Being a “Jerk” can pay off

Okay, not an actual jerk.  I’m talking about soft jerk baits.  These are another type of bait that seems to have fallen out of favor, but will likely make its way back into tackle boxes.  The life of many soft plastic baits is incredibly cyclical.  We all jump on a bandwagon because, let’s face it, we’ve seen it work for someone else.  That someone else is usually a pro who is catching more fish than we are.  So we leave our staple baits to try something new.

For some reason, the soft plastic jerk bait has not made its way back as many others have, but it would not surprise me if more people than I am aware of actually use this bait on a regular basis.  When I started fishing tournaments, I fished as a non-boater.  I still fish out of the back of the boat sometimes.  One of the things I like about soft plastic jerk baits is that they are versatile – more versatile than a hard jerk bait.  And I do not have to deal with treble hooks.  I sometimes find treble hooks a bit more challenging when I am fishing out of the back of the boat, but I know that is not the true for everyone. 

The point of a soft plastic jerk bait is to mimic a injured or dying bait fish.  I don’t get too caught up in colors.  I always have white and black, but I also have had good results with a baby bass or bluegill color.  With the white jerk baits, I often change them up a bit with garlic scented markers.  I might make the tail chartreuse and put an orange kill dot under the head of the bait.  Does that make a difference?  I suppose there could be arguments either way, but at times it gives me more confidence, so the bait “works better.”  As the old saying goes, “you have to catch the fisherman before you can catch the fish.”

Just like a hard jerk bait, a soft plastic jerk bait imitates an injured or dying bait fish – an easy meal for a bass on the prowl.  Soft plastic jerk baits can be fished in a variety of ways.  One of my favorite ways to fish it is to Texas rig it weightless.  I normally use this when I am working over vegetation.  It works well through lily pads and can also be worked quickly over grass, milfoil or coontail that may be holding fish.  The bait will dart back and forth and make enough noise to alert the bass a meal may be coming its way.  The sound of a dying bait fish overhead to a bass is like the jingling of the bell on the ice cream truck to an eight-year-old.  They can’t resist it.  I will let the bait fall into openings in the vegetation, much like one would with a worm.

When working weed edges or over breaks, I start with the typical, “jerk, jerk, pause,” cadence and vary it from there as I get clues as to what the fish want.  This is one bait I will keep in the water while I am doing things like messing with my electronics or going for a drink of water.  If a fish hits while I’m doing something else, I know I need a slower presentation.

Skipping docks is another good use of a soft plastic jerk bait.  I let the bait fall on a bit of a slack line to give it a more life-like action.  If I am fishing particularly deep docks, I might put a split shot on the line.  There are many good quality lead-free split shots on the market.  I use a split shot because it can be added to and removed from the line without retying as I go to fish different areas. 

How about the old “ball and chain?”  Soft jerk baits are great on a Carolina rig.  Really, they can be fished in any situation you would fish a worm, as I mentioned earlier.  Letting this bait fish imitation rise and fall behind a 3/8 to ½ ounce sinker can be a great tactic.  For those who like to throw a Carolina rig (and I admit I should throw one more often), a soft plastic jerk bait can be just the difference needed to get big bass in the boat.

When fishing deep, I will use a swim bait hook on my soft plastic jerk bait.  While this does change the action a bit, sometimes that is okay and, to be honest, I am not patient enough to let a weightless jerk bait fall into 15-20 feet of water.  It can be used I any way I would normally use a swim bait, too.

Another way I like to use a soft plastic jerk bait is as a swim jig trailer.  It has a little bit longer/bigger profile than a grub, for instance, and sometimes that bigger profile is what the fish want.  It can be slow-rolled along the bottom or fished a little faster anywhere in the water column.  I like to use them on crappie or bluegill colored jigs, but I will use them on a white or black swim jig, too, depending on water color.  Again, I think it has a lot to do with what the angler is comfortable fishing.

