Friday, September 28, 2012

New Season, New Attitude

Persimmons, acorns, and mud.  My kind of place. 
It's fall.   I guess I am in some kind of personal growth period, which is another way of saying things aren't easy and I intend to figure them out anyway.  I could write about it for days, but honestly it comes down to just a few basics: not enough money, not enough time, and some changes in hard-won priorities.

I love goose and duck hunting.  But with $4 gas, two jobs, a 1.5-2 hour drive to most of my hunting spots (including my lease), and a limited amount of time otherwise, it seems like putting a huge priority on hunting right now is just kind of dumb. It's not helping my mindset that early duck season is just two weeks away, and air temperatures here in Maryland are still in the mid-80s.  Last season was one of the worst on record, and I was just kind of hoping to start 2012-2013 off on the right foot.

One way to deal with this negativity is just to stop hunting.  No thanks.  Although, I recently *almost* convinced my wife to let us raise game birds (for meat and eggs) here at the house, which would be a nice consolation prize.  *Almost.*  The other way to deal with the current "logistical reality," so to speak, is to hunt differently, which I intend to do.   To focus on local opportunities, more bow hunting, more small game.  The kind of hunting that while I still love, I've really spent the least amount of time trying to understand.  I guess now it's time.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chasing That Which Cannot Be Caught

I study my son in awe, as he pursues all things
without hesitation, without bias,
and without consideration of failure
or compromise.
It's amazing how we can compartmentalize our lives.  Hmm. That's not a particularly deep or original thought.  Let's try again.

The many parts of our lives all have unresolved questions attached to them.   What I'm finding to be amazing is that the problems and questions of some parts of our lives have clear answers that are not impossible to come by, given some basic mental clarity, a phone with an "off" button, and meditation, prayer, and solitude.  Of course, just because you find the right answer doesn't mean you can apply it to your life.  But at least you can figure out what the ideal solution might be, if all encumbrances, all obstacles moved out of your path.

But what about the other parts of our mind, soul, and our life?  The parts that instinctively tell us to "GO GO GO GO" as part of our most basic programming?   Those with the strongest of spiritual faith may or may not have this qualm - the thought of, "What am I, beyond how I am wired?"  This is not a soul search at all.  It's a question.

What do we chase?

What do you chase?

I pursue the sights and sounds and smells of the outdoors.   The outdoors - though not everywhere outdoors - holds a few places where my other doubts and fears and anxieties cannot find me.  At age 38, I still haven't figured out why, and suddenly (for some reason) I want to know.  Does the the natural stimulus not only drive me, but also smother out the other parts of my life? Or is it that time afield actually helps me handle those stresses, those many questions that cannot be answered?

It's becoming apparent to me that there exists a set of questions that are mathematically impossible, for they are not meant to be answered at all.  Whether they exist as a test from our creator, or as an accidental chemical calculus quiz inherited from our biology, well, that's another debate.   I guess the only difference is whether something larger than us knows we (individually or as a whole) are chasing these impossible questions, and of course, whether our souls will return to that other reality somehow.

All I know is that I look at my son, nearly three years old now, and wonder how his mind works.  For him, everything is clear.  A thing is needed or unneeded.  A place is loved or hated.  People are either loved by him, or not yet known to him.   He knows nothing of expectations, of legacy, of fear, of disappointment.  There is no burden.  Only intent.  There is only fire.  No darkness.

What a wonderful way to live.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Big Fog, Big Bite on Maryland's Elk River

Had a great, peaceful time out on the upper Elk River.  I fished well.  The fish bit well - but not easily.  The phone didn't wrong.  Not a single text message either. No speed traps on the way there, or back.  Even better, the story's going to be told somewhere else, later this week.  More about that soon.  Happy Monday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Toddler Kayaking - Take One

Yaks in the Rain
As everybody on the east coast knows, it's been raining almost every weekend for the last month.  While this is a wonderful alternative to being stuck in a drought (as we were in June and July), it's not helpful when trying to coordinate outdoor activities for a not-even-three-year-old.    One particular morning we were blessed with a "merely 30%" chance of rain, and so we decided to load up the boats and run down to the lake at the end of our road.

Hank hasn't been in a kayak yet, and we'd been itching to get him out.  So off we went.

