Tuesday, October 29, 2019

No Video Content For You

Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking content.  The newspaper and magazine industries had solid writers and when I encountered those folks, most of them made a point to show me that I couldn't be them, or tell stories in their magical way.  A few of them were right.  My main goal, dating back to 2005 or so, was to tell my outdoor stories and share my voice, as much for my own use as for anyone else’s education or entertainment.  At 33 (2007) I was blessed, some would say privileged, to have so many amazing outdoor memories that my brain was dumping them.  I had too many great days afield to remember.  What a reality!

The Dude is 100% Committed to Adventure
My life, and the outdoor writing world, changed fast and hard.  I became a father in 2009 and I decided that I was going to be the kind of highly engaged parent that a kick ass son would want.   I don’t know if I have achieved that expectation but with a kid active in the outdoors, scouting, sports, and music, it eats a lot of time that I am, honestly, eager to give.   I write technical papers and grant proposals all the time.  Writing for fun became Something I Used to Do.  Worse, as I increased my work in conservation lobbying and vied for an executive level position in conservation (since achieved!), I felt like I had to lock down this site for its past honest writing.

In late 2012, Google changed their SEO scoring for the first time, dropping this site’s traffic (and resulting corporate sponsor interest) by about 90%, then an additional 7% in less than a month total.  It was a total shock.  At the same time, newspapers and magazines started dumping their masthead outdoor and conservation writers (mostly a bad thing), in favor of using freelancers like myself.  I might argue for that approach if the going rate wasn't $200 per article.  The simultaneous jump in public appetite for well produced YouTube video content (now IGLive and FB Live) truly left me in the dust.  I love taking pictures but I have no interest in editing video content. 

At any rate, twelve years and 800+ posts after starting this site,  the world is a more dynamic if not chaotic place than it was.  Solid commentary – the kind that can still stand when “new facts” arise - is a bit of an endangered species.   Also, I am sensitive to the fact that my voice is a very white and male and American one and my voice does not speak for everyone.  Yet, I am still here, and I do have what I think is a unique and valuable perspective, and I think it can be used to lend a voice to others who have yet to be heard.  At 45, after decades in the outdoors personally and professionally, I have some thoughts.  And to my detractors (the few who dare to remain in The Arena), I quote Ice-T in saying You Should Have Killed Me Last Year.  And if you look up the lyrics to that song, all I can promise you is that you will be offended.  It is 2019, after all. 

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

You Don't Need a Fishing Guide. But Maybe Your Kid Does.

This awesome father/son moment (snook
on the line in Southern Florida, New Years
Day 2018) brought to you by a full price
licensed guide.  Well worth the money.
A brief search through the 10 years (yeeeeeears) of posts on this site will show any reader the total range of interaction I've had with hunting and fishing guides over the course of my 44 years.  The summary is that they love telling stories and don't let their duty to put clients "in the vicinity of" fish and game to distract from that story telling.  And that's without the Standard Guide poverty talk, leaning on his $50,000 custom truck, talking about how The Life is So Hard (while we drove to meet said guide in a 15 year old Tacoma with 3 different color panels on it).   Groan.  But you know what, there have also been spectacular human beings who have showed me spectacular experiences in the outdoors, empty coolers or not, and some of those human beings have been professional guides. 

Given that statement above - does it amount to a disclaimer? -  I suppose being a father in the outdoors has changed me in ways that are so intense and so strange that they have largely calmed my urge to write over the last two years.    Don't bother telling me you don't understand that sentence, because neither do I.    I have an intense and sometimes desperate longing within me to make those special outdoors memories that adult family members and kids, and right as my son is really feeling the dirt between his toes and the blood of the outdoors in his teeth, my slow-growing nonprofit career has finally erupted.  And thus we have a challenge.   Being the sole adult in charge of planning and leading a multi-mile hike that ends (halfway) with a rock climb with no permanent anchors is exhausting and wonderful.   

Good fishing trips are no different, and require a heavy amount of planning.  This is partly due to living in an urban area.   The kid can't walk down the street and catch a trout, or shoot a pheasant, or scale high quality granite.   But it's also partly due to Life.  You know, that part of life (in USFWS data) that shows that fewer than a quarter of Baby Boomer hunters taught their Gen X kids to hunt (and fewer than a third of those kids kept up in the sport as adults).   The part of Life where The Job takes you to Boston, and the hunt club you just joined has 80 members on 300 acres. Or for half of parents, the part of Life where you no longer get your kid's physical presence on half of weekends (or even less frequent).   "We need to recruit more hunters!"  Well, yeah.   With wages stagnant since July, 2000 (and cost of living very much not stagnant), most parents are just trying to survive.  

My Little Man with a nice redfish and
one of my favorite guides in Florida,
Capt. Justin with Native Salt
Something I landed on a few years ago was to get my kid engaged in the guided trips I take a few times per year.  Now, I've been on hunts where suddenly the "last invited guy" wants to suddenly "bring his 18 month old kid" on the hunt.  In 20 degree temps.   I'm not talking about that.  I'm talking about fishing (not hunting...yet) in a target rich environment where stress is minimized, and the normal parent-child tensions are eased (think about every time you've taught a kid a new skill, and the amount of crying and fighting involved).  

Now for all of you tough dads and moms huffing, "I'm the best teacher there is," I encourage you to search the web for things like "should I coach my own child," and of course, the answer is generally "no" if you want your child's skill to truly develop.    Reasons not to be the Boss of the Boat include:

1) You are less talented than you think;

2) You are probably too hard on your own kid when it comes to fishing/hunting; 

3) Recruitment requires fun, and if your kid's not having fun because Dad is breathing down their neck about trash in the boat (or whatever), it's less likely you're really building a person who loves the sport. 

So as you move into the spring (summer's coming too), and you just can't discern how you'll get your kid out to that honey hole for fishing or that hot spot for spring gobblers (first you've got to repair the tent, then, do we have a soccer conflict, etc etc etc), and you know all too well that the moment might pass without you getting your little guy or gal outdoors to make any new memories at all, I'm just suggesting for this moment, maybe this is the season you hire a guide, so you can sit back, watch your kid learn, and not have to worry about every single detail of the trip like you normally do.    It's not something I can afford to do on a regular basis but I'll tell you, it's increased the number of positive, even epic, outdoor memories for our family.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Good Morning Largemouth

As I've griped about here for 8? 9? years, I don't get to fish enough.  Although it's true enough that like a living parable, everyone I know who can "fish enough" is not satisfied either.    I had a tour with elected officials canceled one morning and so I thought I'd challenge the October Gods for a Maryland largemouth before work.   I caught several 8-12" bass in extremely heavy cover in a flowing pool, and had big fish slip the hook at least three times, before getting a hold of this guy.  My second biggest largemouth of the year.  Interestingly enough, it was caught on a very small Diezel Chatterbait set up for redfish.   Silver hardware and pearl trailer.  Because why not.

It wasn't a monster, somewhere in the 3lb and 15" range.  But it's a big fish for me, and I was happy to come down in the swamp and "do what I came to do."  On the other hand, my fish selfie game needs some serious improvement.  See below.

Hope you all are enjoying the recent onset of fall weather and getting outdoors.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Richmond's Reedy Creek Restoration Project - Mistakes Were Made

I love Richmond, Virginia.  It's less than two hours from my hometown and though I've never lived there (not for lack of effort - the job market isn't so hot, and never has been), I love the city.  I love its historic past, both beautiful and ugly, its extremely gritty recent past, and the wonderful 21st Century city that it's becoming.   But change (or even growing up) isn't always easy in Virginia.   As the saying goes - it takes 8 Virginians to change a lightbulb.  One to do it, and the other 7 to stand around and talk about how much better the old one was.

Richmond, like many cities and counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, finds itself  - after 400 years of unbridled development and habitat destruction - in the vice grips of federal water quality mandates.    One, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, demands compliance by 2025.  The other, the Richmond MS4, demands compliance by 2018.    Arguably, the City of Richmond is not likely to comply with either the TMDL or the MS4, which means a costly Federal Consent Decree is likely. More on that in a bit.

First, how does a municipality "comply" with these mandates?  Largely, compliance is made through the completion of "projects" that reduce the input of key pollutants (typically nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, bacteria, and trash) into interstate (federal) waterways like the Chesapeake Bay.  "Projects" include sanitary sewer upgrades, tree plantings, stream stabilization, wetland creation, and other efforts that generally reduce sewage and stormwater from reaching large water bodies.  Each "project" is assigned a pollution reduction value (i.e. measures like rain barrels and tree plantings get a relatively low score, while sewer plant upgrades receive a high score).  

A measure of some controversy has been the relatively generous crediting of stream restoration projects that 1) stabilize eroding stream banks, 2) enhance hyporheic exchange, and 3) reconnect the stream to the floodplain on a more regular basis.    The City of Richmond has staked much of its 2018 MS4 compliance hopes on the construction of three stream restoration projects, one of which is known as the Reedy Creek Restoration Project.

Reedy Creek is a very typical fall line stream in a developed area.  It is generally highly eroded, and any historic floodplain wetlands have been drained due to stream downcutting in some areas.  In some areas, however, the stream has a relatively stable cross-section.   There are many trees present, however, many of them (like maples and poplars) are not considered to have high value for habitat or nutrient uptake.  Much of the stream valley is subject to run-outs and headcuts associated with the watershed's urban hydrographs.    In short, the system is a mess.    Here are what I believe to be indisputable facts:

1) Some sections of Reedy Creek are extremely unstable.
2)  These sections will not "heal themselves" in a human timeframe, even if all runoff was removed from the watershed (impossible). 
3) Trees will have to be removed to do the work. 
4) The planted trees will not achieve that same size for decades.
5)  Trees do, eventually, grow bigger, if they are maintained and kept free of vines.
6) The TMDL and MS4 permits are driving restoration projects. 

However, much more is *in* dispute.   The large, tree-holding area of Reedy Creek showing the most erosion happens to be City property.  If you're the City of Richmond, and you have to do these "projects" by 2018, the one way you can possibly achieve that is by using City property.   That's not in dispute, either.  There is no way between 2014 and 2018 that the City could negotiate enough private property projects to comply with the permit requirements.  However, it appears that the City didn't feel compelled to share their early plans with the community surrounding the park.  In fact, the City DPU (the MS4 permittee and the stream project sponsor) still doesn't seem ecstatic about this whole "public input" thing.  To their point, the MS4 and TMDL permits may have specified this project, and certainly did have public input periods, which I'm fairly confident this community ignored.

Enter a bunch of local do-gooders, or, at least they think they are local do-gooders, the Reedy Creek Coalition.   I chuckled at an online comment that read something like, "How come the only reference to the restoration of Reedy Creek on your website is "Stop the Stream Restoration?!" .....and it's a valid question.  The Reedy Creek Coalition isn't fond of the way this project materialized (which seems like a fair complaint) or the way that the City plans to re-align a stream on City property (which seems like less of a fair complaint).    I was excited to read one article that said that the City had not considered the validity of Reedy Creek Coalition's alternative plan for watershed restoration.  Upon hunting for that "plan," I read another article stating that it was simply a list of other City-owned properties in the watershed, that maybe could possibly sort of somehow be used for stormwater reduction.   As someone who has built 200+ ponds, wetlands, streams, rain gardens, etc., I know that a list is not a plan.  A plan is something that provides adequate information to judge cost, impact, and benefit.    After considering this for a while, I can't get over my feeling that this "plan" wasn't meant to be a real plan at all.

This begs a bigger question:  What is Reedy Creek Coalition's vision for saving Reedy Creek and restoring it back to some prior version of itself?  What calculations have been done on the alternatives they suggest? Where does their strategic plan say the highest quality projects would be - and how was that calculated?  To be fair, those same questions should be asked of the project proponents as well!  
But I haven't seen any calculations -   it certainly seems like the City wants to build this project because they have decided to build it; the Reedy Creek Coalition appears to object to the project because they have decided they don't like it.

If the Reedy Creek Coalition succeeds in killing this project, I can virtually guarantee a few outcomes:

1) In 2018, the City of Richmond will specifically blame this RCC for the City's failure to attain pollution reduction goals (and again in 2019, for the TMDL 2-year milestones).  That will become the reputation of Reedy Creek Coalition.  I cannot imagine trying to fundraise on that public reputation.  Especially when fines are levied, creating an excuse for the City to raise taxes/fees (and explicitly blame RCC).

2) Reedy Creek will not be restored, uplands or downstream, in this generation.   The state and city agencies will not allow substantial funding to flow to this watershed due to demonstrated risk of project failure.

If City DPU succeeds in installing this project, I can virtually guarantee a few outcomes:

1) Reedy Creek Coalition will publicly document every eroded pebble, every dead planted tree, every slightly misplaced boulder with exposed soil behind it.   We have a guy who does this at restoration projects in Maryland.   He is miserable; hearing him speak with the media is even more miserable.  "Look here! It's dirt! This project is a failure!" The City can look forward to that, if they continue on their present course.

2) Unless substantial stream monitoring protocols are already in place, the City will have a hard time categorizing the site as a "success," because the majority of people talking about the site will remind everyone else of the dead trees.

A Real Framework for the Restoration of Reedy Creek

What does this all mean?  Well, in the words of comedian Keegan-Michael Key, "Ya done messed up!"  The two primary parties in this dispute have a lot to lose by sticking to their guns, and they seem reticent to admit that.   Might I suggest a "both, and" approach to the restoration of Reedy Creek instead of an "either, or?"  

For instance, the parties could execute an MOU that provides:

1) RCC to hire a stream restoration engineer (at their own cost) to recommend specific tree-saving techniques to City DPU.   Perhaps 10 major recommendations, of which 5 (City's choice) *must* be accomodated.   RCC must provide these recommendations to City DPU in 90 days or less.

2)  City will place "escrow" type funding with a local conservation organization with the capacity to do actual watershed restoration activities (unfortunately, that means probably not the organization whose restoration goal is "Stop The Restoration!") for the purposes of 10 growing seasons of mechanical and/or chemical control of invasive species.

3)  City will establish an "escrow" or "tree trust" funding for 30 years that will ensure that within 30 years, forest canopy coverage is high or higher than pre-restoration.

4) RCC will desist from anecdotal stream condition descriptions, and instead hire an independent ecological consultant (at RCC's own cost) to perform a functional assessment (recommended: Harmon-Starr Functional Pyramid) on various reaches of the stream to document whether City DPU's proposed restoration method will provide meaningful "uplift" to the stream's condition (if not, consider abandoning work or reducing impact in those areas).

5)  RCC will serve as the primary partner on the restoration of the private property "concrete gully" upstream.  City DPU agrees in concept to provide speedy permit review and grant application support letters (RCC should be able to raise the (guessing) $1.5 million to accomplish the concrete channel restoration).  RCC may be able to negotiate that the City provides up to 50% matching funds for that effort, as well (or, even more importantly, $200,000 in start-up funds to begin the survey, engineering, and permit work).    Also, local partners like RCC typically have better success navigating private property concerns (and right of way costs) than City agencies.   If RCC is serious about treating the stormwater to Reedy Creek, and not simply using the "concrete gully" as a red herring to stop the project downhill, RCC will readily pursue this huge opportunity for their organization.

My overall worry is that the City of Richmond doesn't care all that much about Reedy Creek, if they never produced a set of alternative approaches and didn't conduct meaningful listening sessions for the community.   My overall worry is that Reedy Creek Coalition might not care that much either, if they have no concrete plan for advancing meaningful-scale watershed restoration work with or without the City's engineers.  

There is a huge opportunity, and huge obligation, for community and city leaders to work together in this period of generous funding for watershed restoration and simply get it done in a way that everyone will be happy to describe to their grandkids one day.   But as of last week, the two parties couldn't be much farther apart.   And if Reedy Creek continues to erode and unravel (and take out big, beautiful trees) for another 30 years, I don't think anyone will be proud to tell their grandkids about their role in that lost opportunity.   "I tried to steamroll a community, and failed!"  "Oh yeah, well I stopped the City from investing in our community - and they never came back!" 

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Perils of a "Fish Every Day" Contest

A high-end outdoor outfitter recently had a widely publicized contest: "Fly Fish 20 Days in September."  Unless you were on a fishing trip for at least 22 days, that's a challenge.   My immediate thought when I read the exciting write-ups for this contest was self-disappointment, with a giant work calendar as a thunderhead over me.    I can't fish that much right now, I thought.

I built this fish habitat, but haven't had time to fish it.
I think that means I lack dedication and/or passion. 
We're planting trees and building streams in September.  My son goes back to sports in September.  His birthday is even in September, and none of the grandparents live close, so if they do visit, I'm pretty occupied with that for several days.   My wife has lots of night meetings in September.  Anymore, September is still a summer heatwave on the Mid-Atlantic coast, and coastal waters are horribly low in oxygen, leading to lots of lethargic, dead and dying fish.   Air temperatures in the mid-90s and water in the mid-80s.  September is just bad.  And I think it's that way for a lot of people.    To restrict outdoor adventures to specifically "fly fishing" - contest or no contest -  is adding insult to injury for your average angler.  Largely, they probably ignore it, and the retailer, which could be intentional on the retailer's part.

But again, what I felt most was disappointment, and the next immediate feeling was that maybe I'm not hardcore enough for that outfitter and their goods.    The Outdoor Foundation reports that the mean number of fishing outings (including *all* types of fishing) is 17.9 times per year.   As an advocate for the sport, these are the people you want.  They buy licenses, they purchase gear, and most of them are copacetic with fishing about three times every two months.    They're good for the industry and the fishery, much like gym members who rarely go to the gym are pretty good for the gym.

Property of Fox Broadcasting Company
However, making them feel like Homer Simpsons because they can't fly fish 20 times in one month seems like a bad idea, especially for an industry and a natural resource facing certain peril in the coming generations (to say nothing of the coming months).   Imagine a reality, like right now, when all the industry and lobbyist groups are wanting us anglers to be politically motivated.  Or pick up a phone and call our representative.  Or defend the value of National Parks.   Again, that reality is right now.   A great time to alienate anglers -  I haven't heard anyone who fishes less than three times per week state anything positive about the "20 days in September" challenge.  And I do know a lot of people who fish 2-3 times per week.

