Monday, May 30, 2016

Angler Tournament Cheating

Remember when the baseball world went into a frenzy with the realization that numbers of the sport’s stars were cheating by enhancing their abilities with hormones, steroids and drugs? It brought along distaste for the sport and mistrust. The sport didn’t seem real any longer.
Cheating often finds its way into anything involving money, power, or recognition. However, it is rarely the majority. It only takes one or two to bring the air of unfairness and tarnish the sport.
Bass fishing and bass fishing tournaments have been around for a while now. The BASS series involved big money, top sponsors and tremendous personalities. Tournaments such as these brought us household names such as Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, and Hank Parker.
Late last year, a fishing tournament in Texas offered a fully rigged boat, a truck and $7000 to the winner as well as hourly prizes. The lake where the tournament was being held had a slot limit on bass meaning any bass caught between two sizes had to be immediately returned to the water. Because of this, prizes were also being given to anglers who caught the largest fish below the slot limit.
When one angler turned in his under the slot fish, it was proven to be a winner. Except upon inspection by the TPWD game wardens easily noted there was something amiss with the catch. The angler had trimmed the tail of the bass to make it fall below the slot rather than having to be returned the water.
Because the grand prize was more than $10000, the angler was charged with a felony.
Kayak fishing has taken a large subculture into kayak fishing tournaments. The growth has been phenomenal over the past few years and includes collegiate teams, state and regional tournaments, and even national and world wide tournaments.
Kayak fishing has one caveat though. The tournaments are usually run on a catch/photo/release (CPR) platform and winners are determined by total lengths of the fish rather than weight. Kayak angling has become a big money industry with major companies going all in with involvement such as Hobie, Old Town and Jackson Kayaks amongst many others.
Rules are set in place to try and prevent cheating. Identifiers are usually handed out just before the tournament so an angler cannot turn a photo from a previous day. There are areas bordered to prevent people from catching a fish a prior day and safe-guarding it in a fish trap for the day of the tournament. Gear is checked to make sure the angler is not skirting the rules with chumming, using live bait, or other means in which to entice fish to hook on.
Recently another means of cheating was introduced to the sport and it has shaken what has been known as a pure activity.
For CPR tournaments, the measuring device is a plastic board marked in inches with a bump board at one end. The fish’s closed mouth is pressed against the bump board and depending on the tournament the fish’s tail is either compressed or flared to get the overall length measurement at the other end. Deductions occur for open mouth or the tail angling on the board.
The winner of a high profile regional tournament that would also gain automatic entry into the national championship series had a really good few days of fishing. He caught the numbers of fish and they were of good lengths.
That is until questions started to arise.
Other participants as well as the tournament directors looked back at the photos with greater scrutiny. The measuring boards begin measurements at the eight inch mark. The boards in the photos just didn’t seem to measure correctly though.
The angler had cut four inches off one of his boards and reattached the bump board, resulting in a board that would measure a fish four inches longer than it actually was. When questioned, the angler admitted to his deceit. They also found out the angler had additional boards, one of which was cut two inches short. This board was also used so that he could place the fish on one board, take the photo and then do the same with the other board essentially turning the fish in as two separate catches with two separate measurements.
The ramifications go beyond the angler being disqualified for life from fishing the tournament series and potential charges being brought forward. Because kayak angling tournaments can still be considered in the early stages of the sport’s fondness, many who enjoy the sport are now hesitant to fish in tournaments due to potential cheating.
It will remain to be seen how the tournament directors and their involvement with other tournaments in making quick and correct decisions will help ease the concerns of new kayak anglers and their potential involvement in tournaments.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Best Advice

As a columnist and writer, occasionally various queries come in that asks for participation in product reviews, surveys, and even for interviews for others’ articles. It can be a perk in many regards. A few days ago I received one asking for two bits of advice that can be shared with those new to the sports of hunting and fishing. Once I started thinking about it, it was hard to list just two.
The first question was as straightforward as can be; what is the one bit of advice you would share with a novice hunter? The second question was what did I feel was the number one mistake new hunters make.
I want to elaborate on question number two for this column. I realize that the majority of those reading this column enjoy the outdoors in one way or another. I try to keep the stories where anyone would enjoy it though. And it seems to work, as I get emails and comments from people you would not typically think of as hunters or anglers who are reminded of when their father hunted, or their son just went on his first hunt, or their daughter just caught her first fish.
Seeing that, I think an answer to the second question would be worth printing. Even as seasoned outdoorsmen and women, we can share this knowledge to those just beginning to experience what nature and our natural resources offer.
As a new hunter for instance, we become nearly obsessed with fitting in. While trying to learn how to hunt we constantly hear stories of huge trophies and see beautiful hero shots. Just like a kid in school, we feel we have to do the same thing to fit in.
Sometimes that obsession and the struggle to come along with it, entices us to do things we normally would not. A new hunter needs to understand than trophies are not something that we get every time we go hunt or fish. As an experienced outdoorsman we need to emphasize this over and over. Otherwise that obsession will get the best of them.
To fit in, to break the peer pressure wall so-to-speak, a new hunter will start skirting right and wrong. Shooting after or before dark, hunting out of season, hunting on someone else’s property all become options when that happens. That is the wrong path to lead.
Several months ago I wrote about the hunter who took a potential state record bow kill whitetail deer. He later admitted to using antlers from a deer harvested in Pennsylvania on a small buck (by attaching them with screws) he shot illegally with a firearm during bow season.
His pursuit of fitting in, of having bragging rights for a big kill, caused him to cross the line. North Carolina pressed charges and he just pleaded guilty in the case. He was fined and his hunting license has been revoked for two years.
Worse than that, his reputation has been forever tarnished. All so he could fit in, tell his buddies about a huge trophy and show it off on the wall.
So again, the best advice for new hunters as well as those that mentor new hunters is to enjoy what you have. That once in a lifetime trophy is called that for a reason. They come with time spent pursuing the passion and learning the game and nature.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Data Mining

We are in a time in which information is abundant. Our government monitors information to determine threats to our country. Internet search engines monitor keywords typed as well as websites browsed to better market their advertisers towards the user. There are facilities, schools, companies, and non-profits whose sole objective it to mine for this data for various uses.
Much like the spelunker seeking adventure and information inside caves, data mining can provide information to turn an ordinary trip into a memorable experience.
I am a writer and a photographer. My career allows me to travel extensively. I am fortunate in that regard. With an assignment that takes me to northern Mississippi to shoot several properties as well as cover an Ole Miss baseball game, I decided to add a little more to the trip.
I wanted to find out what was around that location. I wanted to know if there is anything that me being from the Carolinas would not know about, but should. I went mining for data.
Instead of searching for information on where to hunt mountain lion from horseback and gaining a location to work from there, I wanted to find out was there any outdoors activity special to a certain location, specifically around Oxford, Mississippi.
Specific searches are tough to narrow down in this regard. If I were to search for turkey hunting near Oxford for instance, it likely would not identify as to whether there is anything special about hunting turkey there, rather it would likely give me a few public lands, maybe a few guides, and some information from the department of natural resources.
Broad searches are the key to finding that special something that you would miss otherwise. For instance, I searched both hunting Mississippi and fishing Mississippi. The fishing keyword led me to a few more informative leads.
Of course results showed plenty of salt water action, which then caused me to narrow it down a little further. Once I keyed in on freshwater, then plenty of bass fishing links popped up. Information on catfish was prevalent. Alligator gar stories and videos was also available.
I narrowed the searches a little tighter.
And that is where I found it. Story after story, link after link, post after post all offered the same information. I had found an outdoors activity to include with my work while 700 miles from home.
Northern Mississippi and Alabama are not only great places to fish for largemouth bass, but the crappie fishing is top shelf. The area is even known as the ‘Crappie Capital of the World.’ Following up on what I was reading, I checked the International Game Fish Association website for records. Line class after line class record all pointed to the area as being a prime spot for trophy sized crappie.
And I know how to fish for crappie.
The point being, without seeking for the information in a specific manner, I may have never known about the world class crappie fishing in that area.
In North Carolina, we take for granted the knowledge of the striper spawning in the Roanoke River. But for someone from say, Mississippi, they may never have heard of the ‘Rockfish Capital of the World.’
We know with each cast on our coast there is a chance of a red drum weighing over 50 pounds hooking on. But a visitor from New England probably would not.
However, with a little data mining, we can possibly enhance our adventures exponentially.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Contentnea Creek Part 2

 The night started as well as could be expected considering I was sleeping on the ground in a tent. The paddle down the Contentnea Creek was pleasant other than the many times having to portage around fallen timber, and I wasn’t hauling what would be considered a light weight kayak. An old guy like myself can feel it in the lower back when doing things such as this.
After some time asleep, I started hearing faint barking. Well, it was less barking and more ‘chirping’ I guess, like short little yaps. I could tell the yapping was getting closer as it got louder. It was coming mainly from upstream.
I sat up in the tent when I realized it was more than one dog. In fact, it sounded like at least five or more. They were practically on top of me.
I turned on my electric lantern as I looked through the tent door towards the direction of the dogs. Just at the edge of the light I could tell there were not normal dogs. It was a pack of coyotes. I could not make out the number due to them constantly darting at the edge of the light. I spoke loudly while moving the flashlight and the yapping stopped immediately.
I could hear brush moving and a few splashes and knew the coyotes were gone.
The next morning I packed up the tent and bag and made sure the area was clear of any signs that I had even been there. I try to go by the ‘Leave No Trace’ pledge the best I can. I checked the two rods I had in baited with bloody shad overnight and nothing had taken the lure.
Soon I was on the water again. Of course, it was only to get to the other side of the creek so I could portage around the tree spanning the flowing water for yet another portage. Another 40 to 50 feet and I would have the second portage as well.
The things cleared up. The creek became very winding with many sandbars at the turns with deeper water on the outside portion. One particular corkscrew portion revealed the first snake I had encountered. A copperhead around three feet long but freshly fed by the lump in its tubular body entered the creek from the shoreline on the other side. I watched as it swam down the right side of the shore and exit several dozen feet behind me.
A little further downstream I came across another fallen tree but the creek was much wider. In the branches were a couple of dead shad and a small dead catfish. This lead into a long straight stretch of deep slow moving water.
I began casting from bank to bank with a white with red dot beetle spin. It did not take long for the first hit to come. I immediately casted back to the same location. It almost felt like the spinning lure may have bumped the bottom as the hit wasn’t hard. I never set the hook as it did not feel like a bite. But as I continued to reel I could tell there was a constant tug and the line was moving in various directions.
The first fish of the day was landed. A small absolutely beautifully colored largemouth bass had taken the bait.
The creek was set up for a gorgeous ending to the paddle trip. Several fish were boarded including a couple of small catfish. The stretch I had never been on opened its doors to me. Later that afternoon my wife picked me up at the ramp in Stantonsburg. Now I long to return once again to see what other secrets Contentnea may possess.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Contentnea Creek Part 1

Have you ever been somewhere that is practically in your own backyard and not fully explored or experienced what it had to offer after years of being there? It is often said that New Yorkers rarely visit places such as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty because they tend to take for granted that those landmarks are there, always have been, and eventually they will go visit.
There is a creek that I frequent often near where I grew up. It has at times been very difficult to fully explore and float due to the short expanse across the water and the obstacles such as fallen trees that block the passage.
A couple of decades ago there was an effort to clean up the Contentnea. Trash was pulled and trees were cleared. The Contentnea, which comes from an old native American word for ‘fish passing by’, was passable again.
A series of hurricanes including both Fran and Floyd in the late 90’s and once again the creek was in a position to hide the treasures it possessed.
While floating a few stretches of the creek in the past, I had never floated the most difficult yet closest part. Beginning at the Wiggins Mill dam at Highway 301 and advancing towards Stantonsburg and Snow Hill, the creek was alien to me other than a few spots where I could reach the bank or see from various overpasses.
I was assigned a feature story on catfishing the Contentnea and this seemed the perfect expanse to attempt to get the photos and information to go along with the story. Needless to say, I had a bit of excitement brewing in the possibility of exploring and experiencing a body of water I knew my whole life yet hadn’t seen.
The timing couldn’t have been better either. Even though the story I was assigned was targeting catfish, the water temperatures had risen enough to start the spawns of several species. The shad worked their way up the creek about a week prior although they were not at their peak quite yet. Another species, one of my favorites, was starting their trek as well.
The redhorse sucker, specifically the silver redhorse sucker, were plentiful. So much so that in certain rifts and rapids you could spot dozens all over top of each other. I fully believe pound for pound and ounce for ounce, the redhorse is one of the best fighting fish on the end of a line as any freshwater species there is.
After sliding the kayak down the steep bank not far from the dam, I began my journey. It only took ten minutes of fishing to hook into a sucker fish. The fight was strong but short, as the hook was set just a few feet from the kayak that morning. The result was a catch and release of a five pound beauty and the guarantee of not getting skunked.
Over the next ten miles of floating and paddling the creek, I took all I could in. The scenery, the wildlife, all of it was an adventure. It took longer to paddle this section than what I had aniticipated, as fallen trees blocked the passages consistently even in the deeper waters. Portaging the kayak and re-entering became the norm rather than finding other ways around. Once I had to drag the kayak for more than 50 yards in order to get from one section of water to the next due to obstacles.
After fishing, floating, paddling, and portaging I ran up on two more trees blocking the flow about 20 yards from each other. The day was getting late and I realized I could either portage around them and build camp in the dark, or go ahead and set up camp and fix a good meal and tackle the obstacles in the morning.
I decided to get a good night’s rest.