Saturday, March 21, 2015


Backpackers, hikers, campers, mountain bikers, cyclers, boaters, trail runners, and outdoor gearheads, looking for a new, exciting way to welcome the long-awaited spring season?  Mark your calendars for the second Sunday of spring to attend this exciting local event!

    The 1st annual Rivanna Outdoor Gear and FilmFestival (ROGaFF), sponsored by Great Outdoor Provision Company, will be held on Sunday, March 29 at Fluvanna County High School, from 1-4 PM.  A suggested donation of $7 is requested for admission to support the FCHS choral department, and children 10 and under will be admitted free of charge.

    Virginia’s newest outdoor film festival is the brainchild of FCHS choir director and avid outdoorsman, Horace Scruggs.  “Fluvanna County has a lot to offer when it comes to outdoor activities.  We have Pleasant Grove and three rivers—the James, Hardware, and Rivanna.  The Blue Ridge is very close, as well as the Rockfish River.  With these assets, ROGAFF will be a great way to introduce these activities to a wider audience,” said Scruggs.  “The ROGaFF theme is "Get Inspired to Get Outdoors" and I know for those who are coming it will happen.”

    The festival’s film lineup includes three short filmsWalk on Water, the story of a paralyzed skier-turned-whitewater kayaker; Church, focusing on a trio of friends’ love for mountain biking; and Set Free—Loving Life on the Trail, a spotlight of ultra-marathon runner, Kristie Elliot.  The featured film is The Appalachian Trail—An American Legacy, which brings to silver-screen life the mystic nature of America’s most revered foot trail, and features insight into the Trail’s history along with interviews with AT hikers and personalities.

    An easy, 6.5-mile morning hike of Fluvanna County’s Pleasant Grove Park, adjacent to the high school, will be led by Andy Willgruber of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club starting at 10 AM to kick off the event.  Hikers should bring boots and be prepared for mud; the Grove can get sloppy with snowmelt and rain! 

    Doors open at 1 PM, and from 1-3 PM visitors will have the opportunity to listen to presentations by Great Outdoor Provision Company, Ragged Mountain Running Shop, and other local groups.  An array of camping, backpacking, cycling, and boating gear will be on display from a host of vendors, providing visitors a chance to educate and outfit themselves for the coming season.  The film showings will commence at 3 PM.

    “My dream is to have [ROGaFF] as a yearly event, which would grow over the years into a truly regional event,” Scruggs said.  “This will be a great family-friendly event for Fluvanna and Central Va., and as far as I know the only one of its kind in the area.”

    So, fellow outdoorspeople of Central Virginia, mark your calendars for this inaugural event.  Shuttle your canoes and kayaks to float the Rivanna River before the festival.  Take advantage of the trails and open spaces at Pleasant Grove.  Visit Scheier Natural Area just west of Palmyra.  Lastly, come out to ROGaFF and celebrate Central Virginia outdoors!

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Winter is coming to an end and the memories of the past year’s hunting seasons are beginning to fall victim to the looming anticipation of spring.  Soon, this seasonal, expired fad we call snow will disappear into moist earth, sprouting daffodil shoots and lighting dogwood and redbud blooms.  Rivers will run deep and blue, turkey will throw their bold voices about the countryside, and the woods will radiate with the warmth of renewed life.  But before we commit to a new season, as per tradition, DGIF has released the summarizing data of last year’s deer, bear, and turkey harvests to reflect upon.


    The 2014-15 deer seasons saw 190,745 deer harvested, a 22% reduction from 2013-14’s 244,440, and an 18% shortfall of the last 10-year’s average of 233,350.  88,148 of deer harvested were antlered bucks, while 14,592 were antlerless.

    The youth-apprentice deer hunting day in September resulted in the harvest of 1,890 total animals.

    The steep overall reduction in harvest numbers did not go unnoticed by area hunters, particularly in the counties of central Virginia.  Though levels were down statewide, hunters east of the Blue Ridge harvested 24% fewer deer than in 2013-14.

    The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries offers as an explanation that, over the past five to 10 years, the primary focus of the Virginia Deer Management Plan has been to increase the female deer harvest in an effort to stabilize the deer population, particularly on private lands.  Still, the decline in harvest rates in 2014-15 is larger than expected, largely due to a liberal allowance of doe days since 2008.

    Such regulations aimed to thin the herd and, thus, the harvest numbers, even without the added effects of hemorrhagic disease (HD)--a general depiction of several viral strains transmitted by small biting midges that typically results in a 20-35% reduction in kill numbers.  Outbreaks of HD are fairly common, and herds usually recover in 2-3 years.  HD was found in at least 28 Virginia counties in 2014-15.

    A more common and natural reason for the past season’s decrease in harvest numbers is the bumper mast crop enjoyed by wildlife statewide.  Widespread plentitude of mast reduces game’s need to move to feed, and thus reduces hunter success rates.


    An all-time Virginia record of 2,405 black bears were killed during the 2014-15 season, a 4% increase over last year’s 2,312.

    Youth-apprentice hunters killed 109 bears, one less than in 2013-14.

    Strong mast crop typically increases the firearms bear harvest in Virginia, and this year was a prime example, seeing a 40% increase over last year’s kill number.  Hunters who ran bear hounds west of the Blue Ridge were unsurprisingly the most successful, bagging 970 bears, 40% of the total harvest.  Collectively, bear hunters west of the Blue Ridge took 68% of the total harvest, though bears were harvested in 76 counties and cities across the state.

    The first year of Sunday bear hunting resulted in 119 bear harvests, roughly 5% of the total.  