I found out a couple of things really quickly.  First, as in most outdoor activities, you need more adults than you have small kids.  In the case of kayaking, my wife was there to keep Hank under control in the truck while I carried the boats from the parking lot to the "ramp."   It was just a few minutes, but you can't leave a child in a vehicle like that, and you certainly can't have them running around a parking lot, either.

Once the boats were in the water, the Kracken Hank was released from his car seat.  My wife helped control his insane full speed descent to the waterline (and the boats), and I was barely in my boat before Hank (wearing PFD) climbed on in as well.  We had bought a kids' seat from Austin Kayaks and found out that it easily slid out from under my rear end with a 40-pound kid attached to it.   Slowly figured that out and pushed off from land (also hard with a 40 pound weight toward the bow).

Funny thing also - even in a stable kayak, every time your passenger leans the upper half of their body over the water, the boat tips a little bit.  Hank's head was on a swivel (looking for mermaids and sharks and dolphins), which made the boat super tippy.  He was loving it!  Unfortunately, the sky darkened, and at the opposite end of the lake, we suddenly saw the wall of rain approaching.  You know, one of these walls of rain:

I pointed to the rain and Hank saw it coming, telling me, "it's not raining yet."  Followed by, "Daddy, I'm wet."  We huddled under a few lakeside trees, and when it was clear the storm wouldn't let up, paddled back to the put-in spot and loaded back up.

Some neat lessons - we'll see if we can get Take Two underway before the water gets cold!

Monday, September 17, 2012

One-A-Day on Largemouth, and a Big Miss

It's a funny thing, being in the habitat business.  The more time you spend building habitat for fish and wildlife, the less time you get to spend chasing fish and wildlife.  That's certainly been my fortune lately.  Early teal, early goose, early dove, and a great fish bite.  I can still sneak in a little.  Maybe just at dawn.

I stopped into a neat little spot on what is really the border between southern Maryland and the Washington DC metro area. Sun wasn't even up.  One of the summer's last hot days.  Fog.  Just. Fog.  It burned off on the walk to the water, and the clock was running - work in two hours.   I'm slowly growing to resent fishing and hunting on a clock, but I reckon that's the nature of being 38, having a family, and being employed. 

The bad part? The water lilies, spatterdock and other aquatics were thick across the water, with the bass right under them.  The good part? Algae and hot water was killing off the underwater grasses, dumping it down to about 3' below the surface, so I could actually see the fish moving.  But this is a fickle place.

I've fished here, in the floodplain of the Patuxent, several times in the last few years.  Don't think I've been skunked yet.  But it's always tough.  I mean, absolutely always.  This place has the most spoiled damn fish I have ever seen.   And as you're watching lure after lure (or even flies) get rejected, don't go thinking, "Well, let's just catch a few little ones really quick,"  because they're finicky too.  The poachers, whom I've blogged about before, don't make the fishing here at this regulated catch and release spot any better.

Finally, right after the sun broke the treeline, a fish in hand.

A young, slender bass at about 9-10", I thought that maybe the fish were just biting later.  Instead, I spent the next hour watching the clock and casting furiously around all kinds of ridiculous structure and vegetation. I mean, look at the ridiculous cover in that photo.

And then, a big miss.  A 7+ pound fish slinked below heavy cover. I saw his shadow, hunting.  He turned, and then I saw him again.  A tight cast, four feet in front of him.  He rushed. He bit.  He ran.  I set the hook. Too slow.  The lure sank.  The fish ran for cover.    Three minutes later, I tried again. Another lip set.  I set the hook, but wasn't convinced. The drag ran...hard.  The fish threw the lure.  It sank.

I've caught a few bass that were "about 5 pounds," but this was a big, mean, old fish.  And I missed him.  Truth be told, I was fishing a St. Croix Ultralight rod (hence the weak hook set) with 4lb line, so it's not a given that I would have been able to land that fish anyway.   It's literally been haunting me since then.

The other thing that's odd is that it's my second outing that scored just one bass.  Now, one bass is a whole heck of a lot better than none at all.  But Fall's almost here.  Just a few more chances to get it right before hunting season kicks in.....

Friday, September 14, 2012

Community Garden - Stay or Go?

DeWees Farm #43 - My experimental garden
for three years
I'm wrapping up my third year of gardening at our community garden aka "City Farm".   With a too-hyper-to-garden 2.5 year old son in the house, I knew it'd be tough to maintain a garden a half mile from the house.  And it was.

I planted about half of the garden in cover crops this year, and was really satisfied with the results.   I tried four new species of plants (Bee's Friend, German Millet, Hopi Amaranth, and Hot Biscuits Amaranth), and all four grew and bloomed.  To some extent.  I got to experiment with gravity-fed drip irrigation, which also worked.  To some extent.     But I didn't get a lot of food.

I joined the City Farm 4 years ago (wait-listed the first year) because I wanted a healthy garden, but our back yard was in dense shade for all but a few hours in the morning.  Tomatoes grew, but were leggy.  Peppers grew, but didn't produce fruit until October. Okra plants produced 2 pods each.  What a bummer - and a waste of time, energy, and water.

I've documented the good, bad, and ugly of community gardening - just my own personal experiences - in pretty extensive detail here on River Mud.  I seem to have hit a couple of real obstacles, though:

1. It's not at home.  Not being able to easily lay my eyes on my garden on a near-daily basis meant that I simply can't grow some crops (hasn't stopped me from trying).  Some (watermelons) are likely to be stolen if others assumed that I have "left" them.  Others (okra, squash) go from being "perfect size" to "inedible" in about 48 hours. At my most active (year 2-2011), I was visiting/picking/working the garden every 48-72 hours.  It's not enough.

2. Out of sight, out of mind.  Because extra effort is required to even get to the garden (driving or walking, carrying tools, etc), garden work easily fell down the "to do" list.  

3. Limitations of a public space.  Huge varieties of issues here, from my complaints that uphill gardeners were using way too much insecticide on their bare soil, to others' complaints that my sunflowers were blocking the sunlight for their tomatoes.  And all of us mutually blaming each other for the rat problem that occurs once gardeners start ignoring their tomatoes in August.

Anyhow, another big thing happened this summer.

The giant storm that  knocked out power to 18 million Americans hit us too, leaving us without electricity for a week.  On the sixth day, crews showed up to butcher the trees under the powerlines in our 70 year old neighborhood, including three big trees that blocked all of our morning sun.  The first crew left a huge amount of destruction, but the trees were still standing.  A month later, a "mop up" crew came back down and took down about 15 trees on our street (all under / through the power lines) and over 100 trees out of the neighborhood in general.  In addition, half of the canopy of a fourth tree fell out of the sky during the storm, so we actually now have bright sun conditions from dawn until noon, and very light shade from about noon until 4pm.  Not perfect, but a vast improvement.

As a result of that storm, and some events that surrounded it, I've made some changes in the way I think about things.  About life, too.   I'm working very hard to simplify.  It's a very tough task.  Part of it means growing food seriously.  Which means growing food at home.  Next year, my peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, greens, and herbs will all be living in raised beds in our back yard, watered by drip irrigation that comes from a set of three rain barrels.  An intensive grow setup basically like this:

So, all of that basically being decided, what becomes of the City Farm plot? It's 200 square feet of beds that I've meticulously cared for over the last three years.  I hate to leave the plot, only to see it be tilled under and put into standard, highly eroding, highly polluting conventional gardens (hills, rows, and washouts is what I call it). If I keep it, I'll simply use it for a low maintenance crop like potatoes or sweet potatoes next year.  Do I need 5 bushels of potatoes next year? I'm not so sure.  But if I give up the plot, I certainly won't forget all the cool stuff I grew (and ate) over the last three years.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Soul in the Easy Season

Autumn is headed here, as it has annually for two billion years or more, and as it shall continue for perhaps as long into the future. We are warm blooded creatures with incredible domain over the landscape, but with no control over the coming and going of the seasons. Yet, it pleases us when summer arrives, when it stays, and when it carries on so far as to bring us abundance from our gardens and our waters.

A human being, given adequate clean water, simply needs less food to maintain her body temperature to survive during the warm, humid summers that persist throughout most of our species' historic range.  Our body chemistry, and even our souls, respond to summer's arrival, exploding like a blooming prairie to the possibility of investing in something other than survival in the cold. It is a glorious time of year to be warm-blooded.  To be human. To know the earth and waters below our feet. To know God, to such extent that any of us can know him. Late summer is the easy season.

