Fishing & Mushroom Hunting

We headed up to Cherokee Marsh yesterday, hoping to catch a big catfish or two.

Looking down the channel from the launch towards the main marsh

Looking down the channel from the launch towards the main marsh

The little Sea3horse survived winter.

The little Sea3horse survived winter. And the underbrush is finally just starting to green up.

We were out for a solid 4 hours, but sadly no cats. Mostly panfish seemed to be biting, and softly. Some other sort of fish were jumping, though, and clearing the water. Spawning probably. Maybe the sheepsheads or carp? We aren’t sure, we never got any of them to bite. Our solitary catch last night was a very nice sized crappie.

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13 inch female crappie

13 inch female crappie

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When we cleaned the fish, we saw she still hadn’t spawned yet. The walleyes went about a week ago, so the panfish spawn is probably a week or two out, once the water gets closer to 50F.

In addition to our first fishing trip, we got out and hung some more trail cameras on Saturday afternoon. We found some interesting new spots, so hopefully something cool turns up. While Matt hung cameras, I poked around looking for morels. I found mayapples and fern fiddleheads, which are supposed to come up just before the mushrooms do.

Not sure if these are the edible ostrich ferns or not.

Not sure if these are the edible ostrich ferns or not.

My dad’s been out picking for the last week down in Missouri, and he says they’re nearing the end of morel season with 80F temps on the way. He’s got over 20 pounds of the things, most of them in the process of dehydrating. I told him they sell for around $20 a pound. He’s contemplating driving up to my home area in the Illinois Valley, about 4 hours north of St Louis, to continue picking, and then up here to me. We’re supposed to get some temps in the 60s and 70s, but this time with nights above freezing. That plus the solid week of rain last week makes me think this week will be a good one for mushrooms. I hope so, I haven’t had morels in ages.

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Wild Food: Italian Panfish Chowder.

Monday night I had some thawed panfish on my hands, and few ideas. I wanted chowder again but not cream based. I found this recipe and tweaked it a bit. Mostly, less fish and I used concentrated turkey stock I made a while back and added some clam juice.

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Pile o' fish skins.

Pile o’ fish skins.

GE GE GE

It came out spicier than I intended, mostly because I added way too much red pepper. However, a piece of bread or some avocado cooled it down pretty nicely. I would definitely love a chance to make this with some cod or halibut I caught myself. A girl can dream. Maybe I can catch a burbot (lawyer fish or eelpout) someday.

Ice Shanty Chef Trial Two: Tex Mex On Ice

This post is going up a day late due to some serious technical difficulties. The little netbook I write this blog from eventually had to be reset to its factory defaults. My tablet isn’t able to read the standard SD card my camera uses, only microSD. Anyway, the problem is solved, even if I am now minus a bunch of written work from my last class, as well we some pictures. Luckily, I backed up nearly everything on our Apple Airport router/backup harddrive.

Anyhow. We went ice fishing on Sunday. I’d been pulling for Devil’s Lake up in Baraboo, but Matt wanted to head back to Long Lake. Devil’s Lake has all the standard cool water fish, plus a population of brown trout. Since the tires on the Durango are questionable at best, and we’d want to drive onto Devil if we went, we opted for Long Lake.

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I’ll cut right to the chase. We didn’t catch a damn fish. We drove on Long Lake, incidentally. There were a good 15 inches of ice, and we drove to a spot with tons of tire marks and foot prints. There were fresh ice holes all over. Granted, it was above freezing, so fresh could have been from 15 minutes prior, or 6 hours prior. We didn’t even set the shanty up. It was a warm (from our perspective), cloudy day. The only aquatic life we saw was a tiny crappie fry and 4 bullfrog tadpoles basking in the warmer water near the surface of the iceholes.

The one good thing was another chance to test my Mr Heater cookery. I changed my mind on the steak and eggs last minute, eggs sounded messy. So it was venison steak over Mexican-seasoned rice and black beans. Mine got avocado, Matt’s got queso.

Assembly.

Assembly.

Labelling is important.

Labelling is important.

Mine cooked

Mine cooked

Matt's cooked

Matt’s cooked

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

So, it was kind of a crummy day out. The food turned out alright, though I think the acidity from the tomatoes caused it to pick up a bit of a foil aftertaste. I’ll be making adjustments for two weeks from now, when I’m back to using the Mr. Heater.

