WILTZ: Are you ready for some mule tales?I still feel badly about it as I don’t like making mistakes. Jerry and I were trolling Ratlin’ Raps (we’ve found these to be very effective in our Missouri on walleyes, smallmouth bass and northern pike) along the shoreline in about 8 feet of water. We had earlier fished the fastwater, but that action was slow so we decided to cover another area. In just a short time we had caught a few respectable northern pike when Jerry said, “Fish on!”
By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic
I still feel badly about it as I don’t like making mistakes. Jerry and I were trolling Ratlin’ Raps (we’ve found these to be very effective in our Missouri on walleyes, smallmouth bass and northern pike) along the shoreline in about 8 feet of water. We had earlier fished the fastwater, but that action was slow so we decided to cover another area. In just a short time we had caught a few respectable northern pike when Jerry said, “Fish on!”
After quickly reeling in, I climbed to the rear of the boat and grabbed the landing net. Though the fish came in easily, it stayed down, and Jerry commented that it might be big. There were no runs, and steady pressure eventually brought a whopper northern pike to the surface right alongside the boat. For whatever reason it was lethargic, and without thinking, I thought I’d just slide the net under it and haul it into the boat.
I broke Rule No. 1: Always net fish head first! He came alive, slipped over the side of the net as the hook came out, and was gone. I probably would have made the same mistake with a larger net, so there was nothing to blame but my own handling of the situation.
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I’ve been on three hunts where we rode horses — Alberta, Idaho and Patagonia. On the Argentine hunt, my guide rode a mule that behaved perfectly the entire time. If I expected to see some of a mule’s famed stubbornness, it didn’t happen. I’ll attribute that to guide Tito’s expertise as a mule will try to get away with anything it can, according to the late Noel Wiechmann. You might also recall if you’re old enough that Gun Smoke’s Festus, Matt’s deputy, rode a mule. I’ll admit to a mule fascination.
A collection of Noel’s memoirs rests in the top drawer of my bed stand, and I smile to myself every time I pick it up. In my mind’s eye I can see Noel relating a story, a grin on his face. With regard to mules, Noel tells us how much his dad, Bill, liked mules because they were both challenging and smart. They wouldn’t hurt themselves the way horses would or overheat on a hot day. If they were hot, they’d stop and rest. Mules would never run through too small a barn door like horses would.
Bill bought a team of mules in ’38 or ’39, and the seller had failed to tell him that they liked to run. Bill learned about their bad habit the first time he took them out to fix fence. He had left them in the ditch near where he was working, and when he got occupied with the fence, the mules took off with the wagon and headed for the water tank in the yard where Bill found them. According to Noel, the mules liked to smile at you when they successfully pulled a prank.
But here’s a question: Can any animal actually smile? Do animals really have facial expressions? My Chesapeake used to throw me a sad look that said, “I’m sorry. I’ll never do that again.” If that’s what the look meant, it was a lie on top of it.
Getting back to that mule team that liked to run, it was Saturday, no school, and Noel went with his dad to continue the fence work. Bill told his son, “You know these mules are going to try to run away again. I have to teach them a lesson or they will never be a good team.” Bill evened the reins, put one on top of the other, and ran them under the hub of a front wagon wheel. He then wrapped them completely around the hub and then wove the remaining rein in and out through the spokes of the wheel. If the mules decided to run, the reins would wind up tight on the wagon hub.
Bill and Noel began unrolling a roll of woven wire. When the mules thought that the guys were far enough away from the wagon, they took off. It didn’t take long for the effects of Bill’s rein weaving job to take hold. Soon the mules were almost on their haunches with their mouths up against their collars. The bits looked like they were 18 inches up the backs of their jaws.
The mules were smart enough to relieve the pressure on them by backing up. Fortunately, no harm was done to the mules. For the rest of their days on the Wiechmann farm, they never forgot that lesson, but they were always ready to try some other mischief. Fortunately for us, Noel related a number of mule tales.
I especially liked the one where Bill had carelessly walked between the mules while hitching them to his wagon. I don’t know how the mules doped this plan out, but the side by side mules decided to squeeze together with Bill caught in the middle. Bill quickly moved sideways and got his forearms between their sides. At 6-foot-5 and nearly 300 pounds of pure grit, Bill eventually wiggled out of the predicament. He realized it was lesson time again.
Bill took a ball bat-sized cottonwood branch and cut it to about a yard in length. He then sharpened both ends to a point. He put the stick crossways in his hands just above his chest and once again walked between the mules. When the mules again tried the squeeze, the ends of the stick jabbed them just back of their rib cages. They jumped away from Bill. Although Bill kept that stick with him for a month, and always approached the mules from behind, he never needed it again.
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As mentioned previously, I never realized how much interest my thoughts on a cow elk hunt would create. For myself, I’ve decided on The Lodge at Chama. By the time I add up the cost of lodging, meals, guide, and license, I feel Chama is a very good deal. I’ve booked my hunt to arrive on Nov. 27, and hunt on November 28. The Lodge has other openings for this date, and I’d welcome the thought of hunting with some fellow South Dakotans.
*See you next week.
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