Wednesday, June 26, 2013


    As the hottest month of the year in the Old Dominion approaches, there’s plenty to do outside; but if July 2013 is going to be anything like last year’s, care should be taken to minimize the possibility of heat-related illness.  Here are a few things to consider for safety while adventuring this summer.

Dress for Comfort

    Before you leave the house, think of the weather.  Light, breathable shorts/pants and shirts, some that offer sun protection, are made by companies like ExOfficio, Columbia, and Under Armour.  Some are worth the slightly inflated price tag.

    Neck buffs, hats, and sunglasses also deserve their places on your hot weather checklist.  Buffs can prevent sunburn in the most vulnerable places, and sunglasses, personally, make time spent outdoors with exceptionally bright sunlight more enjoyable, not to mention their protective qualities.      


    It’s a cliché, but considering what the summer sun has accomplished on some of the more exposed rivers by the climax of summer, and that almost ¾ of the human body is water, I would say it’s a cliché grounded heavily in science.  Staying hydrated, drinking water or juice even when you don’t feel thirsty, is the first and most important step in keeping yourself healthy in the heat.  Even mild dehydration can leave one feeling weak and tired; and taking a break in that situation without replenishing your body’s supply of fluids can be very dangerous.

    Avoid drinking alcohol, as it’s well recognized as a diuretic that makes maintaining a healthy fluid level difficult.

    Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol is illegal, and VDGIF officer patrol state waters on the lookout for transgressors in the latter days of June through July, an establishment of the Department’s Operation Dry Water.

Take 5

    Don’t underestimate the value of taking a break, especially if doing strenuous activity like hiking or mountain biking.  Rest.  Use this time to replenish what you’ve lost in fluids. Eating small snacks not overly loaded with protein—though, with a sustainable amount—also helps in keeping cool, as it prevents an increased metabolic rate that produces unwanted bodily heat.

Be Cool

    It is not uncommon for temperatures to fluctuate 20 degrees over the course of 24 hours, with the coolest parts of the day passing in the night and the hottest in the hours following midday.  Use this information to your advantage by planning activities in the cooler parts of the day.  Going on a hike?  Wake up early to see the sunrise and make your trek when the sun hasn’t yet saturated the ground.  Fishing?  The topwater action is better in the evenings anyway, and will only improve from here on out!

    Wet-wading a favorite river, as opposed to frying on an aluminum boat, is a great option for fishermen.  The flowing water is usually still a comfortable 70 degrees, and if you get too hot, a swim is just seconds away. 

Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

    No, I’m not suggesting showering—when you get home, definitely!—but rather applying sunscreen, or, more importantly, reapplying.  I’ve had my neck fried to discomfort on the first day of a beach vacation enough to have learned that sunscreen is a beautiful creation, and should be utilized as such.

    When sunscreen shopping, it pays to not just pick the highest sun protection factor (SPF) number and get out.  Not only is this number misleading, it’s also just half the story.  

    SPF is a reference to the level of protection against cancer-causing UVB rays.  The average person will be well-served by sunscreen with an SPF of 15, while fair-skinned people may benefit from SPF 30.  

    Contrary to popular belief, these numbers don’t double in potency as they double geometrically, but 30 still offers more protection than 15.

    The other half of the story, UVA rays, can also be damaging to your health, but aren’t as commonly advertised as their bold counterpart.  UVA rays are also associated with cancer, but, as researchers from the EPA found, penetrate deep into the skin to cause wrinkling, and overall, about 90% of all skin changes previously attributed to aging.  While picking a sunscreen for UVA protection, look to the ingredients list for components such as ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide.

    Even with the best sunscreens, remember to reapply often.  Multiply the time it usually takes your skin to burn without protection—if you know—by the SPF number, and reapply on that interval.

    Just as in cold weather situations, there are plenty of dangers present in the elements that can slip into your body somewhat undetected—at first.  Take care, and place safety before practicality while exposed to the elements to get the most out of your time outdoors.  Dehydration and sunburn take more out of fun than most people are willing to give.


    Summer, more than any other season, showcases a remarkable ability to contrast black and white, clear bluebird skies and dark impending doom.  

