John and Friend

Saturday May 1st was the beginning of the Wisconsin Inland Trout Season. The tradition of opening weekend is marked by a host of anglers who celebrate and trout fish the spring creeks throughout the state. This second opening day for trout fishing is referred to as the “harvest opener”. As the name implies, anglers are now legally able to harvest fish for consumption according to specific stream regulations. This second opener has lost a bit of luster for me over the years since I have been fishing for trout on the same streams since the first Saturday in March under the “Early Catch and Release” trout season. Now, I do love to eat a few trout once in a while, but I know my fellow trout anglers will leave a few in the stream for me to catch later this week.

This last weekend my focus was on a different season. A season without any official opening or closing dates. A season that calls me to the woodland carpets rather than the flowing waters. A season which begins in my neck of the woods at roughly the same time as the trout “harvest opener”. This season I am referring to is the Morel mushroom season.

Yellow morel

Morel mushrooms are considered among the finest of edible fungi. They tend to grow in wooded areas and are associated with dead or dying elm trees. I won’t say they are abundant in our area because they are not. Morel populations can pop up and wither away in the span of a few days or a few weeks. The thrill of the hunt is uncanny, and in my case has grown over the years thanks to my friend John, who is a rabid Morel hunter. John has given me a better understanding of the observation skills necessary to be successful at finding these little brain-like fungi hidden among the organic litter that carpets the forest floor. It’s a righteous endeavor!

Gray Morel

A Typical Morel Hunt

The day starts with the proper wood’s apparel. Clothing that can get dirty and shed all clinging and scratching plant material like burdock, prickly ash and blackberries is the best. Nylon or heavy cotton is the most popular for this purpose. DO NOT WEAR FLEECE. Some people like camo and some like blaze orange. These folks are either the Blend Ins or the Stand Outs and I have been given no explanation for the diversity. As far as I know the fungi will not run in fear if they see you nor will they be surprised if you sneak up on them, so wear what you want.

Morel on Moss

Morel hunters move through the woods in slow motion. Once a target “search area” is identified, the placement of each footstep is scrutinized so as not to step on the targeted fungi. This slow movement enables the hunter to focus on observation skills. These little buggers are hiding and have achieved the highest level of blending in. It is not uncommon for individuals to walk right past the mobile as a fence post morels only to have someone else with a keener eye spot the lurking fungi. The toughest part of morel hunting sometimes is just spotting that first one.

Where is Waldo?

Finding a morel mushroom is magical and can set off a whole new series of events. Once a hunter spots one of the crafty devils, everything stops. The hunter will likely drop to ground level and verify the find before announcing his/her success to others. Many times if the other hunters in the area have not been successful themselves, they will slowly migrate to view and access the find. Hunters will travel slowly as they approach and will often be reminded by the successful hunter to be cautious. As each hunter now becomes prone, it is incredible how many morels can be found in one small area. Once you see one it is truly surprising how many others are hiding in close proximity. After careful harvest, the mushrooms are inserted into mesh bags which will allow for any mature spores to be deposited back into the area. A bit of chatter and glee completes the find before all of the hunters disperse again. “I’ve got some over here” will start the whole process over again.

After the Hunt!


There are two, probably three species of morel mushroom in our area, although even the experts are not totally sure. The gray (sometimes called black), the yellow and the giant. All need to be cooked before eating. Let it be known that some people are allergic to all morels. My friend John is one of them. It took him 3 times of getting violently ill from eating them to realize that this was the case. He still just loves to search for them, and sells or gives away his bounty to friends and family.

False Morel

A last note; false morels exist and are poisonous to eat. we found quite a few on Sunday. To me you would have to be high on mushrooms to mis-identify but apparently it happens. The rule of thumb is not to eat anything unless you are 100% sure of the identification. Here is a picture of the false morel.

False Morels