It is easy enough to write wistful tales of charcoal grills, red and white fishing bobbers, and teaching a young boy or girl to skip rocks or collect worms for bait.  I am guilty of frequently indulging in such writing - not only because it is easy, but because it is satisfying to my mind and soul.  That writing has some value, perhaps, because our senses record and our memory recalls warm weather contentment driven by our inherited biology, natural instincts, and our souls.  But let us not confuse our senses as being direct products of our soul.

When I examine, as I've been known to do, the reasons why I spend so much time afield, the reasons explode onto the page (or screen) like spores from a forest puffball. Yet, almost all of them quickly fall into the mold of what I just described.   Sensory memories. Pleasantries.  A sincere connection to that which is real.  I strongly believe that all of those are valid reasons to pursue a life outdoors.  And yet they fall so short of explaining why our connection to the outdoors can be so strong - and why we come so vibrantly alive in the summer.  There is something more, a piece of us far more deep and precious and intractable that cannot easily be explained by the weights and measures of scientists, or even with a working knowledge of the source of pheromones and instincts automatically thrusted into our consciousness by summer's arrival.

If I claimed to understand anything about my own soul, let alone yours, I would be lying.  I don't know where it is.  What it is.  Why it persists, despite our greatest efforts to eliminate it.  Or why God let us keep it in the first place.  And yet, it is there, not because it is, but because it must be.  Some argue that the soul is clearest to our consciousness in times of great need and strife.  I disagree, for it is those moments when most living things - including people - hold and act upon the strongest biological instincts within us, wholly disregarding ethereal arguments about righteousness, piety, and our eternal destination.  I'd argue to any philosopher that a cold winter's crisis is a cruel time to evaluate a man's or woman's deeper basis for existing.  

Instead, I'd tell them that the soul is most apparent in the late summer.  The easy season.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Busy, Busy

Building a headwater wetland to keep sediment out of the coastal creek
down the hill a mile or so. 

Crazy busy.  Just crazy.  I've actually been fishing (and caught fish), and also took my 2 year old son out in a kayak for the first time.  Also started teaching (my night job) for the fall.  Fishing and hunting are weighing hugely on my mind right now, since our 95 degree, 90% humidity weather just broke for 70 degree, low humidity temps.

But no time to write.  Be back in a few days!

Now, THAT is a cold front.  No, I do not know who that dude is.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Outdoorsmen Web Conflicts: 10 Signs That You're the Problem - And What to Do About It

"Dang, seems like nobody will hire a guide these days.
 Maybe my 750 tweets in a row that blame 9-11 on
a CIA conspiracy were a bit much?"
I spend lots of time outside fishing and hunting, I work for a conservation non-profit group, and I volunteer for other conservation non-profits.  That means I'm put in touch with lots of people who have opinions about the outdoors.  Strong opinions.   We all have disagreements and spats with other similarly passionate people from time to time, and generally, we all believe that we (ourselves) are thinking about things "the right way," which too often means that others are thinking about things "the wrong way."

For most of us, most of the time, these scuffles provide an entertaining theatre for our lives that is mostly cerebral and harmless. "Can you believe he said that?!"  But occasionally, you (or I) will get into a rut and become what I'll call "conspicuously quarrelsome," engaging others in conflict and looking for disagreements where perhaps - just perhaps - they don't exist.   In fact, some people grow this way and stay this way.

What you might not understand is that while in such a rut, our unending combativeness (including all that lovely passive aggressive behavior) could be doing serious harm to your cause, your organization, or your brand, via how people perceive your mental health and overall quality as a human being - quite separate from your political views.  How can you know if this is you (or me)?

10. Keepin' it Real....Real Negative, That Is.  More than about 25% of your blog posts, status updates, etc. are inflammatory, intend to invite conflict, and are peppered with words like "no integrity," "dishonesty," "distrust," "they just don't get it," "clueless," to name a few.  In short, you are using spare time and energy to complain.  In detail.  Frequently. Hint: almost no one cares.

