Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandy, Sandy, Sandy, I Can't Let You Go

(Writing on Sunday night) Yeah, this should go well.

Please pardon any errant posts as we deal with Hurricane Sandy!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Maryland Early Duck, Take Two

Tidal river hunting, upper eastern shore of Maryland
With not much improvement in weather planned over the season's first hunt, I set out with a new hunting partner on Maryland's upper eastern shore to hunt resident wood ducks on the River.

With so many ducks known to be around, I wouldn't have predicted that we wouldn't hear whistling wings before shooting time.  But it was silent.

As the sun started to come up, we found out that it was only the birds who were silent.  We were treated to the sight of whitetail bucks crossing the muddy river one at a time for about an hour.  Several got within earshot of us, figured something was up, and waded the 200 yards back across.

We finally were treated to a few flights of wood ducks - most of them about 20 ducks each, about 75 yards out in the river, moving from one fixed point to the other.  No question that these local ducks knew where they were headed (and it wasn't to our blind).   I also have to admit that we had a trio of woodies arc directly over the blind at high speed, about 15 yards up in the sky.  We didn't see them coming and pledged, "Next ones that fly that way are OURS."  Needless to say, no more ducks flew that way. Tim's retriever Gibson was none to please with our lack of shooting.

All in all, it was another beautiful October morning, and I felt blessed to be out in the duck blind again.  Tim and I had met when he took me up on an anonymous offer of my old decoys (free).  It was really neat to see my decoys (which sadly, hadn't been in the water in the last three years that I owned them) in somebody else's spread.  As a friendly (but unrequired) quid pro quo for the decoys, he offered a spot in his blind to me.  Hopefully he'll invite me out again, but you never know how those things will play out.  It's October.  Life is good.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Maryland Duck Opener 2012

Pink in the morning = Ducks are Snoring
About five Octobers ago, I remember sitting on a baking hot Chesapeake Bay shoreline with my brother T, wondering why the hell we were duck hunting when it was 90 degrees outside.   We were sweating in full camo and neoprene waders that just smelled like burning tires in a high school locker room.  What a way to start the duck season.

In the Chesapeake Bay, the October duck season, also known as "wood duck season" or "first split," is dominated by 75-90 degree high temperatures, and few migratory ducks other than some late teal.  However, around this time, the area's rivers are still generally populated by fat, happy, and warm resident mallards and wood ducks.   Sometimes, you're on them, and they are moving.  Other times, they never leave the roost.  It's quite maddening.  This year, a local guy that I hunt with was "on top of" about 30 resident mallards.  Around here, we don't like resident mallards, except to shoot.  They scoop up all of the food resources that could be used by more valuable (frankly, more important) migratory ducks as they arrive in December and January....notably, the declining American Black Duck.

So with great prognostications of our nearly assured success, I was ready.  "Just bring three shells," he said.  "We'll be done in 20 minutes!" he said.  A quick scouting report the night before the opener came back pretty promising...."25 birds on the shoreline.  Get ready." So, I mean, we got ready.....

Only thing we were shooting was the breeze...

We didn't see a single duck.  Or hear a single duck. I kind of knew it was doomed as soon as I carefully snuck out the front door at 4:45am.  Just 6 hours before, the predicted low temperature for the morning was 46.  46!  That's perfect for October duck hunting."  But as I walked through the front yard, I just saw the warm, wet diamonds of warm weather fog.  It wasn't 46.  Or 56.  Or 66.  That's right, the night's low temperature turned out to be 68 degrees, which I guess is "kind of like" 46 if you are a meteorologist.

I think back of the Octobers I've duck hunted over the years - Western Virginia and North Carolina in the 1990s. Central Maryland and Southern Virginia "big water" in the early 2000s.  Beaver ponds and offshore blinds in the last 5 years.  In those Octobers, I haven't killed a lot of ducks or even shot a lot of ammo.

Maybe October is for getting ready.  Figuring out that your headlamp actually isn't that bright.  That your dog isn't quite ready.  That you should have cleaned your gun in January.  Or March. Or June. Or September.  So perhaps this is another October First Split that's light on memories and heavy on trying to get it right for the arrival of our big flights of ducks and geese in the next two months.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Game On! The Glory of October

Whitetail crossing Maryland's Bohemia River at Dawn
It's October. Some years it's dominated by rain and unpredictability; this year we're still on a thread of a drought and mild temperatures.

