Thursday, February 28, 2013

Songwriters Wanted for "Gathering in the Gap" Music Festival

    Attention songwriters!  Submissions are now being taken for a songwriting contest to be part of the Gathering in the Gap music festival on May 25 at the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park in Big Stone Gap, VA.
    The goal of the contest is to recognize little-known, yet talented, songwriters who portray the spirit of the Appalachians through their music.  Songs should focus on America-related topics, and should be of genres that remain true to the mountain culture, such as folk, bluegrass, rockabilly, blues, country, and gospel.

    A judging panel of professional musicians and industry professionals will judge entries based on tune, relevance to the Appalachian tradition, and originality.  Quality of recording and performance are not considered.

    The 10 finalists chosen will receive free tickets the festival, a free T-shirt, and the opportunity to perform on the festival's main stage.  The top three finalists will receive cash prizes and plaques of recognition.  The top finalist will be awarded a five-hour recording session from the Grammy-award-winning studio, Maggard Sound of Big Stone Gap.

    For details on how to enter and other contest details, log on to or call 276-523-1322.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Apps for Outdoorsmen

    While I am a firm believer in keeping unnecessary technology, like cell phones, out of the outdoor experience, after driving several miles and spending several dollars to get to a river a few times, only to find it bone dry or spilling over its banks, I learned to rethink my priorities—somewhat.  There’s an app for that.  In fact, there are several good smartphone apps available to the outdoorsman that can help make the most out of an outing.  Here are a few tools that I have come to know.

Hunt Fish VA

    There’s nothing quite like local knowledge, and that’s just what you get when you download this VDGIF free smartphone app.  Without paying a cent, check on outdoor news relative to your area, review hunting and fishing regulations, double check sunrise/sunset times in your town, or even buy your license.  Plus, using the app’s built in GPS, discover WMA’s, lakes, and boat accesses within a selected radius from your location.  Each location is detailed with a page similar to what can be found on the Department website—biologist reports, fishing opportunities, photos, directions, and other information.

Google Maps & Earth
    I often find myself alone on the road in search of a foreign pond or WMA access.  The Va. Gazetteer can only do you so much good while you’ve got your hands on the wheel, and Google Maps presents the best free GPS option.  Plug in an address or drop pins at recently-visited locations, and have Google lead the way.
    Google Earth has been praised in the past few years as a revolutionary scouting tool, and for good reason.  Having this tool on your phone can be especially beneficial when visiting new areas, when having a satellite image of the property will help in formulating a game plan.  Mark locations, scout, and eliminate the need for a GPS with these two handy apps from Google.

River Data

    The U.S. Geological Survey maintains water data graphs for watersheds throughout the country on their website, but River Data compiles all of it into one free app, and putting knowledge at your fingertips.  Checking stations are arranged by state and watershed; and the user can even favorite frequently-checked locations.  Be observant with this tool, and recognize how different rivers and stretches fish in different conditions.  This will ultimately result in better trips and less wasted trips.

Marine and Lakes:  USA

    Navionics established itself as the world’s foremost electronic charting company back in 1984.  Now, they’ve gone mobile.  This app was sent to me upon its completion as a courtesy gift, and does cost present a relatively steep price.  However, with a nation of registered, detailed lake maps; weather and tide information; a collection of free, knowledgeable articles; and a searchable archive of marinas, fuel stations, repair shops, and boat dealers, having this app in your pocket is well worth the expense.


    iSolunar is another app that comes at a small price from the app store.  Featuring top-rated solunar tables, iSolunar generates the important feeding and movement times for fish and game that can be tailored to your own specific location via a built in GPS system.  The app also offers moon phase, sunrise/sunset information, a four-day weather forecast, and multiple ways to share information.  But take heed, fellow hunters and fishermen.  Pay too much attention to solunar tables and you might catch yourself getting out less or in a weakened mental state at that.  Use them merely as a minor influence in planning an outing.

    No matter how paradoxical it seems, cell phone technologies are making inroads into our outdoor pursuits.  However, it should remain the goal of every outdoorsman to disconnect himself from worldly influences when in the field.  Instead, use these tools to plan your trip and in getting to the field prepared and efficiently, and you will surely enjoy more productive and exciting adventures afield.

*First published in The Rural Virginian

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An Introduction to the Natives

