Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The More Things Change…

I’m not a total dinosaur, but I do consider myself a traditionalist.  As the gray in my beard overtakes the darker shades, I prefer to catch fish on a fly rod, hunt deer with a longbow, and wear wool as often as possible.  I wear practical wide brimmed hats when afield, to keep the sun off my face in summer and snow outside my collared shirt in winter.

I’m not a total throwback, mind you.  Contrary to those traditional leanings, I do find the internet a wonderful tool for the sportsman.  I keep tabs on a couple good fishing blogs and e-magazines, and I find the internet a wonderful tool for planning trips, investigating aerial images, and researching guides and outfitters in areas new to me. 

In this perusing, I am now frequently noticing that sportsmen don’t look much like they used to.  It strikes me that many outdoor films are starting to look like boy band videos.   Carefully planned shaggy hair, flat brimmed ball caps set slightly askew, and synthetic wicking fabrics emblazoned with energy drink logos are the order of the day.  Combined with the fact that one can now obtain professional quality video equipment small enough to strap to a fishing rod, surfboard, ski pole, straight brimmed ball cap; or anything else that remains rigid long enough to capture the fight, wave, run, kill or crash.  Edit the experience together with appropriately raucous soundtrack, and post online for the whole world to absorb your attention-worthy aura.  Now you’re really somebody.

I realize that Fred Bear, Marlin Perkins and Curt Gowdy haven’t been around for a while and, truth be told, my wanderlust as a tenderfoot was fueled by Babe Winkleman and Bill Dance as much as it was fueled by those old masters.  While not exactly mountain men, Babe and Bill at least knew that a flannel shirt and cup of coffee were camp essentials, as opposed to a hoodie and a shot of 5-hour energy.

I had been bemoaning this state of affairs for some time, smugly acknowledging that my traditional sensibilities were mildly superior to those extreme athletes turned outdoorsmen.  Then, one day at the family hunting cabin, sorting some gear for the approaching archery season, my father began to comment on how many new-fangled do-dads are now required to pursue game afield.   “Here we go”, I thought.   It was true that my father did not have the benefit of portable tree stands, scent eliminating boot spray, or scent producing doe in estrus scent drags; but surely he would have utilized these tools had they been available.  Wicking base layers join wool outwear like apple pie joins ice cream.  And so what if I had three pairs of hunting boots, designed for various seasons and terrain.

“Dammit! I was one of them, 20 years ago!” I thought to myself. 

I didn't want to give my father the satisfaction of knowing he had a point, but it dawned on me that things are no different today than they have ever been.  Some smokepolers probably cast a critical eye on brass cartridges and lever actions.  Split cane casters likely bemoaned fiberglass, and then graphite. 

As I begin to share a love of the outdoors with my young children, I think more about the really important things:

  • The love of natural systems – all the parts – not just the target species, or the charismatic ones
  • An appreciation for humility – knowing that we don’t know it all and knowing that quiet observation is often the best instruction
  • An appreciation for enough – enough for today, enough for the season, enough for the next generation
  • An appreciation for conserving the resources and preserving the landscape that produces the resources
  • An appreciation for the benefits of preserving truly wild places, where people are rarely, if ever, seen

 Perhaps the hipsters and the X-gamers are getting those things.

I just wish we could discuss it without a…with a cup of coffee.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Big Fish

Spring has sprung, and so has the carp fishing in central PA...

With spring as busy as usual, there has been precious little time to hit the streams, rivers and lakes here in my rural part of the Ridge and Valley region.  The itch to fish was beginning to get the better of me when, about 10 days ago, I was passing by a farm that is home to one of my favorite carp honey holes.  I only had a 5 wt. fly outfit in the truck, but I did have some carp flies, and there was storm front moving in, so I thought perhaps the carp would be feeding.

They were feeding, alright.  In fact, one carp was so eager to eat that I watched him move more than 18 inches to devour my crayfish fly.  30 minutes later, I had enjoyed two great tussles with healthy carp, and the rain was bearing down.  There were a couple larger specimens, but I couldn't get the fly in front of them.  That may have been for the best, as I suspect they might have converted my 4 piece, 5wt. to a 6 piece, paper weight.

These two will put a bend in the 5 wt.

That brief outing satisfied the fishing itch for a week or so, but soon enough, I felt the need to break out the canoe and look for some bigger fish in bigger water.  With my capable first mate in tow, the canoe was loaded in the truck and we headed for a nearby lake where carp were known to be numerous and of good size.

First Mate

Unfortunately, the shallow flats were discolored due to wind, feeding fish, or both.  Carp could be found, but usually as the canoe passed over, or very near, the fish.  A couple feeding fish were spotted in time to muster a cast, but a waving rod, or ill placed piece of woody debris, foiled my limited attempts.

After two hours of poling and blind casting, it was just about time to head back to the truck...the first mate had a friend's birthday party to attend and we weren't to be late...when a couple larger fish were spotted feeding in the shallows along a flooded road bed. The wind picked up considerably, making boat placement difficult, but the trolling motor did it's job, and a few reasonable casts were taken.  

In the cloudy water a take was difficult to discern, but with approximately the right amount of leader between the fly line and the fish, and a telltail wiggle, a firm strip set resulted in the kind of golden roll that flycarpers live for.  

Line flew through the guides as if we'd hooked a trophy permit.  As the behemoth made several long runs and generally had its way with the canoe, a timely arrival at the aforementioned birthday party seemed unlikely.  With time of the essence, I played the fish as hard as my inexpensive 7 wt. rod would allow.  Just shy of 20 minutes later, the carp was boatside and I snapped a quick picture, explaining to the first mate that we probably weren't going to bring this fish into the canoe.  

Sidebar:  15 years ago, I had a bad experience along the coast of southeast Alaska with a small skiff and a large halibut.  Another greenhorn and I had just boated a decent 60 lb. halibut (How were we supposed to know you were to shoot 'em and tow 'em home?) Had it not been for the hammer we found under the seat in that boat, and several rounds of slimy hand to fin combat, my friend and I might not have lived to tell the tale.  

I have been leery of loose fish in tight places ever since.

Back to the carp...

The "Large" Measure Net I carry in the canoe is capable of measuring a 28" fish - gloriously inadequate.  

I knew the fish had plenty of strength left, but miraculously, it surrendered with dignity, and lay perfectly still as I lifted it aboard for a quick cell phone picture and a smooth release.  Unfortunately I had left my 50 lb. scale in the truck, although, without a larger net or weighing bag (which I will be acquiring), I don't think I could have managed the weigh in.

Official length:  damn long.
Official weight: damn heavy.
Official emotion: damn happy

Icing on the cake:  Made the birthday party on time


Friday, February 8, 2013

River Sojourn

Winter is wonderful.  It allows the body and mind time to renew, in preparation for the more active pursuits of spring.  This winter, as with most, I have been dreaming of canoeing, camping and fishing.  

I've decided that the kids, now 8 and 5 years old, are ready for some more adventurous canoe camping, when the weather, and waters, warm to a more suitable temp.  They have done their share of canoeing and fishing, but camping has been primarily of the car variety, and, while car camping has it's own charm, it doesn't have the single most important charm that first led me to camping - the ability to get away from large numbers of people.  

So this winter has found me restocking and supplementing the camping supplies to include gear that is a little lighter and a bit more waterproof/water-friendly.  Most important among the list of new acquisitions are a couple Rubbermaid Action Packers, which are about the most cost-effective durable weatherproof storage I have found, and a somewhat adequate substitute for the more traditional canoe wannigan.  

I found myself thinking of a trip we took a couple years ago that was our first foray into canoe camping with kids.  I pulled up a few photos to reminisce, and, remembering the trip also involved some good fishing, it seemed appropriate to catalog it here.

We were taking part in the Juniata River Sojourn, an annual event here in central PA.  The event is sponsored by the Juniata Clean Water Partnership and is a well planned float and camping adventure that you can participate in for a day or two, or the entire five or six.

Meals, interesting stops and presenters are included, camping is pre-arranged, and your camp supplies are ferried ahead by vehicle to minimize the gear you must carry in your canoe or kayak.  Safety is a priority and the trip includes qualified guides/safety staff.  

Similar sojourns occur all over the U.S. and are a great way to introduce kids and less experienced adults to joys of paddling and camping.

A motley crew, ready to launch

Paddling in a group can be quite a social event...
...but even group trips provide moments of serenity

No better way to cool off than to abandon ship for a while

My daughter, about to turn 6 at the time, paddled like a champ for hours.  As we prepared to coast ashore at our campsite, she closed her eyes and learned one of the best rewards of a hard day's paddle - the ability to sleep well...even sitting up.

Out of Gas
Home Sweet Home

Fishing was not a priority for this trip, but I can't be in a canoe without a rod, so I did some lazy fishing as we went.  The sky was high and the sun was strong.  Flows were about average for June and the water was quite clear.

As we pushed off in Lewistown, PA, after lunch at the town park and a short presentation on local history, I found myself waiting for the rest of the armada to launch.  I grabbed my trusty medium light spinning rod and threw a small jerk bait directly at the upstream side of concrete bridge piling.  A jerk...a pause...WHAM!

After an exciting fight, during which the smallmouth headed for the bottom of a deep hole and then launched an aerial assault, in an attempt to throw the lure, I brought to hand a hefty piece of Juniata River smallmouth measuring 21.5".  I've fished this river off and on for 20 years and this fish was a personal best, and good enough for an official citation from the PA Fish & Boat Commission.

A great trip, and a reminder that the best fishing can sometimes strike when you least expect it.