It's a month full of hunting, fishing, family "fall" activities, and trying to wrap up work that can't, or at least shouldn't, continue past our first hard freeze in late December or January (or in last winter's case...never).

I'm hardly writing at all right now.  But I'll be back very soon. See you all then.

Pink Sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay
Obligatory fall type activity

Built this bog in September...now watching it fill with water and turn green...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

When "Drill, Baby, Drill" Meets "..But Not on My Land"

Is it now just dawning on Americans that "domestic energy production" means that corporations and government agencies will come take their land to build the infrastructure for said energy production?

Darryl Hannah got arrested for trespassing on her own farm -
the oil company has permission from the courts to drill here
after she said, "No thanks."
I support energy development in this country, and would gladly pay extra for gas that did not support terrorism abroad; but I recognize four fundamental truths about expanding domestic energy, and I hope you do as well:

1. It (on the fossil fuel side) is a very short term solution to a very long term problem.

2. Energy will never be any cheaper than it is right now.

3. Other "important things" like clean water and private property rights are going to suffer, at least in the short term.

4.  If energy companies' similar efforts in other nations are any indication, there will not be anybody around in  50 years to clean up the mess, after we've extracted all the fossil fuels that we can.

None of those things tell me at face value that we absolutely shouldn't drill domestically.  But let's get a reality check in place.  It takes years to build oil rigs and pipelines.  It takes money.  That infrastructure will be paid for by us (all four characters in the race for the White House prefer that it be paid via subsidies to energy companies - we will pick up the tab for it).  And gas is not going to get any cheaper.  Several years ago, around the time that gas prices rose past $2.50/gallon for the summer (as they had been) and suddenly did not drop back below $2.00 again in the fall, I had the opportunity to share a duck blind with some upper management staff from ConocoPhilips.  Someone else asked about gas prices, to which the leader of the group responded, "If you're asking if there's any scenario in which we see $2 gas again, then the answer is absolutely not."

No, it won't get cheaper, and by the way, the price for developing this new infrastructure will be laid upon our consumer goods and our tax bills.   And as well.........our land, and as is the case with the Keystone XL Pipeline, you can turn down the payment, but not the impact - they call it a "public improvement" like a highway.  Except, unlike a highway, someone will make a huge daily profit off of the impact to your land without ever buying the land from you.

Domestic energy production is, in my opinion, vastly more responsible than our current system that is based on an import (price) market that we do not control (as only the former #1 importer of oil).  But building a new system will impact basic property rights that so many American conservatives are adamant about, and it will doubtlessly lead to a landscape legacy of industrial crap (and perhaps contaminated soil and water) that we, the taxpayers, will be called upon to pay for in future decades.  To agree or disagree with domestic oil extraction as a result of those facts is a value judgment that each of us can make.  Can't fault a person for making a fully-educated judgment call.

But it's foolish to pretend that domestic oil and gas production are private and public cure-alls for high fuel prices and American unemployment.   The United States burns over 7 billion barrels of oil per year, which seems like a great reason to go toward domestic production, until you learn that our domestic production is currently about 1.5 billion barrels per year (with no quick way to upgrade our facilities).  And that our easily extractable oil reserves are around 52 billion barrels (7-8 years' worth), and that our "trash oil" reserves (oil shale, etc) are about another 50 billion gallons - bound to be much more expensive to extract and process into high quality fuel.

Fasten your seatbelts, America.  Hopefully on a train or a bus or some other type of public transit.  Because keeping gasoline easily available in this country over the next 50 years is going to get expensive, and will step on more than a few toes.   Looks like private property rights and cheap gasoline are about to have words with one another - it's happening on ranches and timberland up and down the length of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Monday, October 8, 2012

My First West Virginia Smallmouth!

West Virginia Harvest Moon
Over the last decade and a half, work has taken me to West Virginia about a dozen times or so.  It's an interesting state with a lot of really beautiful places, although the vast disparity between rich and poor is pretty apparent across the entire state.  Although I've traveled with tackle to WV before, I've never actually fished it (almost always due to rain), and a recent trip put me right on the Potomac in northern West Virginia.  Two cold fronts were moving in, and I thought I'd get rained out, once again.   Somehow, I was wrong.

A quick check of the Potomac River after the first front showed a bit of a high flow - which can be daunting on a big river - but no real turbidity.  The grass beds were thick and there were very few exposed rocks, with the river covering both banks at about 1/4 mile's width.  Neat to see.

"Former Intern Joe" and I poked down to the River after I gave a lecture on wetland and stream permitting.  Tough subject, tough crowd.  It was good to get wet - an effort made relatively easy by the fact that Maryland owns the entire Potomac River due to some 1800s politicking and hoodwinking revolving around a bunch of stuff, including the construction of Washington, DC.  So - Maryland residents can fish the river from the Virginia or West Virginia bank without a fishing license from those states.  License reciprocity would cover you in a boat - this is at the next level.  So, we got wet.  Almost immediately, we started lighting into longear sunfish.   Dozens of them.

Joe and the one millionth longear of the afternoon

Fishing around and through the grass beds was tough, but it was certainly right where the fish were.  We were using inline spinners with gold spoons and a bit of weight on the line, and a few bigger fish were chasing.   One of the great things about this whole setup is that it was 4pm.  It's rare that I can sincerely try to  catch bass in the late afternoon.  That's September and October for you!   Finally, I hooked onto what seemed to be a citation size fish, given my 5'0" St. Croix UL rod and 4lb P-Line.  It wasn't a giant.  But it was a cool fish.

Feisty 10" fish!

I was still pretty excited from that big fight from a little fish when I caught my first red-eye bass of 2012, just 20 yards downstream:

Beefy 10 inch fish!
We didn't have chestwaders (or a boat) necessary to get into the river channel, where big smallmouth were slapping bait around all afternoon, and unfortunately, all of my potential fishing partners were way too hungover the next morning to go out with me.  So after all these years,  this was it for West Virginia.  I'll be back.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Blessings, Birthdays and the Blues

The fall is a season of such blessing in this part of the world, and  in my life as well.  The calendar has started to fill with hunts - and the dreams of what might come on those days, now simply a "tuesday: 6-10am" on an email calendar.   The fall crops, including a nice run of Red Deer Tongue lettuce, several other greens, and a new variety of spinach, are well underway.   The fish are still biting - and I managed to catch my first West Virginia smallmouth the other week.  But we had another something special to celebrate - Hank turned three.

To recap how ridiculously fast THAT happened......here's one year ago.

And two years ago.

And three years ago.

You can quip all the "aww shucks they grow up so fast" stuff that you want.  And I guess there's no other meaningful, concise, casual way to say it than all of those Hallmark quotes already do.  But if you sit and think about it, or talk about it with your very closest friends or family, the immensity of what is happening is absolutely overwhelming.  Overwhelming blessings and responsibilities and joy and beauty and stress and financial outlay and lack of time and sleep and bewilderment and wonderment and investment.

It's happening so fast.  I have so much to learn.  So much to teach. And the days are filled with all of those things, and work on the land, and hours on the river.  I've finally figured out that it will never stop swirling around.  Never slow down.   And to beware of that time when it does.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hungry Bass in the Beaver Pond

Government biologists tell me that this isn't fish habitat
Doing what I do, both at work and in my (rare) spare time, puts me in contact with lots of other similarly minded people.  Or at least similarly trained people.

One group really gets under my skin - I call them armchair ecologists.  These are folks who aren't fond of strapping on some waders and getting out to understand the resource.  They are fond, however, of making bold proclamations not based in reality, like, "beaver dams are a fish migration blockage!" and "I'm not sure this stream restoration can be permitted - better to leave it as this ditch full of livestock."

Aww.  They are so cute.  On that first topic, I wonder if fish can ever migrate up through beaver dams, into beaver ponds?  It seems so impossible!

This was just a short selection - caught that weird pumpkinseed/green sunfish hybrid and 9 largemouth in about 90 minutes.  The barometer was bottoming out right before a cold front, and the fish were hunting on the edges of weed beds.  Not extremely aggressive, but aggressive enough.   I've fly fished this beaver pond before - mistake.  I've also fished deeper lures here before - mistake.

The winning recipe on this day - my most successful of 4 fishing "trips" here to date - were silver floating minnows and pin minnows, Joe's Flies black muddler with gold spoon, and beetle spins in black and white with gold spoons.

I guess I should forget it all, though.  Fish can't migrate up here anyway.  

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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...