This coming weekend is the Lawrence Lake Fisheree, and we’re bringing out a little grill and a bit of a better spread. So far, I’m planning on maybe breakfast links, possibly eggs or pancakes in the cast iron, brats and burgers, probably some baked beans, some peppermint schnapps hot cocoa or Bailey’s coffee, and then maybe some assorted snacks. I haven’t really sat down and hashed it out yet. We’ll be out for the whole deal, from 7am-2pm, so we’ll definitely need sustenance- right now the high is about 15F for the day. Our fishing buddy M has even mentioned his contribution being a bloody Mary bar. We should have some good food and drinks, all ’round.

 

Wild Food: Crappie Tacos

One of the best parts of catching crappie is the spelling of the name. After our catch on Saturday, I had a a couple crappie dishes to share with you (Crappie Miso soup, anyone?). These were dinner on Sunday night.

After filleting them, I spritzed them with some lime, dredged them in flour mixed with some cumin, paprika, and chili powder, and fried them in a hot cast iron pan. They were served with some salsa and fresh cilantro and scallions on warm tortillas. Pretty damn tasty, pretty damn fast.

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Wild Food: Crappie Miso Soup and bonus Venison Fried Rice.

While Matt was cleaning those crappie from Saturday’s fishing trip, I had a seedling of an idea. I asked him to let me have them, that I wanted them for something. As he often does,  Matt looked at me like I was a crazy person. Perhaps I am a little bit, wanting to keep fish heads and skeletons.

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Well, that seedling of an idea was to make fish stock. But it quickly blossomed into something more than simple fish stock. I wanted to make miso soup. From scratch. With fish I helped catch.

First things first: miso soup needs a base of dashi stock. This is made from dried konbu seaweed and dried, shaved bonito- a fish related to mackerel and tuna. Their meat is somewhat dark in color, and they’re an ocean fish. My little crappies are very lean, light freshwater fish. If I’ve learned one thing being a person who 1. tends to do adventurous cooking when it’s late at night and cold and who 2. doesn’t always plan ahead and sometimes hates leaving the house, it’s that if you’re going to be making wild substitutions, you’d best be sticking firmly to the technique. So I took the crappie carcasses I kept and cleaned (beheaded and gutted) and a couple fillets and stuck em in my dehydrator. They’d take roughly 3 hours to get good and dry, so I headed out into the cold on Sunday to procure some exotic supplies I didn’t have to hand.

We have a wonderful chain of employee-owned grocery stores in northern Illinois and Wisconsin called Woodman’s. They carry allllll kinds of food and tend to be enormous, with excellent east Asian/Indian/Kosher/Hispanic food sections. Well, I got some tofu there, and the fixin’s for some fish tacos, but it turns out mine carries neither konbu nor shiro miso paste. So I did some quick google-fu on my phone, and found that there was an Asian grocery nearby. I gathered my courage and headed over. Unable to read the characters of any Asian language, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, or otherwise, I proceeded to get very lost in the Asian supermarket. The very, very kind owner eventually helped me out, but now I know where to go if I ever want beef tendons in bulk, dried jellyfish, or copious amounts of wonderful, wonderful snacks and Aloe Drink.

Shredded konbu, slightly different than the sliced, dried squares

Shredded konbu, slightly different than the sliced, dried squares

Delicious, delicious miso paste.

Delicious, delicious miso paste.

So I returned with my haul, and got to work. Dashi is a much simpler process than I realized- you boil the konbu in the water, and once the konbu is soft, you add the fish and kill the heat. While the water and seaweed heated, I pulled the fish off the dehydrator.

Crispy dried crappie

Crispy dried crappie

I shredded that, and once the konbu had softened a bit, tossed it all in and killed the heat. I then let it sit till mostly cooled, and strained it into a container. It was already night time, and the rest of the soup making would wait until Monday afternoon.

Dried fish in the konbu tea.

Dried fish in the konbu tea.

A little over 50 oz dashi

A little over 50 oz dashi

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The next day, I got it out, and began heating it on the stove. While I did that, I sliced some green onions and began working with something you seldom see in my kitchen.

Hard to open packaging.

Hard to open packaging.

It's just. So. Weird.

It’s just. So. Weird.

They call it bean curd. You know what that means? Cheese made from soymilk, basically.

They call it bean curd. You know what that means? Cheese made from soymilk, basically.

Cubed pressed soy cheese curd and sliced green onions.

Cubed pressed soy cheese curd and sliced green onions.

