Friday, December 28, 2012

Filling the Boxes

      Winter is upon us, deer season is petering out, and my mind is beginning to shift towards the fishing opportunities of the coming year.  Taking this time, when snow and cold weather keep you inside, to tie flies and prepare is a pastime well-invested in the future.
      The two patterns shown in the picture are CK Nymphs and Wooley Worms--both excellent, all-purpose  nymphs for both cold and warm water fishing.  Other patterns that I find falling off of my vise early in the tying season are Wooley Buggers, Clouser Minnows, Red Tags, Pheasant Tail Flashbacks, Mr. Rapidans, and the occasional ambitious bass popper.
      What are your favorite flies?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Write a Review!


      “Please, write a review!”  An automated email plopped into my inbox soon after Christmas day, following on the heels of an online gift card purchase at Cabelas.com.  Reflexive orders from online stores are becoming more and more common these days, as online shopping becomes more main-stream and relatives turn to gift cards to relieve holiday pressure, spurring growth in the ever-helpful, yet sometimes misleading system of customer reviews.  As indicated by the annoying emails, anyone can author such a review, many times resulting in unintended good humor. 
      Often, especially on outdoor supplies stores’ websites, I’ve found, patrons take much enjoyment out of relating stories from the field.  Proud owners of expensive gear are sure to specify that “the deer tried to eat the foliage from my ‘ScentBlocker Protec XT, Mossy Oak Break Up’ camo jacket!,” or that “the fish followed our boat around the lake to get some more of the ‘Berkley Powerbait’ Something Or Other.”  Sure they did.
      Equally entertaining is the customer who clearly displays his lack of knowledge of the product that they invested several hundred dollars in.  “The rod was broken in four pieces, in the package!,” read one of my favorites, written in ignorant vengeance by the unknowing, lucky owner of a four-piece Sage fly rod.
      A small minority—for whom I am very thankful—take the time to include lengthy stories with their enthusiastic thumbs-up or thumbs-down, meandering slowly to the point at which the featured product makes its decisive entrance into the plot.  In particular, I have in mind a certain testimony I read concerning a deer call that was new on the market a few years ago.
      Hunter’s Specialties’ “The Kruncher” claimed to relax deer with the confidence sound of crunching acorns.  A gimmick?  Maybe.  That’s exactly why I checked into the reviews on Basspro.com.
      After reading one, and sorting through the rest of the monotonous opinions left by southern deer hunters, one posted by an Idahoan elk hunter caught my eye.  The story started when the call arrived in a package via mail, and continued as the man awoke on the morning of the hunt, hiked to a high knoll on a neighboring, avoiding his neighbor’s llama farm, and taking a seat to implement “The Kruncher.”  It was unusually well-written considering the context.  The man may have fancied himself an outdoor writer had it not been for what lay at the bottom of the page.  Much to the author’s pleasure, “The Kruncher” relaxed completely the cow elk in the area, and it wasn’t long before a tall, solid specimen wandered to within range.  With a clean rifle shot, the animal went down without a struggle, and I, the reader, was relieved of the built-up tension.  As a satisfying end to the hunter’s chase, there, at the bottom of the page, in all its ironic glory, was an inserted picture of his harvest—a large, solid, and bloodied, llama.
      Now this greatly relieved some of the stress built-up from exams prior to the Christmas break, and I soon felt airy and had a new appreciation for common sense.  Unfortunately, the humorous saga was flagged as inappropriate by some concerned citizen, and my hidden treasure was promptly taken down from the site.  I did eventually purchase a “Kruncher,” but never did I have the same luck as did the comedic Idahoan.  But oh well, I’ve never heard too much good about llama meat, anyway.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Successful Bushytail Hunt Offers a Lesson in Big Game Hunting


It’s no secret among hunters that the squirrel hunting indulgences that proceed the big game seasons help with re-acquiring woods skills; but an afternoon in a lively hardwood stand also offers a lesson in the more weighty aspect of big game hunting—the shot.
The squirrel, as is the case with any game animal, has its unconventional followers.  Muzzleloaders, bowhunters, shot-gunners, riflemen, and air-gunners have all assimilated their tackle into the world of squirrel hunting.  A question poked at their motives most often brings out a hidden pride, accompanied by two words—“the challenge.”  The governing rules of this challenge are determined by the method.  Form follows function.  Each hunting faction emerges with its own mainstream, suitable hunting tactics. 
The same holds true for big game hunters.  Adaptation in the face of limitation is the reason why many bowhunters are treestand connoisseurs, riflemen often practice still-hunting, and muzzleloading hunters will stand hunt or stalk within a very comfortable range.  The key is in knowing the limitations of your approach and applying them to your hunting strategy.
As a general rule, stealth will more readily make or break a deer rather than a squirrel hunt—a missed shot can be detrimental to future prospects of the day.  Even still, a pressured squirrel will often seek a comfortable, unreachable spot in the crotch of a tree to broadcast to the rest of the bushytail community the details of your existence.
One late-season squirrel hunt comes to mind.  Rain overnight had dampened the leaves, and I moved quietly through the open woods.  Several grays eyed me as they moved playfully about the ridge; but I approached slowly, gently teasing the boundaries of their flight distances.  When I felt I was in good position, I found a solid rest, waited for the perfect opportunity—still target, no branches in the way—and gently applied all my knowledge of shooting to the trigger.  From the first to the last of my limit, every squirrel dropped in a surrendering spring from its perch, and all from the same two acres of woods.
Experience has dictated that a good shot will put animals in the bag faster, and before they have time to tell on you.  The same tactic should be practiced with bigger game.  In either case, missed shots should be diligently avoided.
The medium between a missed shot and a made shot is perhaps worse in total than an outright miss.  The hunter assumes a responsibility for preservation upon initiation, and a wounded animal is in direct violation of that trust.  Not only is it an unpleasant occurrence for the animal, but it is also an unfortunate loss for the hunter, and entails much energy spent tracking and searching, sometimes to no avail.
Squirrels have the considerable advantage of being able to climb trees to escape humans, and have a nasty habit of doing so in the event of a non-fatal shooting; whereas bigger game animals take to tight cover, still easily accessed by the tracker.
For me, squirrels lost to trees usually result from assuming the animal dispatched and turning my attention to others in the vicinity before collecting the prize, which bring us to another point.  Never assume an animal dead.  In the squirrel woods, the biggest consequence may be a bushytail lost to a den tree or a badly scratched or bitten hand; but in the world of big game, the swift paw swipe from an angry bear, or powerful punch of a deer hoof could be deadly.
Prevent this incident by always approaching an animal with a weapon readied.
If ever it is safe to assume an animal lifeless, it is if it has tumbled from its tracks down a rocky bluff and, maybe . . . into a river.  Are you going to retrieve such a harvest?  If so, you’re in for an icy bath and possibly bacterially infested yields.  The surroundings of a target and its possible moves if wounded are elements worthy of weighing.  In most cases, if the recovery of a shot is questionable, waiting for your quarry to move could present a better situation, or, even at the loss of the harvest, prevent the possible waste of unrecoverable game.
The key to maximizing the effectiveness of the shot lies in being conservative and apprehensive.  The squirrel woods are a great place to pursue the sport of hunting, and lessons learned there are equally suitable to all hunters.

