Monday, March 28, 2016

Overnight on the River - Planning


I just finished spooling 150 yards of 12 pound test line onto a reel. That leaves me with one thing to do tomorrow before heading out on an overnight kayak fishing float.
Last month I was offered an opportunity to go on a weeklong float and fishing trip that is one of those trips of a lifetime. I guess it is arguable that any weeklong float and fishing trip would be a trip of a lifetime since few people get the opportunity to commit that amount of time for a hobby. This trip was a little more special though, as it would have been through the Everglades in southern Florida.
A fellow pro-staffer with Johnson Outdoors, makers of Old Town Kayaks and Canoes, Ocean Kayak, Extrasport, Carlisle, Humminbird, and MinnKota amongst other brands, sent out an invitation to the rest of us on this trip. Mike has done this float annually and knows the long paddle well. The planning was near perfect, as he accounted for tides, times to paddle, times to fish, and where to set camp each evening.
One of his first questions to those who were interested in the trip was this, “have you ever done an overnight float trip where you needed to camp?”
I don’t know if I could think of a better first question to a group of experienced kayak anglers. You see, just because you can fish from a floating piece of plastic, doesn’t mean you know what to do on a camping trip without electricity, without cell phone coverage, and figure out what to take with you.
As for myself, I have stayed overnight on float trips before. Not for a week mind you, but for a two or three days float, yes. While hunting I have stayed on a five nights trip without heading back to the civilized world. It was possibly one of the most peaceful times I had, up until the point I was returning home and I had emails and texts hitting me from during the week about how things had blown up at work. I am not sure what is more stressful, having to deal with complete chaos at work, or having to deal with complete chaos at work a week after it occurred. I don’t have to deal with those scenerios any longer, thank goodness.
So, what do you need for a trip such as this, or even a two day overnight trip? Well, you start with the basics; food, water and shelter. Easy enough, right?
You also need the gear appropriate for the why you are taking the trip. I am going fishing, so I need my rods and reels and tackle boxes. I also need my safety equipment such as my life vest (pfd). Of course I need a paddle.
And here is where the thought comes in. A float pan is essential, just as the one given to those of us for the Everglades trip. If you do not return in time, or if you are not at the designated pickup area when you are supposed to be, they need to know how to find you. Different mapping websites such as Google and Yahoo maps makes it easy to measure distances and mark where your intended stops are located.
A kayak, or canoe if that is your means of travel, has a weight limit, not to mention limited space. Either requires a way to keep you gear dry. You do not want to try and sleep in a wet sleeping bag or soaked tent if the kayak or canoe turtles (flips). A secondary set of clothing in the dry bag gives you a change in case of such an event also.
And yes, this does happen. It happened to me on the Neuse a couple of years ago and even though the daytime was mid 70’s, I wondered if I was going to make it through the night without suffering from hypothermia when the temps dipped below 50 and found out my bag, tent, cover, and clothing had all gotten wet.
I will share how this trip goes in the next column. Let’s hope it is memorable due to the fun and excitement of both exploring the river and catching fish rather than other reasons.

Monday, March 21, 2016

March is Tourney Time!