    Though this number represents a minimal impact on bear populations, biologists will continue to monitor the effects of Sunday hunting on black bear numbers in years to come to quantify the long-term impacts of this new piece of legislation.


    Hunters reported a total harvest of 2,988 turkeys killed during the fall and winter seasons in 2014-15, a 44% deficit of 2013-14’s number.

    Numbers were reduced statewide, though those east of the Blue Ridge noticed the most substantial reduction, with 49% fewer birds bagged.  Those hunting west of the Blue Ridge still suffered a 36% drop in harvests.  Nevertheless, the turkey harvest numbers relative to area remained almost perfectly uniform across the state.

    Youth-apprentice hunters took a total of 29 birds, as opposed to last year’s 50.

    The two-week turkey hunting season in January instituted four years ago accounted for 179 birds, down from last year’s 265.  Hunters taking to the woods in January enjoy a period of light-pressure hunting with the added bonus possibility of being able to track birds in snow.
Sunday hunting only accounted for 5% of the total turkey harvest, as opposed to Saturday’s dominant 27%.  Again, this suggests that the new legislation has little effect on overall populations.

    Again, lowered hunter success rate is credited to a high mast production juxtaposed with a very poor mast crop in 2013, which resulted in higher-than-average harvests.  DGIF Wild Turkey Project Leader, Gary Norman believes the Commonwealth’s turkey population to be in excellent condition, as participants in the annual August Brood Survey reported record numbers of broods and birds.

    Even with harvest numbers significantly down in 2014-15, a large portion of the deficit can be attributed to natural phenomena.  Game populations appear to be in good and bettering conditions. 

    Come on, spring!

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Those that follow this column may have recognized that I carry an affinity for the chain pickerel.  The reasons are numerous.  They can be a very aggressive ambush predator capable of athletic battles thanks to a muscular, snake-like build.  They rarely turn their noses up at a well-presented meal; and they can be found conniving in lazy, weedy waters within a short drive of most anglers in the Commonwealth. 

    However, the pickerel’s reputation as a cold-water species is, in my mind, the fish’s winning trait.  Pickerel prefer water temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees, which can be found in Virginia from early fall through late-spring.

    As the weather warms and water temperatures break the 50-degree mark, pickerel move from their peripheral, mid-depth winter haunts into shallow areas marked by woody or weedy cover.  There they broadcast tens of thousands of adhesive eggs onto cover and then take up position along the weed edge. 

    In some instances, pickerel become inspired by currents and migrate into lakes via spillways or into smaller tributaries from larger rivers.  All in all, if you locate a body of water with a relatively slow or still flow with some amount of woody or weedy cover, odds are good pickerel can be found marauding its shallows.

Small fish, big fight

    It was mid-spring in my eleventh year when I stumbled upon a large creek that brushed the boundary of the subdivision I once roamed.  While bluegill fishing in a small impoundment overlooked by the last cul-de-sac, I found myself staring off into the woods at the sharp topography that the pond’s outflow penetrated.  An upbringing featuring plenty of aimless driving and fish scouting hinted to my trained eye that the ridges were worth exploring. 

    After beating my way one hundred yards through brier bushes and thick successional growth, the woods began to mature, and nature’s background track grew into a profound roar.

    My eyes first saw it as a wide, deep elbow pool.  Perhaps 15 feet across and three and a half feet deep at the widest point, the creek was far superior to the modest trickle that navigated the edge of our lot.  No, that water was a discovery worth more investigation.  I returned home wide-eyed, to return again.

    The next weekend the sun was bright and the trees glowed with the green of newly-sprouted spring leaves.  Middle school was winding down; and my cares, with it.

    I toted my weapon of choice—a weathered Shakespeare ultra-light spinning rod—shouldering a daypack filled with snacks, water, spinners, and a camera.  I didn’t know quite yet what my newfound haunt held fish-wise, but I had all day, and I was going to get to the bottom of it. 

    My bike fell in a heap at the edge of the woods and I followed my beaten path through the woods to the crest of the hill that provided me my first glance at the water.  It was more glamorous then to a boy in the sixth grade allowed to explore the woods and waters near home all by himself than anything else I could have wished for.  It was all mine. 

    My first cast was in the tail of the long elbow pool that I met initially.  Deep undercuts commanded by complex, old oak roots claimed both banks.  My Joe’s Fly first met the left bank, past the oak.  

    Working the lure slowly, finessing it through the currents just fast enough to manipulate the small gold spinner blade, I slid the faux meal into the dark tannic waters under the bank.

    When at last the glint of pulsating gold slipped out of perception and into possibility, the sensitive tip of my ultra-light jarred, and I swept the rod into the weight of a fish.

    After the initial surge, my nerves were no less shattered when the fish refused to relent.  Rod tip high, fingers poised cautiously on the reel handle, I was forced to allow my adversary to convulse and strain out of sight.  At last, I gained favor, and turned the fish’s head towards the tail of the pool. 

    In a last-ditch effort to escape, it unleashed a frenzied head-shake as its toothy jaws broke water.  
    Relieved, and drawing the fish ever closer, I collected the fish’s lengthy form in a cupped hand to behold 12 inches of small stream pickerel.

Virginia State Parks camping season changes

    In order to better serve campers, Virginia State Parks will open campgrounds on the first Friday in March—this year, March 6—instead of the historical March 1. 

    Exceptions include Lake Anna, Staunton River, Pocahontas, and Smith Mountain Lake State Parks where camping will open March 1.

    Because of its high-elevation location, Grayson Highlands State Park will be open to primitive camping March 6 and full-service camping May 1.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian