Wednesday, November 9, 2016

After the Earth is Scorched - Election Edition!

I awoke this morning to soft rain outside. My thoughts turned to my son's rock climbing gear left out on his climbing wall in the yard.  I had planned to bow hunt this morning, but like many people, I stayed up far too late watching the final act of the kabuki that was our 2016 presidential election.   Like many people, I'm worried about what happens next.  Like many other people, I'm slightly excited that maybe our power structure will start listening to Americans (most notably, young liberals and conservatives who are people of color) and stop with the DNC's and RNC's presumptive entitlement in our lives.   After all, they are not us.  Repeat: they are not us.

Step away from the fear of Trump and the spite for Clinton, and the racist vs. career liar false equivalency (and it was a false equivalency, you know that), and what you have is a very basic statistic:  only twice in the history of our nation have Democrats won three consecutive elections. Equalizing all other factors (which I know is statistically unfair), this gave Clinton very poor odds of winning.  To drill down into that a bit, Clinton was a strong and capable institutionalist candidate in a year where almost 80% of Americans said they were dissatisfied with the institution! And on top of that, was attempting a 3rd straight Democratic presidency, which (repeating myself) is itself statistically unlikely.

Then, if you read, as I did, that Donald Trump's candidacy was intentionally buoyed by the DNC, we see another layer of political dysfunction.  From the DNC/HRC campaign memo entitled "Muddying the Waters",  "We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are the leaders of the pack, and tell the press to take them seriously."  The candidates specifically named as far-right "Pied Pipers" were Donald Trump and Ben Carson.  As it turned out, that strategy sucked - a lot. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I hated the presumptive (or assumptive) entitlement of the Clinton campaign.  I was vexed by the fact that Clinton's career record so clearly swings to the right of my politics on gay rights, racism, "not selling bombs to really bad people" and gender equality, and dangerously left of my politics on constitutional rights, particularly the 1st through 14th Amendments.    I would never vote for Trump, and I didn't.   But in the end, we should not have been surprised that over 40% of women and almost 40% of millenials voted for Trump.  We should not have been surprised that people of color turned out to vote in significantly lower numbers for Clinton than they did for Obama, just four years ago.  

So, now it is done.  Specific areas I will be watching are:

1) Transition in/out of officials at US EPA.

2) Status and pursuit of numerous Clean Water Act federal lawsuits, as well as other actions such as Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act enforcement in the field.

3) Supreme Court nominee process (which inarguably should have been everyone's worry in this election, regardless of political affiliation - at least it got *some* media coverage).

4) Promises on withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

5) Resistence (or lack thereof) to Trump's policy ideas from a GOP Congress.

6) Promises on retaining federal lands in federal control.

7) Promises on attempting to bring China in-line.

Let the experiment begin, I suppose.

Friday, October 28, 2016

After All The Earth Is Scorched

I am 42 years old.  My marriage has survived 16 years so far, we have a son who seems to do well at school and sports, and both my career and my wife's career are going great.   We get to travel some, though not as much as we'd like, or as far as we'd like.  We are paying down debt, though not as fast as we'd like.  I own my truck (hope it doesn't blow up).    I have reverence for nature, and work hard to have faith in a God that I can understand.  I work really hard to love people, and I am fueled off of their positivity and enthusiasm.  My mental health is probably the best it's been in my life.  Life - in general - is pretty great, even if it's not easy.

But part of that puffy daydream is a lie.  My ability to work 40 hours by the end of most wednesdays; my ability to rejoice in my son's successes and work with him through his challenges with happy patience, each fish I catch and each duck I shoot.....a tiny part of it's fueled by something else.  What? Well, bad people generally, and assholes who have used their energy to try to break or ruin me, specifically.  Their ill will, their bad faith, their's all fuel, if I'm being honest.  And most of the time, I'm not being honest, because this is the extra boiler room inside me that I don't want anyone to see.  What if anyone could see the minor slights and stupid insults that I have carried with me.

What's worse is that I'm learning that energy placed towards that anger is, as they say, seed sown in a desert.  Biblical stories about mustard seeds come to mind.  Many of these people who do bad stuff end up having bad stuff happen to them.   Which in many cases seems fitting, but it doesn't make me work any harder.  Learning about their downfall doesn't make me a better person either.

There was a guy who supervised me (years ago) and subverted me until I quit.  He was pretty proud of his ability to do so, and bragged that his wife (who married him for reasons I don't understand) was the hottest in the land, or something like that.   He's been promoted once in the last 15 years, is still in the same cubicle, and his wife left him.   He has a poor professional reputation and people generally avoid him. That won't help me finish these grant application reviews tonight at my desk.

There was an uber-corporate guy who was the COO at a firm where I worked.  He loved showing off the appearance that he had the perfect career and most obedient, TV-polished family, even though I figured he was probably a tyrant at home.  He rode me hard because he thought  that I was a hippy stoner (not a good match for his Reagan politics).  I really looked up to him, but it seemed like every outdoor adventure I told him about, he had already conquered, and let me know it (he was 10 years older, with double my salary, which can lead to good hunting and fishing).   But his kids never finished college, one of them is a publicly declared drug user, and his wife divorced him.  I think work keeps him from hunting but 2-3 days per year.  I can't imagine the confusion and dissafection he feels, approaching age 60.   I can't cash in any of this for additional vacation days.

One of my nonprofit bosses was a tyrant to everything and everyone beneath her, and made a daily habit - from 800 miles away! - of reminding us we were beneath her.  Ultimately her pre-ordained ascent into senior leadership fell victim to an audit, the details of which I heard about but never saw. She lost her entire staff and her operating budget.  Her mentor and political cover was forced to retire.  Her new supervisors refused to fire her and specifically filled her prior position with another woman very publicly, perhaps to show her she was not singular; perhaps to guard against discrimination litigation; likely both.   She quit in disgrace, and then had to struggle through an awful divorce that by all accounts, was not her fault.   She is still successful, but works somewhere that makes her a Ph.D. scientist in a sea of Ph.D. scientists.  She is no longer singular. She no longer has the freedom to rule as a tyrant. That fact likely makes her skin crawl.   And all of that will not increase my annual bonus this year. 

There's the guy who used to make fun of me in middle school.  He was a gifted kid, like me, but also a sports star and the girls all loved him.  I was awkward and quiet in those years.  He used to tease me relentlessly for not being able to verbally spar with him.  Man, he was quick with the insults.  He got off the bus at one of the first bus stops.  I remember exhaling as he'd climb off, every day.  Rid of him until tomorrow. He disappeared into a jock vortex in high school, attended a crappy college far below his intellect, never played college or professional sports, and was divorced with kids by 35 - in a state that takes alimony (too) seriously. Looking at age 43, he's still single; still alone, which must be hard for him and his need to be liked.  And that's not going to help me finish my first novel. 

As I read in a book about ninjutsu, "Do not attack your enemies; merely show them the path to the destruction they seek."   That being said, after all the earth is scorched, there is nothing but scorched earth.  You can't till that ground for shit.  I knew these people and watched them fall, creating a mental storybook of devastation I created, perhaps for my own self-validation, or at least to validate my memory that these were bad people I shouldn't emulate.   It's a dark, negative creation.   I wasn't responsible for their failure, and I certainly couldn't have helped them while I was being victimized by them.  I simply moved out of their way.  But there's something that's equal parts unsettling, guiltily rewarding, and just tragic about all of it.

Some days I look over the scorched earth of those who crossed me, and I smile.  They got theirs.  But the smile does not last, because there is too much work.  And because my satisfaction is awful and inhumane, and I know it. Who is watching me, waiting to document and analyze my fall?  I should probably stop thinking that there won't be an audience.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Good Morning Largemouth

As I've griped about here for 8? 9? years, I don't get to fish enough.  Although it's true enough that like a living parable, everyone I know who can "fish enough" is not satisfied either.    I had a tour with elected officials canceled one morning and so I thought I'd challenge the October Gods for a Maryland largemouth before work.   I caught several 8-12" bass in extremely heavy cover in a flowing pool, and had big fish slip the hook at least three times, before getting a hold of this guy.  My second biggest largemouth of the year.  Interestingly enough, it was caught on a very small Diezel Chatterbait set up for redfish.   Silver hardware and pearl trailer.  Because why not.

