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Rick Windham: Tips and tricks when you're enjoying the outdoors this fall

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If you are out and about in the field this fall, whether you are camping, hiking, hunting or fishing, here are a few tips, tricks and hacks that may prove beneficial to you. I hope something on this list can make your time outdoors easier and more enjoyable.

Fishing

Even though it is fall and many hunting seasons have begun, lots of people are still fishing. These first few tips are for those intrepid anglers:

I learned this years ago from a veteran bass angler. The next time you’re out after largemouth, tie on a small crank bait, then tie on a larger crank bait about a foot behind the smaller one. This is the time of year when fish begin to feed more aggressively because they instinctively know winter and potentially leaner times are coming. From the perspective of a bass, it will look like the little bait is being chased by a bigger, more filling morsel. Instinct will take over and often cause a bigger bass to strike.

Some species of fish, like northern pike, have a reputation of being a “strong” tasting fish. I believe most of the “fishy” taste is in the skin. Careful cleaning and preparation of your catch will get rid of most of this trait. If your palate still senses a rather strong flavor, try soaking your filets in 7UP for a few hours before cooking. The lemon-lime flavors really mellows out the taste.

Fish can feel the vibrations caused by an angler wading through the water from long distances, especially if the bottom is a rocky one. All the little click and clacks you hear are magnified and radiated out from you in all directions. To minimize the chance of spooking fish, move only in short steps. Carefully place your foot down just as if you were still-hunting deer. If you do make some loud noises, stand still for a while. Fish seem to forget what bothered them in a couple of minutes and then you can continue to fish.

Fish have a highly developed sense of smell. Some species, like sharks, are well known for their ability to “smell” blood in the water from great distances. All fish can pick up scents from the water. Catfish can detect food scents down into the parts per million range. I believe that bass and pike are other species that depend on their sense of smell to verify food. I have watched many bass and pike follow a lure for long distances without biting. I feel that they are scenting the bait to determine whether it is really something to eat. Anglers can improve their odds of catching fish by eliminating unnatural scents, like gas or oil. Carry a bottle of unscented dish washing liquid in your tackle box. If you do get a foreign odor on your hands, you’ll have a handy method to remove it before you pass it on to your favorite lure.

Fishing with a bobber is one of the most basic ways to practice the sport. You can increase your odds of catching fish by using a pencil bobber rather than a round one. A round bobber will ride higher in the water and tend to be more buoyant. These characteristics cause much more resistance when a fish tries to pull it under. Many times a fish will notice this resistance and drop the bait. A streamlined pencil bobber offers much less hindrance to a fish, so it is more likely to continue taking the bait. Want to prove this to yourself with an experiment. The next time you are in a pool or lake, try pushing a beach ball under water, then do the same thing with a pool noodle. Which one takes more effort?

The No. 1 reason anglers fail to catch bass when fishing top water lures, is a straight, steady, lifeless retrieve. Try varying your speed of retrieve or make a few random erratic jerks and twitches while cranking your lure back in to you. It is also a productive technique to let the lure lie still for a few seconds after one of these moves. The quick movements followed by a rest mimic the actions of an injured baitfish and can trigger a bass to strike.

Anglers, particularly trout and bass anglers fishing from shore, who wear camouflage or dark earth-tone colors while fishing have an edge. You can stalk much closer to fish before being detected. Fish see very well into the world above the water. By using “stealth” clothing you can become more difficult to see and be less likely to spook fish. Getting closer means you can have shorter more controlled casts, and that usually means more fish on the stringer.

If you always seem to be chasing your lures around the bottom of the boat, here’s a neat trick. Glue a six-inch piece of Velcro to the gunwale of your vessel. Velcro comes with two distinct sides: the hook and the pile. The pile side looks fuzzy. This is the piece you want to use. When you’re not using a lure, simply hang the hook in the pile to keep it handy.

