Lynn Burkhead — Searching for Texas’ outdoors riches in the new year
Every year, when the Christmas holiday season has come to an end, I’ll admit that I’m often left with a gnawing uneasiness and a sense of “What now?”
That’s understandable, I suppose, since so much of what I love each year happens from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 — football season, dove hunting, duck hunting, deer hunting, and of course, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
In prior years, the post-holiday blues would get kicked to the curb quickly because of a busy work schedule with visits to the Archery Trade Show in the Midwest and the SHOT Show in Las Vegas.
While that won’t be happening this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is still plenty of work to be done, and if I look hard enough, more than enough outdoors adventure in Texas, all of it worthy of filling the 12 pages of a blank calendar staring back at me this morning.
January — For most of my adult life, January has been about chasing ducks. Years ago, that was greenheads over a stock tank next to a western Grayson County peanut field. After I got married, a late neighbor of my father-in-law kindly urged me to give his new lake a try and there were gadwalls and wigeon that came with the New Year. A few years ago, there was even a late season hunt with my two sons and a couple of coaching friends as we anchored layout blinds next to sheet water as flocks of wigeon, gadwalls, mallards, and a few pintails flew over in the January cold.
Normally, the late season flocks are small, the spooky ducks circle warily, and decoys and calling have to be kept to a bare minimum. But when it all works out right, there are two or three birds on the duck strap, a wet retriever for the truck ride home, and the tired smile that comes from getting up early to hear the whisper of wings over a decoy spread one more time.
February — Many years, the groundhog’s month serves as my unofficial off-season, meaning fishing tackle prep work, oiling shotguns, and putting away the decoys and treestands until next fall.
This year, however, I think I’m going to keep the bow out and the broadheads sharpened, hoping to meet up with a wild pig destined for the big smoker out back. There are too many destructive feral hogs roaming across Texas and I’ll try and do my part this year by letting a broadhead whistle downrange as I remember the latest pork chops recipe from Steven Rinella and the MeatEater crew.
March — When you live in Texas, there’s little doubt about the outdoors focus in March — it’s big largemouth bass heading shallow for the spawn. And that will be the case again this year as the entire bass fishing world turns its attention to the lunker fishing possibilities at Lake Ray Roberts.
Why? Because the 51st Bassmaster Classic comes to North Texas for a March 19-21 run on the 25,600-acre reservoir whose northeastern end spills into southwestern Grayson County. As only the third Classic ever held in Texas and the second one to visit Texomaland — Hank Parker won the 1979 Classic trophy in the Tanglewood Resort parking lot as Ray Scott emceed the Lake Texoma event — here’s hoping that the 2021 Classic will be remembered for something more than the virus currently disrupting the world.
With any luck, local fans can attend the Classic’s morning launches, afternoon weigh-ins, and Classic Expo in between. And at the end, maybe some Elite Series pro will use a memorable last second Ray Bob lunker on Championship Day to claim the big trophy in the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.” And all of that right here in our backyard, no less!
April — Most years, April is about spring turkeys and I suspect that this year will be no different. But it’s also about catching the backend of the bass spawn and I know that there’s at least one East Texas trip earmarked for that springtime chore.
But that trip to Sam Rayburn Reservoir to fish with Jim Spitzmiller in the backend of his new Skeeter bass boat will also carry some double-duty. Because on a spring morning at one of the state’s best known lunker factories, the hope will be for an early morning trophy largemouth followed by an afternoon of watching Jim’s daughter Ashley marry my youngest son Will. If the Good Lord is willing, maybe the day will carry both a 10-pound bass and a moment that a couple of dads will never forget.
May — Unless I haven’t notched a spring turkey tag yet, this month will see the outdoors pendulum swing back towards fishing. Late spawning crappie, an early morning striped bass at Texoma, or even a journey to the Texas Gulf Coast for a few tailing redfish are all possibilities.
But this month is also topwater time for bass, a chance to coax a big post-spawn largemouth into a violent surface strike. Pandemic or not, a topwater hit from a lunker bass is one of the sport’s most exciting moments and I hope 2021 is filled with plenty of topwater catches.
June — There are few things more enjoyable than chasing stripers on Lake Texoma, especially when the big linesiders are hitting topwaters. With any luck, an early summer morning will find me tossing a big surface popper on an 8-weight fly rod, strip setting hard when the explosive topwater strike happens, and holding on for dear life as the rising sun peaks over Denison Dam to the east.
July — This month, in addition to 4th of July fireworks at Munson Stadium and grilling something out back, there’s a good likelihood you’ll find me along the Texas Gulf Coast with a fly rod in hand. As the sun peaks over the Gulf of Mexico, I’ll hope to find a few feeding redfish waving their tails on a shallow flat. Wade in quietly, make a good presentation with a fly, and the end result is some of summertime’s sweetest music, the melodic whirr of a fly reel singing as line disappears and the rod bends double.
August — As the fishing slows with the dog days of summer, my attention this month will turn to sweat equity. Meaning that there will be plenty of gear prep work and fine-tuning of my archery and shotgunning skills as fall hunting seasons approach. Hopefully, there will be some serious work done on a new duck hunting and/or deer hunting lease as visions of bucks and ducks fill the dreams of a Texas outdoorsmen sweating profusely and pining for fall.
September — The first month of fall might be my favorite one of the entire year. Footballs are in the air, mourning doves are sweeping into a waterhole, and early migrating blue-winged teal are pushing south. A perfect weekend is a Denison Yellow Jacket victory during a Friday night radio broadcast, a Saturday morning limit of bluewings on a northerly breeze, and then a limit of afternoon dove as I listen to my smartphone and the call of Longhorns play-by-play man Craig Way during a University of Texas football game.
October — As area leaves show their first hints of autumn color, there are few things more pleasant than sitting in a treestand as the sun eases over the horizon and you try to figure out whether that faint noise behind you is acorns raining down from an oak tree…or a big record book buck closing in. Most of the time, it’s the former. But sometimes, it’s the latter as the late Forrest “Junior” Robertson found out while waiting with his recurve bow in a Hagerman NWR treestand in late October 1995. As some might recall, the late Sherman resident’s 200-class whitetail was the first Boone and Crockett Club qualifier in Grayson County history. But with any luck this fall — and a well-placed arrow from either you or me — it won’t be the last.
November — The year’s 11th month brings an embarrassment of riches to those donning camouflage and heading into the local woods. There’s the early push of ducks headed for the Texas Gulf Coast, which can produce easy limits of gadwalls, wigeon and pintails as they settle into a decoy spread bobbing on Lake Texoma or a local stock tank. But there’s also the peak of the whitetail rut and the chance of being in bow range when a Grayson County monster buck comes calling. Decisions, decisions, decisions, and all good ones at that.
December — As an aspiring upland bird hunter, the hope is for a spring and early summer of good rains in Texas, an explosion of good habitat, and a late year trip to the Panhandle to chase pheasants and maybe a covey or two of bobwhite quail. If that happens, laying down some boot leather will eventually find a bird dog locking up on point, an explosion of wings from the cover, the cry of “Rooster! Rooster! Rooster!” and the satisfying thump on the shoulder as the physics of a shotgun, shotshell load and an escaping pheasant all collide in a crisp December sky.
After that, it’s a journey home down Hwy. 287 to get ready for family visits and the Christmas holidays, to plan for the coming New Year, and to reflect on a rich, full year that will hopefully be remembered for far more than the sickness and suffering that 2020 delivered.
May we all be so lucky and blessed in 2021 — here’s wishing you and yours a healthy, prosperous and Happy New Year!