Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Visit with an Old Friend - Part 1

I grew up in Eastern North Carolina. In my very young days, we did not have day cares or early public schools. In fact, the way kids grew up then could be considered child endangerment now if the wrong people tried to push the issue.
My summers consisted of making rounds. My parents worked just a few hundred yards away from the house at my granddad’s manufacturing plant. During the morning I would walk down to the plant and visit with them at work as well as the other employees.
At some point just before lunchtime, I would make my way over to the Silver Lake Oyster Bar seafood restaurant which was directly beside Howard Enterprises. There I would talk with Buck and Mr. Dixon as I called them. While I was taught my manners and behaved very well, it just did not seem right to call both of them Mr. Dixon, so Buck gave me an out by having me call him Buck, and call his father Mr. Dixon.
After hanging out there I would go home for lunch with my parents and then head over to the Wilson County Wildlife Club. The activities grew exponentially there, whether it would be making hopscotch games in the sand, rummaging through the john boats looking for hooks, lures, corks, and split shot weights, or getting the line wet and trying for bream and crappie.
We did not have much of a neighborhood, and before I started school these were about the only people I knew besides cousins. You could say Silver Lake was my best friend.
While the lake has become more beautiful during the last four decades, time has not been kind overall. The Wildlife Club moved from one side of the lake to the other and eventually disappeared. The lake was drained and fish were moved in order to repair the dam that began showing the effects of age and hurricanes Fran and Floyd’s battering and flooding. All public access to the lake vanquished as well, with only lake front land owners keeping any access to the waters.
My grandfather had lake front land in which we even had a pier, but after his death the land was sold.
As best as I can remember, the last time I fished the lake was around 30 years ago. I could not get the thoughts of how grand one last time on the lake would be.
Today’s world is much different than those years. With avenues such as Facebook, our connections are greater and easier to obtain. All it took was a single post on my Facebook timeline asking if anyone knew who I may contact to make that one last trip.
The summer sun was pounding with fury, but I was determined to make this visit. Instead of a john boat I would be taking my kayak for the paddle. I wanted to start fishing and touring near the dam area. As I approached that small corner of the lake memories washed over me. On the shore line to my right my friends and I would take wiffle ball bats and pretend to be playing in the All-Star game while swatting rocks out into the water. Bobby, Mark, Scott, Pat and myself, sometimes just two of us, sometimes more, hitting rock after rock into the water. We wore those plastic baseball hats; mine proudly emblazed with the NY of the Yankees.
Near the corner of the restaurant and the dam there stood a water fountain. We would hook a minnow that we caught with a net near the Wildlife Club’s boat ramp and bring in crappies, or fish with crickets or worms and reel in shellcraker.
At the base of the dam, where the foundation of the restaurant met the churning waters below was the prime spot for catching huge robin. It was all in the cast. With experience, we learned to bounce the cork off the side of the restaurant and have it land where the rushing water only made the bait seem more alive enticing fish after fish to strike with a vengeance.
While these memories took me back to a long forgotten time, the day had just begun.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Game Camera Time

If you look ahead on the calendar, you may notice something. Well, if you are a deer hunter you will. The season is quickly approaching.
Antlers are starting to fill out and fawns are tagging along with mom. Besides clearing lanes, checking the progress of food plots, and making sure your equipment had made it this far through the summer, it is time to get the cameras in the fields and game trails.
There are some rules that can help when setting cameras. Along with a little creativity and general photographic knowledge, you may increase your odds of spotting Mr. Big as he develops and follow one of those sage like sayings; “Hunt where the deer are.”
One of the first things you will learn in a photography class is how to position for lighting. Game cameras are no exception, especially with the infrared sensors. A camera facing east or west can develop a condition where the shot is all white during sunrise or sunset, depending on the direction. The bright sun along with the photo sensor picking up a low light condition otherwise causes this.
The thing that always bothered me when this happened is this; the camera was triggered for a reason and it wasn’t a rising or setting sun. There was something there and I just missed it. Not only that, but these are the prime times when the deer are out and I am allowed to shoot. If I am after Mr. Big in full velvet during the first week or two of the season, and my white screens are a result of a doe and a couple of fawns, I just missed my chance of hunting the location where Mr. Big travels. Or worse, I didn’t hunt the spot because I never saw Mr. Big on the photo.
If the tree line faces east or west, try angling the camera down the tree line rather than straight out. When a deer is close enough to trigger the shutter, you may notice deer further down the line and can locate your stand accordingly. This type of shot covers a much broader area than straight out into the field.
If you are catching deer only on the nighttime shots, pay attention to the direction they are facing as they come in and leave. This early into the summer gives you time to move the camera the opposite direction so you can locate where they are entering the fields, again increasing your odds by allowing to you place your stand accordingly.
Another tip is to never place the camera settings on one photo then have a long wait. Today’s digital trail cameras can store tons of photos and with infrared prices coming down to meet the old flash style cameras, battery usage is not a major issue either.
If the settings do not take photos at least every minute during activity, you may miss Mr. Big. After going through thousands of photos a few years ago, I changed the settings on the shutter delays. What I came to find out was about 30 seconds after two small bucks would come into view, a nice three year old with a beautifully symmetrical rack would walk from left to right about five to ten rows deep in the corn field. At most, I would catch him in two frames. However, if I had the delay set for any significant length of time I would have never known he was in that field.
Many of today’s cameras also have an automatic time lapse setting, and feel free to experiment with it. A random photo every minute or two from an hour before sunset until an hour after sunrise will surprise you. Deer that are too far to set the motion detector on the camera, may not be too far for the camera to pick up, even on the infrared shots. I had one particular shot that picked up a small buck clearly but in the distance I could make out several sets of eyes. After taking the frame and playing with the contrast and brightness I was able to make out a pair of eight pointers that I would not have otherwise seen.
So get those cameras out and play with them in the fields. Come September, you may reap the rewards.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bad Day Fishing

There are all kinds of sayings related to the outdoors. Some refer to ancient stories dating back to the time of Christ such as “if you are not catching any fish, maybe you should try from the other side of the boat.”
My grandfather used the saying “you ain’t gonna catch any fish unless the hook is in the water.” We also had an alternative form for hunting with hunting doves and lead in the air.
However, one of the most widely used, and it can be used for just about any activity, is “a bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work.”
I have to say though; I have had some bad days fishing. These days did not usually involve just a lack of bites however.
One of my earlier bad days of fishing happened well before I ever thought of work or having a job. My friend Bobby and I used to fish a lot during the summers. We would fish the lakes. We would fish farm ponds. We found bodies of water that no one ever thought existed covering not much more area than an average sized house located deep inside the woods and would somehow catch fish.
This one particular day we were fishing a couple of nearby ponds. We rode to the area on our bikes, as all pre-teens did back in the day. It was kind of slow fishing that day, but we were still hopeful. Bobby tied on a new lure. I decided to try a different lure too. While I was still behind him, he turned toward the pond, whipped the rod tip backwards and casted mightily as if he were trying to throw it across the water.
The drag screamed with excitement; mainly because a 50 pound bow was attached to one of the hooks on the new lure when Bobby slung forward. The hook embedded in my left arm. The result was a tetanus shot and a scar that can still be seen to this day. I did learn something that day though. There is nothing magical in taking a barbed hook out of one’s arm. You just push it all the way through.
After my wife and I were married, we took a spur of the moment fishing trip on a head boat off the coast. She did not have a lot of experience fishing near or off shore other than pier fishing. I on the other hand, spent many a summer vacations on moderate sized center console boats with my dad. Never once had I been sick or even remotely thought I would feel bad on the rolling waves. Until this trip, that is.
It started with a few people near us heaving fluids and chunks of partially digested gunk. I guess the smell and sight along with the unusually rough water, searing heat, and empty stomach got the better of me. Miserable would have been an emotion I longed for, because I would much rather have been thrown overboard and used for shark bait than remain there, with my new bride, feeling as if the beast from the movie Alien were trying to tear through my intestines and throat.
Just last year I ran into circumstances that made me think twice about how to do things on my own while on these trips. I used a paddleboard designed for fishing on a float down the Neuse River. The river was high with quick flowing currents. The temperature was only expected to hit the lower 60’s during the weekend, and I packed a tent, sleeping bag, and change of clothes into a dry bag that I attached to a cooler that sat on top of the board.
Just minutes after leaving the dock I came across a low hanging tree branch. All was well, or so I thought. I ducked the branch, but forgot about the rods I had sitting in holders on the back of the cooler. They grabbed the branch, causing the standup paddleboard to roll over. So, here I was at the beginning of a 22 mile, two day float, soaking wet on a paddleboard. The cooler rolled over top of me during the spill also. I saved all of my gear, but kept feeling a pain on my right side that worsened throughout the day.
That evening I discovered my sleeping bag had gotten wet, making it a very cold night with the temps dropping near freezing. Not only that, I discovered later I broke a rib from the cooler landing on top of me in the water, and labored to just breathe that night. I envisioned game wardens discovering me later in the week, lying there in my tent having either frozen to death or suffocated from blood filling my lungs.
The next day’s seven miles of paddling did not help matters either.
In defense of the saying though, one thing is clearly different. Even during a bad day of fishing, there is always hope and promise of a better day of fishing to come, as each cast has the potential of a hard strike and a tight line. A good day of work is the exact opposite. Only the last day of work offers any resemblance to the bad day of fishing, and only because you know you get to go fishing the next day.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Welcome Guests

Our world has ever increasing demands. Gone is the 40 hour work week. Now you either are looking for ways to get more hours in order to provide the necessities (and luxuries) of life, or you are wishing for a lessened work load in order to enjoy those same necessities, and well, luxuries of life.
Quotas, increased sells, cut backs in order to maximize profits; they all have a burden on our mental and physical wellbeing.  One friend, who purchased a portable blood pressure monitor due to hypertension, noticed a pronounced increase during work. In fact, just walking in the door at the start of the day would cause a jump of 20 or more points. There is no wonder heart disease and strokes are such competent killers.
People often think of the beach or the mountains as perfect relaxation destinies. Why? Both are as close as many people get to nature. Visions of decades past remind me of beach trips in which my family would take a three day weekend.  As an only child, I often would have a friend or three tag along with us. One day was always spent jumping the waves and trying to build sand fortresses that never could withstand the onslaught of the incoming tide.
 During the evenings we would walk the boat ramps and piers. We would carry along makeshift nets on long broom handles and pride ourselves in the various crabs and small fish we could quickly snatch from the waters. Each fish was different and we had little hope of identifying the two inch long water breathing creatures of the depths.
One day would be devoted to bottom fishing from the boat. Daddy would find some underwater structure or anchor near a bridge piling. After hooking a piece of bait shrimp to the two hooks on the bottom rig, we would submit to dropping the line down beside the boat only to reel it back in just seconds later with a fantastic golden fish grunting on the other end of the hook. It just wasn’t the same unless that croaker would chirp like a bullfrog when it landed on the deck of the boat. We never tired of that noise.
When making another trip to the coast with the family at the request of my daughter and her friends, I could not help but think of those days. I put together a rack for the Chevy Suburban and loaded the kayak once again, searching for the relaxation needed after a hard week of the real world.
I decided not to target anything too difficult. I just wanted to wet the line, sit back in the seat of the Old Town Predator, and enjoy the gentle rocking of the waves and the taste of the salty breeze in my lungs.
Early on, I brought in fish after fish as they could not resist the offerings I was providing. Some were large, some were small, but on the rod they all felt like giant sea monsters after the initial pat-pat-pat of the bites.
Then something caught the corner of my eye. Something big was just a just a few hundred feet away, but I could not tell what. To my right I heard what sounded like the pounding of a beaver tale warning any unwelcome guest to get away. Even with a quick jerk of my head I did not see what it was, just the remaining churn of water.
Straight ahead, maybe 20 feet off the bow of the kayak, I was able to make out what it was. Two, no three, better make that four dolphins rose in succession ahead. To my left, two more blew air and rolled in the water. Yet another to my right rose to the surface.
I paddled slowly with the pod for about three quarters of a mile. They happily swam beside me, in front of me and behind me, encircling the kayak. I forgot about fishing and relished in the opportunity to join their ranks.
Old sailors used to note the dolphins as protectors and friends on the deep blue. For nearly an hour they released all the pressures and demands upon one man’s shoulders.