Thursday, April 25, 2013

22 Miles by Paddleboard - Neuse River

     The weekend was shaping up to be very interesting.  After having a week of 80 degree weather, a cold front stormed its way in on Friday and would drop the highs to the low to mid 60’s Saturday and Sunday.  At stake was a 22 mile overnight paddleboard float down the Neuse River from Waynesborough State Park to Cliffs of the Neuse State Park.
     Waynesborough State Park used to be run by the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park and is now owned and operated by the Old Waynesborough Commission.  The park consists of 130 acres of land that includes buildings that resemble the old community with a visitor’s center, general store and others of the period.
     After a brief visit, it was off to do business just down the road at the boat ramp.  As we unloaded the paddleboard and equipment I would be using for the weekend, a large group came up with canoes and kayaks.  It was obvious the river would not be lonely.
 
    The river began with a few twists and hairpin turns and was flowing at a decent pace.  Once I hit a straight shot in the river, I began casting the line to see if I might entice a striper to bite.  Basically the float consisted of paddling, then casting, then paddling, then casting.  The water had very low visibility due to the muddy run-off from the rain the day before.  About two miles downriver, I had my first encounter with a fisherman coming up towards the ramp I had launched from.  He stopped and made a comment about the paddleboard and shared his fishing information with me.  Another boat had just pulled in the first rock fish he had seen near the Seymour Johnson AFB runway.  “Cast upstream from the pylons,” was his more precise instructions.

     Another hour of paddling and I started seeing the signs warning of the Air Force Installation.  The trees cleared to a large open area.  This was the airport landing.  Ahead I could see the pylons.  I secured the paddle and grabbed the rod and reel.  I could go on about each individual cast and what I was using as well as the technique, but it really doesn’t matter.  The end result was no fish and no bites.  The river was flowing fast and it didn’t take long to pass through the area without a means to anchor using the paddleboard.
     A long straight away followed by a few bends in the river and I came to an opened turn with a sandbar on the inside of the turn.  I paddled up and took advantage of one of the few shorelines that allow for beaching to stretch, and to grab another soda.  I wanted to go a little further before breaking for a meal so after making a few casts from the shore I pushed off and set down the river once again.
     A few more bends in the river and another long straight lay in front of me before I found another suitable place to make landfall.  With the limited landings, I decided to go ahead and get a bite to eat.  I went ahead and finished off my soda I had opened as I ate a candy bar and some turkey sausage.  I then looked for a spot hidden from the river to excuse myself when I came up beside a log about 30 yards off shore.  I don’t scare easy, but there was enough of a vision in the corner of my eye to give me a good startle before I could process the situation.  Laying beside the log, nearly camouflaged perfectly with the log, grass, leaves, and ground were two banded water snakes.  The largest was easily four feet long and as thick at my forearm.  I grabbed the camera and shot some videos and stills as they lay peacefully together.  The cool weather likely kept them inactive as well.
     I reloaded the paddleboard and set off once again, knowing the next stop would need to be a campsite.
     I found one place that would have been ideal another hour down the river.  Beautiful green grass on a flat landscape, easy access to landing the paddleboard, and a clear spot to make a fire without danger of it spreading.  Unfortunately, it was posted.  Instead, I just admired the work done to keep it clear and clean and continued ahead.  Now it was close to 7:30pm and the sun was coming close to dropping below the canopy of treetops that lined the river’s edge. 
Finally, in another bend of the river I spotted a location.  The landing area was not ideal but it was flat.  This meant the board would run ashore just fine.   It also meant that I would likely have to step into deep mud.
     It was more than that.  It was deep, sucking mud.  It nearly crested the top of my boot when I stepped off and then it worked like quicksand, engulfing me with each step.  I grabbed the front of the board and lugged it upon shore as far as the mud would allow.  I grabbed my dry bag, set up camp and got out of my damp and muddy clothes.  A quick can of spaghetti heated by a solo burner finished off supper, a text to my wife that I had set up camp and was going to sleep, and I was out.
     The night was cold, colder than expected actually, and it seemed never ending.  I refused to turn on my cell to check the time for one to save the battery, and for another the fear that I would see it was only 10:30pm.  While I was constantly waking up during the night, only once did something from outside wake me.  Again, I have no idea what time it was, but the sounds I heard resembled the holler from the Sasquatch caller on the television show ‘Finding Bigfoot.’  And it was loud.  But it was not scary.  Just loud enough to wake me from probably the only deep sleep I had during the night.
     The next day, I finished off the quest, paddling ferociously with the flow of the river but against a strong wind.  I once spotted some shad in one spot and decided to make a few casts only to notice I was now being blown backwards against the river flow.  I put up the rod and grabbed the paddle once again.
     The final destination was the Cliffs of the Neuse.  For a span of 600 yards cliffs as high as 100 feet lined the river.  You could see the strata from different eras in the cliff banks.  Created by a prehistoric fault line, the area was once under the ocean.  Many sea fossils including whale bones had been excavated in the area.  It was also the resting place for the ironclad vessel CSS Neuse. 
     My wife and I walked around briefly after she picked me up and we took some pictures from above and also visited the recently build visitors center.  Outside on the sidewalk was a painting of the Neuse as it stretched from the Pamlico Sound up to Raleigh with markers along the way representing different towns, cities, and places of interest.
     22 miles by paddleboard, no fish, an encounter with 2 snakes, and a weekend of peaceful bliss blanketed between two parks.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Planning for Paddleboarding Trip


While researching a future float trip, I came across the following passage:

“But as darkness set in, I noticed a bright point of light near the mouth of a creek lined with tupelo trees…  The light hovered about six feet above the water, but I could not perceive its source.”

