Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Magic of the Mother Lode

A mother lode tree, where I hunt, is one that has anywhere from 20 to 50 morels around it. I'll usually find one or two a year, but today was quite an exception. As Jon put it, the mushroom gods were smiling down on us very favorably. But before I get to that, I should start from the beginning.

Being a weekend, I was sure to head out a little after 6 am to beat the weekend hunters. I met up with a student from MU who wanted to do a narrative story about the hunt itself. I normally get at least one or two students a year contacting me about stories and recently I have passed on a few, but this was something different, so I decided I would show him what it is like.

The kid was pretty dedicated, not owning a car, and renting a U-haul pick-up to meet me at our location. I'm sure a few local hunters got a good chuckle at pulling up to the parking area and seeing that. Also, meeting me so early was a good sign that he was up to the task. We were the second car on site getting beat out by only a few minutes by a fellow seasoned hunter in a red pick-up.

We started off slow, pulling a few singles here and there in a younger stand of mixed softwoods. After finding ten or so rather small ones, I decided to head closer to the river and see if we could find any good trees. It didn't take us long to find one I have overlooked from the day before and we picked a good 10 to 15 around it. Han, the student with me, also found his first morel and soon he was spotting one after the other, commenting that he was starting to get an "eye" for them.

We continued on and hit a nice mother lode tree and picked 32 really nice sized ones as you can tell by the photos below.

The one on the left was my first true beer can morel of the season. All 32 were between 3 and 6 inches.

They seemed to be everywhere and Han got to experience the rush of hitting a motherlode tree.

The kid hung in there through the thick and thin brush and in the end we came out with 82 by 10:00. That was when I got calls from a buddy, Sterling, coming in from K.C. and from Jon, who was en route with his boat. We headed for the car and I made sure Han took a few to eat so he could taste the labor of our success. After all, how can you write a story about them if you haven't eaten them. Oh and did I mention that when we left there were at least another 6 vehicles. You can always tell you are at the height of the season when the local spots suddenly turn into used car lots.

Han went home to eat his morels and write his story and I headed to the boat ramp to meet Jon. Soon we were setting off for an island I have had my eyes on for years. Jon's boat is pretty small and he is always sure to ask all who ride in it if they can swim in case we get swamped. To avoid that we only go two at a time, so he ferried us over, the whole time keeping a watchful eye out for other boats with dangerous wakes. Fortunately the river was unusually quiet for a Sunday.

I was first to set foot and the first thing I saw was footprints so I was a little worried. But the tracks seemed to stay on the outside by the bank, so I walked in a ways saw a good tree and checked. Bingo, picked a nice 12 in two minutes. I headed to the bank to show and get their hunting blood a flowing and we started searching.

We quickly divided up and headed East and soon lost sight of each other. Almost every tree that looked good produced and by the time I met up with them again our bags were all half full. Then we hit a sweet spot where we must have picked 150 to 200 easy. I know Jon alone picked over 50 just around one tree. Here is a photo that Jon took around that tree.

There were over 20 right in this 2 X 2 foot area.

Even the loners seemed mighty, meaty, and majestic on this mother lode day.

Several of ones we we found on the island, like this impressive cluster which was completely hidden underneath some garlic mustard, were already showing signs of drying out, so I had to make quick work of them when I got home.

All and all, I picked another 181 on the island, bringing me to 263 for the day which was very close to my personal one-day best. Jon nabbed another 85 and Sterling, the rookie, picked 90. Jon and I kept telling him that it is NEVER like this and that we had set his standards way to high. He had literally lucked into one of my best finds for seasons. As for morel fever, I don;t think he has a chance. After a day like this, I know very few people who wouldn't be hooked. What do you think? Does he look hooked to you?

(Photos of Sterling by Jon Rapp)


Anonymous said...

I'd be lying like a rug if I did not say I was jealous. Well done!
I live in MN near the Mississippi River.
I've often thought about hunting the river islands (this year they had considerable flooding.)
A question or two, if you're willing to share...
When you look for a good island like the one in your post, is one that has flooded this season a good thing or a bad thing?
On an island, what kind of trees are you looking for? Up here many river islands are dominated by mature maples, which is why I've not spent much time on them.
Appreciate the help and appreciate being able to live vicariously through your finds until they show up here!

Anonymous said...

Yep, he's hooked.

"MY PRECIOUS! (gollum, gollum)"

-- Feral Boy