Wednesday, December 31, 2014


As yet another year draws to a close, the third that I have been writing this column, I find myself reveling pensively in the opportunities, both professional and personal, that I’ve been granted and enjoyed throughout its course.

Photo by Matt Reilly
For each memory I am eternally thankful.  Most notable of the past year’s events was the gap semester before college that I embarked on in September, which would not have been possible without the support from my parents and friends, and the opportunity for work that fueled my course.  And with those reflections, I find great excitement in predicting and awaiting what is to come in the approaching year.

    This column marks a change.  My aforementioned gap semester is coming to a close—a period of relatively unregulated exploration drawn tight by the progression of life and bigger things.  As I make the transition into attending Emory and Henry College in just a few days, what I resolve for myself more than anything else is to keep my course deliberate without losing sight of true passions and joys.  Disregarding culturally-imposed weight loss plans and financial goals, I challenge readers to do whatever it takes to stay happy and healthy in the New Year.

    With that, I include the maintenance and growth of this column.  For in reflecting, it is in banging out these short installments week after week, and the altogether positive response I get from it, that I find the most rewarding, despite larger and more in-depth assignments becoming increasingly regular in my work.  Readers of this column share the same woods and waters that I frequent; and it is in association that we can protect, conserve, and continue to enjoy days afield in the Old Dominion for years to come.

    I look forward to continuing to meet members of this family, and sharing information and knowledge learned from all of you.  To all, happy New Year, tight lines, and happy hunting!

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


In the past several years I have been increasingly fortunate to be able to spend time outdoors, to work outdoors, and to introduce others to the outdoors.

    2014 has been a year of great change.  From high school graduation, to the amazing gap semester that I was fortunate enough to take, and all the writing projects and opportunities I undertook in between, I would not change a single action or event.

    Inspired by friend and fellow outdoor writer, Ed Felker of Dispatches From the Potomac, I've decided to initiate this photo recap tradition, to emphasize and be thankful for the blessings I have been given, and to begin the coming year more focused, driven, and aware.  All is well that ends well; and 2014 is ending on a high note.  Below, you will find my year of memories illustrated through photos:

    The year began on a very positive note.  Thanks to the Sportsmen For Responsible Energy Development, I, along with three other fantastic people--Haley Powell, Jarred Kay, and Rebecca Brown--had the chance to visit in Washington DC with high-level conservation leaders, including Trout Unlimited President, Chris Wood, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.  Thanks go to everyone involved.  This was really and truly an inspiring experience.  Read the essay that got me there HERE

From left: Haley Powell, Jarred Kay, myself, and Rebecca Brown.
    I have resolved not to include to many fish pictures in this review.  However, the late winter bass bite is an event that I take advantage of every year.  It also happens to be the subject of my first feature article in JAKES Country magazine.  This picture was also adapted to be the profile picture for my weekly outdoor column in the Rural Virginian.

A heavy February largemouth from a farm pond in Central Virginia.
Photo by Phillip Morone.

    Spring break landed my dad and I in upstate New York on the Salmon River for three days of steelhead fishing with Randy Jones of The Yankee Angler.  The first day on the river we braved solo, and I managed to hook and lose a big steelhead on a self-tied fly, but not without an epic story, which can be read HERE.  Thanks, Da, for taking me and fishing with me on this trip.

Da with a healthy Salmon River steelhead.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Soon after returning from New York, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Lake Anna guides, Chris Craft and Brian Oxendine, and Shane Baker, filmmaker for Angling Virginia, a local TV show that airs on the Richmond Fox channel.  I was truly lucky to be able to be a part of this project, and to experience the amazing crappie fishery Lake Anna offers, the way Craft knows it!  Thanks, Chris, Brian, and Shane, for a great time beating up on some spawning slabs!  Check out Chris Craft's website, and read the Adventures Afield column that resulted from the trip HERE.
Guide Chris Craft of CCBASSN Lake Anna pulls a "tuxedoed" spawning male crappie from Lake Anna in early spring.
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    To wrap up the whirlwind that was the month of April 2014, I was invited by friend, neighbor, and editor of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' Outdoor Report to attend and assist in the third and final elk release in Buchanan County in Southwest Virginia.  To top off the population of 40 elk roaming the reclaimed strip mine habitat in the area, another 50 animals were released in the early morning hours, after being captured and transported from Kentucky.  The picture below was shot the morning after, from high on the ridge above the pen.  Thanks, DGIF and David, for allowing me to be a part of this defining moment in Virginia wildlife management and conservation.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    High school graduation--what more needs to be said?  Undoubtedly a very proud moment and one that I will remember forever.  Heavy thanks go to my parents for supporting me throughout it all.  This wonderful image was shot from the bleachers by my sister.  Be sure to check out her business and portfolio at The Modern Owl.

