Wednesday, January 28, 2015


For the 22nd year, the Virginia Outdoor Writer’s Association (VOWA), along with its contest sponsors, Bass Pro Shops, Dominion, VirginiaCooperative Magazine, and Hunt’s Photo & Video is holding two writing contests, one for high school-aged students and one for undergraduate college students.

High School Contest

    The high school contest,sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, is open to any public, private, or home-schooled student in grades 9-12.  Essays should be written about a memorable outdoor experience, with possible subjects including hunting, fishing, camping, boating, hiking, birding, or another outdoor activity.  Accounts of athletic events are specifically excluded.

    Three winners will be selected and invited the annual VOWA membership meeting in Charlottesville on March 21 to present their essays.  The deadline for the contest will be February 16. 

    Prizes provided by Bass Pro Shops will be $150, $100, and $50 gift cards for first, second, and third place winners, respectively.

    For more information on the high school contest, visit

Collegiate Contest

    In cooperation with Dominion, Cooperative Living Magazine, and Hunt’s Photo & Video, VOWA is once again offering a collegiate levelwriting and photography contest to any student at any Virginia university or college, including community colleges, two-year schools, and private institutions.  Virginia residents enrolled at out-of-state schools are also eligible.  The topic for the writing contest will be a memorable outdoor experience or special interest. 

    Entrants in the “Best Outdoor Photo” contest, sponsored by Hunt’s Photo & Video, are encouraged to enter up to three of their best outdoor photos in JPEG format, accompanied by a 50-75-word description. 

    Winners will be selected by a judging panel and invited to the annual VOWA membership meeting in Charlottesville on March 21.  The deadline for all contests will be February 16. 

    Each entrant of the contests will be given an annual student membership to VOWA.  The winner selected for the best overall essay will be awarded a $250 cash prize by VOWA-Dominion.  Cooperative Living Magazine will select one winner for the best essay related to outdoors in Virginia and award a $100 cash prize and publish the essay in the magazine.  “Best Outdoor Photo”, as decided by Hunt’s Photo & Video, will be awarded a $50 gift card to Hunt’s.

    I often am faced with the question, “How does one become an outdoor writer?”  The answer is complicated and dependent on a host of factors.  However, one factor is common across the board—credentials.  Before any editor or publisher will be willing to give you a shot, generally, one must prove ability and/or knowledge.  This is at least difficult to youth or young adults without any prior experience in professional writing; and so the best options for earning a first gig, without first organically wearing down a market with hundreds of rejected query letters, are to 1) get to know someone in an editing, publishing, or writing position, and 2) make your name known in the outdoor writing field.

    If you can’t tell where I am leading by now, I’ll make it easy for you.  This contest, should you win at any level, provides both of these opportunities.  Winning will make your name known to those in the local outdoor writing community, and you can forever introduce yourself to an editor as an “award-winning outdoor writer.”  Moreover, you will be invited to attend a meeting in a room full of outdoor writing professionals, all of which are full of knowledge and the mission of recruiting young communicators.  So, if you are interested in outdoor writing in the slightest, this contest is for you.

    Still, should you enter and not win, and you are serious, come to the meeting.  Shake as many hands as you possibly can.  Collect business cards.  Take members up on their offers, suggestions, and invitations.  You will not leave empty-handed.  VOWA is a resource.

    Thus I conclude my annual plug for the writing association that started it all for me.  I do it out of gratitude to the men and women that comprise VOWA, and to everyone that has supported me; but more importantly, I do it out of a desire to see more youth members involved.  The younger generation cannot expect outdoor writing to remain strong, advocating for the continuation of the treasured passions and traditions we all enjoy without recruitment of strong voices.  I suppose that is why VOWA established, and continues to sponsor, this contest.  I hope to see everyone interested in March.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Roscoe, New York, the self-proclaimed "Trout Town USA," greeted me on a crisp early fall evening, after a solid five hours of driving.  I could hardly contain my excitement as my veins flooded with adrenaline and the thought that I had finally made the pilgrimage of angling tradition.

Created with flickr slideshow.

    Bridge after bridge, and famed river after river tore at my mind as I ran down Highway 17.  The Beaverkill, the West Branch of the Delaware, the Neversink, Willowemoc Creek--to the newcomer, the feeling is something comparable to being starstruck.
    I found my way through town, almost to Livingston Manor, the small but dense post-office town that lies just east of Roscoe, and set my boots on the plywood floor of a bunkhouse in the wooded lot on the peripheral property of the Catskills Fly Fishing Center.  Resting on the bottom bunk for a moment, clad in jeans and heavy flannel for the reduction in temperature since 10:00 AM on Tulpehocken Creek in central Pennsylvania, I had made it.

    Now the three days that followed were plagued by hot weather and low water, not without the added surprise of the 20th annual Catskills Bamboo Rodmaker's Gathering.  I did manage to snap a few photos, though I rarely took out my Nikon--the majority of these are Iphone and point-and-shoot photos.  I apologize (kinda) for the less-than quality, though to me these images recount an experience that well makes up for it.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Throughout my youth I regularly divulged in enrapturing trips, daydreams colored by the nostalgia- and adventure-soaked glossy pages of the classic Sports Afield and Field & Stream that appeared in my mailbox monthly.  Many of the faraway adventures highlighted in such publications outran the growing range of my mountain bike in my pre-driving years, namely the annually-published how-to’s and accounts of “big woods” whitetail tracking.  Benoit, the fabled, north-country whitetail tracker and writer routinely caught my jealousy, and inspired in me an appreciation for the industrious and fine art of tracking deer in the snow.
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    But I had little opportunity to hop aboard a plane and head for the “north country” wildernesses of the Adirondacks or Green Mountains at 10 years old, as neither my budget nor my attendance record at school would allow it.  Moreover, dependable winter blanketings are not typical of the general firearms season—they come later, in the height of the winter.  Still, as I have found time and time again, increased sporting opportunities present themselves when one is willing to trade in their gun for a camera and chase game after the season closes.

    My chance came some six or seven years ago in the event of a first heavy snow, arriving sometime around mid-January.  Throughout the deer season, for fun, I had been maintaining a trail camera on a vacant woodlot adjacent to our subdivision home and capturing images of some resident whitetails.

    The light in my head clicked as I checked the images on the camera the morning after a snowfall of almost 12 inches.  The same bucks were moving, frantically, early in the night, before the snow, and continued to trigger the camera as inches accumulated.

    The next morning, determined to find tracks from the bucks, I ventured out into the cold, high-stepping, with my Nikon in hand.

    The site of the camera showed sign of tracks, though merely a string of indentations filled in by the fresh powder.  Following them, as they weaved in and out of successional pines and shrubs, I quickly came upon what looked to be a fresh bed—an ovular patch of wet leaves and melted snow beneath a small leaning pine.  The tracks redirected at the bed and continued on—this time more defined in shape and devoid of fresh powder. 

    Mental images taken from the pages of my magazines and books, allusions to the “north country” fantasy I had by then begun to entertain, filled my mind and excited my pulse.

    Now as I approached the bed and the exiting track, I could see the trail shoot off into the more open grove of the vacant woodlot deliberately, rarely straying from a straight course.  As I followed it, I could tell by the cleanness of the tracks and the depth of the snow (and the difficulty I was having walking in it) that the animal could not be too far ahead, but scanning the scene one, two, and three times presented no glimpses of my unknown quarry.

    Taking care not to step on the tracks should I have to retrace my steps, I continued on to the edge of the open woodlands, where thicker brush met the hardwoods in a creekbottom.  Immediately inside the thicker cover, the track began to meander around logjams, under deadfalls, through thickets.  

    Luckily, I had the presence of mind to recognize what had occurred in the snow mere moments before.

    Aware of the storm rolling in through the night, the deer took cover in the pines behind the house.  The frantic escape from its bed was likely the result of the presence of danger, which inspired the animal to flee the thicket, dash through the open cover, and look for cover in the creekbottom.

    As I comprised this replay in my mind, I stood still, staring off into landscape, oblivious.  Totally unbeknownst to me, my target sat in hiding mere feet away from my position and, sensing my hesitation and believing her cover compromised, dashed from cover and trotted into an open field adjacent to the creekbottom. 

    My reflexes flinched and my camera was raised and the shutter pressed.  The shot I captured was less than perfect, though I was ecstatic to realize that had I been probing the wilderness of northern Vermont in the height of deer season, my actions may very well have earned me a deer and the accomplishment of downing my first snow-tracked whitetail.  Ever since, when the air turns cold and the landscape white, and deer season in long gone, I push myself through the doldrums of winter replaying that north-country fantasy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


With the onset of the New Year and the expiration of deer season, the doldrums of winter are officially upon us.  However, there is a beginning in such a dramatic end.  The 2015 outdoor show season has arrived!  Outlined below is this year’s detailed schedule of events relevant to Virginia sportsmen.

Jan. 16-18—Richmond Fishing Expo

    For the eighth year running, the Richmond FishingExpo is returning to the Farm Bureau Center at Meadow Event Park in CarolineCounty.  This is a family-friendly show intended to be fun and educational to all in attendance.  Featured exhibitors include an array of guide services, outfitters, tackle companies, conservation organizations, and marine dealers.  An impressive lineup of professional angling personalities, including John Crews, Davy Hite, Britt Stoundenmire, John Hutchins, Chris McCotter, and Brian Oxendine, are presenting seminars over the course of the three-day event.  The price of admission covers all three days of the expo, so plan to return to restock your tackle boxes and soak up all the knowledge that will be floating around the Farm Bureau Center on this much-awaited weekend.

Jan. 30-Feb. 1—National Capital Sportsman Show

    Held in the 80,000+ square-foot FredericksburgExpo Center, the National Capital Sportsman Show is a family-oriented event that provides outdoor enthusiasts prime access to the industry’s leading products, outfitting services, and personalities.
    The show is the venue of the coveted National WildTurkey Federation Virginia State Championship Turkey Calling Contest, to be held at 12:00 noon on Saturday, January 31.  Pre-registration is suggested for the open, intermediate, friction, and JAKES youth calling contests.
Special guests of this year’s show include local Fluvanna County boy and host of the Outdoor Channel’s Red Arrow TV series, Kip Campbell, and the crew from Buck Obsession.  Come out and enjoy this weekend of interactive and educational fun!

Feb. 14—Rapidan Chapter Trout Unlimited FishingShow

    If fly fishing is your game then you won’t want to miss “the biggest little fishing show” in northern Virginia, held annually by the Rapidan Chapter of Trout Unlimited at the Fauquier County Fair Grounds.  This event is the fundraising project for the organization’s conservation efforts, annual youth conservation and fishing camp, Trout in the Classroom programs, and the Virginia Heritage Day.  A lineup of authorities like Colby Trow, Capt. Ed Lawrence, and Walt Cary are scheduled to present on everything from saltwater fly fishing to building poppers.  A host of raffle prizes, ranging from an all-expenses-paid trip to Yellowstone National Park to rods and flies keeps attendants on their toes.

Feb. 20-22—Western Virginia Sports Show

    The 28th annual Western Virginia Sports Show at Augusta Expoland features an exciting lineup of outdoor TV personalities; and this year’s show boasts more than ever before.  Special guests include Bobby Brantley of Bad Dog Nation TV (formerly of TruTV's Lizard Lick Towing); Paul Butski, 3-timeNWTF Grand National Turkey Calling Champion and 6-time US Open Turkey callingChampion; Reed Merideth of Wicked Tuna:North vs South TV, and Don Shumaker from Buckingham, who will be doing seminars on coyote trapping and hunting.

Feb. 28-Mar. 3—Orange County Sportsman Expo

    In its 11th year being held at the Orange County High School’s Hornets Sports Center, the Orange County SportsmanExpo is the product of the hard work of the  "Nation's Outstanding Junior B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Chapter", the Orange County High School 4-H and B.A.S.S.Angler's Club.  Exhibitors include hunting and fishing guides, wildlife artists, taxidermists, and more.  Come out and support the Orange County High School Anglers!

April 11-12—Virginia Fly Fishing and Wine Festival

    Now in its 15th year, the Virginia FlyFishing and Wine Festival held on the banks of the South River at ConstitutionPark in downtown Waynesboro features an array of exhibitors, including fly fishing guides, artists, conservation organizations, fly tiers, and product developers.  This event features renowned personalities such as Lefty Kreh, Ed Jaworowski, Fishy Fullum, Walt Cary, ColbyTrow, and more.  Interested in discovering the new world of tenkara fishing?  Come see tenkara fishing guide Tom Sadler’s introductory presentation.  Is kayak fishing more your speed?  Cory Routh of Ruthless OutdoorAdventures will be conducting ongoing on-the-water demonstrations!  Come join the fun!

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


    The most devoted of anglers understand that fooling fish into fulfilling the biological process of feeding under the weak premise of a lure or fly is an art, and consider themselves artists of the rustic, self-sufficient breed.  Thus, tackle craft is a unifying factor in many of the sport’s top competitors and professionals.  Settling for the commercially-available rarely provides an angler an edge over others of like pursuits.
    Such was the reasoning of Fluvanna County resident, Chris Graham—a lifelong outdoorsman and tinkerer.  “My passion has always been fishing and then hunting.  My grandfather took me fishing as a kid and bought me my first rod and reel.  I grew up on the New River fishing with my parents below Claytor Lake Dam in Southwest Virginia,” he said.  “I originally started pouring and hand-tying my own jigs, trying to get an edge that everyone else didn’t have in tournament fishing.”

    When his kids went away to college in recent years, Graham was introduced to another aspect of tackle craft via a video entitled Crankbait Painting:  The Basics by Amistad Tackle.  After acquiring a Paasche VL airbrush system and an air compressor from a printing press, courtesy of local angler and mutual friend, Sam Clarke, Graham began tackling the learning curve associated with his new hobby.

Two taped bluegill-patterned Graham Crankers after painting.  Photo courtesy of Chris Graham.

A white-bellied crayfish pattern.  Photo courtesy of Chris Graham.
    Graham, who now operates his hobby under the business name “Graham Crankers,” paints and sells what he calls “repaints,” usually store-bought crankbaits that are old or that feature patterns that just don’t trigger the desired strikes from fish.

    With a store-bought lure in hand, Graham begins his process by removing the split rings and treble hooks from the wire harness.  Next, the hard body is rinsed in soap and water, dried, and sanded lightly with 220 grit sandpaper to allow the paint stick.  The bill of the crankbait is then taped using masking tape, to prevent paint from speckling the bill.  Finally, a coating of white (or another base color) spray paint is applied to the body and heat set with a hair dryer.  This helps to cover the original pattern.  With those steps completed, Graham begins working his airbrush magic, laying out a new pattern.

The bill of this crayfish pattern was first covered with masking tape before Chris put his airgun
to work.  This keeps the bill from getting "speckled" with paint.  Photo courtesy of Chris Graham.
    “The learning curve can be very trying,” Graham admitted.  “The whole process can be a little lengthy, and time passes quickly without a lot of results.  I quickly learned that when things aren’t going right, it’s best to clean your airbrush and put your paint away.  It can get a little expensive when you keep spraying and don’t get the desired result.”

Simple shad color scheme in a variety of body styles.  Photo courtesy of Chris Graham.
Baby Bass Graham Cranker.  Photo courtesy of Chris Graham.
    “Patterns have come from trial and error (shop to water), along with using some of the tried and true patterns from fishing’s past,” Graham said.  “As I look back through some of my rejects, I find out just how bad they look.  At the time I was proud of them, but when I look at them now they look like a 5th grader painted them.”

    Today Graham produces and sells several patterns as standbys but continues to experiment.  Though he does make money at his game, he maintains that Graham Crankers is a hobby for the moment, and something he enjoys doing.  “It has created a lot of conversations that have inspired me to create and repaint crankbait patterns that can no longer be bought in the store,” he said.

A citation Virginia largemouth taken on a Graham Cranker jerkbait by local angler, Sam Clarke.  These lures produce!  Photo by Sam Clarke.
    Can’t find the old standby pattern you remember fondly from your childhood?  Give Graham a ring, check out his Graham Crankers Facebook page, and join the family!

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


In the process of packing up the house for a move, quite a few long-lost possessions surface.  A few of the more entertaining pieces included a box of 135 biodegradable sporting clays and a mechanical launcher, last used sometime in the previous decade.

Photo by Matt Reilly
So in the name of a little last minute fun, I gave friend Chris Swanson a call, and picked a venue to "dispose" of the orange birds.

The morning began windy, with gusts pushing 20 MPH.  Something about the way I slept in the night gave me a tight cramp under my right shoulder blade, and day three of my recently-developed cold was much worse than the last.  Thankfully, by the afternoon the wind had softened to intermittent gusts, an hour or so of stretching restored my muscles to normal, and a bit of moving about cleared my head to a comfortable level.

We arrived at a local farm property around 1:30 PM, and I aimed the launcher over the sparkling, medium-sized farm pond.  Taking our time, we broke almost all of the 135 targets before 4:00, emptying roughly five boxes of 7 1/2 shot shells.

Photo by Matt Reilly
Photo by Matt Reilly
The occasional gust of wind across the venue resulted in some interesting shooting.  With a shift of the wind, the clay would hop, drop, and skip through the air.  Sometimes back-to-back launches would fly in totally different directions.

But birds don't fly straight!  A good time was had for sure.  Can't wait to do it again!  Check out the video below put together by Chris, then check out his website HERE.

Monday, January 5, 2015


    New regulations of special importance include the prohibition of using personal tagging systems on fish, some important adjustments to smallmouth slot limits on the Clinch and New Rivers, an adjustment to the striper slot limit on Smith Mountain Lake, an adjustment to walleye limits, and the ban of the possession of American and hickory shad in the waters of Buggs Island, Lake Gaston, and the Dan and Staunton Rivers.  

    Read the new regulations carefully.  There is not excuse for a game law violation.

Click the above image to read the latest fishing regulations updates.