In 2003, we got our wires crossed and never met up with the illustrious Mr. Bailey. No matter, the fishing was great up and down the river, and I shot my first wild turkey.
I realize this is not a turkey hunting website, and the following anecdotes include a lot of turkey hunting. First of all, one of the reasons I hunt turkeys is for the FEATHERS! You can't buy wild turkey marabou anywhere, and it's great for natural-tone wooly buggers, sculpins, streamers, nymph thoraxes, and wet flies. I make all my Hare's Ear wingcases from turkey quills. Anyway, if you don't like to read about turkey hunting, just skip to the parts about fishing.
We got to Turkey Valley Wednesday and got our camp set up before heading out to the Root River for the evening bite. Fished an excellent spot near the CR 25 crossing, and caught mooneyes, drum, white bass, walleye, carp, shorthead redhorse, golden redhorse, and channel cats. We cooked dinner in our cook-shack tent while a light rain fell. Then it was time to hit the hay - turkey hunting means setting your alarm clock for 3:30 to be up on a bluff and invisibly camoflauged by 5:00 AM. Turkeys were gobbling and strutting on the field Wednesday evening, and the landownder was threatening to take them out with a high-powered rifle for eating his seed corn, so we made a plan and got to work. This nice Freshwater drum got things started out right on Wednesday Night.
The next morning, I was in a prime spot at 5:00. By 6:00 the ridge was echoing with loud gobbles from roosting turkeys. 16 turkeys came out on the field about 200 yards from me, but even after some serious calling the gobblers wouldn't leave their hens to check out my sexy decoy. One hen landed right behind me and made some pretty impressive calls, but the toms were not interested in her or me. Then a big gobbler tried to sneak by me at about 40 yards range, and I opened fire to no avail. Andy called in two Toms but only had one tricky shot at them, which he missed. So with no turkeys in the cooler we went trout fishing to snag a meal of pan-fried trout.
After trout fishing, we scouted the turkeys again. There were a LOT of tukeys about, so we were optimistic that we'd have another exciting day, with plenty of turkeys to harass.
I was once again in the woods and invisible by 5:00. Since the gobblers wouldn't leave their strutting ground, I decided to go to them. I crept into within 80 yards or so of where they were the day before and found a good spot with plenty of natural cover on both sides. Propped on a half-buried root, I waited for the morning calls to start. They did start, but unfortunately they were about a quarter of a mile away this morning. After sitting motionless on a root and calling for two hours, my tailbone was in agony so I had to lay on my back. Toying with the idea of taking a nap, I took off my camoflauge gloves and pulled up my headnet. Five minutes later, a hen turkey suddenly sprinted across my field of view! Then another two, larger turkeys appeared, one strutting occasionally, and chasing the hens, who wanted nothing to do with him. I took stock of the situation. They were about 150 yards away and had no idea I was there. First, I slowly and carefully got my gloves and headnet back on to camoflauge my face and hands. Then, I did the world's slowest situp. One of the turkeys was working its way slowly up the bluff toward me. Sitting on the root next to me was my slate call. I slowly retieved it, and made a short whine. The first turkey ran right up to me! I saw it had no beard - a hen. She started scratching around in the brush about five feet away. I whined a few more times, and the tom showed interest but didn't move. My heart was pounding a mile a minute. One false move and the hen five feet away would've spotted me and the game would be up. I rolled by eyes to the left - just in time to see the hen turn her head away from me to look at my decoy fifteen feet downhill. I made a short series of yelps on the slate call while her back was turned. Immediately, the Tom puffed himself up and slowly started strutting his way up toward me! It worked! I slowly set down my call and reached for the 870 Super-Magnum, moving my hands a few inches each time the tom turned his fanned-out tail toward me. I saw a short but very visible beard - it was a Jake. Finally I raised the shotgun, and the turkey was unaware that he was about to die. My decoy, apparently, was the only hen that didn't run away from him on site. It was an easy shot, and the 3 1/2 inch high-velocity magnum flattened him at twenty paces. Finally, I bagged a turkey. It weighed 16 pounds - small by local standards, but still a mighty nice bird. Thanksgiving is a lot nicer when you cook up a big native bird like this. Plus, the feathers are a goldmine for the dedicated flytyer.
A celebratory shot was administered, and we decided to go fishing. After exploring some Mississippi backwaters that didn't pan out, we stocked up on nightcrawlers and found a perfect spot to fish the Root. After all the morning excitement, I thought the day couldn't get any better. But I was wrong. We started pulling in fish right away, and they kept biting until well after dark, when we grilled burgers on the riverbank. We landed 12 species of fish: Channel Cats, Mooneyes, Freshwater Drum, Walleye, White Bass, Silver Redhorse, Golden Redhorse, Shorthead Redhorse, White Sucker, Northern Hog Sucker, Bluegill, and Carp. Andy caught this magnificent Shorthead Redhorse. It was 18.5 inches long - half an inch shy of Master Angler size! It put up a magnificent fight, and we released it to add its superior genes to the next generation of redhorse.
This nice channel cat inhaled my crawler and made a powerful run toward the cliff behind me. I managed to turn him, though, and snapped this photo. Later on in the night I lost another big fish, probably a flathead or huge channel, while fishing with a 7 inch silver chub I'd caught. Big disappointment, but the fish beat me and I freely admit it.
Saturday I got to sleep in, since my turkey hunting was finished for the year. Dad and Andy came up empty in the morning due to circumstances beyond their control. We wanted to meet up with Rich and the rest of the roughfishing crowd, so we drove an hour and a half west to the Whalen area. Right near Whalen is a stream called Gribben Creek. There is a campground on it, so it sees some pretty heavy fishing pressure. A lot of folks were soaking worms in the pools, but we found a nice section of undisturbed water and fished it for a few hours, landing some very respectable brown trout from this difficult water. Much of the fishing was with tiny dry flies on gin-clear, still water, so our casting skills were put to the test. We passed, especially Andy, who finagled many more than I did. Then it was off to Eagle Cliffs to meet up with the rest of the Roundup! When we got to Eagle Cliffs, we scanned the riverbanks for the rest of the crew - surely the weather couldn't have driven them all away! Turns out, they weren't there - fishing was sub-par so they had moved on. Undaunted, the three of us found a new spot on the Root with thousands of splashing and spawning redhorse, and fished the hell out of it.
The first fish was this huge Northern Hog Sucker. It measured 15.5 inches, .75 inches longer than the state record. However, the scale put it at 1.8 pounds - the record is 1 pound, 15 ounces - so we let it go, not knowing for sure if it was big enough to break the record. Still a magnificent catch and a Master-Angler Award in the making.
A few minutes later, Andy scored another Master-Angler Award with this massive 24 inch Silver Redhorse. This species of fish is a wonderful game fish, sporty and large. Andy landed at least half a dozen Silvers past the Master Angler mark.
I also landed some big silvers. This one was 23 inches long. The redhorses will always provide some excellent action for a dedicated angler who likes to fight big, tough fish.
Well, that's all for now. I need a shower and a little relaxation. I had the best five days in the outdoors I've experienced in years. I finally got the turkey I've been trying to get for seven long years, I caught a ton of bragging-size fish of all kinds, and I learned a few more things that will prove extremely valuable in the future. I hope everyone else who was out and about this weekend had a great time as well. Many thanks to Dad for organizing yet another wonderful Turkey Camp, to the wonderful landownders who have allowed our family to hunt their beautiful valley for the last 20 years, and to the good folks at the corner bar in Houston, who helped me celebrate my 31st birthday Saturday. Cheers and good fishing.
Also, if Rich or the other roughfish.com brethren at the 2003 roundup - that we missed connecting with - have pictures and accounts of their experience, please give them to me so I can augment this account.