The quote comes from Riverdave’s Journal from the spring of 1997.  He continues to talk about how uneasy his rest was after setting up camp on the Neuse River with the light constantly hovering near him just a hundred yards away, and then the next morning, not locating so much as a street light that could shine through the trees.

I find this interesting for a more than a few reasons.  However, this was enough to help me determine where I would go.



I have floated significant stretches of both the French Broad River and the Tar River in the past.  I am already planning on hitting the Roanoke when the rockfish head upriver later this month or early May (I’m on the fish’s schedule, not mine!).  So, I was looking for a weekend excursion as a tune-up for the Roanoke River trip.

The Neuse has also been on my mind anyway, as I have always wanted to float the Cliffs of the Neuse to view the majestic ninety feet walls that run beside the river.

I should probably clarify what I mean by float in this context.  Kayak fishing has become somewhat of an ever growing subculture.  A step beyond kayaking is what is called stand up paddleboarding.  Stand up paddleboards, or SUP as it is commonly called, is a combination of large surfboard and sit on top kayak.  They are stable enough to stand on without the need for the extra push of a large ocean wave.  The particular board I use is eleven feet long, three feet wide and has a removable seat/cooler/dry box combination that sits on top.


Paddleboarding earlier in the year.

Yes, I like doing things a little different.  My plan is to float a twenty-two mile stretch on the paddleboard.  Let’s look at it this way; it will make the trip more interesting.

I also have to do a little more than just float the river.  Few people would disagree that it means fishing is also in order.  One of the things I was taught early on when it comes to fishing was “when the dogwoods bloom, the fish start to bite.”

There is another thing of interest about this particular stretch of the Neuse.  Remarkably fossils such as whale bones have been unearthed in the area.   The tall cliffs constructed by the erosion from the Neuse have been known to reveal such items from time to time.

So, in a quick synopsis, we have camping, paddleboarding, fishing, archeology, and paranormal investigations all in one trip.  I am simple to please, and just one of those events is enough to highlight a weekend. 

 

River reports following striper and shad migration in the East as well as trout stocking reports for the mountains can be found at NCWildlife.com.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Youth Turkey Hunt with Julianne


The morning started early.  Three a.m. early in fact.  I showered to clear the cobwebs from the deep slumber, got dressed in the day’s work attire which would consist of greens and browns, and woke my daughter up.  She jumped up with the speed of a sloth to get dressed herself, having fallen asleep on the couch in the den while watching television late just a few hours earlier.

It was going to be a long day, simply because of the two hour drive time, set-up prior to light, and the expense on our bodies from the days before.  The family had been on spring break in South Carolina, and I joined them that Wednesday evening.  I wasn’t going to experience vacation time with the family though; it just happened I had a two day business meeting in the same coastal city.  A business meeting full of seminars, instructional sessions, and a vendor trade show.  Although I was present and paying attention, even learning a few things, my mind mostly looked forward to the weekend trip with my daughter.

By quarter of four, we were on the road and Julianne was dozing back off in the passenger seat.  I ran the coming day through my mind several times.  Mental preparation is as important as physical preparation and I wanted to make sure I had everything in line for the hunt.  I played several scenarios consisting of seeing no birds to seeing plenty and from getting no shots to missing a shot to making the shot.

We arrived at the land around 5:30a.m. and received a brief description of the layout.  We were shown where the birds usually roost, where they come from and go to, and where the best places were to set up decoys and the blind.

After walking a couple of hundred yards to the opening, we doubled back, grabbed our gear and I began to explain the setup to Julianne.  I opened the pop up blind and told her what to put where while I counted off yardage and placed three decoys nearby.  We were ready.

As the sunlight began to peek through the tops of the trees we heard crows, woodpeckers and owls.  All three of these species calls can be used as locator calls for turkey.  I listened carefully.  No turkey yelps.  No turkey gobbles.  I told my daughter they could just be silent, but we would see what we could do.

After a while I hit my mouth hen call for a few clucks.  No answer.  I told her to just sit back and relax and get some more rest.

Finally, around nine, I heard something very faint in the distance.  I wasn’t sure if my ears and mind were playing tricks, so I decided to blow the mouth call and listen for a response.  Looking back, I probably should have informed Julianne first.  After the initial startle of the cluck blasts, we both heard a very distant gobble.  It was time to work.

