Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gear Review: Smith Shelter Polarized Sunglasses

As I mentioned last year when I reviewed the Smith Proofs on this blog, I'd wanted to try out Smiths sunglasses for several years, but I was extremely afraid of getting burned by the $110-140 price tag of their polarized models - a price tag that places them firmly alongside similar Ray-Ban Predators (which I wore for years) and Costa Del Mars (which I've never owned).

I've had the Shelters for a year now - they've been great sunglasses for me (and I did get a deal on them).  Early in 2012, I had the chance to grab a pair of Smith Shelters for an even better deal, and thought I'd try gray lenses instead of my standard brown with tortoise shell frames.  If there's one thing that brown lenses don't give you, it's great protection in high sunlight conditions.

The Proofs I purchased were made using Smith's "Evolve" recycling process, and they were literally the lightest sunglasses I'd ever owned.....until buying the "Evolve" Shelters.   The frames of these sunglasses are light and flexible - a great thing since my two year old loves to grab and bend them (the death of my Ray-Ban Predators in 2010).

Like this color combo much better...but def. not on sale,
and def. not made of recycled materials!
One of the first things you'll notice about these shades, though, is the overall size - these are big glasses.  This is a model suitable, in my opinion, only for guys with medium to large heads (like me) and perhaps for guys and ladies with smaller heads who want to make a fashion statement featuring gigantic sunglasses(which is fine).  The style is obviously a wrap, but the arms are huge - very huge. Reminiscent of some designs I remember from about 10 years ago, surf brands like Dragon and others.  I've lost almost 25 pounds since buying this (if only those two facts were related...) and now, the Shelters almost seem too large.  They are big. In fact, the Smith website even says they are "optimized for larger faces."  Well played, Smith.  Well played. 

If you're using the Shelters outside in high light (as I recommend - it's a pretty dark lens), the huge arms actually pay a nice dividend by cutting down peripheral glare.  They actually remind me of trap shooting glasses in that way.  Although if you want the Shelters for trap shooting, may I recommend the yellow, pink or brown lenses!.  

The lenses are solid, scratch resistant, and well polarized.   Again, the gray lenses are quite dark, and I found that fishing, hiking, or driving with them on in dawn or dusk  glare conditions was definitely not a good call on my part.  Wearing them in higher light, I could easily locate fish under a glare, and see the text on my mp3 player, but I could not read the display of my Android smart phone.  The polarized gray lenses do poorly in low light conditions.

River Mud Gear Grade:
Fit: 3/5 - very large.
Lenses 3/5 -  Solid, not amazing.
Weight: 5/5 - Very light.
Field Utility - 3.5/5.0 - they have their place, and perform well.
Overall Grade: 3/5 - worth buying, especially on sale.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Habitat Restoration: Calling the Solution the Problem

See, the Smoky Mountains came back just fine...errr....
after the Federal Government bought/stole the whole mountain
range out from under timber operators,
and started reforesting it wall-to-wall.  Minor detail. 
About 15 years ago, in the height of political correctness, there was a crop of young far-left biologists and ecologists who believed that the earth was far stronger than man.  That the kind of conservation proposed by Leopold, Teddy Roosevelt, and Pinchot was old simply old conservative men thinking they were doing "God's work to man's dominion."

Those wide-eyed folks left college strongly believing that if just "left alone," the natural world could - and would - fix itself.  Of course, as those biologists actually got into the workplace, spent time afield, and realized that human actions have (in places all over the world) made it impossible for natural places to "be what they were" 10,000 years ago (without obliterating mankind and waiting 20,000 years for earth to repair itself), they realized what the conservationists knew 100 years ago.  Our species is special.  Powerful. And if we value natural places "as they once were," then those gullies have to get fixed.  The invasive plants removed.  The soil amended (since the 10,000 year old soil washed away 100 years ago).  People (and their septic systems) moved out of the marsh.  The haz-mat dump cleaned up.   Those biologists came to understand what farmers, philosophers, and scientists have known for four thousand years - natural places are built from the bottom up.  Soil structure and chemistry > soil microbes > microinvertebrates > macroinvertebrates > vertebrates.  Simple damn ecology. Across most terrestrial and shallow water habitats that have been cut, filled, burned, drained, or paved for human use, we can't (if we value soil, water, and wildlife as being any part of our society's future) wait for some random plants to grow on top of the toxic, eroding mess and just say, "There. Better!"  Those young biologists figured it out, or left the field entirely to go be on Whale Wars or something.