Mixed Bag
Unfortunately, the hunting seasons are coming to an end; but hopefully that means you have plenty of pictures of trophies!  Share them here via the contact form on the navigation bar at the top.  If you have stories worthy of sharing, share them too!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Detected CWD in Pennsylvania Will Affect Virginia Hunters


    On October 12 of this year, Pennsylvania was added to the rank of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)-infected states when a Whitetail doe, an escapee from an Adams County deer farm, was killed and tested positive for the disease.  Not only is this bad news for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, but the discovery also places new restrictions on Virginia hunters venturing to the Keystone State.
    CWD is a progressive neurological disease that affects the cervid species—deer, elk, and moose—in North America.  Infection causes deterioration of the brain, visibly reflected through emaciation, odd behavior, loss of control of bodily functions, and always results in death.  Despite its relation to livestock diseases like Mad Cow Disease, CWD has given no indication that it is transferable to humans, pets, or livestock, but is theorized to be passed laterally (between co-existing animals).
    Because of this contagious and incurable nature, Virginia, like most other states, prohibits the transportation of whole deer carcasses from locations designated as carcass-restriction zones back into the state.  Such restriction zones occur in the bordering states of Maryland (Allegany County), West Virginia (Hampshire, Hardy, and Morgan Counties), and now Pennsylvania (Adams County).   Other carcass-restriction zones exist in the states of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
    The state of Virginia allows only the following carcass parts to be imported:  de-boned meat that has been cut and wrapped, quarters or meat portions unattached to the head or spinal column, hides/capes without heads, cleaned skull plates with antlers, antlers with no tissue attached, the animal’s upper canines, and finished taxidermy products.
    These prohibitions by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries are implemented as precautions to limit any possibility of worsening its own case of afflicted deer.  When CWD was discovered in western Frederick County in 2010, the Department established a CWD containment area in Frederick County, the portion of Shenandoah County north of Route 675 and west of I-81, and in the City of Winchester.  The DGIF enforces within the containment area a mandatory sampling of deer taken on the first three Saturdays of the general firearms season, as well as several restrictions concerning the exportation of deer carcasses, parts, and wastes originating inside the containment area, and the rehabilitation of deer inside the containment area.  In the areas included in the containment area, as well as neighboring Clarke County, feeding deer is illegal year-round, and seasons and bag limits on private lands have been adjusted liberally to attempt to lower the population.
    More information regarding deer harvest treatment and preventative measures against CWD can be found on the VDGIF’s website, on the wildlife department websites of the aforementioned states and provinces, or at www.cwd-info.org.
A deer suffering from CWD will often appear
extremely emaciated
    Still, in Virginia it is relatively rare to encounter a deer (or now, elk—fingers crossed) infected by the disease; but what does an affected animal look like?  The most obvious symptom is emaciation over time, as the animal becomes noticeably lethargic and begins to consume less food.  Frequent drinking and urination can also be tell-tale signs.  Behavioral changes such as isolation, the lowering of the head, and a perpetually blank facial expression can also be hints of infected individuals.  However, many of these symptoms are characteristic of other wildlife diseases also, and are not always trademarks of CWD.
    If you do happen to harvest an animal that can behaviorally be suspected of infection, even outside of the established containment area, it could prove vital to contact a local wildlife official—doing so could be critical.
    All of these regulatory hoops may seem like a lot to trouble oneself with; but they come with a reward.  Since the beginning of sampling procedures in Virginia, nearly 7,000 animals have been tested, 10 years have passed, and only four deer have been confirmed as positive for Chronic Wasting Disease.  Only through the continuation of widespread public participation and respect can this biologically detrimental disease retain such favorable statistics.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Qualities of Trophies

