Craft Improvement: Finding the Sweet Zone

Finding the Sweet Zone

By John McFarland III

My eyes caught the movement of a duck slowing moving through the water lilies, and the dew covered grass that was emerging forth in the marsh.  Its head was jerking to and fro as it foraged its way in my direction.  I could tell it was a wood duck drake.  Slowly I raised up my Canon EOS Rebel T3i, with a 100-400mm image stabilizer lens, and pushed the lens through the opening in my photo blind.   The excitement of the moment was intensifying, as I realized I was about to outwit this particular duck into giving up some photos for my ever growing waterfowl portfolio.

I photographed this particular woody this past spring in my secret sweet zone on Upper Klamath Lake, in Klamath County, Oregon.  It was a long time in the making, but in the last five years my success in wood duck photography has accelerated to the point that I refer to my realized achievement as being nuclear.  I’m not complaining though, as I consider the wood duck to be one of the most beautiful birds in North America.

Prior to my explosion in wood duck photography, I would set up my photo blind near a piece of driftwood or protruding rock in the water.  This was done with the hopes of catching a duck climbing out to rest or preen itself, rather than just photographing a duck swimming by.  It was a good idea, and got me some results, but it was still very much more of a miss rather than a hit.

Finally, I stumbled upon the key needed to improve my chances of getting the type of photos that I wanted.  The secret was in discovering the sweet zone where wood ducks and waterfowl of different types would congregate in larger numbers to rest and preen themselves.  My discovered sweet zone area consists of three driftwood logs spaced about 5-6 yards apart, with the shoreline protruding outward just enough to where I can set up my blind, and photograph across any of the three logs where a duck may decide to sun themselves.  My success skyrocketed!

In addition, I came very close to getting a pine martin photo from the sweet zone this past spring.  Unfortunately, my excited movement alerted it to possible danger, and it retreated back to where it came from before I was able to push the shutter.

Now that I’ve discovered this sweet zone though, it’s time to make an all-out effort in getting landing and takeoff photos.  Until then, I will still work to capture the best driftwood poser photos I can of woodies and other cooperative waterfowl.  Whether with a shotgun, or a camera, I wish you all good shooting on your waterfowl adventures.


More Alaska Articles Needed

Nushagak River Article:

One of our Editors is looking for a story on effective techniques for Nushagak King salmon. The article should be about 2500 words long, with a dozen great photos.

This will be for the December 2020 issue and the deadline for the article is October 1st. Payment depends upon experience.

2021 Fish Alaska and 2021 Hunt Alaska Magazines:

Please send queries of stories you’d like me to consider for 2021 Fish Alaska  & Hunt Alaska issues. Please submit a proposed article title and paragraph  describing what the article will be about. I’ll be developing the editorial calendar over the few weeks and will let you know what we’ll take.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Standard length for a feature article in Fish Alaska magazine is 2500 words, though we do often publish smaller or larger features.
  • Upon submission, we’ll want at least a dozen great photos from which to choose.  More is always better than too few.
  • First run only; we don’t like to reprint anything that has been published elsewhere.

Submit your queries to me no later than Friday, August 15th.  

If you are a NOWA Member, Contact Dave Kilhefner  ASAP (  for details.

Alaska Article Needed


One of our Editors is looking for a story on fishing for species other than salmon (rainbows, dollies, grayling, pike) on the upper Nushagak and/or its tributaries.  The article should be about 2500 words long, with a dozen great photos.

Deadline to submit the article is not later than October 1st. Payment depends upon experience.

If you are a NOWA Member, Contact Dave Kilhefner (  for details.

Building Your Online Brand

If you’re on the NOWA mailing list you know that each month we ask what you’ve been up to for our member news.

This month Randy Bonner replied that he was holding a giveaway for Mack’s Lure products on Instagram. As the outdoor writing industry has been going thru many changes over the past decade, I was intrigued  what the benefits of this activity would be and emailed Randy, asking him to give me a call thinking that would be easier than emailing back and forth.

Randy replied “I’ll have to call you later, but I can write you from the turkey blind 🙂” and then sent me this:

In my opinion, especially with the way things are going with the print industry and the economy, we’re all in this together, and that goes for the advertisers, publishers, and writers, putting together content for readers that keeps them engaged. For now, a lot of the reaction I’ve gotten from this is coming from Washington, where people can’t fish, but it’s definitely on their minds. A giveaway is more than just stuff, it’s something that gets people excited about getting back on the water (or in the woods). It’s a thank you to Mack’s for sponsoring NOWA. It’s also a way for me, as an outdoor writer, to continue growing my (online) brand, when the inevitable transition of focus is going towards web traffic as readers lose interest in print subscriptions. I love contributing to both, and they both have their place. But building a web of online networking through publications, advertisers, writers, and readers is what seems to keep people engaged. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like free stuff???

I emailed Randy a well deserved Thank You and soon got this reply “Had to cut it short because a pair of gobblers was closing in fast. Thanks for being my good luck charm!”

A big Thank You to Randy for the Instagram Tip and to Mack’s Lure!





NOWA President Dennis Clay Passes

It is with a heavy heart we announce the passing of our President and longtime NOWA member Dennis Clay after a battle with cancer.

Dennis helped our organization get through it’s darkest days, and his dedication to our organization and contributions as a professional outdoors writer, broadcaster and photographer will not be forgotten. Our prayers go out to Garnet Wilson and the rest of Dennis Clay’s family.

You Are A Genre Celebrity—Cash In On It

by Terry W. Sheely

Making a buck from outdoor communications is more than photos, microphones, TV slots, social media and writing contracts. It can also mean introducing outdoor enthusiasts to one-on-one adventures they would not otherwise experience.

Over the years, mostly out of the limelight, several NOWA members have organized and lead small groups of readers, listeners and viewers to unforgettable destinations; allowing credit-line followers to accompany them to guided fishing, hunting, hiking, rafting etc. As professional outdoor communicators we have the name recognition and industry contacts to make it happen, and as businesses we need to make a buck or two along the way.

The first realization, and for many of us the hardest part, is cashing in on our names. Like it or not, we in the outdoor media are genre celebrities of sort. All of us—whether we write a hunt/fish/‘shroom column for a 4K weekly, blog, or contribute to National Geographic. We have name recognition. We autograph our books, draw folks to our seminars, shake hands at outdoor expositions and are on first-name basis with renowned experts and famous faces. Hard as it is for many of us to accept, we have followers and some of those followers would like nothing better than an opportunity to share an outdoor experience with the celebrity you.

You won’t get rich, but we’re in a skinny business where every dollar counts. Most of us welcome any work that puts money in accounts receivable, small numbers in accounts payable and transform business expenses into tax deductions.

Public speaking is a common way to cash in on ‘celebrity’ status. If we pay attention.

Our businesses neighbor with countless organizations that covet ‘free’ speakers. Unless you represent a government agency, manufacturer, guide/lodge or benevolent organization my advice is to steer clear of such groups. Affiliated free-speakers get paid by their employers to speak. You should too. We are professionals and our hard-earned insights and expertise are marketable. If we give it away we undermine our own markets and reduce our value to zilch.

You may not make $500 a night speaking to upscale fly clubs (although some NOWA members have) but you’ll put dollars in the income and expenses-deductible columns.

The exception to my speak-not-for-free rule is self-promotion, and while it appears to be for free it’s really covert selling. Hype your book at the podium and sell autographed copies (not at the end of your talk when your audience is leaving, but during an intermission at a table in the center of the seating section).

Or describe, visually illustrate and promote an unforgettable adventure trip—a sign up to fish/hunt/whitewater with me in a place you’ll not forget trip. What we do and the places we go to make a living are once-in-a-lifetime epics for a lot of outdoor folks. Some will pay to go with you.

I’ll never forget the whispered comment of a guest I was hosting to a remote British Columbia lodge. We were coming in by helicopter, skating low level across mountains, over fjords, black bears and above towering white ocean rollers shattering on black reef rocks. Face glued to the Plexiglas, he muttered, almost reverently, “If I never catch a fish this trip will already be a success.”

The Reel News publisher/editor Jim Goerg and I teamed up more than a decade ago to organize and host trips using advertising and descriptive articles in The Reel News as our primary marketing platform.

We’ve taken guests to Alaska, British Columbia, Haida Gwaii (AKA Queen Charlotte Islands), and Baja, Mexico. Some trips were limited to a dozen guests at high-end lodges in remote fly-in wilderness areas. Others, like the one were’ putting the finishing touches to now, our 15th annual Baja Amigos and Heroes adventure to fish Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, will include upwards of 100 guests. This is the 15th year for this saltwater adventure and it grows every year.

Working with Van Wormer’s Hotel Palmas de Cortez in Los Barriles, takes a lot of the work out of it and we need that. We’re wordsmiths and celebrity hosts of sorts, not concierges or tour guides.

We produce the guests. Hotel management handles bookings, collects the money, assigns rooms, organizes fishing boats and shuttle services, arranges meet-greet-and-fiesta banquets, and provides everything our guests need. Jim and I host, spring for some ceviche, a few margaritas and a round of Pacificos, arrange discount group pricing for the guests, put together a couple of entertainment features—and fish-photograph-and take notes.

Fishing on these trips provides my writing/photo business with a wealth (hopeful pun intended) of magazine story materials (destination, how-to, adventure, travel), new faces to photograph, and the bonus of fresh fish for the home table. Jim gets an inside track on destination advertising and exciting fish stories for The Reel News—all just for being us.

Besides eventual revenue from magazine, book, photo, and video it’s also possible to build in commission percentages from guests’ bookings and from sponsorships sold to defray expenses and generate income.

A triple bang—celebrity host commissions, sponsorship revenue and stories to sell.

Travel, accommodations and guide services for ‘celebrity’ hosts are worked out with destination lodges that benefit from a week of solid, no effort, bookings with opportunities to woo repeat business. Our guests get a hosted adventure in a spectacular region that they’ll talk about for the rest of their lives. Sponsors benefit from extremely targeted marketing contacts, and Jim and I put numbers in income columns. Wins all around.

Outdoor communicators are small businesses run by genre celebrities. If you are a member of NOWA you are an outdoor media celebrity like it or not–may as well make some money from it.

Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota

from Peter Schroeder

Sunday, February 9, 2020

            For those who have missed my background, in 1980 I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, which can be treated but not cured. It was then and is still considered today one of four terminal cancers. I contracted MM as a young engineering/physicist working amid ambient nuclear radiation in the Western Pacific Nuclear Atmospheric Test areas and underground nuclear-testing facilities at the Nevada Test Site. (For reference, all the nearby survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki contracted MM and related cancers, and most died within a year or two.) Forty years I have been in remission, one of the longest-known MM survivors, until I cracked my sternum last fall in a freak accident. This led to exams by my Seattle doctors as well as the Myeloma Center at UCSF and a month ago at Mayo. Now we’re back at Mayo for the recommended radiation treatment.

            After completing the first of three scheduled weeks at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, receiving five daily dosages of 3.5 Grays (350 Rads) each, I’m surprised (and delighted) I feel as healthy and fit as ever with no signs of fatigue, skin ablation, or other side effects. At each treatment. I’m bombarded by protons traveling 2/3rds the speed of light that are programmed to screech to a halt at the recently discovered tumor hiding behind my sternum where they dump their full energy (Bragg Peak). Unlike X-Rays, Cobalt rays, or other forms of radiation that continue through the body and wreak havoc on the heart or other organs, protons can be programmed to engage once they hit the cancerous mass.

            Risa and I are settled in a nice Airbnb near downtown Rochester and make daily visits throughout the clinic not only for daily radiation sessions but for appointments with doctors and specialists as well as lab work and other tests on my heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, and more. This is typical Mayo in not missing anything. Mayo lives up to its reputation as the premier medical center in the country with dozens of high-rise medical buildings and a handful of hospitals connected with each other and the entire downtown with a network of underground walking tunnels and skyways, all well illuminated and decorated with art, fabrics, and colorful painted walls. In addition to the medical facilities, the underground network holds restaurants, retail shops, hotels, and commercial facilities. Blizzards above, California weather below.

            The patients are equally intriguing. Heads of state often come, and I’ve seen people from the Middle East and Africa in their flowing robes and national dress. In the past week I have spoken with visitors from Kenya, Somalia, Qatar, and elsewhere who seek specialized medical attention. Often these national leaders are accompanied by heads of their government departments (possibly to assure there will be no coup in their absence) as well as numerous bodyguards. Many receive protection from the U.S. Secret Service including the Dalai Lama who checks in every two years for his physical. The Saudis in particular have embraced Mayo. The royal family flies directly to Rochester each fall in two 747s (they paid to have the runway extended) and  fill up several hotels they own. One plane is for the family and the other transports everything they buy on shopping excursions to the Mall of America in Minneapolis.

            Celebrities come here although they are often registered under false names and given private access to protect them from well-meaning crowds. Buildings are adorned with the names of the rich and famous with testaments how they or their loved ones have been treated. For example, the president of the U.A.E., Sheik Zayed bin Sultan donated $25 million to create a new cardiovascular center. The proton-beam radiation-therapy machine that treats me cost $220 million and was a gift from an Iowa businessman. U.S. News & World Report ranks Mayo Clinic as the #1 hospital overall and #1 in more specialties than any other hospital in the nation.

            Must say, I’m glad to be here.