It is tournament time! The ACC tourney and the NCAA basketball tournaments have us all at the edge of our seats. The fishing tournaments are on fire as the weather warms up.
Wait, the fishing tournaments?
Yes, as spring embeds itself into the calendar and warms the water, the fishing heats up.
There are a number of fishing tournaments. They range from local club type tournaments for fund raisers, to regional tournaments to national tournaments.
There are online tournaments requiring just pictures of the catch and weigh-ins monitored with great scrutiny. There is something for everyone. Unless you are me. I have not found that perfect tournament yet.
You see, I am somewhat challenged as it comes to fishing. Let me rephrase that, as it is not really regarding fishing. I can catch fish. Plenty of them in fact. I enjoy doing so. My handicap comes with the size of the catch.
Wrong fish during Crappie tournament, and itty bitty baby to boot.
I fished in a kayak tournament last year and caught a fish that was just over one inch long. You read that right. It was slightly longer than one inch. The lure it attacked was three inches long. It was hooked in the mouth.
Don’t ask me how this happens, it just does. The tournament had a consolation prize for smallest fish. The only issue there is the fish was a different species than what I was supposed to target. Dang rules. They always get in the way.
I caught plenty of fish that day also. Not a single one was a largemouth bass though, and it was a kayak bass fishing tournament.
I went fishing for speckled trout in a kayak tournament on the coast. I caught gray trout instead. The gray trout were less than ten inches long.
My goal this year is to finally break the string of small catches of species I am not trying to catch. If I can do that, maybe I can enter a tournament and at least have something to turn in. It should not be a hard goal to achieve, right?
Just as I did last year, I have once again entered the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association’s 2016 tournament. The tourney consists of different target species each month from March through November. While largemouth bass are the target species for April, if I catch one in another month other than April I can turn that one in. I know, it sounds like a tournament I have a shot with.
If you catch the target species during the month, you get bonus points. March is crappie month. So, I went out searching for crappie.
Last year I couldn’t help but catch a crappie. I would catch them on their typical favorites such as live minnows or jigs. I would also catch them on non-typical lures such as Senko worms. “March is going to be a breeze,” I thought to myself.
In typical ‘Bill Howard Fishing Tournament’ fashion, I find a way to somehow play by different rules. I had a span of three days to put my first crappie on the board and get my bonus points. I believed it would be no issue at all to put an eleven or twelve incher in the standings. It wouldn’t be enough to win, but it would get some points and give me a chance to upgrade while still getting my bonus.
Day one came and went. I had quality time with my dog Ari on the kayak with me. Yep, that was the highlight.
Day two came and went. I actually caught a crappie. I was paddling to a spot with a minnow still on my hook. The minnow was skimming across the top of the water’s surface. I heard a splash and saw my rod to my left flailing around. A crappie had leapt to the minnow and hooked itself. I reeled the fella in. And as I placed him on the board getting ready to take the picture, it flipped off the board to the side of the kayak, then flipped again into the water.
It wasn’t the big one that got away though. It was the small one that got away. In fact, it was the only one that got away. The only catch that is.
But day three went better. I landed a fish on a beetle spin. Got it in the kayak. Got it on the board along with my identifier and was able to get the picture before releasing it.
Of course, it was the wrong species. And it wasn’t long enough to get a measurement. It is like scoring a touchdown for the wrong team in a basketball tournament. One day I will get this tourney thing right.
The pursuit shall continue.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

March is Here, Know What That Means?


The first of March welcomes a new outlook on life for everyone. Winter seems to disappear. The excitement of college basketball conference and national tournaments has sports fans anticipating one last run for their favorite teams, or at least good prognostication skills through various pools. Flowers begin to bloom soon and the grass has just the right amount of green to let one know they are on the other side.
It also starts a whole new hunting and fishing season bringing a different type of excitement for outdoors lovers.
March 1st marked the opening of striper season on the Roanoke River. The Roanoke is one of the premier fisheries for striped bass during the spawn. Over the next few days the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission will begin sending biologists out in boats in the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, and Cape Fear rivers and issue reports on the numbers of fish captured, sizes, male/female ratio as well as information of American and hickory shad captured, which is the primary food source for the striped bass during their migration.
Perhaps a float trip is due on the Roanoke. Or the Tar. Or the Neuse or Cape Fear. The water is deep and flowing steadily and it is early for the spawn so the hundreds of boats are not yet on the rivers. Of course, because it is early, the stripers are much less plentiful, if there at all as of yet.
But, like death and taxes, the stripers are a guarantee to come. It is one of our conservation successes.
And let’s not forget another one of great conservation successes that come shortly afterward.
It does not seem that long ago when just a handful of counties in North Carolina had a turkey season. Now, every county in the state participates in the annual wild turkey season.
In 2015, North Carolina experienced its second largest turkey harvest to date. 2013 was the largest take. The state has averaged over 17700 birds taken over the last three years, while the previous five years averaged just over 13500. This is a promising sign the population is continuing to grow and thrive. A single year uptick could indicate an increase in hunters targeting the bird, but with a three year average in increased birds taken, it indicates the birds are able to continue their sustainable population even if larger numbers of birds are harvested.
And as with the thought of a float trip for striper, I wonder if it may finally be time to take an ole Tom with the bow. They have proven elusive thus far. I have been close. Very close. It just never proved the time to be.
But where will I go? A trip to the Poccasin lake region of the state? The turkeys are plentiful, along with black bears and bobcats. Yes, the black bears and bobcats are the reason I was not successful there before.
Maybe a trip to Pisgah is the place to be. Many a time I have had the Toms fooled into coming within 50 yards of where I was sitting. The same number of times the birds never closed in within bow range, except once. That once though, well wow!
After calling it a morning with the return calls ceasing hours earlier, I started carrying my things from the blind back to the truck. Upon returning to the blind, I went in, grabbed the remainder of the contents inside (the bow was already back at the truck), and as I exited there was Tom looking at me just as surprised as I was at it. The startled gaze only lasted a second or two, as the burned in memory following was nothing but legs and dust as he hurried away on the path like a just graduated college football star at an NFL combine running the 40.
Yet, here I am, as many others throughout, are anticipating the joy the next few months bring rather than the frustration.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Story about Tom and Cecil


