Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Youth Fishing Reels - Why Do You Fail Me?

As I've written about before, I feel strongly that kids should have fun when they are outdoors.  They aren't to be cursed for their short attention spans, the ease with which they are injured - or how scared they can get when they're injured in an unfamiliar environment.

They aren't to be heckled for their lack of skill, their tendency to reel in a fish all the way to the tip of the fishing rod, or their desire to stop fishing and start throwing rocks into your fishing hole.

Okay, so, all you parents and grandparents, BE NICE.  Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I turn my attention to youth fishing reels.  You might think, "there's no such thing as a youth fishing reel.  And you might be right.  But what you don't know is that certain fishing reels come attached to youth fishing rods.  And those reels absolutely suck.

We've been through two reels so far, and no, I didn't oil them prior to use, so maybe there's some user error in there.  Hank's Spiderman reel, which unfortunately was molded to the Spiderman Rod, broke after maybe five total hours of very young toddler use.  It can't have had more than 30 casts under its belt.   Last summer, I bought Hank the Bass Pro Crappie Maxx Jr. setup, it seemed perfect.   Well, I should have read the reviews on Bass Pro's website:

Review 1:  The pole is just right
Review 2:  The reel knotted up
Review 3:  The reel does not function
Review 4:   Doesn't reel properly

I fell for some kind of marketing trick, you see.  I love the Crappie Maxx rods (formerly Wally Marshall signature model).  Even though the combo was cheap ($35 or so), and I usually pay $35-45 for a Crappie Maxx rod alone, I figured it would be fine, especially for a kid.

But that's one thing that I got wrong, and the Bass Pro reviews mention.  The reviews don't say, "Oh whatever, I guess it's passable for a kid."  Instead, they all point to, "This is not a great purchase - especially for a kid."  That's my mentality, too, and so it's time for an upgrade. The options?

Option 1:  Zebco 202
Pros:  Dirt Cheap
Cons:  Has a reputation for spontaneously falling apart
Hank-Worthy?   Don't think so.

Option 2:  Zebco 33
Pros:   The redneck standard for spincasters
Cons:  A lot of reel for small hands
Hank-Worthy?  Ehhh.  Maybe.

Option 3:  Zebco Delta
Pros:  Looks like it will work every time
Cons:  A $47 baitcast reel?  What?
Hank-Worthy?  If I can find it on eBay.

Not sure what I'll figure out - but I've gotta do it quick.  A boy needs a fishing rod!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Fishin' and Road Trippin' Tunes for Summer 2014

I've not been accused of having the most straightforward taste in music.  I like big bold sound and a heavy beat.  Songs about bad times.  Scarred up hearts.  Sound like a good time yet?  Yeah,  you know it does.

Easily the best new record I've heard so far in 2014 is Chuck Ragan's "Till Midnight."  It's aggressive and heartfelt, and all of the genre's heavy hitting backup cast (Todd Beene, Jon Gaunt, Joe Ginsburg) don't miss a note.  Literally.   Love and loss are heavy and constant, as they always are with Chuck's work.  Since I hate iTunes, download "Till Midnight" (or at minimum, the album's lead-off single "Something May Catch Fire" right here on Amazon.   Prior to its release, the album was already generating attention from Rolling Stone and dozens of other paper and electronic magazines - so you're likely to hear some of these songs in movies and TV over the next year.  Enjoy the single, below:

Next up, and only not the best because it's not new material (but also...Chuck Ragan's new album is really that good), is Tim Barry's highly anticipated live double album, "Raising Hell and Living Cheap: Live in Richmond."  It's due out on May 13 and I'll own the digital and vinyl versions in short order, I promise you.   The recording - a full digital workup - was done in Barry's home town of Richmond, VA without his consent or awareness.  Those of you know are music fans know that this can make for a raw, outstanding recording that really means something to fans.   I've had the pleasure of seeing Tim play for the first time in 1995 and as recently as 2012, and had a frankly life-changing interview with him in 2012 that solidified a lot of things for me in my own life.   I'll edit this post in a few weeks when the live album's for sale, but if you're unsure, this is what it's likely to contain:

Up next is my old pal and fellow Virginian Scott Miller, with his virtually undetected late-2013 release "Big Big World."  I know Scott has no "media budget" or whatever, but still - how did I not know he was releasing another album?  I first met Scott a decade or more ago, interviewed him for the blog in 2008, and I think I last saw him play in 2011 or so (that's what I get for having a kid in 2009).   Scott's music is deep and moves quick.  My favorite song off of the new album is "Freight Train Heart - Stone Wall Love," which evokes early drivin' n' cryin' from 500 miles south of Miller's home.  You can buy "Big Big World" on Amazon here ($8.99 download), or in the meantime, enjoy this old favorite, "Amtrak Crescent."

Last but not least, get you some Hillbilly Moon Explosion, because really, what is life without Swiss rockabilly music?  I realize that up until this point, I've not included any women or even mixed gender artists, and I apologize for that.  Emanuela Hutter is amazing and haunting and scary. And in fact, she is probably more than enough woman for the rest of this list.   Their 2013 album, "Damn Right, Honey" is pretty respectable on its own, but for this summer's listening (and since no one reading this has ever heard any European rockabilly music), I'm gonna recommend 2011's "Buy, Beg or Steal," an awesome, very traditional rockabilly record.  Perfect for a drive on a hot day.  Pick it up on Amazon for a piddly $8.99   And seriously....the title track.  Go go go !

There are many other fine "summer" records coming out soon from the likes of the Gaslight Anthem, Lucero (live album), and many others but I felt like these deserved some notice.  Now get outside and have fun!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

High Water, High Hopes

Had 90 minutes inbetween meetings on the road, so I decided to hit my local trout spot for the first time this year.  I kept my attitude and anxiety in check headed down the road, which I thought might guarantee success on a pretty fertile stretch of water.

So, speaking of water.  It was high.  Flow was quadruple the rate that I prefer to fish in that river.  I had chest waders, so I dealt with it, but it was impossible.   I left the fly rod in the truck and decided to chuck inline spinners at trout and smallmouth.   In that current, nothing was coming up, so I had to experiment with split shot to try to get low in the water column.  Our serious winter has seriously altered the stream channel and the layout of pools and runs, which meant a lot of lost tackle.  At least five spinners.   Every attempt to get lower and heavier was met with an impossible snag.  Every attempt to lighten the load saw my lure tumbling downstream uncontrollably near the surface.

I honestly don't remember if I caught a fish or not.  Seems like I did, but it wasn't a bass or trout, and if it were something interesting like a fallfish or sucker, I'd have remembered that as well.

Oh well.  Here's to waiting out lower water.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Sunday Hunting Victory in Virginia - Part I: Hounded Again

It's not news anymore, but it's still news to me.  I was once again part of an organized campaign to help lift or alleviate Virginia's last blue law - the Sunday Hunting Ban.  This year, we did it.  It wasn't without some bumps and scrapes, and I was disappointed to see where some alliances truly laid in the farm and hunting community.

In the legislature, we saw Delegate Lee Ware fail in his attempt to block this attempt for the 8th straight year in his House Subcommittee.  After a prior victory over hunters, Del. Ware had glibly told the bill's patron, "Boy, why'd you bring this bill to this committee!"" (Potomac News, 1/25/08).  Through hundreds of similar quotes and actions, Ware's intention to never allow any Sunday hunting bill, however narrowly written, to flow from the subcommittee to the House Agriculture Committee seemed pretty obvious.

In 2014, the Speaker of the House assigned the bill to the larger House Agriculture Committee, on which Del. Ware merely had one vote of 25 possible votes.   During Committee testimony, Ware tried to cover his tracks by thanking the bill's proponents for providing details on hunting safety, the popularity of Sunday hunting among hunters and non-hunters, and other information (all of which had been provided in prior years, interestingly).  He remarked that the "new" information painted a broader picture.  The "new" facts ultimately made no impact despite his public pleas, as he voted against the bill once more.  It passed the House Agriculture committee 12-10.   In the House, the bill passed easily with a nearly 2:1 margin, despite Delegate Matt Farriss decrying that Sunday hunting was a violation of scripture and specifically "The Twelve Commandments."  Yup.  Not a typo. Field and Stream ran the quote, too. 

Ware's financial sponsors, the Commonwealth Sportsmen's Alliance and its former legislative project (now independent) Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, were furious.  They took to the internet, as all brave warriors do, and claimed that the proponents of Sunday hunting were usurping democracy (trust me, though, they didn't use the word "usurping") and intentionally gaming democracy by having an obviously biased Subcommittee bypassed to get a vote on a bill that the majority of legislators in both parties approved.

In previous years, the CSA and VAHDA and the indirectly associated  Virginia Farm Bureau (also inexplicably opposed to Sunday hunting - most state Farm Bureaus strongly support Sunday hunting) had relied upon groups of anti-hunters to join them in their testimony and effort to keep hunters out of the woods (you see, Virginia houndsmen spend Sundays retrieving loose dogs from properties that they might not have permission to hunt, so they directly benefit from the Sunday hunting ban).  Groups such as the Audubon Society, Humane Society of Virginia, and others were encouraged to come down and testify about their fear of raining bullets, head shots on kayakers, and a landscape littered with accidentally shot dogs and horses.  In 2012 (2/3/12; 3:58pm), the Farm Bureau's Wilmer Stoneman provided a description of the anti-Sunday hunting lobbying that the Virginia Farm Bureau was proud to sponsor, adding, "Please send this through to the folks with bicycle club connections."  Why would the Virginia Farm Bureau, the state's largest lobbyist for landowner rights be encouraging urban bicycle activists to lobby against rural landowner rights?  Answer that for yourself. It's a head scratcher.

With friends like these - VAHDA and
VFBF lobbied with HSUS in
past years against Sunday
hunting.  Surprise! The
anti-hunters actually want
to end YOUR hunting too!
During the 2012 effort, testimony by the VAHDA was so compelling to Ware's subcommittee, that when the anti-hunters were asked to follow the VAHDA testimony, they declined, ecstatic that the self-proclaimed leaders of Virginia houndsmen had made all of their anti-hunting arguments for them.   In 2014, this unlikely alliance became predictably (to anyone but VAHDA) caustic, as the Humane Society of the United States attacked houndsmen directly with two anti-hunting bills, one (creating a sunset date of 2054 for all fox pens in Virginia) of which became law.  As had been the case in past years on the Sunday hunting front, both the Hound Dog Alliance and the anti-hunters claimed victory.    Seems to me like a law ending one's sport in 40 years isn't much of a victory.  More on that - very avoidable - sad story is yet to come.

The rapid victory of Sunday Hunting in the House - previously an impossibility thanks to Delegate Lee Ware, likely unrelated to the continued campaign donations he receives from VAHDA, CSA, and VFBF (or some combination of the three)- left the leadership of the VAHDA, notably lobbyist Kirby Burch and president Jim Hackett, on their heels, no longer certain of victory over the majority of Virginia hunters who support Sunday hunting.   Suddenly, a race was on, as the decidely pro-Sunday hunting Senate got a crack at the bill.

VAHDA hit the public on two fronts that unfortunately for them, ended up colliding in embarrassment.  The first front was an assault on the media.   In previous years, poorly funded newspapers had happily run "articles" written, partially written, or heavily guided by VAHDA without a significant amount of editing, fact-checking or counter-statements.   In 2014, that changed, as a wide network of hunters united under the Facebook page "Legalize Virginia Sunday Hunting for All," would scan the state's newspapers daily, and would write to editors demanding retractions and corrections.  Soon, the newspapers began including quotes on Sunday hunting from supporters, as well.   First, the Roanoke Times.  Then the Virginian Pilot.  Then the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Ultimately....the Washington Post.   Some pro-Sunday hunters wrote their own articles, which were published by newspapers around the state.  The media push was not working as well as VAHDA had hoped.  It was time to try the internet forums.  Unfortunately, most hunting forums are dominated by white collar hunters who work all week and who support Sunday hunting by an extremely large margin.  Again, Hackett and other VAHDA associates found little or no quarter in the corners of the world wide web.