When the skies turn dark, those in the comfort of their homes find the movie channel and take a nap; but the angler caught on the water has a decision of importance to make:  “pack it in, or stick it out?”

    Many anglers I’ve met may be too stubborn for their own good.  The answer to that question is almost always to stick it out—“…See what happens”—knowing full well the weather may change in an instant—or not.

    I’ve never been particularly swift at recognizing oncoming storms, hurricanes, etc. while on the water.  Polarized sunglasses, the time-freezing cadence of tumbling water, and a supreme focus on the end of my fly line almost always take precedence over and distract me from thunderheads and lightning.  Only when a falling notification from above slaps me on the head do I get around to thinking about things like personal safety and the two mile walk home.

    And it’s this circumstance that, I think, makes anglers so fond of braving wild storms—a case of selective sight.

    Check the forecast for the possibility of weather before leaving the house.  If the probability is high, keep a watchful eye on the sky.

    Even if weather is recognized prior to hopping in the water, I’ve always been a little unrealistically hopeful.  The thought that precedes an outing is enough to get a person excited, and that anticipation is motive to take chances with nature.  This means either being drenched for several long “ten more minutes” intervals before being carried back to the truck by apocalyptic winds, or enduring a short shower and fishing out the afternoon.  I’ve waited under rock ledges and stream banks enough to realize that Mother Nature is a merciless prankster and a habitual gambler, making us outdoorsmen prime playtoys.
    One particular summer I found myself totally immersed in Mother’s dry sense of humor (and by that I mean utterly wet sense of humor). 

    After work one day (a sunny, cloudless day) my brother and I decided to explore with our kayaks the upper reaches of a riverine reservoir.

    Paddling upstream and planning to float-fish back to take-out, we passed up the fishy holes, making mental note of them for the return trip.

    When we reached the point where it was evident no better fishing water lay ahead, we beached, stretched the legs, and fished a rather unpromising riffle.
Photo by Matt Reilly

    With enough light left to thoroughly fish the stretch of river between us and the truck, we shoved off downstream and proceeded to the first hole—a promising elbow, deep, with rocky shelves.

    Now, I’ve described what happened next consistently every time I’ve recounted it, by sound, because a slight bend in the river’s path blocked the view of the sky.

    After several minutes of quiet, I began to notice a growing white noise in what I thought was my subconscious.  Then, maybe an airplane, flying low and quickly getting closer?  But as I expected to see a jet barge into view from behind standing hardwoods, nothing came.

    I positioned my kayak to see past the trees and into the break allowed by the riverbed.  In the sky, a solid sheet of black clouds abutted what could have easily been Bimini’s lucid inshore waters, and was visibly moving in our direction.  Exponential winds and a gushing that resembled a breaching in the Hoover Dam quickly became obvious.  I had a decision to make:  “Stick it out, or paddle?”

    I had apparently already answered the question by the time it flashed through my mind, because I paddled past my brother, still oblivious to the clouds out of sight and asking what was happening.


    Though there was no official timekeeper present, in the half hour that followed I may have qualified for the men’s national canoe slalom team, dodging falling trees and fighting the wind around obstacles.  All the while, an iron curtain of rain engulfed the sky above us.

    By the time we had pulled our wet, debris-littered crafts up on shore, the rain had all but stopped.  The wind was no more, and Mother Nature dangled a rainbow in our faces mockingly after robbing us of an afternoon’s fishing.  If she is indeed a jokester, she had gone too far.

    Though I am normally a proponent of sticking it out, I’ve come to learn that “no matter what” doesn’t fly around Ms. Nature, especially during the summer.  Weather can change in the blink of an eye, and the water is no place to be when it changes for the worse.  So keep an eye on the sky, and have a safe and adventurous summer.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


The weather is warming up, and the panfish are moving up onto beds in shallow water to spawn.  

This is a short video showing some redear action on a local pond this week.

Redear sunfish are bottom feeders, but move to shallow gravelbeds to spawn.  They are typically larger, stronger, and meaner than the average bluegill, making them a lot of fun on light tackle.  The cicada pattern, too, has boosted this fishery.  While filming I could see more than twenty bugs struggling on the surface, so there's no confusion as to why a popper placed in front of a fish brings home the beef every time!  I even managed a rise from a respectable snapping turtle on a dry fly...

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Estero's Green Monster.  Photo by Matt Reilly

Greetings from Florida, where quick, scaly reptiles replace the squirrels of the temperate zones, and the "someone's pet" population is just as dense inside of homes as out. 

This guy surprised us on Estero Island the other day. For now, the referring species name is the "Estero Green Monster" and his native status has not yet been confirmed...oh look an anole.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


    From the small weedy impoundments of the Piedmont, to the expansive waters of the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia is a state that abounds with accessible opportunities for recreational boaters and anglers.  

While boating is meant to be an enjoyable, relaxing activity, even the best days on the water can take a turn for the worse unexpectedly.

    Safe boating awareness week was kick-started last Saturday, as it is always observed as the first week before Labor Day Weekend, anticipating the beginning of what is typically the heaviest season of boating traffic.  Being well-educated and equipped for a day on the water this spring or summer is the most important element of preventing an accident.

    From 2010 to 2011, researchers noted a 19% increase in boating accidents across the state of Virginia.  In 2012, the US Coast Guard registered over 4500 boating-related accidents, involving 651 deaths, 3000 injuries, and about $38 million in property damage.  Distracted operation, operator inexperience, and improper lookout rank as the top three causes of accidents; and alcohol consumption remains the leading factor in accidents resulting in fatalities.

    As a step towards slashing these grave numbers, in 2007, the Virginia General Assembly instituted a boating safety and compliance requirement, which continues to be grandfathered in by age group until 2016, when all operators of personal watercrafts (PWC)—jet skis—and motorboats of 10 horsepower or larger will be required to have proof of completion of a NASBLA approved boater’s safety course.

    Currently, every operator over the age of 14, and all motorboat operators 30 and younger must have completed a safety course.   No person under the age of 14 may operate a PWC.

    However, as the next phase of the initiative, all motorboat operators 40 and younger must have proof of course completion beginning July 1 of this year.

    The USCG takes note that only 9% of boating accidents occurred on vessels manned by an operator who had received the proper boating education requirements.  Therefore, despite the age requirements, it is recommendable, and statistically safer, that even those temporarily excused of the requirements take initiative and register for a course.

    There are numerous approved providers of both classroom and online classes.  A full list and signup information can be found on the VDGIF website.

    The North American Safe BoatingCampaign is also taking steps towards protecting Virginia’s boaters through the “Wear It!” initiative.  It’s well known that life jackets, or personal flotation devices (PFDs), save lives, but how helpful are they really?  USCG data supports that 71% of all fatal accidents involve drowning.  Of those, an estimated 85% could have been prevented through the proper use of a PFD.

    The VDGIF requires that one fitting, serviceable--not torn or critically damaged—, and USCG approved PFD per passenger, and one throwable life preserver be present and easily accessed on all motorboats.

    PFDs should fit well—snug, but not tight.  Adults can test their jacket’s fit by raising their arms overhead and ensuring that the range of motion in the head and neck are not restricted.  To check the fit of your child’s vest, firmly lift up on the shoulder straps.  They should rise no more than three inches, and not be any higher than the child’s ears.

    With all legal hurdles cleared and safety devices gathered, conduct a thorough, pre-season maintenance check.  Inspect all rope ties and engine lines for wear, make sure your fire extinguisher is serviceable, and check the functionality of navigation and headlights.  Battery terminals should be cleaned of any corrosion and buildup, gas lines should be in smooth working order (check for cracks due to dry rot, especially), and ensure that all through-hull connectors and fittings remain watertight.

    If all is in working order and you are in compliance with the Virginia boater’s education requirements, get out on the water and enjoy the weather!  But remember, a fine day on the water can still take a turn for the worse.  Stay alert; and as an extension from the DGIF, be responsible, be safe, and have fun!


    Wounded veterans, fly fishing guides, and observers from across the country gathered on the banks of the Rose River last weekend, Sunday, April 28th, to participate in ProjectHealing Waters’ 7th annual 2-fly tournament, the organization’s flagship fundraising event.  This year proved most successful, with over $200,000 raised.

    Project Healing Waters (PHW) is a non-profit organization providing physical and spiritual rejuvenation to veterans wounded in battle through fly fishing, fly tying, casting, and rod building.  Established in 2005 at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. servicing wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, PHW has grown to include 150 programs in 46 states, Canada, and Australia.

    The 2-fly, a national-level event, kicked off on Rose River Farm in Syria, Virginia on Saturday, with bass and bluegill tournaments in the farm ponds.  A pre-tournament banquet gathered participants, friends, and sponsors for dinner on the banks of the river, complete with silent auction, live music, and inspired speaking from MC, Tara Wheeler; PHW President, Ed Nicholson; former US Navy Commander, Admiral Gregory G. Johnson; and program alumni.

SGT (retired) Michael Davis, US Army, guides a hefty trout
to pro guide Gavin Robinson's awaiting net.
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    The following morning, the banks buzzed again with anticipation and friendly competition.  Guides and volunteers met veterans, were assigned fishing locations, and the “pro-vet” teams got into position for the morning’s fishing.  All rods, reels, tackle, and gear were provided at no cost to the veterans.

    Following the morning’s fishing, participants returned for a tented buffet lunch, during which, PHW founder Ed Nicholson presented fly fishing legend, PHW supporter, and WWII veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, Lefty Kreh, with an award from PHW, thanking him for his service as a soldier, PHW contributor, and as an outspoken recruiter for the sport of fly fishing.

    After lunch, clouds rolled in as “pro-vet” teams dispersed to fish the afternoon.  Rain was hardly a deterrent.

    Throughout the day, special guests Lefty Kreh and Ed Jaworowski gave casting, knot tying, and fly tying clinics to participants, despite the weather.

    At the conclusion of the afternoon fishing session, anglers and guides returned to the tent, anxiously calculating final scores.

    Douglas Dear, Rose River Farm owner and PHW Chairman of the Board, announced the winners, and presented awards to first, second, and third place teams, as well as anglers with the biggest and smallest fish.

    SPC Andrew Pike and SGT Michael Davis of Idaho, guided by Rose River guide Brian Wilson and Pennsylvania guide Gavin Robinson took first place.  Pike also earned big fish for a 19-inch rainbow trout!  Smiles were in no shortage at the awards ceremony.
LCpl Ryan Wightman and pro guide Harold Harsh pose
with the 2nd place trophy.  Photo by Matt Reilly.

    Many participants were alumni of the 2-fly.  However, many had never participated—or even fly fished.  First place finishers Pike and Davis had never previously cast a fly rod, yet landed the most and biggest fish throughout the course of the event, with help from professional guides.

    Program alumni speakers at Saturday’s dinner highlighted the appeal that draws both anglers and non-anglers to the program.

    US Army (retired) Captain, Eivind Forseth grew up fishing with his father.  Upon returning from deployment, he remembers being on edge, his instincts sharpened.  “People always said, ‘you just need to turn it off.’  But we can’t turn it off right away.  I was angry.”

    His commander urged him to go fishing with Captain (Ed) Nicholson, for peace; but Eivind was adamant not to go.  “I didn’t want to fail at fishing.  And I knew I would.  It was the only thing I had left.”  But when his superior commanded him to fish with Nicholson, he submitted.  From his first outing post-war, Eivind recalls, “the first trout to hit my fly was the hardest thing to hit me since I was blown up.  It hit my soul; and I knew in that moment:  I’m gonna be ok.”

    US Army Captain, Andy Roberts told a slightly different story, and struck listeners with details from his first year back from war.

    “My first year back was the worst year,” he remembers.  He explained how, coming back from war, the primal fight or flight instinct is at its most primal.  “I remember jumping at the sound of my wife popping bubble wrap…it was the only time she said she has ever been afraid of me, truly.”

    But above all, Roberts remembers suffering from a “lost sense of mission and purpose,” which abounds in the Army.   “Project Healing Waters gave me a mission, a passion,” Roberts concluded reverently, “fly fishing has helped me unlock my core self, and find myself again.”

    If Project Healing Waters achieved their goal on Sunday, a few dozen veterans left Rose River Farm with stories similar to Eivind’s and Andy’s, inspired and reassured by healing waters.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian