Mushroom hunting season is a special time for several reasons. One, it offers an excuse for basically non-outdoor families as well as outdoor types to roam the spring woods, and enjoy wild flowers and wildlife from nesting birds to baby rabbits while seeking morels. A good quality time sport. Two, a bag filled with these netted mushrooms is a treasure indeed, great for breading and deep fat frying, or placing on a thick steak, or even to make an omelette better than any you've ever tasted. They're a treasure in the timber and even right now, hundreds of folk old and young are strolling through likely spots hoping to find El Dorado.
Is there a trick to finding morel mushrooms? Yes indeed, and it's a simple one — you've got to pay your dues. That means walking and careful looking, and lots of it. I've had days when I'd fill a bag in 30 minutes, and days when I hunted five or six hours with little or no success. But keep walking long enough, and you'll hit the jackpot eventually.
It goes without saying that there are places morels like better than others. You might find them nestled in a near thicket of trilliums, bedstraw, and rue anemones. Or along a railroad track right-of-way. Or a fencerow, old apple orchard, steep hillside or creek bottom. Morels are where they are. Most times you'll find more mushrooms on private land than public, since wildlife areas and state parks get hit hard. But if you're there first, you can still make a good haul on public lands.
Some veterans have very specific preferences in where they hunt. One expert I talked to likes south facing slopes first, where the sun hits longest, and as the season progresses, he'll work his way down slopes and into the valleys. Another said "I like to hunt around ash trees, and I've found a lot along the root lines of old dead elms." But wherever you find one, others are almost sure to be near, so it pays to move slowly and look carefully.
When you find a cluster, don't make the mistake so many make, that of taking every single mushroom. Smart hunters leave a couple to produce spores and make a crop for next year. That's far wiser than the woman I talked to last spring who said her woodlot just didn't produce like it used to. "I didn't find a single morel this year," she said, "and only a few last year." "Do you take them all when you find some?" "Of course."
Those who are really serious about their sport often end the season with a bushel or two of fine eating, more than can be handled at a single meal, even with friends in. After the usual splitting lengthwise and soaking in salt water, the excess can be bagged and frozen, with best results when they're frozen in water to prevent freezer burn. Some like to cook their catch first, simmering morels until covered with their own rich juices, then freezing. You might try drying some too, string morels on a heavy thread and hanging them in bright sunshine or a warm, dry attic, or place them on trays in an oven at extremely low heat.
Whatever your choice, morels are sure to be tasty, and if you don't find enough around this area, Michigan is waiting with its later than here mushroom season. Try places like Boyne City, or around Petowski, or elsewhere in central and northern Michigan. Given good weather and plenty of rain, the tens of thousands of acres of public areas up there can produce all you can carry.
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HOOKS & BULLETS
• Ohio’s “Free Fishing Days” are today and Sunday. They are open to all Ohio residents and extend to all of Ohio’s public waters, including Lake Erie and the Ohio River. This is the only weekend all year that does not require anyone 16-years-old or older to obtain a fishing license. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife’s six fish hatcheries stocked more than 66 million sport fish in public waters in 2017, including walleye, saugeye, steelhead, rainbow trout, brown trout, muskellunge, channel catfish, blue catfish and hybrid striped bass, which will provide opportunities for more than 1.3 million Ohio anglers.
• Lots of readers have never seen a manatee since they're found mostly in Florida. But on any trip south you might see some of these gentle giants, and they're a memorable experience. Unfortunately, the huge vegetarians are endangered, hit by motor boats, starved by adverse environmental conditions, and somewhat prone to disease. The Save A Manatee Club is fighting to preserve these huge mammals, and asking that Americans Adopt-A-Manatee by giving a tax deductible contribution of $25 (or more). You'll receive a color photo of your manatee, an adoption certificate, and the Club's e-letter. Call 1-800-432-5646 for details.
• Individuals interested in learning the basics of birding are invited to attend free beginner tours in May and June. Tours are open to all ages and interest levels and professionals will lead the tours and focus on bird identification skills. Tours will be held from 8 to 11 a.m. on May 20 at Pearson Metropark, and on June 10 at Maumee Bay State Park. For questions or to pre-register, call Meredith Gilbert at 419-429-8359.
• Need a good reason to hunt coyotes this fall? At the Jan. 6 Fur Harvesters Auction in North Bay,Ontario, eastern coyotes sold for an average of $51.54. That price will pay for a lot of gas or dog food. Red fox, incidentally, went for $20.
• Fisheries biologists have set the special fishing regulations for this year at Lake La Su An Wildlife Area. Lake La Su An Wildlife Area is open for fishing through Sept. 3. Fishing will be permitted, on Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from sunrise to sunset during this open season. The La Su An Wildlife area will be closed to fishing at all other times. Anglers are reminded that they will not need a reservation to fish the lakes on the La Su An Wildlife Area, but all vehicles must park in a designated parking space around the area. Sunfish bag limits for 2018 will be 15 fish daily, with no more than five fish being eight inches or larger. Largemouth bass will have an 18 inch minimum length limit, with a five fish daily bag limit and channel catfish will have a two fish daily bag limit. Daily bag limits will be posted and are in effect area wide. This means that only one bag limit will be allowed each day regardless of how many lakes an angler fishes. All statewide fishing regulations apply to the area lakes, except when superseded by the special regulations mentioned above. Anglers are also reminded that no fish may be used as bait on the area.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.