I use a 3/0 or 4/0 hook when rigging a soft plastic jerk bait weightless or weighted. I have no issue using the smaller 3/0, but a 4/0 will help the bait fall a bit faster.  It’s all about the fall rate, and I vary that depending on what the fish are telling me.

As far as line, again, I feel this is a versatile bait.  Monofilament and braid float and fluorocarbon sinks.  Mono-based copolymers will float. Fluro/Mono hybrids will sink.  Personally, I do not give too much credence to that in any situation where I am fishing something weighted.  The weight will make the bait sink, obviously. That is the reason for using it. Depending on the line diameter, it may make more of a difference, but I do not feel it is as important as when I am fishing weightless.   I choose line for this application based more on what I am fishing.  Fluorocarbon is not the best around rock.  Braid will slice through grass and other vegetation where the others may not.

My go-to for soft plastic jerk baits is a 5”.  I make a 5” and a 6”, but I have been throwing the five so long that I have not given the six a fair shake.  I sell a good amount of 6-inch baits, so I know I will eventually break down and see what that is all about, but for now I will stick with the five-inch. It gets results.  And I can’t argue with a bait that gets results… but what if …..

I like big baits and I cannot lie…

Summer is the time for a 10-inch worm. But many anglers don’t feel comfortable with baits that big. We all hear “big baits, big fish,” but I have caught all sizes of fish on a 10-inch worm.  Of course, I’ve caught some big fish on the same worms, landing the big fish for more than one club tournament on them. The best 10-inch worm, in my opinion of course, is a ribbon tail.  They have the most action and create a lot of disturbance in the water that will attract fish.

The thing with a 10-inch worm is that, because many anglers don’t throw them, fish rarely see them.  Throwing a bait most anglers are not using can have great results.  One of the things I like about big worms is how versatile they are. I can fish from two feet to 22 feet with a 10-inch worm.

With big worms, I tend to use big hooks. A 7/0 offset worm hook is usually my go-to. I know a lot of people use smaller hooks with a good deal of success, however. As one old-school angler once told me, if a fish grabs the worm by the tail, it doesn’t matter how big the hook is.  He uses a 3/0 hook for that reason.  And he is successful with that philosophy, so I can’t very well say he is wrong. A fish will usually take the worm from the front anyway, meaning a smaller hook should work just fine and because it is lighter, it will affect the action of the worm less.  I get the idea – I’m just not sure how much faith I have in it.  I would say whatever hook an angler is comfortable with is going to be just fine. I tend to use a worm hook when I’m fishing in grass or heavier cover.  It helps the worm come through that type of cover better. When I’m fishing ledges or drops, I might use a EWG hook, but honestly I don’t feel it’s necessary.  A 10-inch worm is not a thick piece of plastic, so an offset worm hook is my go-to. One thing I do not do is peg the sinker. 

No matter the depth of the water, I do not want to sinker pegged as it can get in the way of getting the hook set into the fish if it is pegged directly to the eye of the hook.  If I do use a bobber stop for any reason, such as if I am just changing up a bait quick from another soft plastic I had on the same rod, I put it at least six inches from the hook.  In deeper water, with the sinker not pegged, it gives the illusion of something chasing after something else, which can attract the attention of my target fish, a big bass. No matter the depth I am fishing, I Texas-rig the worm, keeping it weedless, and if I have a bobber stop on the line, it is away from the sinker and hook.

So now we get to the versatility factor. A 10-inch worm is a great bait for ledge fishing as well as fishing shallower vegetation such as grass or lily pads. As I said, I have fished this bait up to 20+ feet deep, and I have been beat in tournaments by an angler a time or two when he made that change that I missed and started catching fish in deep water with a 10-inch worm.  In this scenario, I would definitely not peg the sinker.  Again, the allure of a bass’ forage chasing its own forage to the bottom is often times too much for a bass to take.

