line, streaking through the sun dappled waters like a bear on fire as you remove the slack and make that first electrifying twitch. It is what piscatorial dreams are made of.
A pike is a ferocious customer. He is mean and crude and bursting with bad intent. There is never any doubt about what lies upon his mind, that being to destroy and consume any fish or small creature that will satisfy however briefly his incessant appetite and fulfill his instinctual need to perpetuate the species.
When hooked he is a stout rod full of trouble, and you can feel his mood through the line and see it in his eyes when he knows that he has been fooled. You have diverted him from his one unabiding mission, and he will not forgive you for it.
It makes one very glad to be something other than a baitfish. I, on the other hand, forgive him completely. He is only doing what a northern pike is designed to do, and he cannot change his ways no more than a wolf could cease to dog a wounded moose. I feel for him too, because without a doubt life is tough if you’re a pike. Just imagine the millions upon millions of his kind that never made it to breeding size.
An Epicurean Delight
The Walleye, on the other hand, seems a most different kind of gentleman. His real name is Wall-Eyed Pike, or Pike Perch. He is really not a Pike at all, but is in fact the largest member of the Perch family.
A tackle thrasher he is not, and I think it fair to say that although they are great fun to catch that is not why we seek them out. Walleye are challenging too, but perhaps that’s not it either. Dare we say that it’s all about the shore lunch fillet, done up right with a side of deep-fried potatoes?
I am squarely in that camp, and he may well be the pre-eminent panfish of North America. I simply cannot look at a walleye without salivating, while instantly picturing that glorious white, boneless slab sizzling in a dark black cast iron frying pan. If that’s a bad thing I stand guilty as charged, but blissfully unapologetic, just the same.
Still, walleye possess their own kind of seriousness. They are a more finicky eater than the pike, and seem more dignified and refined. They may prefer to gorge themselves upon mayflies or minnows depending on the day, or….perhaps not. Fisherman seem to talk of them in hushed and respectful tones, so as not to offend them and put them off of their feed. They remain a most mysterious fish, at least to me, and I plan to spend many more hours trying to figure out what makes them tick.
Of course northern Manitoba is the perfect place to do just that. We four booked our trip with Sam Fett at Silsby Lake Lodge, and they offer some of the finest trophy pike and walleye fishing in North America. Sam and his family have been in the outfitting business for decades, and it’s quite obvious that they know how to turn out some mighty happy sportsmen.
Their literature and impressive brochures speak of fish long and broad enough to test the skills of even the most seasoned outdoorsman, and they are not exaggerating. Boy do they have the fish!
Silsby Lake Lodge offers commercial flights from Winnipeg direct to an airstrip just one quick boat skip from their lodge, and it does not take long to get a line in the water. They offer full service guided lodge packages, or outpost camps with cabins or tents if you prefer to guide yourself and do some of the work on your own, as we did.
We fished from the High Hill Outpost camp for our first three days, and it was everything I had imagined a classic pike fishing camp to be. The scene and scenery is so picturesque that one could spend quite a bit of time relaxing at camp – that is if the fishing wasn’t so good. According to Sam, High Hill Lake and other adjoining or nearby waters may hold one of the largest concentrations of trophy pike found anywhere in the Province.
Home, Sweet Home
They have practiced strict conservation and catch and release policies for years, and it shows. Anglers may keep a few smaller fish each week for lunch or dinner, and great care is taken to fully revive the bigger fish.
A combination of perfect habitat, large baitfish populations, and exclusive access leads to a rare opportunity for mature fish – and lots of them. Sam told me that we had an opportunity to catch a northern of over 50″ in a weight range up to 45 pounds, and I believe him. That kind of possibility adds a very special spin to every cast!
Our small group did not catch the “fatties” as they call them on our brief stay at High Hill but we did catch all of the smaller pike that we could have wanted and two fish that we estimated to be in the 17 to 22 pound class. It was the first big pike that I had ever brought to the boat, and it is a thrill that I will not soon forget.
Our next destination was Pritchard Lake Outpost, which involved a short boat ride on High Hill Lake, a spectacular jaunt across Silsby Lake, an all terrain vehicle trip of a few miles to Cuddle Lake, and then another spectacular cruise to our new camp at Pritchard Lake. Suffice it to say that this was a big day of boating for a dweller of high mountain valleys and other high grounds, and I thoroughly enjoyed every rollicking wave of it. And the day was still young!
We filled out our booking with two days of fishing at Pritchard Lake, and it was everything that we had thought it might be. There was a surreal quality to this place, which no doubt had something to do with the fact that we were 90 miles from the nearest road on a body of water that in the past had maybe only ever been fished by a brave float pilot or two. The nearest other fishermen to us were probably 12-15 miles away, and true as it was, I nearly had to pinch my arm to remind myself that this was not some far-fetched dream.
We caught thick walleyes and small pike in a small outlet within ear shot of the tent, which tickled us to no end. Fishing on the main lake was slow, no doubt due to the record heat and high temperatures we were experiencing. Not the sort that give up easily, we fished hard and finally started to pick up some chunky pike in the 6 and 7 pound class, which was more than enough to make me grin.
We found the big boys, finally, on the last late afternoon of our trip. They were hanging in a weed bed in the middle of the lake, and the next two hours went by in a slow motion heartbeat. My boat partner and I caught three large pike in that 15 pound plus range again, and we had several others on that were probably bigger but spit the single barbless hook we were using. Later, our other friends fished that same weed bed and boated a 39 1/2″ fish, which surprised us since we had thrashed the area pretty good. Apparently our efforts had just warmed him up for another tussle.
We returned to camp completely exhausted, knowing that we had left behind all that we had to give, and receive, somewhere out there on those lakes. The only thing left to do was to raise a glass to the northern lights and bow before the utter majesty of this small nick of time. Some places are even harder to leave than they are to get to – and Pritchard Lake was certainly one of those.
I had a lot to think about on the boat ride back to the ATV, and it was all good. At first we picked our way through the shallow bars and watched for logs or other obstructions before opening that engine throttle. It reminds you of what it took you five days to figure out; that this is a world to slow down to and that there is no need to hurry like we all do in our lives back home.
It also warns you that there is danger here too, easily found. Like much of the north country, Manitoba can be a gentle sister or one mean mama, and things can change rather quickly. The character of a trip can be redefined in the blink of an eye, and sometimes not in a good way.
You can sense it in her moods, in the air and upon the changing weather. She can be a woman of tough love that suffers few fools, and rarely more than once. As with all wild things in wild places, there is a thin red line between the living and the not. Fail to respect her, and it’s “Gone beaver”, as the Mountain Men used to say.
If you doubt this then you are simply not paying attention. There are rocks here aplenty, anchored just under the surface, waiting for the unwary sport. Hit one just right and it can punch a hole in your boat faster than the stab of an eagle’s beak, or bash your engine prop off in an even bigger hurry. Do so and you may spend a cold wet night on the beach; that is, if you are very, very lucky.
But in all things worth attempting there is no reward without risk, as well it should be. A little danger can be an exhilarating thing, and it does one good to get that much too civilized blood pumping in the veins. Meanwhile, she dares us on into the waves and spray.
“Take me if you can”, she says…Are you ready?
I could go on and on about our Manitoba experience, but perhaps I shall save some more of it for another time. It’s always good to keep a few good things in reserve to savor and contemplate, at least for a while. One last point though.
Take my advice and don’t ever let anybody tell you that a Northern is not fit for eating. All of my life I have heard pike described as inferior fare – too many bones they said. Well, I am hear to tell you not to believe them.
Another Day At The Office
I asked our Cree Indian guide Lenard about the matter before I got to try one, and being a man of few words it was an easy decision for him. He told us that he liked walleye and pike about the same, and that he liked his fish baked or fried, but not boiled. “They don’t taste too good boiled”, he said. So there you have it.
We found the taste of pike delightful and not too far removed from that of walleye, and the bones not so bad if you filleted them well and were on the lookout. They are fabulous cooked simply on the grill, and my friend who knows a lot about these sort of things thought the feel and texture reminiscent of a nice hunk of halibut. Poor man’s lobster he called it, and it simply screamed to be dredged in butter and garlic. It was one of the greatest surprises in a most surprising trip.
A Little Friendly Competition
Home now in the brisk night air of the Colorado Rockies, I am left with only memories and whimsical deliberations.
How many modern day human beings, for example, have been blessed to be able to say that they have pitched a plug to game fish that have never seen a lure; in a lake that most certainly has never been plumbed with any kind of thoroughness?
How many of us have become part of a place where a loon can be born to paddle and dive and court; to lay its head back and cry to the heavens for the sheer pleasure of its echo without ever being heard by a human ear?
And by the way, does any bird or animal possess such a plaintive and soul-searching call as the loon? I don’t imagine I could stand it if there was.
How many of our kind have marveled after bears who have never seen such strange two-legged creatures and do not act like the bears of the settled country, or at gulls that are not at all like their more urban cousins and would never think of looking for a handout, but are only disturbed and offended by our presence?
It is all business as usual in Manitoba, and I am a most fortunate son and a far richer man for the transaction.
Many ordinary souls may look at her as a lonesome place, but not I. There is grace here, and the elegance of intelligent design. This world does not suffer for need or lack of anything, including people. It remains an enchanting realm of elementary nature and high adventure, and one cannot feel lonely when most solidly at home.
I know now that a small part of her essence will always be with me, and I can not wish for more. Yet the best part of Manitoba is the way that you feel when you get there, and in the hope that she gives to you to know that she is there, waiting, when you are not. I will return to see her again, should the spirits and the fishgods smile.
Perhaps she waits for you.
*Izaak Walton, one of history’s most famous fisherman, offered a recipe for roast pike in “The Compleat Angler”, and he had a thing or two to say about cooking pike for the dinner table.
He wrote: “This dish of meat is too good for any but anglers, or very honest men; and I trust you will prove both, and therefore I have trusted you with the secret.”
Gee Izaak – tell us what you really think!
Stay tuned for the recipe – while I hunt for my misplaced copy of this most famous angling book!
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My Idea Of A Good Time
Presenting Fun with Trout: Trout Fishing in Words, Paint & Lines. By Fred Everett. Preface by Charles K. Fox. Introduction by Ray Bergman.
Published by The Stackpole Co, Harrisburg, PA, 287 pages, 1952.
Maroon cover with gilt lettering and paste down illustration by Everett of a trout fisherman with rod and netted trout. With pictorial end papers, and internal line drawings.
An entertaining, often whimsical discussion on flytying, wetflying, dryflying, and more.
Dedicated “to the spirit of the great out-of-doors, its waters and the life therein, an ever enticing lure from the humdrum of everyday life to the body-reviving and soul-filling pastime of fishing; to the spirit of true sportsmanship and all that it means for fair play, courtesy, cooperation and real conservation; to the very spirit of angling itself, this book is sincerely and humbly dedicated”.
This copy is in Near Fine condition, without Dustjacket.
Here offered at $45, postpaid U.S. (subject to prior sale)
This is not your father’s venison cookbook. Buck, Buck, Moose is the first comprehensive, lushly photographed, full-color guide to working with and cooking all forms of venison, including deer, elk, moose, antelope and caribou. Buck, Buck, Moose will take you around the world, from nose to tail. The book features more than 100 recipes ranging from traditional dishes from six continents to original recipes never before seen. You’ll also get thorough instructions on how to butcher, age and store your venison, as well as how to use virtually every part of the animal. Buck, Buck, Moose also includes a lengthy section on curing venison and sausage-making. Peppered throughout are stories of the hunt and essays on why venison holds such a special place in human society. Venison is far more than mere food. It is, in many ways, what made us human.
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“A Bowhunter is a Hunter Reborn – Forever…” – Michael Patrick McCarty
October 15, 1998
“Obsessive pursuit finally led the bull of his dreams. Then something else took him over”.
There is a place I have been that many elk hunters must eventually visit. The mountains may shine amidst spectacular landscapes and it may look like typical elk country, but somehow things are different there. It is a land of mystery and natural forces inaccessible by horseback, jeep or other conventional means. Inward rather than outward, it is a journey of the heart on a path unique to each individual. It is a place you only know once you get there.
I found myself in such a place some years ago, while archery hunting in the high desert country of northwestern Colorado. Elk hunting had been my passion for a couple of decades, more often than not with bow and arrow as the weapon of choice. I’d hunted more than a few of Colorado’s limited-entry units with a fair amount of success. And my overwhelming concern had always been the pursuit of the big bull – the bigger the better.
He filled my dreams and consciousness and became part of my daily motivation for living and working in Colorado. I would find him, and I would launch a broadhead deep into his chest. Of course, with that event, fame and fortune would soon follow.
I have always paid attention to “The Book”, and to who shot what where. I wanted very badly to be one of those fellows with the 27 record-book entries, who had just returned from Montana or Mongolia, or that private ranch many hunters drool over. You know the ranch of which I speak, the one with a Boone and Crockett bull on every other ridge. I wanted all of it, the recognition from my peers and the life that would come with my great success. The more entries the better and as fast as possible. I ran for the goal and rarely looked back. I can’t say nothing else mattered, but by god it was close.
Then, one long-awaited day, I found myself hunting a special-permit area in Colorado. It was indeed the land of the big bull, a trophy area of epic proportions and about as fine a spot as one could hunt without paying the big money. The animals were there. I had a tag, and I would fill it. I would take what was mine and move on.
I hunted a grueling 10 days. The terrain was rocky and mostly open, with occasional brush patches and stunted cedars. It looked like a moonscape compared to the timbered high country I was used to hunting. Getting close enough for a shot was tough, yet I was able to pass up smaller bulls and often found myself within arrow range of elk that would make most hunters lightheaded. They made me lightheaded. They were the biggest-bodied elk I have ever seen, with towering, gleaming branches of bone. They looked like tractors with horns.
As so often happens in bowhunting, however, something always seemed to go wrong. I made so many stalks and had so many close calls, the events are just a blur. I eventually missed not one but two record-book animals. Each time a shaft went astray, I screamed and wailed with self pity, cursing my rotten luck and the useless stick and string in my hand. The prize was so close, yet always so far away.
Toward the end of the season, I glassed a small herd a couple of miles below me. Two were big bulls. One had cows, and the other wanted them. They were bugling back and forth and generally sizing each other up. I hurriedly planned a stalk and rushed downhill toward my dream.
I stalked and weaved and became enmeshed in a moving, mile-long skirmish line. More than once I slipped between the two animals as they worked their way through the brush and cedars. I saw flashes and patches of hide but was never able to loose an arrow. I knew that within few minutes a monstrous set of headgear would be laying at my feet. I felt I had been waiting for this moment all my life.
Soon the largest bull swung into the open sagebrush a couple of hundred yards below me, followed closely by a small herd of cows. Words cannot describe his magnificence. He was one of the finest specimens of elkness I have ever seen, with muscles that bulged and rippled under his skin. He was a bull of unique and exceptional genetics with a massive and perfect rack that appeared to stretch behind forever as he laid his head back to bugle. He was certainly at his absolute prime and, if the truth were known, perhaps a bit past it and didn’t know it. He took my breath away. Then I remembered why I had come.
Meanwhile, the smaller and closer of the two bulls had become even more vocal, and soon it became obvious he would pass very close to me on his way down the hill. He was not quite as large as the old bull, but he was big enough all the same. My bow was up and my muscles taut as I began my draw – and suddenly he was running and he was gone. I watched spellbound as he broke into the open and headed for the elk below us.
It was one of those unexplainable moments when time stands still, and you become something more than yourself. I could have been a rock or a tree or an insect in flight. I was at once both an observer and participant in the great mystery, a part of something far larger than myself.
The air was electric and my body tingled as the two warriors squared off. The cows felt it, too, and crashed crazily over the ridge. It was as if they knew something extraordinary was going down and wanted no part of it. The bulls screamed and grunted wildly at each other from close range, with quite a bit more intensity than I had ever witnessed. And suddenly they were one. They would have made any bighorn ram proud, as they seemed to rear up on their hind legs before rushing and clashing with a tremendous crack. I watched as they pushed and shoved with all their might, a solid mass of anergy and immense power surrounded by flying dirt and debris.
They showed no signs of quitting. Soon it dawned on me that they were too preoccupied to notice what I was doing, even though there was virtually no cover for a stalk. My legs carried me effortlessly over the rough and broken ground, and I was giddy with the exhilaration of the end so close at hand. The larger of the two was obviously tiring, and I remember feeling a pang of sorrow for an animal that would soon be beaten, probably for the first time in a very long time, and would now have to slink off humiliated and cowless.
They pushed and they struggled and, for a few moments, seemed to have reached a stalemate as I neared bow range. The old bull hesitated, then pushed, and when the other bull responded, the old bull spun like a Sumo Wrestler, took the uphill advantage and charged. I stood dumbfounded as the two hit the top of a shallow ravine and disappeared from view.
When I reached the edge of the drop-off, the fight was over. The old bull crawled slowly out of the ravine, managing to keep the only two trees between us all the while. He moved sorely and looked like he had just survived 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. I was probably the least of his problems.
I found the other bull where I knew he would be. I sent a shaft his way and ended what remained of his life, although his fate had already been sealed. A very long tine had done its job as well as any arrow ever could.
I collapsed by the side of that marvelous creature as if I were the one who’d just been beaten, and in a way I had. I stared off into space, confused, a little angry, and barely able to grope around in my pack for a gulp of water, half laughing, then crying. I don’t know how long I remained there before a distant bugle brought me back into the moment, reminding me of the work at hand and the long uphill walk back to my truck.
His head hangs in my den now, and I still stare at him in wonder and amazement. When my friends and family ask why I didn’t have him officially scored for the record book, I usually mumble some vague and incoherent answer, as the right words never seem to come.
For some reason, antler measurements have ceased to matter to me. It has something to do with realizing animals are much more than the sum of their parts. Hunting and the hunted remain a significant part of my life, but my reasons for hunting, and my life in general, have changed in some way I have yet to fully understand. Perhaps more than anything, I realize just how much I love to hunt. And that in itself is more than enough reason for doing it.
The bull’s proud head on my wall will always serve to remind me of that special place I have visited and hope to never forget.
I am, and will always be, forever humbled. Perhaps you have been there yourself.
Directly above is a photo of an original print from my personal collection. I have owned it for several years, and in fact found this at an antique store not long after I wrote this article. As you might imagine, it means a great deal to me.
I am unable to translate the title, nor identify the artist. I would love to do both, and also give proper attribution to the artist.
Can anyone help?
—”Michael Patrick McCarty, longtime bowhunter, buys and sells rare tomes and texts from his bookstore in Glenwood Springs, Colorado”
–Originally published in Bugle Magazine, May-June 1999.
The best meal I ever ate, anywhere, featured cottontail rabbit fried hot in an electric skillet, hunted up fresh from the fields within sight of the big picture window of my friend’s southern New Jersey family homestead.
I had eaten many a rabbit by the time I had nearly finished highschool. Cottontails were our sportsman’s consolation prize. They were everywhere in our neck of the woods, and we could always count on bagging a brace or two when we could not find a covey of bobwhite quail or other small game.
But the rabbit of my experience had never tasted like a lesser prize. My friend’s mom knew her way around the kitchen, and she knew exactly what to do with farm fresh ingredients, be they wild, or not. She was, in fact, a culinary wizard, conjured up to look like an ordinary woman.
What she did I suppose I will never really know, but I suspect it had something to do with buttermilk, flour, a perfectly matched selection of spices, and hot lard. The meat hit the pan with crackle and sizzle, and it spoke of blackberry leaves and sweet clover and sun dappled woodlots.
It literally melted in your mouth, and I remember watching as a heaping plate of rabbit pieces disappeared into smiling faces around the long farm table. It was ordinary fare, dressed in high style, and I was the honored guest of their simple realm. I knew then that I would never forget that wonderful dinner, and I have never looked at the unsung cottontail in the same way since.
Contrast that with the worst meal I ever had, which I had the displeasure of ingesting in a windswept Quebec-Labrador Caribou camp north of Schefferville, somewhere below the arctic circle.
It was a vile concoction of rancid grease, pan drippings, and rendered fat, and we ate it with a big metal spoon of questionable cleanliness. My native guide kept it stored in a good-sized mason jar, and he carried it around like it was the holy grail of gourmet cuisine. He ate it while sporting a huge grin, and I tried it because he wanted me too, and because he acted like it was so damn tasty. Who knew?
It seems that many people in the far north country can develop a bad case of “fat hunger”, as a result of their super lean, high protein diets. This affliction is also called “rabbit starvation”, having been given its name by those unfortunate souls who at one time or another subsisted solely on rabbits.
A hefty jar of partially congealed fat can be a highly prized commodity in that world, where calories count, and the lack thereof can literally mean the difference between life and death.
One throat gagging spoonful was quite enough for me, followed by an old candy bar of some kind to dull the taste, and washed down with some lukewarm canteen water. To this day, the occasional thought of that wretched goo turns my stomach inside out, now almost 40 years later. It definitely gives one some perspective on the otherwise fine cuisine of Canada.
With that in mind, an honorable mention must go to the partially raw and burnt slices of elk heart I skewered over an aspen fire one clear, brisk night in the Colorado back country.
I should have been more than happy that lonely, star filled night. I had taken a fat four point bull elk with my recurve bow just hours before, and I was headed back to my friend’s small hunting shack when I ran out of daylight, and flashlight batteries.
I took a breath snatching fall from a low cliff, and by all rights I should have hurt myself badly, but did not. So, I gathered up some branches and hunkered down for the night, and thanked my guardian hunting angel. The animal’s heart and liver was all that I had packed with me.
It wasn’t so bad, after all, if you enjoy rubbery, half-cooked offal, but it could have used some salt. And it would have been far better if I had some water, which I had run out of during the hot afternoon. The head pounding hangover left over from the previous night’s shenanigans was still with me, which did not help my predicament.
In my defense, let the record state that it was the weekend of my bachelor party, and it is fair to say that the boys’ and I had just a little “too much fun”. I had been the only one to stagger out of camp that early morning, and only then because I had somehow managed to pass out in my hunting cloths, with boots on. One downhill step, and I was on my way.
My head and parched throat told me that I was in for a rough night, but my heart said that there were far worse places to be than in the abiding lap of the Rocky Mountains, with elk bugling all around, even if the meal was merely marginal. It’s how memories are made, and I would not trade them now for all the world. We laugh about it still.
The supper I am most grateful for consisted of one big can of yellow cling peaches, packed in heavy syrup. I ate them while huddled in a sleeping bag, in the low light of a small gas lamp. I did so from a short bunk in the cabin of a small crab boat, anchored just off the beach somewhere in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
My guide and I had spent the day above timberline hunting mountain goats and glassing for coastal brown bear, and we had been late getting back to our pick up point. Loaded with the heavy hide and meat of a white-robed goat, we struggled down through the rocks and heavy underbrush in a race to beat the faltering late night sun. We didn’t make it.
Left with no easy choices, we made our way to a gurgling stream in the bottom of a canyon, and waded in. We thrashed and slipped and bullied our way down through knee-deep water for more than a few miles, while desperately trying to keep our feet under us. It was a truly dark and soul-searching night, made far worse by the occasional loud crashes of large, big things, just out of sight. These things most probably had huge tearing teeth and long, flesh ripping claws to go with them. It was not a pretty picture, and I am not proud of the terrified thoughts and hobgoblins which danced and screamed inside my head and nearly got the better of me.
I have never been so happy to break clear of thick brush, and to see a low slung skiff waiting hopefully on an open cove in the light of a wispy moon. My father could barely speak, relieved from his duty of pacing the shoreline and imagining the worst. Once on board the main boat, and safe, I had enough energy to slurp down those aforementioned peaches that had appeared under my nose, to then lie back and fall instantly asleep.
A can of peaches is certainly not much of a meal, but it was heavenly sustenance to me. It was much better than the alternative, which most importantly meant that I had not become the hot and ready to eat snack of a snarling 10 foot beast. Thank god for life’s little graces.
Last but not least, I savored my most memorable meal on the day after my wedding in the high mountains of Colorado. We spent a pampered night or two in Aspen’s only five-star hotel, and dined in its’ fine restaurant.
The company and the conversation was grand, to say the least, as was the atmosphere, and the setting. The hotel has a grand view of the area’s towering, snow-covered peaks, and sits within close proximity of summering herds of elk, and the occasional black bear. It was a most appropriate location from which to approach a colorful plate of elk tenderloin with sun-dried cherry sauce and sweet potato fries, duly crafted by the expert hands’ of one of the world’s greatest chefs. I can only describe the entire experience, as well, absurdly, …grand…
Now that was a preparation for the ages; a far cry from a flame scorched elk heart to be sure, and almost as good as that lovingly tendered rabbit dinner of my youth.
So, these are some of my food highs, and lows, in the proverbial nutshell.
No doubt you have several of your own. If you do, we’d love to hear about them.
Care to share?
You may also wish to see the recipe for grilled elk loin and cherry sauce here.