Foresters pose for a picture in 1963, evaluating which
pieces of Pisgah National Forest will be reforested
for timber production (commercial forestry on public land),
which areas will be reforested for public recreation
(hunting and fishing), and which areas will be reforested
and subsequently deemed to be "wilderness."
Note: very few areas, "to be left alone."
So it was almost like a flashback to that bizarre era when an anti-conservationist recently said that the Smoky Mountains were a great example of how nature doesn't need saving or restoring - of how it repairs itself, saves itself, and indeed, can take care of itself without the help of self-serving do-gooder biologists and conservationist nerds.  That argument was the crux of a longer series of rants about how:

1) the government should not interfere with land use that seeks to generate financial wealth or jobs, both undefined at any level;

2) natural resource conservation is generally a hoax of leftist whackos involved in the marxist takeover of our country through earth worship;

3) warning: the government will take your land falsely in the name of "conservation" which of course, is a marxist plot against freedom. The government doesn't care about true conservation - just taking away your rights.

I know, those are all bizarre, but please keep reading.  This is a special story about a triumph of American conservation, achieved through a host of Constitutional violations.  Done with purpose.

Commercial loggers tried but failed to harvest every Chestnut out of the Smokies.  The blight, introduced to America
by horticulturalists,  succeeded in that task, just fifty years later.  20 billion trees dead in 30 years.  The Forest Service and dozens of non-profits  have been furiously reforesting and restoring the Smokies ever since -
a fact I didn't think was contested or contestable.

I actually had to read the Smoky Mountains example twice.  Yes, the Smoky Mountains were nearly completed deforested twice.  And yes, it's pretty and full of trees now, as the region holds almost 200,000 acres of old growth forest (not the same as virgin forest), the densest black bear population in the east, and the most diverse population of non-tropical salamanders.   And despite some career academicians' efforts to prove otherwise, it certainly seems to most ecologists, anglers, hunters, and hikers that the Smoky Mountains were saved in time.  The resource is functional.  Intact.  Closely resembling how God allowed it to be in the first place.  Sure, some stream systems were damaged beyond recognition.  The great American chestnut forest was lost - and replaced with Oak-Hickory and other forest types.  Some wildlife species were lost.  But the Smokies pretty much survived our 18th and 19th century onslaughts for raw materials.

Only via the internet can
a 2012 Tea Party member make
comments identical to those
of  a 1996 eco-nazi!
So let's explore how this salvation occurred.  According to at least one angry voice, this simply could not have occurred through the conservation methods he rages against - over-regulation, government intrusion onto private land, and government prohibition (and potential takings) of land use.  Surely - this key example of how nature takes care of itself cannot - CANNOT - stand as an example of mainstream conservation (which he believes to be Marxism). And I'm here to tell you - he's right.  The Smokies were saved by aggressive action by the federal government - of types that we'd never allow for or even imagine in this day and age.  By hook and by crook, by courtroom, checkbook, and threat of imprisonment, the Smoky Mountains were saved. 

Habitat project by Smoky Mtn
Ruffed Grouse Society.
Didn't happen by itself. 
Let's start with the biggest piece of the Smoky Mountains - Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  GSMNP (Protected, 1940.  Restoration began: 1940) was a combined effort by two figures universally loved by Southerners - John D. Rockefeller and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.   Private moneys (from carpetbaggers like Rockefeller) were combined with tax dollars, and the federal government purchased as much land as they wanted to.  When this resulted in a less-than-ideal land holding, the evictions began.  First, the timber operators were forced off the land - land which they held legal title to own.  They were not paid to leave.  When the progress (in acreage) continued to be a bit slow, homesteaders and farmers were also evicted - in most cases (not all), those people held title to private land.  Right there, in the middle of what a few short-sighted people believe is a monument against modern conservation, is actually a conservation nightmare - conservation in total ignorance of its social and economic impacts.

Yup.  Just "fixed itself."  Duh! 

Just to the north of GSMNP is Pisgah National Forest (Protected: 1915. Restoration began: 1885), where I've spent a good chunk of time fishing over the years.  Pisgah - the amalgamation of several smaller National Forests, is a bit of an enigma.   Also a shining monument to anti-government control, the core of the forest acreage came in 1915, when the Vanderbilts felt compelled to sell 500,000 acres to the federal government at a price "significantly below its value."  This practice, if not entirely voluntary, is now illegal in environmental conservation (or any type of condemnation), as it is recognized to be a "government taking." (however, at the time, was completely legal, given Mahon v. Pennsylvania Coal).   Things are better now.  If the environment is worth protecting, then people should arguably be paid to give it away.

Productive timber land (forest) in the United States.
Don't care about habitat?
Hope you don't use paper, either.

So, then, onto the Nantahala National Forest , which rings the southern end of the Smoky Mountains. The US Forest Service purchased about 15% of the property directly from the US Treasury Department in 1920.  Yup.  You read that right.  The federal government made judgments against landowners, evicted them, and took the property via the Treasury Department.  That is so much more freedom-loving than than modern day conservation!

And yet, despite all of these incursions against legitimate property ownership and property rights, conveyed across multiple states and across the span of decades, the Great Smoky Mountains stand as a testament to difficult decisions being made about the conservation of great American places and resources.   The Forest Service wasn't foolish at the time - many of the enabling legal documents refer to timber stocks for future, unknown wars, hydropower needs and opportunities, and the simple, authentic preservation and restoration of an important American resource.

But don't tell that to the guy who touts the Smoky Mountains as an example of why we shouldn't care, because someone "left it alone" and "it fixed itself."
Visitors to Pisgah National Forest's "See What's to Come" exhibit (1967) learn about the importance of soil
conservation, wildlife management, and forest restoration.
Omitted was the part about, "Aww shucks just leave it, it'll be fine, I'm sure."
And in case you missed it the first time: 

I photoshopped out the sign next to it that said, "This area "Left Alone" by the US Forest Service." 

21 Songs I Hope My Kid Knows and Loves, TOP FIVE! ISH!

For those of you who are fashionably late to the party, I decided to take the foot off the gas, so to speak, with outdoor related posts not directly related to me going outdoors.  I've been thinking about putting this list together for awhile, so why not now?  There are 21 songs because there are 21 songs. Well really, 22.  Or 23. I'm losing track. To sum up our results so far:

(#10 - #6)

10. Old Crow Medicine Show: "Wagon Wheel"
9. Leonard Cohen: "Everybody Knows."
8. Sam Cooke: "Bring it on Home to Me."
7 (tie). REM: "You Are The Everything."  
7 (tie). REM: "Country Feedback."
6. Rolling Stones: "Dead Flowers."

5. Social Distortion: "When She Begins." As I mentioned before, Social Distortion is my favorite band of all time.  They've been together for almost 35 years and did a good bit of work (along with the Cramps and other bands of the early 80s) to forward the rockabilly element in the young American punk rock scene.   Social D list their main influences as Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones, the Clash, and the Ramones - all of whom (magically!) appear on this list somewhere.

 I waited for months for this album ("Somewhere between Heaven and Hell") to come out, and it finally dropped a few weeks before my 18th birthday.  Our college rock / punk rock band was already covering "Ball and Chain" and when we first heard this album, we started playing this song, along with  "Making Believe," (a Wanda Jackson cover) and "Cold Feelings" (both almost made the cut for this list).  We never played "Cold Feelings" for a crowd, but the other two got some listens...

I remember a backyard kegger a few months later (June 1992), when we laid down this song (from a homemade "totally safe" riser/stage)  for 300 teenagers in the hot sun.  I'm not gonna lie, it was freaking awesome. Even though the cops showed up, as they always did.  Typical small town "You're old enough to die in a war, but not to drink a beer, so here's your summons to appear in court" mentality.  Can't take anything from this song, though.   As one Youtube commenter noted: "Only Mike Ness can make a falsetto "Wooohooo" sound manly."

4. Johnny Cash "Man in Black." This song, most of all, describes my politics and how I feel about the world.  Not 2012's nonsensical, "I don't wanna pay no more taxes" from the right, or the equally shrill and selfish, "More subsidies! More government money for me! More money now!" from the left.   I can surmise that our economy and our country weren't really built to care about people, or care for people.  Not to excuse the behavior of those who do wrong, but to extend sincere pity in judgment, "I'm sorry this happened.  I'm sorry you did it.  You have to pay for this now," without all of the usual crime fighting rhetoric, "Justice for the victims!" and "One more criminal off the street!"  Johnny had it right 40 years ago.

3. Queen/Bowie "Under Pressure."  This is an amazing song. "Why can't we give love one more chance?"

2. Cohen, Buckley, Wainright, and others (written by Cohen). "Hallelujah."  While a lot of younger people know this song from Shrek, the first time I heard anyone but Jeff Buckley play it was a 9-11 benefit, on TV almost immediately after the attack on our country, with Rufus Wainright at the piano.  It's a masterful song.  It's a very sad song.  Coupled with footage of Ground Zero, it can weigh heavily on a person.  Leonard Cohen has been a bit dismissive of this song's success, saying things like, "Well it's a good song.  I wrote a lot of other good songs, too."

1. Otis Redding "That's How Strong My Love Is."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Snakeheads on Mattawoman...Good Gracious.

Probably no fish here.
Mattawoman Creek is an oddity.  Just a few dozen miles from Washington DC, it still exists as probably the most productive tidal freshwater fishery in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.   Bass tournaments are held here.  Anglers come here to catch the elusive 8lb citation largemouth.  The American shad migration is stronger than anywhere else in the Upper Bay.  Thousands of parents bring their kids here every year to catch their first bass.

How? The watershed is largely protected from development, sewage, and runoff, primarily thanks to government regulations and local watershed activists.  And while it's true, we could never truly destroy an actual river - meaning, the water and the sediment (and probably gizzard shad!) - many attempts have been made to destroy this river's integrity - its value to people - by loosening regulations on surrounding land use and headwater protections.  In the case of the Mattawoman, those attempts have failed. So far.  And all that, despite the occasional Huckleberry screaming, "You can't kill a river! And what about my constitutional rights to build condos on swamp land below sea level!"

Unfortunately, the Mattawoman does have a problem.  Its notoriety as an amazing habitat for largemouth bass apparently opened a gigantic welcome sign for the always-migrating Northern Snakehead, an apex predator of Southeast Asian freshwater aquatic beds that was introduced into Maryland between 1997-2001 by someone who should be shot, at least in the knee.  I wrote about that introduction here.  

Now, the creek has become an absolute destination for anglers seeking these ridiculously toothy, mouthy and totally explosive fish, who - it seems - are quite content to just eat mature frogs and largemouth bass.   With that in mind, Nick from Brookfield Angler gave me a ring when he was in town, looking to get on some snakeheads.  A few other guys joined us out on the Mattawoman that evening.  What we saw was surreal - both for the habitat and the invader. 

Seconds after I took this picture, a 30"+ snakehead swam by with its head out of the water, looking at me. Yup. 

We tried a huge variety of lures, from jerkbaits to plastics, both of us finally having success with the Koppers Live Target frog.  Now, I'll have to define "success."  Out of four anglers on the creek that night - after a day-long rain storm and in cool temperatures - one snakehead was landed (scroll down), and one largemouth was landed (by Nick).  What we did have were gigantic blow-ups on the surface, next to the pads and other vegetation...some really heart stopping stuff, like your fishing buddy throw an M-80 in the water next to you without telling you.  I saw one gigantic bass under an old steel beam (he lipped a soft plastic frog and then stared at me, and then spit it out), and surely many of our "blow ups" were bass.

But then we started to see the Snakeheads. They were everywhere.  Just....everywhere.  Unlike the largemouth, who were hanging out on the edge of submerged grass beds and tucking in beside them, the snakeheads would run up and down vertically through the middle of the beds, making them difficult to spot and almost impossible to catch on sight.

Now, you may be thinking, "these beds don't look that big.  Who couldn't find a fish in here? How big could it possibly be?" Well, I offer this:

Others of you are thinking, "What you boys need is a bass boat!" To which I don't disagree in theory (because your plane of vision from the kayak is awfully poor for this kind of fishing).  But again, I ask you to think about how much you paid for your outboard, or even your trolling motor, and then take a peek at this, "in the channel".....

So here it is.  After many hooked fish, dozens more "blow ups" after our LiveTarget frogs, and about four hours paddling, one of the four anglers caught this gigantic, scary ass snakehead.  From the shore.  As we were loading up the boats. Ugh.  At least I got my picture taken with it. 

We'll be back to chase these things on a day when they are hungry.  That I can promise you.  I can also honestly tell you that this is the scariest freshwater fish I have ever handled.  It is a mean, nasty thing.  The skull continues all the way back to the fins.  It's like Captain Hook's freaking hook arm.  Just....mean. 

I've heard that these things are delicious, and I love me some fried fish.  But after seeing these mean ass things in the marsh, and handling a decent size one, I think they are made of Kevlar and chewed up bullets.  My instructions to fillet would start with, "Take a sharpened axe, lightly buttered........"

I don't know what we'll do differently next time.  This is technical fishing.  No error fishing.  Not really my specialty.  I mean, what do you do with a fish who picks his head up out of the water to look at you before you even get within casting range?   But we'll make it work.   I have some thoughts about this beautiful marsh  that I'm looking forward to sharing with you.  But I had to cleanse my mind of this Snakehead business first.

Sure, the rivers will always be here.  They will outlast us, despite how much pollution we dump in them, or how many foreign species we introduce to their shorelines.  The waters, indeed, will still physically persist, long after  we dirty enough of them to kill off our species - and one day they will heal, without us.  That doesn't sound like a really intelligent ideal or objective, but then again, I'm the guy posing for a picture with a live snakehead.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hank and the Search for Pennsylvania's Tenkara Sasquatch

My wife (blog here) (etsy here) had some kind of advanced photography shindig up in Southeastern PA recently and since the region is well known for its optimal habitat for Tenkara Sasquatch, Hank asked me if we could go find that timid, complex beast.  Actually, Hank's exact words were more like, "Daddy! I'm Batman! Daddy! I pooped my pants! Daddy! I want ice cream!"   But up we headed, into the land of duPonts and of Ladies Unnecessarily Wearing Riding Boots and Riding Pants Around Town for No Reason All The Time.  Also known as the Kennett Square - Valley Forge Wildnerness Area of Pennsylvania. What we found there was peculiar...and disturbing.

We learned that all modern Pennsylvanians live in tiny houses -
certainly no home for a Sasquatch!

Hank showed me that despite the placement of defensive artillery across the landscape
by local Pennsylvanians in recent weeks,
Tenkara Sasquatch had indeed peed right here, like 10 minutes ago.

