Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Rewind 82 years.  It’s 1932.  Ernest Hemingway, with A Farewell to Arms looming as suppressed musings in his mind’s periphery, sips away at a whiskey and coke on a barstool in Sloppy Joe’s Bar, bumming away with his fishing-minded acquaintances.  Outside, gin-clear saltwater laps upon the sands of Key West; and like so, rumors of elusive, uncatchable, finned, marine giants filter west from the Bahaman Islands.  There is a catalyst in the air, a catalyst for the onset of the gilded age of sport fishing, and for a self-made, inventive, American success story.

Photo by Matthew Reilly
    Frank O’Brien, an industrious man doing his best to make money to live off of during the height of the Great Depression, is selling cutlery on the streets.  A fisherman at heart, O’Brien makes the acquaintance of Jack Reynolds, a local man and owner of Florida Fishing Tackle, a company concerned largely with the sale of small hardware items—hooks, line, and sinkers.  O’Brien partners with Reynolds as a salesman—his trade and talent—and becomes imbued in the saltwater fishing trade.
    In this he came to understand the nature of fishing on the East Coast.  Big game fishing was no main stage there—the West Coast held that authority.  However, the rumors of large unconquerable game fish in eastern waters that awaited Hemingway’s adventurous spirit outside the bar did not escape his attention.  In fact, he recognized the shortcoming in tackle to handle such large fish, and made it his personal mission to solve it.
    It’s 1934, and Frank O’Brien has just split parties with Jack Reynolds of Florida Fishing Tackle.  O’Brien moves to Miami and establishes a business making heavy big game rods out of hickory, snakewood, and Tonkin cane, and selling them for $150--$2,600 today. 
    At the height of the Great Depression, such a sum was steep and unthinkable to the vast majority, to say the least; but O’Brien’s ingenuity hinged on that concept.  Fishermen—big game fishermen, more importantly—in the 30s had money.  Lots of it.  In fact, an appropriate rod was preceded on the shopping list by an appropriate boat, gas, reels, and the appropriation of a worthwhile crew.  When it finally came to choosing a rod, O’Brien’s “Bimini King” rod was the only and best on the market; and on that concept, the Tycoon Tackle brand was born.

    The very same year, 1934, 90% of all world record saltwater game fish caught were fought on Tycoon rods.  A few years later, Michael Lerner caught a world record swordfish; and Hemingway got to breaking records too, on his “rod of choice,” the “Bimini King.”
    In 1942, WWII was looming, and the Government placed an embargo on fishing tackle, effectively converting the Tycoon operations to wartime supply.
    After the war, O’Brien joined forces with Fred Grieten of Finoor Reels, but Tycoon Tackle soon sold out of the incorporation.
    Following the onset of the 70s, Frank O’Brien passed away, while his son, Tim, was still in college, and the company fell into disorder and fizzled.

    Jump back.  It’s 2014, and I’m ending my day on a soft note.  The stars are out, the crickets and peepers are singing, and I’m standing upright in a canoe, casting to the lily-padded edge of a farm pond silhouetted by the moon against dead calm, reflective water.  I have no visual cues to time my fly casting—it’s all feel in the dark.  There’s a fiberglass Tycoon Tackle fly rod pulsating in my hand.
Photo by Matthew Reilly
    Tim O’Brien, a businessman, and Frank O’Brien’s son, snatched up the unclaimed Tycoon Tackle trademark several years ago and put Tycoon rods back into production with an expanded repertoire, thus continuing the family legacy.  Behind the name now sits world-renowned rod builders and a prestigious company history.  

Photo by Matthew Reilly
     My fly lands with a splash in the shadow of a bush that I cannot see.  I strip twice, and an abrupt splash shatters the water’s surface, and I know I’ve got a fish on.  To fight a fish in the dark marries you to the rod—it is your eyes.  And when I hoist a sizeable largemouth from the warm summer water, I see a story, a faded tradition rekindled, and a future ripe with historical flavor; and I see it all through the cork of the handle.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Summer is universally known as a relaxing time for fun in the sun, on the water, or on the trail; but the dangers of the season should not be dismissed.  There’s poison ivy, snakes, and bees, but none are more dangerous than what lurks in the sky.  The sun poses a real threat during the year’s hottest month; and proper care should be taken to prevent heat- and radiation-related illnesses.  Here are a few safety precautions to consider this month.

Photo by Matt Reilly

Dress Comfortably

    Before heading out, check the weather station.  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 safer for your eyes.    


    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.

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.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Sunday, July 6, 2014


    A few days ago I got the chance to fish with local guide Brian Bodine on the James River for world-class smallmouth.  All I can say is that this man knows the James River.  His operation, Razorback Guide Service, offers fishing for smallmouth on the James, and deer, turkey, waterfowl, and dove hunts on 2,700 acres of private land bordering the river.  To say that he knows and loves the James is an understatement.

    The river was low and slow; but we caught a few fish, and capped off the day with this citation smallie taken on a topwater lure just minutes before a thunderstorm!  

    If you're looking for a reputable guide, laid back and fun to fish with (or hunt with), and who knows his stuff, swing on over to his website,

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


My first camping trip was an accurate and fair introduction to the practice that too many do incorrectly.

Photo by Matt Reilly
I was not much larger than a bear cub and had grown adept at “powdering my nose” far from civilization when my parents packed us up and drove us to a spot in the mountains I can only remember now as Muddy Bottom.  We arrived shortly before nightfall and scrounged for firewood to fuel a fire which burned the whole night, providing us with warmth and food.  Come morning, rain beaded on the roof of the tent like a hoard of round ants silhouetted against a gray sky, and the campsite was soaked through to the bedrock.

    After sloshing all of our belongings into the car and piling in, someone muttered “that’s camping,” and closed the book on the entire experience.

    I have since tempted fate on several camping trips, in multiple states and locations, and feel I can confidently and humbly declare myself to be many strokes ahead of most campers.  The baser lot fidgets away with packing lists and agendas, details and directions.  Yet, they still foolishly dismiss the key ingredient, which I will graciously enlighten you with, as the simple yet powerful element of struggle.

    Yes, there is no more surefire way to botch a well-planned-out trip than to rule out the opportunity for struggle.  The result is a care-free, enjoyable trip that blends peacefully with the host of other camping trips, in which everyone returns dry, sane, well-nourished, untested, healthy, unscathed, and completely clothed.

    If that sounds utterly, unimaginably terrible to you, then you are well on your way to achieving status as an accomplished and seasoned camper.  But to truly nail the lifestyle, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the difference between the two kinds of struggle—senseless struggle and instinctive struggle.

    Senseless struggle is defined as dealing with an obstacle despite a clear solution.  On the whole, this is most often practiced by wanna-be experienced campers or those who are innately much more prone to struggle than the rest of us and thus impervious to any form of help.

    Instinctive struggle is a far more natural, stream-of-consciousness type of struggle, in which one’s own psyche burns all practical bridges to solving an impending problem well before the problem presents itself.  This is the kind of event that must be mentally “invited” along on an adventure, rather than planned, and its occurrence is truly a beautiful phenomenon that should be cherished once achieved.

    In our last year of high school, three of my friends and I set our sights on a bass lake a few miles south of town as a campsite for the weekend.  We divvied up a packing list and came to school packed for camping on Friday.  That afternoon, while setting up camp at the lake, Jesse opened his tent sack to discover that he had left his poles at home.  Instead of driving five minutes home, the four of us chipped in enthusiastically weaving rope through the pole sleeves and lashing the ends to trees, creating a neat little limp cocoon for him and his lucky tentmate.

    To begin with, Jesse was on the right track.  His instincts forbade him checking for tent poles before leaving his house, but the decision not to implement the obvious solution sacrificed the quality of the struggle.  In the best possible scenario, he would have also left his house key on the kitchen table in his locked house, rendering the forgotten tent poles totally unavailable for use.

    After more practice, my brother and I ventured north to Maryland for a weekend’s camping and fishing.  Regulations prohibit the importation of firewood, so we approached woodless and opted to scrounge.  Little did we know that four inches of rain in a half hour had soaked the gorge we were calling home the night before our arrival, and even logs I split with a maul were damp to the heart.

    We were soon informed that the only firewood vendor in town was closed for the night, but after more inquiring, a friendly convenience store clerk, Mrs. Beavers, connected us with her husband, who directed us to knock on doors asking for wood, saying “Harold sent us.”  Either no one really knew Harold or our “outsider” appearance frightened the locals motionless.  So we resorted to smoking wet wood over cardboard we stole from the Dollar General dumpster until it lit.

    Instinctively forgetting a legal form of fire-starter and choosing a spot forecast for heavy rain lent a true element of struggle to our experience, setting it far and wide from other camping memories, and solidifying our reputation as seasoned pros.  If you can’t manage this kind of struggle, simply welcome a drenching overnight rain.  There’s nothing wrong with struggling classicly.   

Originally published in the Rural Virginian