"Boy, he sounds sour."  Well, I am sour.   I'm confused at why, knowing what we know about the folly of creating outdoor celebrities - and how the animal rights crowd loves to use the antics of those celebrities to try and snuff out our sport -  that we are having contests to create more fishing rock stars.   I'm confused at why at a time when we need anglers to defend conservation, defend federal lands, and defend a potentially dying industry, we are designing highly publicized contests to separate the 1% from the 99%.    Because in larger society, that certainly hasn't been noted.   Maybe I need to get a bunch of drunken worm dunkers and we'll be "Occupy the Poudre."

I'm sour because fishing does not rank in the TOP TEN "aspirational outdoor activities" of 18-24 year olds.    

Or the TOP TEN "aspirational" activities of 25-34 year olds (for 20 years, a core market for outdoor retailers).  

And it squeaks in at #8 for 35-44 year olds, previously, but no longer, a core market. 

And it's no surprise that while at least TEN other outdoor activities are 2016 growth markets, according to the Outdoor Foundation, fishing is certainly not one of them.   And fly fishing? I mean, it's about 10% of anglers....so.... 2% or so of Americans.  "But it has grown 0.5% in the last 3 years!"  Yeah sure.  Kayak fishing has grown 17% in the last 3 years.  We're losing *total* anglers hand over fist.   Clearly, the fly fishing industry caters to a small portion of Americans.  But which Americans?

After making solid inroads into wider acceptance (broadly and socioeconomically) over the last decade, it would appear that high end fly fishing is again positioning itself as the pinnacle of the sport, the pinnacle of angler excellence, the pinnacle of dedication and passion - and you know, dedication costs big bucks.  "Fly fish 20 days in September" - because we sure are.   If you can't fly fish 20 days in September, you don't have the passion.  Bottom line.   So says our marketing team!

Perhaps, once again in 2016,  the soccer dads, football moms, inner city kids, and lonely apartment millenials aren't the sort of people that the fly fishing industry really wants.  After several years of claiming they wished for "growth of the sport" during the Great Recession, I guess they've got enough Titanium Card customers to rid themselves of that facade.   It is noted.

While I've hit personal records for both largemouth bass and chain pickerel in the last 12 months, and while I've fished in six states this year, including a four-day offshore trip in the Gulf of Mexico,  I couldn't fish 20 days in September.   Despite dedicating my life to wetland and stream restoration, I couldn't fish 20 days in September.  Clearly, I lack the passion that some guys have.  Maybe one day I'll have the kind of dedication to the resource and the sport that lets me enter a 20 Days In September contest.

Probably not.  They're looking for a different kind of people.

Moments in Outdoor Parenthood: Photos of Parents

My standard outdoors view these days -
the soles of my kid's feet. 
A lot of us know a lot of good parents.  Folks who show their kids the world, whether that is Central Park or Grand Canyon National Park.   You'll see pictures of kids fishing, climbing, shooting, catching frogs, looking through telescopes, making headdresses out of found feathers, and all of it's good stuff.   But you don't see pictures of parents doing "the stuff," which is pretty ironic because much of this outdoor culture - or at least the ethic, the part of the mountain air or the salt water that runs through our blood, so to speak -  is inherited, not learned.  Those parents used to do cool stuff.  But I think I'm typical when I say that I've hardly had a picture snapped of me hunting, fishing, surfing, or climbing since my son was born.   I'm in a support role, a coach's role now.   Sometimes I try to remember what it used to feel like to go pursue these activities unencumbered.  To kick ass.   It's hard to remember when that time was (if it ever existed, ha ha).  But sometimes life gives us amazing, wonderful, and priceless moments. 

I was climbing with my soon near the PA-MD border recently and he said, "Let's eat our lunch on that rock table up there."  I said, "Well if we can both climb it, sure."   He, of course, scampered right up there.   I handed him the gear pack (of course, I pack in all the gear and water), then my phone and camera.   I then studied the 10' tall boulder for a minute and found what I thought were some jugs and foot holds big enough for a dude like me.    What I didn't know is that my son was waiting to take a picture of me as I was finishing the climb.  

This is not only the first picture of me climbing since he was born in 2009.  This is the first picture anyone has taken of me climbing or bouldering since 1998.    What a wonderful day. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Captiva Surf Fishing Contest: Me Vs. My Six Year Old

I may not be great at catching big fish, or certainly trophy fish.  Heck, at age 42 I have only three citation fish to my name (chain pickerel, black crappie, and spotted bass).   But give me some basic tackle and a tiny bit of local knowledge (seasonal movements of fish, etc.), and I can generally "catch fish" on almost any day.  As a result, I falsely tend to think that I am pretty smart.