On the VAHDA-friendly hound hunting website Speed Dogs, Hackett and others publicly decried the 2014 Sunday hunting push as underhanded and undemocratic," publishing missives to houndsmen that Sunday hunting advocates were anti-Christian and quite possibly anti-American.  In a secret letter (now public) to the Campbell County Board of Supervisors (1/24/14), Hackett alleged that the Sunday hunting bill had been somehow "fast tracked" "with hopes that it can be passed before County residents find out about it."  Hackett's bizarre letter further alleges that the supporters of Sunday hunting, "only have money making profits in mind."

This is where the second front of VAHDA's effort comes in - and their failure began.  Hackett's letter was more than a helpful update to local leaders.   No, VAHDA wanted the Campbell County Board of Supervisors to do something very specific - to pass a resolution opposing any new Sunday hunting.  The wording was important, because houndsmen already enjoy several types of Sunday hunting that conventional deer, duck, and turkey hunters do not.  Of course - the VAHDA wouldn't want to see a true Sunday hunting ban proposed by anybody - they already have Sunday hunting.  It became publicly clear that VAHDA, despite protestations over Christianity and "quiet rural Sundays," had already in years past received Sunday hunting for its supporters, and merely did not want to share the woods and fields with more hunters.  VAHDA's past legislative wrapup (2008) explains it best:  "there are no plans to seek any modifications to end any Sunday exemptions that currently exist."  Ain't that somethin'?

Burch's and Hackett's continued press assaults, as well as Hackett's letter, also presented a new issue:  continuing to tell a consistent story, or alternately, the truth.  Hackett's letter to Campbell County included a purported list of other counties that had "joined in" against (non-hound) Sunday hunting.  A major problem became that some of those counties, in fact, had not passed the resolution.   As "The List of 23 Counties" began circulating, hunters began contacting their county leadership to request public discussion on the matter.  In at least two counties, hunters found out that their local leaders were hours away from considering "The Resolution," and got involved.  Both of those counties (Gloucester and Powhatan) refused to adopt VAHDA's "Resolution" against Sunday hunting based on citizen input.  So where did citizen input occur for the 19? or 14? or 23? Counties who VAHDA claimed had signed "The Resolution?"  That process is best explained in a letter to Campbell County government from Derick Ratcliffe, who at various points directly and indirectly claims to be associated with VAHDA.  Recall also, VAHDA's complaints about the "transparency" and "undemocratic" nature of the Sunday hunting bill, being shouted loudly at about the same time Derick's letter went to Campbell County:

"Some counties found a way around the need to pass the resolution in time to have an immediate impact. They apparently called a 'Special Meeting' which then wasn't a Special Meeting because then re-opened the immediately previous monthly meeting, adopted the resolution, which was then on record as being passed at the immediately previous meeting." 

Now, I don't know about any of you reading this, but that sounds like a borderline illegal (and most certainly unethical and out-of-protocol) tactic.  That this tactic is being advocated by an organization whose leaders called a simple House Committee assignment "undemocratic" and whose supporters called Sunday hunting advocates un-American and anti-Christian is flatly hilarious.   This is literally gaming the legislative process - literally back-room, dark-room stuff.  Isn't it fascinating?  We sure thought so, and so we told everyone about it.

  VAHDA's local leverage against Sunday hunting got too public, too fast.  As Mr. Ratcliffe was kind enough to mention in his (now public) letter:  "Calling such meetings is almost unheard of and sends a message certain to generate attention in Richmond."  Hand it to the man - he was right - it generated attention - just not the attention that VAHDA had imagined.  As hunters tried to track down copies of this infamous "resolution," the call came in, "Someone in Gloucester County says that they are going to rubber stamp some resolution against Sunday hunting tonight."    12 hours later, Gloucester County said "no" to the anti-hunters and the Virginia Hound Dog Alliance.     Two months later, the resolution failed in Powhatan County - home of Kirby Burch (VAHDA) and Delegate Lee Ware (who is supported by VAHDA).  Yes, Mr. Ratcliffe, it certainly generated attention in Richmond.  A tip for the future for Mr. Ratcliffe:  if a parliamentary process is "almost unheard of," there's a good chance it could be illegal. 

As of April 2014, hunters across the Commonwealth of Virginia are petitioning their County Supervisors to determine what process was used to pass the anti-hunting Resolution in the name of their constituents.   When confronted by the media in my brother's home town, one of the local supervisors bravely told the reporter that signing the resolution was easy - because citizens should be in church on Sunday morning (pretty sure that's a violation of the 1st Amendment, the whole "establishing a religion" thingy....).    I suspect that Kirby Burch's "List of 23 Counties" will be roughly a "List of 11 Counties" by the time the 2015 Legislative Session begins.  Virginia has 95 Counties.

With only mild histrionics in the Virginia Senate in March 2014, including Republican Senator Stuart attempting to explain how he might (inexplicably) mistake a kayak for a duck, and with Republican Senator Obenshain (who lost his bid for Attorney General by 907 votes - the pro-Sunday hunting Facebook page has 5,400 members who voted against him) trading silly punches in the Senate hall with Kirby Burch,  the Sunday hunting bill passed with generous bipartisan support - a rare thing these days.    Even more rare, Virginia's new Democratic governor signed the Republican-sponsored version of the bill into law.  When does that ever happen anymore?

The Virginia Hound Dog Alliance has vowed to fight in 2015 to keep hunters off of their own properties on Sundays, in order to preserve the Sunday hunting and casual hound retrieval that the houndsmen currently enjoy to themselves (on others' property, sometimes without any permission at all).   They keep talking about these illicit County "resolutions" as a viable proposal to weaken Sunday hunting in Virginia.   I don't know about any of you, but I can't stand by and watch a group of supposed "property rights conservatives" (I'm sure they'd describe themselves that way) try to line up with anti-hunters once again to tell us that a legal activity should not be legal one day a week - a day of their choosing, not chosen by landowners.   I can't imagine their approach will stick, as the state game department (VDGIF) has openly stated its support for Sunday hunting since 2011.    I'll be honest, I can't wait to stop hearing the names Kirby Burch, Wilbur Stoneman, and Jim Hackett.  The names of men who might actually think that on Sundays, your land belongs to them.  I'd bet that each is a registered Republican.  So much for "property rights."  I'll let them explain their position at the next local GOP fundraiser.  "

It's April 2014.  After dozens of writing assignments, hundreds of phone calls, and thousands of emails, Virginia Sunday hunting is legal for anybody who can get on the water or get onto private property with permission.   Those who oppose Sunday hunting will never see the difference.   Those who support it will see the cash flow out of their wallets, and into the cash registers of local businesses, restaurants, gas stations, and hotels.  

Toddler Fishing 5.1 "Stay Where I Can See You"

Picked the little guy up from preschool and asked him my favorite of warm-weather questions, "Hey, what do you wanna do now?"  He said, "The farm with the log playground I can climb on!!!"  He was referring to our local Irvine Nature Center's "Natural Play Space," which is an awesome place indeed.  I knew it'd be a 20+ minute drive there in rush hour traffic, so we stopped and got a few snacks and drinks.

Unfortunately, we pulled into the spot around 5:45pm and there was a chain across the driveway "Open 9 to 5."  Hank asked, "Just drive the truck around it."  Good boy!  No, we didn't do that.

He was in the beginning stages of a toddler meltdown when we pulled away, so I really had to scramble.  Out there in Baltimore's ex-urbs, there's not much public land at all.  All the playgrounds are "community only," which is kind of funny, because kids never play on them.   Possibly because they expect to see the same eight kids there every day.  Anyway, we were running low on daylight (about 90 minutes remaining) and it occurred to me that we were fairly close to our most local state WMA, Gwynnbrook.  It's kind of a crap property, covered in invasive plants, resident geese and throngs of deer, but it does have a pond that is well mowed.  The pond also contains residual fish from stocking efforts, since Gwynnbrook serves as the regional office for many of the state's wildlife and fish technicians assigned to the area.   Somebody, somehow, introduced the Chinese mystery snail to the pond, which is kind of disturbing as well....

But, it was there.  Time to be set free....

Hank was disappointed in the lack of elaborate created log structures but made do with some trees that the technicians hadn't cut out of the path yet (really? that's a thing in park management?).

I didn't  honestly think I'd get any real fishing done, but I grabbed my rod out of the truck, with the single lure (2" chartreuse powerbait grub) still rigged up from the previous weekend.  Ehhh.  Why not.

As Hank outpaced me, sprinting around the pond, I had to keep hollering at him to stay close enough so I could see him (again, this is maybe a one acre oval pond, so he wasn't going anywhere).  But he also did something new, as I tried to keep popping into shoreline spots to cast...."Daddy! I see a bunch of fish here!  Catch these fish!"   He was scouting for me! HA!  At one point, he ran over the berm, onto the lower side of the valley where I couldn't see him.  He didn't go far - in fact he stopped as soon as he realized he had gone too far....and this is what he was doing as he waited for me to catch up...

Believe it or not, I did actually catch a few fish - all sunfish, unfortunately - but given the time constraint, lack of site choice, and diversion of my attention WAY away from fishing, it was all good.  Hank got to reel in a pumpkinseed and touch it, and also got to "call" a pair of resident geese into the roost, shortly before running away in fear when the spring peepers' calls suddenly erupted out of the wet ground surrounding him.  All in all, it was one big fish short of a perfect evening.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Outdoor Toddler Agenda and Toddler Fishing 5.0

My wife informed me on friday night that she needed some time on Saturday to do some "stuff."  I usually interpret "stuff" to mean things she doesn't want to hear me complain about being involved in all day.   For the last 4.5 years, I've also learned to interpret phrases like that is, "Please do something with our child before I lose my mind."   I called Henry over and asked him, "What do you want to do tomorrow?"

He said:

Chick Fil A playground
Neighborhood playground
Buy some candy
Eat some hot dogs

I cheated a little bit by starting our Toddler Agenda Day with a "hike" that was actually a "stream cleanup" sponsored by my employer.  Hank didn't seem to mind.

"I am Wolverine!" 
We then headed to Chick Fil A, where I immediately set him loose to play.  I got us some fried chickeny goodnesss (Hank only eats the fries there), and watched him play for awhile, as I sat by myself in a booth nearby.  I got up to ask him to come eat with me, and when I returned, our tray of food was on a table with chairs (not our booth) and covered with wet napkins (I assume, used to clean off the table I was at).  So, keep in mind, there was a table available - somebody (a woman and small child) thought they would just use my table/booth because it was more...???...comfortable? than the table with chairs.  As Hank ate his fries, I tried to get the attention of the Awesome Person of the Week at the nearby booth.  Shockingly, she spent the next 15 minutes staring at the ground.  I hate parents who start conflicts with other parents in front of their kids, so I said nothing.  I also hate being disrespected, which is why I'm still thinking about it three days later. Anyhow, Hank played for a bit longer on the playground and then we hit one of my fishing holes along the Little Patuxent River!!!! Woo hoo!

The weather was sunny and temperatures around 62 degrees, but the water is still very cold.  The turtles were sunning themselves and unwilling to move much.  Hank thought this one was waving at him.  Watch the range of emotions on his face, as the turtle refuses to move (though he looks like he's waving his front left leg):


"C'mon turtle, wave at me!"

"Daddy, this turtle won't move.  Is he dead?"
Believe it or not, we caught fish.  Several crappie (me) and a green sunfish (Hank...sort of).  He was very patient for his age and really tried.

I only have three rules for Hank when we're fishing:

1.  Have fun / let's stop if you're not having fun.
2.  Don't give up.  You can figure it out.
3.  Watch where you step.

When I caught the first fish of the day. Hank had wandered off to have an imaginary swordfight (stick) with a bad guy of some variety, and he didn't get back to me quickly enough to "help me" reel in the fish.  I honestly didn't care and made sure I told him it wasn't a big deal, but his own expectations for himself overtook him, and that was a hard nut to crack.   He kept telling me he was sorry for giving up and that he wished he was more patient, and he went to the edge of the swamp and sat by himself.   He was really hard on himself, which was hard to watch.

After about 15 minutes he bounced back, and he did get his fish about 20 minutes later.  From there, we hit a gas station for some candy, where Hank saw what appeared to be an escort and said, "Daddy, that lady must be going to a special party!"  Ha ha ha. We hit the neighborhood playground for a solid hour, and finally Hank said, "Daddy, I wanna go home."   We got hot dogs to go and went home to watch Star Wars DVDs and rest my aching legs.

Not a bad day at all!

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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...