When fishing deep, off ledges, there will usually be a “sweet spot” on the ledge.  When I find one of those spots, I fish the worm more thoroughly through that area.  There will often be more than one or two fish in the same spot.  I use my electronics to look for bait fish activity as well.  Bait fish mean a high likelihood of bass in the area.  When fishing deep, I usually use at least a 3/8 ounce sinker or up to ½ ounce. This helps get the bait to the bottom and using a tungsten weight allows me to feel the bottom better. In deeper water especially, once I catch a fish, I will triangulate that spot using visual keys from the shorelines or markers in the water such as a fallen tree.  I will make the same exact cast at least a few times to determine where the exact “spot on the spot” is on that ledge.  Once I find a depth at which fish are holding, I will use a depth highlight on my electronics to find other places around the lake that set up just like the one on which I was catching fish.

In shallower water, I might go down to ¼ ounce on the sinker or at times not even use a sinker.  I would opt to leave the sinker in the tackle box when fishing areas with lily pads, for instance.  Just as with any other weightless worm, this allows me to move the worm along the top of a lily pad and let it drop slowly into the holes between the pads.  Some anglers use a heavy mono line, such as 40-pound test, to run through the bait and the eye of the hook to keep the bait pegged to the hook. This does not allow the bait to slide down on the hook.  Products such as the Never Slip Bait Tape are good options here as well.  For me, I don’t worry about that.  If I need to take a bit of the head of the worm off because it was ripped or damaged in some way, I can do that at least one or two times before the bait shortens up too much.

Fishing grass edges is also a place where a 10-inch worm will shine.  When pitching into grass, watch your line as the bait is falling.  Often a fish will grab the bait before it hits the bottom and you will simply see your line take off in one direction or another, or it will just get slack.  If the bait gets to the bottom, lift the rod and let it drop on semi slack line. Lift up, let it fall back down. Keep the rod in front of you to have as much power as you can to set hook.  Don’t lift rod too high.  Once the fish takes the bait, set the hook on a semi-slack line.  If the sinker happens to get into the fish’s mouth, it may have its mouth closed around the sinker.  With a tight line, all you have done is turn the fish’s head.  With a bit of slack in the line, you will likely pile drive the hook into the fish’s mouth.  If need be, you can drop your rod tip a bit to create the slack you need in the line, then set the hook hard.

As far as gear, I don’t believe you need anything super special to throw a 10-inch worm.  Long casts can be important, so a 7 foot rod is usually my go to, a medium heavy fast action, to me, is best.  That gives a good backbone to get the fish through any heavy cover I might be fishing, and also gives me good hook penetration. I believe these rods are best suited for worm fishing, but they also have many other uses for other applications.

As far as reels, again, I do not feel you need anything super special.  Even a high-speed reel of 8:1 or 9:1 is not a necessity.  Anything over a 6:1 or even a 7.5:1 is fine.  You won’t be speed reeling with a big worm, so don’t worry about specialty equipment.  For me, if I am fishing heavy cover, I might go to a 7.5:1 just to get the fish turned and headed toward me after I hook up with it. 

Now for line.  My favorite for worm fishing, and yes, I completely understand how “old school” this is, but I prefer copolymer for worm fishing.  If I am in super heavy cover, I will go to braid.  I always use 65 pound braid or heavier, but an angler could certainly use 50 pound or whatever their normal braid is.  Copolymer is a good all-purpose line and it holds up a lor better than fluorocarbon.  I don’t use fluorocarbon when fishing a bit worm, if possible.  If I wind up using it for any reason, I am always sure to inspect the line often to be sure it is not fraying.  I can say the same with braid in situations with a lot of rock.  Rock can fray braid, so I check that often as well when in those situations. Copolymer is better in rocks, so, again, it is usually my go-to line for a big worm.