I now focus on self-pics, since all my non-profit
cycling buddies got offended that I called them
"shameless Babylon donor-whores." 
9. Dig My Passive Aggressive Sun Tzu-Style Quotes.  You have a history of sending out cryptic passive-aggressive posts/status updates like, "I guess honesty doesn't matter to some people."  Groan.  It's worth noting that these blog posts and status updates usually will get little to no traffic to your site, and no friendly comments to your social media pages.  Because people don't like it.  They don't like it because their lives already have plenty of negativity.

8. And then I dreamt up a war.  You repeatedly create conflict where one does not exist, and then act totally insulted when someone downplays your concerns.  While only about 10% of people will say anything to you about it, remember that the other 90% just don't care, and are likely to think you're a best.  This is especially true when it's a conflict in which you are bringing nothing to the table, i.e. "this brand/organization/blog sucks. Because I say so, according to me. That is all."

7. Which Side Are You On?! Pick!  Intelligent, sentient beings understand the role of nuance, priority, and context.  God (in my opinion) gave us this ability.  Neanderthals and quarrelsome fools do not have it.  In your life, do you ask people to take sides in various unimportant quarrels? Do you tell them that if they choose to work with someone else, they can't be your partner on other efforts?  What about your personal life? Any time I hear or read that someone's said, "Well, now I know what side you're on," it's usually code for, "I disagree with you, and I can't mentally process that, so I'm eliminating your voice now."

6. You are convinced that people are out to get you - and that it somehow matters in any way to the rest of the world.  The second part of that statement is what's important. Sure, people may be out to get you.  It's happened a few times in my personal life and it's happened a few times in my career as well.   But generally speaking, people, even pain in the ass people such as myself, are not actually out to get you.  Claiming such makes you the butt of plenty of jokes, especially the kind involving tin foil hats and black helicopters.

5. You tend to act mortally insulted at any minor grievance cast upon you by the words of another.  I've never understood this facet of human psychology. I don't care who sent out a Tweet saying that your business model sucks.  No one else cares, either.  Let it die. The mindset of, "I cannot let this egregious personal insult stand!" is a ridiculous one.  Allow me to roll my eyes while you threaten to polish your dueling pistol.  This world might be a better and safer place if more of us could routinely say, "Whatever. I'm blowing off that insult." My advice: practice that.  I try (though I don't always succeed).

It's awful loud, therefore,
people must be hearing me!
4. You have to rant almost every day. I hope your boss or spouse are very understanding people.  Phrases like, "You don't understand the severity of the situation" and "they think we're too dumb to get it," are staples of this particular illness.  It's either time to make a life change or an attitude change.

3. You have to raise your voice almost every day.  Unless your career field is anti-terrorism, neonatal critical care surgery, or something similar, I am pretty sure that yelling is not necessary.  Unless your house has burned down or your spouse has just disappeared with your kids and all of your stuff, or unless you have been robbed at gunpoint twice in the last six months, I am pretty sure that yelling is not necessary.

2. "I don't Need to Talk About It. I'm done."  After you publish status updates, blog posts, or emails to the public realm, when contacted about a face-to-face meeting on the topic, you find yourself saying or thinking, "I don't need to discuss it.  I know I'm right."  You then take time and energy to avoid such a meeting at all costs.  If confronted about slight errors in your statements, you respond with one of the other symptoms on this list (pick one).   I encourage you to think about the life of an electronic submittal.  Who will it reach? In what context?  What if you're wrong?  Can you just ignore all the feedback you receive?  I don't recommend it.

"Don't you see? Being mocked,
ignored and disrespected was
my goal! I totally won!" 
1.  "Everybody Hates Me - And Loving It!" You relish in making statements like, "(Insert company or organization) hates me!" and "I work with 200 people, and they all think I'm crazy, ha ha!"  And "Yup.  I'm the loner.  Nobody can figure me out - they don't wanna get too close!" Add in all the usual outdoors rhetoric like "lone wolf," "outlaw," and yup, you've just described about 50% of outdoors writers automatically.

Not everybody wants to be popular, that's for sure.  But I strongly believe that nobody wants to be a loner who is widely mocked, misunderstood, and disrespected.   These statements reflect a level of passive aggressiveness that is hard for me to dissect.  It's one thing to say these things, roll your eyes, and chuckle, maybe a few times a year.  It's another thing to make these topics a consistent point of conversation.  C'mon.  It's not healthy.

The internet has done some amazing things for our species.  But it's also allowed some of us (most of us, at times) to become a special tribe of remote bullies who are confident in our ability to escape reproach or any real consequence for the nonsense that we speak.   Most of us engage in some of this behavior from time to time, which is not to excuse it.  But some of us take pride in this role of "internet bully," where we can claim to be the giant hero, bully, or even supervillain spoiler that we cannot be in real life.  I can't tell you how or why to change.  But I can tell you this: you're missing out.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lo Pro Trip Back to Tidewater

I've been working on my priorities.   That is to say that I've been trying to work on my ideals and beliefs, quickly finding that implementing my grand schemes of "how I should live my life" actually costs a lot of money, and instead settle for an honest, heartfelt effort.  That ain't so bad.

I've been back home to southeastern Virginia about 4 or 5 times in the last year.  Each trip I take doesn't seem to go quite like I planned it out on paper.  Although my duck hunting trip down there in late December sure came close, other than the lack of swarms of ducks within gun range.  This time around, I decided to do the minimal work, forgo coordinating with high school friends, old work buddies, and all the Va Beach fishing and hunting bloggers I've been meaning to meet,  and instead just focus on my family.  It paid off in spades.

First order of business was to meet my new nephew, Big K.  We did a pre-trip briefing with Hank on "being nice to the baby," and "please don't hurt the baby," you know, the usual.  It was a success.

Big K is not a Big Sleeper, which Hank, I mean Batman, didn't seem to care about.

"But Mommy, I have to yell! I'm Batman!"

We did some fun stuff like going over to the massive (and under construction) Chesapeake City Park, which includes two huge playgrounds called the "Fun Forest." Hank really wanted to see the skate park, which we couldn't find, but he was pretty amped up about the climbing wall in the Fun Forest....his first such climbing adventure...

Since a variety of calamities have left us with not a lot of money or vacation time here at the end of the summer, we really did want to get Hank to the beach one more time.  He's still learning "how to act" there, but clearly, the boy likes the beach.  There was this.

And then there was this.  Yes he is naked.  No I am not.

And more of this, this and this.

Hot stepper!

We also got to enjoy one of my most favorite meals in recent memory - maybe all memory - when my brothers, our wives and girlfriends, and the kids caught up for an excellent dinner and drinks looking out over the Atlantic Ocean from Virginia Beach's Pier Cafe. Hank enjoyed the view

Fresh rockfish, flounder, crabs, and shrimp for everybody.  Except for Hank, who (per his protocol) will abstain from some of the best fresh, natural foods on earth to make sure he keeps an open stomach for french fries.  Great to have so much great family around a dinner table again!  Oh, here's what happens if you steal one of Hank's fries, to go along with the $20 rockfish sandwich you just bought, that may or may not have come with fries:

I think this was after he knocked over a $7.50 margarita - which was so delicious I had to order another one (three)

We did manage to run over to the swamp and get Hank out on a boat for the first time, fishing on a boat for the first time, and catching fish on a boat for the first time (more on that story right here).  Turned out to be a really cool experience.

The weekend as a whole was a huge win.  We did end up seeing one other family of friends, and that was fun, too.  It was great to get together with folks for once, and not be running around to 500 different locations to meet 700 different people.  I'll have to keep that in mind for the next trip....

Monday, September 3, 2012

Toddler Fishing v3.4 - On a Boat!

Wild Man
As I've written in a bunch of different posts, fishing with a toddler is.......different.   For those of you that have a toddler in the house (or had one at one time), you can envision what I'm talking about, even if you never tried to take the little one(s) fishing at that age.  For those of you without such first-hand knowledge, I give you the picture to the left.

Toddlers are full of energy, an inability to listen, an inability to think about consequences or pain, and the attention span of a chipmunk.  They are also cute and hilarious.  But that still doesn't sound like an ideal fishing partner, taken as a whole.  Still, the inability to seriously fish (or fish seriously) with a toddler in tow has to be considered within a more important framework - getting children used to being outdoors, around outdoors gear and equipment and situations.

After several delays related to storm, work, and other life related details, we were finally able to head to southeastern Virginia to meet my newborn nephew, already about 10 weeks old.  We knew we'd get some beach time with Hank - who, in June, had showed us that he's starting to be able to actually play on the beach instead of running up and down it for miles at a time.  I also knew we'd go fishing at some point, but I really wanted to get him on a boat.  Over a dozen attempts to get him on a boat up to this point had been thwarted by everything from illnesses to storms to boat troubles.    This time, we pulled it off.

