The first official day of summer is still almost a month away on the longest day of the year, the summer solstice on June 21. I just came in from working out in the sun in the garden. That half hour produced the first dripping sweat of the year. Memorial Day weekend is upon us as I write, with temperatures forecast to be in the 90s for the next several days. I recently swatted my first mosquito. Trees have reached pretty much full leaf. Orioles have backed off their grape jelly feeding frenzy as they get on with the more serious business of nesting (but six other kinds of birds have developed a taste for the purple treat). By any measure but the calendar, summer is here!
Spring was short, and, for the most part, sweet. There were a few serious storms that brought some of us damaging wind and even some pretty large hail, but most areas escaped truly serious damage. Nature is catching up after a somewhat delayed start to spring. It’s a particularly good time to take children fishing. Bluegills and crappies are on their spawn beds, and good stringers of fish can be caught in shallow water if you can find where they’re spawning. Look for what appears to be a gathering of circular “elephant tracks” on the pond bottom, usually withing easy casting distance from shore. Crappies prefer to nest around some cover like a fallen tree or in flooded brush if they can find it. A small hook with a bit of worm, a small minnow or a little jig dangling two or three feet below a small bobber are usually sufficient to attract their attention. I prefer to use a slip bobber rather than the more typical clip-on style because they’re easier to cast. One of the best panfish anglers I ever knew used only a telescoping fiberglass “cane style” pole about 12 feet long. He used a porcupine quill taped to his line with electrical tape as a bobber. Even the smallest, lightest bite moved that bobber. He could “read” how big the fish was by how his bobber moved, and would lift it and move it away if the fish appeared too small.
There was some discussion late last year that Hickory Grove Lake might be “drawn down” this summer in preparation for some needed work on the spillway, additional shoreline armoring to reduce erosion and removal of an infestation of common carp. The proposed draw-down has been delayed until at least this fall, though. That means one more summer of the lake being full, with normal beach operations and fishing. The proposed improvements, including restocking with a nice array of game and panfish, will give us a lake with improved water quality that should serve our recreation needs for another 50 years.
We’re also in the midst of tick and mosquito season. Although they’re mostly just unpleasant, bites can pose some serious disease risks. Three species of ticks (dog ticks, black-legged ticks, and lone star ticks) can be found in our area, and each can carry serious diseases. Don’t forget to use a repellent containing DEET on exposed skin when you’re going be “off the path” searching for golf balls in the rough or wild asparagus in road ditches. Serious off-trail adventurers should wear long pants, with the tops tucked into socks. Ticks are easier to spot if you wear light colors. I use an odorless spray product containing permethrin on my hunting clothing (not on skin!). I had no ticks on me after several days of sitting in and walking through prime tick habitat out in the Loess Hills. A friend who didn’t use that product picked off several ticks during that time. The product claims to repel mosquitoes, chiggers and mites as well, and can be used on tents. Always give yourself a thorough check when returning home. A good shower can wash off tiny nymph ticks that are almost too small to see, and few minutes in a high temperature drier can kill any pesky critters still hiding in clothing. Ticks don’t begin to feed until several hours after they attach, so early removal can generally prevent the transmission of any disease. Proper preventive measures allow us to continue enjoying the great outdoors with minimal risk — regardless of the season.
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.