I don’t get to stressed out about learning another knot, either.  I know a lot of old-school anglers that insist on a San Diego jam knot for a big worm.  If you don’t know the knot, don’t stress it.  I usually use a Palomar knot, which is what I use for almost everything.  A unit knot is a good choice as well.  The point is, whatever knot you tie that does not fail and in which you have confidence is going to be a good knot to tie in this case as well.

A 10-inch worm can also be dragged along the bottom.  It can also be brought through vegetation such as coontail to create a swimming motion.  When swimming the worm it creates a lot of vibration in the water, which will alert the fish that something is coming that may be a decent feast.

I do not get super concerned about colors, but I do have a few favorites.  Black is my main color 10-inch worm that I use.  But I also like black with purple flake.  June bug is a good color, as is tequila sunrise.  As with any other bait, clearer water will call for a bit more natural colors.  Darker water will allow you to use brighter colors.  For the most part, it is the vibration and the silhouette of the bait that is going to draw the strikes.

When fishing gets tough in the heat of the summer, don’t be afraid to “go big.”  And a 10-inch worm is the perfect way to go big and get those big fish to the boat.

Join me in Kaukauna Saturday, April 3, 2021

Join me tomorrow, with a bunch of my friends and fellow outdoor business owners, at the Fishing Swap Meet at Maloney’s Bar and Grill in Kaukauna, WI. We will all be set up in the Venue and talking fishing, camping, hunting – you name it! If you are getting ready for fishing season (and who isn’t, right?), be sure to stop in and talk with all of us.

FLaG Baits will be onsite with some of our new colors and styles of baits as well as tried and true favorites. We will be there from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the event is free, and set up by Tony Mollica.

Enter to win a $25 gift certificate from FLaG Baits. It can be used on stock colors or special orders. You are only limited by your imagination when you shop with us! We have quick turn around times and offer just about any color, scent or glitter you can imagine.

To enter, just guess the number of baits in the Tote of Baits. If more than one person guesses correctly, we will assign each person a number and use a randomizer app (live on Facebook) to chooses a number. If the number of baits is not correctly guessed, we will take all of those who are closest, without going over, and pick a winner using the same procedure.

Get yourself out of the house for a bit and great ready for fishing season! See you tomorrow at Maloney’s!

Site improvements in the works

As you will see, looking around the site, we are under construction a bit. I am revamping the Bait Co. pages to separate them by type. I will be updating our stock colors, but please know we have the ability to make most any color you normally use. We have laminates and swirls at a small extra charge. We have a new variety of scents, for those who like scents as well. I will be posting all of those in the next few days.

With all of the political mess in the country right now, I think we could all use a little more thought toward fishing and the other things we love to do. I will say I am not much of an ice fisherman, but I almost want to get out there just to give it a try again after years away. Almost.

But, for now, I think I’ll concentrate on making some awesome baits for all of you to enjoy during your next open water season. 2020 did not start off the way tournament anglers would have liked, with DNR stipulations on tournaments meaning many were cancelled or postponed early on in the season. Hopefully we will not see a repeat of that in 2021. If we need anything right now, it is to spend some time outdoors to clear out heads.

Thanks for checking out the website and for looking at our baits. If you have any questions or want more information about other things we can do for you, feel free to send an email, text, message, homing pigeon – whatever works for you!

National Novel Writing Month is upon us!

The time is at hand, once again, where thousands of people from all over the world gather together, working separately, to complete a feat not often undertaken by the faint of heart. That feat is called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Those of us crazy enough to undertake this unique challenge pledge to do our level best to write 50,000 words of a first draft of a novel in November. 30 days. 50,000 words. It sounds like a lot. And it is! But for those of us who love the written word, we are happy to give it a try, and to write the worst strings of words we may ever see hit the “page.”

The thing with NaNo, which is the shortened version of what we call our challenge, is to get a writer to write every day. It is also to shut off the “internal editor,” who will always be the doubter. The one to say our writing will never be good enough. The one who, really, stops us from writing junk that we can later turn into gold.

