Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fishing a Concrete Dam with Blogger Steve Kline

Steve with the evening's only bass, caught on a Rat-L-Trap
You know, there are probably more intriguing ways to state it, but basically, that's what happened.  I met up with fellow Maryland blogger and conservationist Steve Kline recently after work.  We were both on our way to separate destinations, and so we fished a local lake with a big concrete dam and spillway.

The air was hot and sunny and the fish weren't as cooperative as I'd have liked, but then again, you make  do with what you have (and at the moment I write this post, I "have" no kayak or canoe, as previously noted).

I was really interested to meet Steve because we hunt and fish the same areas (identical spots, in some cases), and being involved in Maryland's conservation "community" so to speak, we know a lot of the same people.  I'd seen his blog posts a few times, and I knew we'd have some worthwhile conversation.  And any good southerner values a good conversation.

We started off on the spillway, catching crappie, sunfish, and trying to annoy some huge gizzard shad (as I did in my last visit here in May, 2011).  Eventually we moved over to the lake, wondering if any bass would be cruising around in the shadows.  Conversation varied among some pretty divisive topics in conservation politics right now - from Pebble Mine, to the Hudson Farm case, to the Clean Water Restoration Act.  I am happy to report that Steve agreed with everything I said shared the same level of concern I did about all of these topics, and as I've advocated on this website before, he seems to have the kind of long term vision to really consider the merits and hazards of some of these political and court decisions - the kinds of things that could impact resource use, environmental quality, and/or local/regional economics for centuries.....or longer.

I was pretty engrossed in the conversation, which means that I missed several decent fish that tried to run off with my lures.  Far too early in the evening, we had to call it quits and were already making detailed plans for our next outing (which should actually involve my new kayak, one way or the other!).   It's always great to make the acquaintance of another blogger, and even better when that person is someone who has their head screwed on straight and who has a pragmatic vision of how things should look and work in this world.   Whether we all agree with each other on the solutions to the pressing issues of the day is one thing; whether we can enjoy each other's company on the water while appreciating each other's depth of thought on the topic is quite another. And quite welcome in these parts.

Oh gizzard shad, why must you taste so horrible?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Toddler Hiking and Fishing 3.1 - A Breakthrough!

Just to recap, I am learning on the job here at "Raising an Outdoors Kid in the 21st Century."  We first took Hank on a hike when he was just several days old, and he first fished "with me" (in a hiking back, on my back) at about 9 months old.   The rest of the details have been a little more challenging.  A few things I've learned:

1. If you can't make it fun for the kid, don't even try going.
2. Allow for deviations in the plan, especially for things like chasing ants and listening to bullfrogs.
3. Enjoy said deviations.  Or at least make the best of them.
4. Don't plan on catching fish.  I can illustrate that one.
"Daddy, look! I a dolphin!" 

Damn, that picture makes me laugh.  And groan. Good luck fishing anywhere near there!  Even as recently as March of this year, I was having trouble with basic outdoor parenting stuff - getting Hank to take an interest in fishing seemed impossible, since even keeping him on a damn trail was totally impossible.  But as any parent knows, things can change overnight.   For anyone who doubts that, here are two pictures of Hank in the same spot, just 10 weeks apart.  First one is March 2012, second one is May 2012.


Yeah.  That was fast.  Hank and I have been out twice in the last week and the difference has been amazing.

Does not stand still. 
Breakthrough #1: Staying On Trail.  I will take credit for this.   Hank now stays on trail, and even takes corrections when he starts to get distracted and looks into the woods.  I think this is largely due to the fact that I take him over to my community garden plot a few times a week.  The plots are connected to each other by mowed grass paths, and I repeatedly tell Hank on the way to each garden visit, "Remember, we are going to stay on the GREEN path.  We are not going to play in the dirt."  Where "dirt" equals "other peoples' carefully planted gardens."  We did the same thing on the way to our two recent hikes, with statements like, "OK today we are gonna stay on the path, and we are gonna listen, right?"  "Dat's wight, Daddy!"  hahaha.  He lies.  But he tries.

"C'mere fish! C'mon!!!" 
Breakthrough #2: Not Being Afraid of Fish.  Because of the work we constantly do with Hank about nature, animals, insects, etc., he is comfortable (or at least pretends to be) around animals.  He now occasionally says, "I not afraid of fish.  Fish is good.  Fish is a friend."

Breakthrough #3: A Reason to Fish.   This was the second biggest surprise (to #4).  On our first (recent) trip , which was to the lake a few miles from our home, I didn't bring the fishing rods.  "Why bother?" I thought.  Well, let's just say that Hank was displeased about how I didn't bring his "Spida Man Pishin Pole," and selected a marginally suitable stick to be his stand-in rod.   He explained to me, "Daddy, I wanna say hi to the fish.  I not scared." To which I responded, "How do you wanna say hi to the fish?"

Holds reel under the rod, like Daddy's spinning and fly reels....


Pouring freezing spring water on crotch equals hilarious!
Breakthrough #4: How Fishing Works (theory only).  He responded to the above question by saying, "with my pishin' pole. Fish are scared.  Fish go to da pishin' pole."  He now seems to understand that fish avoid him, and that the fishing rod somehow is involved in tricking the fish into "coming to say hi.  Hi fish!"






There are surely many more challenges ahead, but I'm enjoying that we've turned a couple of small but significant corners. Hank talks about fishing almost daily now, and it's just amazing to watch him grow into the sport.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Special Bird on Memorial Day

I was working in the woods recently and heard this guy come overhead.  It was a good reminder of what goes on in the rest of the world while we are going about our everyday lives.

Every year, we get bombarded with two very distinct and disjunct messages about Memorial Day.  One is the commercialized, "Hooray, it's Barbeque Day!"  The other is the uber-graphic and patriotic, weeping soldier's widow, Arlington tombstone landscape, etc. that is supposed to shame us into loving our country and respecting the difficult job our military has.  As you might expect, my opinion is a bit more subtle and simply that we should all be conscious - at least minimally - of the sacrifices that are made every day on our behalf.  If it makes us think, "Wait - I think that sacrifice was unnecessary!"...well, that's a call to a different kind of patriotism - being civically active.  Regardless, I can't imagine living a life where I don't have a basic level of respect and ongoing awareness of "what freedom costs," to paraphrase a bumper sticker.