So, once the dashi boiled, it was time to add the miso. The side of the miso package said one tablespoon for every 3/4 cup soup desired. After some math, I came up with approx 8 tablespoons, but that sounded like a lot. I put in 4, tasted it, and put in a 5th tablespoon. Perfect. Time to simmer slowly for a bit, then add the tofu.

Beautiful.

Beautiful.

At this point, I would have really liked some dried mushrooms to reconstitute in the soup, but you recall my troubles in the Asian market. “Dried black fungus” in bags wasn’t the most helpful thing in the world. Maybe next time I’ll be brave in the name of fungi.

I could find only shredded konbu, remember. It tasted the same still.

I could find only shredded konbu, remember. It tasted the same still.

Green onions went on in the bowl. And the taste? This could have been made in a Japanese restaurant, except I pulled part of the original ingredients out of a frozen lake with my own two hands.

I had this for lunch, but it made such a big batch I had some with dinner. Dinner was venison fried rice.

A wild meal: Crappie miso and venison fried rice.

A wild meal: Crappie miso and venison fried rice.

The high today in southern Wisconsin was -16. Near -40F with the wind. A steaming bowl of miso soup was just the thing to warm up with.

 

 

 

Fox Lake Crappies, and One That Got Away

Saturday was our last warm day for a while around these parts. Forecast to be around 30F, right before a drop off into Arctic weather, we were headed out to ice fish. We met our fishing buddies, and headed up to Fox Lake, about 45 minutes from Madison. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones with that idea.

Hundred of people out.

Hundred of people out.

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We stopped in the town of Fox Lake for bait, and the owner of the bait shop/liquor store assured us there was a good 15 inches on the lake, and it was safe to drive on. Sure enough, all these people had their trucks on already. We still drove on with the windows down, listening for cracks. We were headed away from the crowds over the deep part of the lake, to the water offshore from a very specific lakehouse promised to be a regular honey hole.

Matt setting a tip up for northern

Matt setting a tip up for northern

Carefully manicured icehold

Carefully manicured icehold

Approx 15 inches of ice.

Approx 15 inches of ice.

We got set up, but fitting 4 people in the shanty was a bit crowded. So Matt and I left our jig poles in some holders, and stood outside. It wasn’t so cold anyhow, and we had tip ups to watch. We checked on our jigs from time to time. It was a good thing, too. Within 20 minutes, Matt had something on. He’d gone into check the bait on his jig, but when he began to reel, it took off on him. It was stripping the 2lb test line something fierce, and bending his pole nearly double.

GE GEMatt got it up to the bottom of the ice twice, and we caught flashes of mouth- it was a pike, and a big one. On 2lb fluorocarbon without a leader. He finally wore it down to reel it to the top of the ice, and M was ready to reach into the water to gill it.

GEHe had his hands on it just in time to hear a little ping. The line snapped, and the fish escaped. We wouldn’t see any more northern that day. Heartbreaking.

We would, however, keep slaying fish on crappie minnows. And they were pretty much all crappies themselves. Big ones.

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Cannibals, all of you.

Cannibals, all of you.

In addition to pulling crappies off our tip ups, I caught my first walleye. I had a crappie minnow on my jig pole. I went back into the shanty to check on it, and the line was at an angle away from the ice hole. I picked up my pole, set the hook, and pulled up a little walleye. He was about 2 inches shy of being a keeper.

GE GEIn the end, we’d take home 6 crappie. It made for a pretty decent day on the ice.

GE GE

One Last Summer Fling Before Fall and Life Catch Us Up.

Normally, my new posts go out on Mondays. But we got back from this vacation on a Thursday. I’m also working all through the weekend- closing the dining room tonight, and closing the bar on Saturday and Sunday. Those two days I also arrive at work by 11 am. They’ll both be long days. I’m not too sure how much I’ll have to write about come Monday, but I had an idea. You see a lot of how-to for packing for camping. I took some pictures of my get home, get unpacked process.

Anyhow. Last Monday I wrote about the salmon fishing we did last week Saturday. We stayed that night in the Appleton area with Matt’s brother and his wife. Sunday morning we hooked the camper back up, packed up the pups, and headed further north. We stopped at a little grocery store in a town along the way to stock up on food. It was a very pleasant ride all along country roads on a sunny day.  Farmers were haying, and that far north, we were seeing the outermost leaves on the ash and maple trees beginning to change color- in spite of temps in the 80s and up.

