Cabin Fever: Ideas to get Outdoors in Winter

By Nick Johnson

The winter is far from over and Cabin Fever has begun to set in for many who enjoy the outdoors. Aside from shoveling snow and jaunts to work, kid’s events or the store, the feeling of being cooped up tugs at the boredom strings a little. Alas, there is actually a lot that can be done whether its fishing, hunting or traveling to a trade show to check out the New Year’s gear. The following is a list of some of the outdoors activities us Iowans can pursue to keep some of the boredom at bay if you are willing to endure the cold.

Coyote Hunting
One of the best times of the year to hunt coyotes is in the winter with a blanket of snow on the ground. Prey items for the coyotes are a little more scarce and the snow along with the lack of foliage makes spotting an approaching yote a little easier. Foot travel in the snow can be hard work but it is also a lot quieter which makes for a better sneak into an area. If you have bright skies and a good moon to light up the dark, hunting into the night is even possible and the coyote’s dark silhouette stands out against the white ground…talk about an adrenaline rush! This is the perfect time of year to call using wounded prey sounds like a rabbit in distress.

Trout Fishing
I’m not talking about fishing through a hole in the ice, although that is another possibility altogether. I’m talking about stream fishing in Northeast Iowa. Many of the streams that trout inhabit are spring fed and remain open during the winter. You will find considerably less fishing pressure and if you can keep your fingers from freezing may also find some excellent fishing. This is a very overlooked time of the year to target stream trout and the fish are there to be caught. One thing to look out for is that some of the state and county parks with public access to these streams are closed in the winter. Do a little homework before venturing out to make sure you have a place to fish.

Crow Hunting
This may sound silly but crow hunting is a blast if you have the gear to do it effectively. All it really takes is a mouth call or electronic caller, a few crow decoys and good camouflage. I can usually throw everything into a backpack besides the shotgun and tromp around some public ground to find a good place to set up. They can be challenging to hunt because they are very intelligent birds with exceptional eyesight but hunting them over decoys is pretty similar to field hunting slow moving ducks.

The call is the most important aspect and you don’t even need decoys if you have an electronic caller. I have a Johnny Stewart that plays various crow sounds fighting with an owl and if there are crows in the area that haven’t seen me come in it usually doesn’t take long for them to fly over to inspect the so-called intruder. This is a really fun way to spend part of a day bouncing around to various public or private locations and getting in some additional shotgun hunting opportunities.

Not everyone is into the sport of trapping but the winter is great for a multitude of species including coyote, beaver, mink and muskrat. It takes some special tactics and many of the best locations are near waterways so it pays to be careful. Later into the winter and at the start of spring is when beaver trapping is the best so that is something to do some research on while sitting at home.

Ice fishing
This topic may be overly obvious but when you are sitting at home thinking of something to do, get yourself or the family out to ice fish if there is enough ice to do so. This may even involve a little day trip further north to accomplish that or experience a new body of water. I mentioned trout fishing earlier, well there are numerous ponds that the DNR stocks with trout every winter and this can be a blast for those looking to catch something different. I’ve covered ice fishing for trout in previous articles and they aren’t all that hard to catch. This is a great experience for kids too as they fight hard, taste good and make for an exciting experience on the ice.

This year especially is shaping up to offer great perch fishing on Big Spirit Lake. In this same region you also have opportunities to catch many other species including pike and walleye. There are just so many places that offer good ice fishing in the state it would take me multiple articles to even scratch the surface on what is out there.

Trade Shows
There are a multitude of trade shows across the state during the winter that range from upland game, fishing, deer hunting and even antler and taxidermy auctions. These are fun way to get a group of buddies or the family out of the house to go look at all the cool things new to the outdoor market or even book a dream trip for the upcoming year. I have found some really great deals on fishing trips in the past that you wouldn’t normally get by booking from a website or over the phone.

Snow Shoeing and Cross Country Skiing
If you haven’t tried either of these, it’s worth checking out if this is something you would be interested in. Not only are both a great workout but you get to traverse the Iowa landscape and see the beauty of winter without a gun or fishing pole in hand. This is also a great opportunity to do something fun with a significant other and stay active during the cold months. Take a camera along to capture wildlife or cool settings along the way. You may even get a chance to see a Snowy Owl if you are lucky.

Similar to the above topic, snowmobiling is a great past time in the winter too. If you have never found yourself ripping across the Iowa landscape on a speed sled then you are missing out. If there is snow on the ground then literally any spot in the state is open game for snowmobiling, provided you have permission of course to be on the property. If you don’t have private ground to utilize there are several snowmobile trails across the state to use. Snow mobiles are expensive, but in my opinion worth the investment, especially if you ice fish too. These machines make great gear transports on the ice! If owning a snowmobile is out of the question you can always search for companies that offer rentals too.

Preparing Fishing Gear
This may not get you out of the house but going through all of your open water tackle and gear is a good remedy for Cabin Fever. Re-organizing tackle boxes, throwing out any garbage that has accumulated in the tackle box and vacuuming the boat if it is stored inside are a few of the items to keep busy. I always like to pull my reels off the rods to clean them and open them up to lube the gears inside. You can also wipe down the rods and get any dust or debris that they have accumulated off. Even going to the sporting goods store to spend any additional Christmas money to re-stock the tackle box is exciting this time of year.

Start and Finish a Project
As sportsmen I tend to think we are pretty creative and if we put our minds to something we can build pretty much anything we want to. During the winter there is no better time to be in the garage tinkering with a DIY project/s. It can be making your own fishing jigs, loading your own ammo, building your own blind or treestand. With more down time do to the weather and shorter days the extra time you may have can easily be put to something to do with your hunting, fishing, or any outdoor passions.
Winter is not without the feeling of being cooped up, that’s for sure. Not only is the daylight period shorter but the opportunities to get out and have fun in the outdoors are strongly dictated by the weather, family activities, work and even motivation. There are many more things to do beyond this list and these are just a few ideas to ponder when Cabin Fever sets in. Put your mind to work this winter and stave off Cabin Fever by staying busy. Get out and enjoy Iowa this winter!