Thursday, August 29, 2013


    Scientists agree that the immense biodiversity represented in the plants and insects of our planet’s wild places accounts for the bulk of the estimated seven million species unknown to biology.  But the discovery of a new mammal?  It’s a rare happening; but not one altogether impossible.

Olinguito.  Public Domain Photo
    On August 15, a team of Smithsonian scientists, led by Kristofer Helgen, Curator of Mammals at the National Natural History Museum, made an outstanding discovery—the first of its kind in over 35 years.  After extensive investigation, the team announced the discovery of a small carnivorous mammal—the olinguito.

    The olinguito, or Bassaricyon neblito, is related to a small group of tree-dwelling mammals native to the Rainforests of South America, the olingos.  Relatives of the raccoons, coatis, kinkajous, and olingos, olinguitos resemble teddy bears, with large eyes and a thick, earthy brown coat; but are notably smaller than the rest of the olingos, hence their name.

    Species of olingos inhabit the same geographic region—the cloud forests of the Andes mountain range, spanning from Colombia to Ecuador—but habitats vary in elevation.  Just how many species of olingos should be recognized as separate by taxonomy has long been a source of confusion.

    Resolving this issue was the sole purpose of the study conducted by Helgen and his team—until it became apparent that he was on to something bigger.  After examining over 90 percent of the world’s museum-bound olingos, processing DNA sequences, and reviewing historic field data, he was struck with an anomaly.

    Helgen reports that he first noticed a marked inconsistency in certain specimens’ teeth and skulls.  Upon further examination, it was noticed that the undescribed species also grew a longer and thicker coat than other olingos.  This inconsistency, after reviewing field logs, was attributed to a known species of olingos, which were observed at elevations of 5,000 to 9,000 feet in an isolated region of the Andes Mountains in the early 20th century.  The question then was, “does this species still exist in the wild?”

    Days later, Helgen and team departed for South America to research just that.  When they arrived, they quickly located the misrepresented olinguitos.

Hiding in Plain Sight

    After entering a DNA sample from an olinguito in a public database of DNA sequences, Helgen was surprised to find that there was a match. Not only was this new species residing in the trees under a false name, one specimen even traveled the country as a zoo feature under the same guise. 

    City zoos in Louisville, Tucson, Salt Lake City, and even New York City and this nation’s capital, all had records of this misidentified mammal passing through in the 1970s.  The olinguito has been hiding in plain sight.

Almost a New Species

    Hopi Hoekstra, curator of mammals at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, says that she is not yet willing to dub the olinguito a separate species.  However, she maintains that genetic data will be the last step to describing the olinguito’s existence.  The puzzle is almost complete.

    For those who have lost faith in the developing world’s sense of wilderness, the emergence of the olinguito serves as a refreshing reminder that there are still large portions of our world not thoroughly studied and understood.  Only in furthering our knowledge of biology and biodiversity can we take further measures to protect what is still here.  The olinguito, for instance, occupies a habitat on the fringe of human occupation, and is threatened by further habitat encroachment.  With any luck, this marked development in science will help to protect the olinguito and its unique habitat.  

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


    Here's a groundbreaking article from investigative reporter Scott Bowen.  His reporting is in-depth, informative, and even still manages to send an effective message.  To read, click HERE.  Enjoy.

Monday, August 26, 2013


    Rose River Farm, one of Virginia's premier private trout waters, has officially opened their books for reservations for the fall season.  

The farm offers excellent access to buckets of trout and what has been described as western style fly fishing.  Last year, one lucky angler took a seven-pound rainbow from the Rose.  Weather permitting, Douglas Dear, farm owner, plans to open on September 11th.  So book now to get a spot on this popular river.

    Since their completion in 2011, Rose River Farm also offers Mongolian Yurt-style cabin rentals, which afford excellent access to countless hikes and some of the best small stream brook trout fishing in the Shenandoah National Park.

    For more information about Rose River Farm, long on to, or check out their Facebook page.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


I've begun posting pictures on Flickr.  

Not all are outdoors related, though the outdoors, specifically fishing and wildlife, is my favorite subject.  Hope you enjoy all the same!

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


    After a long week at work/school, there's only one thing on your mind.  

An early retirement on Friday night is the perfect setup for an early morning the next day.  The weekend is forecasted to resemble Spring Break in Eden--70 degrees, sunny, a slight breeze to rustle the leaves.

    But it's summer.  It rained all day Friday, all over the state, and all the rivers resemble the "Chocolate Mudslide" at your local creamery.  Typical.