We were pretty surprised that the Amish were not trying
to rollerblade down this dirt path, which I believe passes for a "state highway"
in Pennsylvania.  The length of the on-ramp (non-existent) is certainly identical.
This house was much bigger, and we were pretty sure that either
the Governor of PA, or Tenkara Sasquatch lived here.

Well, the Pennsylvanian villagers wonder why Tenkara Sasquatch is always so mad,
but then the Pennsylvanian villagers leave Tenkara Sasquatch nasty tea biscuits to eat,
and this horrible freaking rough-cut lumber bed to sleep in.  Duh.
Note to Tenkara Sasquatch: we will totally hook you up with some more tea biscuits.
Hank is real sorry he ate all of yours.
We looked for Tenkara Sasquatch down by Valley Creek,
but apparently Valley Forge National Park, whose mission
is to provide public access to these places, governed by
the National Park Service, whose mission is to provide
public access to outdoor recreation, would rather spend $10
on a cheap "keep out" sign than to actually restore the damn stream.
Don't worry, NPS biologists.  One day, Tenkara Sasquatch will get you.
Then you'll be sorry you didn't apply for grant funds to restore the stream.
Actually, you probably won't.  Because you work for NPS.
Hank asked the seasonal park employee where he might find
a display on Tenkara Sasquatch, but this is where she sent us instead.
Dude, not even close. 
These Pennsylvanians were flying a Confederate Battle Flag, obviously
cognizant of the great support lent to the CSA's cause by
the Commonwealth of PA back in the good ol' days of 1861-1865.
They claimed to have four Tenkara Sasquatch mounts in their trailer,
but could not take the time out from cooking meth
to show them to Hank and I.
We learned that in an obvious WIN for personal freedoms,
silt fence is apparently not required for 10+ acre, totally unstabilized construction projects in PA,
in the pouring down rain.
I guess Tenkara Sasquatch can build his own filtration plant,
or put the silt fence up his damn self.  Hell no I won't pay for it.
Silt fence is for commie land grabbers. 

Finally, our hunt for Tenkara Sasquatch met its logical conclusion when we were arrested and deported to Maryland when Amy finished up her super spiffy super pro photography class, and in exhausted defeat, we struggled back to the state line, picking up such meager provisions - typical of Pennsylvania - as Capriotti's subs and coffee and pastries from The Cafe at Terrain.

With such truly meager provisions finally secured, we slept soundly, knowing that Tenkara Sasquatch continues to wander the suburban sprawl neglected public land ancient forests of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Note: we really do enjoy PA and we get up there about a half-dozen times per year.  I do not hate Pennsylvania, nor do I think you all live in tiny houses and trust me, I do not think that there is anything "meager" about Capriotti's.  Philadelphia is a beautiful city and I know that you are all not Amish, just most of you.  But seriously, your on ramps are horrible.  They are five feet long.  What's the use of that?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

You Ain't Got to Bring A Thing

There are a lot of different kinds of friendships. I'd be lying if I even claimed to know what they all are.  But regardless of where a friendship starts, it often grows around trust.  Otherwise, the relationship usually just withers and goes away.  With trust, time, and the outdoors comes a really interesting bond.

 A while back, I was working through my mental checklists for an upcoming visit from one of my brothers (of course we were going fishing!), and he asked, "What gear do I need ?" The answer? None. My exact words were, "You ain't got to bring a thing, Brocephus."  Why? I have fished the waters we'd be fishing, and I know I have the right gear to get on it.  And in fact, I have two sets of said gear.  And despite my keen ability to break rods in half, lose lures in the trees, and nearly blow choke tubes out of the end of shotguns, I don't need to roll with duplicates of everything on a quick local trip like we'd be making.  Why should my brother have to bring anything? We got it all here already, afterall.

I thought about it for a little while, and realized what my statement, "You ain't got to bring a thing" means, beyond, "What my wife says is true - I do have too much gear!"  But there's a lot more meaning in there.  The statement communicates a series of subconscious handshakes, winks, and pats on the back without wasting a breath or a keystroke.  The meat of it?  "I know what we need, you can trust me to take care of it, and I want you to focus on getting here, because being together is the most important part." And it does take some trust for the other person to humor you, and not bring a 10' box trailer full of their own gear on their trip to visit you.

I also thought about how many people have honored me - really asking me for my trust in them - by telling me those words over the years.  Yeah, of course it's often a bit modified, like, "Waders. License. Stamps. Be here," because there are certain things you do have to have on your own.  Think about that last part, though - the "be here."   It made me think about friends like Seth, who drove 40 minutes out of his way, the day before my visit, to buy me a county-specific trout access stamp. Or Scott, who occasionally invites me to hunt at the farm that he and his brother bought a few years back....10 dozen decoys, quality duck blinds, a good ATV, and good conversation are all free, and part of the deal.  Or John, who meticulously maintains his offshore duck blinds and just always tells me, "Warm boots. Dozen Krispy Kremes. 6am at my dock."   These are all great invites.  But these guys, and similar people in  our lives, are more than just wonderful hosts.  And these are more than just invitations.

They are people who are willing to share that which is most basic - their time and their knowledge.  Their space and its ability to pull birds, fish, or other critters seemingly out of thin air.  Well, on some days, anyway.  Their thoughts on any variety of conversational topics that may come up - from lost boyfriends and girlfriends, to found husbands and wives, to spiritual battles both won and lost.  From misunderstood gun dogs to 30-year old bulletproof groundhogs.  From their feelings on the day their first child was born, to their feelings on the day they laid their best friend to rest.   You're the guest - and you've been invited to a front row seat to it all.  You may even bag that citation trout or your first cinnamon teal.  And you ain't got to bring a thing.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Visiting Snakehead Invasion Ground Zero

You know that spot you always wanted to fish, but you didn't?  I have lots of them, and you probably do too.  One of them is between Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington, and was the scene of the east coast's first Northern Snakehead discovery in 2002.   Like most spots I've circled on a map but haven't visited, I've stayed away for a variety of reasons - no single causative "no go."  However, the biggest reason I've delayed my first visit is that upon finding the Snakehead in this pond, Maryland DNR obliterated the pond with Rotenone, killing pretty much all animal life (and a thousand-plus snakeheads) within the pond.  I think it's been poisoned again since then, to make sure the Snakeheads were gone.  Fish poisons with a 20-year half-life seem like a good reason to avoid fishing a spot.

Good cover, good oxygen
But finally I stopped by the place.  I won't name the pond, not because it's secret (I found a worm bucket and several empty soda bottles) but because the pond's ownership is dubious, and personally, I'd prefer that it remain so.   Like many of the other spots I fish within a few miles of there, it's an abandoned or "reclaimed" sand and gravel pit in the floodplain of the Patuxent / Little Patuxent Rivers.  The "reclamation" process usually includes shoring up any dams, throwing down a little topsoil and a little grass seed, and saying "So long!"  Even so, given time, some pretty interesting habitats can develop on these sites - these are often groundwater-fed ponds, which often have no linkage to the nearby rivers (except during floods).   Most are less than 40-50 acres in size, and have no current or fetch to speak of - just cold, clean water.  At least until the algae bloom starts and the groundwater table drops for the summer.

In 2002, an angler headed out to this pond for what turned out to be a very newsworthy day, or at least what passes for newsworthy when an invasive species is something other than a tiger or 20 foot crocodile.  He was bass fishing and instead of bass, found something very different, something that had been brought all the way from the canals and wetlands of Southeast Asia.  This is the actual photo (courtesy of Maryland DNR).

The alarms immediately went off for federal and state fisheries biologists, and an immediate, aggressive control effort was put into place.  And it failed.   We'll never really know if the Northern Snakehead invasion began in this pond, but it's pretty likely, and the fish reproduced and moved into the Patuxent River very quickly - more were discovered downstream that very year.   Two years later, it was found in the tidal portion of the Potomac.   Other rivers followed.  In 2011, it was confirmed to have crossed the Chesapeake Bay successfully, and invading tidal freshwater rivers on Maryland's eastern shore.   Most warm, tidal tributaries of the Potomac and Patuxent now have documented Snakeheads present.  Biologists hope that saltwater to the south and cold winter temperatures to the north can work to limit its spread.  Hasn't worked yet.

The Snakehead is a voracious killer, and it's said to love juvenile largemouth bass (themselves introduced to Maryland about 100 years ago, although from Florida, not Asia).   Maryland DNR requires that all Snakeheads be killed once in possession - it's illegal to have a live one in your possession, no matter what the circumstances.   A few snakehead tournaments have already been held, and more are yet to come.  But it certainly seems like this toothy invader is probably here to stay.  I've been trying to chase one down for about a year and have failed.  It's almost time for my next attempt, at Mattawoman Creek, one of North America's hotspots for snakehead fishing.  Stay tuned....

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Garden Frenzy, and Garden Writing in General

I'm growing to love lavender hyssop
Writing about gardening is a funny thing.  For starters, unless you have bred a new cultivar or grown something where it was previously believed impossible, basically nobody will read what you write.  I've read some of the classic gardening "narratives," and By God, they are awful.   "Erstwhile, today we hast planted many seeds, which led me to reflect on the words of the Nicene Creed.."  Just....yikes.

But I enjoy gardening, and from a sustainability standpoint, I think that knowing how to grow our own food is a pretty important skill.   In fact, our population (as a species) probably didn't grow much at all until we began growing food, instead of running all over the earth chasing food.

Goldenrod isn't blooming yet, so this
Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (a predator of garden pests)
is just hanging out on my parsley instead
So what's been going on in my garden?  It's been a unique year for pests, first of all.  The usual suspects (cutworms) didn't visit, but the slugs and grackles sure did.    My garden is fully no-till which means it has a wood chip mulch on top to keep weed seed away.  Well, that mulch slowly rots, providing perfect slug habitat.  Then I go and pop a pepper plant into the ground, and it becomes slug food, too.  However, I added some iron phosphate slug pellets (totally natural) from the local farmer's supply store, and it looks like they are laying off.  These are small garden slugs, not those big gigantic things.

Grackles, on the other hand, have destroyed 2 plantings of carrots and my first planting of sunflowers.  Stay tuned.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the growing season, little Hank's level of insanity and tendency to run off with little to no warning was a cue to me that I needed to garden differently this year.  There'd be little time to tinker about with individual specimen plants, in other words.  This summer, almost half of the garden is under some cover crop or another, which both cuts my food production and my workload in half.  That's okay for the time being.

Spilomiya hoverfly on lavender hyssop

I am experimenting with gravity-fed irrigation, which I'll be blogging about soon, and I've thrown a couple new species of plants in the mix as well.  The spring's warm, dry temperatures brought early blooms all around.  I wasted a lot of lettuce that bolted during March's 90 degree days.  Now my potatoes are blooming! In early June!  Peppers and tomatoes are already following suit - hopefully it's a long productive season.

Here's a bit of a chronosequence on the garden's progress this spring, starting from the most recent photo.

June 10

May 26

May 19

May 4
April 15

April 1
Circa February 1st
You see? There's always hope!

Friday, June 15, 2012

50 Shades of Flounder: My Angling History, Part III

Note: this is the continuation of another post, prompted by a writing contest (which has long since passed) on Howard Levett's Windknots and Tangled Lines blog. I took on the project slowly but earnestly because I thought it was important to the overall goals of my blog. I've enjoyed putting it together and I hope you enjoy it as well.

Part IV
Part V

The summer's mission was simple: work a good job and spend every waking moment on the water.  I had grown tired of the mountains, and was starting to tire of my long-term grad school girlfriend in the mountains, who had the trait of having temper tantrums over things in life that are not important, and then declaring that she wasn't talking to me for some undetermined number of days.  After one such episode, I just never called her back.

With that, I was single, and singularly focused on being 24 and living at the beach - think more Abacos and less Jersey Shore.  I've never written about this, and am inclined to keep it brief for right now, but it's an amazing thing, leaving the mountains in early May and heading down the escarpment, through the piedmont, and down off the Fall Line into the coastal plain.  It's like watching spring happen in four hours - I've found it to be true from New York to South Carolina.  And that sudden change into new, warm growth, was just what I needed.  Funny - it was what I needed almost every year I lived in the mountains (about 7).

 I bought new saltwater tackle.  Lots of it.  I used it.  I caught fish.  We fished early, we fished late.  We fished all night.  We got in fights on the ocean piers.  Maybe that was the beer.

I worked as a wetland field technician for several PhD students at Old Dominion University.  The work was strenuous, tick-filled, stressful, sometimes demeaning and almost always, exhausting.  The doctoral students, boat operators, and older techs all bragged about how many times they'd had Lyme disease, how many blacktip sharks they'd had to punch out of research fish nets that morning, and generally how hardcore they all were at life.  It was tiring just listening to their stories.   However, the job site wasn't horrible, as far as fishing goes.  In fact, I reckon you'd say it was world class.  Meet Hog Island.

I did tons and tons and tons of fieldwork that resulted in pretty important studies that somebody else got credit for (since it was their idea and their money), such as:

Bledsoe, C.S., T.J. Fahey, R. Ruess, and F.P. Day. 1999. Measurement of static root parameters - biomass, length, distribution. In G.P. Robertson, C.S. Bledsoe, D.C. Coleman, and P. Sollins (eds.), Standard Soil Methods for Long-Term Ecological Research. Oxford University Press, New York.

Dilustro, J.J., F.P. Day, and B.G. Drake. 2001. Decomposition of fine roots under C02 enriched conditions in an oak-scrub ecosystem. Global Change Biology 7: 1-9.

Day, F.P., E. Crawford, and J.J. Dilustro. 2001. Plant biomass change along a coastal barrier island dune chronosequence over a six-year period. J. Torrey Bot. Soc. 128: 197-207.

Dilustro, J.J., F.P. Day, B.G. Drake, and C.R. Hinkle. 2002. Abundance, production and mortality of fine roots under elevated atmospheric C02 in an oak-scrub ecosystem. Environmental and Experimental Botany 48: 149-159.

Day, F.P., C. Conn, E. Crawford, and M. Stevenson. 2004. Long-term effects of nitrogen fertilization on plant community structure on a coastal barrier island dune chronosequence. Journal of Coastal Research 20: 722-730.

I know! Isn't it totally fascinating?  My part of the work was totally significant, like getting attacked by hornets while checking groundwater wells, and "sweating through the flies" while recording root growth on a video camera.  In all seriousness though, I did collect a lot of good data and I did - in fact - find a huge bunch of forged data by a doctoral student who didn't like going to the island, so he just made stuff up.  That went over well.  Idiot. We also had a little free time on the island, and managed to sneak bodyboards out there for a little surfing - the closest I've ever been to dolphins (about 18 inches from me - and - side note - dolphins are really big).

Met lots of blacktips in 1998 - here's a classic story about one such day!
We also snuck out 4-piece fishing rods out in our GPS packs, and scavenged for bait.  Fiddler crabs = bad bait unless you want to catch cownose rays.  Cownose ray = horrible bait and impossible to cut.  Dead minnows = great flounder, drum, trout, redfish, and shark bait.  It was always a little nerve wracking because obviously we'd never fish or goof off before finishing our work, which meant we would goof off after we finished our work and before the work boat returned for us.   Not sure if anyone ever knew what the hell we were up to out there, but oh well, it happened.  I've never fished so much "without a plan" as I did on those days on the island.  Some days we caught nothing, and thought nothing of it.

If your pre-work ritual includes
having to choose between
saltwater fishing and small
wave surfing, you're
doing something right.
It was also most certainly my first experience with large game catch and release.  That's a huge redfish!  Now throw it back before somebody sees us holding a giant redfish on a nature preserve.  By each friday, I was usually sunburned and exhausted, and with almost all of my clothes covered in mud, salt, and sand.

Even on days (often fridays) when we were stuck in the lab entering data, we'd shift our work schedules to get on the water at sunrise.  Often, it turned out to be just a tease, because by 8:15am we'd have to be brushing the sand and mud off, throwing gear in the car, and changing clothes while driving (totally safe).  Really stressful just to catch a wave or wet a line.  But inevitably the weekend, came, and that meant it was time to head south into North Carolina.

Weekends in the Outer Banks were brutal, as you can see from the photo below.

I love this picture of the (now destroyed) Frisco Pier because this is how I remember it from that summer.  I'd surfed here many times before that year, but always in storm-blown conditions.   The first several times I saw it in Summer,1998, the water was the blue color in this photo.  Never before or since have I had that much fun surfing and fishing among friends - in water that was a few degrees warmer than Hatteras' chilly surf, and full of fish.  So clear and so blue.

Winning at life, ha ha!
And unlike points north of Cape Hatteras, the towns of Frisco and Ocracoke were filled with only two brands of people: surfers and anglers.  Two great, stoked crowds to be around.  Conversations around campfires and deck bars were only about water clarity, marine forecasts, and "secret reefs" for one purpose or another.  Man, it was a great time.

I never fished with anything more complicated than a tandem bottom rig or a Carolina rig, and I didn't care.  Most saturdays found my friends and I on the road to "Frisco, baby!" by 430am, surfing from 630am to 930am, surf fishing (and napping) most of the day while the onshore winds cranked, surfing again until sunset, and driving back to Virginia Beach on an empty gas tank (gas was 99 cents a gallon in 1998!), exhausted, sunburnt, broke, and drunk (passengers) on cheap beer.  And by beer, I mean 40s of Mickeys.  Because that's how we roll in the 757. Moment of silence.

.....and all was right with the world.  Two other things happened that summer that hadn't taken place for a long time - I fished with my brothers and I fished with my Dad, a relentless bait dunker.  One day, I caught a largemouth on a Rapala minnow while Pops was busy philosophizing about the amazingness of live bait, and getting skunked with live minnows (he ended up catching one bass, slightly bigger than mine....).  I remember another day where it seemed like my brother T and I just pulled bucketfuls of fish out of an inlet in Virginia Beach.  Flounder. Trout. Croaker.  5000 sea robins.  47 oyster toads.  Flounder. Trout. Repeat.

Before I knew it, the summer was over.  For the first time in my life, I'd put the outdoors ahead of women in my life, at least in terms of my schedule, and it felt fantastic.  I remember reluctantly loading the truck back up to head up the mountain to Boone for my final semester of grad school.  I carried on with some solid fishing in the mountains - catching smallmouth and largemouth in the lakes around ski resorts, for one thing.  I remember following the fish stocking schedule for the first time in my life - and being successful based on it.

And I remember feeling different about fishing and about the outdoors - that something had fundamentally shifted.  Maybe an addiction.   That rekindled love of fishing would be tested a few months later when I left grad school and North Carolina and took a job in Baltimore - unknown land and unknown waters.  Two hours from the ocean and ninety minutes from the mountains.  I wasn't sure if that layout was perfect, or horrible, but I'd soon find out.  Tune in to Part IV! Thanks for reading!

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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...