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Getting reel in Florida

BLOUNTSTOWN, Fla. — Glen Lau is best known for his films Bigmouth and Bigmouth Forever, both underwater looks at largemouth bass in their natural environment. However, his passion for outdoors videography does not stop underwater. Lau has filmed all aspects of the outdoors for more than 50 years.

Lau's outdoor filming obsessions started in 1958 when he was guiding hunts and fishing trips on and around Lake Erie. He took a camera every time he ventured into the out-of-doors and hasn't stopped since. Lau's original intention wasn't to film bass, though.

In 1959, Lau was en route to the Florida Keys when he stopped in Rainbow Springs in west-central Florida. Lau was already filming hunts on a private middle island on Lake Erie and thought the crystal-clear spring-fed water would make for an excellent film. He promised himself he would one day return to do just that. It wouldn't be until 1971 when he met Homer Circle that he would dive into the river for the first time with camera in hand.

"I'm a great believer that you don't shoot film and you don't take pictures," Lau said. "You make movies and you make pictures. That's the difference between me and a lot of other people doing the same thing."

Lau resides outside of Ocala, Fla., with his wife Mary Ann, several horses and a 10,000-gallon aquarium filled with the stars of Bassmaster.com's LunkerCam. For inquiring minds, yes, they're in a tank, and yes, they're big. Lau caught all of them in north Florida and they range from 5 to 10 pounds.

PHOTO GALLERY

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The tank is housed under a pavilion-style roof along with hunting gear, and an aluminum Tracker-style bass boat. This is the boat Lau shares with fishing buddy and co-star of the Bigmouth series, Homer Circle. Ol' Unc lives down the road in Ocala and still manages to fish weekly despite his 95 years.

In late March, I met Glen and his son David (Davey to Glen) on a farm near Blountstown, Fla., which is about 60 miles west of Tallahassee. The landowner, Bennett Eubanks, owns more than 1,000 acres in the Florida panhandle, and this particular locale is overrun with Easterns.

He's even eliminated the Florida-strain deer in his high-fenced property and brought in bigger specimens from the Midwest and Texas for true trophy deer hunting (however, check out the four pure-Florida deer in the photo gallery).

Cabin in the woods
When I reached Mr. Eubanks' plush cabin, David was enjoying a cold beverage with hunting buddy Troy Syfrett from Panama City, Fla. You'd be hard-pressed to meet a more welcoming pair of Florida Crackers than these two. Glen was upstairs shooting pool.

After brief introductions, Troy and David described Mr. Eubanks' land to me. It is comprised of hardwoods, mostly pines, cypress ponds, swamps and peanut fields. When asked about my previous turkey hunts, I had only to say that I'd never done it before.

When the trio found out I was a newbie to chasing ol' Tom, they frothed at the mouth. This group have hunted enough (close to 100 years combined) to have learned that hunting isn't all about the kill, it's about the hunt and time on the outskirts of the civilized world.

Glen was especially taken with the fact I'd never turkey hunted before. He mentors young men by taking them hunting and teaching them the way of the wild. He treasures each occasion to take a newbie into the woods, even if it's with a not-so-young man, as was my case. For him, time in the field is better spent with friends and a camera than with a gun or bow.

"Any time you can go dive in Rainbow Springs or you can go out and film in some place you want to be, it's not a day counted against you," he said.

Deer camp-style banter ensued before settling in for the night. As 5:30 rolled around the alarm clock told us to get ready. I can't think of a reason to get up that early unless hunting or fishing is involved.

David had set up a ground blind on the edge of a field. Glen and I hunkered down in the hardwoods, shoulder to shoulder. I was carrying David's camo-wrapped 3-inch Benelli, and Glen was armed with his digital video camera. Two Reel Turkey decoys (more on them later) were placed 40 feet in front of us.

David and Troy were about 150 yards away in a deer blind watching out over us and the field. At about 7:30 we heard the first (and only) gobble we'd hear that day. However, it was clear across the field from where Glen and I were sitting. David said the gobbler had appeared from the hardwoods and wasted no time scooting along the perimeter.

"He had his mind made up where he was going," David said afterward. "I saw him come out of the woods on the other side of the field and he booked it along the treeline. But man, you should've seen the rope he was dragging."

Another hour and a half later, Glen's cell phone shattered the still of the morning. It was David, suggesting we move. We headed to another smaller field not too far away. Glen and I set up while Troy and David went back to the cabin for an hour or so.

I didn't see or hear a thing. Except Glen catching up on some sleep.

Unsuccessful but not defeated, we packed up and headed south to Gainesville, where Glen was granted permission to hunt a friend's 800 acres.

Getting Reel

Glen's son David grew up in Ocala, Fla., but now resides in the South's premier party destination, Panama City, Fla. David got his first hunting license when he was four-years-old. He quickly learned of the most frustrating thing that a turkey hunter can face: the hang-up.

"If they're not super-aggressive, they get hung up, meaning they only come in so far to your decoy," Lau said in his Florida Cracker drawl. "That's not because most decoys don't look natural, they don't act natural. It'd be like walking into a room of people that didn't move at all. It'd be weird and you'd probably leave in a hurry. I wanted a decoy to move more naturally."

He thought back to his past experiences to what he noticed brought the big ones in: a hen going about her business.

"I've noticed from time in the field that a feeding hen does a couple things. First, if you call a gobbler in, it relaxes him to see a bird feeding. It just looks like she's trying to live," he said. "Secondly, if he's in full strut, and a hen just keeps on doing what she's doing and ignores him, that's a crushed ego right there."

After wading through a few prototypes, the Reel Turkey was born, er, pieced together. Think of a decoy on a miniaturized version of Santa's sleigh.

"When people see the decoy, it doesn't always win them over right away," Lau said. "However, getting it out 30 or 40 feet away from you and making her feed and move usually seals the deal."

The Reel Turkey is attached to 200 feet of line spooled on a reel. Subtle tugs on the line will make the decoy "feed" while firmer movements inch her along.

"The biggest mistake people make is moving the bird too much. If I move it 20 feet in an hour, that's huge," he said. "If it's within sight of a gobbler, just feed her a little and he'll come right in."

Round 2
The night before we were to hunt, Glen and I scouted the land for tracks and a place to set up. We saw several A-class gobbler tracks. This bolstered Glen's excitement and confidence. I was ecstatic as well.

On the second leg of our hunt, Glen was once again to my right, this time 15 feet or so. He had his camera set up and the Reel Turkey at the ready. Twenty feet to my left was a roadbed that ran parallel to my line of sight and in front was an area of pine forest that had just been logged.

"These areas are some of the best there are for hunting. When they come in and log them, there's an abundance of food," Glen said. "All the new stuff gets turned over and it's right there for them to eat."

By that token, this place was an all-you-can-cram-in-your-gullet buffet.

However, no one showed up.

After hours of sitting, we'd heard just one gobbler about 200 yards ahead and decided to call it a day.

Reflecting back on the hunts, Glen and David both believe the long, harsh winter that had most of the outdoors in a tailspin hadn't spared the turkey season.

"We were a week too early," Glen said. "A week after that, things broke wide open. Where we were the second time around the turkeys started gobbling and following the hens and that's going to be going on for the next few weeks. We just hit it a week too early."

I've got my first turkey season under my belt, and don't think it could've been spent with a better group of people. I'll treasure the experience.

These were days definitely not counted against me.