Photo by Emily Morone.
    Thanks to the Fumbled Fish Photo Contest held by friend Ed Felker of Dispatches From the Potomac, my brother, Phillip, and I won a trip with Harold Harsh of Spring Creek Outfitters on the North Branch of the Potomac River, which we combined with a camping trip in the Savage River State Forest and a day fishing the Savage River, which happened to be at flood stage when we arrived.  However, we powered through, adjusted tactics, and managed to salvage the day on the blown-out Savage, landing several stocky wild brown trout, and creating one of the most memorable fishing/learning trips in my memory.  Read about our day on the Savage HERE, and be sure to check out Harold's operation should you be interested in fishing in nearby Maryland!  Thanks, Harold, for a great day on the North Branch!

Bona fide Savage River coffee!  Photo by Matt Reilly.
A wild Savage River brown trout.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
Brother, Phillip, with a wild rainbow from the North Branch of the Potomac,
courtesy of guide Harold Harsh of Spring Creek Outfitters.
    As the topwater bite was in full swing on the James River in June, I had the opportunity to fish with good friend Brian Bodine of Razorback Guide Service.  Brian managed to pull this scabbed up citation smallmouth from the bank with just a few minutes to spare before a major thunderstorm rolled in!  Check out Brian's guided James River fishing and hunting adventures at Razorback Guide Service!
Razorback with a sizeable smallie.
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Another friend was made in mid-summer, in Tim O'Brien, local Charlottesvillian and owner of Tycoon Tackle, a storied tackle brand originated in south Florida in the late 1930s.  The Tycoon Tackle story can be read HERE, in column form.  I was also given the opportunity to field test and review a few of the company's fly rods--namely the Flats King and the recently-release Scion Series rod.  Both were well-performing tools that I was happy to call a part of my fishing arsenal!  Many fish were caught!

    Thanks, Tim, for letting me be a part of this exciting time!

Photo by Matt Reilly.
Tight on an after-dark summer largemouth.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
Stock photo for the release of the Scion Series!  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Summer in the South wouldn't be summer without farm pond bass fishing--with poppers.  This year, we did very well on top, landing several over six pounds on the long rods.  Moreover, and more importantly, two of my good friends took the leap into fly fishing, and got to catching fish in no time.  They may be hooked for life!
A hefty summer largemouth taken on a popper tied by brother, Phillip Morone.
Photo by Phillip Morone.
Friday night casting lessons with the guys.  You can catch a fish on that cast!
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    As the summer wound to an end, I was lucky enough to participate in the launching of the Tycoon Tackle-Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing partnership via the newly-release "E" rod, which donates $100 to PHWFF with every purchase.  My part in the deal mainly consisted of fishing a Maryland spring creek with PHWFF COO David Folkerts and Tycoon Tackle President, Tim O'Brien.

No breaks while fishing, Tim!  Photo by Tim O'Brien.
    In deferring a semester from Emory and Henry College, I made plans to travel, camp, and fish the East Coast.  My plans initiated the day after Labor Day, as I headed north on my way to Maine.  The second stop was the Catskills Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Roscoe, New York, visiting and fishing with friends Erin and Jeff Phelan, and Jeff's trusty fishing/hunting companion, Caddis.  The photo of Caddis is easily one of my favorites from the stop.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
The "Willow"--Willowemoc Creek, as it runs beneath the Castkills Center entrance bridge.
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Next stop, Cape Cod--an interesting coastal community broken up into small villages and wharfs.  

A Cape Cod lighthouse.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    At the northernmost reach of my trip north was Solon, Maine, a small town on the banks of the Kennebec River.  I spent three days living out of a small, wood-fired cabin with a group from the Catskills Fly Fishing Center and Museum, and the trip hosts, Nancy and Don Taylor, and their endearing, four-legged companion, Peggi Sue.  The photo of Don as a river guide is easily my favorite.
Don Taylor--river guide.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    On my way back South, I made an unexpected swing through New Hampshire.  First stop--the White Mountains, a beautiful area full of trout and BEARS.  One of my biggest trout of the trip, an 18-inch wild rainbow, came from a small granite pocket water stream in the heart of the National Park.
The White Mountains!  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Onward and northward.  My next stop, and probably the most memorable of my stays, was Pittsburg, New Hampshire, in the Connecticut Lakes Region.  Fishing the Upper Connecticut River was a treat, and new friends Dave and Dixie Lawrence, whom I met on the river one evening, enhanced the experience.  Read the story about fishing the Connecticut with Dave HERE.  Perhaps most memorable was the night that air temperatures plummeted to 15 degrees with 25 MPH winds.  The tent rocked all night long, but heated rocks in the sleeping bag, layers, and proper gear made me comfortable. 

