Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Prepared Man's Guide to Being Unprepared

    The night of my last post was spent diligently preparing and packing for the morning's hunt.  Without a driver's license and a set of wheels of my own, most of my hunting is limited to a ten acre woodlot behind our house in rural central Virginia.  That being said, my hunting pack is normally set to tackle much more, usually containing food, water, a good knife, extra ammunition (be it rifle cartridges, shotgun shells, etc.), hand warmers, a flashlight  and headlamp (for backup), calls, personal medical supplies, a compass/GPS, a cell phone, my camera, a seat cushion and camo netting (in case my game plan changes and I need to make a makeshift stand), and sometimes a book.  What this list does lack is first aid and field dressing supplies, which do find their way into my gear on outings away from home.  On this outing I even threw my computer into the pack so I could check my trail cameras and adjust my game plan accordingly.
    After checking my empty trail cameras and hunting four solid hours the next morning, watching a known bedding area on a south-facing slope, I left the woods cold and without meat.  The only noise in the woods came from scampering squirrels and birds, and my confidence was riding at an all time low.
 
    The afternoon crept up on me and I sprung into action when my neighbor called at 3:00 asking me where I would be hunting that evening.  In record time I gathered all of my gear, got dressed, and set out for the woods.  Twenty minutes later, I was fully camouflaged, behind a makeshift, burlap blind, and seated comfortably in a creek bottom that would allow me a large field of vision.

    An hour crept by and my spirits sank at every squirrel I saw and every minute that yielded no sign of deer.  Deer season was almost over for me, and with the rain that was predicted for tomorrow, the next minutes would surely be my last in the deer woods of the year.  I needed a miracle.
    As these thoughts flowed through my head, I leaned forward in my seat at the base of a thick beech tree, stretching my back, and shifting my weight to my vertical shotgun.  At that very moment, three does trotted down the hillside about fifty yards to my left and across the creek--adrenaline took over my body immediately.  I slowly reclined to rest my back against the tree trunk and raise my knee for a rest.  My breathing was shallow, and I closed my eyes and controlled my breathing--and prayed.  Never have I been this excited by a deer, even by the buck I had a chance at last year, or the six-pointer that came in before sunrise on the first day of bow season.  After all of the planning and anticipation that went into this deer season, that doe that was slowly making her way along the creek towards my stand in the last ten minutes of light, on my last day of the season, had me trembling.
    Overcoming my fever, I was reminded by my childish giddy feeling that there was a boy with his father in a two man treestand three hundred yards to my right.  If the deer kept coming the way they were, I could take the last one in the group and give him a chance at his first deer--what a feeling!  However, I was stretching my luck, and the lead doe was turning around in a clear shooting lane, and started working her way back from where she came.  I knew that was my chance, at fifty yards, I rested my twenty gauge on my knee, put the bead over her, and fired.
    I was too excited to notice any sound that indicated I had hit her, but she was slightly separated from her group as they bounded up the hill.  Finding a clump of long white hair at the point of impact worried me, and the absence of blood did nothing to support my belief that my slug had hit her fatally.  I followed her trail up the hill for several yards, still without blood.  Finally, halfway to the crest of the ridge, there was a sizable blood spurt on a log, which sent my confidence through the roof--she was mine.
    I called my dad to inform him I would be late for dinner, and he came out to help in tracking her.  Dark was setting in, but I had my headlamp to help in tracking.  The blood trail began to thin at the crest of the ridge, but I could hear the other members of the group of does in some thick pines blowing and wheezing, which to me was a good sign that they had been separated.  The trail continued for about two hundred yards, but through some nearly impenetrable laurel thickets and pines, until it reached another creek bottom.  This creek bottom and laurel thicket was what separated our subdivision from the neighboring one to the north.
    Another two hundred yards and an hour later, we were only a stone's throw away from a house in the neighboring subdivision and we had no blood trail.  We ended on some smears low to the ground through a wall of ceder trees and merciless briers.  My dad was walking around on a whim, looking for more blood or a dead deer.  I heard him yell as I was searching desperately for blood, but it was not an excited yell, so I slowly walked towards his flashlight beam, praying that he had found her.  As I approached him, he was staring off into some tall grass, and when I turned I saw it--two glowing eyes looking back at me.
    She was still moving, throwing her head from side to side, and I shucked a buckshot shell into the chamber, and put her down with a headshot--it was all over.
    As we all know, when you track a wounded deer through several hundred yards of thick laurel, down a steep hillside, and over a creek, when you finally recover the deer, your work is far from over.  We made quick work of it though, I secured my shotgun to my pack, gave it to my dad, and began dragging.  I knew my way back in the dark, so I led up the hill and through the laurel, and then directed from the rear how to get back to the car.
 
    As I hauled the deer back through the woods, I learned my lesson of year:  Even though I normally hunt a small wooded parcel of land, anything can happen.  With a wounded deer on your hands, a ten acre piece of woods can turn into fifty, and things like trail markers, drag ropes, and other "after the shot" tools can make a big difference.
 
    When I finally broke through the woods, and reached the cul-de-sac where my dad parked, I had a chance to look at my animal for the first time.  He was a small button-buck, shot in the left hindquarter, not a preferable shot, but none the less, he was down.  The important part was, I now had my deer, the meat, and the story for the year, and I was proud to have it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Full Court Press

    After an uneventful beginning to the 2011-12 deer season, and very few outings, the empty space in the chest freezer nags at me constantly.  I thoroughly enjoy deer hunting, and the thought of how little I've done this year, combined with the low numbers of deer that have been observed in the woods behind our subdivision, are equally as depressing.  My outings this year have been limited to these very woods, I have not been able to get a decent crack at a White-Tail all year.
    The new year comes early for me though, and all this is behind me.  For the next several days I will camp out tight to a known bedding area, check hopeful trail cameras, and hope for a chance to harvest some meat.
    Christmas brought new prospects for spring and the show season that is approaching, so with deer season out of the way, I've got more to do to prepare for the approaching season.  Pics of this "prospect" will come, but until then, I've got some work ahead of me.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Predator Hunting--what needs to happen

    After spending weeks in the woods seeking White-Tailed Deer, now more elusive than ever, and coming across countless predators in the boundaries of our rural subdivision, I have decided to chase Coyotes for the next several months.  I've always had an interest in this sport, but now with deer numbers suffering, it is becoming more and more necessary.  Check out this video:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Recycling Your Squirrels: Fur

   
    For fly tiers like myself, squirrel fur can be a very frugal substitute to the conventional rabbit fur dubbing that can be purchased specifically for fly tying.  Squirrel fur is suitable for fly tying and has been emerging on the market in the last several years as a cheaper alternative to rabbit.
    Before you can begin making squirrel dubbing it is necessary to have a preserved skin to work with.  When skinning your squirrel, begin under the tail, make a long cut up the center of the belly to the shoulders, and make four diagonal cuts along the inside of the legs to the feet.  Nail the raw skin, flesh side up, to a piece of plywood with finishing nails and apply a generous amount of salt to pull moisture from the skin and keep it from rotting.  After a few days, scrape the salt from the skin, and remove from the board if dry.  If the skin is still moist, repeat the salting process.  You now have a preserved squirrel skin that can be reused until all the hair is used.
    First, the method that provides the highest quality dubbing involves a bit of machinery.  Using your hands, or a wire brush, gather a good amount of squirrel hair, including both the underfur and the guard hairs.  After you have gathered enough fur, run water over it to prepare it for the next step.  Next, use a blender on the pulse setting to blend your squirrel fur to the desired consistency.  After blending, fluff the fur out by running it through a grinder and allowing it to dry.
    The easy alternative to the blend and grind method above takes relatively no time at all.  Just pinch a good handful of underfur, and a few guard hairs from the dried skin, mix, and store in a handy pill bottle.
    Without any coloring, natural gray squirrel dubbing is ideal for fly patterns requiring gray dubbing such as the Adams, Adams Parachute, and Mosquito patterns.  Just like with rabbit fur, squirrel fur can be dyed to accompany any popular fly pattern.