One day our little family rolled up to Captiva Island.  Captiva and Sanibel are significantly south of where I normally fish in Florida, and it conditions were less than ideal, so I wasn't expecting much.   After a little driving around, we managed to find some public beach parking.   As I unloaded the saltwater rods from the bed of the truck, my 6-year old son interrupted, "Dad! I wanna take my rod."  Isn't that kind of dedication great!

Until you realize that "his rod" is a 4.0' Bass Pro Crappie Maxx Jr., with the store-bought reel (ouch) still on it.    I handed him the rod, and continued to carry two rods (a clearly unnecessary 10' Tsunami and a more appropriate 7' Shimano combo), knowing, of course, that he'd be needing one of them.

I also noted that The Dude was carrying his tackle bag, which is fine except that the only lures in there are 5,713 colors of Mister Twisters, some Uncle Bucks Panfish Bugs, and some green camo Senkos he thought were "cool."  He ran ahead, because that's what he does.

When I finally caught up to him, he had sort of knotted a Beetle Spin onto his line and was picking out a 1" crappie grub (I mean, what?!) to put on it.   I tried to argue against the futility of using a Beetle Spin in the freaking Gulf of Mexico, and that argument failed on its merits.    I did convince him to use a chartreuse powerbait minnow (his favorite color is bright green, so he let that one pass), and when trying to re-do his awful knot, he hollered at me so I said, you know, whatever.  

I walked down the beach to bait my perfectly prepared line and terminal tackle, eyeing up a good sandbar offshore.   As soon as my 2 ounce slip weight hit the water, I heard screaming up the beach.  Gulf Kingfish, very close to legal size.  And admittedly, very fat and pretty tasty looking (we released it).  

The rod and reel were tossed into the sand (causing me to replace the store reel with a more sturdy Zebco 33) and by the end of the morning, I had still caught nothing.  The boy caught edible fish using a 4' crappie rod with a beetle spin tipped with half of a powerbait.  What in the world.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I Done Gone and Built a Tree House

Living in the I-95 corridor is something special sometimes when it comes to property management.   If you need to replace a toilet and you are on public sewer, that'll be a $400 permit (or a $2000 fine) (90 days to review permit).  Want to build a fence?  $250 permit (or a $10,000 fine)  (6-10 month review time).   Of course, all those requirements are for "little people."   If you want to build a shopping mall that fills in 20 acres of wetlands and a mile of streams, well, those permit fees are waived and you'll have your permits in 60 days.  Apparently if you own a pipeline company and you want to drill across federal land, you don't even need written permission!  But I digress.

We wanted to build an outdoor space in our tiny yard for my son and his friends.  Our design constraints were as follows:

  • Careful navigation of permit requirements (decided on a "temporary structure" exemption)
  • Footprint of less than 8' x 10' (shed exemption)
  • Basic safety constraints (won't tip over, handrails, etc).
  • A space that would grow with the kids, with minor additions over the coming years
My wife and I both have drafting and plan review experience, in addition to my construction experience.   So we scouted around some stuff on the internet and ultimately landed on a concept on the blog "A Handmade Home" called "Handmade Hideaway."   I really want to show you their beautiful version of the concept, but I am 93% sure they would sue, so I won't.    We didn't use their materials list but we did incorporate the concept into our project goals, and I'm pretty happy with the result, which is now two years old.   Notable changes from their concept:

  • Higher off the ground
  • Rectangular, rather than square design (they look to have a square yard, ours is like a shoebox)
  • Incorporated rock wall instead of slide
  • Ladder instead of stairs
  • Instead of six 4x4 posts cemented into ground, created a theoretically "movable" sled/cage with 2x8s and 2x10s as the horizontal units and 4x4s as the vertical posts. 
  • Instead of attaching posts with 1/4" lags, used 1/2" and 5/8" galvanized lags.
  • Used (more expensive) galvanized and decking hardware due to our climate
  • Used (more expensive) pressure treated lumber on support sled/cage due to climate
  • Used (less expensive ) asphalt shingles instead of aluminum roof  

Monday, September 12, 2016

63 Hour Offshore Trip with Hubbards Marine - An Odd Trip I Can't Stop Thinking About

Earlier this year I was able to cash in on a personal favor and was able to join some friends for a 4 (ish) day offshore trip out of the Tampa area.    Those who know me and this blog know that while I fish a lot,  the average amount of time I spend fishing per outing is about 90-150 minutes and the average size fish I catch is 11" long, and it is a bass of some variety.  Going offshore is something I rarely do, and I've never been offshore overnight.  WHAT COULD GO WRONG?  I've been stymied to write about this trip:  there's how the trip was, and there's how I feel about it, which are two different things.  So for now, here's how the trip was.