You cannot write gold before you write junk. You just can’t. We all get that, but we all doubt ourselves as we stare at a blank Word document, or as we open to the first page of a “really cool” notebook we bought specifically because we have an idea we want to get down on paper. But, largely, that idea never gets written. We never feel “good enough.” We never feel that we are “important enough” that anyone will want to read our work.

Here’s the great thing about fiction, though: We do not have to be “good enough” or “interesting enough” or “important enough.” We need to leave that to our characters. Let them be important or interesting or “good enough!” That is their job.

Okay, part of our job is to craft those characters. But that is not going to happen in a character sketch. That is not going to happen in the first character interview we conduct with our protagonist (that’s the good guy). It will also be hard for us to want to get to know our antagonist (the bad guy) enough to write about him or her. But we need to get to know them, so we know why people may actually feel sorry for them. We need to know why and when, long before our story started, readers should care about them.

The good news? We get to keep writing about our characters until they prove themselves worthy of our time. They need to prove themselves to us. As authors, we are in the background. Sure. We need to tell the story, but it up to our characters to shoulder the big weight. They need to make people care about them and what they go through in our novel, right?

I hope this idea might get just one more person to get involved in NaNo this year. Or to support a writer who undertakes the challenge. I know this is an aside from where I normally go with my blog, but it’s also something about which I am passionate. I believe everyone has a story. I also believe all of those stories deserve to be told! If you would like to get involved, check it out on the National Novel Writing Month website: nanowrimo.org

Gardener’s Wisdom – a book review

Not only do I love the outdoors, but I have a deep love of books that started even before I could read myself. I remember memorizing a book before I could read, and I would “read” that book to anyone who would listen.

Being an outdoor reporter has a bunch of perks. One of them is access to local authors’ books. I have been lucky enough to have many authors within the state send me a copy of their book, which I gladly read and reviewed in my column in the newspaper. I will always read local authors whenever possible and enjoy buying their books and attending book signings.

When I first saw the title of this book, “Garden Wisdom: Lessons Learned from 60 Years of Gardening,” I immediately felt like I was about to get my grandma or grandpa back again. The book is by Jerry Apps with photography by Steve Apps and recipes by Ruth Apps. While I have never met the author, the lessons he was willing to share in the book made me feel as if I knew at least a part of him.

For one thing, there is something about reading a local author, or even one who writes about things close to home. It just makes it that much more personal and fun, at least for me. I would always recommend, for those looking for a good read, the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, It is one of the greatest places I have ever found to immerse oneself in an adventure or a different time in this place. We have so many talented authors in our midst and so many incredible stories to be told.

But back to Apps gardening book. It would be easy to write a book about successes. It would also be easy for any gardener to discount that in hand. Gardening is about learning, and it is an undertaking in which I do not think most ever stop learning. Gardening was something that I learned to enjoy at an early age, regardless of the work involved.

To say that my childhood was a happy one would be a gross overstatement. But I do remember two places where I was happy. One was in the woods with my Dad. The other was in the garden alone. Of course, I would never want Mother to catch me “stealing” vegetables out of the garden while weeding or picking rocks, but the reward was more than worth the punishment to me, so I often munched to my heart’s content. After all, we had bunnies and squirrels and so many other animals that helped themselves as well, I figured there would be little harm in it. We had plenty of food in the house, of course, but there was something about picking a fresh vegetable, brushing off the dirt, and just enjoying it in a moment of solitude.

App’s situation was different than mine, with actual acreage of farming going on, but it was his vegetable garden, and his mother’s vegetable garden, which brought back the most memories for me. I do not remember that my sister nor I were ever involved in choosing what would go in the garden, but I know we looked through seed catalogs, just like Mom did. One of the simple joys, I suppose. Apps, too, remembered his mother doing the same thing – looking for specific seeds from particular catalogs at just the right time.

While I do not have a lot of space currently for a garden, I make use of the space I have. In my old house, I had a large deck that was probably half the size of the apartment in which I now live. And that was perfect, because I lived in the woods. With the deck, I did not have to worry about bunnies or deer or any other critters, for the most part, getting into my garden. Although, in the winter when I thought it would be fun to hang some suet for the birds, some sort of mustelid did come up on the deck and help himself. I think it may have been a raccoon, although I had never seen one around. The other option was a porcupine, which I did find evidence of from time to time.

But, in both instances, it almost feels like cheating to not have to deal with those things. This year I grew two small tomato plants, which suffered some life-ending blight fairly early in the season (I believe I still got 3 or 4 yellow tomatoes, though, and I did manage one sauce tomato). My peppers fared much better, with the jalapenos and garden salsa peppers outperforming the banana peppers. My herbs, too, thrived on the north-facing balcony.

Reading Apps book, and learning about his successes and failures – not only his but those of his parents, and how his gardening has changed as he has gotten older, I am reminded of an elderly gentleman I had the pleasure of living next to when I did have a large garden. He was a botanist, as a stroke of luck, and a teacher at the local high school. I always thought I might bother him by asking “stupid” questions over the fence between our yards – until he told me a story about being overseas in the army and learning to darn sock via mail from his mother. That must have been quite the long process for him! Apps book reminded me of those days, too, and wondering if I would ever have all of the answers to gardening.

The answer to that, by the way, I believe is “no.” Even Apps, in 60 years of gardening, still has a degree of trial and error in his gardening. His book allows us to learn from his mistakes as well, and to follow his lead in his successes. And that is one of the great things about books like this – he is a Wisconsin gardener, just as many of us are. Granted, he likely has more experience than many of us, certainly more than I have, but to know that he is still learning, too, is comforting in some ways. I hate to put it as akin to misery loves company, but those who garden understand. We pour our hearts and souls into some of our gardening adventures, only to be wiped out by a pathogen or a torrential rain!

As you create your winter reading list, I really hope you will consider Gardener’s Wisdom by Jerry Apps. It will truly be time well spent, and hopefully will give you inspiration for next year’s garden.

Fish Like a Girl Baits

It has been a long time coming, but Fish Like a Girl Baits is finally here. As some know, this is something I have been working on since I started hand pouring baits about a year ago. Now I have a dual injector, and a good start on the molds that I want for my business. I have a Facebook page set up and a fairly good start. But, of course, there is still more work to do.

I have several photographs of my baits posted on my Facebook page under photos. I will post them here, as well, for those who come to my website looking for products. I will also list my stock colors, but many more colors will be available.

I will be also doing laminate baits as well as swirl baits. Those will be posted after I get all of my stock baits listed. Those looking for a color they do not see, please shoot me an email. If you have a bait you use quite a bit, that I do not stock, please let me know that, too. I will be purchasing more molds in the next month or two and would be happy for the input! Stay tuned for more information. Here is the start of the catalog of baits. I will add a separate page when I get more samples done.

Flip B = 4″ craw 6 pack for $4.00
Mini B – 3.5″ craw 6 pack for $4.00
Sexy Sally – 6″ salamander 6 pack $4.00
Double Trouble – 4″ double tail grub 6 pack $4.00
Rhonda – 4″ craw 6 pack $4.00
Torpedo – 4″ creature 6 pack $4.00
Middle Child – 4″ craw 6 pack $4.00
Big Swim – 3.75″ paddle tail swimbait with eye sockets 5 pack $4.50
Tiny Teak – 2.75″ ned craw 8 pack $4.00
Francie – 4″ French fry worm 5 pack $4.00
Squirrely Girl – 4″ curly tail worm 6 pack $4.50

Blowing in the wind

Today’s writing prompt: Write about wind

Spring tends to be a bit windy. Whether we are out fishing or enjoying some grilling, the wind can change how we do things. The winds of change are called that, I suppose, for a reason.