For the most part, we spent the week fishing. This was another National Forest campground- Richardson Lake. We camped here once last year in June, before I ever started this blog thing up. It was rainy and chilly the entire time, and we were stuck in a tent. At the time, the jon boat had only one trolling motor on a too-small battery, and the old Merc didn’t work. We also didn’t catch any fish.  Not so this time. We had the camper and the canoe. It was nice and warm most of the week. And were the fish ever biting. I didn’t get as many pictures as I would have liked, as my phone and only camera blew through its battery fairly quickly. I need to remember to turn off mobile data that far in the stix so it isn’t constantly searching for a signal.

We fished mostly there on Richardson, but one day we did go to a different lake, where Matt’s grandparents live. That’s where we caught the big pumpkinseed and the big bass. When we weren’t fishing, we were visiting Matt’s family and tooling around the area.

An Adventure in Wet Pants and Smashed Toes…

One thing I wish I’d gotten pictures of, but wisely did not take my phone/camera for was a trout fishing attempt. The Oconto river near Matt’s hometown is cold and rocky. It holds brook and brown trout. One of his old high school buddies took us down there for trout. It was rugged and beautiful. When we picked his buddy up, we should have known we were in for trouble. On the phone, he specifically requested Mike’s Hard Black Raspberry Lemonade and jalapeno beef sticks. He said without those, there would be no trout. He was waiting in his driveway in a pair of chest waders. Matt and I were in shorts and sandals. We went offroad in the Durango for a couple miles, and then bushwhacked our way down to the water. When I said rocky, I meant bouldery. And loggy. When logging was still a big thing in northern Wisconsin, they’d floated logs down the river, and you can still see some of the bigger ones. The rest are all deadfalls. We spent two or three hours scrambling over rocks, under trees, and through icy water. Matt dunked himself repeatedly. I didn’t go in over my knees until the last minute, soaking my right side. No trout, only chubs and smashed, tender feet.

Besides Fishing…

Other than fishing, we did some shooting. I got in some practice with my bow and got it sighted in. We also did some trap shooting, and I got more practice with my shotgun. Based on my practice, the ducks and geese have quite the upper hand this year.

We also went coyote hunting on his grandfather’s farm. The first morning we didn’t see anything. But we went our last night there (Wednesday). It turned into a bit of scouting. We saw at least 5 deer. We also saw a flock of turkeys. Three toms, three jakes. We didn’t see any coyotes, but they did answer our calls in the distance.

Blurry turkey blobs. I need a new camera.

Blurry turkey blobs. I need a new camera.

However, we started to hear thunder rumbling. On the way over, we’d caught some weather advisories out of Marquette, Michigan and Marinette. We hoped it would pass north of us, but then the thunder got louder and this happened.

Not good.

Not good.

It poured. We got soaked. The deer got soaked. The turkeys got soaked. We were mighty grateful for the camper when we got back to the site. Our firepit was full of water, and there were a couple inches of water standing on the ground over most of the site. If we’d had a tent, we’d have been screwed. We changed into dry clothes, and waited it out.

It stopped raining, and Matt decided to throw a line in the lake. Earlier in the trip the dogs had knocked my sandals into the fire, leaving me with only my hunting boots or my leather boots. I opted not to go. After about 20 minutes, Matt shut off the generator on me and said “I’m vetoing you. Come down here”. He’d had a pretty decent bite. We pushed the canoe out for some post-storm fishing. I caught a tiny blue gill, which we used for bait. And Matt finally caught a pike. But the best thing was the light at sunset.

Thursday morning, we headed out one more time to fish. In the pictures above, we kept 32 of the fish we caught. We tossed at least that many back, and used some of the really small ‘gills for bait (only in the lakes we caught them in). Once the morning bite stopped around 8:30, we packed everything in, and headed back home.

A Return to Normal.

Three hours later, we re entered civilization and our normal lives. I work all weekend. Matt works all of today (Friday). Next month he takes over the Madison recruiting office (for the next couple years), and I have the rest of the season to finish out at the golf course (who knows how long the weather will hold). By January, I hope to be back in college classes so I can maybe get this godforsaken degree of mine an inch closer to done.

This vacation was, I think, just a pause or a breath before we both enter a bit of a new chapter. Dealing with recruiting duty with Matt just a canvassing recruiter for the last three years was incredibly hard. The first several months of him running the office will be tough as well, particularly since he’s starting right when school does. It will be a different kind of hard. I’ll be paying down the last of what I owe UW-Madison from two years ago (yuck, I know), and saving up to pay for next spring. Our one touchstone through all of this mess will be our outdoors hobbies. Hunting, fishing, all of it. It keeps us grounded, and it keeps us together.