There seems to be a problem with conservation when emotions run high. There are two of these cases running currently, and it matters how we handle things in the future.
I once did a column on mountain lion hunting, especially regarding the mountain lion in California. To give a little back history without neglecting the point in this column, I will keep this part brief.
Decades ago there was a large faction of residents in California that believed the killing, or hunting as someone who enjoys the outdoors puts it, of mountain lion needed to cease. The cougar was a wild animal, beautiful, and not hurting anyone or anything.
Here is the kicker to the story. Everyone jumped on board, as the mountain lion was not walking around the streets of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, or even Sacramento. And where do the majority of people live in California? In big cities such as those. But California is a huge state, and elsewhere the mountain lion was creating a problem. They were killing pets and cattle, and the cattle was and is a huge part of California’s northern economy.
The city dwellers won out and California ceased issuing permits to hunt the cougar. Interestingly enough, the California Department of Wildlife had to begin culling mountain lion as nuisances, and actually were responsible for killing more lions than the state used to issue in total number of permits each year.
The lion also expanded its range in the state and began showing up in places that people did not care to see. A male mountain lion has a large territory, and while it will allow several female lions to overlap the territory, as soon as a male cub is born, the dominate tom will attempt to kill it or scare the mother and cub elsewhere. Therefore, the territory expanded. It is how nature works.
Now, the state is having problems once again with the mountain lion. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife released results of a test in which they dissected and looked at the stomach contents of 83 of 107 lions killed as part of depredation and nuisance permits. Of those, 52% of the mountain lions had domestic animals such as pets and livestock in their stomachs. 18% of the animals were too digested to tell what the contents were, but it is speculated by the department the number would have been roughly 60% of the lions targeted dogs, cats, and other domestic animals as their meals of choice.
The second case gets even stranger. Remember the Cecil the lion incident where the dentist nearly lost his practice due to animal rights activists badgering and picketing him for killing a lion that had been given a name? Get ready for this.
Because of the fallout of the Cecil the lion hunt, hunters did not target the great beasts this year. They avoided hunting lions due to the outsider pressures on the sport. As a result, the lion herd and other species are in greater jeopardy.
The population in the reserve grew to over 500 lions. The large number of lions have caused havoc to the balance of the different species such as giraffes, antelopes, wild dogs, and even cheetahs.
Now, the reserve says it may need to cull as many as 200 of the lions to bring the park back in balance. Officials would rather relocate the king of the park, but it has been stated that there is nowhere in Africa that can hold that quantity or even a fraction of that quantity of the big cats. They even offered a lottery where a prize was to hunt one of the lions, and activists quickly shut it down as well.
Now, they are looking at just killing 200 of the cats and suffering any consequences from peoples’ reactions rather than watch the lion decimate the rest of the animals and ultimately themselves due to the overpopulation.