Yogi Stander has been hunting mushrooms his entire life and said he’d never seen anything like it.
The clump of morels he found at friend Joel Petereit’s farm near Louisville included one that was 12 ½ inches long. The other three in the clump weren’t much shorter.
“It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime find,” Stander said.
They found about 50 of the mushrooms surrounding a cottonwood tree that had been knocked over by a tornado several years ago.
The morels in the clump were so big that he took grandson Jaxon, 7, to show them off to officials at the Aksarben Aquarium before turning them into mushroom steaks.
Aquarium Director Tony Korth was impressed.
“They are by far the biggest ones we’ve heard of this year,” he said.
Nebraska Game and Parks spokesman Greg Wagner said after the rain last weekend and with sunny, warm weather predicted, this is a prime weekend for morel hunters.
“Last year, it was sporadic,” he said. “This year, with the moisture and sunshine, it’s looking fantastic.”
The morels start popping up in the river bottoms and woodlands. As the season progresses, they’re generally found in hilly forested areas above the rivers.
The farm where Stander found his morels is near Cedar Creek.
Wagner said the No. 1 rule for mushroom hunters is to get permission from landowners.
“Do not trespass,” he said. “It’s been a very serious problem.”
It’s illegal to park on bridges or for kayakers or airboaters to hop out on and hunt on sandbars that are private property.
Mushroom hunting is allowed on state park lands with a state park permit. State wildlife management areas are another possibility, but wear bright clothing because there may be turkey hunters in the area.
Areas around dead or decaying cottonwood trees are prime spots because the large root systems provide a lot of organic material that makes the morels grow bigger. Dead hardwood trees such as burr oaks, box elders, green ash and elm can also produce morels.
Stander said he and Petereit were talking about morels and cottonwoods and decided to check on the one about 100 yards from Petereit’s house.
They struck gold, or at least Stander did.
“I was on the wrong side of the tree,” Petereit said.
Stander said his mushroom is nowhere near a world record. Wagner, also an avid hunter, said the biggest he’s found was 13 ½ inches near Peru.
Still, they made good eating when Stander dunked them in egg batter and cracker crumbs and sautéed them in an iron skillet.
Now he has bragging rights among his friends.
“It’s very, very rare to find a mushroom this big,” he said. “It’s just incredible how big they were and how healthy they were.”