It wasn't a monster, somewhere in the 3lb and 15" range.  But it's a big fish for me, and I was happy to come down in the swamp and "do what I came to do."  On the other hand, my fish selfie game needs some serious improvement.  See below.

Hope you all are enjoying the recent onset of fall weather and getting outdoors.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Richmond's Reedy Creek Restoration Project - Mistakes Were Made

I love Richmond, Virginia.  It's less than two hours from my hometown and though I've never lived there (not for lack of effort - the job market isn't so hot, and never has been), I love the city.  I love its historic past, both beautiful and ugly, its extremely gritty recent past, and the wonderful 21st Century city that it's becoming.   But change (or even growing up) isn't always easy in Virginia.   As the saying goes - it takes 8 Virginians to change a lightbulb.  One to do it, and the other 7 to stand around and talk about how much better the old one was.

Richmond, like many cities and counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, finds itself  - after 400 years of unbridled development and habitat destruction - in the vice grips of federal water quality mandates.    One, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, demands compliance by 2025.  The other, the Richmond MS4, demands compliance by 2018.    Arguably, the City of Richmond is not likely to comply with either the TMDL or the MS4, which means a costly Federal Consent Decree is likely. More on that in a bit.

First, how does a municipality "comply" with these mandates?  Largely, compliance is made through the completion of "projects" that reduce the input of key pollutants (typically nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, bacteria, and trash) into interstate (federal) waterways like the Chesapeake Bay.  "Projects" include sanitary sewer upgrades, tree plantings, stream stabilization, wetland creation, and other efforts that generally reduce sewage and stormwater from reaching large water bodies.  Each "project" is assigned a pollution reduction value (i.e. measures like rain barrels and tree plantings get a relatively low score, while sewer plant upgrades receive a high score).  

A measure of some controversy has been the relatively generous crediting of stream restoration projects that 1) stabilize eroding stream banks, 2) enhance hyporheic exchange, and 3) reconnect the stream to the floodplain on a more regular basis.    The City of Richmond has staked much of its 2018 MS4 compliance hopes on the construction of three stream restoration projects, one of which is known as the Reedy Creek Restoration Project.

Reedy Creek is a very typical fall line stream in a developed area.  It is generally highly eroded, and any historic floodplain wetlands have been drained due to stream downcutting in some areas.  In some areas, however, the stream has a relatively stable cross-section.   There are many trees present, however, many of them (like maples and poplars) are not considered to have high value for habitat or nutrient uptake.  Much of the stream valley is subject to run-outs and headcuts associated with the watershed's urban hydrographs.    In short, the system is a mess.    Here are what I believe to be indisputable facts:

1) Some sections of Reedy Creek are extremely unstable.
2)  These sections will not "heal themselves" in a human timeframe, even if all runoff was removed from the watershed (impossible). 
3) Trees will have to be removed to do the work. 
4) The planted trees will not achieve that same size for decades.
5)  Trees do, eventually, grow bigger, if they are maintained and kept free of vines.
6) The TMDL and MS4 permits are driving restoration projects. 

However, much more is *in* dispute.   The large, tree-holding area of Reedy Creek showing the most erosion happens to be City property.  If you're the City of Richmond, and you have to do these "projects" by 2018, the one way you can possibly achieve that is by using City property.   That's not in dispute, either.  There is no way between 2014 and 2018 that the City could negotiate enough private property projects to comply with the permit requirements.  However, it appears that the City didn't feel compelled to share their early plans with the community surrounding the park.  In fact, the City DPU (the MS4 permittee and the stream project sponsor) still doesn't seem ecstatic about this whole "public input" thing.  To their point, the MS4 and TMDL permits may have specified this project, and certainly did have public input periods, which I'm fairly confident this community ignored.

Enter a bunch of local do-gooders, or, at least they think they are local do-gooders, the Reedy Creek Coalition.   I chuckled at an online comment that read something like, "How come the only reference to the restoration of Reedy Creek on your website is "Stop the Stream Restoration?!" .....and it's a valid question.  The Reedy Creek Coalition isn't fond of the way this project materialized (which seems like a fair complaint) or the way that the City plans to re-align a stream on City property (which seems like less of a fair complaint).    I was excited to read one article that said that the City had not considered the validity of Reedy Creek Coalition's alternative plan for watershed restoration.  Upon hunting for that "plan," I read another article stating that it was simply a list of other City-owned properties in the watershed, that maybe could possibly sort of somehow be used for stormwater reduction.   As someone who has built 200+ ponds, wetlands, streams, rain gardens, etc., I know that a list is not a plan.  A plan is something that provides adequate information to judge cost, impact, and benefit.    After considering this for a while, I can't get over my feeling that this "plan" wasn't meant to be a real plan at all.

This begs a bigger question:  What is Reedy Creek Coalition's vision for saving Reedy Creek and restoring it back to some prior version of itself?  What calculations have been done on the alternatives they suggest? Where does their strategic plan say the highest quality projects would be - and how was that calculated?  To be fair, those same questions should be asked of the project proponents as well!  
But I haven't seen any calculations -   it certainly seems like the City wants to build this project because they have decided to build it; the Reedy Creek Coalition appears to object to the project because they have decided they don't like it.

If the Reedy Creek Coalition succeeds in killing this project, I can virtually guarantee a few outcomes:

1) In 2018, the City of Richmond will specifically blame this RCC for the City's failure to attain pollution reduction goals (and again in 2019, for the TMDL 2-year milestones).  That will become the reputation of Reedy Creek Coalition.  I cannot imagine trying to fundraise on that public reputation.  Especially when fines are levied, creating an excuse for the City to raise taxes/fees (and explicitly blame RCC).

2) Reedy Creek will not be restored, uplands or downstream, in this generation.   The state and city agencies will not allow substantial funding to flow to this watershed due to demonstrated risk of project failure.

If City DPU succeeds in installing this project, I can virtually guarantee a few outcomes:

1) Reedy Creek Coalition will publicly document every eroded pebble, every dead planted tree, every slightly misplaced boulder with exposed soil behind it.   We have a guy who does this at restoration projects in Maryland.   He is miserable; hearing him speak with the media is even more miserable.  "Look here! It's dirt! This project is a failure!" The City can look forward to that, if they continue on their present course.

2) Unless substantial stream monitoring protocols are already in place, the City will have a hard time categorizing the site as a "success," because the majority of people talking about the site will remind everyone else of the dead trees.

A Real Framework for the Restoration of Reedy Creek

What does this all mean?  Well, in the words of comedian Keegan-Michael Key, "Ya done messed up!"  The two primary parties in this dispute have a lot to lose by sticking to their guns, and they seem reticent to admit that.   Might I suggest a "both, and" approach to the restoration of Reedy Creek instead of an "either, or?"  

For instance, the parties could execute an MOU that provides:

1) RCC to hire a stream restoration engineer (at their own cost) to recommend specific tree-saving techniques to City DPU.   Perhaps 10 major recommendations, of which 5 (City's choice) *must* be accomodated.   RCC must provide these recommendations to City DPU in 90 days or less.

2)  City will place "escrow" type funding with a local conservation organization with the capacity to do actual watershed restoration activities (unfortunately, that means probably not the organization whose restoration goal is "Stop The Restoration!") for the purposes of 10 growing seasons of mechanical and/or chemical control of invasive species.

3)  City will establish an "escrow" or "tree trust" funding for 30 years that will ensure that within 30 years, forest canopy coverage is high or higher than pre-restoration.

4) RCC will desist from anecdotal stream condition descriptions, and instead hire an independent ecological consultant (at RCC's own cost) to perform a functional assessment (recommended: Harmon-Starr Functional Pyramid) on various reaches of the stream to document whether City DPU's proposed restoration method will provide meaningful "uplift" to the stream's condition (if not, consider abandoning work or reducing impact in those areas).