A northwoods campsite.  Temperature: 20-degrees F.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    My stay in Pittsburg was the longest of any of my sojourns.  When I departed I was headed to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, to meet my parents at my grandparent's B&B in West Burke.  Long Pond greeted me on my drive in.  Da wanted to fish the Connecticut, so I got the chance to employ the insight I put together in my short exploration of the fishery the prior week in taking him fishing on that wonderful stream.  Hundreds of brookies were caught, along with a few wild rainbows and salmon!

Long Pond in Westmore, Vermont.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
Da on the Connecticut River with the Tycoon Tackle Scion Series rod.
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Headed back South, a few stops later I found myself back on home waters--the Jackson River in western Virginia.  Dealing with low water, my time there was mostly rest, camping, and camp cooking, though I did make one expedition north of the swinging bridge, and caught plenty of browns both below and above the special regulations boundary.  The swinging bridge is an icon in Virginia trout fishing.

The swinging bridge, Jackson River, Virginia.
Photo by Matt Reilly.
    The month of October was spent at home, working on writing assignments.  The first was a piece for Virginia Wildlife on pickerel fishing.  The photo below was my favorite from those included in the package.

A slimy pickerel.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Thanks to the generosity of yet another markedly-supportive outdoor writing organization, the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association, I was given the opportunity to attend the annual SEOPA conference in Fontana Village, North Carolina as winner of the Lindsay Sale-Tinney Scholarship.  I can't thank these folks enough for their generosity!  Specifically, I send thanks to Stu Tinney, for making the scholarship possible, and Lisa Snuggs and Jim Casada for their remarkable efforts in arranging and executing the conference smoothly.  I am eternally thankful and proud to call myself a part of the SEOPA family.

    Probably one of the most time-consuming article assignments I completed this year was for Eastern Fly Fishing magazine on the Saint Mary's River.  For this assignment, I shot hundreds of frames, and emerged with a handful of ones that I am truly proud of--most of which are featured in an earlier blog post.  Below are a few of my favorites.

A fiery Southern Appalachian Brook Trout flank.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
Brother, Phillip, on the creep for another Blue Ridge brook trout.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    The month of November was kicked off with a media tour sponsored by the folks with Trout Unlimited in the East, to the beautiful Pine Creek Valley of northcentral Pennsylvania.  Along with an introduction to the impacts of hydraulic fracturing in the area, the group enjoyed a fall turkey hunt, guided by two extraordinary gentlemen, Rob Mucinski and Ron Magnano.  A few short hours of fishing on the Valley's dominating feature, Pine Creek, yielded a nice brown trout, and a few good memories, thanks to Julie Szur, a guide with Slate Run Tackle Shop, who spends almost every morning and evening on the Creek.

Rob taking a stand with his turkey dogs while we get set up.  Photo by Mark Taylor.
Thanks, Julie, for a nice Pine Creek brown!
Photo by Mark Taylor.
    The rest of the month of November was spent traveling South.  From southern Virginia to north Georgia to the Okefenokee Swamp near the Florida-Georgia line.  Alligators, egrets, and bluegill abounded in the fertile ecosystem, as it came alive around my kayak under a fiery sunrise.  I particularly enjoyed photographing the alligators for the texture offered by their scaly skin.

An Okefenokee sunrise.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
Cruisin'.  Love that textural back!  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    When at last I reached my southernmost destination of southwestern Florida, there was no keeping me and my kayak out of the mangrove backcountry near Matlacha.  Fly rod in tow, I beat the water with baitfish imitations for days before a large cold front moved in dropping the high temperatures from the mid-80s to 40s.  On the last day, I prevailed through wind, rain, and cold, and managed to nail a large female snook in the backcountry from the kayak, get it on the reel, and lose it in a few short seconds.  Nonetheless, I did manage to land the next snook I hooked, making the trip a massive success.  What more could you ask for on your first foray into saltwater fly fishing?

The backcountry.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    As November came to a close and December arrived, I took my dad along for a hunt and interview at PriestView Hunting Preserve in Nelson County, Virginia.  Tim Castillo, owner of the upland operation, accompanied us as we toted shotguns in the shadow of the Priest--an iconic peak in the Nelson County mountains.  Plenty of birds were found, shots made, and fun had.  Below are a few of my favorite shots.

Tim Castillo with a wing-shot chukar.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
Warming up.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Though the above stories do not totally sum up the year of 2014, they illustrate a few of the highlights, all of which I am eternally grateful for.  Thank you to all of those--family, friends, associates, and organizations--that have supported me and made this all possible.  I look forward to making more memories with all of you in the coming year!

    For more photos from Adventures Afield, be sure to check the photography tab on the website header.  And as always, thanks for reading!

Monday, December 29, 2014


The past two months have featured plenty of work and play, not complete without a collection of images illustrating the wonderful memories we've made afield.

    Included in this photo update are more photos from the Saint Mary's River photoshoot for Eastern Fly Fishing and a handful of images from the recent article and hunt with PriestView Hunting Preserve.

    Check them out, and enjoy!

Created with flickr slideshow.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


We turned right off Route 56 to bounce and splash down a pitted gravel road that dead-ended at a gravel lot and a small shed anchored on the periphery of a large, brushy field, dominated by the august vista of The Priest—the highest peak of the Religious Range, spanning Nelson and Amherst Counties.  A party of six men donning blaze orange field vests, carrying shotguns and the glow of pre-hunt enthusiasm, piled into a pair of Ford pickups and bounced along the field edge to a distant arena.

The Priest view.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    “You must be Matt,” a voice questioned as the background audio returned to the scene and the rumbling of vehicles faded.  My dad, along for the ride, slid out of the driver’s side of the Suburban behind me.

    “You must be Tim!” I returned, extending a hand to Tim Castillo, owner, operator, and guide at PriestView Hunting Preserve.

Tim Castillo with a wing-shot chukar.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Since 1994, PriestView has been offering guided and unguided upland hunts for pheasant, quail, and chukar in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the Virginia preserve season, which runs from Labor Day through the end of April.  A guide staff of five and four fields totaling 460 acres allows the property and staff to safely accommodate up to four parties of hunters at a time.

    PriestView books hunts Friday through Sunday only, but Castillo, an area manager for Aqua Virginia, isn’t looking to make a living from the operation.  “PriestView is my hobby,” he said.  “We raise dogs, and we used to raise birds.  We don’t need a huge lodge to work out of.  That helps us keep our costs down, and we cover our costs with our pricing.”  This business model allows the PriestView family to offer modest rates, which in no way reflects the quality of the experience.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    After getting to know one another, I took up position in a shooting cage overlooking the front field as Tim pumped juice into the automatic skeet trap via jumper cables linked to an old FARM USE truck.

Photo by Matt Reilly.

Dad warming up.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Having not pulled the trigger on a moving target apart from a gun-inspired squirrel in two years, a warm-up on the clay birds was a welcome refresher, something the Priestview team has incorporated into the hunting package.  I yielded to Da after hitting the last few targets and regaining faith in my swing.  After he had done the same, it was game time.

Ginger, the brittany.  Photo by Matt Reilly
    The frantic huntress that had remained in the background was quite literally reaching the end of her leash, and had, after the first shotgun blast, begun elevating to a state of excitement bordering on a mental condition that only a passionate bird dog can demonstrate correctly.

Ginger, ready to go!  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    With boom sticks and shells in tote, we followed Castillo’s sprightly 11-year-old Brittany, Ginger, and the zipping microfiber check cord that trailed her, into the shadow of The Priest.  The landscape was rolling, stippled by large dirt mounts left from clear cutting the fields we hunted.

Working cover.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    PriestView leases the fields from the local Silver Creek Orchard.  Full-time operations might find this arrangement a hindrance to habitat management, but the deal works out perfectly for Castillo and the crew.  Silver Creek bush hogs the fields in halves on alternating years, allowing a portion of the property to offer two years of successional field growth for bird habitat every year.

Ginger on point.  Photo by Matt Reilly
    After just moments of watching Ginger and her ears bounce across the landscape, intermittently pressing her nose against the ground in search of a bird, she locked up on point—motionless.  Da took his turn first, and moved in, flushing a blue-gray blur of chukar into the air.

Wingshooting.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Seven more birds, including two quail, lit and faced the firing squad, with the help of Ginger and her adept nose.      

Photo by Matt Reilly
Man and dog.  Photo by Matt Reilly.
A batch of wing-shot chukar and quail.  Photo by Matt Reilly
    With all the birds we could find bagged and ready for dressing, we began the stroll back across the field to operation headquarters with The Priest at our backs, covered in shadows by the setting sun.

See the full batch of photos from this adventure on the Adventures Afield Photography page.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian□