Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sometimes It's All Wrong

Upper limits of Lake Roland, turning back into Upper Jones Falls
Sometimes I just get it right - right day, right barometer, right timing. And other times I just get it dreadfully wrong. On this day, we set out on our "neighborhood lake," a more or less abandoned reservoir from the 1800s, after the area's wettest May on record, the day after a major front moved through, with high air temperatures, high humidity, and a rising barometer. But, with a lot of things going on, it was an opportunity to get outdoors and to take my buddy & college roomate (1992 seems like a long time ago!) kayaking.
The high water in the reservoir made everything look different around my usual fishing spots, and the cloudy runoff didn't help. My woodpile where I landed 40+ crappie in 90 minutes last year was either pushed downstream, or sitting underwater somewhere. Hard to tell. I used every manner of small lure I could find, and nothing would bite. Finally, at the upper end of the lake, I saw some small bass moving around. Up into the stream that feeds the Lake (usually impassable, even by kayak), there were some neat 6 to 8' deep holes against scoured banks. I cast into them several times, finally figured out a retrieve that was enticing some fish bites, and then BLAM! I caught the day's first fish.
Okay, maybe it was more like blam, the day's first fish. This might be the smallest fish I have ever caught on a line. Oh well - the streak continues - at least I have been catching fish this year.

The channel has jumped its banks, making for an easy paddle around silt and sandbars
My next post will be a little more technical - I ran into several occasions this spring where I was targeting nesting in particular because the entire range of my casts was over top of a huge submerged bench full of nests. I didn't do well....but yes of course, I caught fish.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cushwa Basin on the C and O Canal

Cushwa Brick Warehouse, ca. 1810
On the way to West Virginia, I had the opportunity to stop by and (briefly) fish a spot I had visited once before, the Cushwa Basin on the C&O (Chesapeake & Ohio) Canal. On the lightest of light tackle, I managed to catch several small sunfish and a few tiny bass. The spot offers an impressive diversity of fishing, from the deep, cold water of the Potomac, to the constructed Cushwa Basin itself (on the canal line), and the colder shallows of Conococheague Creek which outfalls to the Potomac about 500' west of the Cushwa Basin. Public access, including small boat access, is great. You just have to get here - about 90 miles west of Baltimore and 60 miles northwest of Washington DC. When I first arrived, people were feeding Wonder Bread to the fish, which definitely did not help my fishing. In addition, the larger sunfish were all on their nests, and fully territorial throughout the extended shallows (the subject of a future post). With that being said, here's a little bit of background on this unique spot.

Cushwa Basin, with German Horse Barn (ca. 1780s, left) and Brick Warehouse (1810, built on the foundation of a 1700s tobacco barn).
The Cushwa Basin was built on the C&O Canal in the 1830s. The land was first "owned" by the Patowmack (Potomac) Land Company (proprietor: George Washington) in 1785. The idea behind the canal was to connect the natural resources of the Ohio River Valley to the export markets of the Chesapeake Bay & East Coast.
Between 1785 and 1828, the primary structures of the Canal were built, along with some heavy duty river locks in the Upper Potomac, meant to support the canal's water level in many areas, and directly float the barges through other areas. Slowly, aqueducts were constructed to keep the canal boats out of the Potomac River completely. The most notable of these aqueducts was the Monocacy Aqueduct, which I previously visited and blogged about here, but another aqueduct was right here at Cushwa - the Conococheague Aqueduct, built in 1834.

Cushwa Basin - looking east into the C&O Canal
Like the Monocacy Aqueduct, the Conococheague Aqueduct was a pinch-point for freight and durable goods (hence the need for the Cushwa Basin), and as such, was a frequent target during the Civil War. The Aqueduct was sabotaged (but not destroyed) by Union troops in 1861 (Battle of Falling Waters), sabotaged and destroyed by Confederate troops in 1863, rebuilt, and sabotaged (but not destroyed) by Confederate troops in 1864. It was rebuilt in 1865, again in 1870, and once again in 1887. The Aqueduct, Cushwa Basin, and the Canal itself went out of business in 1924, unable to compete with its competitor, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which (ironically) was built to compete with the Erie Canal, not the C&O Canal. Here's a great read on their 150+ years of competition, courtesy of the National Park Service!

Friday, June 12, 2009

I've Been Keeping Something From You

Meet Henry.
Here's Henry. He's quite small - less than 2lbs and 14 inches. Right now his interests are limited to sleeping, kicking, and punching. He looks pretty normal now, compared to some of the earlier 3D ultrasound images, and as far as we can tell, he is perfectly healthy. He is scheduled to join us in about 90 days and we are really excited about that. For the time being, he is mostly excited about my wife's consumption of salsa, cake, and italian ice.
My wife and I have been married for over 9 years, and yesterday was her 35th birthday. In that time, we have been through a lot, but it's true that if you don't let it tear you apart, it all makes you stronger. We have been trying to have a baby for a while, and like our marriage, I'm glad we stuck with it. The pregnancy has not been easy, but then again, I don't know why I expected it to be. We have all kinds of friends with all kinds of advice about how, exactly, we should parent, but we're not really concerned about that. We are just excited to have a little family - and I can't wait to teach Henry all about this life, and this world.
Obviously I "have no idea how much this will change things." How could I? One of my primary goals right now is to get my work life honed down to a dull roar - for the first time in my life, "work" seems to be less of a priority than helping my wife out at home, and just "being home" in general. Maybe this is what "settling down" is like.
My career, and our lives, are very much on the road, and will always be that way, and I'm not sure I would ever change that if I could. So trust me, there will still be plenty to write about once Henry joins us. Please wish us luck & send us a prayer if that's your thing.
And don't worry - more outdoors stuff coming soon, ha ha!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Swamp Primeval: Light Tackle in the Chickahominy Headwaters

Are you ready to get swampy?

Headwaters of the Chickahominy - 
no hard bottom and shallow water make it paradise for wildlife and a graveyard for boots.
During a visit to an old duck club just outside of Richmond, Virginia, I found exactly what I had hoped to - the prehistoric headwaters of the Chickahominy River. I've previously blogged about the human history and also some of the recreational opportunities available there. And then there's my citation black crappie. While the Chickahominy River is nestled inbetween the busy urban areas of Richmond and the Virginia Peninsula, it's  the closest thing to a coastal "wilderness area" north of the Great Dismal Swamp. Hundreds of thousands of people in the region mean lots of pressure on ducks, turkeys, deer, and fish on the outskirts of this giant swamp - but if you can punch through the exterior, you can find a beautiful, primitive place, so we always return.
So, a little more about "The Chick." It's a relatively unassuming tributary of the James that drains about 470 square miles of the Chesapeake Bay's 64,000 square mile drainage area. The river's course only runs about 110 miles from its true headwaters in downtown Richmond, to its mouth at the James River. Once a high quality freshwater tidal river, the Chickahominy was forever changed by a dam built across it to ensure fresh water for shipbuilding (now, municipal water). As a result, the lower Chickahominy is now a brackish tidal system, while the upper Chickahominy is a giant freshwater lake.  Upslope of the lake remain the relatively pure and isolated headwaters - cool, clean water from the ground. And that's where our adventure starts. I only had a few hours to kill, and only a pair of knee I just went for it.

First largemouth of the year...FINALLY. Caught/released on a rubber floating cricket

Another small but healthy bass. Lure - rubber dragonfly larva.
The area is interesting because there is no deep water habitat, and no hard bottom. This part of the river, with extensive beaver wetlands winding in and out of the "channels" filter a lot of silt from the urban areas uphill - mostly farms and highways around Richmond's outskirts. Typically in these systems, the man-made siltation far outweighs the capacity of the river to cope with it, and extensive unvegetated shallows result. However, for some reason, the cycle of siltation and flushing has not proved problematic for the upper Chickahominy - certainly there are fewer "signature" coastal plain plants like the Bald Cypress, White Cedar, and the Lady's Slipper Orchid (all of which are still present in some number, but less than their historic density), but the system as a whole is still quite healthy.

Big fat bluegill - nothing wrong with that

Funny looking markings on this really feisty pumpkinseed

Common Green Darner

Juvenile slaty skimmer? Or a yellow-sided skimmer? Either way, not previously recorded in this county. Score 1: River Mud!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Seneca Rocks at Monongahela National Forest

In the middle of racing between Grandma's funeral and trying to fit in a full week of work (on the road in West Virginia), we came by the famous Seneca Rocks formation in the Monongahela National Forest. The Rocks are part of a larger formation, the River Knobs, which are a tilted band of dense quartzite that runs across this part of the South Branch Potomac Headwaters (the parent material - sandstone - would have eroded centuries ago).
The site is an extremely popular destination for rock climbers, and has numerous pitches inbetween 5.1 and 5.8. I'm sure there are steeper climbs, but I could find reference to none on the internet. Native Americans camped along the River for centuries, but who first climbed the formation? According to my good pal Wikipedia, a highly publicized ascent in 1939 ended with the happy climbers finding the inscription, "D.B. 1908" in the rocks! One story is that the initials belong to a company surveyor, D. Bittenger, who worked in the area.
In 1943, the US Amy 10th Mountain Division (recently famous for their efforts in Tora Bora, Afghanistan), "assumed temporary control" of the site to train mountain infantry. Up until this point, most mountain infantry were trained in flatland sites, on man-made structure. Thousands of soldiers were trucked in for intensive 2-week courses on the Seneca Rocks. The instructors and students were unsure why these rocks were selected, or what type of assault they were training for. Their primary training site (Camp Carson, Colorado) featured extensive hiking and mountaineering but few or no multiple pitch climbs, multiple rappells, etc. So why?

.The objective of this particular training exercise remained a mystery through D-Day (at which point the facility was closed), and until January 28, 1945, when the 10th Mountain Division assaulted Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere in the Apennine Mountains of Italy. Three other Army divisions had captured the summit (the site of entrenched Axis heavy artillery), but all had failed to hold it. The German troops manned Riva Ridge lightly, because they believed it was impossible for any troops to scale the rock walls. The 10th MD troops scaled the 1,500 foot wall at roughly 1:00am, each carrying between 60lbs and 140lbs of gear, and captured Riva Ridge before dawn, leading to the fall of Mount Belvedere and the first significant retreat of the Nazis to the north. The technical climbing skills required of these men was gained at Seneca Rocks.

10th Mountain Division trainees at Seneca Rocks, WV; 1943

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