Thursday, June 30, 2011

Man's Best Friend

So I am watching ‘Marley and Me’ on the television the other night, and my daughter comes into the room and asks,”Are you crying?”  Real men don’t cry.  Of course I wasn’t!  Ok, maybe a little.
If you have never seen the movie, it is about a writer who picks out a puppy for his new bride as a gift.  It is his way of starting a family without the kids and stuff.  The dog ends up being a nightmare, tearing up the furniture, barking whenever it is inappropriate, and overwhelming whoever takes him for a walk with his size and strength.  The writer does a column, mostly involving the dog in their lives.  The readers love it and the column becomes a huge success.  As the dog gets older and is having health issues, the family consisting of the original couple along with three children, look back at the columns and realize that Marley has been a part of every significant event in their lives.
Personally, I cannot remember a time when I did not have a dog as a companion.  From German Shepherds, to Red Irish Setters, to Labradors and Golden Retrievers, I grew up around them.  Sometimes I did not care much for them, like when I had to clean their pens.  Sometimes I could not live without them, like when a girlfriend and I would split up and I needed someone to talk to.  I remember as a young child going around the pond to fish and nearly stepping on a snake.  My breath escaped me as I tried to scream; just an open mouth full of silence.  In a flash, our…my dog Rebel leaped between the snake and me.  He backed up into me, slowly pushing me backwards.  I do not know if my memory has all the details, or if the details have changed slightly, but that is what I remember.
I have had dogs for hunting and they are invaluable.  One thing, you have to keep them under control.  A few years ago while dove hunting with my dad and son, my dad’s dog came along.  A tall lanky black Lab, Spade was still just a pup, even though he had an adult dog’s body.  Spade was anxious to please, and if he saw a bird go down, by gosh, he was on it!  The only problem was he had my possession limit before I could fire more than a few times.  He was grabbing everyone’s birds and bringing them back to us!  You have to love that young go-get-em attitude.
My wife and I adopted a couple of dogs from rescue facilities.  One, Riley, is part cocker spaniel, part dashund.  I carried Riley duck hunting a couple of seasons ago.  I was not really thinking Riley would retrieve my ducks;   I was basically taking him as a companion.  I wanted to see how he would do around gun shots and make sure he would not freak out sitting in a blind.  I put the boat in the water, loaded all the gear, and then sat Riley in the boat.  I could tell Riley was uncomfortable, so I rubbed his head and had him lay down on the floor.  We were only a couple hundred yards in the water and Riley sprang forward from the front of the vessel.  A huge splash followed.  I threw the motor in reverse as I put together the scenario and realized Riley was in front of the boat.  I heard some banging along the floor of the boat from underneath.  “Riley is underwater bouncing off the bottom!” I thought.  Out from the back of the boat in what seemed like an eternity, a few bubbles surfaced followed by a rust colored fur ball.  I then concurred Riley had never been introduced to swimming as far as I knew.  He did not panic, but he over compensated his doggie paddle, kicking his front legs so high in front of him that he would temporarily submerge to where his ears would be the only thing to appear at the surface before slapping the water once again with the next leg.  I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and threw him over the side of the boat.  He shivered for a bit after shaking.  I could tell he was not going to be a fan of duck hunting.
The key to the story is Riley, Spade, and all the others I have had throughout the years would do anything for me or my family.  They never would ask why, they would just do.  They might be a little hard headed at times, they may do something wrong, but it was not because they meant harm.  They just enjoyed being with us.  They enjoyed trying to serve us.  All they wanted in return was to be with them.  And if you watch a movie like ‘Marley and Me’ and don’t think back to one of your best friends that may have made a run for ‘worst dog ever’ and a tear doesn’t find its way to your cheek, then you may not be a real man. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

River Monster

North Carolina's River Monster

One of my favorite shows on television is River Monsters with Jeremy Wade.  Each show features a story of a fresh water fish attack on humans.  Wade then heads to the area to see what type of fish would be responsible for the attacks.  Wade is considered the world’s top angler and is a renowned biologist and blends an informative narration to the action.  One thing that really makes the show more interesting is the types of fish he brings in.  Fresh water rivers and lakes are the settings, and everything from the ferocious piranha to fresh water stingrays to catfish weighing in excess of 300 pounds are caught and studied.
That had me thinking about North Carolina’s water system.  I have heard rumors of giant catfish in our lakes, and snakeheads have infiltrated some of our rivers.  To me though, nothing looks more prehistoric or sinister as the longnose gar.  Most adults will range in the 3 to 7 pound range with the North Carolina records hitting the mid twenty pound range.  During spawning season, you can pick the males from the females easily.  The females are very large, and many males will surround the female.
The gar is considered a nuisance fish.  Due to its elongated mouth lined with penetrating rows of teeth, they are hard to catch by line, but put up a huge fight when hooked.  Many times you will see a fisherman cut the line without touching the gar to avoid the teeth.  Because of this, bow fishing is one of the preferred methods for harvesting gar.  Even when bow fishing though, you need special equipment.   The gar is lined with diamond shaped scales with a thick skin; therefore nearly armor piercing fish points are a must.
I took up bow fishing several years ago as a way to keep the bow in my hand during the non hunting seasons.  Since that time, the gar has been a favorite for its toughness, challenge, and, well, appearance.  Like I said, it looks menacing.  One of the larger gar I have taken swam up to me while I was standing in the creek.  I took the shot no further than five feet away, and even after getting the hit, the gar turned slightly and swam between my legs.  The arrow shaft was still sticking out of the water while embedded in the back of the creature.   I quickly reached down with one hand and pulled the fish from the water and carried it to shore.  Able to breathe air, the gar was still alive for several hours before filleting it.
As far as the meat goes, it tastes much like scallop, depending on the recipe.  The eggs are toxic though, so be careful during spawning season.  In fact, just be careful around gar, period.  Instinct is to grab the fish near the mouth, but unless you have a glove on, you will learn quickly not to.  So if you see one of these fish at the lake or river next time you are hitting the water, stop and appreciate it for a change.  It truly is a magnificent river monster.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Black Bear Encounters

Last year my family and in-laws were excited about looking for black bear.  I carried them to one area in the mountains and we all started looking for bear signs.  My oldest son spotted some tracks about thirty minutes into the search.  Just moments later, my daughter found some droppings and asked me if they were from a bear.  Once I replied with the answer and also remarked they were somewhat fresh, my wife nearly pushed my daughter down as she sprinted out of the woods toward the vehicle.  You have to love that parental survival instinct!
Bear sow and cubs caught on trail cam in Pitt county, NC.
Of course that was not the first time I had seen that type of reaction.  I was on a bear hunting trip in the coastal plains of North Carolina several years ago where a 700 pound bear had been taken just prior to the hunt.  Each evening we would radio the guide to come pick us up at set locations.  Two of us were bowhunting, and had several hundred yards of hiking thru the woods from our stand location to the point where the truck would pick us up.  The gun hunters on the other hand, were set up in box stands just a few dozen feet from the path.  One evening when picking up the different hunters, one fellow ran at top speed to the truck, throwing his rifle into the back with a thud.   Sweat was pouring from his brow when he got in, and he was in a heavy pant.  “I saw a bear over there.”  My immediate response to everyone’s laughter was “If you think all you have to do to get a bear to come out in the open is go out there yourself, then walk out in the middle of the field in the morning.  You have a gun for goodness sake and you are hunting for bear after all!”
The fact is black bear and human conflicts rarely happen.  Black bear tend to shy away from humans, but can become aggressive if they are provoked or feel their cubs are in danger.  Recently there have been a number of sightings of black bears in areas you would not expect, prompting a press release from the North Carolina Wildlife Commission on coexisting with bears.  Bears are currently looking for mates as well as food sources and may roam as far as 50 to 100 miles in their quest.  With an estimated population of 11000 to 14000 black bears in North Carolina, it becomes inevitable bear may be spotted, especially in the Eastern and Western parts of the state.

Bear beside Hwy 264 in Wilson county.

North Carolina also holds the record for the largest black bear, one taken back in 1998 weighing 880 pounds.  The bear in North Carolina can weigh as much as 650 to 700 pounds, with a common adult male weighing over 400 pounds.   They can be very intimidating at this size.  But do not panic.  If you encounter a bear, consider yourself fortunate.  Stay calm, and do not run.  If it is closer than you are comfortable with, make loud noises and back away slowly.  Do not surround or corner the bear and do not offer food.
Be observant of bear signs as well.  A quick search on the internet will show what bear tracks look like.  A notice at one park in Canada where black bears and grizzlies coexist made an interesting point as grizzlies (which are not in North Carolina) are more aggressive.    Pepper spray and bells are encouraged when in the area to ward off bears.  It also tells of the difference between the two bears and what to watch out for.  For instance, black bears eat mostly berries and small animals, whereas grizzlies will eat anything.  If you happen to find bear droppings, you can determine which type of bear is in the area.  If the droppings contain berries and squirrel fur, it is likely a black bear.  However grizzly droppings have a strong scent of pepper and contain bells.  Just be glad we do not have grizzlies around here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sufix 832 Line Review

A few years ago my son and I entered a small fishing tournament.  The competition would include prizes for the largest bass, largest panfish, largest fish overall, and smallest fish.  We were not really attempting to win anything, I just figured it would be a nice way for Turner and me to hit the water together and have some fun.  Since there was a variety in the competition categories, I instructed Turner we would try a good all around lure; something that would generate success for every kind of fish.
Recently I was chosen to do a review on Sufix 832 braided fishing line by Rapala and the Outdoor Bloggers Network.  Again, I figured the best thing to do when testing the line would be to use a good all around lure where I could catch fish of all types and sizes.  If I had to have one lure, it would be a beetle spin.  There are several combinations; however the most successful for me are black stripes on yellow or yellow stripes on black.  The fish cannot help themselves.
Bent jig hook and broken clippers-line stayed intact.
It proved to be a wise decision both during the tournament and during the testing.  First, for the testing of the line, I had never used braided line before.  The Sufix line runs a much smaller diameter than regular monofilament, with 20 pound line running the same size as 6 pound test for regular line.  Rather than using a very small diameter 6 pound Sufix, I went with the 20 pound Sufix to compare.  The line excelled everywhere except in the tying of the line.  Using a small finger nail clipper to trim the line after tying the knot, I noticed the strength of the Sufix immediately.  The clippers broke.
While fishing with the line, even though I was using a 20 pound test line on an ultralight rod and reel, it casted perfectly.  And, as I had hoped, I had plenty of action.  Both with panfish and largemouth bass, I felt every hit.  One reason I chose to test it in this way, is the bottom of the pond I was fishing was loaded with fallen trees and limbs.  The big difference between the Sufix and the monofilament line: no lost lures.  Each and every snag I was able to pull the lure free.  Once, hooking a fallen tree very soundly, I knew the line would break.  I had to wrap the line around a small branch on shore in order to keep from cutting into my hand when pulling on the line.  Instead of the line breaking, the hook on the ¼ ounce beetle spin opened up, allowing it to free itself.  Later, when trying to bend the hook back to the correct shape, I realized just how much pressure the line absorbed in order to bend the hook open.  The line outperformed my most extreme imagination.  Never would I have thought I could use a 20 pound test line on ultralight tackle.
Want to read more reviews?  Bill Howard's Outdoors Reviews and GiveEmTheShaft Reviews

I will convert the rest of my fishing equipment over to the Sufix line.  The extra strength along with the great feel and length of cast is important.  After all, it is a lot easier to take pictures of the fish that did not get away than it is the fish that did.
Visit for more information on this great line!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Family Campouts

The first time I ever stayed in a tent, to my recollection, was at my Aunt Sue’s.  I was staying the night with her one weekend and she put up a small one in the back yard.  I always looked forward to seeing Aunt Sue for two reasons; she had two small trees that were great for climbing in her front yard, and there was a train track just a few yards from her back yard.  The tent she put up, that was just icing on the cake!
Once I was old enough for school, the summers were filled with my friends coming over and sleeping in our small orange tent.  We never slept until the morning, and usually we would be a little wet where the dew would start dripping through the tent fabric.
My wife also recalled her childhood camping trips.  Her response for going camping as adults was, “I am old enough now to know I can get a room”.  Evidently she had a change of heart after a recent trip to Asheville.  “It is so beautiful, let’s carry the kids camping.”
So we bought a tent large enough for us not to kill each other, and packed up the family for a weekend camping trip.  Oh, and we carried our two smallest dogs as well.  This could be a disaster, or it could be something special.  We planned the trip where we would fish for a bit, but mostly just relax at the campgrounds in Pisgah National Forest.  The only other extra activity would be to hike Mount Mitchell for a few hours.
If you have not been camping in a tent in a while, there are a few things to remember.  One, the ground is very hard.  Two, it gets really cold at night, especially in the mountains.  Three, there are no showers.  Well, on the first note, we had an inflatable air mattress.  It did not hold air.  The second note, sleeping bags work great.  Except when you have them opened with one for the base and one for the cover and the kid you are laying beside keeps pulling it off of you.  On the last note, a cold mountain stream does a really nice job when used to wash your hair.  Of course, that is if you have hair.  I am basing that observance off my wife and daughter.
Cooper, Bill, Julianne, and Turner heating up deer sausage by the campfire.
I will also add a couple of more notable observances.  When camping in the deep dark woods, wildlife should be abundant if you look for it.  That we did, and we saw bobcats, turkey (where were they during the season?), and a coyote.  For my wife, daughter and youngest son, it was the first coyote and bobcat they had ever seen.  The last note, campfires are a must.  As Susan mentioned one morning, there is nothing like sausage, bacon, eggs, and pancakes cooked over an open campfire.  S’mores becomes a food group when sitting on a log.  And somehow, some way that only God knows, the warmth of a campfire penetrates the family and warms the heart, taking away all bickering, aggravating, and other sibling hostilities, if but for a few moments.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

First Fish

National Boating and Fishing Week starts this weekend and events are going on around the state and the country.  In preparation for the event, I planned to take my youngest child Cooper on his first fishing trip.  As Murphy’s Law would have it, I will be slaving away so I can put food on the table and pay the bills, so I had to plan our trip a little early.
Everyone with a child knows you have to build up the interest if the kid does not know exactly what will be going on.  My wife and I talked it up, and soon enough, Cooper was asking when we were going fishing.  I wanted it to be special, not just for that day, but for a lifetime.  I figured we would go to the old homestead and hit one of the areas I grew up on.  Cooper was an infant when my grandfather passed, so he knew nothing of the land I was raised.
In my earliest memories, I would spend days on end at the Wilson County Wildlife Club and Silver Lake Restaurant.  Mr. Barnes was in charge of the club then, and he kept an ever watchful eye on me.  They had an old john boat shelter, and if I was not fishing, I was in the boats looking for hooks, corks, and artificial lures.  In the old days (can I say that now?), parents did not have to worry where their kids were like now, and I had free reign to walk down to Silver Lake.  Usually around lunch time, I would go in the restaurant; they were not open for lunch, and see Mr. Dixon and Buck.  Nearly every day, Mr. Dixon would ask me what day it was, and without hesitation on my part, I would reply “It’s my birthday.”  Of course, my birthday was not anywhere close to the summer time, but Mr. Dixon would tell me to go grab a Sun Drop from the back and pick out a candy bar.  Marathon bars were my favorite back then.  I have no idea how Buck and his father, or Mr. Barnes put up with a 5 year old full of wonder who thought he had full rights to everything, but they did.
Back to the story at hand; I carried Cooper down to Silver Lake.  I showed him a few things, but the only thing on his mind was when we were going fishing.  I told him we would have to get permission first, and there were a couple of vehicles near the office at the restaurant.  We went to the door and knocked, and a lady motioned us in.  I explained my purpose and asked permission, and a familiar old voice hollered from around the corner, “No, you can’t fish out there!”
It was Buck Dixon, and we chuckled for awhile, exchanging a few stories.  Buck showed Cooper his tackle box he had bought not long ago-a Barbie box.  Cooper laughed.  This was as close to perfect to tying my younger days to Cooper’s first trip as could be.
Once we hooked a cricket on the line and tossed it in the water, it was not long and Cooper had his first fish.  Cooper has never been one to take a picture, but he posed with as much pride as I have ever seen.  We continued fishing for a little over an hour, Cooper occasionally allowing me to reel one in also.  I showed Cooper the different parts of the fish, and Cooper could not figure out why fish had teeth on the sides of their heads.  It took me a minute, but I figured out he thought the gills were teeth.  It was one of those days you wish you could relive over and over again, one where a child is learning, having fun, and in amazement.  And one in which you can go back to your younger days and remember when you were the same way.