October: Time to Fish Salmon and Hunt Grouse

October is my favorite month. The days are warm enough to wear flannel and the nights are cool enough to put a glow in the fireplace. And, there are salmon to catch and grouse to try and harvest. (Note: I said, “. . . salmon to catch,” because that is a given, but I also said, “. . . grouse to try and harvest,” but hitting one of those brown bombers of the woods is no longer a given for me.)

Of course, I always pursue these critters with a camera within reach. After all, they both make excellent models and early October is always ablaze in Wisconsin.

“What?” you ask, “Does this guy ever take time for chores around the house?” Well yes, I do, but those chores have to be worked in between the huntin’ and fishin’. The house stuff will always be there, fishing and hunting time is limited. I do have priorities.

The ideal October
My wife and I will be at the cottage. It is Monday, slightly before sunrise. I heat the water for my tea. Drink a cup, with a chocolate chip cookie, while sitting in front of the big window that overlooks the river. Then, I fill my thermos and sippy cup, kiss my wife goodbye (she’s still in bed, after all, it is still quite dark), and head out the door. On the porch, I pick up my shotgun and gear and head up the hill to the truck. I put my shotgun and vest with the shells in the back. The eastern sky starts to show grey. An owl hoots, “Goodnight.” A turkey gobbles, “Good morning.”

“A good sign,” I say to myself. “The critters are active.”

The sky becomes a brighter grey as I leave the driveway and head north to hunt the ruffed grouse. I do not have a dog. Dogs are a big help when it comes to finding grouse, but I do not have one. So, I mostly hunt walking trails that weave through the woods. Hopefully, I will flush a dumb bird that flies straight down the road. When that happens, I have a shot so open that, sometimes, I hit one. But that does not happen too often anymore.

The morning is fresh. (Wouldn’t it be nice if they all were?) Along one of the roads I walk, there is a bit of frost. On one of the small red oak trees, the leaves are white with it. It is so pretty, I take a few images (which is why I always try to carry a camera with me on these jaunts), but I find no grouse that morning. A wild flush or two, but… it was one of those mornings.

I am home by nine. I am hungry, so I make a big breakfast – bacon, eggs, and potatoes. After which, both of us go out and rake the leaves and pile them into the trailer.

Later that afternoon, with the sun warm and the wind non-existent – the temperature, by now, has risen to near 70 – we take a very short, end-of-the-season swim. Tomorrow, I will take the leaves to the recycling center and pull the pier.

After the pier has been pulled for the season, my wife and I finish the raking and haul leaves to the center. Any leaf that falls during the rest of the season will be left until spring. (The oak and beech leaves will fall all winter, they do that.)

The following morning it is raining. It rains all the way home.

“Looks like there will be fresh fish in the river tomorrow,” I remark, more to myself than my wife.

But, of course, she does reply, “So, you will be fishing tomorrow instead of doing yard work?”

“Most likely. Besides, we just raked leaves. Most are still on the trees down here anyway. Yard work can wait a few days.”

The next morning finds me on the Sheboygan River, fly-fishing for salmon. The river is full of Kings. Some of them are fresh from the lake. (You can tell the old from the new by their color. Old fish are dark, nearly black, and beginning to get moldy, new ones are only dark grey, with no mold.)

I start with an egg-sucking leech pattern – hot pink egg, black body. As the morning progresses, I change flies four times, trying to find a pattern that the fish will strike. They don’t. They are only interested in reproducing.

Oh, I hook up with some fish. When the river is full of these spawners, it is difficult not to accidentally foul hook some fish. Keeping a foul-hooked fish is illegal, and a fish hooked this way must be released. But, usually, when foul-hooked, it takes the tippet and the fly with it as it powers its way through the riffles. So, releasing is not a big deal. The fight is the fun.

All this foul-hooking is one reason I use barbless hooks, they can be shaken loose from such foul hook-ups – most of the time – saving flies and tippet.

When I get home, my wife greets me with, “Well, can we get to the yard now?”

“Sure. I’ll give the river a rest. The cohos aren’t in yet, anyway. I can wait a day or so until I try again.”

Then I paused and added, “Besides, next week we go back north to do some more grouse hunting. More of the leaves should be down by then. I might have a better chance of getting one. Besides, the fish will still be there when we get back.”

That is how I hope October will be. Will it? Maybe. Maybe not.