I grew up within 30 miles of CIA Camp Perry, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown (where Atlantic-bound vessels receive their nuclear payloads), Naval Station Norfolk (world's largest naval base), Newport News Shipyard (world's largest privately owned yard), Naval Shipyard Portsmouth, Naval Air Station Oceana, Langley Air Force Base, and a dozen others, not to mention, just a few miles from my childhood home, Nike Nuclear Missile Battery N-85.  Living with and among the US military is a way of life in southeastern Virginia - no doubt about it.

And it's not that all of those men and women are perfect, perfectly patriotic, or in some cases, even useful to our fight against international enemies.  But the sacrifices, especially in war time, come weekly, even daily.  The sacrifices are indiscriminate and unfair.  Sadly, they are most often unnoticed by the rest of us.  And yet, their brothers and sisters carry on.

This week - this summer - and the rest of this year, bear in mind what's been lost to other families, especially in communities like the one in which I grew up.  Even if you're in part of the country that lacks a big military presence, it's all part of the tapestry.   There's no usefulness in feeling bad that our families perhaps did not make these sacrifices (regardless of whether our family members served), but it's worthwhile to occasionally consider the weight of that loss in families and communities.  God bless those who sacrificed, and God bless those who were left behind.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bluegills on the Fly....oh...Nevermind.

Things are busy here in the world of River Mud.  Fishing time has been tough to come by, and blogging time has been reduced to about zero.    The former is easy to explain - work has been busy - the busiest it's been since I took this job.    Last week, we got $750,000 in the door for wetland restoration projects, and I submitted another $890,000 in proposals to various groups.  Busy.

Luckily, the largemouth spawn is still going on, so I don't think I'm missing a lot on that front.   A work road trip to the eastern shore looked like it might produce some opportunities during lunchtime and after work to get on the water, and so I packed my gear.

I skipped lunch (not sure whether that helps or hurts my diet) and instead cruised over to a local college campus that has a nice little pond.   I mean, it looks nice.  Functionally, it's too shallow, the water quality is awful, and there is not enough hard structure in it.  But as I found out last year, it holds fish anyway.   All I caught last year (at least that I remember) were a ton of feisty green sunfish and a longear or two - which certainly fits with the pond's pollution and habitat issues.  Those crazy, hungry little fish also provide a great opportunity to practice fly casting.  And I do need practice.

Unfortunately, the wind was blowing at 20 knots headways down the pond, right into the one corner that holds fish structure....and fish.   There was no way to cast sideways to the wind, or with the wind, and I'm smart enough to know that casting into that stiff wind would likely end up with nothing but tangled line.  Rather than call it quits (hey, I had a 30 minute lunchbreak to kill!), I grabbed an ultralight spinning rod out of the truck and decided to have at it.

Oh, it's a redear! Just...without the red ear...????
The fish were sitting on the same structure (fallen tree branches and a few lily pads) that they were a year ago, but the fish were different - only bluegills and some other panfish (hybrids?) I wasn't able to quickly identify.  The green sunfish were nowhere to be found, which, along with the presence of the bluegills, I thought was a little weird.  It was fun to hit the same spot again, a year later, and fish it almost the same way, with almost the same results. After about 20 minutes and 30 or so fish, it was time to move on with the rest of my day.

There's something fulfilling about getting outdoors, getting it done (with reasonable expectations) and moving on with your day.  I've always liked that, but it takes good planning, skill, and luck.  If I could ever hunt, or fish for trout or bass this successfully, I'd be thrilled with myself.  But on this day.........bluegills on soft plastics.   I'll take it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gear Review: LaCrosse Alpha Lite Mud Boots

Ploosh. Suck.  Ploosh. Suck. Ploosh.  A frozen needle hits the back of my ankle. Then, the flood of 35 degree water.  Dammit.  The repair didn't hold.  I needed new boots.  That pair - LaCrosse AgIons purchased from a Hamburg, PA gear shop while on a work trip, were the best mud boots I'd ever owned.  They saw hundreds of days of work, hunting, and fishing over their four years of service.  They worked.

And so I thought I'd give LaCrosse another try - despite the apparently unfixable leak in my AgIons.  In the time I'd owned them, there was a significant shift in the "mud boot industry" (yes, I'm laughing at that statement, too) away from big, clunky rubber/vinyl boots like the AgIon (where were pretty warm and sort of well ventilated), and toward fitted rubber and neoprene boots like the Muck Boot.   The problem with Muck Boots is that they often run over $150/pair, and in a temperate climate like Maryland or Virginia, you will need a summer pair and a winter pair.  Cha ching.  And if you've owned a pair of Mucks, you know that they are not easy to get on or off - especially when cold and wet.  So, that's a problem.  But they are warm and very easy on the feet.  And that combination is priceless.  Well, maybe not "$150 priceless."  So...yeah.   Back to LaCrosse.

In my rather hasty shopping for a new pair (can't be a wetland biologist or a goose hunter without knee boots!),  I saw that LaCrosse was manufacturing several of their own types of fitted knee boots.  Several were very intensely designed - fitted neoprene scent-proof boots, etc, and didn't seem like they fit the bill or would resolve any of the Muck Boot problems I know about.  However, one model, the Alpha Lite, looked like it might work out well, and I was able to pick a pair on sale for $89 (about $30 below retail).  I had them out on a hunt that same afternoon.  I'm sure the deer couldn't smell the factory-fresh rubber.  Oh well.

Appearance:  This is a solid looking boot.  It has some camo, which is nice, but more importantly, the entire boot has a dull finish.  I do not need shiny boots for work, and I can't tolerate them for hunting.  The sole is solid, and solidly attached.  The lower boot is fitted, and the upper boot is slightly flared.  A side zipper (quiet in the field) makes access easy.


Construction:  This is a well made boot.  Because the upper portion is primarily neoprene, and the lower is hard rubber, it is basically put together like a wetsuit: a little stitching and a lot of glue.  Because of the nature of these two materials, and because their is a side zipper , I don't think these boots could take the same level of neglect (i.e. weeks in the truck bed, accidentally getting run through a car wash) that my AgIons did.  But out of the box and with very little care (i.e. put them in the truck cab), they should last for years.


Frosty!
Any time "waterproof" and "zipper" are combined in a product, I get very concerned - because wetsuits have a very similar zipper to the Alpha Lite (minus the rubber barrier behind the Alpha Lite's ), and let's face it, a wetsuit's job is to limit flushing in and out of the suit, not to keep you dry.   But I have to tell you, these boots are dry.  Very dry.  The zipper is pretty hardy, like the zipper for a wetsuit or a very high-end tent or sleeping bag.  It ain't breaking. The rubber liner behind it (that keeps the boot dry) seems to be strong enough - over time, we'll see.  The zipper also gets around one of Muck Boots' biggest shortcomings: easy entry and exit from the boot. It sure  is nice to just slide into a boot on a cold morning and zip.

No Country for Cheap Boots
The sole is a modified lug and is more than adequate for most situations like cornfields and wet woods.  It also grips well on slopes.  However, I've worn them on wetland construction sites and found that where fine clays and silts are exposed, I definitely seem to carry a lot of mud on the bottom of the boot.

The sole is not dissimilar from Danner upland boots I've owned in the past (which makes some sense, since LaCrosse and Danner are now the same company).  A more aggressive lug on this boot would have been welcomed, but generally the sole is adequate, which can't be said for most rubber boots that retail for under $100.


Comfort / Warmth.   This was the biggest unknown when purchasing these boots online.  I was worried that the boots would be infernally hot, and I also saw some comments on the gear outlet's website that complained that the Alpha Lite was too tight around the ankle.  I have a bony ankle that's not fat, but it's not small, either.  On that count, I was relieved to find that the ankle fit was snug but not tight (especially given the side zip).   This was a huge change from cheap mud boots, and even the "old school" AgIons I'd owned up to that point.  It was clear that I could stand longer, hike farther, and even run a short distance in the Alpha Lites.  I shouldn't have to tell you how important those things can be.  But if you prefer to wear really thick socks, or you like the extra room, this boot (really, this entire type of boot) is probably not for you.

On the thermal properties of the boot, I wish I could say "I was pleasantly surprised," but honestly, I had moderate expectations, and just plain wasn't surprised one way or the other.  The boots, at 600g thinsulate in the lower and 3.5mm neoprene in the upper, are toasty and warm in winter temperatures at least down into the 25 degree range - with a single pair of wool or Smartwool socks. How awesome is that?  The boots are very comfortable, even doing active work or hiking, up into the 70 degree mark.  Beyond 65-70 degrees and into the 70s and 80s, I was somehow surprised that the neoprene upper (if dry) starts to get really hot, which then also prevents heat from leaving the hard rubber lower.  Again, this is true of neoprene wetsuits - ask anyone who has surfed or paddled cold water on a hot day - you start finding excuses to get the suit wet and cool it down!

On the foot sizing, I was also concerned when ordering - my feet are between a normal and wide size, but LaCrosse boots are usually generous in width, and the Alpha Lite is no exception.  Very comfortable, tons of arch support, and tons of ankle support.  Those are the benefits of a tighter boot.  The length/shoe sizing holds true to normal sizing, as well.

Overall / Recommendation.  LaCrosse has been making boots in the United States for over 100 years.  Their products, while less flashy than some, continue to impress real users of outdoor gear, and I'm no exception to that.  When I bought these boots, I thought there was a decent chance I'd have to return them after wearing them a few times. Luckily, I've found that they work just great for me, and if your activities and climate are anything like mine, you'll enjoy wearing these boots - and you might even forgive that they won't be with you in June, July, and August.  If you're strictly a summer hiker or birder, you probably want to look elsewhere for a mud boot, but for those of you who are outdoors all year-round, the LaCrosse Alpha Lite is a great piece of gear to have in your arsenal of boots and waders.


River Mud Gear Grade:
Durability: 4/5 - haven't been beaten yet.
Construction 4/5 -  a few cut corners, but very solid
Weight: 3/5 - Just a bit heavy.  See "durability."
Support: 5/5 - A welcome change from loose rubber boots
Comfort:  4/5  - Depends on how hot or cold it is when you ask me!
Cost - 4/5 - Totally in line with other good pairs of knee boots, but not a steal
Overall Grade: 4/5 - solid choice.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Summer Cover Crops that Don't Suck


As I've written about a few times over the last several months, last winter's cover crops failed in my little garden  plot.  Hank and I threw some hay around to keep the erosion and weeds to a minimum, with moderate success.  But now it's time to plant summer crops.  In a little bit of digging for pepper and tomato plants, I found my no-till beds to be surprisingly hard and blocky - there were no cover crop roots to keep them broken up over the winter and spring.

I'm very protective of my garden soil, so given that and the level of difficulty it seems to require to chase a 2 year old around the community garden while I weed and transplant, plus the fact that my child does not eat vegetables for some reason, I've decided to "rest" or "fallow" about half of my garden this year.  The primary purpose of this practice is to rest the soil and allow it to rebuild.  A secondary purpose is to only grow food that we will use - and last year, we didn't use big chunks of our harvest.

A far secondary (tertiary?) purpose for doing fallow plots is that it's a convenient excuse to experiment with plants that you might not otherwise consider in your garden.  That's exactly what I'm doing this year.  Our contestants:

Photo from naturenotes.com

Bienenfreund (Bees' Friend).  This is a new flower to me (genus Phacelia).   It's used as a summer agricultural groundcover in Europe, and judging by the name, it attracts a few bees. I had never even heard of this flower two years ago, and then both Seed Saver and Territorial (I think) picked it up in 2011.  Pretty lavender flower.  Looks like it wants to grow laterally instead of vertically.  We'll see! It'll be growing in a bed that was summer squash in 2011, and tomatoes in 2010.




Heirloom German Foxtail Millet  
I've had a great time growing "Purple Majesty" millet over the last two years, and it certainly comes in handy during spring bird migrations.  If you are a bird hunter or a bird watcher, the photo to the right better excite you.  Or else.  Look at all that bird food!!!  This looks like an incredible plant for the fallow garden, but remember that millets, like corn, need a fair amount of soil nitrogen to grow very well.  While that's a strike against it, the plant is very effective at sending out fibrous root systems, which will help break my no-till soil.   Millet is also edible and is the base for the middle-age treat known as "gruel" - kind of a millet porridge. The millet will be growing in a bed that was used for sweet potatoes both in 2010 and 2011.

The reason that millet is on this list, but sorghum is not, is because sorghum has a pretty weak rooting structure, while needing almost as much fertilizer to survive as corn does.

Photo from buzzardroost.wordpress.com


Red Hopi Amaranth.  This plant has only been used by Americans for about 14,000 years or so, so I guess that means it's OK.   Amaranths around the world (like pigweed) are considered weeds, but like millet, they contain small, digestible, high protein seeds.   And like millet, people prefer to not have to eat it, if at all possible.

Oh, the name.  Hopi people were known for their use of this red dye (which has been synthesized into what we now call Red #2).    I'ts a powerful pignment.  I don't know anyone who has ever grown this.  I'm growing it this year in a bed that held sweet potatoes in 2010 and 2011.





Orange Amaranth "Hot Biscuits"

Like the amaranth above, but a recent development by nursery folks.  Due to its basic form,  you can tell it looks less like the pigweed-related "Hopie Red" and more like the decorative amaranth "Loves Lies Bleeding."








Sunflower "Teddy Bear"

Sunflowers are starting to make a name for themselves in cover crops.  They are hardy, take a lot of abuse once established,and hey, everybody likes sunflowers, right?

On some Superfund sites, they are even used to remove toxins like arsenic from the soil.  The only problem with that is that a system is needed to cut the flowers and plants (which then become big reservoirs of arsenic) and deal with them....somehow...elsewhere.

and finally..........



I'll take obscure mints, for $500, Alex (the image above is bergamot)!  In some ways, mints should never be considered a true cover crop because a cover crop is easily removable.  Even with many annual mints, the seeding production and seed viability are both so high that you are almost guaranteed to have more on the way next year.  That may not be a good thing.  However, mints also have a great rooting structure, have very high benefits to beneficial insects, and are known to attract bees.  I use mints more as an accent plant, so at least I can lie to myself tell myself that they are contained in one particular place.  Good theory, anyway.  Mint plants and mint seed, ranging from bee balm to hyssop, are relatively inexpensive.

And there you have it.  A step away from the usual "fallow field seed mix" approach.  Get out there and have fun!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

21 Songs I Hope My Kid Knows and Loves, #10 - #6


Joe Strummer of the Clash, NYC, ca. 1979
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:

#21-#16
#15-#11
(#5 - #1)





10. Old Crow Medicine Song: "Wagon Wheel."  This song is based off of an old Bob Dylan round with a narrative of a rambling man woven into it by OCMS.  There's just something to lyrics like, "And if I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free."  A reasonable cover of the song was recorded by Florida "screamo" band AGAINST ME! a few years later.  What's slightly noticeable in the OCMS version, and quite evident in the AGAINST ME! version is that the chord progression (G, D, E, C) is exactly the same as this list's #5, "Prison Bound."


9. Leonard Cohen: "Everybody Knows."  Uh oh.  This is turning into a reputable music list now.  I first heard this song in the 1990-ish Christian Slater movie "Pump Up the Volume."  My girlfriend and I watched it like 400,000 times during my senior year of high school (1991-1992).  I was her first (and last) punk rock boyfriend.  That movie taught her about legendary punk bands like Bad Brains and the Descendents.  Win!  But she's long gone now.  Leonard Cohen is still here. I declare victory.


8. Sam Cooke: "Bring it on Home to Me."  I once blared this song from my car stereo while I danced with a girl in a field full of wildflowers.  Shut up, asshole.  That happened.  Not counting some of his gospel recordings, this might be Sam Cooke at his best.


7 (tie). REM: "You Are The Everything."  This song is a heartbreaker. "Here's the scene you're in the back seat laying down / the windows wrapped around to the sounds of the travel and the engine."


7 (tie). REM: "Country Feedback." "Hotline. Wanted ad. It's crazy what you could have  had." This is a special song to me.  I don't know what else to add.


6. Rolling Stones: "Dead Flowers."  OK.  So here's the deal.  We are getting to the part of this list where if you can't raise a glass with me while these songs play, you may as well quit reading now and go watch American Idol or something equally useless and effervescent. It's inconceivable to me that this song was released in 1971.  What's amazing is that the emotion of the song is beyond aggravation and far beyond mockery of one addict by another.  It's sadness for the inevitable outcome.


Tune in next week for the top five!  Ish.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Trout Among Swallows

There's no hatch here.  Too much fine sediment.   Too many cars.  Too many lawns.  And yet, I always return, always with a new batch of lures or flies in case I see a hatch.  In a year of fishing here, I have yet to see one.  The fine sediment, an artifact of centuries-old mill dams along the river, chokes up many of the pores between gravel and cobbles.  The River is a beautiful mess.

I took my time this morning.  Hank wanted a chocolate milk from Starbucks "the chocolate milk store."  It was 52 degrees and I was going fishing for a few hours.  I could use a dark, burnt coffee.  Starbucks sells a lot of those.

We took our time at Starbucks.  Hank - we often call him "The Mayor" -introduced himself to everyone in the place, situated across the street from the Towson University campus.  "Hi Wadies!" Hi ladies, indeed.  I wasn't in a hurry.  There is no hatch. Only fine sediment and trout waiting on the upstream end of deep, cold pools.

 I dropped Hank off at daycare and set up the road a few miles, near the Pennsylvania border.  I stopped and stepped out in a few spots.  Looking for rising fish.  Looking for a hatch.  I saw neither.  I enjoyed my coffee.  The river gage had read 80cfs.  Looked about right.  Time for a few more sips of coffee.

This place has changed a lot since our double 100-year storms last fall - two hurricanes separated by about five days, if memory serves.  The river ran at 17,600 cfs immediately after the second storm.  How ya like them apples? Somewhere in the neighborhood of a 5,000 year discharge.  So yeah.  The place has changed a lot over the last 9 months.  There are some signs, at least fluviomorphologically (ha ha big word), that the river wants to recover.  But it's no place for a hatch.

I checked a few spots and saw no trout.  Took a few more Starbucks sips.  Burnt as always.  I threw on my waders and gave a quick glance to my Redington and Cabela's fly rods.  Not today, boys.  There is no hatch.  I grabbed my St. Croix ultralight instead, and tied on a Joe's Flies Woolly Bugger.  I grabbed my plano boxes full of Mepps, Joe's Flies, and Rooster Tails.   Browns and Rainbows reproduce here, out of sheer evolutionary will, lack of fishing pressure, and an instinct to eat anything that falls in the water.  Sounds perfect.

I started at the Bridge Pool.  I've caught several 6-9" trout here over the last year, and felt confident I'd repeat that success.   On my third cast, I caught the young smallmouth in the picture above.  No hatch.  No trout.  I worked for another hour and a half, not seeing another angler (I've never seen another angler here), and covering about a thousand feet of river.   For the first time since I started fishing here, I didn't even see a trout.  I had one pool, the Sycamore Pool, left on this section.  I had come into this outing both confident and relaxed.  This was not going to plan.  One thing was especially weird - I was getting divebombed by tree swallows.  I've never seen them here before.  They swooped, pulled up to avoid the trees on the opposite bank, and then looped in again.  What in the hell were they doing here at all?

I skulked across the floodplain, keeping low in the shadows, and finally hiding behind the big sycamore that (I say) gives the pool its name.  No hatch, of course.  I somehow stirred up a bunch of stupid biting gnats in the poison ivy and ragweed, and I thought, well why not - let's change lures.  I let the first cast of a Joe's Flies Black Gnat tumble from the riffle into the pool, with some tin weights on the line just to get some depth.  A shape rose, then struck and missed, and quickly sunk again in the silty water.  RAINBOW. I retrieved, took a deep breath, and tried again.  Better cast.  Better tumble.  Strike.  Hit.  Drag out. Hook set.  Retrieve. Got back in the water to bring him to hand.

I released him within a few seconds, and had a good chuckle to myself.  Surely, the gnat spinning fly and the gnats in the weeds are a coincidence.  There is no hatch here.   At this point, the tree swallows were starting to get really annoying.  The chirping, the near collisions with my head, and their constant presence was just a bit much to take.  I was trying to concentrate.  Damn birds.

About 10 seconds later, the wind shifted strongly, but settled down after just a few seconds.  A cloud of black gnats on the water.  Up and down river as far as the eye could see.  A hatch.  And upon them like a pestilence was the cloud of tree swallows.  Still no rising fish, but here it was.  An actual hatch.

I'd about fished out this section and decided to hit the trail and see some other spots.  The run/pool ratio is much less generous, and giant boulders and rhododendrons make most fishing methods difficult to impossible, but it's beautiful anyway.  I had committed to being on my work computer by late morning (and actually getting stuff done), so I really had no time to grab my fly rods.  I mean, what was the chance that I would see trout rising to meet this hatch?  These trout eat ants and bees and worms and moths.  Emerging gnats? Yeah, right.

I'd last seen this reach in January.  It's still changing.  Much of the sand that used to be in the upstream section now sits here in bars, under big granite boulders.  Because it runs so heavily, so much of the time, it flushes the old mill sediments from upstream (don't worry, they end up behind other dams downstream).


The swallows were working harder than ever.  And with just a few minutes of free time left, I ambled on out to some big boulders and just watched a pool from the shadows.   And then I was amazed.

Dark figure eights rising from the bed of the pool, stopping for a half second to sip gnats on the surface, and then a fast arc down to the depths.  Over and over and over again - browns and rainbows - none huge.  Dozens of fish.  Hundreds of swallows.  Thousands of gnats. What a treat - to be entertained by nature at work after an already productive quick break into the woods.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Toddler Fishing v3.0

That's right, Dogg, I am straight up fishin' your lake with
my BPS Micro-Lite and my MARVEL Spider Man rods.
Tick, tick, BOOM!
Hank is growing up to endure fishing.   In most cases where he's been in attendance, I've caught fish.  Of the "small" and "not many" variety, specifically.   In 2010, at ten months old, he rode in the hiking pack while I fished for trout in western North Carolina's Swannanoa River.  In 2011 (he came with me several times), at twenty-two months old, he followed me along the cobble bars of Maryland's Gunpowder River and hucked sandstone cobbles into whatever deep, clear pool I was running a lure through.  Sigh.

Now he is two and a half years old.  He talks.  Constantly.  He had been asking for his own "Pishin' Pole" all winter (which is funny, because we say "rod" here....).  So I took him to the Sporting Goods Big Box store and let him pick out his first rod - a Shakespeare-made Spider Man rod.  I've tried to get him interested in casting and retrieving the line while we're in the back yard (the rod came with a convenient rubber fish to tie onto the end of the line), but Hank ran out the line around the yard and the rubber fish is now nowhere to be seen.  So, I said "OK, let's try actual fishing."

Even "keep the rod tip up while walking"
was a bit of a challenge.
Day care was closed one day, and we ended up in the neighborhood of "Fifty Dollar Lakes," and of course I brought his boots, a hat, sunblock, and even a PFD for the off-chance that we might get a call from a friend, and end up fishing on a boat.  I also had a little can of dried crickets for Hank's rod.  He was fascinated with the dead crickets, and as soon as I finished saying the words, "Do not dump out the crickets," the crickets were summarily dumped out.  Hank tried his best.  Already that day, he'd spent two hours in the garden with me, gone out for lunch, run around our work nursery/stockyard, and visited my office.  It was a lot of activity for such a little fella.  One of the first things we had to work on was trying to get him to not drag the tip of the rod, but also not wave the rod around like a sword.  That was a challenge.  Once we found a spot where he could safely get close to the water (under my supervision), he was all about it.  Bye bye, Pishin' Pole.


Favorite waterfront activity of all time.  Why do they throw rocks in the water???


"Daddy, daddy! DWAGONFWY! Gonna get me!"

"Daddy, I wanna kiss it."


The pre-meltdown yawning should have alerted me - our time was up.
Oops.  Missed that one. 


Recovered from waterfront yawning, but lost a boot.  Also announced "Daddy, I dwank the lake!"


Having a bit of a hard time.  Wants to put boots on, but boots are wet.  
Doesn't want to wear wet boots.  

Shirt and boots tossed in the lake, shorts covered in lake mud.  Getting held by Daddy equals averted meltdown. 


30 mile ride home in a diaper and the air conditioning.  Toddler life ain't so bad. 
I pretty much assumed that the exercise would be a debacle, and it was - at least for fishing.  Of course I caught some fish (have we met?) but it wasn't idyllic or easy.  Hank is definitely interested in the water (which I knew) and is definitely not scared of the dragonflies, fish, crickets, etc., which I didn't really know.   My decision to take him to a place where there are almost no anglers and no dogs was a good one, and it was by design that the same place also has a few toddler-friendly shoreline areas (i.e. not a rip rap wall).  The next time I take Hank fishing, I won't bother rigging up his Spiderman rod - he's more interested in everything else going on around him.   A lot of lessons for a short fishing outing!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

21 Songs I Hope My Kid Knows and Loves, #15 - #11

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. To sum up our results so far:

21. Avail "Fifth Wheel"
20. Ned's Atomic Dustbin "Grey Cell Green"
19. REM "Don't Go Back to Rockville"
18. No Doubt "Sunday Morning"
17. Ben Harper "I am Blessed to Be a Witness"
16. Cephas and Wiggins "Richmond Blues"

15. Animals: "House of the Rising Sun."  This is one of my favorite songs of all time.  My dad would turn it up on the AM radio in his '68 Firebird.  The Animals were highly underappreciated compared to the initially similar-in-every-way Beatles; but in retrospect, the Animals' first few efforts were pretty much their best, whereas the Beatles continued on to do at least sporadically better, and vastly more popular and accessible, work throughout their careers.  Much hay was made about the fact that the Animals "stole" this song, but of course, it's a poor peoples' song.   And the music of the poor is stolen all the time. Speaking of which, at least two songs covered by the Animals make an appearance toward the top of this list!


14. The Clash "London Calling."  I was obsessed with world politics as a young boy.  Still am, to some extent.   I heard "London Calling" for the first time when I was about 13, around 1987.  It was the bleakest picture of apocalypse that I'd heard from a record.  "A nuclear error - but I have no fear.  For London is drowning and I live by the river." Just....bleak.  I went on to become a huge Clash and Joe Strummer fan (Strummer passed away almost 10 years ago).


And for the first time in this list, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention other amazing tunes by this band, like Brand New Cadillac (later covered by Brian Setzer), Guns of Brixton (recently covered by Jimmy Cliff), Straight to Hell (later sampled by M.I.A. in "Paper Planes"), Spanish Bombs (nearly supplanted "London Calling" for this spot), and of course, Safe European Home.  The Clash, for whatever their failings were, had a great interest in peeling back the scab of colonialism and looking at how the "99%" live.   In that aim, they were massively successful.

13. Rolling Stones "Paint it Black."  Like "House of the Rising Sun," I first heard this song in my father's car.  This is the first song that ever truly scared me.  Like many of the songs on this list, the more life perspective the listener gains inbetween times he or she hears this song, the more terrified they'll be after they next hear it.  It doesn't become less scary. "Paint it Black," to me, is a horrifying story of what can go wrong with manhood, particularly.  Every self-discovery ends in self-loathing.  The only way to abate the discoveries is to simply destroy.   Another song in this category is "The End" by the Doors.  I was never a Jim Morrison fan, but yes, it's a scary freaking song.



12. Ramones "I Believe in Miracles."  Come on people, I had to throw in a positive song.  And an American one, at that.  The Ramones grew up in my Dad's neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens, NYC, and Joey went to Forest Hills HS with my aunt.  Coolest band and coolest fans ever.   I didn't see this video until I was in college, well after the song was released, and this video instantly required me to put this song on a pedestal.  The constant rolling "shout out" is all wonderful, all rock and roll - including honors to Robert Johnson, Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley, the Animals (#15 on this list), the Clash (#14), and Metallica (barely missed this list for "Battery" and/or "Master of Puppets").


11.  Social Distortion "Ball and Chain."  I heard this song in my friend John's garage "practice space" when it came out in early 1990. It's been my favorite song for the last 22 years.  "Well I sit and I pray, in my '54 Chevrolet." I've seen the band a dozen or more times and even hung out with them (briefly) on their tour bus in 1990.  This song is special, even though the band arguably has better songs (see #5, "Prison Bound"). I thought that my beach friends and I had this little song all to ourselves - then was shocked when I showed up at college and learned that college and alternative radio stations had been playing the heck out of it for a year!


And just for fun, here's a live version, 20 years later, in front of 50,000? 100,000? young fans.


Tune in next time for #s 10 - 6!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Great 2012 Kayak Debacle, Starring Cabela's





Update: this blog post published on May 8, 2012. For the week afterwards, I continued to try (unsuccessfully) to get feedback out of Cabela's customer service department.  On May 16, I was contacted by the Cabela's corporate office, who clearly noticed that there was a problem with my order.  On May 24, I received a phone call that some resolution to this issue is underway.  I'm holding my breath - Cabela's seems to be trying to fix this issue for me and for other customers as well.  Much more to come!


Update II:  I didn't hear anything more from Cabela's after May 16th.  A freight shipper called on May 24th with news of a mystery package from "Dutchland Plastics" or some such nonsense.  Happy to report that on May 29th, the kayak in question arrived at my office.  Cabela's worked hard to fix the problem described in the original post (below).  In mid-June 2012, I'll be posting a more thorough  write-up of this (and other) drop-shipping issues in the world of outdoor gear, along with some tips for dealers, manufacturers, and customers alike. 

I've been a loyal Cabela's customer for 15 years.  I've bought almost all of my outdoor gear from them, and they have responded with excellent customer service and high quality gear.  I've even driven three hours through the snow to patronize my "local" Cabela's store up in Pennsylvania.  It feels good to be a loyal customer - especially to a family-owned business.  Oh yeah.  They send me the hard bound catalog.  And I buy more gear from them.

But as of today, our Facebook relationship status would read "it's complicated." 

In April 2012, I was in the market for a new fishing kayak, specifically a 12' sit-on-top rigged for fishing (could also be used for work), and in a drab color (in case I wanted to use it for hunting).  I was just about to order from another outdoor superstore, when I thought, "you know, Cabela's might have something I like."  <>


Could it be? A boat I'd heard of (and like), made in the USA, meeting all of my technical requirements, from an outdoors dealer I'm loyal to, offered at 20% off?! It was, and so around midnight, I clicked, "Confirm Purchase." There was a little note on the webpage that stated, "Ships directly from manufacturer in 2-3 weeks."  I figured, "Hey, it's a great deal on a good boat. I can wait."

Two weeks passed.

Three weeks passed.

I called Emotion Kayaks.  No response.  

I called the company who apparently just purchased Emotion Kayaks, speaking to two clueless employees before being transferred into someone's voicemail (they have not called back in the week since my call).  No resolution.

 I heard from Matt from Functional Fishaholics. He ordered the same exact boat a day after I did, and Matt was getting the same runaround.  He spoke to someone at Emotion Kayaks who had not received any orders from Cabela's.  Ruh Roh. 

Matt and I both called Cabela's.  This is where the story gets bad.  We spoke to representatives in both Customer Service and Drop Shipping.   Both departments were very apologetic and promised to figure out the problem and get back in touch with us - in three to five business days.  What? Thousands of dollars in missing merchandise, paid for by Cabela's customers....ehhh....three to five business days.  I guess this is commonplace at Cabela's???

On the third business day, Matt and I both called Cabela's back.  A staffer in the Drop Shipping department told me, "Good news! Emotion says your kayak will ship on May 15th!"  I again explained my frustration, and she graciously said, "You know what, let me call them and see if they can expedite that."  Ahh, Cabela's.  I ended the conversation by saying, "Please let me know by lunchtime, CST."

Little did I know that Matt was getting a different story at almost the same exact moment.  He was told the bad news - the kayak hadn't shipped, the kayak wasn't going to ship, and in fact, the kayak did not even exist, and there were no plans to make more kayaks.  He was offered a refund.

When Matt told me this, I thought about my plan of action for a few minutes and then noticed that I had a missed call - and an ambiguous voicemail - both from Cabela's, around noon CST.  Gulp.

I reached out to the Drop Shipping department again.  The first person I spoke with just came right out and said, "yeah, so, I guess they don't have any of those kayaks, and they're not going to make them any time soon, so is there another boat you want to order instead - for the same price?"

You have got to be kidding me.

I explained to her that I use a kayak both for personal and for work use, and that I'd been waiting for a boat from Cabela's now for almost a month.  I gave her my detailed history with Cabela's and how they've always  made it right.  She said, "Well, how about a refund and a $25 gift card?!"

Wow.  I declined the gift card.  I tried to describe for her that anything less than a spectacular resolution to this issue would make it impossible for me to remain a Cabela's customer.  I think the response was something to the effect of, "Aww, I'm sorry to hear that."  And so, instead of losing my temper, I asked to speak to someone else.

The reception I got on the second attempt was just as helpful. "Well, gosh, we sure are sorry about this." Period.   I specifically asked, "So what you're saying is that once you send your customers' money to a vendor, you have no way of knowing whether that vendor actually delivers the item to your customer?" The response, "Yeah, we can't track that in our system."   I asked again, "As somebody who spends thousands of dollars a year on outdoor gear, how can I possibly be confident in Cabela's to purchase gear?"  He had no answer.  I asked, "What if I didn't receive the kayak in a year? Would Cabela's have any idea?" He said, "No, we can't really track that."  I told him, "You know what? Go ahead and issue a refund and close my account."

He said, "No problem!"  Period.  And Cabela's lost at least one big money transaction - and maybe many to come.  If you can't track your inventory, I can't trust you with my credit card.  That's for damn sure.

How do I think they should have handled it?  They should have thanked Matt and I for detecting this error - saving them reams of embarrassment by unhappy customers (and tens of thousands of dollars in unfilled orders).  They should have offered us a refund at the retail price, not the sale price.  More importantly, they should have asked, "What can we do to fix this?" Hint: A $25 gift card will not fix this.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Bass Spawn Strikeout!

Public access hampered by lack of funds for park rangers,
as well as funds for the upgrade or removal of this dam, and subsequent
restoration of the lake bed into other types of fish habitat. 
Well, if the bass were confused about the recent warm weather, the confusion has ended.  Our largemouth are now clearly spawning.  They are very visible but listless and not at all motivated to eat.   On this evening at "Fifty Dollar Lakes," I met a friendly teenager, and friendly old man, and the teenager's asshole Dad, who acted like he was Annapolis' own Skeet Reese, yet was the only person among us not to catch any fish.  You suck!




Where was I? Oh yeah, the spawn.  It was actually exciting to see some really big bass in shallow water.  Several 4-5 pounders less than a foot deep, among the lily pads.  I stalked as good as I could, but they would not give chase, or even rise.   I ended up using small unweighted plastics (I think the Yum Woolly Beaver Tail won the day) and catching a bunch of really fat bluegills in the 8-11" range or so, roughly three-quarter pound fish, I guess.  As always, it was good to catch fish.  No pictures of them today.

Not a lot of deep thoughts, either, except pondering where and how I'll get on our largemouth when the spawn ends in another week or two!



Saturday, May 5, 2012

21 Songs I Hope My Kid Knows and Loves, #21 - #16

I've been fishing a bit lately.  I'm happy.  Losing weight.  Busy.  I just don't feel like writing about the outdoors.  Which almost never happens.  But I pulled out some old CDs in the truck and was blown away by some of the memories that were instantly summoned.   I thought - because for some reason, I think about such things -  that it would be a shame if I never got to share some of my favorite songs with Hank.  I already do, with mixed approval ("No Daddy, turn it off!" vs. the occasional, "Yeah Daddy, Rockin'!"), but obviously the Blond Boy Wonder doesn't know why we listen to the music we do.   Over the next few weeks, I'll list 21 songs that tell that story.  There are 21 songs because there are 21 songs. No other reason.

21. Avail: "Fifth Wheel." The band's from Richmond, and the song is about Richmond, or anywhere you don't want to be.  But especially, places you don't want to be in Virginia. Included is a pull from #15 on my list,  "House of the Rising Sun," "With one foot on the platform, one foot on the train, I'm going back to Richmond, to wear that ball and chain."


20.  Ned's Atomic Dustbin: "Grey Cell Green."  What a weird band from Swedescandinaviaorwayinland.   Two bass players, both playing walking bass lines.  Our band, and every band we knew, played this song.  It was easy.  It was loud.  It reminds me of everything about my senior year of high school (when this record was released).  This was the first CD I ever bought. Obscure though it is.  This band was lost in a wave of flannel - Nirvana's Nevermind was released just six months after this album, and bands like Ned's and the Smithereens just vanished into obscurity because they weren't sufficiently mopey and heroin-addled.


19.  REM: "Don't Go Back to Rockville."  In time, I expect that a new band from a new generation will cover this song.  Hank will love it.  He won't know who REM is, or what Michael Stipe wrote this song about, and that's OK.  It reminds me of college, with girlfriends from different towns landing in different schools, and all of us having to back to school, or work, or home (depending on the week) to deal with a reality that we did not want to deal with. It also reminds me of high school - I grew up in a very "Rockville" (not Rockville, MD) kind of rural place.  Those who didn't leave, didn't leave.  Those who left did not return.  You have to admit, there's a certain sadness - and finality - to that.


18. No Doubt: "Sunday Morning."  This is a fun song.  It reminds me of college and grad school - occasionally having a full day to "just be."  Man, that was nice. The video is very generation-X specific, but that's me, so there you go...


17. Ben Harper: "I am Blessed to be a Witness."  This is not the only spiritual song on my list.  It's a beautiful one.  I have shared it with a lot of people, and not nearly enough. It is a wonderful, reflective, peaceful song.


16. Cephas and Wiggins: "Richmond Blues."  This is a grownup song, but an old song.  Every year older I get, the more I understand it.  That's a sad thing. I do love that they are drinking Budweiser while doing their followup interview. Click on the video for a good sample of this pistol-whipping blues classic from Virginia.



These represent the cusp of my strongest memories of music.  But stay tuned - more reverence for the greats of the blues, country, and rock and roll can be found closer to the top of the list!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Looking for American Made Base Layers

Winter or summer, cotton kills.  These days, I don't work or play more than a few hours outside in anything less than a low end wicking base layer.  And I obviously don't wear cotton to the gym.   I've been working and playing a lot outside recently, and I've ended up with several items of base layer clothing, and I'm in the market for more, as the items I've bought over the last few years start to deteriorate from wayward fish hooks cigar burns contact with briars, brush, and the rest of the world.

I enjoy a lot of the top and bottom layers I have - from Under Armour to Patagonia and EMS' own TechWick line.  Even Adidas and Columbia are in my gym bag, and pull a healthy amount of sweat off of me.  I've started working on a pretty comprehensive writeup of which ones perform how, and when.  It's important to understand it all because as you may have noticed, these garments are not cheap.

Several of these manufacturers are headquartered in the United States.  That's awesome.  Some, notably Patagonia and Under Armour, make a conscious effort to produce or assemble at least some percentage of their products in the United States.  That's even better.  But I'd like to take this gear review to the next level - I'm  hoping that some American-made technical base layer clothing will throw their hat in the ring here - is your product as solid as the one made half a world away?

Some ground rules:

1.  I am not expecting cradle-to-grave American sourcing.  I understand that the product tag may have been printed in Canada and the fabric was created in a lab in Vietnam.  I am interested in seeing that the clothing item itself was woven/stitched/assembled in the United States.

2.  Contact me at balto.swampthing@gmail.com prior to June 1, 2012; with an ability to ship a test/review product by June 15, 2012.  Gear testing will take place between June 1-June 30, 2012. A review of all items reviewed, and a profile of solely American brands, will publish on this blog during the week of July 1, 2012, and also be disseminated through Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, redirecting readers back to your site or a site where your products are sold.  River Mud currently generates about 15,000 page views per month (April, 2012: 15,921; March, 2012: 15, 277).

3.  This is not a free gear grab.  If you believe that your product, which meets the two criteria above, is so superior that I should purchase it for a specific price as part of this review, please contact me and tell me your pitch.

4. If for some reason your product completely fails our field testing, we will attempt to contact you for your input, at least five full business days prior to web publishing.

So that's it.  Any great American companies out there making a solid base layer? Ready to test it against these guys?