Over the next hour, the thunder chicken and I exchanged sweet nothings.  Mine consisted of several yelps; his consisted of a powerful gobble blast.  As his courtship calls became close, he stopped responding briefly.  We sat patiently, waiting, watching.  I just knew he would exit the woods to our right, come strutting toward the decoy spread, and offer the shot.

After a few minutes of silence, I let out a few soft yelps.  Before I could finish the third blow he already responded.  Behind us.  He circled the opening completely and came in behind us through the hardwoods.  My daughter’s eyes lit up like a three year old on Christmas morning.  His gobble shook the blind with its power.

The problem with him behind us is we had no windows on the backside of the blind and the combination of woods and foliage would deflect the arrow depending on the tom’s location.

I quietly unzipped the door in the back to reveal a small opening where I could peak through as well as get a camera lens with an unobstructed view.  It took me a few seconds to spot him, but there he was.  I had to tilt the rangefinder sideways to get an idea of the distance.  Twenty-five yards.  A little long for Julianne’s range, but again, she had no opportunity to shoot out of the back anyway.

I motioned for Julianne to take a peak so she could see her first long beard.  I clucked while she was looking and she could see the outstretched neck of the ole tom as he gobbled in reply.

We played with the bird for over an hour with him behind us.  He would strut, gobble, and even lay down for a brief moment.  But he never would come into the opening.  He hovered between 20 and 25 yards throughout the entire episode.  Then he left.

While I was disappointed she was not able to take the shot, the look in her eyes when she heard the first gobble is forever etched in my mind.  The excitement we had together, the time spent, is as precious as any other moments a parent could have.

Thankfully, the season has just begun and we have several weekends left to hunt together.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Adrenaline Rush

There are a few things that can cause one’s adrenaline to reach such a level that the image burns in the brain forever.  For instance, one of my dream hunts involves trekking through the Rockies in pursuit of an animal that commands names for its size such as Royal, Imperial, and Monarch.  I have watched video of them coming to within a few yards of the camera and bellowing an unmistakable trumpet that is known as an elk’s bugle.  I have heard tales of great accomplished outdoorsmen who when confronted with this very scene are struck in such awe as to forget the shot.  Buck fever pales in comparison to the plague of emotions one can encounter when witnessing a massive 6 feet tall rack fold back as the head and neck stretches up and out to resemble the howl of a lonesome wolf on a moonlit night.
Then you have the angler testing the shallow, shaded waters covered with a canopy of lily pads with a top water plug.  With delicate and deliberate jerks the rod tip snaps the plug forward just an inch or two making a pop with the small gush of water in front.  Out of the tea colored subsurface it strikes.  Not like a thief picking the city dweller’s pocket, but more like a heavyweight fighter sensing a quick knockout of his opponent.   The largemouth bass launches for the bait, no, through the bait, and walks across the now torn surface on its tail with intensity and anger.  The only difference between the ole bucket mouth and a trained Seaworld dolphin is the slashing of its body as it tries to remove the steel piercing its teeth laden lips.
There is also the vision of the partly clouded skies, the type where the sunrise cannot be seen, but instead glows with red, orange and pink.  Sounds of whistles, honks and clucks can be heard in the distance.  The time is right and the trusty 12 gauge is clutched in the nearly frostbitten hands as you crouch down, waiting, wanting.  On the horizon you spot three black specs.  Wait, four.  No, six!  Just as they near your spread, the once graceful fast flying mallards turn into a haphazard group of kamikazes wavering and wobbling as they prepare to land.
Yes, all of these are great to behold.  But there is another.
All the girls are out for an early morning meal having just come down from their roost.  Making his way in tow, he knows he is the king of this land.  He approaches the ladies-in-waiting and sticks his chest out, again confident in his prowess.  There’s not a single one that does not want him.  He is the man.  He is not just the head of the harem, he has the swagger to prove it to all others.  He blasts out his tail feathers with the pop of an oriental fan.  Duck Dynasty may display the beards on television, but his beard drags the ground.  This is Gobbler Dynasty.
That last vision has become one of my quests.  The first time I saw an old Tom strutting around the field it enticed me to pursue the bird with more than just a seasonal hunt.  Now, some seven years later, I still sit here having taken the exact same number as my daughter.  The issue with this is not that she has been successful.  In fact, this weekend I will be taking her on her first turkey hunt.  The issue is I have yet to punch the hunter’s report card in the wild turkey column.
I have had plenty of chances.  Some I have squandered.   Some, like last year’s season, was just not in the cards as Mother Nature had other plans.  Plans such as bears and bobcats.   The bear came within a few yards of my blind as he chased away my Tom.  The bobcat was interested in my decoys.  It made for a great story, but as for a meal, not so much.
But my hunt is not here yet.  My focus is bringing the birds in for my daughter.  My goal is to make it as memorable as all of mine have been, whether successful or not.
North Carolina opens a youth turkey season from April 6, 2013 through April 12, 2013.  Regular turkey season opens April 13 and runs through May 11, 2013.