CLEVELAND, Ohio — It is easy to toss another log on the fire and kick back at this time of year. Good fishing days can be hard to find and the hunting seasons have ground to a halt.
Many sportsmen enjoy cruising social media, though it can be a frustrating madhouse in an election year. You can only admire so many smartphone photos of deer, walleye and steelhead trout. And no, I don’t need a fresh batch of friends on Facebook or Twitter.
If you’re looking for suggestions for the slow season, you’ve come to the right place.
• Volunteer. Check the Ohio Division of Wildlife at wildohio.gov and find out how to become a hunting, fishing or trapping instructor. Become a volunteer with the county park system. Visit Lake and Trails at lakeandtrails.org and sign up for a spring or fall weekend mentoring outdoors-minded kids.
• Join a fishing or hunting club. The winter season is a wonderful time to hang out with kindred spirits, learn new outdoor tricks and get a line on hunting grounds or fishing waters. You might learn to do something funky, such as tie flies, spey cast and create spinner rigs, or join new friends on the club archery range or clay target course.
• Get ready to plant milkweed. Monarch butterflies feed primarily on milkweed. It is disappearing in the face of the Roundup ready GMO crops now dominating the agricultural landscape. Free seeds are available from the Save The Monarch Foundation (saveourmonarchs.org), but do consider a donation.
Milkweed production in the U.S. has fallen 93 percent in the last decade. The magic plant also benefits honeybees, pheasant and quail.
• If you’re sitting around and watching television, then multi-task. When is the last time you cleaned rifles, shotguns or pistols? Fishing tackle boxes always need off-season attention. Empty all of the pockets of hunting coats and fishing vests. Lost clippers, sunglasses and cold, hard cash often turn up.
• Slather your leather boots with preservative. A favorite leather preservative is Obenauf’s Heavy Duty LP (obenaufs.com) made in Idaho. It contains propolis, a tree resin used by honeybees to weatherproof and disinfect their hives. It is best to apply the waxy, yellow preservative with warm, bare hands to help it melt into the leather. I have a pair of Russell Moccasin boots that look as good as the day they arrived from the Wisconsin factory five years ago.
• Teach an old dog new tricks. Noted trainer Bob West of Purina said years ago that sportsmen seldom tap more than a small slice of a hunting dog’s potential. Time spent with a four-legged buddy to teach a pooch manners with people and other dogs, or even to roll over and play dead, is a bonus for both of you. Plenty of dog treats might be needed.
• Don’t neglect the important “whoa,” “come” and “heel” commands with your dog all year round. Throw the pooch a retrieving dummy a few times each day. If you don’t have a dog whistle, buy one. No one enjoys hearing a handler yelling incessantly at a dog. Lower your voice when giving commands. The dog will still be able to hear you.
• You knew this was coming. Clean the surfaces of your fishing reels with a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol and sparingly apply a quality reel oil – not WD-40 – on the moving parts. Spool the reels with fresh fishing line. Use rubbing alcohol to clean fishing rods, making sure to swab the rod guides with a Q-tip.
• Create lures. Growing numbers of Lake Erie fishermen are huddling over beads, spinners and hooks this winter, putting together colorful spinner rigs. There are many online videos with suggestions for drift-and-cast spinner rigs or larger trolling rigs that are a mainstay for walleye. Local tackle shops have all of the ingredients.
It has also become fashionable to give old diving plugs, or crankbaits, a spiffy fish-attracting facelift. To buy the right types of paint or check out small air brush rigs, visit Jann’s Netcraft (jannsnetcraft.com) in Maumee, Ohio.
(D’Arcy Egan, the long-time Plain Dealer outdoors writer who retired in 2015, will occasionally write columns to appear in The Plain Dealer and on cleveland.com. He can be reached at email@example.com)