    There was a time when I defined a trophy as something unique among hunters, a likeness of each one’s personal ideal and definition of beauty. Experience has taught me otherwise. Taking an oversized buck from inside a fence with little effort hardly establishes the kill as a trophy, no matter how unique or beautiful. A trophy is relative—the product of hard work, self-pride, a memorable experience, and beauty on behalf of the animal—but this is easily forgotten. Luckily, every so often, a wise, hermitic, animated reflection of this principle ambles gracefully from his haunts to enlighten us—not that we had forgotten.
    Such is the description of a white-tailed buck that had evaded hunting efforts for years, and that now starred in the fantasies that drugged our brains. My dad and I, since my birth, had spent the lesser part of four seasons deer hunting, mostly without preference to the animal harvested provided it was made of meat. However, the deer that had been showing up on trail camera photos earlier this season contained one deer of particular interest. The landowner on whose property we hunted recognized the buck—now a pompous five-year-old—as one he regretfully passed up the year before, and generously insisted that one of us take him given the opportunity. The sun, quickly rising above the horizon as we sped towards our destination, began to cast a shadow on the potential of our poorly-planned morning hunt.
    A half hour later I was seated comfortably in a tripod blind overlooking a small clover plot, compound bow resting on my lap. My dad was perched on the opposite side of the property in a similar blind, overlooking a much larger plot, cradling a potent muzzleloader with anticipation.
    An hour and a half after sunrise, a black powder charge echoed from his stand. Instantly thoughts and hopeful scenarios, again starring the old eight-point, flooded my mind. I remained on stand, but soon abandoned it as my father summoned me from the truck.
    I accepted what I somehow already knew when he met me halfway—he had indeed shot the eight-point, but needed help in tracking. There had been no visible blood splattering at the point of impact, but a short blood trail ensued just inside the tree-line bordering the plot, and went cold soon after.
    I quickly picked up the rest of the trail as it crossed a bowed cedar and continued, muddling through a dense stand of white pines. We lost it again at a barbed-wire fence that marked the beginning of a neighbor’s property, but soon relocated it, passing under the wire and continuing straight, crossing a creek, and heading for cover in dense transitional habitat.
    In an attempt to relocate the lost trail, I set out in vectors from the last trace. On one route, I neared an island of white pines that broke up a hardwood stand between the two food plots. From the aerial photographs, it seemed that the stand would make an ideal bedding area, and I stood for a time attempting to relate the rest of the property to its location.
    I turned away. A crash broke in front of me. A brown freight train crowned with white beams plowed from a bed beneath the bulk of a pine logjam, his bounding muffled by pine needles, his destination retained.
    The next two hours were spent connecting the end of the blood trail and the bed. Shortly after, the landowner arrived to rejuvenate and to contribute to our efforts; and it proved successful as my dad picked up the trail again on the opposite side of the logjam.
    Two hours more led us a short distance. Our prize crossed yet another creek and struck out for the island of pines, the blood trail running thin. The realization that the buck was likely alive and recovering in his ordinary bedding area began to take hold.
    We were reluctant to give up hope; but the sky turned cloudy, and the sun began to set on our determined effort as we stood, gazing into the pine thicket. It seemed the happy ending we had suspected from the beginning was going to escape; but happiness, like trophies, is relative. Over the course of the day we had had two encounters with a truly magnificent deer; we had experienced his haunts firsthand, sweated through our clothes, and in the end, stood blank-faced and blank-minded, eclipsed by a wall of trees hardly commanding enough to cancel out the buck’s true grit and august character. Those are the qualities of a trophy; and, as far as I was concerned, we did not leave empty handed.

First published in The Rural Virginian

PEOPLE DON'T MAKE GUNS, GUNS MAKE PEOPLE

    As November middles out, outdoor publications greet the impending firearms seasons with reports of the latest and greatest hunting implements, putting forth descriptions spiked with jargon that almost overshadows the reason why we take to the woods carrying these prizes. While hairpin trigger pulls, tight bolt cycles, and krypton gas-charged scopes characterize many hunters’ favorite guns, chances are they learned to hunt and shoot with firearms of a much more modest make. Perched alone in a tripod stand on the Muzzleloader opener, I sat thinking about my first guns, and how they shaped me as a hunter.

    I was fortunate enough to have a father that packed me along with him in the fall woods. Our destination was often a mountainous, hardwood ridge littered with Bushytails, or occasionally a wintry cornfield where our young setter would point out the avian inhabitants with ancestral proficiency. For these pursuits, I was entrusted with a smooth-shooting double barreled shotgun whose caliber I never thought to question. It was a true shotgun in that it had to be handled safely and fired safely, always with the safety sliding back into place following the charge, and it certainly did no injustice to the term “boom-stick.” However, it was lacking in what it propelled. A cap gun of sorts, the birds and squirrels that I did lead—maybe—fell to the administering swing of my father. Regardless, I never once shot a dog or a person, and the rush of the flush wasn't lost on me.

    
    Soon I acquired what Ralphie Parker reverently called “the greatest Christmas gift.” Then, we lived closer to the mountains than we had previously, and I was self-conscious enough to tote my Red Rider BB gun with some newly-granted freedom and explore the mixed-hardwood jungle along the dirt road on which we lived. A short, muddy maintenance road we dubbed the “pump-house road” for the jaded well house that marked the trail’s head was the primary venue for hunting safaris and target shooting. I remember being ordered not to come back without dinner, to which I made the sporting decision that I would take an opossum provided I was eluded by a squirrel—not knowing, of course, of their table-fare. Even so, at most, the BB gun killed a few unfortunate pine bark cells, but never before I had exhausted my efforts until nightfall, and always without endangering anything besides blue jays and gray squirrels.

    We moved again, this time to an undeveloped neighborhood in the Piedmont. It was then that my parents entrusted me with an air rifle. Unlike the Red Rider, my new Crosman was scoped—implying true lethality—and could handle pellets or BBs—an obvious contradiction to Ralphie’s declaration. The pneumatic’s 600 fps could hardly drop a mighty Bushytail. Nonetheless, I was trusted to pursue my hunting endeavors alone, venturing across numerous unclaimed lots, often coming home after dark after losing my silhouetted quarry among the darkening trunks. The Crosman’s chamber was opened by a hard-edged lever, and I can remember a determination, after missing almost a hundred shots, that drove me to rub raw my numb, cracking hands in hopes of finally reaching out to a squirrel scurrying along the branches.

    It wasn't until my tenth year that I was granted an arm of true firepower. The upland preserve season was growing cold and bare in Virginia and my father felt it fitting that I carry my own 20-gauge pump shotgun to shoot over our aging setter. We made two trips to a Southside preserve during that season, on which I harvested my first upland birds, and witnessed again the talent of our now-seasoned four-legged hunting companion. I handled and fired safely my new prize, always instinctively returning the safety to its “safe” position following the charge. It was cold, but, due to conditioning, I never succumbed to the biting metal of the action release against my numb fingers.

    These pensive memories of my early development flow through my mind on the cold muzzleloader opener, triggered by the jaunty squirrels and mockingbirds that slip below my stand unscathed. I sit on the opposite side of an expansive property from my father, with a 12-gauge lying idle on my lap, waiting patiently to check out with a Thanksgiving turkey. The safety is on; the muzzle, pointed to the left. My face is chapped by the November wind; my hands, numb. To think of my own favorite gun, well-balanced muzzleloaders and crystalline optics come to mind, but I find it hard to discount the ones that brought me to where I sit today, both as a hunter and a person.

*First published in The Rural Virginian.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Smallmouth Bass Outlook for 2012

    If you read this publication, you live within short driving distance of some of the best smallmouth fishing in the country.  The James and Shenandoah Rivers in particular, along with the Rappahannock and New Rivers, all provide excellent angling for these feisty game fish.  Here’s what you can expect on the river this year.

The James and Rivanna
    Anglers fishing our country’s founding river this year can expect solid average to slightly above-average catch rates.  Biologists predict fair numbers of fish less than 12 inches and greater than 15 inches, but a weak middle-age class of 12-15-inch fish.
    For this anglers should be thankful; for the disease associated with the fish kills that appeared in 2007 was non-existent in the 2011 Department electrofishing sampling.  The source of these fish kills has not yet been identified; but any noticeable decline in numbers of bass in the river can be optimistically attributed to bad spawning successes in recent years.
    You’ll find the Rivanna smallmouth in a similar state.  Though there has been no formal population study done on the Rivanna, I have noticed no noticeable change in fish numbers or quality from years past in my daily outings.  Statistics aside, the key to finding and catching both numbers and quality of fish is on-the-water research—for which there is no substitute.

The Shenandoah                                                                                                                                   
    Talk to any Virginian smallmouth enthusiast and “The ‘Doah” is sure to be mentioned.  Many anglers consider the Shenandoah River to be the premier smallmouth fishery of the commonwealth; and there are numbers to back up their statements.
    2004 and 2007 both produced exceptional spawns; and studies show that it takes about five years for a bass to reach a respectable 14 inches in the south fork.  Therefore, the number of fish 11-20 inches has been increasing since 2010.  2012 will be an above-average year for trophy smallmouth on the ‘Doah.
                The smaller north fork will not host the same fishing as the south fork.  It has seen low water in the past few years; but has nevertheless held successful spawns.  Fishing will be fair, but don’t look for the same numbers or quality of fish as can be found on the south fork or the main stem of the river.
    The first wave of fish kills that plagued the river in 2005 had a minimal effect on the adult-age class that fins the river in 2012.  So don’t let bad press prevent you from enjoying the sport the Shenandoah fish can provide.

The Rappahannock
    Both the Rappahannock and its major tributary, the Rapidan, can produce excellent smallmouth fishing under good conditions.  Both rivers, however, have experienced drought conditions in recent years, hindering spawning activity, and resulting in weak age classes.  Nevertheless, 2007 was an exceptional spawning year on the Rap’; and big fish are present in the river.

Adventures Beyond
    While central Virginia hosts plenty of quality smallmouth fishing, there are more options for those with an appetite for adventure and perhaps a bit more time.  From the remote Holston River, to the most accessible river in Virginia, the New River, exceptional bronzeback fishing exists in the far corner of our beautiful state.
    While the legendary New River is considered healthy as a whole, anglers who frequent the water know that smallmouth populations have been less-than-anticipated in the past few years.  12-inch fish are readily available in the river this year; but smallmouth-specific anglers will be disappointed to learn that 14-20-inch fish will be few and far between.
    The cause, biologists say, of the mortality of slot-sized fish is unknown.  Suggested causes include increased tournament pressure, an increase in musky populations, the introduction of hydrilla (a non-native aquatic plant) on the lower river, and a possible adult-specific disease problem.  Whatever the cause, biologists are certain that the renowned New River smallmouth will return soon.
    The Clinch River will also hold many fish smaller than 14 inches this year.  About 15 percent of the bass in the river exceed the 14-inch mark.
    If fishing pressure is the reason for the affected New River population, then the remote and rough-access Holston River system should be thriving.  The Holston smallmouth enjoyed a 79 percent survival rate this year.  More than 30-percent of adult fish are longer than 14 inches.  10 percent measure longer than 17 inches.  A float trip is the best way to enjoy the fishing the Holston has to offer.


    The hard-fighting smallmouth bass inhabits most of the Old Dominion's blue ribbons.  They are the bad bikers of our state's true scenic highways.  So whether you are targeting your next citation smallie, or day-tripping, enjoy your time on the water matching wits with these fierce-fighting fish.

First published in The Rural Virginian.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Adventures Afield Hits the News Stand

That's right.  After a short year and a half, Adventures Afield is making the transition to newsprint.  Of course, essays, occasional fishing reports, and the deeper tracks will continue to be posted here; but for weekly outdoor news and topics, check out the Adventures Afield column in The Rural Virginian.  The initiating column was printed the week of June 6.  Hopefully, many more will follow.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Redear on the Fly

What I love about this pond is how seemingly well balanced its different populations are.  Pickerel troll the waters in large numbers, and are very healthy.  Largemouth bass also inhabit the small body in equal numbers and health.  Sunfish, mostly redear, fin the pond with an established dominance as well--unfazed by the abundant predator species.

One would not know of the pond's healthy diversity after fishing it for one day, however.  Species caught in the first half of the year depends largely on timing; and often times will be retained to one species.   Fishing in the colder months of March and early April will provide several pickerel--some up to 20-inches.  Fishing in April and May during the bass spawn will undoubtedly produce largemouth.  The angler fishing after the first full moon in May will provide some unparalleled sunfish action--that was my goal for today.

With thoughts of wrestling some scrappy sunfish off of their beds, I headed down to the pond with the kayak (this time with my new cart), my three-weight TFO fly rod, and a spinning rod (rigged with a senko for bass hanging off of the drop-off).

After some initial trouble with the cart, I began fishing around 4:30 P.M, and quickly bagged a 14-inch largemouth, fooled by a black and olive, rubber-legged Wooley Bugger I'd tied.  My dad asked for some meat, so I slid this fish onto a forked stick lashed to the side of the 'yak.

As the sun fell behind the shade of the towering pies to the north, surface action picked up.  I quickly snipped the Wooley Bugger and tied on one of Harry Murray's productive Shenandoah Sliders.

Working my way up the north bank, casting to the grass beds, I managed several redear sunfish taken from their beds, and lost one bass.  These fish are bottom feeders when they aren't spawning; so if you can find a healthy population of these fish, you would be punishing yourself to NOT chase them with poppers.  Plus, they can reach large sizes, and are great food fish.  These went on the stick.

In the upper end, where the small creek flows into the pond and grass and shallow water abound, I bagged several more fish with long casts to the bank.  The stringer was getting heavy, though I was only keeping about a third of the redear, and never more than one from the same spot.  I continued.

I fished back down the north bank after thoroughly fishing the flats, still bagging fish after fish.  Finally, after fishing half of the length of the bank, I switched over to the south bank.  I found more fish on the south bank; but they were not quite as willing.  The bedding habitat that is present on the opposite bank is not found quite as often there.

With a half an hour of light left I beached the kayak, packed everything up, and carried it out.  This night was altogether one of the best I've had on the pond--relaxing, exciting, and productive.  I even managed to get some video--check it out.



Tuesday, March 20, 2012

We caught Kerry

    We got a late start.  It was 9:30 when the Nitro Z8 slipped off of the boat trailer and into the 65* waters of Kerr Lake (Buggs Island).  The sky was clear; only wispy cirrus clouds polluted the light blue sky.  With high hopes for the first major outing of the year, my dad and I skimmed off deeper into Bluestone Creek.
    The first fish, a stocky white perch, came to me from a clay bank on a spinnerbait while Da was trying to correct some technical problems with the Lowrance.
    We battled with the trolling motor all afternoon.  The first sign of malfunction came while we fished a small bay just off of the main creek.  No fish presented themselves, but bait abounded.
    An island in Bluestone attracted our attention.  A steep clay point extended into 17 feet of water with submerged brush.  Walking my spinnerbait down slowly, I hooked another fish--a solid 15 inch largemouth.  Several other fish came from the same island:  a striper and several white bass.
    Opting to stick to the pattern we had discovered, we left the island in search of more main-creek clay points, but with minimal results.  On a hunch, we stored all gear and moved to Grassy Creek.
    Grassy Creek offered some very enticing water.  Tons of submerged bushes and timber created plenty of cover for many different kinds of fish.  We fished through acres of wood for two hours, and landed several more white bass, largemouth, and crappie (including a 14-inch fish).
    Moving through a brushy channel, Da relinquished the trolling motor to my control.  Shortly after taking over, a hard hit stripped several feet of line from my reel, and sliced my six pound line cleanly.  My initial thought was that of a hefty striper; but I quickly realized that teeth had to have been involved to slice mono-filament as cleanly as it was.  After tying on another Rippleshad, I pointed the boat towards the opposite shore.  I hoped the shade would hold more fish than the sun-beaten water we were fishing.  Halfway across the channel, the inevitable happened--the trolling motor died.
    To give the motor time to cool down, we stowed the gear once again, and moved down Grassy Creek, towards the mouth.  We fished more brushy shoreline for twenty minutes, before setting an ultimatum on the point towards which we were advancing.  We both agreed that the island we fished earlier in the day was worth a second shot before sundown.
    As these thoughts rolled through our heads, my spinnerbait hit something solid.  Whatever it was, quickly flanked the boat, and pulled drag for several seconds.  In my mind, this was my 10-pound striper.  I felt head-shaking, and my heart raced.  As my opponent slowly relaxed, I prepared to see a silvery head on the surface.  When the fish did come to the surface, it wasn't a head that I saw, but a large, spotted tail.  Gar.
    Coming to the surface gave my quarry an adrenaline rush, which quickly translated into negative line on my reel.  After twenty minutes and several almost landings, we finally managed to lift the prehistoric fish from Buggs' mysterious waters.  Da took several pictures; and, after a quick measurement, I released the 44-inch fish in perfect condition (the hook puncture in its tail aside).
    After much excited conversation and Kerr Lake lake monster jokes, we stowed the gear once more and made a straight shot to "Goose Island" as we now call it.
    Arriving at the island, we started fishing the shaded, brushy side first.  We missed a few fish, but we soon connected.  This time, Da's lure struck a snag.  Ironically enough, this snag too sliced the water with 8-pound mono-filament, and refused to show itself.  A shorter fight than the last ensued, and we were soon laughing over a huge coincidence.  This time, when the gar surfaced, we noticed it was of much smaller size.  Yielding both camera and net, I managed to capture several good photographs and one nice fish.  I took pictures, and the fish was released in good condition.  The thought to measure this one never emerged but, looking back, probably would have stretched about 33 inches.

    Several more less bizarre fish were caught as we circumnavigated Goose Island.  I caught another largemouth and a small channel cat, and another white bass finalized our list of taco ingredients.  We finally stowed all the gear, simultaneously insincerely mourning a pitiable goose who was banished from his colony of Goose Island, and made the short run to the ramp with just a few minutes of daylight left.
    Overall, we had a good trip.  Several memories were made; for its not every day that you connect with two longnose gar.  Although we didn't put together a terribly heavy string of bass, hopefully we are on our way to success in many tournaments this year.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hands Free Video

It wasn't supposed to be windy today.  The cold front came early.  Regardless, I did manage to catch a few fish from the kayak; but the bite was slow and inconsistent, and I lost several trying to get them on film.  Of course, not a bad day, but the footage could have been much better.
video
 

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Homecoming

My life as a fly fisherman began at the tender age of two.  Not yet had I begun to master the art of swinging delicate flies to hungry trout; but it’s safe to say I was on my way.  In the prime of my impressionable life, I accompanied my father to the boulder-strewn gorges in the Blue Ridge foothills, and it was there that my fly fishing education began.  I learned of the serenity and balance that surround trout streams and the nearby woods.  The essence of the art that is fly fishing, I learned, cannot be measured in fish caught, but in memories created and thoughts provoked.  The fly rod is but an earthly tool that gives tangible life to that essence and philosophy; and the trout, a heavenly touch that can only be comprehended through grace.
Mother Nature had ignited a spark that lay on the back burner, flaring up with opportunity.  In the summer of my ninth year, my enlightened father shared with me his knowledge of the fine art of fly tying.  That mass of feathers and furs fueled my fire into a raging flame.  I can distinctly remember the chills I sustained as I eagerly watched him spin a length of grizzly hackle onto the body of a CK Nymph—just as his mentor had shown him.
From that point on, fly tying was my security blanket when absent from the river; and I tied viciously.  Every imitation was embellished as an offering to the universe, in trusted return for a story and a trout.
My efforts paid off one day as the summer heat waned on into autumn.  After a day of tying an improvised Sulfur variation of the Elk Hair Caddis, my father and I loaded up the truck and made the long drive to the Conway River. 
An hour and a half later I was reacquainting myself with the scenery of the mountain.  We walked an old fire road, paved over with cobblestone from a recent flood, little more than a mile downstream—our eyes focused intently, sizing up the pools we would soon fish.  Just a quarter mile into our light-hearted hike along the river, the darting shadow of an ancient Brown brought both our feet and speech to a halt—it was going to be a good day.
My first chance at a fish came in what I considered to be a classic pool.  With fifteen feet of line, I placed a sharp cast to slack water separating two small waterfalls at the head of the pool.  My self-fashioned Sulfur landed sloppily; nevertheless, my fly was in place.  I followed the crème colored fly for a few long seconds with anticipation.  My first reaction was a second slow, but my quarry was forgiving, and I managed to hold on for several brief seconds before breaking the fragile tippet.
I motioned to my father at the tail of the next pool that I needed the fly box.  With a flick of his wrist, he air mailed the small, translucent box to me, which proceeded to hit the rocks and crack open, scattering size 14 dry flies across the rocky bar—initiating a humorous blame game we play to this day.
We fished on in tapering anticipation until we reached the last pool.  My father trudged up the steep, weathered hillside to the truck, leaving the last pool for me.  It was a long pool—shallow too—but the hillside dabbled young roots in the water on the steeper bank; and I knew this was my best bet for a fish in the fading mountain light.  Stripping off a few feet of fly line, my arm swayed, and a twenty foot cast unrolled, falling on plane to rest on what I hoped was a hungry trout’s dinner plate.  The fly was sipped down smoothly, and a short battle ensued.  Hoisting the brilliantly colored, native Brook Trout from the cool water, I hollered to my father, and we admired the five-inch fish for as long as we deemed safe.
As I gazed into the glorious oranges and greens of that young fish, I recognized it as a cornerstone in my life.  That night, I learned fly fishing is about homecomings and renewing old memories; it’s about a first native fish—a trout on a self-tied fly.  To this day, those five inches of fish serve as my foundation as an angler, and mean more to me than any fish ever will.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blustering Bass

    The first spell of warm weather to emerge in the transitional months of February and March often times present some unique bass fishing opportunities for the angler in the mid South.  Unseasonable warm weather, coupled with March's renowned lion-like temperament, might make the fall hunter, not quite turned spring fisherman, leave his hat on the rack; but to the disciplined fisherman, these conditions combine to form a very predictable and advantageous pattern.
    My brother, Connor, and I headed out into the fury of late February, wind in our faces, and the eerie whistle of monofilament to commentate our outing to a local friend's pond.  Connnor with a pearl Rippleshad, and I with a perch Rattletrap, hit the wood off of a secondary point in search of an early fish.  No such fish presented itself, and we quickly moved on to more likely spots.
    After a few hampered casts from the more promising main points, we gave up all hope for the predicted 6 mile/hour gusts, and escaped to the trails in the pines from the 19 mile/hour winds.  Following several pine needle laden trails with an eye for shed antlers our luck, here too, lay with the fish.  We did, however, manage to locate a rabbit and have some hide-and-seek fun with the furry creature.
    With an hour left to our windswept expedition, we padded carelessly back to the banks of the pond.  While rounding a corner at one of the skinny coves at the north end of the pond, a glimpse of an airborne baitfish put stride back into my step.  Words began spewing from my mouth in an effort to explain what was happening in the small cove to my brother.  With strong winds sweeping the water's surface in the direction of the cove, phytoplankton and, in turn, hungry baitfish would be corralled into the small-water setting; the grass bed that connected the cove with another of the same nature, would surely hold some slow-moving bass in ambush.  The desperate baitfish we observed in the cove, was surely trying to escape the hungry mouth of a larger, predator fish--the pattern was falling into place.
    Retrieving our rods from a dirt pile farther down the bank, I quickly switched to a Rippleshad, and a brisk pace connected me immediately with a fish back in the cove--a solid but small Largemouth.  Connor landed another solid pounder a few casts later than I.  I snapped some pictures.
    By the time I had put the camera down in my tackle backpack, my brother was tied into yet another wintry green fish.  I snapped more pictures and got back to casting.  If I said I made a few more casts I would be lying.  Connor hooked into a strong football fish within seconds of his second fish, and I happily lipped it, handed it over, and grabbed the Nikon once again.
     A few more casts on my brother's part produced a very nice, healthy football fish, that we guestimated to go about 4-4.
    Several more casts to the grassbed gave no results, so I suggested we circle the cove, and make casts from a different angle.  My first cast was hit hard, and the scene was stolen by a jealous Crappie that may have gone 12 inches--a living, breathing testament to the health and diversity of this backyard fishery.  The next fish came to me, if not by coincidence, out of pity--another solid pound of pale winter Largemouth.  My brother proceeded to haul in two more green fish, including an average sized Pickerel.
    When the second fish was being unhooked, I was on the phone with my means of transportation, who reminded us it was time to go home.  Overall, an otherwise deadened day was turned into a day of fun, excitement, and exploration.  It is always worth the time to be able to provide the kind of action we experienced with someone who may not otherwise have been able to do so.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A North Woods Haunting (Revised)--An Essay

    
    When the northern sky begins to gray, early on a summer morning in the North East Kingdom, everything is still.  The moments before the sun comes up are serene and quiet, no human presence is inherent—they are the ones that make me appreciate where my feet stand.  When the sun peeks over the horizon, hundreds of  lakes and ponds shine in the midst of dark conifers and ferns, like mint coins tossed to Earth from heaven by God.  At that moment, you might look up to the mountains surrounding you and the streams that separate them, then back again at the water lapping against the monumental boulder where you sit and wonder what mysteries the water holds.  What mysteries are possible here outweigh the ones that aren’t; for these are not merely bowls of water, but abstract worlds carved by prehistoric glaciers, and any contact with one of the aged inhabitants of these submerged worlds is a purely magical experience.
    To think back, the first image that comes to mind when questioning the contents and goings-on of a mountain lake occurred on a summer fishing trip on a large pond in close proximity to my grandparent’s cabin.  The pond is stocked yearly in the spring with fingerling Rainbow Trout from the hatchery at the foot of the mountain, and is quite popular in the height of summer with swimmers and boaters.  Fed by a small brook in the south end, and (had the mountain not been cut away to build the road) several strong springs in the north, it is not a wilderness pond by any means; nevertheless, it is natural.  On a cool morning in the spring one could watch small native Brookies beat even the strongest hatchery Rainbows to an unlucky surface-dwelling insect.
    On the day I remember most clearly though, the frantically feeding fish had given up their vigils at the mouth of the brook for the summer, and turned to pursue aquatic food sources in the deeper, more oxygenated layers of the pond—giving way to the scrappy Smallmouth and Yellow Perch that dominate the shallows in the warmer months.  My younger brother and I had been working all morning for a tree that was in a terrible pinch between a young birch and an ancient oak.  Our grandfather, who was running the operation, was recruited by our grandmother to pick Blueberries in a nearby field after the determined tree had made its point that it was not coming down.  The grandparents were busy, meaning I had some down time.  What else was I going to do than fish?
    The conversation before going fishing was routine.
    “Wanna go to the pond?” I’d ask hopefully.
    “Which pond?”  Connor would reply, hoping for a change of scenery; for he doesn’t find fishing as entertaining as I.
    “The pond.”  I would say, slightly annoyed at the fact that he hadn’t caught on yet.
    Reluctantly, and seemingly disappointed, he would exhale, “Sure.”
    Ten minutes later, I would be paddling the canoe south to a stretch of wood-littered bank that we would fish for smallmouth.  We were always successful; it seemed to me I had the body of water figured out.  The swimmers at the fishing access, and Bayliners zipping up and down the length of the pond demystified it, as if I could firmly grasp everything it had to offer.  Paddling the canoe put me in a philosophical state, and the things that traversed my mind now escape me.
    After thoroughly fishing the length of the pond, we settled in the sunny, southern bay, where the rippling water spilled over a naturally sandy beach, and the pond came to a hard halt.  The water in the bay was skinny, not more than three feet deep at the most, and it was here that I boated most of the day’s bass.
    It was midday when the sun had tired me, I looked at my brother and he too seemed lazy.  The bay was the end of the line, and we would usually, as we did then, return after reaching it.  Like always, I paddled the canoe towards the opposite bank, the one we didn’t fish, and paddled the length of it back to our launching point.  This trip was one of routine, and like always, I leaned my rod against the canoe, angled back to give trolling a shot on the way back.
    The two of us paddled back in silence, my brother in the bow slowly digging his paddle into the dark lake water, and me doing the same, submerged in deep thought, coming out of my trance periodically to devote my attention to my rod tip, pulsing slowly as the lure crept through the depths of the pond.  When the silence was broken, it was by my querying brother, wondering if “fish [swam] out in the middle of the lake.”  The tail end of his sentence was brought to a halt by the sound of my reel slamming into the thwart of the canoe with extreme force.
    We both focused our attention on the rod, for the lure must have been caught on something, and we needed to retrieve it.  I set my paddle down with care in the hull of the aluminum craft, still trying to preserve some serenity and not wishing to spoil it further, and picked up the rod.
    Within a second of touching cork I was aware of what was happening.  The rod tip throbbed, powerfully, and the canoe reversed it’s course in the water to follow the mystery fish that I was tied into.  For several minutes, but what seemed like the rest of the afternoon, I held onto the rod as if it was made of thin glass and the weight of the fish was going to shatter it any second.  All the while the fish was under water, images of what I thought I knew to inhabit the pond swam through my head—none fit the monstrous profile.
    When the line began to slice upwards through the water column, I knew we were going to get a glimpse of a magnificent creature, and I looked on as if I was about to see something I knew I wasn’t worthy enough to lay eyes on.  A full thirty yards of line had risen out of the water, and a pale, green log broke the surface and exited in a glorious leap, exploding from the surface like a buoy being released at the bottom of the pond.  Now knowing what I was dealing with, I humbled myself, and prepared to boat a colossal Brook Trout.  I shuffled my feet in the canoe, to make room for the fish.
    Leaning over the side of the canoe, I stared into the depths of an unknown world, one that I previously believed to have understood.  My eyes searched for an outline, just a glimpse of a fish.  I was gaining line quickly, and my opposition was getting weaker.  In the dark, black water, I was excited by a quick flash of a green cheek plate.  It dove, and it was gone.  My limp rod and expressionless face were all I had to tell the tale.
    
    Mysterious are the waters of the north.  That day I was humbled by an ancient, native fish, one that had survived by way of nature.  To think that a fish that would have stretched three feet made its way to the world it still dominates by way of a feeder stream I couldn’t wet my ankles in is almost as difficult as swallowing the complexity and depth of the interconnected watersheds these fish thrive on.  Many claim to understand these waters though, and I might be one of them to some degree.  To really capture the essence of that water which wets your toes, you must gaze from your perch on the boulder, out across the water, take in the sound of bellowing loons and the cool, night breeze flowing over the lake that laps at your feet, and when your eyes finally rest on the mountain at the foot of the lake, that water on your toes will hold new meaning.  I believe a Montana gentleman said it best, “I am haunted by waters.” 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Maiden Voyage

    I hinted earlier that I had something to look forward to in the spring following Christmas, well this is it.
    I couldn't wait for the weather to warm to launch my new Emotion Mojo fishing kayak.  Why should I?  Although tougher, it is more than possible to catch pond fish in the middle of winter.  I carried my new craft to the banks of the neighborhood pond get one trip under my belt, and to prove that I could catch fish here in the cold months.

    I spent a few minutes initially learning the strokes, but after that it all seemed natural.  I quickly located the creek channel in the pond, dropped a spoon, and boated a lethargic Largie.
    With part of my quest accomplished, I now wanted to explore a little, so I pointed the bow of my kayak towards the feeder creek to go explore the marshier side of the pond.  Slowly approaching the creek, I caught a glimpse of several white heads--which I knew immediately to be Geese.  I slipped my Nikon out of it's dry bag and focused on the closest bird.  After snapping a quick picture, a gray outline to my left caught my eye.  A motionless heron stood in the reeds waiting for a chance meal; and he too was preserved forever.


    I only pulled off a few pictures before both the Heron and the Geese got uncomfortable and fled, but I still heard movement at the edge of the woods.  A few more subtle paddle dips and I was surprised by the thunderous wing-beating of Mergansers escaping to the twin pond on the other side of the ridge.  The pics I managed to pull from that experience were less appealing.
    I noticed a chill not previously present in the winter air, and when I reversed the kayak to pursue another fish the only warmth was disappearing behind the pine-covered ridge in a flaming escape.  My time was limited, and I knew I could boat another Largemouth.  So why not?  I scoured the deepest points in the creek channel for just ten minutes before I hooked another one on my chrome and blue spoon.
    The sun was almost gone when I planted the bow of the kayak on the grassy bank and dragged it to the nearest road to be picked up by my dad.  My first trip was a success, and now I have some ideas as to what modifications I can make to my watercraft.  Can't wait till spring rolls around!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Recycling Your Squirrels: Squirrel Pie

Ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 pounds of cleaned and quartered squirrel meat
  • Chicken or beef broth (2 cartons)
  • Onions, mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Pie crust


Directions:

    Lightly flour cleaned and quartered squirrel and brown in the biggest pan you have with fresh rosemary and ground pepper in some olive oil.  Cook on high heat to sear, and then turn the heat down and cook through.  When the meat is fully cooked, turn on low heat, and cover the bottom of the pan with chicken broth, let simmer for several minutes.  If desired, add ale, or white or red wine.

    Pour the contents of the pan into a colander over a bowl to collect the broth.  Repeat until all the meat is cooked.  Let the meat cool enough to pick out.


    While the cooked squirrel is cooling, cut up onions, garlic, and mushrooms (however much you prefer).  Use the pan to cook the vegetables in olive oil on low heat, stirring periodically.


    While the vegetables are cooking, pick the meat from the bones and place on a separate plate.  When the vegetables are done to your liking, add the squirrel meat to the pan, and mix to create an even consistency.

    In another, smaller pan, make a roux (1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup flour).  Melt the butter in the pan, sprinkle the flour evenly in the pan, and whisk.  Add enough of the reserved broth (start with a cup and go from there) to create a thick gravy.

    Add the gravy to the squirrel/vegetable mixture.  Add salt and pepper to acquire the taste you are looking for.  This is the finished mixture.

    Spoon the mixture into a pie crust, cover the top with crust, crimp the edges to connect the two pieces, and cut slits in the center of the pie to allow for steam to escape.  Bake pie in the oven at 425* for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

Recipe courtesy of Mrs. Patience Wood