Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Years

We have made another trip around the sun. We do not get many of these.
If you were to think of a year as a M&M for instance, we have a small bag full. Right after you open the bag, you devour them. Each of the first ones you may gobble down two, three or four at a time. Once you have eaten about half the bag, you make a conscience decision though. You question yourself, “do I finish the bag or do I fold it up and save the rest for later?”
You have gone from your younger years to your mid-life crisis. But the similarities do not end there. Regardless of your choice, as the bag is emptied, each candy coated chocolate morsel means more and more. You begin to savor those last few. You may even chip away the candy shell and then catch all the flavor out of the chocolate inside. Your years are ending.
Most of us will experience around 78 or 79 trips around our sun. Some less, some more, but on average we lose 1/80th of our lifetime each New Year’s Day.
Take into account we sleep roughly one third of our life, and that 1.25% seems all the more precious.
If we averaged a 40 hour work week, add in our time for sleep, that leaves us with less than half of our lives that we actually have time to do what we want to do with the people we want to do it with. We also have to do chores at home, eat, bathe, be sick, and all kinds of other things in those remaining 79 hours per week, but it is our time.
What do you do with that time?
What if it took you 30 years before someone showed you your first sunrise? What if that first fish you caught was on your 45th birthday? What if the first doe and fawn playing together happened to be when you were in your 60’s? Would you think about how nice it would have been to have known the full extent of God’s beauty decades before?
Each New Year the mass populace puts together goals and resolutions. Many are broken just hours after making them. Most of them are regarding healthier diets or habits, adhering to financial budgets, or tackling one of our many other vices head on.
Some pertain to spending time with significant others.
Over the next year, our next trip around the sun, try to take in some of the extra beauty in the world. Notice the way the birds flock fluidly in the skies. Watch how the ants work together, following a strict regiment of something beyond what we understand.
Look at how the squirrels play, gather, and eat. Lay back on the lush carpet of grass on a spring day and gather in the movement of the clouds above just as we did in the early years when we took in everything we could to heart.
Show someone the beauty and grace that is out there, away from the concrete jungles and partitioned offices, and video console screens.
Appreciate those last M&Ms, for unlike the bag, we can not see when our last trip around the sun is upon us.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Cold Water Crappie


The deer are running a strange pattern for the time being, at least on the lands I have access to hunt on. They are either nocturnal, or nonexistent. Sometimes I even get confused whether that is one and the same since the results are also the same.

The bears are traveling in preparation of the coldest months ahead. Unfortunately, I have seen more lying motionless along the roadside or in the medians rather than gracing their presence in my vicinity while still alive.

The ducks are flying, if you can catch them at the right time. But again, they seem to have an internal clock more precise than anything the Swiss could manufacture, as they come in high during shooting times or low just after sunset.

And you would believe with the attempts at cold weather that Mother Nature has brought about occasionally, the fish bites would have become as rare as a snowman in July.

You would believe.

Now the saying goes “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him forever.” So let’s talk a little about one of my favorite cold water targets.

As the water temperatures have cooled down, one of the premiere pan fish have moved off the shore lines and into the deeper water. The crappie seek the deeper water during the cold and tend to stack up and school around submerged structure. When they do this, the fishing becomes fun.

First you need to know what to use to target the papermouths. Crappie love minnows. Love them! You can use live minnows or even artificial minnow jigs, but the live minnows are hard to resist.

You can fish for them just like you would bottom fish from a pier on the coast with a couple of variations. To make the drop jig, take several barrel swivels and tie on lengths of line, mostly between six and nine inches. At the other ends of the lines, tie on a small hook. Go ahead and make a half dozen of these short barrel swivel lines.

At the end of the line coming out of the rod and reel, tie on a small weight. It does not need to be more half an ounce in most places. Go up the line about six inches and loop the main line through the open barrel swivel eyelet. Pull the loop over the barrel swivel line and then pull tight. Go up another six inches and do the same. With this jig you can have an unlimited number of hooks dangling off at different depths, but start off with two.

Next, take a crappie minnow and hook it through the lower lip of the mouth through the top lip. This allows the minnow to live and be active in order to attract the crappie. You can also clip one of the tail fins which will cause the minnow to swim rather erratic, again attracting more attention to the predator fish.

If you notice most of your fish being caught on the top line, then move both lines up a little more. It will not take long before you will be bringing in doubles and maybe even triples.

I know I usually do not offer tips such as these in this column, that instead I tell stories of different events. I also know there are dozens if not hundreds of other ways to bring the slabs over the side of the boat or to shore. But give this a try and consider it a Christmas gift from me to you.

