Monday, October 20, 2014

THE ALL-NIGHT ITCH

Photo by Matt Reilly

You pack a lunch, maybe a breakfast, throw all your gear into the corner, stage tomorrow's clothes, click the alarm clock on, and hit the sack, early.  Sleep never comes.

    The next day will bring a long-awaited adventure, or maybe a last-minute throw-together.  You'll tread paths untreaded by your seasoned boots, fish waters not yet probed by your feathery or flashy temptations, stalk woods of unknown population and chance.  The unknown awaits at dawn; and though you are to rise before the sun, your eyes remain wide long into the night. 

    As I sit here working--writing how-to's and me-and-joe's--I'm distracted by what awaits me in tomorrow's adventure.  One of my favorite combinations--a "cast n' blast"--will commence to the south--squirrel hunting a wildlife management area I have yet to explore and fishing a delayed harvest trout stream previously unknown to me.  I've been working hard all day; and I'm yawning now; though I fear I won't sleep much.  Morning will come early.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

SQUIRRELS ON THE MIND

Perhaps it's the wonderful memories I made in the woods in my early childhood years with my father or the first solo adventures I had in our subdivided woodlot with my very own Daisy pellet gun.  Or maybe it's the influence of the late Bob Gooch following me in the field as I weave stories of my own; but nothing welcomes in the fall season for me like a calm, cool day in the squirrel woods.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    The squirrel season in Virginia opens on the first Saturday in September, but personally, I acknowledge its beginning when the crisp air and smell of turning leaves floats lightly through the poplar groves on a slight autumn breeze, and the trees are yellow and growing bare.  There's just something mystical about this time of year in the Blue Ridge and the surrounding foothills; and squirrel hunting provides a stress-free, exciting, and active means by which to enjoy it.  Scouting helps, but is not required for success, and it's rare to go more than an hour without seeing a bushy, gray form bouncing along the forest floor or performing acrobatics in the crowns above.  One can simply relax.

    My first squirrel of the season has already fallen, but I look to enjoy my first hunt in the near future.  Maybe somewhere new, where I can explore.  Look for the story in days to come.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

STOCKED TROUT ON THE ROSE RIVER

It's not often that I fish for stocked trout, or rainbows at all even, here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia; but with the parental units gone until later this month, I've been rolling on a wild game/fish diet to save on groceries, and have some fun, too.

    So after checking the VDGIF stocking schedule, I loaded up my Golden Retrievers and my creel and headed northwest to Madison County, to the Rose River which had just been stocked on the 14th.

    The Rose River parallels the road that runs through Criglersville for much of its length, making it easy for the stocking truck to disperse fish throughout the river, rather than concentrate them in one or two holes nearest the best access point--supposedly.  So without much thought, I picked a pull-off, parked, and rigged up.

    I passed several pickup trucks parked along the river below me, and there was a mini van taking up the pull-off just upstream.  So I was mentally prepared to have just one pool to fish and make the most of.  This wasn't the case, however.  A friendly fisherman (a fly guy too) stood in the pool just above me as I slid into the crystalline flow, running high from a full day of rain two days prior, but clear as ever, filtered by the limestone bed.

    The cover was tight; but I didn't skip a beat.  My new favorite rod, the Tycoon Tackle Scion Series graphite rod, roll casts like a dream; and with a flick of the rod tip, I turned a sliding D-loop into an airborne cast.

Photo by Matt Reilly

Photo by Matt Reilly
    After casting to the belly of the pool, along the current seams, and to the head of the pool, I had succeeded in fooling seven fallfish and one redbreast sunfish--fine, native fish in their own right, but I was searching for the slightly less-sharp non-natives for a change.

    The next cast was claimed by a fiesty rainbow, who immediately took to the air, thrashing and trying to break free.  I guided him to my hand and admired him.  His rosy, spotted flanks marked him as a holdover--a welcome indication in those waters.  With dinner on my mind, I slipped him into my creel.
Photo by Matt Reilly
    I returned to my car to shed my sweater and came upon a friendly man looking to do some bait fishing in the same pool I had just pulled the trout from.  He insisted I continue my fishing; and so I did, for a short while, before wishing the gentleman good luck and moving upstream to seek better fortune.

    I continued fishing upstream, hooking the occasional fallfish and sunfish, but managed one last trout, larger than the first, but obviously a recently-stocked fish by appearance.  He too met the bottom of my creel.
Photo by Matt Reilly
    By then the sun was almost at its pinnacle in the sky, and I had work to do--a deck that needed staining--and so I made my way back to the car with a few stockies in tote.

    Given the choice in sport, I typically forgo fishing for stocked rainbows for blue-lining on the upper reaches of the same streams for native brook trout; but if you're in the mood for trout for dinner, following the stocking truck can be a fun way to grocery shop!

Friday, October 17, 2014

50th ANNUAL SEOPA CONFERENCE

Last weekend I had the pleasure of being invited to the 50th anniversary Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) conference at the beautiful Fontana Village in the North Carolina Great Smoky Mountains.

    The occasion?  Back in July, I was awarded the Lindsay Sale-Tinney Award by the Outdoor Journalist Education Foundation of America (OJEFA), the branch organization of SEOPA dedicated to recruiting youth to the profession of outdoor communications.

Photo by Matt Reilly

    Stu Tinney, founder of the original Striper magazine, established the award in 2010 in honor of his late wife, Lindsay, as a way to promote the youngest generation's presence in outdoor media.

    The winner, as selected by the OJEFA committee, is selected from a pool of applicants between the age of 12 and 25 who complete an application and essay demonstrating a strong desire to pursue a career in outdoor communications.  The award provides one free conference registration, four nights lodging, and up to $750 in travel expenses to attend the annual fall conference held by the organization.

    The real blessing provided by the award, is the opportunity to meet and network with over 500 of the country's most prominent outdoor communicators.  These conferences are where careers are born, shaped, and grown; and anyone interested in the field would be doing themselves a disservice to not attend one.

    So if you are an individual that fits the aforementioned criteria, I urge you to mark June 1, the deadline for the scholarship application, on your calendar for next year.  It very well may be the best move you ever make.  I know it was mine.

OJEFA Announces Recipient of Fourth Annual Lindsay Sale-Tinney Award

Thursday, October 16, 2014

SILENTLY AND SLOWLY--SHIPWRECKED

Summer is stagnant and never-ending in the South.  And when the sun seems to melt the passage of time, and willing-to-eat, enthusiastic fish fin the waters of farm ponds with water cooler than the air, it's not uncommon to find me at my favorite local arena several days a week.

Photo by Matt Reilly

    It's this place that continues to teach and reteach me a valuable lesson:  In nature, it seems, the more you get to know a place the more mysterious it becomes.  There's something special about the unknown, which I believe is central to the sport of fishing as we all know it.

    I was in the midst of a particularly productive summer season on the banks of said pond, with a long rod in hand and a popping bug tied like a bad habit to the end of a staunch, level leader.  On many separate occasions I had taken respectable largemouth bass from the surface of the pond, along the heavy lily pad breaks and grass pads, and I was fairly dialed in to the fishery I was targeting.

   Though fish tend to be more willing to break the surface in overcast conditions, it is not a rule on that body of water; but regardless, the heavy-gray morning sky leaking an intermittent drizzle boosted my chances considerably and made for a pleasant fishing atmosphere.

    Fifteen minutes into waving my 8-weight, a gaping mouth intercepted my popping bug's chug-chugging course towards the edge of the pads and closed, spewing an air bubble the size of a softball into the atmosphere in what sounded like an earth-bound meteorite breaking the water's surface.  The fight was on.  The fish made consecutive runs, right, parallel to the weedy edge, then left.  When it's fighting energy was depleted, it sounded and buried itself in a thick subsurface wad of grass.  I edged out into the water, chest-deep, and found the fish's mouth at the end of the leader and lifted.  Another trophy was added to my season's tally.


    It wasn't long after that morning that I returned to my favorite playground.  The ground where I had fought and landed the storied fish of a few days prior was taken by another.  Not a fisherman, but an allusion to one--a sparkle-finished Champion bass boat, anchored in place and devastated.  Paint chipped from the finish, remnants of fishing tackle and days of relaxation and drinking colored the deck, where carpet was shedding from fiberglass.  The seat cushions where dilapidated, the electronics obviously shot, and the steering wheel detached from the console and riding squarely on the deck.  Grass and weeds gripped the craft naturally, as if shipwrecked long ago and left unsalvaged on the banks of a timeless ode to summertime in the south.

    It remained for months, and still does remain motionless and unmolested.  No one seemed to know where the boat had come from or why it was so weathered and beaten.  But somehow it didn't remain a mystery for long, but was accepted shortly as a wild and simple act of nature--of human nature, even.  Though one could raise a fuss about littering and degradation, the boat grew quickly to be seen as a feature of the landscape, a casting platform from which to ply the waters of the pond with greater reach, until the air turns cold and the fish abandon their fondness for surface feeding, and the craft is out of season.  Then, I will not be surprised if it should be gone.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

US FOREST SERVICE PROPOSAL CAUSES STIR

The US Forest Service has issued a proposal to require an expensive and extensive permitting process for anyone poised to photograph or film on federally-designated wilderness areas for “commercial gain,” triggering outcry from professional and amateur photographers, reporters, outdoor writers, and First Amendment supporters in mass.

    According to the controversial proposition, photographs and film, even if shot with a smartphone, would be subject to approval by Forest Service administration, following a detailed application designed to verify the intent of the media.  Upon approval, acquisition of a permit would cost up to $1500.  Those apprehended for violating the act could be hit with a fine of up to $1000.

    Now, before you dismiss this, readers, with a confident “Ah, that will never happen,” let’s take a look at the details.

    The proposal first gained public attention when the governmental agency posted a notice on the Federal Register on September 4 seeking public comment.

    In response to the outcry, the Forest Service has since spoken up to clarify that such an implement would not interfere with reporters or recreational photographers, one with commercial activity.  The regulation, the Forest Service states, has been deemed vital in honoring the 1964 Wilderness Act, which requires that the nearly 110 million acres set aside by Congress as “wilderness area” be preserved in their natural state.

    Moreover, the Forest Service wishes to direct attention to the fact that this measure has been effective since 2010, though with minimal enforcement.

    But even during a period of minimal enforcement, and with the Forest Service claiming to side with reporters and only oppose commercial motors, in 2010, the agency denied a public Idaho television station access to a wilderness area to film student conservation workers, according to the Oregonian.

    This exemplifies governmental overreach to a T.  In what started out as, and may still be viewed as, a beneficial measure in preserving America’s wildernesses, this government agency has slowly slipped a collared leash around the neck of the free reporter.

    Though the application seems to be tailored to evaluate commercial filming projects, requiring others to undergo the process is truly a violation of the First Amendment Freedom of the Press.  There seems to be some confusion about the idea that hampering personal freedoms is synonymous with limiting them.

    For even if this regulation has the intent that is commonly cited, giving the Forest Service—a government agency—the power to determine whether or not an individual or project will be issued a permit and, at that, how much it will cost, opens the door for biased governmental politicking in the media world.  And with smartphone cameras creating a hazy border between recreation and news-gathering, the path becomes laborious and winding.  Beware, the slippery slope.

    Furthermore, it seems to this author that the Forest Service would be doing itself a huge disservice by burgeoning the permitting process and hindering photographers wishing to photograph the beauty of nature in wilderness areas.  If you’ve ever visited a national park or wilderness area, or dream to some day visit one far away from home, chances are your desires were inspired by photography, whether on the cover of a pamphlet, on the internet, or in a magazine or book.  What would happen to growing public interest in the outdoors if this advertising and appreciation of nature was decreased or discouraged through the process being discussed?

    Thankfully, our country’s lawmakers, on both sides of the political spectrum, agree that this proposition is out of bounds. 

    The Washington Post cites U.S. Representative Greg Walden’s (R. – OR) letter to Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell:  “It is also very troubling that journalists could be held to different standards at the discretion of the issuing officer depending on the content of their stories and its relevance to wilderness activity.”

    U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D. – OR) also acknowledges the potentially First Amendment-violating rules, saying that the Forest Service should be careful of overstepping, according to the Oregonian.

    As an outdoor communicator, this issue poses a threat to me personally, as it should to anyone that enjoys recreating on our Nation’s public lands—most anyone reading this column.  Though this issue seems to be one that will be shaken down by legislators and the outspoken few, don’t let it earn a foothold.


    In response to the large-scale public protest that erupted with this breaking news, the Forest Service has extended their public comment period to November 3.  Take a stand for your public lands, and write the agency, your local legislator, or both with your opinion on the matter.  Or visit the website for the Federal Register and submit a formal comment.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

THE FOREMAN

Every year, around the same time, when the air begins to chill and crispen, and the leaves of silver maples and paper birches are consumed into a red-yellow blaze by the dying embers of summer in the Northeast, a steely character wanders south along the River Clyde into town for the season from his regular residence, Lake Memphremagog.

     His appearance is a phenomenal mystery to the townspeople, apart from lore that it began long before the river was dammed along its course; but the town takes note of his arrival, and succumbs to a feverish restlessness upon it.  He rolls in unannounced, like a shadow--deliberate, like a life-long local.  The habits he keeps are only attempted to be understood by those seeking to make contact with him, if only briefly; and still others simply observe him sulking in his regular hangouts in accepted ignorance.  Such is the alluring nature of salmon.

    He brings with him a posse of thousands from the mother lake to the north.  In years previous, there were others mightier in the River; but after a gluttonous summertime, this year, beautifully adorned with muddy-bronze flanks and dime-sized black spots, he emerged as the strongest in the order, entitling him to first choice in a lie.

    Salmon are a fish like in appearance but unlike in habit to trout, in that a trout’s lie and dining preferences can be entirely predictable, while salmon seem to act completely at random.  That is not to say that salmon are without character, for the opposite is true, particularly in the case of large salmon. 

    The Foreman, as he was called by the townspeople and familiar anglers, chose his lie in the belly of a meadow bridge pool.  The pool was really the tail of a much larger elbow pool, which moved slowly from the head, under the bridge, where a narrow band of current adjacent to relatively-still water cut down through a foot of bedrock and flowed into the limbs of a downed tree sweeping into the current, opposite the approach of most anglers, where he could retreat from danger.  Fifteen feet downstream from the bridge’s center, an orange traffic cone laid, opening upstream—an allusion to past road construction.

     A pillow of sub-surface current rolled on the mouth of the cone, creating a micro-eddy; and that’s where the Foreman held, motionless, save for the occasional subtle turn to take an imperceptible insect tumbling along the streambottom.  His 12-man crew flanked him, all much smaller than he, and would move upstream and higher in the water column to feed when tempted; but their overseer remained immovable.

    All of this was easily observed from the overpassing bridge which, apart from his size, was probably the reason the Foreman was regarded with such prestige.  If the largest in his crew went four pounds, the Foreman went 12.  Yet it was evident that he fed most sparingly and lazily.

    When one ambitious angler positioned himself to take his shot at the talked-about salmon of the traffic cone below the town bridge, the town’s population in full arrived to wish in his favor as if a silent alarm had been wired to each one of their homes.  To get a promising drift, because of the slow surface current and faster sub-surface current running along the streambottom, an angler had to make a long cast upstream with a fly weighted to allow it to drift naturally to the bottom without lodging in the shelf rock on the bottom prematurely.  If this was achieved without snagging the full-figured apple tree on the backcast, then a strong mend had to be placed upstream to prevent drag on the fly, allowing it to sink to the desired depth.

    It was rare this would happen, and when it would, perfection was rewarded by the Foreman simply nosing the fly to the side or allowing it to tumble over his nose without reaction.  After several hours of this—if the angler’s wits lasted that long—the onlookers crowding the bridge would return reluctantly to their homes, and the onlookers’ vigil would be reopened to vehicle traffic.


    To visit the bridge pool after fishing hours was enchanting.  When the water appeared black and the graying sky became peppered with insects hatching from the riffles below the tail of the Foreman’s pool, the town’s residents who perhaps understood the steely veteran best, and were often fishermen themselves, would emerge to take in the scene from the bridge strikingly empty in the pale evening light.  If it was a particularly special evening and the Foreman was in good spirits, the delicate rise-forms dimpling the tail of the bridge pool would erupt with an explosion of water and the august form of the Foreman enjoying the day’s concluding meal.  Such is the nature of salmon.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian