Friday, June 5, 2020

Hammock tents

Let’s talk about camping for a bit. June is a great month to go camping. The nights still drop cool enough to bear sleep, and the days are not overly unbearable.

We have so many places to camp that we should be known for our camping opportunities. We can camp along the seashore near Cape Lookout, or we can camp in the deep Linville Gorge in the mountains. We can camp along lakes or rivers, or we can camp in the shadow of Pilot Mountain.

Camping can mean several different types of sheltered environments, and I think I will discuss a few of these over the next few weeks. For this week, let’s start out with hiking and camping.

We have two major hiking trails that traverse through our state. The Appalachian Trail is known worldwide to hikers and is the top of the totem pole. Weaving from Georgia to Maine, many hike the trail in sections, and there are dedicated clans that do what is called a thru-hike. A thru-hike consists of starting at one end and ending on the other, and often takes as long as six months to complete.

Our second large trail is the Mountains to Sea trail, that covers the mountains to the sea, just as it is named. There are a couple of different ways to experience the MTS trail, as you can do a full hike across the state or you can hike, bike, and paddle as well.

Because of the difficulty in such hikes, weight and space become issues. You look for the lightest and smallest package for your shelter. One solution is something that people do not usually think of. That solution is the hammock tent.

As the word states, the hammock tent is exactly what it sounds like. It is a hammock that is covered and has a bug net to keep away the critters while allowing airflow. If it rains, you don’t have to worry about wet ground. They are very comfortable for sleep as well.

They can also be used as a hanging seat. The rain covers usually are separate and can be used as shade shelters during the hike. And by use of tree straps, they can be put up or taken down in less than a minute or two. Even in the dark, they are easy to setup. Try that with a tent that has 15 different poles to slide together and you will see why it works.

One of the downsides to the hammock tent is the lack of space inside. Only a few things are taken inside, such as your cell phone and/or journal, and a light in most cases. You will have to have a different spot for your backpack or bag. If it is raining, that can be an issue although there are ways around it.

Also, in case of cold, you typically use a sleeping bag style cover on the outside of the hammock to stay warm. Using it on the inside reduces the insulating properties. If a pad is used inside the hammock, it is also difficult to keep it in place without it sliding around.

Personally, I love hammock camping. My two main reasons are the comfort and the ease of setup and takedown.

If you have never used or heard of a hammock tent, search YouTube and check out some of the videos as well as some of the hacks for better use. The price range is affordable depending on the extras, but generally fall in line with a nice 3-season tent.

Then, get out there, do some hiking and camping and enjoy.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Go fishing.

I know, you are probably at your wit’s end being stuck in home with nothing to do. The kids have doubled down on video games but even they are getting bored with the same thing day in and day out.

Restrictions are gradually being lifted as the flattening of the curve has happened. Some are still nervous about overdoing the get-out-in-public thing. It can be understood.

Well, there is a solution.

Remember the old Andy Griffith show intro with Andy and Opie walking to the fishing hole? You know, that isn’t such a bad idea now is it? This is the absolute perfect time for some old school fishing.

You know the old parable about man and fish? Take a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he soon will have several rods, three tackle boxes, a boat… I know. That isn’t exactly how it goes, but it is reality.

And that is the thing. Go really old school and teach someone to fish. Get the kids to the bank of the lake, pond, or stream. Go through the whole experience though.

One of my fondest memories of my really young life was mom taking me beside Mr. and Mrs. Morgan’s fence line where the soil was really damp and dark and full of nutrients. If there was a such thing as perfect topsoil, especially in red clay country, it was that. It was what earth is supposed to look like.

We had a little garden shovel. Not the big spade, push down with your foot shovel. No, this was the small one for just your hand that wasn’t much larger than the size of your hand. You know, the one used for potted plants and such. We would stab the ground, pop up a plug of rich, dark soil, and start pulling earthworms.

Yes, to catch fish, we had to fish for worms first. That is the natural order of things.
We had a Mason jar, or sometimes a small cup, that we would place the worms in along with a bit of the perfect loose soil. Then we would head over the bank of the pond, hook the worm, and toss it a couple of feet in front of us.

It didn’t take long.

What didn’t take long? The whole process? Oh, I have no idea about that. I was young and the experience was new, so time wasn’t of issue. Catching fish? Absolutely that didn’t take long. Bream loved the earthworms. Some small bass did as well. And fishing with a cane pole that we also made ourselves gave all the enjoyment one needs. Getting hooked on fishing? Nope, that didn’t take long either. My next decade of life included nearly daily moments of fishing.

When the catalpa trees began to bloom, we would rotate from using earthworms to catalpa worms. There was never any shortage, as the sphinx moth would lay her eggs in large clusters on the underside of the leaves. Black and yellow with a small horn on one end, they tickled you when they crept over your legs or arms. And, **squeamish alert**, when you stuck the hook in a fluorescent green/yellow something would ooze out.

Our change in diet for the fish had them attack our hooks even more ferociously. They were like piranha on a drowning goat in some horror movie.

And occasionally, we would go to a home recipe. Taking a partial loaf of bread to the bank, along with some peanut butter, we would have a sunny-side peanut butter sandwich, the kind where it is just a piece of bread with peanut butter on top and not actually a sandwich, and then take a second slice of bread and make dough balls out of it.

Once you hook the dough ball on the line, the bream would practically jump on the shore for the bait.

Those were good times. There was plenty of social distancing. And we were never bored.

Friday, May 15, 2020


Our leases are being removed. At least that seems like a good analogy of the loosening of restrictions that came from the COVID-19 pandemic. With that, I am sure we will all be ready to get out and about.

That makes this a good time to offer a reminder of what time of year we are in. With the coming of turkey season, and no that wasn’t the reminder, comes another season, insect season. Nasty biting evil satanic insects at that.

Now, we have all heard of the murder hornets. At least we should have. That is the next thing that will take every human’s life it seems. But I am not even talking about them. Sure, they would fit nicely into some 1960’s B movie written by an Alfred Hitchcock wannabe.

However, I am actually referring to real and present dangers that for some reason isn’t being bombarded with negative fear press. And I am letting you know about it after putting my own life at risk just moments before typing this column. How is that for having a muse to offer material for writer’s block?

You see, the most devilish and useless thing I can speak of is ticks. Ticks are horrible little creatures. Nature’s vampires suck your blood and leave infecting debris in your blood system, similar to what a vampire does when he infects you with whatever he infects you with to make you undead.

I have found there is little use for ticks. Surely any creature that includes ticks in their diet can find something else to get their protein from. If you can even get protein from them. Heck, they may be useless in that regard as well. I mean, I would easily offer a diet of gnats to opossum’s and whatever other animals like ticks. Gnats are the second most useless creature on the planet. Maybe third. Mosquitoes fit into the standings somewhere also.

But ticks are downright the worst. 

Go ahead, ask me what I hate. You know what my answer will be? It will be ticks. I will even offer that opinion to you without you asking fi someone brings up a list of things to hate.

I took my daughter hunting for turkey maybe 7 or 8 years ago. Now you know my situation with turkeys if you have ever read this column in the spring. Turkeys avoid me. Do you know what my daughter and I did leave the field with though? Yep, you guessed it. Ticks.

In fact, I pulled several dozen of the little buggers off of here that afternoon. Somehow she didn’t go into a complete panic. Secretly, I was well in one though. Little girls generally have a bunch of hair and there was no way of knowing whether a family of the hellspawn had made camp in her thick bushy hair. And if they did, what if they decided to vacate while in my truck on the way home? That meant they would find me later on!

Yes, I have a hate-hate relationship with ticks. They are as useless as a mop string. A mop string you ask? Yes, a mop string. Can you think of anything as useless as a mop string that is no longer on the mop?

Well, I can. That would be ticks.

If you hit the woods or even natural areas such as around creeks and streams, always check yourself afterwards this time of year.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


Several years ago, I headed on a simple fishing trip in which I was floating the Neuse River while fishing for striper bass. They were running although the river was a little high from a recent rain. And as I sometimes do, I decided to make things a little less simple by adding another element in order to make an adventure.

That trip, I decided to float a twenty-two mile stretch of the Neuse while fishing…on a paddleboard.
It wasn’t your typical paddleboard. It was designed like a barge, held a specially and specifically build cooler that had a tackle tray and several rod holders. Heck, it even had a motor mount on the back. There was never any intention of doing yoga on the water with this battlefield olive drab colored monster of a board.

That being said, I figured it would take about three days to make the trip properly. That would be two nights of camping riverside as well as many stops to fish bends, twists and turns that are prevalent along the river’s span in that location.

My very first stop on the float was roughly five miles into the plan. There was a sandy beach along one of the curves that I figured would be perfect for eating a lunch and stretching a bit. Once I found it, I was rather excited to be honest. But the adrenaline didn’t flow nearly as much at catching sight of it ahead on the waterway as it did when I decided to use a log from a long-fallen tree for a seat.

I sat down maybe ten feet or so from the well-worn stumps and roots to make my temporary dinner chair. After I finished off a peanut butter and cheese sandwich that I pre-made for this first stop, I got up and looked around the log. Nestled in a hollow surrounded by grasses was where my adrenaline shot through the roof.

Two snakes, intertwined tightly together, stared at me while flicking their serpentine tongues. Now, I am not the believer of the adage “the only good snake is a dead snake.” However, I am of the principle that as long as I can see the snake, I am good. That is why my heart decided to pump blood a little faster through my veins at that time. I didn’t see the snakes that were less than an arm length’s distance away from me while I grubbed down my sandwich. 

Of course, the next thing I had to do was determine the amount of danger I was potentially in. Now, there are six different venomous species of snakes in North Carolina. One of those snakes is the eastern coral snake. That one I didn’t have to worry about. There are easily identifiable and rarely seen in this particular area, if ever.

Three are species of rattlesnakes. The timber rattlesnake, pygmy rattlesnake and eastern diamondback rattlesnake are all to be feared. But again, neither of these three were likely going to be in this particular spot along the river.

That left two species to worry about. The cottonmouth and the copperhead. Both of these are very prevalent to the area. Both are snakes I do not particularly care for and prefer to keep plenty of distance from. And the odds were that the two snakes I quickly jumped back from once I spotted them in the log could be of one of these two species.

After careful examination from afar, well, I couldn’t determine. So, being the outdoorsman I am, I placed my cell phone on a selfie stick and snapped a pic up close. Yes, outdoorsmen have selfie sticks on paddleboard float trips. Don’t judge me.

What species of snake could have taken my life either by bite or heart attack? It was a pair of banded water snakes. Thank goodness. They live, I live, we all live. And I still worked my way away from them very carefully.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission warns everyone to check their surroundings while in the woods and in their yards at this time of heightened snake encounters. There is no reason to kill the snakes, even if they happen to be a copperhead or cottonmouth as more bites occur when trying to close enough to kill the snake than if you were to just leave it be.