    My brother, Phillip, a newly-born fisherman, was in need of a trout fix.  He spent the summer bass fishing, but after receiving a fly rod for Christmas, I introduced him to fly-tying, and a desire for trout arose in him.  After several unsuccessful solo attempts at locating stocked trout in a local delayed-harvest system, and even more text-messaged pictures from my brother of feathery creations and stocky native brook trout (borrowed slyly from Google Images), I planned to explore with him the coming weekend a small stream that rises just north of his home.
    I met my brother at a local fly shop near the Blue Ridge foothills that Saturday ready to go; and we were on our track north before noon.  The day was clear and bright, with a slightly stiff breeze, and we were in no hurry.
    Talk of flies, fish, and plans for the spring dominated our conversation.  He was tying solo now, his terminology improving, and we talked as two enthusiastic independent students of the same trade.         
    Soon the river came into view, and we parked at the head of a trail leading up the mountain, through the hollow, and towards the river’s origin near the Skyline Drive, amidst a host of fellow trail-goers.  Dogs and people alike found recreation around the river near the parking site, so it was decided to hike the trail upstream in search of less-pressured waters.
    With the first chance to survey the water, I found it to be at normal pool and crystal clear.  Those stretches lined with people surely would be sterilized of willing fish, and I was reassured of our decision to walk.
    At the first hole we reached that was well away from people and promising in appearance, I strung my rod and tied on a small hand-tied black CK Nymph.  Phillip, also preferring to fish a self-tied imitation, asked my opinion on fly selection, and I gave it to him—a bead-headed, gray nymph.
    I managed to illicit one interested follow from one of the rainbow trout that occupy the lower reaches of the river as subordinates to the natives; and no sooner had he lost interest than a family of four with two unleashed dogs arrived, splashed about the pool, and moved further up the trail.
    On the next cast, Phillip lost his fly to an overhanging tree on the backcast and had to re-tie.  As the careless teacher that I can be, I had failed to introduce the roll cast, which I was naturally using.
    So, taking advantage of a rather large pool, I did my best to relate what knowledge I do have of the roll cast and its execution.  It’s not a skill that was ever formally taught to me, but instead arrived in my hands as one of many products of necessity and imitation of others.
    The run we cast to entered the pool cascading over a large boulder and around another.  Another boulder framed the plunge, and it was not until I crawled over this rock that I discovered the depth of the eddy that I had been probing from the tail, which brought up another important teaching point.
    It’s important to know the sinking rate of your fly and manage it for the depth of the fish.  In a rather deep cut, with a passing current and a deep rock ledge, a heavy, fast-sinking fly is vital in reaching fish hugging the streambed.
    I changed flies.
Photo by Matt Reilly
    An hour later and still fishless, I retired temporarily, crunching an apple and manning the camera while coaching Phillip in fly placement and possible fish haunts.  Only practiced in bass fishing, he wasn’t used to the stealth involved with native trout, and I stressed concealment from a hidden vantage point.
    Still fishless, and with dusk approaching, we headed back down the trail, quickly fishing any pools that looked promising that we had hiked past.
    In one such, I found a nice run, too deep for the un-weighted nymph that I had tied on.  Quickly changing to a beaded nymph, and using a handy boulder as cover, I swung the fly a few times through promising water.  After several drifts, my fly line hesitated; I raised my rod, and out came a native brookie of a humorous size, fitting for an osprey chick’s meal.
    Rather unsuccessful from a traditional standpoint, our outing in search of close-to-home natives ended with four inches as the total length of fish caught.  Nevertheless, for a first trip to the river, a first trout of the year, and a chance to introduce Phillip to the sport of chasing these natives, I found success in our shortcomings, and promise for the future. 

*First published in The Rural Virginian

Strike 2--Bigger Water

    Fish any one river enough, and it's quickly evident that no two stretches of water are created equal. Wielding this bit of knowledge hopefully, my search for close-to-home trout took me to a new and very different location along a nearby delayed harvest stream.

    School was closed but I didn't complain. An overnight batch of freezing rain evidently rendered the safety of some of the county roads questionable; but with four-wheel drive and warm temps, it wasn't keeping me from chasing fish. By noon, my pack was loaded and lunch packed, and I was on my way.
Photo by Matt Reilly
I found the water to be at full pool--maybe a little lower--and fairly clear. In general, the pools differed from those I encountered on my last trip in that they were deeper, faster-paced, and rockier--all aspects my quixotic hopes found refuge in.
    A Mossy Creek pattern, the Golden Retriever, that I learned of through a free fly tying seminar at the Albemarle Angler that I attended with my brother was given the first chance. It was quickly evident that the pattern, as defined and tied by the folks in the shop with .025 lead wire and a fitting bead head, was much too heavy to swing in two foot runs, and I quickly changed out.
Photo by Matt Reilly
    For the rest of the afternoon, I nymphed; but black CKs and a bead-headed wet fly yielded nothing.  Several holes, particularly the last stretch of river I came to, were beautifully ideal, but still, no fish came.

    I slipped out of the river and of the woods just before dark.  The second leg of my trout search was over.  I had yet to actually lay eyes on a fish, something I was expecting.  Hope was petering, but still the only thing on my mind was the potential of my next trip.  Details to come.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Herd Instinct and the Death of the Individual--Revised

This was an English project, but I liked it, so...why not?

    If ever there is a loss to mourn, it is the loss of self.  The American student who is beginning to emerge into a world of uncertainty, but yet is surrounded by criticisms and pressures, falls particularly vulnerable to such a tragic manifestation of herd behavior.  Rather than surrender his intrinsic beliefs to outside attack, he must learn to doubt that which he hears and is taught, and trust wholeheartedly those revelations of insight that answer.  He must summon the bare facts of life and sing them as a minstrel to his own tune of conjectures, only then can he surmount conformity’s destructive temptations.
    Although schools are institutions built for the betterment of society, society is due a certain precaution.  Intelligence should not be torn and calloused.  As the transcendental Thoreau probes, “the laboring man has not leisure. . . He has no time to be anything but a machine.  How can he remember well his ignorance?”  Just as the body requires rest and rejuvenation to strengthen, so does the developing mind.  Without it, men are ignorant slaves to occupation.  This, in relation to the student, is where the line in the sand must be drawn between schooling and education.
    Schooling is but a method of education, and can only be ascribed to true learning when executed in conservative prescriptions.  Often, endlessly locked in contention with assignments, all for nominal grades, the student is forced to cheat himself from the content of his occupation in return for success.  Here the end goal is misrepresented, and, likewise, the means to that end are adjusted, and ignorance embraced.  The men that result are specimens of Thoreau’s “machines,” thereby stripped of their individual aspirations by industry, and lastingly dismissive of education in its entirety.  In this case, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.  Without the time and freedom of thought required to enrich God-given talents, the average student becomes a drone for the future, grouped generally with his countless peers.
    Education, contrarily, is a discipline upheld by those whose minds have been preserved in their naturally inquisitive state, with an inclination towards chronic self-betterment.  Characterized by meaningful intellectual gain, true education is the bane of wearisome schooling—a little of what you fancy does you good.  Pursuing and being involved in that which interests you serves both to engage the mind and provide for an overall positive outlook and fruitful work.  In essence, remaining open to learning is in itself success.
    Thoreau’s greater counterpart, Ralph Waldo Emerson agrees plainly that “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide…”  However, to imitate and envy is easier than spending the appropriate measure of confidence on our own opinions, but often requires us to “take with shame our own opinions from another” willing to make the transaction.  But providing that you are willing enough to make the gamble, “to believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men--that is genius.”  Genius, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.
    But in a culture where disparities are shunned, sometimes feared; where popularity and status may unrightfully outweigh intellect; any good Will Hunting may understandably refer to the mass rather than forge a separate path.  What is lost is immeasurable and invaluable.  A conformed individual’s influence in society bears a likeness to a Schrödinger experiment—the tragedy is in the immolated mind, the neglected personality, the card not played.
    Individual consequences are many for those who merely strive for acceptance from their peers.  To be unoriginal and altogether dull and uninteresting is nearly a bona fide suicide in the job market.  In the case of the state of California, according to the Economic Policy Institute for CNN, 1.8 million jobs were needed in 2011 to restore pre-recession economic conditions and keep up with the multiplying population.  Moreover, regardless of how many positions the enterprising Californians create, an influx of job-seeking candidates will spell certain difficulty for the undeveloped resume.  Nationally, with 310 million human inhabitants in 2010, and a projected 439 million in 2050, successful job seekers will be those who stand out from the crowd.
    It will be those that shine with emancipated transcendence that succeed and contribute a cultural legacy.  Stability dissolves occupation, ironically, for it is an occupation that promotes stability.  Productive workers can afford leisure, as compared to those without funds who bear the mental burden of dependence.  Just as Neolithic farmers affected changes in technology and interaction, science and communication, it is he who affords leisure and a relaxed mind who is also the pursuant of pleasures and the father of invention.
    At last, success is but an empty term, a hollow, worthless flask until enough happiness can be mustered to fill it and make it valuable.  In essence, in theory, the individual acquires happiness by retaining himself; and thus it becomes that an appreciation and honor towards one’s self is the first step in finding success.  For each and every one, there are a set of basic, constitutional, infused truths, and their appeasement is vital; for these things—the loves and the passions—have awesome effects on the person, physically and mentally, for good or for bad.  Their suppression, for lack of an output, can cause them to fester, burn, boil, and rot—acids in a wooden ship--, but put them to good use, and the beholder is truly blessed.  Still, take heed!  There are few anomalies in nature that remain constant, most, if not every, vary about an axis.  Even love and faith fall victim; but remain true to yourself, and be arduous in pursuit of yourself and your beliefs, and these things will be strengthened and remain unto you a personal blessing.   
    Uniformity is the enemy of progress and the poacher of minds and souls.  Thus, there is no conformity among students that does not serve to subtract from the promise of the future; for they are the future of our country.  Set aside foolishly mundane measures of success.  Instead, depict your quarry as self-reliance and individualism—happiness, which is the true success. In doing so, your journey throughout life will be characterized by joy and peace; and, when it comes time to die, rejoice in the belief that you have truly lived.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Deliberate Life--Film Trailer

    What is lost in the modern-day world of magazine publications and fishing tournaments is the emphasis of love and passion.  Robert Traver wrote that "fishing is the world's only sport that is still fun to fail at."  I believe this sentiment to be at the heart of all that we love; and it is my own personal belief that the outdoor sports are such fulfilling pursuits because they combine the distinctive human tendencies towards the understanding of nature and the philosophy in life.
    Anyway, this film is a solid and confident step in the right direction, and is worth a view.  Enjoy!