We flew into Tampa on thursday morning, each with a full backpack (clothes, snacks, fishing tools), and an empty roll-on cooler (hoping to take home pounds of fish).  After an expensive stop at the bait shop, we rolled down to Hubbard's Marina at John's Pass.   I now know that Hubbard's puts a hundred or more people on fishing boats every single day, but I didn't know that when we arrived.  We found a bit of a cattle operation going on during check-in, but the staff was pretty courteous.   They did seem frustrated that we didn't know precisely what was going on, which seemed like a dumb thing to be frustrated about (you know....new customers).

Lodging, below deck. 
Eventually our crew (three mates and Capt. Mark Hubbard) were assembled, and 14 of us loaded our small collection of clothing and massive assortment of bait onto the 75' catamaran.  By about 3pm, lines were on the dock and out to sea we headed. Around 11pm, we had settled on a reef several dozen miles offshore and I was one of the first successful anglers, pulling two keeper mangrove snapper onboard.

The night was filled with other adventures, including several other anglers getting on the board, and a nearly two hour fight (in the pitch black night) with what we were all sure was a swordfish, but turned out to be a 15 foot brown reef shark, which we released without handling.

The next day of fishing was moderate in pace but almost everyone caught grouper, so that's pretty much a successful day in my book.   In about 800-1000 feet of water on the Middle Grounds, we caught Yellow Edge, Yellowfin, Gag, Kitty Mitchell, Snowy, and maybe one or two other species of grouper.   The elusive Warsaw Grouper was....elusive.   Two blackfin tuna were caught on light tackle, but not by me, so, hooray for those guys!

The third day of fishing was hot and heavy, though a mixed bag.  There were several hour long dead periods, followed by deepwater frenzies and fish flopping all over the boat.   We put a hurting on the Blue Line Tile Fish and a few grouper, but increasingly porgies were being caught.  Porgies are fine, but definitely not the objective of a trip like this.

As the sun went down, the boat took a big turn and started back toward land, where we'd arrive at dawn.    The last day of our trip warrants its own story, between TSA crotch inspections and screaming matches about how to divide up the fillets (and dry ice) for air transportations, but this was a good fishing trip; we each came home with 30 or more pounds of the world's freshest seafood.  I don't know if I'll ever go on a trip like this again, but I'll never forget it, that's for sure.

6 Steps to Prep for My 15th Year of Bowhunting

Well, it's almost here.  I mean, that's almost my sentiment at this point.   It's not disillusionment with bow hunting, or the outdoors.  Certainly not the latter.   But at age 42, and 15 years after I first took a bow into the woods (what a clown I was!), I don't worry about bow hunting the way I used to worry about it.   Now - I still worry about duck hunting, saltwater fishing, surfing, and other things I love more than bow hunting, but I don't worry about bow hunting and I'll tell you why - it's that I have learned to prepare.

Now, I know what you're thinking, "He must have the Max-F7 Anti Carbon Stank Pants!" or something else.   No, not really.  "He must have gotten rid of his clover full plots for the new proprietary GMO Rack Buster Triticale!" No, still have the clover.  Except where I don't, where there's nothing.  So what has got me calmed down about bow hunting? A few things.

1.   Kept shooting.  After my last bow hunt around January 20, I only hung up the bow for about 40 days.  I go through periods where I show 20-30 shots every day for 3-4 days, then it falls off the radar for 3 weeks.  But I now target shoot, outdoors, from March to August.   I know how my bows are performing, for better and for worse.

2.  Given up on poachers.  At my #1 spot (which is well posted but has a long history of outlaw dumbasses), we have poachers.  They use my stand, and I've recovered various bolts and arrows from the woods around my stand, including a crossbow bolt stuck in a tree that could have *only* come from my stand.   So, I locked the tree stand seat in the upright position.  If they want to hang onto the ladder all day, I guess, whatever.  If they steal my stand, I mean, good riddance.  It's cheap and it's been hanging in the weather for four years.  The bolts in it are about done (why would you use indoor bolts when building a tree stand? - separate topic).

3.  I've decided to stop passing up deer.  Last hunting season,  I took two long shots on does (both mortal wounds) in the late season after having numerous does, fawns, and small bucks around my stand in the early season.   I know that big bucks were around and I didn't want to "waste a tag."  I'm over that.  If I have a shot, and I have a tag for it, it's getting shot.  Especially given the poaching in the area, it's not like I can effectively manage the herd.

4.  I'm quitting after one.   There's a lot coming up this winter, including trips to Louisiana and Florida.   I don't want to be freezing my ass off in a tree stand in Maryland in January.  But I would really like to take a deer.  Any non-infected deer with a fair amount of meat.  

5.  I stocked up in the off-season.   I didn't go nuts.   I bought another half-dozen shafts and three more field tips for each bow (125s and 100s).   I did that in July, because I'll be damned if you can find that stuff come October 15.

6.  My fat self is back in the gym.   I've been going to the gym pretty steadily since June, and pretty intensely since late July.   As a result, I have lost zero pounds.   But I can now GIT up that hill, and flex my knee over that boulder and carry 100lb of corn on my shoulder without wondering if something's going to give out.   I've gotten on a new, long term plan that hopefully results in some pounds being shed, but more importantly, not dropping dead of a heart attack while in the tree stand.

So as you see, I've trimmed back quite a bit.  I'll still wash my clothes in scent-free detergent and keep them in a rubbermaid tub in the truck cab (trust me, my wife is a huge fan of that activity), and if the deer trail moves terribly far from the stands I hunt, I'll entice them back to the old trail with bait.   But I'm not worried about it now.    I hope this time of year finds you the same way - not fretting over gear details at the 11th hour, and instead getting ready for your annual communion with the forest.  I hope it's as good as you dreamed it would be.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Snook Attack with Native Salt Charters in Sarasota County

Anyone who's followed this blog over the years knows that my son burns like a blowtorch stuck on full blast.  He's a non-video game playing, swimming, climbing, running fool.  We've fished together since he was about two, and at six, I'd say he's mildly interested in the sport.  Hell, with the summer weather we've had for the last two years (flash floods every four days, separated by massive algae blooms), maybe I'm only mildly interested in the sport myself.   Back to the story, though - what I don't want to do is give him the impression that fishing is work, or that getting skunked is the standard to which anglers should aspire, so I thought I'd take a step back.

During our last trip to Southwest Florida, I decided to (try to) get Big H on some real fish, to get him overwhelmed with catching fish.   For those of you who have fished in Florida....you know.  You know that while this is never guaranteed, it is most certainly possible.  And while I know spend "weeks" per year fishing the state, there is a lot I do not know.   My father in law had a great experience with Capt. Justin at Native Salt Charters, and so I booked a half day.   I knew it wouldn't be cheap, but I was willing to pay to get this one experience for my son on the books.  Thank goodness my father in law picked up part of the tab as well.  Our targets were speckled trout, redfish, and snook, with the outside possibility of hooking up with small tarpon or permit.

You can have Missouri. 

Those of you who know me, or have read this blog, know that I have pretty high standards (and high criticism) for guides.  You've read my commentaries about guides' hilarious blog posts that are all, "Yeah, bro, like, you know, clients are the worst.  No one ever gets skunked because of the guide! GUIDES SHIT PURE ZEN WISDOM BRO." My brothers and friends and I have been burned by more fishing and hunting guides in more states than I care to recall.  I've also had a few amazing guides.   So I was curious about how this trip would really go.  Would the guide be a detail-driven prick, yelling at his clients?  A dud who had refused to scout for our trip?  Or the guide who spends more time with his line in the water than his clients do?  

Long story short, I was satisfied and impressed by Capt. Justin at Native Salt.  He picked us up at the dock, maybe 90 seconds late (bringing another charter in).  He had already picked up *most* of the bait we'd need, and we rendezvoused with another charter boat en route to get the rest, losing no time in our charter.   I explained to him that the goal was to get Big H on fish, and nothing more, and he seemed to know just where to go.

Fishing pressure was heavy and the first two spots we tried on the ripping tide were duds.  Capt. Justin knows the water so well that he maintains a "10 minute rule."  If no bites in 10 minutes, he moves on.    We eventually started to light into some snook.   Capt's first bite showed me what kind of guide we had, he immediately put the rod in my son's hand and backed him up on the retrieve, getting rod position right and helping H out with the reel.   It was what you pay guides for, but rarely receive.

We tooled around a ton of different spots and messed around with live and artificial bait.

In about 3.5 hours, we ended up catching and releasing 31 snook, with my son landing 17 or so of those fish.   He talked about it for the rest of the trip.   He talked about it when he returned to school.  He asked me the other week "what's that name of the fish we caught in Florida? That was SO FUN."    I don't know what else you need, but I'm a satisfied customer.    Can't wait until our next trip to Florida and our next charter with Native Salt.  I can only afford to do it a few times per year, and I know these guys will help me make it count.

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Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...