Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Photo by Matt Reilly
Anybody else farm pondin'?  

Panfish have been in spawning habits for a few weeks now, and fishing for them will only heat up for the rest of May and June.  This stocky redear, a bottom feeder, took a small wet fly on a private pond, cruising grassbeds and getting ready for the spawn.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


    The much-despised Brood II Cicadas made their grand entrance to the super-terranean world two weeks ago, slimy from a fresh molt.

    Now the burrowing bugs are reaching their peak, buzzing around in packs and turning every woodlot into a complete audio jungle experience, and are soon to make the predicted splash in the angling world.  I took this short piece of footage a few days ago on a local farm pond.  It's one of the first cicadas I've seen in the water.  Hopefully more will find their way there, bringing more fish to the surface, and hopefully diminishing a few decibels of this blasted buzzing!

    I apologize for the quality of the video--my iPhone is my only current method of recording.  But, if you can, pay attention to the struggling black bug in the center of the frame.  Enjoy.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


    In May of 2012, the VDGIF and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation partnered to pioneer an elk restoration program, making the first of many planned releases in Southwestern Virginia.  Now, a year later, another delivery is scheduled to arrive in the state.

    After a thorough health exam at the Kentucky transfer site, the original 18 elk brought to the state in 2012 were fitted with GPS telemetry collars and released at a reclaimed strip mine site in Buchanan County, near Vansant, Virginia.  By September of the same year, four calves had been born, and the monitored population of elk grew to 22.
    As the second installment of what is to be several relocation efforts, another batch of elk are currently in quarantine in Kentucky, awaiting a second round of disease testing.  VDGIF Terrestrial Wildlife Biologist, Allen Boynton, expects to begin moving the animals to the Buchanan release site by the end of May.
    Though elk are making headlines today, the notion of a restoration effort is not foreign to Virginians.  The eastern woodlands elk was a species native to Virginia, and much of the surrounding area, until around the time of the Civil War.  The last recorded elk harvest in Virginia came from Clarke County in the mid-1800s.  Since then, two independent releases have been made in Giles and Bland Counties, attempting to reestablish the species to Virginia’s Appalachian Slope; but by the 1960s, the herds were obsolete.

    The restoration cause gained headway in the state department once again in the 1990s, and boiled on the backburner until a motion was finally passed in 2010 to develop a management program aimed at reintroducing the native animals.

    Coincidentally, 2010 was a significant year for cervids in Virginia for another reason, too.  The discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in western Frederick County made wildlife disease a chief concern of the game department and those outlining the program.  This concern was elevated when the lineage of the Kentucky elk was found to be already tainted by CWD; for Kentuckians too suffered the loss of their native elk herd, and acquired animals from an area in Kansas known to be contaminated with CWD for their own restoration efforts.

    Thus, elk captured in Kentucky for relocation remain in quarantine on site for several weeks to undergo disease testing before being introduced to Virginia’s ecological system.

    Once the disease barriers were worked out, biologists finished the pilot program, and marked 2012 as the initiation.  Several individual relocations totaling about 75 elk were proposed, hoping that this number would reproduce naturally to a goal of 400.

    Currently, the 18 animals—16 of which are adults; two are calves—are alive and well, and reside within three miles of the release site.  With good fortune, the 11 cows will all fatten up and show signs of pregnancy within the month; and with the arrival of another batch of transplants, we can hopefully expect the population to grow significantly into the fall.

    The course of future actions is founded strongly in public opinion, so contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for details on public comment periods, elk management issues, or to view the specific plan outlined for the future of the restoration project.  Visit the RMEF’s website,, to learn how to donate, support, or volunteer for the local cause.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Saturday, May 11, 2013


I posted a video a while back of a keeper largemouth doing his best to digest a friend.  

Just to reinforce that point, that predatory fish can and will eat just about anything that will fit into their mouths, check out this video of an Alaskan northern pike demonstrating his opportunism on an unsuspecting duckling.

Monday, May 6, 2013


    A relatively thin mast crop in years past has supported few rodents such as mice, and therefore has forced the persistent pests to seek other forms of nourishment—us.  

So no matter what you’re doing in the outdoors this spring and summer, knowing what to avoid, and a little about the animals themselves, will carry you safely through this year’s tick season.

    The four species of ticks found in Virginia are the lone star tick, the American dog tick, the deer tick, and the brown tick.  The lone star tick, named for the lone white spot in the center of its back, is the most common in our area; as it’s found predominately east of the Blue Ridge.  The American dog tick, identifiable by a pale spot just behind its head, is found predominately in the west.  Both the tiny deer tick and the reddish brown tick are less common, but can be found throughout the state.

    Perhaps what scares people the most about ticks is the threat of tick-transmitted diseases.  These are diseases that, as the name suggests, are transmitted by a bacteria carried by ticks.

    Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSP) is the most widespread of Virginia’s tick-transmitted diseases.  Both the lone star tick of the East and the American dog tick of the West are known to carry RMSF.  The tick must be attached to a host for four to six hours to inflict the disease.  Flu-like symptoms such as headache, muscle cramps, fatigue, and fever usually follow contraction by 2-12 days, which are in turn followed shortly by the appearance of an irritating red rash around the extremities.

    Virginia’s other tick-transmitted disease, lyme disease, seems to attract plenty of attention—some clearing up is in order.  The deer tick is the only tick in Virginia known to carry lyme disease, and is an uncommon species, found primarily in the northern and eastern reaches of our state.  The lone star tick, found in our area, has never been identified as a potential transmitter of the disease.  However, occasionally a victim of the lone star tick will develop a circular rash and flu-like symptoms consistent with lyme disease—but they have not contracted the disease.  Symptoms of lyme disease are similar to those associated with RMSF and are accompanied by a circular rash with a clear center at the site of the bite.  A carrying tick has to be attached for a period of 36 hours in order to transfer the disease.  Therefore, if you check yourself regularly for ticks as you should, it is very unlikely that you will contract the disease.

    While not every tick in Virginia carries harmful bacteria, anyone who has had the misfortune of contracting a tick-transmitted disease will tell you that any prevention steps you can take are well worth the effort.

    Ticks usually attach themselves to a host by waiting on the edges of low-growing vegetation until something brushes against them.  When possible, walk in the middle of a trail or road to avoid picking up any unwanted hitchhiker.

    Wear long, but light, clothing.  Tuck in your shirt if possible, and your pants into your socks or boots to minimize exposed areas of skin.  Wearing light colors like white not only makes it easier to spot ticks before they can attach themselves, but also keeps you a bit cooler in the brutal heat.

    Using insect repellent with 30-70% DEET can help significantly in warding off ticks.  Another option is to use products such as “Buzz Off” by Ex Officio that have built in and long lasting bug repellents.

    The final and most foolproof way to keep from being bitten by a tick is to check yourself regularly for them, if not while you’re in the field, always when you arrive home.  If you discover an attached tick during a tick check, remove the pest intact, making sure to remove the head from your skin, and wash the area thoroughly.  Most tick-transmitted diseases require the tick to be attached to a host for several hours.  So checking yourself for ticks regularly will make it very unlikely for you to fall sick.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


    April showers bring May flowers, and, this year, some of the best topwater fishing of the century. 

    Following the annual transition into spring, the Mid-Atlantic and Eastern Seaboard states are set to be blasted by a tune so monotonous and otherworldly it can only be one thing—cicadas.

    Not to be confused with the less intense “dog days” cicadas of the genus Tibicen that emerge annually throughout late July and August, insects of the genus Magicicada are periodical emergers, and have extremely long lifespans of 13 or 17 years.  Physically, they can be set apart by their milky-red eyes, black bodies, and golden wing cases.

    Brood II cicadas, one of two long-lived Magicicadas, which last appeared in 1996, enjoy the longer 17-year life cycle, and are on schedule to assail Virginians in 2013 when ground temperatures reach a consistent 64 degrees.

    But where have these chirpers been their whole lives?  According to Chris Asaro, forest health specialist for the Virginia Department of Forestry, “The majority of the cicada’s life cycle is spent in the nymphal stage underground, where it feeds on sap from tree roots.”

    When they do emerge at full maturity, the cicadas have only a few weeks of adult life, and have only one thing on their minds—mating. 

    While it may seem that the majority of nature’s rituals revolve around just that, it is none more loudly evidenced than in the cicada.  Over the course of his 4-6-week adult life, the male engages in noisy courtship songs that range up to 90 decibels locating mates.

    After mating occurs, the female bores small holes in the ends of twigs where she deposits her eggs in a process called “flagging.”

    Though most trees recover from the nesting process, “flagging” is most often hosted by the more vulnerable newly-planted fruit and ornamental trees.  Those of you with green thumbs:  for prevention, fine mesh netting is the recommended barrier—sprays are not.

    Michael Raupp, University of Maryland entomologist estimates that we could see densities of one billion insects per square mile in Virginia.  In case you’re not a math person, that’s 40,598,000,000,000 throughout the state, assuming equal distribution.  The sudden appearance of so many large, noisy, five-eyed, insects may create a bit of a stir, but never fear, these harmless visitors are terminal, and only wish to check off one important item from their bucket lists.

Crazy Topwater

    So what does all this mean for those of us with slimy thumbs?  A billion of anything per square mile is sure to inhabit water somewhere; and as water temperatures and ground temperatures slide into the optimum ranges simultaneously, spawning fish are likely to look to the surface for a skittering, larger-than-average meal.

    Forget for a moment every fisherman’s dream of casting in virgin waters.

    Now consider the largemouth bass.  With an average life span of 10-12 years on the East Coast, even ranging to 16 years in Southern Texas, it’s for certain that the trophy bass in your local pond or river have never seen an insect pattern quite like what’s to kick off the summer of ’13.  Larry will be hungry for cicada.

    The same can be said for trout, carp, catfish, panfish, and the pikes.  Even fish that normally wouldn’t take a surface lure will be drawn to the swarming buffet up top.

What to Throw?

    Keep lure choices small, and “match the hatch” by keeping in mind the colors red, green, gold, and black.  Arbogast’s Jitterbug and Hula Popper, Heddon’s Crazy Crawler, and Rebel’s classic lures the Crickhopper, Bumble Bug, and Pop-R in small sizes and the appropriate colors are all suitable imitations.  Buzzbaits, jigs, spinnerbaits, and small plastics in the same colors may also be worth a toss.

    Imitating a cicada on the vise will generally bond some combination of foam, deer hair, and rubber legs.  As with any terrestrial pattern, buoyancy and “bugginess” are key factors.  Add bulk to the equation and you’ve got a winning cicada pattern.  If you need to, walk outside and snatch a spent exoskeleton from the ground to imitate—there are plenty around.  I will be experimenting here in the coming weeks, so check the blog and Facebook page to borrow or share patterns!

    If you’d prefer to buy flies, consider hopper and cricket patterns in the larger sizes.  Humpys and unweighted muddler patterns dabbed in flotant may lend a hand too.  Still, most traditional dry fly patterns lack the proper bulk, so tying your own may be the best option.

At the time of this writing, the local ground sits at 62 degrees.  We are soon to be in the middle of the biggest cicada hatch since 2004.  Get ready for some great topwater action, and make it a spring to remember!
Originally published in The Rural Virginian