Something New

    Recently, after shuffling through the stacks of pictures that I have accumulated over the last couple years, I have noticed a pattern, a pattern that should be obvious already.  Of all the pictures I take, few are keepers, and at that, its plain to see why.  Something new that I capture, whether it be a new species or environment, finds its place more readily in the "good" pile than just another picture of a gray squirrel on an oak tree.  Now, I cannot say that these pictures are not valuable, but a couple is enough.
    Living in central Virginia, squirrels and deer are the most abundant and therefore occupy most of the space on my memory card at any given moment, but add a new element such as snow, rain, pine trees, or water, and the picture gains more value--there is nothing exciting about repetition.
    So as an early New Year's Resolution, I plan to photograph a wider range of species and settings, throughout the year.  I have included a few examples of my point in the photographs below.



Saturday, December 17, 2011

Recycling Your Squirrels: Tails

 
    So you've limited out several times this year, or at least killed several bushytails, and you begin to realize how much of the animal you are actually using when you clean them and freeze them for later, and you wonder what you could be using the rest of your squirrels for.  Just like with deer, there are several things you can do with a nice squirrel decides eating it.  A series of posts following this one will introduce new ways to use other parts of squirrels, and a few recipes will fall among them too.
    To the tree squirrel, their tail is a very important anatomical feature that gives them balance and leverage in the upper reaches of tall hardwoods--to the average hunter, it usually goes in the gut pile.  If you routinely kill numbers of squirrels, it may be beneficial to keep these bushy appendages around.
    The number one spinner-fly company in the world, Mepps Lures, knows the value of squirrel tail, and it has shown in their domination of the fishing industry.  After trying countless animal hairs, squirrel tail provided the results the tackle crafters were looking for, and the spinners produced and sold by the company today are still made with natural and dyed squirrel tail.  If you are not into tackle craft or fly tying, for which it is also a staple ingredient in many streamer patterns, you can mail your collected and dried squirrel tails to the Mepps headquarters in Wisconsin in return for a small payment.  Here is the link to the page on the Mepps website:  http://www.mepps.com/programs/squirrel-tail/.
    Even if you have no interest in preserving or reusing tails, or you only harvest the occasional squirrel, kids sometimes appreciate having a squirrel tail around as a token from the outdoors.  I got my start in the hunting world as a toddler accompanying my dad in the mountainous part of the state, chasing bushytails, and cleaning them by the river, and my most prized token from that time in my life is a tanned squirrel hide that my dad made for me.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Life and Struggles of The White-Tailed Deer


    The sky is dark. The airy woods of a poplar swamp are still, and the tree crowns above remain tangled in silence. The crisp chill that hangs in the black air is beginning to make the sun seem like a blessing not to return after expiring an age ago behind the impenetrable wall of pine that surrounds the swamp. Frost seals the soft ground with its ice crystals, keeping any and all warmth out, and the cold, threatening mountain air that seems to be hovering just above the treetops is yet another indication that the sun may indeed remain set. The silence is deafening, and the conscious, seemingly empty world seems to begin and end at your earlobes, but now and then a faint rustle brings the silence to life, and gives real depth to the eerie setting.
    On the east side of the swamp, the sky turns gray. The three-pronged silhouettes of mature white pine crowns begin to appear, giving the restless inhabitants of the brushy swamp the reassuring knowledge that the circle of life will once again rise. The thick enclosure still prevents any light from penetrating to the swamp—but that doesn’t matter. The patient souls that slept here tonight are restless, dawn is approaching, and they have existed on stored plant forage and the final remaining carbs leeched from withering acorns for a full half day. The rustles grow in volume and number as a hardy family rises from their warm beds of leaves, slip their adept hooves between hardened leaves to the frozen ground, and shake the frost from their warm, gray backs. By some thin stroke of luck, dawn comes, and finds a herd of young White-Tails on their way to feed for the morning.

    The last doe disappears into the shadows of the barricade of pines and the swamp again seems empty, but after several moments there is movement in the heart of the swamp. Behind a maze of vines and bushes, on solid ground, with moss and decaying pine needles as bedding, a stocky, solitary buck lies in the nook of a fallen spruce tree and its root mass. The hefty animal, who is up in his years, is planted firmly in his warm bed, eyes wide, as if determined to never leave his position. Emotionally and physically calloused, this is purely meditation, for his way of life has made him who he is, has kept him alive, and made him a veteran of the fall. Today is a very important day in every deer’s year, but particularly his, for he is the most sought after animal in his neck of the woods. Today is the opening day of deer season in the north woods.
    The buck knows from experience that today the hunters will be thick in his woods, for opening day is the most popular day afield for most. He knows there will be a large number of deer taken from his woods this morning, for a new moon makes them particularly easy to read, and he concludes that delaying his movements would be beneficial. Hunger pulls at him, tensing his muscles, any other deer would give in, but giving in to desire hasn’t kept him alive for this long.
    Several Red Squirrels emerge from the pine stand surrounding the swampy heart of the woods when the sun acquires height, and they play carelessly, always keeping their distance from the bedded buck—never challenging his position as king of the woods. Head held high, the cold sun embraces his gleaming, white antlers.

    After the sun has been up for several hours, a slight breeze begins to filter through the woods, and the buck rises from his bed cautiously. Hunger plays with his mind, and he dismisses some caution, knowing that he must satisfy his hunger to be as alert as possible. Like an opening day ritual, he lumbers off into the breeze, through a brushy draw cut by a trickle through the pines, head held high, in the direction of a small patch of grass irrigated by a flowing brook in the open woods that has always yielded late forage.
    Following the trickle, the buck shows a humble personality. Like an old man, whose youth and muscle is gone, his headgear has decreased in size over the recent years, but his wisdom is unparalleled, and he is confident in his ability. Several times squirrels or fisher put him on alert, but he doesn’t dwell on these kinds of interruptions, and he quickly resumes his steady pace.

    Traveling downhill now, numerous fallen pines crisscross his path like a giant’s wooden fence. Easily, or with seemingly little energy, he lifts himself over the obstacles with his spring loaded back legs capable of propelling him over nine feet in the air. His beauty increases with every moment, as he meets obstacles with hundreds of years of evolved physical tools, and conquers them with a single, flowing, controlled movement.
    As the pines begin to thin, so do the brown needles that layer the soft ground, and the thick, white pines give way to an open grove of hemlocks and loblolly pines. A mountain brook, swelling with the accumulation of a hard rain, makes its presence known over the static of the breeze. 
    The wise old buck remains hidden inside the shadow of the pines, surveying the ground he’s about to tread on. He’s been surprised here before, and is always careful when entering, because the setting is much more revealing than that of the pine margin. With his nose in the air, the gentle breeze flows through his nostrils with ease, giving him confidence in his knowledge of the contents of the woods ahead of him. He presses on.
    Off in the distance, a pack of Gray Wolves initiate a gathering call, putting the wary buck on edge. Several deer have been taken from the herd recently by wolves, aside from the countless fawns taken in the spring, and they are becoming more proficient at their jobs with every meal. This being the case, the logical action would be to bed down and wait for the dogs to leave the area—but there are certain risks involved:  hunger is already playing a part in his decisions, but to be caught by the brook amongst a pack of hungry wolves would mean certain death, but going without food for now would surely mean starvation in the event of a sudden winter storm. The northern buck maintains his proximity to the thick pines, and beds by a patch of laurel bushes, munching on starchy green leaves to take the edge off of his hunger until he feels safe once more.
 
    After wearing out a couple of laurel branches, thick clouds had covered the high sun, spreading gray light throughout the woods. The buck has forgotten about the wolves, and redirects his attention to his main food source. Moving more quickly now, he aims himself towards the crest of the ridge, and the hollow where he will feed.
    Upon reaching the crest of the hollow, the big, northern buck is satisfied with its contents. The breeze holds no sign of human, and the squirrels rummaging through the crunchy leaves of the forest floor seem content and at ease—he loses no time in descending into the creek bottom. Eyeing a beaver, playing in his stillwater creation, cautiously, and with careful footing, the buck crosses a beaver dam, making his way to the edge habitat of a beaver field.
    Feeding, or grazing, often brings out a false sense of security in all deer, and the northern buck that is feeding alone in an overgrown beaver field knows it. He checks his back frequently for any signs of a difference in his woods—he knows what they are.
    After several minutes of grazing broom sedge and other assorted grasses, the cautious veteran of the fall woods notices the silent retreat of the tree squirrels to their safe dens in the lofty hardwoods. He eyes the sky, which looks as if it could begin spitting precipitation down through the dormant arms of the hardwoods at any moment, but that’s not what they fear. At that very moment he could make out a steady noise originating on the upward slope on the opposite side of the thick field—wolves.
    With straw still hanging from his flat teeth, the three hundred pound tank lunges from his foot prints in the soft mud, clears most of the beaver dam in one long, bounding stride, landing roughly on the sticks just inside of the bank, and shuffles up the steep wall of the hollow with speed rivaling a racehorse. The open woods of hemlock put forth no obstacles, and should be easy traveling for the buck, but a large splinter just below his dewclaw, acquired from the busy beaver’s woody creation, is hindering his movement, and must be removed.
    The northerner is still glowing from his spectacular escapade up the hill, when he converges with yet another danger. A surprised, wool laden hunter stands motionless in the open woods, caught by surprise by the fleeing buck quartering towards him on his way out of the woods on an unsuccessful day’s hunting. The sheer magnificence of the loping deer stuns the astonished hunter for several seconds, fixing his eyes on the oblivious animal, and tugging at his rough, gray chin, but he quickly snaps from his daze, and raises his weathered, wood-stocked rifle.
    The buck raises his head to scan his surroundings just in time to catch the movement of the old mountain man switching off his safety. More vulnerable than ever, the old buck can’t react to this very real threat, giving the hunter a perfect opportunity to take him. With a resounding crack of his rifle, the weathered hunter sends a .270 mm. bullet, shattering the confused buck’s left knee cap.
    The splinter doesn’t matter anymore, and the overwhelming rush of adrenaline sends the crippled buck on a mad dash for his life towards the safety of the thick pine woods, and the excited hunter fumbling for his bolt and another load. Halfway to apparent safety, the handicapped buck realizes his chances of survival are slim, but he presses on with seven years of luck and determination to drive him to safety.
    Inside the pine margin, the buck limps to the closest piece of decent cover available—a small draw cluttered with laurel bushes and pine and gum saplings. The hunter, now on his toes, enters the shadows smoothly, wielding his weapon vertically, close to his chest, scanning the area with utmost confidence. The crisscrossing pine poles, stripped whole of their bark by reoccurring frosts, break up the outline of the concealed buck’s head gear, and pine needles blanketing the ground engulf his bulky, weak body, quivering with fear and shock. Light already dim from the cloud cover is fading from the woods, and the impenetrable canopy of the pines smother the hunters straining eyes, forcing him to retreat—the deer is safe.
    Several seconds passed, as the frightened buck’s breaths grew increasingly deeper, and the hunter’s soft footsteps faded into the silence of the north woods. A shot rang out, followed by the unmistakable racket of deer wheezing in retreat, and the downfall of another. Another animal would wear the deer hunter’s tag this day.

    Again, noise associated with the hunter faded, and the remaining group from which one unfortunate deer was taken, moved on to their precious swamp to spend the night in safety. Just moments before all hints of light were sucked from the sky, and dusk was no more, icy flakes began to filter through the covering of pine boughs. As the snowflakes fought their way to the forest floor, pattering like they do off of the semi-permeable pine needles, the motionless buck begins acquiring an icy blanket, and prepares himself for another long night in the cold and unforgiving north woods.
    He survived that day. He managed to muddle by one more day, but that was an unfortunate start to a short deer season in an unforgiving setting, one which would have to improve to ensure survival. It’s even quite possible that he would make it through to spring, if the winter snow and hunger doesn’t suck the life from him first. All of these compiled experiences with the many obstacles that oppose the White-Tailed Deer condition them to the country they inhabit, educating them with every encounter, making them the most desired big game animal in North America.



Shotgunning for Late Season Bushytails

    
    This Saturday was going to be another day in the deer woods for me, but when I got the call from my neighbor around 2:00 in the afternoon, the wind had picked up, and I suddenly reflected on the fact that I haven't seen, or gotten trail cam pics of a deer in over a month--I was going squirrel hunting.  My twenty gauge was still laying on my bed, begging for use--I couldn't refuse.
    Entering the woods on a hilltop full of white and red oak trees, several large squirrels made dashes for cover, I dropped one, and pocketed him after just two minutes in the woods.  I could tell right away this would be easy.
    After shooting once with the loud boomstick, the resident squirrels that were still alive were holding tight, and they were not budging, so I moved onto another quadrant of the hardwood portion of the property.
    After an hour of ridge hopping, I had five puffy squirrel tails hanging from my game pouch.  I needed one more bushytail to limit out--that wouldn't be a problem.  My plan was to hit the second ridge I hunted once more, because the squirrels seemed to be on the ground here, and I had the sun to my back, making stalking easy.  As I quartered up the ridge, I pushed a wary squirrel around the top of the ridge, so I stayed put, hoping he would return to his food source.  My plan proved effective as the small gray pounced our from behind a tree two minutes later, I ended his dinner plans with a solid bark from the twenty gauge--mission accomplished.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Paying My Respects

    I set out into the woods one day last week after school to try to collect a few more Bushytails before I left for the week.  The sun was high, and the sky clear.  I decided to try the neighbor's property, because he had made a comment earlier in the season that he could see more than fifteen squirrels from his deer stand without shifting his glance.  Its too bad I can only take six.
    Just on the inside of the treeline, I spotted movement in the crowns of several Red Oaks.  All of the squirrels seemed to be mature, and I quickly set myself up with a rest on a solid White Oak.  The animal closest to me, a thick veteran of squirrel season, settled in a crotch of a tree behind a veil of dead twigs.  I waited for the alarmed yearlings to stop scampering about and chattering before I began coaxing my quarry from his perch.  A few chirps that I created with my mouth got him curious, curious enough to poke his head out from his hiding place.  He may have been a veteran of the fall woods--but so am I.
    Toting the head-shot rodent by the feet down into the creekbottom, I spotted another hefty Bushytail feeding at the base of a pine tree.  Stalking downhill, I kept a thick oak between me and my quarry, and I had the sun to my back, so the squirrel's back was to me.  Stopping at just inside twenty yards, I used an ancient White Oak for a rest, and pulled a shot off.
    At first I thought I'd hit him, because he fled scrambling, low to the ground, out of view.  As I followed, I spotted a gray back in a log jam--I froze.  Presuming him to be spent, I approached him, still with caution and alertness.  At a new angle, I could make out his head, and could tell that he was definitely not dead, but as I shouldered my air rifle to take a final shot, he shot from his hiding place, bounding high, to the backside of a thick Hickory tree.

    More alert now, I used the soft creekbottom to my advantage, stalking the squirrel's hiding place almost soundlessly.
    If you've ever chased Bushytails in the bare-boned winter woods, more than likely you've run into a squirrel that disappears behind a mature hardwood, never to show itself to you again.  Sometimes he escapes by means of almost foreign stealthiness, sometimes by squeezing into a tiny hole in a tree trunk, and sometimes still by simply freezing spread eagle against the patterned bark of an oak tree--camouflaged like a hairy Chameleon.
    As I approached the base of the Hickory tree with no response from the squirrel I hoped to find there, I knew I had been outwitted.  I stepped back, searching the crown and crotches of the tree for the one I was seeking.  Pressing my ear to the trunk, I listened for the soft scratching of the Gray's sharp claws on the bark--but heard nothing.  Standing in disbelief, my eyes averted to the sky, then to the ground--it was then that I noticed the hole at the base of the tree.
    As I did once trying to photograph a woodchuck, I quartered around the trunk, and took a prone position on the wet forest floor.  Ten minutes went by, and the squirrel never appeared.  Stiff, and wet, I got up and brushed myself off.  I made my way over to the tree, maybe to pay my respects to an animal that had outsmarted me, but I'm not really sure why.  There, laying in the entry to the den hole lay the squirrel I had chased all afternoon--lifeless.

    Maybe it was unfit, but standing there, in the fading light, I was filled with pride, and respect.  A hunter's job, or goal, is to beat his quarry at their own game--in their element, by their rules,completely beat by the odds.  I had done just that.  The Bushytail I now admired had put up a daring fight, and admitted defeat only when it was decided, and even offered himself to me when it was over.  Thinking this through in my mind, I climbed the hill back home with a much greater respect for one of my favorite game animals--he may have been a veteran, but so was I.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An Afternoon of Squirrel Control

Mixed Woods


    Walking through the woods Sunday afternoon confirmed that I needed to do some serious squirrel hunting.  In a period of about an hour I observed more than thirty squirrels, most of which I got withing shooting range of.
    Monday afternoon was warm and slightly breezy, and I arrived home with an hour and a half of light left to hunt.  I grabbed my air rifle and a handful of pellets and walked into the woods with a run-and-gun strategy in my head.  Fifty yards down a dirt trail that runs behind the dog fence the first shot presented itself.  A young, but solid bushytail had spotted me and was scaling a thick red oak broadside to me.  I used a convenient horizontal log as a rest and fired a shot that dropped the unlucky squirrel.  With squirrel number one in the bag, and roughly forty-five minutes left in the day, I decided to head straight to a beech stand that I observed several squirrels the previous night.
    I reached a pine edge on the crest of a hardwood ridge and quietly slipped into the shadows, taking advantage of the soft pine bedding that layered the forest floor.  The stand of pine is not a hundred yards deep, and soon I was approaching another hardwood edge.  Still somewhat concealed, I trusted my feet to find their footing as I scanned the ground and trees for bushytails, letting my left hand grasp a gum sapling for stability.

    The minute I grabbed the tree, the leaves up high must have moved because several squirrels split in opposite directions.  I picked one early and stuck with him as he sped along the branches of a young oak tree, desperately craving the safety of the solid pine.  With a crack of my air rifle I dropped him, just feet from the edge.  The second perched broadside on a dead beech, barking, warning the others in his feeding group of my presence.  With one more crack, I placed another pellet in the center of his back.  A third squirrel was advancing to the safety of the pine trees.  Leaping to a pine trunk, he hesitated a second too long, and he too fell to the soft ground with a quick, but practiced, discharge of my air rifle.

    With the golden light fading, I only had minutes to locate the downed squirrels.  I felt confident in my mind that I had mentally marked the spots where the bushytails had landed, but the laurel on the ground, and the possibility of them moving after hitting the ground left me with only one of my four grays when I was caught in full darkness.
    Both today's success, and the fact that I lost a few squirrels due to heavy ground cover and disappearing light, drive home a belief I've been subscribing to for a few years.  Contrary to the belief that squirrels are creatures of hardwood forests, exceptional squirrel hunting can be had in mixed woods.  Quick, easy access to evergreens, like white and yellow pines, allow squirrels to feed, or make a speedy escape from a hunter, in treetops that don't sag under their weight and give away their position.  Pine trees' evergreen quality also provide cover from predators in the winter, when hunters are in the woods and leaves are on the ground rather than on the trees.  Pines also provide a staple food source for squirrels--pine nuts.
    Another case in which I rely heavily on pine woods is when the wind is blowing.  The strong backbone, and close-growing property of the white pine has a wind-blocking quality.  Inside of a stand of pines is also much quieter on a howler than the open hard woods, giving the bushytail a leg up in avoiding predators from their quiet perch in the crotch of a tall white pine.

Another Day on the Lake with McFish

 
    The last day we spent on LKA with Mr. McCotter was spent chasing Striper on a cold, late December day.  Our trip was informative, fun, and rich in fish.  This trip, unlike the last, was just a half day, and this time, with my younger brother.
    We arrived at High Point Marina around 12:15, we were to launch at 12:30.  The wind was blowing slightly, adding a few degrees to the already chilly air.  I grabbed my pack from the back of the Suburban and made my way inside the marina store to get a parking pass.  On the way, I bumped into Mr. McCotter, carrying a bucket of minnows.  He quickly asked if I'd like to include some Crappie fishing in today's mix of objectives--I could already tell it would be a grand day on the water.
 
    In the first couple of hours, we hit a few shady docks and rock piles, catching a few decent speckled fish here and there, but mostly fish smaller than 12".  The three of us did however manage to boat a keeper each.
    The next fish that came was a skinny, 19" Striper caught by my brother on a small swimbait off of a sloping, clay bank.  On the next pass, he again boated a chunky, two pound Largemouth.
    We fished from here until dark, in friendly conversation, but adding no more fish to the boat.  Darkness found us about two miles up the Pamunkey, and we made good time back to High Point, with the full moon overhead.


Thanks Chris!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Waiting in the Weeds

    Our last trip to Lake Anna was, sadly, one of our most successful trips.  There was an up-lake pattern that had been holding for about a week--the fish were up shallow, in the willow grass.
    We were taking a friend of my dad's form work out on the Nitro for a days fishing on LKA, and the easy pattern would have made easy fishing--had it not been windy and rainy.  We started pitching to the grass around the No Wake Zone in the Pamunky.  The first fish, a small bluegill, fell to a 3" Rippleshad.  The next fish took an hour and a half to catch.
    About a half mile up lake, a creek, with willow grass on one bank, and wood on the other, brought most of our other fish.  Four Largemouth, and three Channel Cats all fell to a pearl Rippleshad.  Sorry, no pictures.
    Around the point, up lake, a few more bass were caught in a small flat.  a few minutes later, we observed a bait ball, most likely Gizzard Shad, being rounded up by a school of Striper.  Just before the action should have started, it all ended as smoothly as it had developed.

A Morning With the Squirrels


Quarry:  Deer (Muzzleloader)
Time:  6:00 AM - 9:00 AM
Sunrise/Sunset:  6:46 AM - 5:01 PM
Moon Phase:  Full
Temperature:  30*F
Wind:  6 MPH
Weather:  Sunny

    When I awoke this morning at 6:00, the moonlight shining through my bedroom window eased some of my anticipation for the morning's hunt.  The full moon in the sky that night would have allowed the deer to feed most of the night, only my game plan for the morning counted on the moon setting relatively early.  Naturally, the moon shone high and bright till nearly 6:30 in the morning.
    A half hour later I had Buck Bomb* dispensed on the trees, a cover scent on the blind, and myself seated inside the blind.
    The last time I toted my TC Muzzleloader I shot a fat doe, and it is by far my favorite gun.  So my hopes were high that I would be able to drag home a deer this morning.
    Similar to my last hunt, the only animals that showed themselves this morning were bushytails-tons of them. Needless to say, I need to do some serious rodent control.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Year's First Deer Hunt


Time:  6:30 AM - 9:30 AM
Sunrise/Sunset:  7:18 AM/6:33 PM
Moon Phase:  Waning Gibbous
Temperature:  50*F
Wind:  6 MPH, Southwest
Weather:  Sunny

    My first deer hunt of the year started out at 6:00 AM as I rolled out of bed and into the clothes I had laid out the night before.  My game plan was sound in my head as I headed into the woods in the dark, headlamp strapped to my head, bow in hand.
    After reaching the blind, which I had positioned on a southern facing hillside, watching an exit/entrance to a bedding area on the corner of the property, I used a red fox urine cover scent and sprayed it on the ground in the lane I would be shooting in.  My hope was that this would put the deer at ease, because of the allusiveness of the fox, and at the same time give them something to distract them from the blind, which was just put up the night before.
    Almost as soon as it was light enough to see in the woods, a small four-pointer came into view, entering the bedding area--but I had no shot.  I called aggressively with an early season, doe communication bleat call, but to no avail.  Half an hour later, the same four-pointer exited the bedding area, out of range in the creekbottom at the bottom of the hill.  Some more aggressive calling brought the small buck forty yards up the hill, but I still had no shot.  He circled around me, where I couldn't see him, and hung up.
    Apart from deer, there were several squirrels present to entertain me, they climbed down from their high night time dwellings around 8:00.
    An hour later, around 9:00, three does came across the ridge, behind the blind, entering the bedding area.  I attempted to call them down the hill, but they were wary of the new blind in their woods, and would not.  Eventually, the three deer swung around the blind and made their way into the bedding area.
    Overall, the hunt went well, no animals were spooked(squirrels included), and the only flaw was that the blind was so new to the environment.  Next time should be better.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Born Too Late

                A few times in an angler’s life, one stumbles upon a gem—seemingly unspoiled and genuine—and when an unforgettable day’s fishing is coupled with this discovery, a deeper, personal relationship is formed with the water.  Its mystical qualities enable one to deflect life’s bullets instead of dodging them, ready to turn to the earth for sustenance, and leave behind what is unnecessary, in order to do what you feel you were born to do.  You’re left feeling empowered, peaceful and humbled.  This is who you are—you are a different person standing within Creation.  This rush soon runs out, when the river carries you back through the portal to your modern life full of violence and political correctness, and can be easily written off as adrenaline.  The feeling that ensues is one of longing and remorse; longing for a simpler time that wasn't complicated by modern culture, when the people made their living from the earth and went back to it when they were done.

                One such setting that holds this meaning to me is a dynamic river in Vermont’s north country.  This historic river called “The Clyde,” flows out of a pond in the northeast corner of the state, and flows lazily, meandering through the forests and ponds of the Northeast Kingdom, exploring the land in the broad river valley as if it likes what it sees and wants to stay.  After running through five ponds, and over two dams, the water finally makes its way to a vast lake with a name meaning “big water.”
                It is from this large, glacial lake that the largest salmon run on the east coast once began.  In the early nineteenth century, three times a year, Landlocked Salmon reaching twenty pounds or more would make runs upstream to feed on the eggs of suckers, who also ran the river, and to begin a new life cycle.  Walleye would also accompany the salmon on their runs in equal or greater numbers.  Dams constructed later, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, soon blocked the annual movement of spawning fish.  Before long, sport fishing and salmon tournaments stripped the river of its greatest quality.
                In the days when the salmon still ran, after traveling fifteen miles against the mild current of their home river, the river’s resistance would ease; finding depth in a broad valley, and the scenery would change from that of a north woods salmon river, to that of a riverine bog.  It is this stretch that I too have a personal connection to.
Today, it is on this stretch that the passerby loses sight of roads, houses, plowed fields, and all other hints of human existence except for the ancient riverside cabins that can be found in the shadows of the birch trees on the banks of the river.  Completely in place, they are part of the river, one with the river as part of the long-standing equation that was the salmon run; but without the salmon they are vacant, only because of the very humans that once occupied them.  That passerby is me.

It was our last day in the place I call my home, and the last day for my father, my brother, and I to fish together.  We had several options, but after weighing them, we finally discounted a few local ponds and made the safe decision to paddle the beautiful Clyde—where we knew we could catch fish.  Full of energy and excitement, we poured out the front door on a mission.  After loading the aluminum canoe full of paddles, fishing rods and gear, and food, I assisted my father in sliding it into the covered bed of my grandfather’s Dodge pickup.  My father and brother would occupy the canoe.  So as they piled into the front seats of the truck, I stuffed my yellow kayak and paddle into the bed, and slid into the front seat as the ignition started and the green truck carried the three of us down the driveway.
Rolling down the mountain, I began thinking of my own personal quest and the challenges that awaited me on the river.  Naturally, I’d utilize this outing for both fishing and photography, and being alone in a kayak on a flowing river presents some issues.  These issues will need to be resolved if I want to protect my fish-catching reputation and keep up with my father and brother in the canoe—but I digress.
The red-orange fields backed by dark conifers and bold mountains reaching through the low-laying clouds remind me that my real objective for the afternoon is to have fun and enjoy my surroundings before setting off for home in the morning.  My first glimpse of flowing water reminds me of the sizable Brookie I landed on my last trip to the Clyde.
Something about the three of us being in the car together tosses weighty topics out the open window.  My father either begins singing, “making Neil Young look good,” or cracking cheesy jokes to entertain himself and I, like he’s been doing since he started taking me along squirrel hunting or trout fishing in the mountains of western Virginia when I was just old enough to walk.  My brother, relatively new to the events that take place in the truck, tries to make sense of it all, and tries to introduce more “sophisticated” topics.  One of these days, he will learn.
After arriving at our put-in the boats were launched with no hesitation.  The sky was cloudy, and the midday sun’s intensity was beginning to ease with the slightest breeze.  I was now on my own, and the fish would surely be feeding.

When the river finds width, I beach the stern of my craft on the pickerel weed covered, southern bank.  Sitting, straddling the kayak in shallow water, with no sign of human life in sight, ankle deep in water, and boating fish after strong fish, it’s hard to envision a time when this bounty of Yellow Perch would have meant so little.  Visions instilled in me by sporting stories written a hundred years back and further come to mind.  Rivers thick with fish; birds so plentiful, with their songs so diverse as to give you a headache; but no humans—these visions taunt me from the safety of my imagination.
I realize that settings such as these now offer a simulation of the world that exists in my imagination.  When light is shone on modern culture, the shallow shadow falls on the natural world, veiled and cheated by society.
With river water cooling my ankles, I myself feel cheated.  Staring out across the water and marsh grass, to the foot of the river’s mountain, I can’t help thinking about our precarious position.  The term “untouched wilderness” now comes with a side of disappointment, with the knowledge that these words are indeed just an empty promise.  Perhaps a more accurate term is “less touched wilderness.”

Off again, exploring the rich river.  As predicted I’m feeling empowered, yet humble.  The sun is setting, and I’m a mile from my put-in, but my mind is at ease.  The water of the Clyde River, now swirling below me, makes clear to me my mission.  The need to keep what is, to bring the world back where it came from, now fills me like the river water that saturates my pores.  

A North Woods Haunting

            As a fisherman, all my life I have been intrigued and haunted by waters.  And as far as my angling career has taken me, I have been haunted by fish lost.  A summer trip to Northern Vermont brought me home and my hopes up.  My yearning for trout in a mystic place made my most recent loss much more important.



My twelve-year- old brother and I were staying with our grandparents in their bed and breakfast cabin in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.  We had the whole month of July to adventure and fish at our own dispense—a dream of mine a long time coming.  While most of my days were occupied filling the seemingly endless woodshed, I was still left several hours each day to spend on the water.
            It is this time of year that the warm, summer air in Vermont brings about the swelling of blueberries, and it was to these tasty berries that the grandparents were devoting the latter half of their day to.  As for my brother and I, we grabbed our fishing gear and peddled our bikes down the road to the nearest glacial pond.  The sky was clear, and the temperature was in the seventies, and even though the trout probably wouldn’t be very active, the canoe seemed to be begging for use.
            My brother in the bow shoved the craft from the rocks on shore and I pointed us in the direction of the piece of shore near a small island we usually fished for Smallmouth and Yellow Perch.  Over the course of an hour, many scrappy smallmouth bent our rods.  We were hunting for table fare though, and were only keeping the tasty Yellow Perch.
We fished South, down the rocky bank, until we reached the shallow, rocky southern end of the pond, where we slid a few perch onto the stringer.  We hung around there for a while, fishing the flat thoroughly, adding still more smallmouth to the ranks of fish caught.
            It must have been past noon by this point, because the two of us were getting hungry.  So I pushed us off from the sandy shore the light, north breeze had pushed us onto, and pointed the bow of the canoe down the shoreline towards the camp where we tie up.
            As we emerged from the shallow south bay, and the rocky lake bottom slipped out of view, I wedged my medium weight rod in the canoe and opened the bail to try some trolling.  Finding the speed of the canoe too fast, I relieved my younger brother of his paddling duty, and towed the lure myself.  I had never caught a trout out of the pond, but I hoped to on my white Roadrunner on the way back to the camp.
            A few minutes passed—uneventful.  My brother broke the silence with a criticizing query.
“Do fish really swim out in the middle of the pond?”
As I attempted to answer his question, my lure lodged in something solid and the rod steadily started to bend.  I threw the canoe in reverse to retrieve my lure from the snag when the rod tip throbbed.  The events that followed were surreal.
            The initial throb of the rod tip wasn’t enough to convince me that anything in the pond was large enough to bend the medium rod double.  The first powerful surge brought me to my senses, and as I tried to guess what kind of fish I was tied into, ruled out every fish I knew to inhabit the pond.
In what seemed like hours, I got no view of the hefty fish.  The line headed for the surface, but I prevented the jump, intending to keep the hook in its mouth.  In another fit of rage, the fish bored down on the lake bottom, turned, and started to rise just as fast.  I thought to myself, “Here she comes.”
A half second later, a gray-green missile cleared the water by feet, showing just a narrow view of its flank and its snow white belly.  Adrenaline shot through my body as the long fish sliced back into the dark, clear water like a loon after a fish.
I put more pressure on the fish as he entered the water, pointing his head towards our craft, spinning helplessly at the mercy of the fish.  It was almost under the canoe now, and I realized that the size of the hook and the fact that I didn’t get a true hook-set put me in a position to land this fish as fast as possible.
With the fish just feet below me in the stern, tension was easing up on the rod, and I prepared myself, clearing space at my feet, to boat the magnificent creature.
My eyes probed the clear water beside me, hopeful and expecting as ever.  Just as I was making out a different texture in the water, my query turned and dug his nose down into the rocky bottom.
At this moment, the rod straightened abruptly, my spirit flattened, and the fish wiggled back into the unknown.  Just as the fight seemed to be a dream, the twirling Roadrunner returning to the surface from the unknown depths seemed to be a harsh reality.  A familiar feeling began to set in.
My mood soon rebounded, as my knees and hands began to tremble, and a smile replaced my gaping mouth.  I called to my brother in the bow, asking him to indicate on his paddle how long he took the fish to be.  Without hesitation, he lifted his paddle, with his hands glued in the paddling position, indicating the neck of the paddle.
“That’s what I thought,” I said, admiring my paddle.
I began to study my lure and line for signs of teeth, but none existed—not even chipped paint, or tearing on the plastic grub.  A soft-mouthed fish had engulfed the lure, and it was at this moment that I realized I had just lost the biggest trout of my life—a good thirty inches, maybe eight pounds.
We paddled back to camp in excited conversation.  The water that swirled around my paddle now carried an utterly different meaning.  Once again, my head swam with thoughts of my experience, and the dreams and attempts to reproduce the fish in the weeks that followed all seemed to push me towards the harsh realization that I may not get another chance at the fish I now wanted so badly.
“This is why.” I thought to myself, “This is why I’m here.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I'd Rather Be Fishing

    If your passion is fishing, then you've probably heard or used the phrase "I'd rather be fishing."  As a full time student with other obligations, I unfortunately can't spend everyday on the water.  There are some things however, that appease my craving.  Looking at Catch Magazine is one of these things.  This magazine has limited writing, and focuses mainly on visual nature of fly fishing.  The online magazine takes fly-fishing photography to the next level, and if you just can't be on the water, it might just ease the craving to be.  Enjoy!


Virginia Medical Fly Fishing: Help Protect Access to the Jackson

    Virginia Medical Fly Fishing, a blog that I follow, posted this recently.  This has been a hot topic in fly fishing in Virginia in the past, and from the looks of it, it is beginning to reemerge.  If you have anything to do with fishing or boating in Virginia, this is of concern to you.  As anglers, we are obliged to get involved, to save our rights to one of Virginia's greatest fisheries.

Virginia Medical Fly Fishing: Help Protect Access to the Jackson: Perhaps you've seen our reviews on the Jackson River, or perhaps not. But if you didn't know, below the dam, things can get a little touch ...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Welcome Home!

    I had a ball in Vermont.  I caught trout, lost trout (big ones!), caught tons of smallies and perch, and floated some beautiful rivers.  But no matter how much fun I had in those foreign waters, there is still no feeling that compares to setting foot back in your home stream and producing--just like you knew you could.  I experienced this feeling dramatically just the other day.
    I got home at 4:00 on the last day of the week that I had the opportunity to fish--with no homework.  I was ready to go by 4:15.  My mother however, couldn't be reached on her phone till around 6:00.  This inconvenience greatly reduced my fishing window.
    The car pulled in the driveway at 6:15, and fifteen minutes later I was power-walking through a riverbottom that had grown up a lot since my last trip.  I was wetting my feet by 6:20.
    The sky was sunny and clear, and the temperature was in the mid-eighties.  The sun reflecting off of the water revealed a potent presence of damselflies and other terrestrials.  The graphs I'd studied all week indicated that the water was slightly below seasonal average, but you wouldn't know it, because the seasonal average was significantly higher than in the prior months.  Grass now filled the river bottom in the slow sections, but now that was helpful in eliminating water--I didn't have much time.
    I assembled my four-piece fly rod and tied on a new hopper pattern.  I slipped into the water.
    The first few minutes were slow, but I caught two hefty bluegill, sharpening my reflexes, which I needed for the long casts I had to make.  The next fish surprised me, an aggressive take was coupled with my hook-set almost instantly, and another scrappy 'gill fell to the hopper.  I was focused.
    On the next consecutive cast, I added a sideways flick and stopped the shooting line abruptly to hook the fly upstream around a hanging vine.  The hopper hung, stationary, for several seconds.  I stripped line and started the drift.  The hopper struggled down the riffle five feet or so, and was slurped down subtly.  I set the hook hard.
    As it turns out, it was a good thing I set the hook as hard as I did, because instantly, the long, green torpedo swung my rod downstream and surged.  The stripped line was on the reel in seconds, and the little three weight doubled.  The strong Smallie was flanking me when he turned and swung around me back to where he was hooked.
    My vision was second best that night, for I had no sunglasses, and the evening sun on the water was a severe handicap.  I did manage to make out a small log in about two feet of water that the fish was headed towards.  He managed to get the fly line under the log before I could react, and as soon as he was on the other side, he headed for the sky.  I prevented the jump, sticking the rod tip in the water, and quickly horsed the Smallmouth away from the log.
    He was getting tired now, as was I, and he headed towards where I entered the water.  This was a mistake on his part, for the current twists and turns here, giving me the advantage.  Pressure mounted on the light rod as I pulled him over the head of the run and towards my hands.  He was mine--all twenty inches of him.
    I lipped him at my first chance, and popped the hopper out of the top of his mouth--a perfect hook set.  I snapped some pics of the magnificent creature and released him.  He may not have been massive, but at twenty inches, he was the biggest Smallmouth of my career.
    Slopping back on shore, I pulled out my phone, it was hardly 7:00.  I phoned home and said I'd be back in half an hour.  What a night!



Rivanna Smallies Close to Home

    I haven't updated in a while now.  Since my last post, I've spent a fun-filled month in Vermont, and I've discovered a backwoods access to the Rivanna River near my home.  There are far too many pictures from the northwoods to post here, so if your interested, I will try to post them on a photography page soon.
    As for my backwoods jewel, I have been living it up on the river for the past couple months--and not without reward!  Here are some pictures from several of my last trips.

Another slow stretch



Some more for the pot!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hands Free Video

    Unfortunately, and for some reason or another, this is only my second attempt to use the Sportsman's Eyewear system.  I feel like they came out ok though!




Sunday, June 5, 2011

Classic Patterns

    Our last trip to the pond was fairly uneventful.  Clear water and water temps in the seventies put the bass in the depths and the bluegill on their beds.  Cruising bass fry suggested that the Largemouth would be feeding on small fish, so swimbaits and crankbaits seemed like the way to go.  We caught few fish.
    This time, on my own, I had a plan, one that I had already proven to myself.  High temperatures and postspawn conditions usually have fish feeding sluggishly in schools--raiding bluegill beds if available.  This pond has a pronounced weed edge, where the bottom drops a little.  These fish are going to exert as little energy as possible in order to find food.  So an ambush point is in order, and with the fry and bedding bluegill in the shallows, the weedline is a perfect option.  I pinned down this pattern through observation and experimentation last summer--this is also when I learned to fish the wacky rigged Senko.
    By putting a wacky rigged Senko just past the weed edge, I caught many fish.  Included in this batch of fish was a twenty-four inch, five-pound Largemouth.  Unfortunately, the photos I did take were very poor, as I had no photographer this time.
    The older I get, the more conscious of an angler I become, and this pattern will be a go-to for me in the future.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Old Creek Lake Mystery: Lessons in Clearwater Bass Fishing

    Chances are if you have fished for any length of time at all you've heard at least a few rules casually tossed around by those who know their sport better than the average guy.  Most of these bits of information have to do with lure color.  No matter where you stand on the whole "color" issue, you probably have a favorite color, one that will produce for you when all else fails.  Moreover, you probably agree that certain colors work better at different times.  From here, opinions vary, and most will defend their belief readily, and with persuasive (and heavy!) evidence.
    Nothing is more pleasing than seeing a color pattern play out in front of you, and when it does, it sticks with you. 

    Saturday morning was relatively cool and cloudy on a small lake in Eastern Virginia, and with unusually clear water conditions, fishing was looking good.  I was targeting Largies on this trip, and I started out tossing a three inch, white and chartruese Rapala Floating Minnow.  I was hooking up left and right--unusually.  Fishing slowed around noon, and I changed to a black and silver sinking minnow.  Nothing.
    The next morning was bright and hot, but water clarity was the same.  Now, with the penetrating rays of the tidewater sun exposing the lake bottom near the bank, I noticed a few fingerling sunfish  cruising.  These bass were most definitely feeding on the sunfish fry this time of year.  I unhooked the black and silver minnow and started casting.  Again, I was smacking fish left and right. 
    Finally, I was beginning to notice a pattern.  In the clear, dark water, a bright baitfish imitator was producing.  I concluded that this was because of the high-contrast the white and chartruese offered.  In the clear, sunsoaked water, a smaller, dark-colored imitation was most productive, because of the high-contrast and low profile.
    Again, not that I wasn't aware of this pattern before, but having it play out in front of you like that engraves it into your mind, and more importantly, gives you confidence in it.  This knowledge will definitely come in handy chasing chunky smallmouth in the cold, clear ponds in Vermont this summer!
   
    On another note, last night, a few minutes before dark, an above average fish for this lake (about four pounds) blew up on a shallow bluegill crater on a shallow point--exciting!  In a deep, dark-watered lake, bed fishing doesn't cross my mind.....but its here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Old Creek Lake Mystery: Part 1

   
    Ok, here's what I do know:
    There's a small lake in Eastern Virginia in the small town of Tappahannock.  My grandparents have lived there since I was a kid, and throughout my childhood and young fishing carreer, this lake has provided me with some of my best memories.  One very appealing feature(in my opinion) of this lake, is the mystery it holds.  Not that its hard to catch fish here, for that is definitely not the case.  However, the dark water, unknown depths, and woody bottom make it very hard to disect without electronics, and furthermore, the knowledge of just what makes the bass tick in this lake has alluded me for years. 

    A good place to start is in identifying fish species in the lake.  Perhaps the most abundant fish is the Black Crappie--with several reaching past the 15" mark.  Next, sunfish like Pumpkinseed and Bluegill are the next most abundant.   Bass are difinitely present, and have been caught up to five pounds, but catches are usually accidental(caught while crappie fishing), and few and far between.  Catfish I have caught, bullheads marinated in the thick mud, but again, these catches have been accidental, while fishing for other species with worms.
    Many creeks feed the lake, and like the names suggests, the long, flowing lake is built on the existing creekbed.  For years I have fished from the dock in the main channel, and quite successfully I might add.  Only last year did we purchase a small pontoon boat--a twelve footer equipped with a trolling motor.  This boat has been a great tool in figuring out this lake.

    What I still don't know:
    A great first step in disecting a lake is to take a good long time to study a contour map.  As you might have guessed, this lake has no such thing.  To make things worse, the original constructors of the lake left the timber standing when the lake was filled, and then cut the trunks off at water lever--the whole bottom is filled with logjams and trees(which can get very expensive for a teenager).  I would love to know the depths and shape of the lake bottom.

    Catfish:  I never have chased them exclusively, but when you catch a few small fish on accident, you begin to wonder where the others are.  Perhaps hiding in the entangles cages of wood on the bottom?

    As I learn better and better how to establish a pattern for a body of water, this lake still resists my efforts.  There are many things I need to know before I can successfully catch OCL Largemouth.  What is the main forage?  Where do they spawn with very few shallow areas to choose from?  Why are catch rates so low?

    Observations:
    Sitting here on the back porch, looking over the lake, the skies are alive with birds.  Osprey, Eagles, Commorants, Seagulls, Ducks, Geese--all fish, and live on the banks.

    Last weeks 5-0 Largemouth (see "Pickerel Pond?") came on a crayfish, which are usually a key food after the first heavy rain during the spawning time--as was last weekend.  The largemouth I caught this trip, yesterday and today, have had crayfish in their bellies.  Yet, I have never, ever, been able to smack one on a crayfish imitation.

     On the rare occasion that the water is clear enough to see more than a foot, against the bank there are minnows to be seen--about an inch in length in general.  These are obviously a major food source for the Crappie, but is it large enough to sustain the largemouth as well?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pickerel Pond?

    Last weekend I decided to hit the pickerel pond, this time armed with two dozen medium minnows in search of a big Pickerel.  The first observation I made was the fact that the grass was about to break the surface--a good sign that the topwater action is about to take off.  With the water temp. around 55*, I was expecting the Pickerel, coldwater spawners, to be burried in the deepwater weedbeds.  Thoughts of twenty-five inch Jackfish haunted my mind.

    With the first few casts it was evident that the only Largemouth I have ever caught here has a larger family tree than I expected.  My first fish of the day was solid 5-pound male off of a bed in about two feet of water.  We hit the spawn spot on this time, being the male fish, that fans the bed with his tail, it was almost dripping with blood.  This guy came off of the only crayfish in the minnow bucket.


    Unfortunately, the minnows didn't come through, and with the spawning story confirmed, I couldn't wait to tie on a Senko.  Countless fish came off of a 4", green pumpkin Senko, both Pickerel and Bass.  My trophy Pickerel did make a showing, a two footer that took a swipe at a waking senko--but did not commit.

    As the sun sank behind the houses on the opposite bank, the Largemouth bite turned on.  In multiple cases I managed to take both fish off of the beds.  Closer to time to go home, I returned to the dam side of the pond to fish the shallow weedbeds there.  To my surprise, these bass were not Largemouth, but Spotted Bass.  And how?  Its mysteries like these that accompany many bodies of water that keep the sportsmen interested.

    Unfortunately, I failed to take a picture of these fish, I will remember to next trip.  Its also worth mentioning that these Spot were nice chunks--about a pound on average, which is a decent Spotted Bass in the Commonwealth.  This trip was just the confidence boost I needed to start the spring fishing pattern.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

More Fun WIth Pickerel

This week, at my other house, I was blessed with a no homework weekend (the first in a LONG time).  My desire to hit the pond again, as I had to leave on an adrenaline pumped mind last time, drove me back.  Snow had fallen overnight, and church took up the first part of the day, so the excursion was set for the afternoon.

My dad met me there because I now had him excited with stories of big pickerel.  The first fish came quick, off a grassbed again.  The pattern began to be apparent, and I theorized that the fish were gaurding their beds in the grass.  These fish all came on the Berkeley Rippleshad.

After a few fish we changed to yamamoto grubs, rigged on jigheads.  Casts into the depths of the pond began to yeild larger fish.  Soon a big splash and tailwalking thrashes came from my dad's direction, he lifted the big 20 incher onto the bank with a swing of his rod--the big fish of the trip.
Several fish later, we came across a shallow fish, who kept taking my dad's grub.  two, three, four, five times, then he was gone.  With my ultralight rod, I flipped a small, gold spoon into the fish's path.  As expected, he took it and ran.  Before I lifted the little guy out of the water, at my feet, the razor-like teeth of the pickerel severed the light four pound line--he was gone. 

A few minutes later, I hooked a small fish on my grub in the same spot, but in deeper water.  This time I got it in my hands.  As I worked him into shallow water, a small gold flash came from his head--my spoon!  We snapped a quick picture and removed  both lures from the fish's mouth.  after removing the bulky grub, I noticed a tail protruding from his throat.  Upon pulling it out, we identified his last meal as a creek chub.  We now know the main forage.
Naturally, knowing the main forage present in the pond, I started brainstorming ways to catch more fish.  I was excited to plan a trip with my brother who loves pickerel.  We figured we'd sein minnows and chubs from Cunningham Creek just down the hill, and then smash some pickerel under slip bobbers.  I can't wait!

A Spring Surprise

    The subdivision I live in in central Virginia sports a fairly empty (as far as fish go) pond.  Six years of second chances on this pond has produced far less than expected.  However, the next subdivision links to ours in the back, and they too have a twin pond.  Before now, never have I fished this pond, but the knowledge of its significant age instilled high hopes in my mind.

    On a wim, I took the last hour of light after spending a day raking leaves and playing with the two new Irish Setter, Maggie and Fiona, to pop over to the pond and fish.  My main mission that day was to determine the status of Cunningham Creek (fishy/fishless), but after finding no fish, my interests led me out of the woods to the pond.

    On the first cast, against a small grassbed, a short 9" Pickerel inhaled my 2" grub.  Pickerel were the last things I was hoping to find here (not because they are not fun to catch, but because they are not prominant many places here), so I released the green missle and placed another long cast outside the grassline.  My grup had scarcly hit the water before the line went tight, and limp, just as soon--I was bitten off.

    Bummed, because I had no other tackle with me (mistake!), I realized I had brought my fly rod.  Two casts with the new 3wt. rigged with a yellow CK nymph brought a football largemouth and a small bluegill to the bank.

    About this time the phone rung and it was time for dinner.  Disappointed, but anxious to share my story, I headed home in the rain.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Strike 2

    In an attempt to take my second fish of 2011, I devoted my Saturday to fishing. 
      
    We piled into the suburban at about 11:00 to head over to pick up the Z8 from the shop and fish Anna for the afternoon.  However, upon arriving, loading the boat, and launching, the dreaded beep in the ignition told us the battery was dead.
   
    We arrived home at about 3:00, and my fire was still burning, so I said, "I'll hit the creek."  A half hour later I was standing next to the roaring creek tying on a black CK Nymph.  Thoughts of Pickerel are still running through my head.  The VDGIF calendar says that pickerel are now spawing, but of course that doesn't mean they're here yet.  Ten miles of bridges, waterfalls, and beaver dams have to be navigated first. 
   
    I hiked downstream this time, rerouting often to navigate beaver fields and overflows.  These guys are really affecting the fishery that once was, I need to do something about that--but I digress.


    It is quite easy to tell, just by examining a few pools in the creek, whether the fish have come or not--it is quite black and white this far up.  Even in the winter, the creek is devoid of the smallest minnows.  It was quickly evident that the run had not been made yet, even below the dam.  But as fishing is just as theraputic as it is fun for me, I enjoyed pretending, casting to fish who had not yet felt the spawing urge.

    Next weekend, yes, next weekend will be the time.  I'll be ready.