Mosquitoes and other biting bugs can be a nuisance when fishing. There are not as many mosquitoes out there now as there were this summer, but they are still around occasionally. You may have a great insect repellent right in your bathroom closet or cabinet, Vicks VapoRub. The camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil gives off the equivalent of noxious fumes to most insects. You don’t need a lot of Vicks to do the job either and its much less expensive than commercial insect repellent formulas. Be sure to wash off any of the Vick’s residue from your hands before touching any of your lures. Get this on your lures and bait and you’re done fishing for the day. You wouldn’t believe the scent train this leaves in the water.

Hunting/camping

Staying warm can often be a challenge while hunting on cold winter days. There are studies that show you can stay warmer if you crouch near the ground than by standing upright. The study proved that you can stay about 30% warmer using the crouching technique. This is why I like to wear longer coats that extend well below the waist. When I squat down my coat will almost touch the ground and create a “tent” around me. It is much easier to keep that smaller space warm with only your body heat.

Suffer from cold feet? When on stand, or out on the ice fishing, put some cardboard or a piece of old carpet under your feet. Wire mesh platforms used on most stands provide no break from the wind or shielding from the cold. Standing on the ice all day can transmit cold into your feet. Just the little bit of insulation provided by the cardboard or carpet can really help. You can also add a few layers of newspaper (paper towels will also work) in the bottom of your boots. Simply trim the paper to fit. About four layers of thin paper will amaze you, but not be so thick that it makes your boots tight on your feet. I’ve also cut inserts from Reflectix insulation to put inside my boots. You might be amazed how well this little tip works.

Don’t store your sleeping bag in the stuff sack you use when you’re on the trail. Storing a bag in this manner for a long period of time can cause the bag’s insulation to compress and loose much of its insulating value. To get the best possible performance out of your bag, fold it two to three times and store it in a large Ziploc bag or Tupperware type container. The loft of the insulation will stay expanded and provide much more warmth when you crawl into it at night.

Starting a fire in a winter camp can be difficult with wind and wet conditions, like snow. If you want a dependable fire starter that works anywhere, every time, get yourself a tube of automotive trim adhesive or any of the other commercial adhesives that say they are flammable in the directions/cautions. You know you have a good one when about every other sentence reminds you that the product is extremely flammable. Most of these adhesives come in a tube like toothpaste. To start a fire, squeeze out about an inch of the adhesive on the ground and light it with a match. As they say, this stuff is very flammable and it will burn anywhere you have enough oxygen to sustain combustion. Even if the wood you have is wet, this stuff will burn hot enough and long enough to get you a fire started. It works great in winter.

Carry a small spray bottle filled with hydrogen peroxide when you are tracking wounded game. When the blood trail gets lean, and you’re trying to figure out if you are actually looking at blood, spray the peroxide on the spots you’re seeing. If you’re in the right place, it will foam up as the blood reacts with the hydrogen peroxide.

General duty hacks

Don’t risk ruining a day in the field by having your glasses lose a screw and fall out of your glass frames. Keep all the screws in place by dabbing on a small drop of clear nail polish to the threads of the screws before tightening them. The nail polish will act like LocTite and holds screw into place. Another preventative measure is to put a tiny dab of super glue on the top of each screw after it is screwed into place. Put just enough glue on to cover the head of the screw, and a bit of the surrounding frame. Don’t get it in the hinge. The glue forms a cap over the screw to keep it from backing out.

Here is a quick splinter remover. It doesn’t get much simpler than this, and it works great for those little splinters and stickers that you can’t seem to see. Put a drop of Elmer’s Glue all over the splinter, let it dry, then peel off the dried glue in the opposite direction the splinter or sticker went in. The dried glue grips the splinter and pulls it out as you peel it away. This is a great technique for use with kids.

In the outdoors, duct tape has many uses, particularly if you buy the “waterproof” kind (Although I question if any tape can be totally waterproof). If you don’t have some of this tape, get some. You can patch a rip in your tent, jacket or pants do emergency repairs to your boots or waders, braid a small rope with it, even use it for first aid issues. Bright colored duct tape can be used to make trail markers, even tied on your hook to create a survival lure.

Have a great time in the outdoors this fall and winter.

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