If you bring home a cooler full or just one outstanding memorable catch, send me a photo or two to BillHowardOutdoors@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reading is Fun

I was not much of a reader when in school. To me, reading was just a waste of time, especially when I could be learning something by studying science and math, or creating simple programs on the computer. For those younger than myself, those computer programs were a big deal back then, as the computer was still in its infancy with a decent computer having a whopping 64k of memory. The laptop I am typing from now has over 1 terabyte of storage memory and 4 gigabytes of operating memory.
Back to the subject at hand. A good way to describe my passion for reading was pure hate. I had a major test on the book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court for instance. I thought it would interest me, but it didn’t. So, in order to pass the test I read every other chapter. If I had a book that had Cliff’s Notes (again, for the younger readers out there, this was our example of a wiki page on what a book was about), I would read the synopsis only. I could not even read the chapter by chapter breakdown.
My reading habits changed in college, and I actually went through a very prolific reading stage. Those habits continued to this day. I particularly enjoy older books, those about religion and prophecy, and stories about the outdoors. Amongst my favorite reads are books by Jon Krakauer such as Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and personal accounts from former President Teddy Roosevelt on his many expeditions across America and Africa.
I was recently offered a complimentary hard cover copy of Dark Timber published by L’ivoire Press. First of all, beginning in March of 2015, L’ivoire Press will be running a subscription based service of four books per year. They are limited to 950 hard copy books each, hand numbered, and offer according to their tag line, The Greatest of Hunting Stories.
Based on Dark Timber, I believe in what they say. Dark Timber is a compilation of three stories selected after much thought and debate, to symbolize what the longer anthologies of the regular subscription base would be like. Remember my selection of Roosevelt? Well, Teddy is included with his account of “A Shot at a Bull Elk.”
Dark Timber focuses on elk hunting, and the premiere story of the three is the “Saga of the One-Eyed Bull” told in a rich and vivid recounting by Walt Prothero. Prothero exquisitely portrays both his passion for the hunt, and his compassion of the animal in his quest for the one-eyed bull he had encountered for four years. The ending handles the emotion of the kill in a way in which one feels when told their long loved pet would be better off put down than to suffer its remaining days.
These stories promise to offer more than tips and techniques of hunting. L’ivoire Press promises to bring the subscriber along on adventures that show why we hunt in the first place. I look forward to reading their future published works.
You can download an electronic copy of Dark Timber at LivoirePress.com as well as subscribe to their quarterly editions. I know they would not only make a great Christmas gift for the outdoorsman, they will very likely become a family hand-me-down to share with generations into the future.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Respect

Respect is one of many words that describes someone’s positive character traits. Respect represents admiration of someone or something. When there is lack of respect, it often shines like an aerodrome beacon for all to recognize.
For instance, earlier this year while fishing from the kayak at the coast, there were several boats as well as myself fishing along a train trestle. We were all evenly spaced providing plenty of distance between each other. One boat even moved up to a bridge piling, tying to the concrete beam and attempting to fish for sheepshead. While the boat did come close to where I was located, we acknowledged each other and knew we would not be interfering with each other’s fishing.
The current flowing under the bridge and trestle was rather strong as the tide was coming in. My anchor held tight in the open channel as my fishing focused away from the anchor rope.
In the distance, I noticed a large center console heading down the channel. I thought it was rather strange, as this channel is not a throughway, as not only is it narrow but also has several huge concrete power poles several feet in diameter positioned right in the middle.
As the boat passed the first anchored fishing boat down the channel I could tell this was not going to go well. The wake was high, and the boat passed within a few feet of the other.
Still, it kept coming down the channel. As it came closer, I spotted several trolling rigs set out to the sides. For sure this was not happening here.
As it passed between me and the other nearby boat, water breached my kayak easily and tossed the boat fishing for sheepshead into the piling it was tied to. My greatest worry was whether their trolling rigs would catch onto my anchor rope and proceed to snatch the kayak over. I grabbed the anchor rope and tugged and pulled as quickly as I could to prevent the potential catastrophe.
While this was a clear lack of respect for each of us fishing this channel, it also became dangerous.
Then there was the time a couple of years ago on the last day of deer season. As I walked into the clearing of the field to get to my stand, I noticed bright orange ahead in a tripod stand at a point in the woods. My dad and son were not hunting, and our gate had been locked. Yet there were two hunters sitting in our tripod.
I laid the bow and arrows down in the path and approached them. Well before getting there, they climbed down and started walking towards me as well. I knew I was unarmed. I knew they had rifles. This was not a time for me to offer threats, but instead I just asked did they know where they were. They said they thought they were on a nearby landowner’s farm. I corrected them and pointed them towards the farm they mentioned. While they had an excuse, I still doubted their sincerity considering the way they exited the stand and approached me as if they had been caught.
While that case can be argued, tree stands built onto private land cannot. I have seen it on our land, with access from a major highway. I have seen it where stands were built on other properties several feet into the woods in order to conceal the effort. I have seen cameras put up and bait put out. I have seen No Trespassing signs removed and trash left. I have even seen deer carcasses with just the back straps cut out left for the landowner to clean up.
For all the ethical, respectful hunter and angler out there, it only takes the few less than respectful people to tarnish the image.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Heroes


Have you ever been to a place and think to yourself, “I must be crazy, but if by chance I am not, then everyone else most certainly is”? Comic-con would certainly put you in that mindset.

To explain a bit of our sub-culture that you may not have experience with, Comic-con is short for comic convention. San Diego would be the Mecca of the conventions, where many Hollywood stars attend to promote sci-fi, fantasy, and comic based movies and television shows.

I attended my first Comic-con recently, although it was one of the ‘satellite’ conventions with a little less fan-fare and support from the big companies. I began to appreciate comics and superheroes at a young age just like many people do. My Saturday mornings consisted of Superfriends, Scooby Doo, and even Hong Kong Phooey. It is what kids did on Saturdays.

With the release of the Marvel movies, my kids have become fans as well. One of the few television shows I watch is based on one of my favorite superheroes, the Flash. My youngest, Cooper, will climb into my recliner with me and watch and talk during the hour it is showcased on the flat screen.

While watching all the people at the Comic-con, many cosplaying, in other words dressing up as their favorite characters, I felt like I was at a Halloween party in mid-November.

But, I realized it may not have been all that weird, especially for the younger once attending. While I occasionally donned a bath towel flapping off my back being held by a safety pin around my neck when I was little, I also dressed and played as other heroes.

For instance I had a brown coat with tassels hanging from the pockets, a coon skin hat, and a lever action bb gun. While this image may not strike a bit of resemblance with kids of today, most of you in your late 30’s and older will easily picture Davy Crockett.

The King of the Wild Frontier had the image and lore to inspire motion pictures and television shows to carry on his legacy for many generations. While being a state leader and politician as well as a hero who died fighting at the Alamo, he was a frontiersman, hunter, and trapper that knew the ways of the outdoors. While today’s movies try to develop our comic hero’s characters and traits, Crockett has a real backstory.

Daniel Boone was yet another hero immortalized from legend thanks to Disney expanding on his life and times. While the legend of Boone even spread to Europe during the 1800’s, our knowledge of both true and embellished events in his life are known mainly by the tales our generations have been able to see.

Another outdoorsman who played a huge part in expanding the frontier of a young United States, Boone readily acknowledged much of the lore was simply to make him bigger than what he was. He was humble, a man of few words, and claimed to be a simple man. That is saying a lot about someone who was said to have ‘grinned a bear to death’ while in the Appalachians. Let’s see Superman do that.

I’ve often wished a major movie studio would once again take on sharing stories of people like these so our kids, and their kids, could learn and admire them.

Of course, I always wished for a Lone Ranger movie to hit the silver screen for the same reasons, and yet we got Johnny Depp in a crow hat instead.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Easy Life


Like many, the family decked the halls, well, put up the Christmas tree and decorations in the living room and den, recently. While I enjoy the season, I would much rather watch then move everything around and hang ornaments. I’m not a Scrooge mind you, it is just not my favorite thing to do.

Afterwards I was able to get some bow time, throwing some arrows out of the new RhinoX from Ben Pearson Archery. It did not take long to set up, and after shooting groups with the arrows touching from 50 yards, I knew to start shooting at different spots. Due to some experiences in competition from last year, I also decided I may need to get some bench time and build some more Carbon Express XJammer arrows.

With the Wolfpack’s dominating win over the Heels (sorry, but I did go to school at the old school in Raleigh), I convinced myself to decorate my arrows with the brightest red fletching I could find. Bohning’s Blazer vanes fit the bill.

After setting up the fletching jig, organizing the glue, arrows, pin nocks, target points and vanes, I was all set to go. Then I lost myself. I lost myself in the task at hand, but in a very good way. Stress flowed from my shoulders as my only concerns were the proper placement of the vanes on the shaft of the arrow. I marveled at the symmetrical degrees of angle from each vane as looking at them from the sides and top.

It was as if I had painted a picture, except it was something I would be using rather than displaying. After finishing up the last of the arrows, I suddenly felt a sense of emptiness. I had put them all together, and now I just had to allow the drying time. I had no need for any more arrows.

But I had a revelation. Through Facebook or Instagram or Twitter I have seen several fishing world contacts, specifically those that focus on fly fishing, tying their own flies. I have always had the image in my mind of the wife and I growing old, settling down on some lake or river front land away from everything, and spending the rest of my days either fishing, hunting, or dabbling in tying my own flies.

I know, it sounds a little weird, but if you were to spend a day with me you would see that I am what it sounds like. Weird, quirky, crazy, are all good adjectives to describe how I am about some things.

The bench, with a small magnifying glass looking down upon an arm with an alligator clip holding deer hair, squirrel hair, or maybe even something more exotic such as pheasant feathers with a couple of strings wrapped here and there with a precision set of tweezers hanging from the ends offers than Hemingway-ish detail to my image of my latter days.

After tying one I am particularly proud of, I promptly tie one last knot; this one to the fly line tippet.

I step outside and walk down the water front. I begin working the rod and line eventually unloading the rod so the fly makes a presentation to the fish below. The end scene is not one of my bringing in anything. The result is just the satisfaction of being there.

If there is anything I envy, it is that losing of oneself into the act of just doing. No thoughts, no stress, just doing. I can only hope and pray my days end in that fashion.