    I guess it's time to hit the stillwaters!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


    All my life I’ve been haunted by waters, by fish lost.  

Photo by Matt Reilly
It’s our very nature as humans to try and quantify the world around us—science in its most primitive form.  Thus, it is the habit of fishermen to yearn for understanding of the underwater worlds they frequent, to try to place limitations on that which they cannot see.  It’s no surprise, then, that when a fish of unexplained origin or unheard of proportions reveals himself to us, only to slip from our grasp, that we are haunted by its very existence—the wonder and the allure of the unknown.

    The fish that most effectively taught me this lesson inhabits a large glacial pond in the Northeast Kingdom.  On a bluebird day, boaters slice the water’s surface toting tubers and excited passengers; and swimmers clog the fishing access from mid-morning to sunset.  Houses and cabins line the shorelines.  A gravel road winds in amongst them, around the pond, and slides 1000 feet down the mountain to the base of Mount Pisgah, into a town just as cheery as the summer scene above it.

    Pushing upward, past the pond, towards the mountain’s peak, there sits back in the hemlock and spruce trees a log cabin, my grandparents’—a B&B they adapted after selling a larger establishment in town.  I was staying there for the month of July, when, except for my daily duty to the woodshed, I was free to explore and fish the surrounding woods and waters.

    It was on one such bluebird day—the kind with the boaters and the swimmers, when the air smells pure and flows freely through your lungs—that I decided to spend the afternoon on the larger pond chasing smallmouth.

    I included my younger brother in the ritual, lugging paddles, vests, rods, tackle—all essentials down the short dirt road to the cabin where our aluminum canoe was tied to a paper birch, bobbing in the wake of the boats, tugging at the rope to be set free.

    When we had filled the canoe and untied the rope, I put my brother on course towards the southern shoreline, and paddled into a gentle breeze.

    The pond’s bed dropped out from beneath us for the length of the trip, carved by ancient glaciers and since filled with cool spring water, but recovered again into a wide, rocky flat when we reached our destination.

    Casts in all directions provoked strikes; and the medium-sized, energized bass, grown strong on the abundant minnows and leeches, rattled our light tackle for excitement that lasted hours.

    Evidently we should have taken food, because our stomachs bottomed out before the fishing did.  So, after turning the bow towards the tie-up, I dropped a small spinner 60 feet behind the canoe and rested my rod perpendicular to our course to try some trolling on the return trip as an extension of the day’s fishing.
We settled into a paddling rhythm fairly quickly, but slowed the pace when we passed over deeper water to make trolling the most effective.

    My mind occupied itself recalling the contours of the bottom from a map studied earlier in my stay, but was interrupted by my brother’s probing question:  “Do fish really even swim out here in the mid—“
The aluminum of our vessel rattled.   My reel lodged firmly in the thwart, angled back.  Conversation was ended abruptly.  Our forward progress tapered quickly, as the monofilament protruding into the depths stretched.

    We were moving slightly backwards by the time I grabbed the rod.  It throbbed, powerfully, and any doubt of life on the other end was eliminated.

    The first few moments of the fight consisted of using the canoe as a drag system as I held onto a steadily pulsing rod, bent double over the stern.  Soon though, my opponent gained height in the water column, and flanked us to the left, into open water.  There the fish remained again, rolling, until finally feeling a particularly violent bout of desperation.

    The line sliced towards the surface, guided by an unidentified ball of energy.  When it broke the surface, it was a bony head that then dove again, propelled by a double-jointed green tail, splashing water with each stroke.

    It was headed towards us when it dove, and I could then feel a slight relaxing in the pressure as the end of the line made steady progress towards the surface.  Staring over the side of the canoe, into the depths, anticipation bubbled in my face. 

    Just then, a hint of a golden flash broke the darkness for an instant as pressure lessened on the rod.  But in a last effort to evade comprehension, the Unknown freed the hook from its jaws, and dashed tragically back to into the rocky abyss.

    The canoe continued to rock for several moments, as I sat in silence, contemplating, trying to grasp my loss and what had just transpired.

    Solemnly, I inquired to my brother in the bow, allowing me my time, “How big, you think?”  After a thoughtful glance at the paddle in his lap, he placed a fist around the paddle, several inches up from the blade, and held it up.

    “You too, huh?,” I returned.

    Though disappointed, and deeply heart-wrenched at losing what I was relatively sure was a northern pike—a reclusive species for that region, and a fish not known by biologists to inhabit the pond—I was filled with a warm sort of appreciation for the mystery the world had spared me the answer to, and a thankfulness for the opportunity to brush paths with such a creature from another world, if only for a moment.  In that, wonder is a fickle beast—its quest is for answers, but their acquisition is the ruin of it. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013


These stretches of river I often find the most rewarding. 

The ones that traverse miles of private land and filter out the day trippers. From the look of this sandbar, this is one, and it looks like I need to do a bit more research here!

Friday, August 16, 2013


The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries sent an official to the Appomattox River, a major tributary to the James River, on Monday, August 12 to confirm a manatee sighting in Colonial Heights, publicized by a video posted online one day prior.

Public domain photo.
    It was a manatee; but this occurrence is not altogether unheard of.  Though manatees traditionally reside in the warm coastal waters of Florida, they have been documented traveling north along the Atlantic Coast as abnormally warm waters permit.

    Biologists intend to allow nature to take its course on the animal.  For when the weather begins tapering into fall, cooling waters will call the manatee back south, into its warm wintering waters.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


    Fishing is so seasonal and variable, even expert opinion is sometimes misleading—as wrong as that may seem.  

Due to a strong influence of weather patterns, fish spawning habits, restricting regulations, cover availability, or plain closed-mindedness on the part of the angler, many waters hold secrets, even whole species of fish, not readily discoverable by the casual angler.
    My brother discovered this truth first-hand through a local fly shop and small, weedy lake in the Piedmont.  On several occasions, this particular shop denied the existence of largemouth bass in what was made out to be a smallmouth-only impoundment.  But the lake’s green fish weren’t the only species being overlooked.
    I was pleased with my brother’s maturation as a fisherman when we bounced down a dirt road on a relatively cool summer day.  He was taking me to a spot that had held much of his attention throughout the fishing season, and that now had a ritualistic profile—common to many of my treasured locations—that he adhered to on beginning the day’s fishing.
    We parked by the regular stump, unloaded our gear, changed out of our work clothes, and followed a well-worn trail to the edge of the water.  He had learned that the most efficient way to get to the fish was to wade, and so we slipped into the refreshing water—slowly, stealthily, but bubbling with anticipation.
    Bluegill held the praises of my brother’s fish stories here, and we both appreciate well the sport these scrappy panfish provide on the long rod.  So we both selected our personally time-tested bluegill catchers, tied on, and went to work.
    It was quickly evident why these small aggressors were so hot for a fly, and why “everything seems to work!,” as my brother excitedly reported to me.  Dinner plate-sized bowls of gravel marbled the sandy shallows by the shoreline, and the sandbars protruding into the depths too were littered with craters.  The telltale surface wakes of busy fish flitting about just below the surface danced like ghosts above them.
    Upon my first step into the water, a chunky, bull-headed male, poised motionless in suspension above his precious nest, stared at me, as if he was on to my hopes of capitalizing on some of the other protective parents on the block.
    I dropped a small crystal bugger in front of his nose and hoisted him out of the water after some fine persuasion and a short fight.
    Because these guarding males, and the females that patrol the peripherals of the nesting colonies, are so painfully easy to catch, always keep in mind the nature of their weakness.  Assume that every fish that you bring to hand has a spawning responsibility they have yet to perform, and treat them likewise.  Don’t prolong the fight, leave them in the water for as long as possible, be gentle in unhooking, and careful in releasing.  It is equally as important, if you do choose to wade one of these small, shallow impoundments, that you do your duty as a responsible fisherman and avoid trampling beds, traumatizing parents, and consequently killing fish.
    After successfully landing two stocky “mamas,” plus one 12-inch largemouth, I was settled on a pattern that would catch fish.  A long cast to the drop-off on the edge of a bedding colony, a five to ten second wait, and short, jerky strips produced fish almost every execution—many over eight inches in length.
    We spoke more of the fly shop and how they had not experienced the body of water enough, if they were to claim that the ‘gills were of no real size, and the largemouth, non-existent.  I made the distinction of a pumpkinseed and a bluegill (that many don’t bother to make), and refined my brother’s identification of a largemouth bass.
    After doing so, we parted ways—my brother to a deeper cove, I to a shallow creek inlet.
    “I’ve never caught a fish over there!  I’d just skip it!”  My brother hollered to me from several yards away.
    A few casts and a fly guided precisely through the weeds yielded a handful of sunnies and a two-pound largemouth. 
    Seventy or so fish had been landed between the two of us when the sun indicated that it was time to hit the road.  Yet another overlooked jewel was added to my collection, and we had succeeded in disproving the misleading words of a locally respected resource, and realizing the danger of granting every bit of accepted information untested merit.

