The red-winged blackbirds are a sign of spring

Published 6:00am Sunday, July 6, 2014

Column: Woods & Water by Dick Herfindahl

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of the common blackbird, but I have a different feeling when it comes to the red-winged blackbird.

As a kid, I can recall the first true sign of spring in my little world was when you first heard the call of the red-winged emanating from the nearby slough. I can remember the excitement of trying to spot as many different birds as possible in the slough, and once in a while there would even be a rare sighting of a yellow-winged blackbird. We would try to spot their nests in the bull rushes of the slough and watch patiently for the little ones to appear. Even to this day, the sound of a red winged blackbird still makes me pause and take notice.

Picture this: you are on a summer’s eve drive on a country road with the windows down feeling the coolness of the evening as you pass by an area of slough grass when you hear the sounds of red-winged blackbirds busily chatting away. To me, nature has a calming effect. If you pause and take in the beauty of the moment, it can be a great stress reliever.

Looking back, I can recall the times when I would go to Beaver Lake for some crappie fishing. When I was a young kid, my mom and dad along with their friends Elmer and Mary would take me to Beaver Lake fishing. Now, my dad was never a fisherman, but he would be what he would have referred to as a “good egg,” meaning that he went along to make everyone else happy. Elmer had an old green five-horsepower Johnson Sea Horse outboard motor, and we would rent two boats from the boathouse at Beaver. They would tie the anchor rope from our boat to Elmer’s, and he would tow us to the hot spot where the crappies were sure to be waiting.

My mother loved to fish, and she is the main reason that I have always had a love for the sport. We would sit in that spot waiting for the crappies until the sun started to set, and sure enough, just as the cool of the evening started to put a light fog on the lily pads, the crappies would start biting. The action would be fast and furious for about half an hour or so. The fish would bite so fast that you couldn’t get them off the hook and into the basket fast enough because you didn’t want to waste that small window of opportunity. To a kid who had always lived for that moment, it just couldn’t get any better.

When I came home on leave in the summer of 1966, I rode with my mom and dad along with my sister Judy to Beaver Lake for a picnic and some shore fishing. We had burgers and hot dogs on a little portable grill along with my mother’s famous potato salad. Of course, it wouldn’t be a picnic without Van Camp’s beans. That June day was cool, windy and sprinkled with showers. Although all we caught were a few bullheads, it was a day that I remember fondly.

My mother was always giving me fishing tips that she picked up from different folks who knew fishing. One of her favorite crappie techniques was to use a nylon leader that had a small hook, a couple of beads and a small spinner blade. I believe Eagle Claw first released that particular crappie lure. Mom said the trick was to hook the minnow through the dorsal fin to keep it fresh and add a bobber. After you cast it out, you should let it sit for a moment and then reel it in slowly giving it an occasional twitch. She said that if your bobber starts to go under, you should never rear back and set the hook because crappies have soft mouths. She said to lift the rod tip up gently and reel in in a slow but steady fashion until you feel the fish on the other end. This is a technique that I still practice, but for some reason I no longer use the bobber-spinner method and have instead opted for a jig and plastic. Although the rig may be different, the technique still serves me well. I wonder when it was that someone put out the memo that stated fish were no longer interested in the old spinner and bobber method. I believe that I am going to give the old method a try once again because I really don’t believe that the fish have evolved to genius status yet.

I have many fond memories of those trips to Beaver Lake, and if I close my eyes I can still hear the sounds of nature as evening sets in, and I can almost feel the cool of the dew as it settles in for the night.

Until next time, enjoy the great outdoors and take some time to introduce a kid to fishing. We could all take a little time out of our busy lives to step back and take in some of the wonders of nature that surrounds us.

Please take a little time to remember those who served and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.