5)  RCC will serve as the primary partner on the restoration of the private property "concrete gully" upstream.  City DPU agrees in concept to provide speedy permit review and grant application support letters (RCC should be able to raise the (guessing) $1.5 million to accomplish the concrete channel restoration).  RCC may be able to negotiate that the City provides up to 50% matching funds for that effort, as well (or, even more importantly, $200,000 in start-up funds to begin the survey, engineering, and permit work).    Also, local partners like RCC typically have better success navigating private property concerns (and right of way costs) than City agencies.   If RCC is serious about treating the stormwater to Reedy Creek, and not simply using the "concrete gully" as a red herring to stop the project downhill, RCC will readily pursue this huge opportunity for their organization.

My overall worry is that the City of Richmond doesn't care all that much about Reedy Creek, if they never produced a set of alternative approaches and didn't conduct meaningful listening sessions for the community.   My overall worry is that Reedy Creek Coalition might not care that much either, if they have no concrete plan for advancing meaningful-scale watershed restoration work with or without the City's engineers.  

There is a huge opportunity, and huge obligation, for community and city leaders to work together in this period of generous funding for watershed restoration and simply get it done in a way that everyone will be happy to describe to their grandkids one day.   But as of last week, the two parties couldn't be much farther apart.   And if Reedy Creek continues to erode and unravel (and take out big, beautiful trees) for another 30 years, I don't think anyone will be proud to tell their grandkids about their role in that lost opportunity.   "I tried to steamroll a community, and failed!"  "Oh yeah, well I stopped the City from investing in our community - and they never came back!" 

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Perils of a "Fish Every Day" Contest

A high-end outdoor outfitter recently had a widely publicized contest: "Fly Fish 20 Days in September."  Unless you were on a fishing trip for at least 22 days, that's a challenge.   My immediate thought when I read the exciting write-ups for this contest was self-disappointment, with a giant work calendar as a thunderhead over me.    I can't fish that much right now, I thought.

I built this fish habitat, but haven't had time to fish it.
I think that means I lack dedication and/or passion. 
We're planting trees and building streams in September.  My son goes back to sports in September.  His birthday is even in September, and none of the grandparents live close, so if they do visit, I'm pretty occupied with that for several days.   My wife has lots of night meetings in September.  Anymore, September is still a summer heatwave on the Mid-Atlantic coast, and coastal waters are horribly low in oxygen, leading to lots of lethargic, dead and dying fish.   Air temperatures in the mid-90s and water in the mid-80s.  September is just bad.  And I think it's that way for a lot of people.    To restrict outdoor adventures to specifically "fly fishing" - contest or no contest -  is adding insult to injury for your average angler.  Largely, they probably ignore it, and the retailer, which could be intentional on the retailer's part.

But again, what I felt most was disappointment, and the next immediate feeling was that maybe I'm not hardcore enough for that outfitter and their goods.    The Outdoor Foundation reports that the mean number of fishing outings (including *all* types of fishing) is 17.9 times per year.   As an advocate for the sport, these are the people you want.  They buy licenses, they purchase gear, and most of them are copacetic with fishing about three times every two months.    They're good for the industry and the fishery, much like gym members who rarely go to the gym are pretty good for the gym.

Property of Fox Broadcasting Company
However, making them feel like Homer Simpsons because they can't fly fish 20 times in one month seems like a bad idea, especially for an industry and a natural resource facing certain peril in the coming generations (to say nothing of the coming months).   Imagine a reality, like right now, when all the industry and lobbyist groups are wanting us anglers to be politically motivated.  Or pick up a phone and call our representative.  Or defend the value of National Parks.   Again, that reality is right now.   A great time to alienate anglers -  I haven't heard anyone who fishes less than three times per week state anything positive about the "20 days in September" challenge.  And I do know a lot of people who fish 2-3 times per week.

"Boy, he sounds sour."  Well, I am sour.   I'm confused at why, knowing what we know about the folly of creating outdoor celebrities - and how the animal rights crowd loves to use the antics of those celebrities to try and snuff out our sport -  that we are having contests to create more fishing rock stars.   I'm confused at why at a time when we need anglers to defend conservation, defend federal lands, and defend a potentially dying industry, we are designing highly publicized contests to separate the 1% from the 99%.    Because in larger society, that certainly hasn't been noted.   Maybe I need to get a bunch of drunken worm dunkers and we'll be "Occupy the Poudre."

I'm sour because fishing does not rank in the TOP TEN "aspirational outdoor activities" of 18-24 year olds.    

Or the TOP TEN "aspirational" activities of 25-34 year olds (for 20 years, a core market for outdoor retailers).  

And it squeaks in at #8 for 35-44 year olds, previously, but no longer, a core market. 

And it's no surprise that while at least TEN other outdoor activities are 2016 growth markets, according to the Outdoor Foundation, fishing is certainly not one of them.   And fly fishing? I mean, it's about 10% of 2% or so of Americans.  "But it has grown 0.5% in the last 3 years!"  Yeah sure.  Kayak fishing has grown 17% in the last 3 years.  We're losing *total* anglers hand over fist.   Clearly, the fly fishing industry caters to a small portion of Americans.  But which Americans?

After making solid inroads into wider acceptance (broadly and socioeconomically) over the last decade, it would appear that high end fly fishing is again positioning itself as the pinnacle of the sport, the pinnacle of angler excellence, the pinnacle of dedication and passion - and you know, dedication costs big bucks.  "Fly fish 20 days in September" - because we sure are.   If you can't fly fish 20 days in September, you don't have the passion.  Bottom line.   So says our marketing team!

Perhaps, once again in 2016,  the soccer dads, football moms, inner city kids, and lonely apartment millenials aren't the sort of people that the fly fishing industry really wants.  After several years of claiming they wished for "growth of the sport" during the Great Recession, I guess they've got enough Titanium Card customers to rid themselves of that facade.   It is noted.

While I've hit personal records for both largemouth bass and chain pickerel in the last 12 months, and while I've fished in six states this year, including a four-day offshore trip in the Gulf of Mexico,  I couldn't fish 20 days in September.   Despite dedicating my life to wetland and stream restoration, I couldn't fish 20 days in September.  Clearly, I lack the passion that some guys have.  Maybe one day I'll have the kind of dedication to the resource and the sport that lets me enter a 20 Days In September contest.

Probably not.  They're looking for a different kind of people.

Moments in Outdoor Parenthood: Photos of Parents

My standard outdoors view these days -
the soles of my kid's feet. 
A lot of us know a lot of good parents.  Folks who show their kids the world, whether that is Central Park or Grand Canyon National Park.   You'll see pictures of kids fishing, climbing, shooting, catching frogs, looking through telescopes, making headdresses out of found feathers, and all of it's good stuff.   But you don't see pictures of parents doing "the stuff," which is pretty ironic because much of this outdoor culture - or at least the ethic, the part of the mountain air or the salt water that runs through our blood, so to speak -  is inherited, not learned.  Those parents used to do cool stuff.  But I think I'm typical when I say that I've hardly had a picture snapped of me hunting, fishing, surfing, or climbing since my son was born.   I'm in a support role, a coach's role now.   Sometimes I try to remember what it used to feel like to go pursue these activities unencumbered.  To kick ass.   It's hard to remember when that time was (if it ever existed, ha ha).  But sometimes life gives us amazing, wonderful, and priceless moments. 

I was climbing with my soon near the PA-MD border recently and he said, "Let's eat our lunch on that rock table up there."  I said, "Well if we can both climb it, sure."   He, of course, scampered right up there.   I handed him the gear pack (of course, I pack in all the gear and water), then my phone and camera.   I then studied the 10' tall boulder for a minute and found what I thought were some jugs and foot holds big enough for a dude like me.    What I didn't know is that my son was waiting to take a picture of me as I was finishing the climb.  