    The bottom line?  There is no substitute for spending investigative time on the water.  Opinions are opinions, shaped by a vast number of variables.  There is a reason that such hidden gems remain hidden.  What is lost in taking accepted truth as absolute truth is potential for great discovery. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013


    Outdoor sports, more than any other endeavor, are subject to location.  

Hiking, camping, hunting, fishing—the venue alters the nature of all of these in a way that makes their pursuit in every state, country, region, and continent unique.

    Hikers and mountaineers dream of the Appalachian Trail, of the Rockies, the Alps.  Primitive campers muse over the little-touched wildernesses of Canada and the boreal North.  Hunters fantasize of African Safaris, Midwestern bucks, and Alaskan adventures.  Fishermen lust for the flats of the Bahamas, for the sea-fated rivers of Patagonia.

    Within each sport there are such destinations—ideals—, locales that are the most highly sought after by its devotees.  Challenge, bounty, and environment perfectly married define these.  What we know of each respective region, we know by the thumbnail of its epitome, the world-renowned figurehead of a bigger picture.

    But the values that we cherish and apply in selecting our “dream” or “once-in-a-lifetime” trips operate devilishly through the masses.  For when the spotlight is shown on any “secret” or “escape,” what results is an adulteration that strips it of its bare defining essence.

    And as a trend, this unfortunate assassination of wild and endearing places shifts focus.  By way of the media, there is, at any one time, a most-revered destination that is represented to the point of endangerment.   As time passes, the allure runs out, and emphasis is shifted to a new up-and-coming paradise, and its integrity too is compromised by exposure, by none other than the ones that treasure it the most.  Without care and conservation, the best of the best may be picked off one by one.

    The land that surrounds such places are reflections—lesser, as the general community decides—or rather, such places are the reflections of their surroundings.  But these are the details that beg our attention.  Neglected by the traveler’s eye, the land and the water that lies between these places are tailwater dreams—precursors to a bright and rich future.  These are the places that commit elements to the final product.  There is no better way to collect in your soul and mind the true identity of a place than to experience these lesser-knowns.

     Just as their more prominent relatives, the lesser-knowns are tinged with local flair.  The quality of recreation will vary on a more humble level, but is probably a better representation of the region than the outpost location.

    In the space between, there is enough opportunity to distribute the pressure placed on the environment into manageable amounts, to provide for solitude, the grand desire for adventure, and to teach understanding and stewardship by instilling a love for the natural world through that ever-present sense of wonder that outdoorsmen possess as a breed.

    This in itself is a saving grace.  For with the parts of the whole preserved, even when ruined, the wilderness wonders that host our dreams remain resilient—restorable, at least somewhat to the initial glory.  And without these hidden, overshadowed gems, our sports and their venues may be taken and destroyed at face value.

    As outdoorsmen, we have a certain responsibility to understand and be guardians of that country we prospect.  Capitalizing on their bounty, with no regard for what makes them, is selfish; and to do so without a thought of the consequences is a vile injustice to the world with which we were entrusted.  These basic conservation values are tossed around freely, practically, everyday; but too often people take them superficially.  Respect and cherish all wild things, all wild places—ecosystems, river systems, wilderness areas—regardless of prestige.  The places of your wildest dreams belong to a range of mountains, an expansive watershed, and the complex interdependent circle of life.  The loss of these things, though not apparently of value to the masses, would spell a critical blow to the environment; and it is these places that deserve our unconditional care and attention.


    Coming soon to the Charlottesville outdoor scene, Gander Mountain is on track to open a 45,000 sq. foot store near the US 29-Woodbrook Drive intersection.
    The new store will feature a large selection of new and used firearms; gear specific to some of the finer outdoor traditions, fishing, hunting, hiking, and camping; as well as top-quality apparel from brands like The North Face, Columbia, Under Armour, GSX, Mountain Hardware, and Carhartt and both men's and women's footwear from brands like Asics, Merrell, Rocky, Reebok, Keen, Teeva, New Balance, Brooks, Patagonia, Timberland, LaCrosse, Itasca, Saucony, and Solomon.

    "We are very excited to welcome Gander Mountain to our community," said Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chair Ann Mallek.  "Gander Mountain is a widely-respected, high quality retailer and is a perfect fit for Albemarle County's well-established reputation as a thriving outdoor recreation destination."

    The new location will be Virginia's fourth Gander Mountain store, after stores in Fredericksburg, Winchester, and Roanoke.  For information concerning the opening of the new store and the special events, activities, and promotions that will be part of the grand opening celebration, visit

Monday, August 5, 2013


The Grande Retriever and  smallie.
Photo by Matthew Reilly
    Two to three months following the bass spawn, fry in lakes and rivers are growing past the one-inch mark, towards maturity.  This means that baitfish-imitating streamers are good starting points for fishermen looking to “match the hatch.”

    Unfortunately, Mother Nature has left area rivers high and muddy, with little respite, since mid-June, making smallmouth fishing like salmon fishing in Yemen. 

    In periods of dirty water, so concludes a Michigan study, smallmouth feed more often on crayfish, as opposed to baitfish, primarily because when visibility is limited, they can relate to the riverbed that crayfish rest on.

    However, as waters begin to run clearer, as they are now, but still retain some suspended silt, baitfish patterns again become effective.  Increasing a fly’s visibility in this situation can be done with a large profile and some flash.  This gave me a great opportunity to field test a pattern I’ve been working with.

    Inspired by Jim Finn’s Golden Retriever, this fly utilizes flash and a colored underbody for added allure.  Jim Finn’s fly is a local favorite for trout, bass, and panfish, but I found myself looking for a larger profile that wouldn’t get lost in stained water, and that would be more appealing to calorie-burning summer-time lunkers.  Ultra chenille and “grande,” as opposed to medium, estaz enables this.  Here’s how to tie it as I do.
Materials.  Photo by Matthew

Materials:            Mustad C52S BLN, Size 2 stinger hook
                           .025 lead wire
                           White flat waxed nylon thread
                           White marabou
                           Wine ultra chenille
                           white grande opalescent estaz
                           ¼” hologram Mirage Eyes
                           Super glue or head cement

1.       Secure the hook in the vise and make 20-25 turns of wire between the hook point and the eye, leaving enough space for a head and tail.

2.       Start the thread behind the wire.  Wrap sparsely over wire turns to lock in place, and return to the bend of the hook.

3.       Create a thread dam just behind the wire, tapering towards the bend of the hook.

4.       Tie in 1 or 2 marabou feathers for the tail  on the bend, and clip the tag so that the securing thread wraps create a body uniform in thickness.  Trim the tail so that the fibers are a constant length, which I feel creates a more lifelike tail and makes the fly track better.

5.       Secure a length of estaz at the back of the hook, making sure the natural slant of the fibers point backwards.  Then tie on a length of ultra chenille.  Run the thread to the eye of the hook.

6.       Wrap the ultra chenille forward in touching wraps, stopping with space for a head.  Secure the end, and trim the tag.

7.       Place a wrap of estaz behind the butt of the chenille body.  Going forward, place several more even wraps in between wraps of the ultra chenille, stroking the material backwards to minimize trapped fibers.  Finish off with multiple wraps at the head.  Tie off, and trim the tag.

8.       Fashion a tight head, whip finish, clip the thread, and add a drop of head cement.

9.       To finish the fly, select a pair of Mirage Eyes, place a drop of super glue on the back and on the body of the fly, and glue to the appropriate location on the estaz body.
The Finished Product.  Photo by Matthew

    This fly is still being proven, but has caught a few smallmouth I would consider to be trophies of 12 inches or bigger.

    I use wine as the color for the underbody because it accompanies the greens, blues, and whites of the pearl-colored estaz well, and is suggestive of the herring fry that inhabit our state’s rivers.

    When super-gluing the eyes on, I make backward strokes with superglue on the body to strengthen and flatten it, reinforcing the baitfish profile.  This also makes gluing the eyes easier, and makes for a fly with a surprising amount of buoyancy for its weight.

    Variations can be made with different colored chenilles, estazes, and marabous; trading stick-on eyes for a bead head; and excluding the wire wraps for a weightless fly.

    As Dave Hughes says, fly tying is the other half of fly fishing.  This definition encourages improvisation and variation.  So this summer, in between trips or when Mother Nature rains down on your favorite fishing spot, spend some creative time at the bench working on a fly to produce on your home water.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Whether right or wrong, "fishing" and "location" definitely have well-earned columns on my school choice evaluation spreadsheet.  

For those interested, here's Zach Matthews' online article on the "Top Ten Fly Fishing Colleges."