Wild Food: Butterflied, Pan-fried Rainbow Trout

Saturday afternoon, we got in the truck to head west of town to pick up some of our trail cameras, and then hit Black earth Creek for a little fishing. There are some camera images to put up later, which is encouraging.

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One trout on the day. I saw some swells, but otherwise had nothing to show for crawling through hackthorns, mud, and scrubby black willows. Matt’s little trout was 10.5″, an inch and a half over the limit. He came home with us.

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I didn’t want to fillet the fish and waste all that meat, since it was feeding the both of us. So I consulted Mr Hank Shaw’s blog, and lo. There was a tutorial on deboning a fish.

Only slightly messier than neccessary.

Only slightly messier than neccessary.

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So, with the fish mostly bone-free, I started in on dinner. It was a simple one- I made Mexican-style rice, sauteed some snow peas, and sliced up half an avocado. I seasoned the fish lightly with coriander, salt, and a touch of cumin, then pan-fried it, skin side down.

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I kept the heat at medium-med-low, and about halfway through I covered the cast iron pan to finish cooking the top of the fish, since I wasn’t going to flip it. It came out moist and flaky. After getting the fish de-boned, the cooking process for it and the rest of the meal clocked in under 30 minutes. I split the fish lengthwise, and we each got half, along with a hearty helping of rice. We’re hoping to get out for trout a bit more often.

Gobble Gobble, My Friends.

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It’s almost that time again. I selected the first week of the Spring turkey hunt down in the zone around Madison, which extends from I39/90/94 all the way to the Mississippi. It’s about a month earlier than last year’s tags, and I’m hoping that the turkeys out at Sunny Slope won’t be as cautious as mid-May last year. I’m also hoping I’ll be mostly alone hunting out there. Matt’s are the week after mine, for the zone his hometown is in. He plans to hunt his grandpa’s farm where we saw that flock of jakes and toms last summer. He’ll probably do that the same weekend we start to prep our very first stab at food plots up there. Either way, there’s an extremely good chance one or both of us will be hunting in the snow: Madison’s supposed to get some snow this weekend, up north still has snow from winter lying around. About two feet, which we saw when we headed to Minnesota two weeks ago. I’ll almost certainly be using my heavy deer hunting insulated camo instead of the light cotton I was wearing last year.

Big, Adventurous News

Matt got some big news last night. It looks like the earliest part of our bow season is going to be interrupted.

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Since the wait for his home area up in zone B is 9 years, and he ended up skipping a couple of preference point deadlines (deployments, they suck), he opted to take what preference points he did have and apply for a tag for zone C.

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The northernmost boundary of C there at Rt. 64 is maybe 15 miles north of Wausau ( we take 64 part of the way to get east to Matt’s hometown), putting it about 2 hours and 15 minutes away. Since he got a tag for a zone where we don’t know anyone with land to hunt, he’s going to hire a guide. That could put us closer to three hours away if that guide happens to be out in the western counties like St Croix or Polk. It also means we won’t have to be driving to and from every week to replenish bait piles. Not only is that a lot of gas, but bear bait can get very expensive.

I’ll be picking up a Class B license, which allows me to accompany him and assist him in hunting activities like baiting and tracking. I’d also have it in order to sit with him if I could to film. Since we haven’t figured out exactly how it will work with a guide yet, it’s still up in the air.

The season for C runs from September 3- October 7. Zone C you can’t run bear dogs (not that we could- we don’t own any, and I don’t even know if you can hire a guy with hounds). What’s the bear population like there?  I had to do some reading on that one. The area we spend the most time in has plenty of em- remember the poo piles? But it’s a different zone. Anyhow, according to this article from the WIDNR, there’s even an occasional incidence of bear sightings in the northwest of Dane county where Madison is located. As the bear population has expanded south, it looks like they’ve become abundant or common in most of Zone C.  According to another DNR article:

“More than 104,000 hunters applied for 9,015 permits in 2012, making the wait to receive a harvest permit approximately 5 to 9 years, depending on the bear management zone. However, when one finally receives that permit, the opportunity to harvest a bear is better than 50 percent and some of the biggest bears in the country are taken in Wisconsin. Several bears registered by hunters each year top 600 or 700 pounds!”

Granted, that’s for all of the bear hunting zones put together. It’s looking like Zone C usually has the fewest bears killed. I’m going to guess that this is a combination of a slightly lower bear population, a higher human population with a shorter wait for permits, and mostly, a much, much larger spread of land area. Zone C covers the southern and central 2/3 of the state. At the bottom of this .pdf  there’s information from the 2012 season. 810 for 2/3 of the state doesn’t seem too unfavorable, especially considering 2012 was that awful drought year for the southern portion of the state.

In addition to normal tagged registration like any large animal taken (deer, sturgeon, etc), we’ll have to provide a tooth (a premolar) for aging, and part of a rib for population counts if we’re successful. Apparently the DNR has volunteers place baits laced with dyes that show up in the bones of bears, enabling them to track population growth. It looks like we have a busy year ahead of us. We’re gonna need a bigger freezer.

 

 

The Strangest Thing I’ve Done (So far)

I’ve done some weird stuff in my short time here. Up and planning a summer term study abroad to Germany in two short months, for example (I was woefully underprepared). Internet dating, for another. Or how about pulling up stakes and moving to a new state, and in with someone I’d only been dating for three months.

But purchasing a tag to sit in a small, dark hut and stare into a big, square hole in the ice, hoping a living fossil would swim past so I could stab it with a trident? I think that takes the cake.

Courtesy of the worst winter since probably 1978, Winnebago had an official average of 30 inches of ice, with a reported max of 37. I was on my own with Matt’s aunt and uncle on Saturday. He came out with us on Sunday, before we had to head home. As of Saturday night, the lake had hit 44% of its quota. If it hits 99%, they call the season. People are figuring it won’t last till next weekend. The most sturgeon were registered on the southern end of the lake near Oshkosh. Naturally, we were toward the north near Neenah. For the day on Saturday, a few over 200 fish were registered. Sadly, I did not get to see one in person. Matt’s aunt texted me a picture of one they saw as they came off the ice today.

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However, I did find this great video from last year that summed up the sturgeon fishing experience pretty well. Enjoy the mustaches, chainsaws, and genuine Wisconsin accents.

A Chilly January Fishing Weekend.

Another weekend fishing is on the books. There isn’t a whole bunch to report. The Fisheree was fun but uneventful- fishing was slow for us, with just three fish between Matt and I. M’s family was out, and they got quite a few throughout the day, but nobody else’s tipups were taking off. Just as I was heading toward my lines to bring them in, I got a flag and pulled up my first northern, though. We had a good time anyway.

After a slow Fisheree, we decided to head out Sunday as well. We went out for trout to one of my favorite places- Devil’s Lake. So far, I’d only been hiking here, never fishing. But it’s a gorgeous park. We had one fish here- a 13 1/2 inch largemouth early in the afternoon. We marked a lot of fish, but nothing went for our bait. No trout, either. Some pretty picture opportunities, though.

The head of the east bluff.

The head of the east bluff.

Bright and sunny.

Bright and sunny.

One end of the east bluff from the top of the snow

One end of the east bluff from the top of the snow

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The west bluff sloping to the lake

The west bluff sloping to the lake

A visitor's center

A visitor’s center

My bass. I almost lost it- Matt valiantly and quickly reached into the icehole to catch it when it came off the hook.

My bass. I almost lost it- Matt valiantly and quickly reached into the icehole to catch it when it came off the hook.

Snow drifting over the tracks.

Snow drifting over the tracks.

South shore of the lake

South shore of the lake

Our truck and shanty.

Our truck and shanty.

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Ice Shanty Chef Trial One: Mr. Heater Ham and Cheese

Our ice fishing trip on Saturday was a chance to do my first trial at advanced propane heater cooking. Trial one was a take on ham and cheese. I followed the recipe to the letter, and the only place I deviated was putting them in foil packets instead of a baking dish.

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I had these prepped, packed, and ready to go by about 10:30. We met our fishing buddies at noon, were in Fox Lake and set up by about 1:30. We didn’t get too chilly until about 3:30 or so, and then turned on the heater. It was time for a late lunch.

The heater on high. Medium and low are only incrementally less hot than this.

The heater on high. Medium and low are only incrementally less hot than this.

Packets on the heat. They only took about two minutes a side, though.

Packets on the heat. They only took about two minutes a side, though.

Even the name brand, extra heavy duty foil tore.

Even the name brand, extra heavy duty foil tore.

The first batch was kind of singed. The second wasn't as bad.

The first batch was kind of singed. The second wasn’t as bad.

Pros: They were damn tasty little sandwiches. It was really nice to have food that was both hot and solid out on the ice. I was able to stay warm and cheerful all the way until after dark with a warm lunch in my belly. They were also incredibly fast.

Cons: As you can see, they burnt some, and stuck. I even buttered the foil. I will probably end up using some cooking spray next time. Another contributor to the sticking/burning was the sugar-based sauce in the recipe. Next iteration of this sandwich will leave that out.

So, some lessons were learned- the Mr. Heater has three settings: Hot, Burn You, and Surface of the Sun. Also that burning food makes your shanty look very suspicious from the outside. Trial two will be this coming weekend. The 18th is the Lawrence Lake Fisheree, and it looks like we’ll be bringing quite the crowd with us for that (sounds like 10+ people). We’ll also be bringing a grill, so Trial 3 will be skipped for a week, I think, in favor of a high volume of standard grill food, and maybe some not-so-standard snacks and hot beverages. I have some ideas for adventurous hot chocolate as well as perhaps a variation on hot toddies with Fireball. I love both whisky and cinnamon.

New Year’s Challenge: Becoming a Gourmet Ice Shanty Chef.

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I wish for lots of money, better public land, affordable women’s camouflage, and healthier, heartier ice shack food.

So, I’m not a huge New Year’s resolution person. I start things and make changes kind of whenever I think of it. I don’t need the concrete date of the new year to start a thing. I’m also not a diet person- I don’t count calories, I cook things in bacon grease sometimes, and the Paleo diet sounds kind of hard.

However. The closest I think I’m coming this year to a resolution is getting better about eating. Firstly, I’m going to try to go back to eating enough fruits and veggies, because I feel tired and gross when I don’t, plus there’s a big outdoors thing I’m going to begin training for in Spring- more on that later. Secondly, I want to get better with how I eat when we’re doing outdoorsthings. Mainly, when we ice fish.

Icefishing food, so far, has been condensed canned soup that Matt picks out, salty snack mixes, bottles of Coke, beer, and the occasional coffee. I don’t have a problem with those things per se. But I’ve mentioned how I hate cannedfood. And when I’m sitting with my feet on the cold ice, checking my tip ups in the frigid water sans gloves, and walking around on a frozen lake, Chex Mix ain’t gonna cut it. 

Matt wheedled me into ice fishing in part by recounting how, in high school, he and his buddies would all build permanent ice shanties (plywood shacks with holes in the floor, essentially), and place one on each lake in the area. They would then bring grills and make burgers, brats, etc. Sweet, I thought, fishing AND bratwurst? Finally, a pursuit sport with good food! However, our kit is a portable deal.  One tiny little unstable burner, with minimal temperature control is all we have.

The Mr. Heater heats the shanty. And it's designed to be tipped and face up to cook on, too.

The Mr. Heater heats the shanty. And it’s designed to be tipped back onto other half of the frame to cook on, too.

I’m tackling this problem in stages, and choosing to think of it as an exercise in foil packets culinary creativity. I figure if I can master some basics, I can build from there.

Trial One:

Foil-packet ham and cheese (I made a ham last week and we have 2 more in the freezer) with leftover ham, King’s Hawaiian rolls, and Swiss cheese, then heat them on the Mr. Heater. Biscuits could also work. If these are successful, the same format could be applied to breakfast sandwiches. Not a ton of healthy alternatives here, these just taste good.

Trial Two:

This is where Pinterest came in. If you’re not familiar with it, I don’t have the words or time to fully explain this particular social media, it’s something one should experience firsthand. If you are familiar, then you know how it is with food (iffy at best if you’re a relatively healthy, from-scratch cook like me). Trial Two this is steak and eggs foil pack from Tablespoon. Health bonus: veggies can be added.

Trial Three:

Super simple: Burritos wrapped in foil, apply heat. The bonus is mine can be mostly vegetables and lean protein.

My biggest constraint here is space. One, the sled holds our gear and little else. We usually end up carrying the case the shanty is in and the rod/tip up bags on our backs. The sled carries our buckets (double as seat and storage for tackle, propane, drinks, garbage), the Marcum, Mr. Heater, the auger, and the underwater camera. We may start tying things down. Two, the shanty is small. Not a ton of room to cook, plus two ice holes to maneuver around. So, most of these things are able to be prepped and wrapped the night before, eliminating the need to futz around as much in the shanty. We still face the problem of hauling it out, but I’m betting I can fit them into one of the buckets with some reorganizing. Luckily, the temperatures we experience while ice fishing eliminate the need to coolers or refrigeration.

Naturally, I’ll be reporting the rates of success, problems encountered, and opportunities for improvement. It’s basically science, people. And at the end, hopefully I’ll be some kind of propane heater chef/mad scientist.

 

My Politeness and Good Manners Will Be My Undoing.

Tuesday afternoon, I arrived down in my hometown in Illinois. With work having wound down completely, and the house being in constant disarray with this flooring project, there isn’t much for me to do, really, since Matt works so much. I intended to just stay Tuesday night and then leave Wednesday evening. Well, I sorta kept tying on one more hunt, since I had literally nothing to do in Madison until Friday night. I got to spend all day Wednesday with my sister and little 9 month old nephew (who is just the best). I also got to do a little target practice. I found out I’ve been giving my bow a pistol-death-grip with my left hand (I draw right-handed), which is what’s been causing my arrows to miss high and right. Once I corrected my grip, I was shooting 5 inch clusters and bullseyes. It would be nice to be more accurate, but without a place to practice, I’ll take it.

I got back to Wisconsin late on Thursday night so I could put the house back together before the weekend. My mom was lobbying for me to stay another night since she had Friday off, but I’d left Matt and the dogs completely unsupervised for three days.

The pre-rut is definitely going hard down there. It should be going up here in Wisco too, but the deer on the land we hunt are so quiet and secretive that it’s hard to know. We’ve seen one scrape up here, but my second evening hunt down in Illinois, I heard two bucks rattling and grunting somewhere out of view of my stand. The younger, smaller bucks are also chasing does already.  Since I haven’t already inundated this post with pictures of myself posing with a beast, it should be obvious I didn’t get anything.

The first two nights, my mom’s friend and I hunted the corner of a bean field over decoys. Nothing the first night, and just the rattles and grunts the second.

The decoys.

The decoys.

Most of the week was heavy, over cast skies and spotty showers.

Most of the week was heavy, over cast skies and spotty showers.

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Got a little mud on the tires.

Got a little mud on the tires.

The third night was a clutch decision on my part on Wednesday evening. Again, with nothing of particular interest of import to do back at the house, I opted to stay for another hunt- I’m much more likely to see deer down there on this private land than I am to see any up here. Plus, these are the kinds of deer this guy regularly pulls out of there. If I said that wasn’t affecting my decision, you’d all be allowed to call me the filthy liar I would be for making that statement.

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This guys antler bases are about the size of RedBull cans.

This guy’s antler bases are about the size of RedBull cans.

So. We head out for a third evening hunt. I have the stand I want to use in mind. The ladder stand I used last time I went home.  One of his buddies from work was headed out with us, too. When we parked the trucks near the road, he mentioned wanting to use the same stand I did. So I told him he could have it, and I took a stand about 50 yards to the south, down in the creek draw. I shouldn’t have done that.

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I figured that since it was such a windy day, and the temp had dropped about 15 degrees that afternoon, the deer might stick to the sheltered little valley anyway. I saw a small buck chasing a doe about 80 yards away from me within 5 minutes of climbing up. And then nothing else. About 4:30, I heard the coworker’s bowstring twang, a deer hauling ass away, then some crashing to the north. When we all climbed down at dark, he said he’d watched two does and a 5 pointer pass before taking the shot at that doe just before the sun set. I should have taken that stand.

So we tried to track the doe. There wasn’t a blood trail to go on, just the prints from her taking off after impact. And she’d run north down the bean field towards the pasture. We kicked around in there for a bit, searching, until we realized the bull was at that end. We called off the search, and they were going to head out today to try to find her, if the coyotes didn’t get to her first.

So. I came home empty handed again. I can’t describe how very badly I wanted to fold down the Jetta’s seats, lay down a tarp, and try to stuff a big, corn-fed buck in there. I’m not sure when I’ll make it down again. The rest of November, our weekends are chock-full. Next weekend is the USMC ball up in LaCrosse, the weekend after that is opening day of gun season, and the third weekend is right after Thanksgiving. That’s the last weekend of gun season, and Matt gets a 96 for the holiday- we always go up north to hunt there. Maybe I’ll make it down for another middle-of-the-week trip next week or the week after. And just maybe, the third time will be the charm.