This is not only the first picture of me climbing since he was born in 2009.  This is the first picture anyone has taken of me climbing or bouldering since 1998.    What a wonderful day. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Captiva Surf Fishing Contest: Me Vs. My Six Year Old

I may not be great at catching big fish, or certainly trophy fish.  Heck, at age 42 I have only three citation fish to my name (chain pickerel, black crappie, and spotted bass).   But give me some basic tackle and a tiny bit of local knowledge (seasonal movements of fish, etc.), and I can generally "catch fish" on almost any day.  As a result, I falsely tend to think that I am pretty smart.

One day our little family rolled up to Captiva Island.  Captiva and Sanibel are significantly south of where I normally fish in Florida, and it conditions were less than ideal, so I wasn't expecting much.   After a little driving around, we managed to find some public beach parking.   As I unloaded the saltwater rods from the bed of the truck, my 6-year old son interrupted, "Dad! I wanna take my rod."  Isn't that kind of dedication great!

Until you realize that "his rod" is a 4.0' Bass Pro Crappie Maxx Jr., with the store-bought reel (ouch) still on it.    I handed him the rod, and continued to carry two rods (a clearly unnecessary 10' Tsunami and a more appropriate 7' Shimano combo), knowing, of course, that he'd be needing one of them.

I also noted that The Dude was carrying his tackle bag, which is fine except that the only lures in there are 5,713 colors of Mister Twisters, some Uncle Bucks Panfish Bugs, and some green camo Senkos he thought were "cool."  He ran ahead, because that's what he does.

When I finally caught up to him, he had sort of knotted a Beetle Spin onto his line and was picking out a 1" crappie grub (I mean, what?!) to put on it.   I tried to argue against the futility of using a Beetle Spin in the freaking Gulf of Mexico, and that argument failed on its merits.    I did convince him to use a chartreuse powerbait minnow (his favorite color is bright green, so he let that one pass), and when trying to re-do his awful knot, he hollered at me so I said, you know, whatever.  

I walked down the beach to bait my perfectly prepared line and terminal tackle, eyeing up a good sandbar offshore.   As soon as my 2 ounce slip weight hit the water, I heard screaming up the beach.  Gulf Kingfish, very close to legal size.  And admittedly, very fat and pretty tasty looking (we released it).  

The rod and reel were tossed into the sand (causing me to replace the store reel with a more sturdy Zebco 33) and by the end of the morning, I had still caught nothing.  The boy caught edible fish using a 4' crappie rod with a beetle spin tipped with half of a powerbait.  What in the world.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I Done Gone and Built a Tree House

Living in the I-95 corridor is something special sometimes when it comes to property management.   If you need to replace a toilet and you are on public sewer, that'll be a $400 permit (or a $2000 fine) (90 days to review permit).  Want to build a fence?  $250 permit (or a $10,000 fine)  (6-10 month review time).   Of course, all those requirements are for "little people."   If you want to build a shopping mall that fills in 20 acres of wetlands and a mile of streams, well, those permit fees are waived and you'll have your permits in 60 days.  Apparently if you own a pipeline company and you want to drill across federal land, you don't even need written permission!  But I digress.

We wanted to build an outdoor space in our tiny yard for my son and his friends.  Our design constraints were as follows:

  • Careful navigation of permit requirements (decided on a "temporary structure" exemption)
  • Footprint of less than 8' x 10' (shed exemption)
  • Basic safety constraints (won't tip over, handrails, etc).
  • A space that would grow with the kids, with minor additions over the coming years
My wife and I both have drafting and plan review experience, in addition to my construction experience.   So we scouted around some stuff on the internet and ultimately landed on a concept on the blog "A Handmade Home" called "Handmade Hideaway."   I really want to show you their beautiful version of the concept, but I am 93% sure they would sue, so I won't.    We didn't use their materials list but we did incorporate the concept into our project goals, and I'm pretty happy with the result, which is now two years old.   Notable changes from their concept:

  • Higher off the ground
  • Rectangular, rather than square design (they look to have a square yard, ours is like a shoebox)
  • Incorporated rock wall instead of slide
  • Ladder instead of stairs
  • Instead of six 4x4 posts cemented into ground, created a theoretically "movable" sled/cage with 2x8s and 2x10s as the horizontal units and 4x4s as the vertical posts. 
  • Instead of attaching posts with 1/4" lags, used 1/2" and 5/8" galvanized lags.
  • Used (more expensive) galvanized and decking hardware due to our climate
  • Used (more expensive) pressure treated lumber on support sled/cage due to climate
  • Used (less expensive ) asphalt shingles instead of aluminum roof  

Monday, September 12, 2016

63 Hour Offshore Trip with Hubbards Marine - An Odd Trip I Can't Stop Thinking About

Earlier this year I was able to cash in on a personal favor and was able to join some friends for a 4 (ish) day offshore trip out of the Tampa area.    Those who know me and this blog know that while I fish a lot,  the average amount of time I spend fishing per outing is about 90-150 minutes and the average size fish I catch is 11" long, and it is a bass of some variety.  Going offshore is something I rarely do, and I've never been offshore overnight.  WHAT COULD GO WRONG?  I've been stymied to write about this trip:  there's how the trip was, and there's how I feel about it, which are two different things.  So for now, here's how the trip was.

We flew into Tampa on thursday morning, each with a full backpack (clothes, snacks, fishing tools), and an empty roll-on cooler (hoping to take home pounds of fish).  After an expensive stop at the bait shop, we rolled down to Hubbard's Marina at John's Pass.   I now know that Hubbard's puts a hundred or more people on fishing boats every single day, but I didn't know that when we arrived.  We found a bit of a cattle operation going on during check-in, but the staff was pretty courteous.   They did seem frustrated that we didn't know precisely what was going on, which seemed like a dumb thing to be frustrated about (you customers).

Lodging, below deck. 
Eventually our crew (three mates and Capt. Mark Hubbard) were assembled, and 14 of us loaded our small collection of clothing and massive assortment of bait onto the 75' catamaran.  By about 3pm, lines were on the dock and out to sea we headed. Around 11pm, we had settled on a reef several dozen miles offshore and I was one of the first successful anglers, pulling two keeper mangrove snapper onboard.

The night was filled with other adventures, including several other anglers getting on the board, and a nearly two hour fight (in the pitch black night) with what we were all sure was a swordfish, but turned out to be a 15 foot brown reef shark, which we released without handling.

The next day of fishing was moderate in pace but almost everyone caught grouper, so that's pretty much a successful day in my book.   In about 800-1000 feet of water on the Middle Grounds, we caught Yellow Edge, Yellowfin, Gag, Kitty Mitchell, Snowy, and maybe one or two other species of grouper.   The elusive Warsaw Grouper was....elusive.   Two blackfin tuna were caught on light tackle, but not by me, so, hooray for those guys!

The third day of fishing was hot and heavy, though a mixed bag.  There were several hour long dead periods, followed by deepwater frenzies and fish flopping all over the boat.   We put a hurting on the Blue Line Tile Fish and a few grouper, but increasingly porgies were being caught.  Porgies are fine, but definitely not the objective of a trip like this.

As the sun went down, the boat took a big turn and started back toward land, where we'd arrive at dawn.    The last day of our trip warrants its own story, between TSA crotch inspections and screaming matches about how to divide up the fillets (and dry ice) for air transportations, but this was a good fishing trip; we each came home with 30 or more pounds of the world's freshest seafood.  I don't know if I'll ever go on a trip like this again, but I'll never forget it, that's for sure.

6 Steps to Prep for My 15th Year of Bowhunting

Well, it's almost here.  I mean, that's almost my sentiment at this point.   It's not disillusionment with bow hunting, or the outdoors.  Certainly not the latter.   But at age 42, and 15 years after I first took a bow into the woods (what a clown I was!), I don't worry about bow hunting the way I used to worry about it.   Now - I still worry about duck hunting, saltwater fishing, surfing, and other things I love more than bow hunting, but I don't worry about bow hunting and I'll tell you why - it's that I have learned to prepare.

Now, I know what you're thinking, "He must have the Max-F7 Anti Carbon Stank Pants!" or something else.   No, not really.  "He must have gotten rid of his clover full plots for the new proprietary GMO Rack Buster Triticale!" No, still have the clover.  Except where I don't, where there's nothing.  So what has got me calmed down about bow hunting? A few things.

1.   Kept shooting.  After my last bow hunt around January 20, I only hung up the bow for about 40 days.  I go through periods where I show 20-30 shots every day for 3-4 days, then it falls off the radar for 3 weeks.  But I now target shoot, outdoors, from March to August.   I know how my bows are performing, for better and for worse.

2.  Given up on poachers.  At my #1 spot (which is well posted but has a long history of outlaw dumbasses), we have poachers.  They use my stand, and I've recovered various bolts and arrows from the woods around my stand, including a crossbow bolt stuck in a tree that could have *only* come from my stand.   So, I locked the tree stand seat in the upright position.  If they want to hang onto the ladder all day, I guess, whatever.  If they steal my stand, I mean, good riddance.  It's cheap and it's been hanging in the weather for four years.  The bolts in it are about done (why would you use indoor bolts when building a tree stand? - separate topic).

3.  I've decided to stop passing up deer.  Last hunting season,  I took two long shots on does (both mortal wounds) in the late season after having numerous does, fawns, and small bucks around my stand in the early season.   I know that big bucks were around and I didn't want to "waste a tag."  I'm over that.  If I have a shot, and I have a tag for it, it's getting shot.  Especially given the poaching in the area, it's not like I can effectively manage the herd.

4.  I'm quitting after one.   There's a lot coming up this winter, including trips to Louisiana and Florida.   I don't want to be freezing my ass off in a tree stand in Maryland in January.  But I would really like to take a deer.  Any non-infected deer with a fair amount of meat.  

5.  I stocked up in the off-season.   I didn't go nuts.   I bought another half-dozen shafts and three more field tips for each bow (125s and 100s).   I did that in July, because I'll be damned if you can find that stuff come October 15.

6.  My fat self is back in the gym.   I've been going to the gym pretty steadily since June, and pretty intensely since late July.   As a result, I have lost zero pounds.   But I can now GIT up that hill, and flex my knee over that boulder and carry 100lb of corn on my shoulder without wondering if something's going to give out.   I've gotten on a new, long term plan that hopefully results in some pounds being shed, but more importantly, not dropping dead of a heart attack while in the tree stand.

So as you see, I've trimmed back quite a bit.  I'll still wash my clothes in scent-free detergent and keep them in a rubbermaid tub in the truck cab (trust me, my wife is a huge fan of that activity), and if the deer trail moves terribly far from the stands I hunt, I'll entice them back to the old trail with bait.   But I'm not worried about it now.    I hope this time of year finds you the same way - not fretting over gear details at the 11th hour, and instead getting ready for your annual communion with the forest.  I hope it's as good as you dreamed it would be.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Snook Attack with Native Salt Charters in Sarasota County

Anyone who's followed this blog over the years knows that my son burns like a blowtorch stuck on full blast.  He's a non-video game playing, swimming, climbing, running fool.  We've fished together since he was about two, and at six, I'd say he's mildly interested in the sport.  Hell, with the summer weather we've had for the last two years (flash floods every four days, separated by massive algae blooms), maybe I'm only mildly interested in the sport myself.   Back to the story, though - what I don't want to do is give him the impression that fishing is work, or that getting skunked is the standard to which anglers should aspire, so I thought I'd take a step back.

During our last trip to Southwest Florida, I decided to (try to) get Big H on some real fish, to get him overwhelmed with catching fish.   For those of you who have fished in know.  You know that while this is never guaranteed, it is most certainly possible.  And while I know spend "weeks" per year fishing the state, there is a lot I do not know.   My father in law had a great experience with Capt. Justin at Native Salt Charters, and so I booked a half day.   I knew it wouldn't be cheap, but I was willing to pay to get this one experience for my son on the books.  Thank goodness my father in law picked up part of the tab as well.  Our targets were speckled trout, redfish, and snook, with the outside possibility of hooking up with small tarpon or permit.

You can have Missouri. 

Those of you who know me, or have read this blog, know that I have pretty high standards (and high criticism) for guides.  You've read my commentaries about guides' hilarious blog posts that are all, "Yeah, bro, like, you know, clients are the worst.  No one ever gets skunked because of the guide! GUIDES SHIT PURE ZEN WISDOM BRO." My brothers and friends and I have been burned by more fishing and hunting guides in more states than I care to recall.  I've also had a few amazing guides.   So I was curious about how this trip would really go.  Would the guide be a detail-driven prick, yelling at his clients?  A dud who had refused to scout for our trip?  Or the guide who spends more time with his line in the water than his clients do?  

Long story short, I was satisfied and impressed by Capt. Justin at Native Salt.  He picked us up at the dock, maybe 90 seconds late (bringing another charter in).  He had already picked up *most* of the bait we'd need, and we rendezvoused with another charter boat en route to get the rest, losing no time in our charter.   I explained to him that the goal was to get Big H on fish, and nothing more, and he seemed to know just where to go.

Fishing pressure was heavy and the first two spots we tried on the ripping tide were duds.  Capt. Justin knows the water so well that he maintains a "10 minute rule."  If no bites in 10 minutes, he moves on.    We eventually started to light into some snook.   Capt's first bite showed me what kind of guide we had, he immediately put the rod in my son's hand and backed him up on the retrieve, getting rod position right and helping H out with the reel.   It was what you pay guides for, but rarely receive.

We tooled around a ton of different spots and messed around with live and artificial bait.

In about 3.5 hours, we ended up catching and releasing 31 snook, with my son landing 17 or so of those fish.   He talked about it for the rest of the trip.   He talked about it when he returned to school.  He asked me the other week "what's that name of the fish we caught in Florida? That was SO FUN."    I don't know what else you need, but I'm a satisfied customer.    Can't wait until our next trip to Florida and our next charter with Native Salt.  I can only afford to do it a few times per year, and I know these guys will help me make it count.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Creating an Impact in a World of Fauxtrage and Faketivism

I'm one of those people.  I read Supreme Court oral argument records.  I read science journals and business journals.  I read things I don't agree with, and discuss them (sometimes in person - gasp!) with people who don't agree with me (which means sometimes I learn my opinions are incorrect).   I visit my elected officials to tell them what I think.  I donate to charity.  I'm more involved in "how decisions are made" than about 80% of Americans.    But I would never call myself an activist, or a warrior, or even a true patriot.  I am a citizen, doing basic things that citizens are supposed to do.  Things that don't cost any money, save my donations to charity that usually range from $25 - $100 per year, per charity.     In other words, I - one of those people, am really the bare minimum (and less than that, on many days).

About 30 times per day, I come across a "poll" or a "petition" to "boycott XX company until they promise to make their stores safe to families!"    The hilariousness of this line in 2016 is that there's no way to tell whether it's left wing fanatics trying to get a company to "ban guns" (as if criminals will respect a gun ban), or it's right wing fanatics trying to get a company to "ban transgender bathrooms," as if child predators are daft enough to show up in obvious cross-dress attire in order to attack our children in a retail bathroom.    The bad guys are usually pretty adept at not overtly looking and acting like the bad guys- that's what we really know.   Legislating it, or making a company pass a "policy" that may or may not be illegal and may or may not be enforced, is just window dressing on our cultural fear of analyzing and discussing our very real problems with guns,  inequality, education, faith, persecution, public safety, children's safety, and so on and so forth.

That's depressingly good fun in and of itself, but what is more distressing is the endless geyser of feigned outrage expressed on social media and people referring to themselves as "activists" because they are willing to bully other social media users into removing or changing online content.    Let me spell it out here.   You do not have "outrage."  You are not an "activist."   You have risked nothing - not a job, not your reputation, not your lifestyle, and not your freedom.   To risk things would require outrage.   To risk things *might* make you an activist.    Don't send me another petition to "send a message!" because it is generally horse shit, and you know it.

So in case you're feeling really confused right now, here are some real activist things to do: 

1.    Get your ass to Washington DC or at least to your Congress Critter's district office in your home town.  Sit down and tell them what you think, and what your community needs.   See what happens next.    Feed that part of your humanity. 

2.  What is the current legal issue of greatest importance to you?  School funding? Gun rights?  Inequality and inclusiveness?   Avail yourself of "the internet," you know, the home of most of the world's recorded knowledge, and find out what federal, state, and local court cases are driving the current policy.  Are any cases pending in the courts?  Follow them for occasional updates.    Know what these cases are about.  Share what you learn (not just reposting what someone else reposted, who reposted it from a lobbyist).   We are a society of laws, after all.

3.   Volunteer your money or your time to something local that makes a small difference.    Unless you are at home with two toddlers all day, every day, with no support from partner or family, you have a little bit of spare time.   If the kids are at least 4 years old, bring them along.  I don't care that you might be working to support an issue that I totally disagree with.  Go do it.  It's good for the soul.    Doesn't matter if it's just planting one tree or folding 3 church bulletins before you have to go back to work.  

Here's the bottom line: if you are engaged, we can talk about important things and have an educated discussion.  We will see the look on each others' face and we will likely have some empathy for those with whom we disagree.  Sometimes, my position will be revealed to be wrong, or at least to be "less right" than yours.    The opposite will also happen.    Doing that makes us part of humanity.  And it makes us educated.    Don't be like so many who are trapped by thinking that "Hit 'Like' if you love the children, Hit 'Share' if you care about the children!" is some kind of action that makes a difference in others' lives.   "Likes" and "Shares" don't make us activists.  They merely make us scared of each other's shadows.

Monday, May 16, 2016

What's Up in the Rainy Mid-Atlantic Outdoors?

So apparently changing all of one's computers, cell phones, and office address in a 90 day period is not helpful for the production of digital content.   Check.

It has been an interesting spring for Mid-Atlantic Outdoorsmen and women.   

  • The oft-maligned EPA Clean Water Rule has survived several Congressional attacks and awaits a federal lawsuit in the 6th Court.
  • USACE v. Hawkes, a Clean Water Act case focused on whether citizens have the right to administratively appeal federal agency actions, is before the US Supreme Court, with a decision (anticipated to be against USACE/EPA) due in June.
  • Kolbe v. Hogan (Maryland Assault Weapons Ban) is before the 4th federal circuit *again*, this time en banc.  Decision anticipated in late 2016.  
  • Virginia failed to repeal or restrict hound hunting, while states to their south took direction actions to do just that. 
  • December 2015 and March 2016 were record hot weather months, while May 2016 is a record cold weather month already. 
  • 2015 was a banner year for aquatic grasses in the Chesapeake Bay.  

April was cold and rainy and afforded few times to go fish.  However, we did fly south and get offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, a report I look forward to sharing with you. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What Does Virginia HB1329 Mean for Virginia Houndsmen?

Last week, Virginia House Bill 1329,  expressly penalizing those hunters who intentionally release hounds on "prohibited lands" - land where they have no permission to hunt - sailed through the esteemed Virginia House of Delegates with a 99-0 vote.   A companion Senate Bill will be proffered in the next week or so, and is expected to sail on to similar success in a rather atypical wave of uncontroversy.

Virginia property rights advocates, long tired over the 30 year history of unenforced hound trespass on rural lands, have bemoaned HB 1329 because it includes the word "intentionally."   Citizens testified to have the word stricken, to no avail.  And that word is important when creating a punitive statute, because it conveys intent.  In our legal system, intent is important.   At first glance, the wording seems to favor sloppy houndsmen who operate "right outside the law" by releasing hounds on a small parcel with the unstated intent to have those hounds hunt other "prohibited" properties nearby.   I'd wager that a large percentage of the rapidly growing number of annual complaints about deer hounds surrounds this type of hunter.   And if my hunting, my food plots, my peace and quiet, or my livestock were impacted by hounds in that scenario, I'd be mad too.

But I think these angry landowners, many of them becoming engaged in the legislative process for the first time in their lives (look out, hound lobbyists!),  are missing the point in their depression and frustration over HB 1329's wording around criminal intent.   These folks, new to politicking, think that "long term" means a 2017 or 2018 revision to this soon-to-be-law, ostensibly to muddle the "intent" phrasing.   And that's fairly likely to happen.

I propose a deeper and more long term view, though.    Virginia's hound lobbyists have promised for decades that their heritage and their way of hunting could not be undone.  That their hunting practices, not unlike Yankee fox hunts in DuPont country of eastern Pennsylvania, will simply never need to comply with "the laws of man" regarding private property rights.    The leaders of Virginia's hound hunting community don't want to compromise and don't believe they need to compromise.  For decades, they experienced great success in legislatively obtuse behavior toward this end.    But that changed in the last five years.

In 2013, Virginia became the 45th state to enjoy limited Sunday hunting for deer, waterfowl, and small game, over the intensive lobbying of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, the houndsmens' premier lobbyist organization.  It should be noted that VAHDA's lobbying was noted openly - and with great approval - by animal rights organizations.  The houndsmen didn't care - they couldn't lose.  But they did.

In 2014,  those same animal rights organizations brought national funding to Virginia to ban fox pens, which were a keystone in Virginia houndsmens' culture.   The houndsmen again brought great resources to bear, ultimately to see a state-wide permanent ban on new fox pens enacted, and a 2054 deadline to close all existing fox pen operations, statewide.   Hound lobbyists tried in vain to call this compromise a "success" for hunters.   But in reality, the houndsmen lost big in Richmond, for the second year in a row.

Which brings us to 2016, and HB 1329.  Houndsmen have laughed off this law while lightly opposing it, because many of them are law-abiding hunters, and a good percentage of others are savvy enough to work around the "intent" wording of the law, so "who cares?" As I mentioned above, the indignation hasn't escaped the ire of landowners, which is (legally) meaningless for the moment.   But come July 1, it will be the law, and for the third year in four, laws specifically targeting hound hunting's special privileges (fox pens, lack of still hunters in the woods on Sunday, lack of penalties for obvious, intentional hound trespassers) will be passed into law.

Prior to 2015, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries did not track citizen complaints specific to "deer hounds," so deer hounds represented less than 1.5% of game warden responses in 2014.  At the request of landowner advocates, that has now changed, so deer hounds represented almost 5% of game warden responses in 2015.    Depending on whose lobbyist you're listening to, it either means that "it's just a small problem," or "the problem increased 300% in one year."

As landowner rights lobbying and continued media attention (on all sides) continues to shine light on the conflict of hunting dog heritage in a quickly suburbanizing countryside, more laws will come.  None will favor houndsmen.   And I suppose this is the take-home lesson for HB 1329.  It's a small law with limited consequence, on the heels of two big laws with enormous hound hunting consequences in 2013 and 2014.  

I'm not sure I embrace the theology of the Church of the Holy Virginia Landowner, but I'd recommend that local hound hunting leaders be ready to come to the Church's pot luck dinner and be ready to talk about compromise in a pretty big hurry.  Because the Church's next fundraiser will be a doozy, and it'll be at deer hounds' great expense.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Bigger and Better: My Changes for the 2016-2017 Archery Season

2015 was truly the year that I fell in love with archery.  All it took was the right bow and some patience.  I say those two things like they were simple, but they were not.   While I saw fewer total deer in the woods in 2015-2016 than I did the previous hunting season, I generally saw more quality deer this year.   While the harvest didn't meet my expectations, my enjoyment and overall better odds in the woods were a result of:

  • hunting solely in the tree stand, never on the ground
  • stand is located right next to a topographic draw that's a "deer highway"
  • being calm and confident with my gear, from my harness to my arrows
  • having the confidence (and intel) that yes, the deer are around....somewhere
Some reasons I was not as successful as I wanted:

  • Very tough weather (hot October, hot November, no distinct rut season, cold January)
  • Lack of a distinct rut season - many hunters were out all week, with no harvest
  • Bumper crop acorn season - deer did not have to travel to find food in early winter
  • Someone (poacher) using my stand - I found an arrow (not mine) in a nearby stump
  • Someone (doesn't have current permission, but not evicted by landowner) has a stand roughly 100 yards away, on the peak of the hill, and he baits (which is legal here)
  • Almost all deer came from behind me, causing me (later in the season) to constantly be wiggling around in the tree stand
  • tree stand is extremely exposed after leaf fall (oops)
  • had to walk through woods/leaves to get to tree stand
  • wind wasn't always favorable
  • made a few laundry mistakes with detergent, brighteners, etc. 
So where to go in 2016-2017?

  • Spring:  Move tree stand to a location where poachers less likely to see/use
  • Spring:  Get bows fully tuned (one at 52lb, one at 65lb)
  • Summer:  Build a stand or blind on the south valley cliff - easy walk in; favorable wind setup
  • Install any tree stands with coverage of a holly or evergreen on at least one side
  • Summer/Fall:  More active use of a trail cam - I had stopped in September.   When deer disappeared in late October, I felt completely blind to their activity. 
  • Summer:   Practice long range (40-50 yard) archery the way I practiced short range archery in Summer 2015
  • Make a decision early (August) on whether to bait at all
  • If baiting, do so seriously, with a feeder.  Infrequent baiting hasn't seemed to be an aid.
  • Do not bait in areas frequented by poachers

Monday, February 8, 2016

Swinging For the Fences: Goose Hunting on the Wye

Literally the only picture I took this morning.
If I could goose hunt anywhere in Maryland, it'd be on the lower Chester River.  But if it couldn't be on the lower Chester (which, at $1500 - $4500 leases per person, it can't be), it would be on the Wye River, just a dozen or so miles south.    The Chester, known as "AP Goose Ground Zero" is the first area to fill up with Atlantic Population geese, usually in November.  As the numbers grow, small groups of geese filter north to the Sassafras (where I've hunted since 2009) or south to the Wye and Choptank.

But that first big flight of geese never came in this strangely odd El Nino winter.  In the last week of the season, I was invited to hunt geese with some work friends on a farm that usually generates limits of geese.     A typical morning might have you see one to two thousand geese, and kill a 6-man limit of 12 geese.  

So we hunkered down and waited, and in the end probably saw about 60 geese total, shot and missed at one goose, and went home empty handed.   This might not have happened, had the guide not told us to arrive at 9:00, leading some of the hunters to arrive at 9:10; and of course about 30 geese had landed around the pit at 8:55, and a few more at 9:05.   I would have gladly given up another hour of sleep to have arrived at 8:00.  Sigh.

But that's how hunting goes, and that's how many hunters' seasons have gone this year on the east coast.  As one buddy told me, when I asked if they'd killed geese, "No.  We did not.  And I hope they freeze to death."    A harsh sentiment to be sure, but after watching a few dozen fickle geese toy with us in a frozen, snowy corn field, good riddance to them.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Season's Last Bow Hunt

I'm not one for moral victories, but at least the only real
trail in the woods is the one that goes right past my tree stand.
I have a new fire in my belly for bow hunting, but life has been trying to put it out.  I don't know what has been the biggest obstacle:  1) my failure to take a turkey with a bow in Nebraska, 2) a beautiful, relaxing Florida fishing trip in December, 3) the bitter cold temperatures immediately upon returning from Florida, or 4) spending 7 of the last 10 days of the season either shoveling out from Baltimore's worst blizzard in history; and/or spending 7 of the last 10 days dealing with school cancellations.

But knowing there are big deer, and plenty of them, in the woods is a strange motivator.  I put on three layers on top and bottom, along with Hot Hands in my gloves and boots, and trudged through well-packed, knee deep snow out to the tree stand three hours before sunset (hoping to maximize my chance of seeing something).

Like half of my bow hunts this season, I saw nothing.  There were very few tracks and trails in the woods, which told me that the deer were likely hanging around bird feeders in nearby back yards.   It was a quiet afternoon and after awhile, I got into almost a trance state (don't worry, I wear a full body safety harness in the tree) and thought about a lot of things.  When I kind of snapped out of it, it seemed like every time I blinked, it was darker.   A pink sunset over the next ridge told me that the hunt was over, and the season was over.

After my last hunt in most years, I'm done thinking about hunting gear, hunting tactics, and 330am alarm clocks for awhile.   But unlike previous seasons, I'm excited to consider what I can do better next season.    I think next season might be a classic.   I'll be writing soon about what it'll take to get me there.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Back in the saddle - late season bow hunt

The last time I'd climbed in my stand, it was late November, unseasonably warm, and the leaves were still on the trees.  How naked I now felt, 20 feet up, with nothing shielding me from acres of land.  Granted, perception is an illusion here, because a man standing still in a tree is generally not going to be seen by anything or anybody, including deer.

I got in the tree a little late, about 2 hours before sunset, and I was hoping that the cool temperatures - predicted for the upper 30s but actually stalling out around 34, would prompt some deer movement.  I was pretty disappointed.   Of course, I made the cardinal sin of getting out my phone.  When I looked up from texting my boss, there was a spindly 6-point buck on the next ridge, staring at me.  Even if I was watching for him, I wouldn't have seen or heard him approach, and the 80 yard shot through the treetop branches would have been impossible.  But as he stared at me, now frozen stiff and staring back, I knew I was busted.  He flicked his tail and bounded off.

And that was it.  Very few birds in the woods.  Few squirrels.  And no more deer.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Praising the Wild, Young Spirit

We have rules at our house.  Good manners (politeness), good attitudes.  No whining.  Always greet people.  Always hold the door.

I'm partial to those rules, because they affect how each of us make first impressions.  First impressions affect how we build friendships and business networks.

But there are a lot of other rules in our society, too.  They revolve around sitting patiently and waiting for a prescribed portion decided by someone else.  They revolve around being able to describe your idea in 12 words or less.  13 words is a failure, regardless of the idea. Then, of course, there is the standardized testing.   Sigh.  Those rules work well in a society where everyone can be upwardly mobile "if you just play by the rules and use some good old elbow grease."   But it's clear to me that we don't live in that society.

The middle class that built those rules 70 years ago is evaporating over a burner of 15-year stagnated wages matched to a 30 year, order-of-magnitude increase in college costs and a 300% increase in the cost of living.   Note that I chose my words carefully in the previous sentence.  A middle class still exists, and a stronger one (of some sort) will emerge in due time.   But this one, and its rules, are relics.  I'm not convinced that our middle class will be saved by giving every student a STEM education.   And I'm a career biologist.

One of my college roommates, a smart and successful process engineer who runs a half dozen factories for a well known food supplier, was watching my son almost literally crawl the walls and briskly told me, "Do not ever medicate that."  It was a bold and unsolicited statement.  But as I read the world news, with chaos and opportunity unfolding simultaneously every day, it actually seems like prudent and conservative advice.   In 2015, we already know that 1955's models no longer work.  My son won't emerge from college or trade school until at least 2029.  Why would I still teach him skills borne of a 1955 mindset?  Sit and be quiet son, so you can get a good union job at the video game coding factory!   None of those are things anymore.  Not here, anyway.

So I will praise the bouncy (outdoors), the unruly (playing pirate with his friends), and the boundless, impossible questions like, "What comes after outer space?"  and "if no one has a body in Heaven, who fixes things?" And "How can I get to the future faster than every second?"  The boy could be a fireman, a surgeon, a playwright or an infantryman.  If he is disrespectful to people in his life, or he never learns to listen, of course, none of these positive things might happen.   But I'm not sure they necessarily will by arbitrary compliance.