This spring the winds of change blew quite strongly, not just here in Wisconsin, but across the world. The winds of change drove a deep divide between friends, family, and co-workers. With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe and national media doing what it could to create scary, horrible, and sensationalized headlines, these wedges were driven exponentially deep.

While the “feel good” catchphrase of the spring has been, “we’re all in this together,” nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone is dealing with the circumstances in their own ways. While some of us have others with which to weather this health storm, others are wondering when they will see family again. Not all of us have been torn asunder by this, but some have. But spring is a time for renewed life and a renewed spirit. And spring can teach us much about the world around us, and ourselves.

For those of us who have a deep love of the outdoors, we do not ask for much: water to enjoy and a deep wood to roam. There is nothing more therapeutic, in my estimation, than a long walk in the woods as it starts to green up and the natural world comes back to it’s bright spring green. There is no color quite like that new-growth green, and it is a color that I am not entirely sure can be captured by a camera.

Maybe the reason it cannot be captured it because it is more than a color. It is a feeling. It is a renewed hope. It is the sense that things really can be okay again. The first “peepers” come out and we hear them in the quiet evenings off in the distant wetlands and swamps. Soft shoots of hostas and other early perennials in our gardens start to show themselves, pushing up through leaf duff and other decomposing organic material. Everything feels new again.

And the wind softly blows through our hair to remind us life is coming back, renewed just as promised. Birds start to build their nests, ready to create another year’s young. Eventually we start to see hummingbirds at the feeders again, their tiny wings buzzing as they flit by.

If we are lucky, as we traverse those woods, we may spy some of springs other miracles in the way of baby animals learning the way of the world. I am reminded of one day as a young adult exploring in the woods, headed to a river near by Dad’s new home. I was not thinking about anything, but just enjoying being outdoors. That was the last time I was so careless in that neck of the woods.

I came through to a small clearing with two small black forms playing near its edge. It did not take me long to realize, although they were what I thought was a safe distance away, they were bear cubs. It also did not take long, when I heard an indignant “huff” from my other side, for me to realize I had done just about one of the dumbest things a 22-year-old kid could do in the Wisconsin woods. I had put myself between mama and her cubs.

I slowly, oh so painfully slowly, backed up from where I was, headed in the direction from which I came. Viewing the river would have to wait until another day. It felt like I backed up a mile before I felt like it was safe to turn around and walk out without looking over my shoulder.

“Did ya learn anything?” I could already hear my Dad say as I came out of the woods. It was one of his favorite expressions with me, and, yes, I did usually learn something when it came to a situation where he felt the need to ask. Lo and behold, when I relayed the story, those were his exact words. It was dangerous, to be sure, but it was also one of the coolest experiences, albeit an accidental one, that I have had with wildlife.

The joys of spring. The winds of change. The new life, as well as the need to be careful. I have spied birds learning to fly, fawns learning to walk, and even ducks learning to swim in my time in the outdoors. Trees budding and flowers opening to show themselves off to the world, all at the same time. So many animals rely on native flowers, trees and shrubs. Even the plant community relies on its neighbors to be healthy and strong. Animals creating the food web rely on each other as well, each of them with their own place.

All of these phenomenon remind me that everything truly is connected. So, while we are all experiencing this spring in our own ways, we are not as alone in our cocoon as we may sometimes feel. Somehow we are all connected, and learning to live in a connected way, rather than struggle against each other, is perhaps one of springs greatest lessons.

Calling all birders for Global Big Day

A chickadee visited my bird feeder this morning

With being home more during this pandemic, one of my activities I use to fill time is watching birds. There are quite a few LBBs, as my mom would have called them (little brown birds) around our apartment building, so before the last couple of snowfalls, I put out a feeder for them. They quickly found that a new restaurant opened in the neighborhood, and they frequent the feeder all day long. They are fun to watch, even if a little messy, and I have swept seeds off of the downstairs neighbor’s concrete slab in front of his door several times. Luckily, he is a super nice guy and does not seem to mind.

Being an outdoor reporter has a lot of perks, as I have said many times. One of those perks is that you get to learn about all the cool things that are going on with various groups related to the outdoors. One of those things I just found out about in an email I received from eBird. It is called Global Big Day.

Global Big Day is May 9, 2020 this year. The idea is to get birders from around the world to report their sightings wherever they are. Of course, many people are not going out like they normally would, but eBird does not ask for anything more than 5-10 minutes of looking around right where you are, if you are not comfortable venturing out. I am sure thousands of people will venture, out, however, as birding is largely a solitary undertaking, or it can be. Either way, to me, it gives a person something to do, with a great learning opportunity attached to it.

There are two cell phone apps that will make the day much easier. One of those is the eBird app and the other a bird ID app called Merlin Bird ID. Both can be found in your App Store. I downloaded both of them and lost the next half hour of my life. They are really cool apps. The first time you use either, it will ask to be allowed to view your location, and then download bird packs based on that. The Merlin app gave me the Midwest pack and the eBird app the Wisconsin pack. For those who would rather not use a their cell for whatever reason, sightings can be recorded on the eBird.org website also. But the app makes it super easy to submit a checklist in the field.

A checklist is simply a list of the birds that you see and hear. When you first log onto the eBird app, unless you are good with scientific names of birds (and I, for one, am not), go into the settings and change the names to common names. Now you’re all set to go out and start logging sightings!

One of the coolest things about Merlin is it can help you ID birds that you have no idea about. First you start off with identifying a bird by size. From there, you choose what colors the bird is. The app will populate a list of birds for you. It includes several full color pictures for each bird as well as audio of the bird’s calls and songs. From there, you can go back to the eBird app and log your sighting.

In the eBird app, if you think you know what a bird it, you can choose it from the list, then hit the “Merlin” button. That will bring you to the Merlin ID app and you can go through the same procedure, if you are not sure what bird you are looking at or hearing. Then you log how many you saw. You can also add notes, which I did in my short survey today. I added the chickadees and sparrows were at the bird feeder and the robins were in the yard.

For those who are out somewhere, or even walking their own property, you can record a track to see where you went and what you saw. The whole thing is really cool if you are into wildlife and are looking for something to do while you are at home, or even in the field. It can be done while hiking, fishing (I imagine fly fishing a stream and logging birds at the same time would be a great day), biking or any other activity. Just remember you will need cell phone reception, which can be sketchy in some areas, especially in northern Wisconsin.

I would recommend doing a checklist or two before May 9, just to get used to the platform. If you are like me, you will start looking up a few birds and, like I said, all of a sudden half an hour will have gone by. But I have certainly spent more time in less productive ways.

On May 9, each birder can complete a checklist, or several checklists. The idea is to get as many birders as possible to report their sightings all in one day. Last year over 35,000 birders is 174 countries recorded over 92,000 checklists in the 24-hours of Global Big Day, which runs from midnight to midnight. The goal for 2020 is to surpass 100,000 checklists.

It is easy to get involved. Go to ebird.org and set up a free and quick account. Download the apps, and you are ready to go. All you have to do is get out and look around, really. I think it will be a fun way to spend some time. Of course, birders can, and do, complete checklists all the time, but Global Big Day gives everyone a chance to be part of a global team, looking for bird populations. This information can be used to determine any changes in population numbers and ranges of different species.

On the Global Big Day page of the eBird website, birders can check in throughout the Big Day and find out what other birders across the globe are finding in their birding adventures throughout the day, too. We’ve got a couple weeks to get used to the platform and to make some discoveries on our own. Then join the global team on May 9, if you get a chance, and log whatever you find. I have found myself not busy that day, so I know I’ll be checking the birds out in my neighborhood at least.