We made a run down to my brother's place in the Chowan and Nottoway headwaters, just north of the North Carolina border.  The weather wasn't perfect, but I figured we could get out there.  When we pulled up, I let Hank inspect the boat on the trailer, and asked him if he wanted to ride.  He was pretty excited.  So, down to the boat ramp we went.  He was pretty patient as the boat got put in the water, and happily let himself be handed down to Uncle T in the boat.

Then, we were off!

Not sure about the boat ride, but very sure about the Spiderman Rod

T snuck the boat out of the ramp and the no-wake zone and gave Hank a chance to get used to what was going on.  In preparation for the trip, I had focused on what I now know to be the truths of toddler fishing:

1.  Be flexible - the trip could be over at any moment, for a variety of reasons
2. Keep it safe
3. Make it fun
4. Bring "meltdown preventatives"

Since I obviously knew the seating situation on the skiff, I brought Hank's camp chair along.  That turned out to be a big deal.  I also brought his fishing rod, a couple of his action figures, a roll of Oreos, some juice and lemonade,  some chocolate, his "fishing hat," and sunblock.  Prior to the trip, I took him into Eastern Mountain Sports and confirmed that his old PFD was too small for his weight, and got him fitted for a new one.  I forgot to pack his rain coat, which wouldn't have been a big deal if it wasn't raining...oops.

Hank was really interested in the outboard and trolling motor.  This of course led to him tripping all over the fuel line, which tends to upset boat owners.  T took it in stride though, and Hank apologized.  T and I had agreed on the "maximizing fun" aspect of the trip ahead of time, and so we fished for bluegills with live crickets.  Before too long, a little slab was in the boat.

We tried to see if Hank wanted to reel in the fish; he didn't - he seemed a little shocked at the sudden intensity.......but Hank was excited to have a fish in the boat, as always, and T was great about letting him get up close and personal.

Also one of my standards with Hank, "Do you wanna pet it?" Followed by a new one for me, "Hank, look at the sharp teeth!"

When it's my brothers and I fishing the River, we are normally off the ramp as soon as there's a touch of light in the morning.  With Hank, I knew it was important to not throw off his schedule and confuse him (i.e. why are we getting on a boat in the dark?), so we hit the river around 10:30am.  This was a bit of a problem only because it was 900,000 degrees outside, and the fishing was overall pretty horrible.  Honestly, I can't imagine it being great in a river, on a boat, while trying to watch a 2.5 year old out of the corner of your eye at all times.  Impossible to concentrate on fishing.

Both T and I had brought an extra rod (remember - we didn't plan on doing any serious fishing) because we both anticipated that once Hank saw us cast a few times, he would want to fish with a "big boy" rod, not his Spiderman rod.....and we were right.  He wanted to carry around a "real" rod.  Note: he had nowhere near the coordination required to crank the spinning reel.  Not gonna happen for awhile.

After about 45 minutes of fishing, Hank started getting a little shifty, so I gave him a few M&Ms and Uncle T brought out a "secret" meltdown preventative - a Batman Pez dispenser.  Hank was ecstatic, and it bought us another 20 minutes of fishing (in relative peace, actually).  "It's Batman with candies in his head!"

"Batman, You Complete Me."
Finally, Hank declared, "I wanna go back to Uncle T's house."  We brought in the lines and started moving back.  We also engaged in activities like:

1. Letting toddler steer the trolling motor (he cranked it hard right and we drove right into the river bank)
2. Screaming contest (for real)
3. Explaining that it's OK to pee off the side of the boat, but it's not OK to pee on the floor in school.

For the final run back to the ramp, I put Hank's chair sideways so he could see T and the motor.  This was a pretty effective tool and keeping Hank in his seat - important since there are half-sunken trees all over the river.  As you can see, he was mostly still enamored with the Batman Pez dispenser.

I've learned a lot about fishing with toddlers in the last year and a half.  I'm pretty satisfied with how far we've come (minus the rock throwing), and I'm excited for whatever's next.  Until then, maybe I can sneak away to fish like a grownup for a few hours one of these days....

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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...