Let kids be free.  Today's docile student - afraid to even walk near the lines we've created for him or her -  simply isn't a great recipe tomorrow's revolutionary thinker - whether it be in the field of commerce, art, science, or law.   Having impeccable manners is good.  Describing ideas that are so big and bold that no one else can understand them, while having impeccable manners, is even better.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Mens Underwear for the Outdoors - A Gear Review

I have to admit, reviewing underwear is infinitely less exciting than reviewing a $600 fishing reel.   And let's face it, before the first time you missed a day of kayaking in Peru due to jungle rot, or the first time you nearly froze to death while deer hunting in cotton camo pants and cotton-blend boxers, you didn't care about underwear.  Neither did I!  But now I do, and I think most of you do as well.

Two things (beyond "not freezing to death" and "not loving moisture-driven infections on my skin") drive me to pay attention to underwear.  First, I spend a lot of time outdoors for both work and my personal life, and I hate being uncomfortable when it's not necessary.  Second, I don't like missing an outdoor adventure being of something dumb, like cheap underwear.   If you haven't had the wind whip through you (all of you) and your cheap clothes, or if you haven't had to work all day in clothes that got soaked in rain, pond water, or sweat at 830am, then you might not get what this is about, and that's OK.  This review isn't for you.  If you're in that category of men, by all means, carry yourself to the nearest super store and buy yourself a 3-pack of whatever drawers are on sale.  There's usually red, black, and blue in every know the ones!

I forsake cotton a several years ago, and bought my first nice pair of underwear in the Eastern Mountain Sports store next to my gym at the time, about 4 years ago.   I've been a member of three other gyms since then, but those underwear - the initial release of Ex Officio's Give and Go boxer briefs, have been worn about once a week for four years.  They're tough sons-of-guns, and for $22-25, they had better be.   I've since tried other brands, with varying success.  The review below addresses some of the high (and dry) points, as well as some of the damp challenges.

The overall review consisted of whether the product functioned as follows:
  • Is the product well made?
  • Does it hold up over time?
  • Is it comfortable for casual wear?
  • Is it comfortable for sport/exercise wear?
  • Is it comfortable for water wear?
  • Does the fabric dry easily and quickly?
  • Does the fabric wick body moisture away?
  • Does the fabric tend to hold any trouble areas ("swamp zones")?
Gross? Gross.  But read on, here's what I found.

The Ex-Officio Give and Go ($22-25).   This has been a well-received product, experimental in 2011 and a success for Ex-Officio.  It's advertised to be good for 17 days in 7 countries without a wash, but I'll pass on that.    These underwear are manufactured comparably to the high price.  The waistband is sturdy and not prone to fail, stitching holds after dozens of uses, and they carry sweat away like a dream!    They do bleach easily in pool or laundry water, so be careful.   My favorite thing about these underwear is that I can wear them fishing, get them wet, change my shorts or pants, and these are bone dry in less than 45 minutes.   

Icebreaker ($40-50).  I bought a pair of these off the rack at REI in Fall, 2015.  They are the most comfortable pair of underwear I've ever owned.    The waistband is weak and tends to get bound / twisted a bit, which is something I'm keeping an eye on, and like the Ex-Officio, I never feel sweaty in these.   After roughly 15 wears, the super thin merino wool blend is starting to pill in some areas, so I'm watching that as well.  I'll buy another pair of these, hopefully at outlet prices.

Jockey Air Boxer ($18-20).  Ranking at the lowest end of the price range, these underwear are surprisingly comfortable, have passable wicking ability, and have held up admirably for swimming, outdoor work in hot and cold conditions, and for everyday wear.  They do feel a little...bogged down...on particularly hot and humid days (around here, that's 105 degrees and 90% humidity).  All in all, I'd say that they're more than half as good as the icebreakers and less than half the price, making the Air Boxer a good deal.

Under Armour Heat Gear ($20).  Now, you would think that of all brands, Under Armour's underwear would perform the best.   And in some ways, they are, but just not in the ways that I, and I think a lots of outdoorsmen, really need.  On the positive side, these underwear are bombproof.  Everything seems to be double- and triple-stitched.   The material refuses to tear, refuses to pill up, and doesn't even bleach when it encounters chlorinated pool water.   They are also the most supportive, which is great, but it means they are also the most constricting, which isn't great.  I was really confused and surprised at how poorly these underwear wicked away sweat.   On hot days, or heavy workout days in the gym, these are not the underwear I want to be wearing.   After fully wet (I took an accidental swim in my waders while wearing them), they didn't dry out all day, hours after I'd removed my waders and put lightweight shorts back on.

Summary.   I don't like being uncomfortable when it comes to underwear - I guess that much is clear.  While I am happiest with the Icebreaker Oasis, I simply can't afford to fill my drawer with them.  The Ex-Officio boxer briefs, however, are constructed and sold at that meeting point of price and quality, and in the process of doing this review, I bought my fourth pair of Ex-Officios.   You can't go wrong with most of these products, but there you have it.  Underwear.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2015, The Year in Water

2014 was a hard year - what they call a "growth" year.   It was so bad that I didn't write a year-end summary on this website, or write anything about "goals for 2015."  I mean, to hell with 2014.   The best thing about it was that I survived; the second best thing about 2014 was that it eventually ended.

2015 was a lot different.    No major disasters and a fair amount of success.  I caught a few big fish, missed a lot more big fish, and generally did OK.    I probably fished 20 times, hunted a half dozen times, went to the gym 30 times...the standard.   2015 was a yeoman's year: here are the highlights.

Back to Surfing:  I hadn't surfed since my son was born in 2009.  The last time I had surfed, actually, was April, 2009 in Folly Beach, SC.   It seems almost perfect that my first session back in the water would be nearby at Isle of Palms, SC, in April, 2015.   Nothing about it was epic, but I caught waves and surfed.  In July, 2015 I managed to surf one morning at Delaware's Indian River Inlet.  I was the worst and most out of shape surfer in the lineup, but I still caught about a dozen little waves.  In December, 2015,  a freak swell in the Gulf of Mexico caught me unprepared, and I was forced to bodyboard at Boca Grande, Florida, which was still super fun!

Swimming in the surf by himself.  Not normal, I know.
Taught My Son to Swim:  At 5 (now 6), Hank has spent a lot of his life in the water.  He's drawn to it, as I've been for my entire life.   Swimming (real) swimming is non-negotiable for our family - it's a required life skill.   I figured Hank would learn as I did, by being left at the pool by my parents for the entire summer ( worked).   But he was inspired by our local YMCA's requirement that he pass a full swim test before using the water slide at their pool, which seems reasonable enough, and we spent the summer in the pool together.  In early September, 2015, Hank passed his swim test on his first attempt, one of the few 5 year olds to do so.  He's since had additional swim lessons and continues to grow stronger.

Took Two Trips With My Brothers:   My brothers and I are 36, 38, and 41.  Between us we have two wives, a fiancee', two kids, two dogs, and 300 miles.  Brother T set up a trip along the Shenandoah River in Virginia.   There was some rain and the crazy children to deal with, but the trip was just right.   We needed the time together and it was nice to just show up with food.  In December, the three of us reconvened in Denver for a 6-day hunting trip in western Nebraska.  The trip didn't go exactly how any of us thought it would, but we definitely shot some birds and the trip galvanized our relationship in a way I hadn't predicted.

Caught a Fish I'd Been Chasing:   This stupid fish had been ducking me for two years.  I finally set out specifically to catch him one morning before a staff meeting.  I succeeded.  It was more of a moment than it possibly should have been, but oh well.  I didn't have time to get amazing pictures of it because I swear, the thing was ridiculously heavy.

I suppose it's an accomplishment for a couple of small reasons.  First, it was caught (and released) at a spot that's notoriously difficult to fish, and second, the choice of lure (large soft plastics) is the Achilles heel of my tackle box.  But I pulled it off.

And yes, in 2015, I lost a a bigger front of my my feet.   But these things happen.

I'm not sure what 2016 will bring.  Two weeks into the year, I feel like I still haven't properly encapsulated 2015 and set it on its merry way.  But I'm hoping that the pretty decent list of good things I put in motion in 2015 will turn into some real happiness and fulfillment in the new year.  More on that soon!