Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Grand Canyon Part 2

As outdoorsmen, hunters, anglers, and yes, even Americans, we owe a lot to Theodore Roosevelt. From the stuffed bear that takes his name and keeps our children feeling safe and secure at night to the founding of the National Parks Service, he may have had the most impact as a President in a non-war situation.
The National Parks Service was established 100 years ago, of which Teddy Roosevelt was one of the founders. The NPS is responsible for a small portion of our lands to remain pristine and as they were well before the development of our more evolved civilization here in the United States.
The Grand Canyon was incorporated as the 15th named National Park in 1919. Teddy Roosevelt once said of one of the seven wonders of the world, “The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled through-out the wide world... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”
My sentiments exactly.
I overheard one person mention during my recent visit there, “I can’t believe they do not have guard rails up to prevent people from falling in.”
That is the key about the canyon. The officials do the best they can to keep from detracting from the beauty there by not doing things such as adding a fence for protection. The goal is to keep it as natural as possible while still allowing humans to visit and appreciate what is there.
Paul Bogard mentions in his book ‘The End of Night’ about the difficulties in searching for natural darkness in the age of artificial light. Details such as this are even incorporated into the layout and maintenance of the canyon.
Things such as the design of the lighting, which incorporates shields above down facing lights to prevent light from glowing along the surface, were established so even the sky remains as natural as possible.
We have lost our sense of what this world offers us in many cases. We do not understand and appreciate what we have right here. A Family Feud episode from a while back asked a question along the lines of “what country is considered the most beautiful?” Both families missed the number one answer. The answer was the United States.
Without maintaining that appreciation, it does not take long for it to be lost. It being the land, the water, the forest, the desert, the mountains. It being the awe, the reverence, even the necessity.
The advents of the computer and the television were marvelous things that allowed us to see and experience places and events that we never would have been able to otherwise. They have also turned us into a population that desires to remain stationary and unmotivated to do things more than pressing a button.
As generations pass, without that healthy passion to be outdoors, to hunt, to fish, to hike, to camp, these treasures God has laid before us will become little more than images and words. And while I sit here, typing on a computer with a television on in the background in order to share words and an image, they are nothing compared to the real thing.
Perhaps I should type it differently. They are NOTHING compared to the real thing. Sometimes that experience is all it takes for us to desire more.
Teddy Roosevelt’s adventures throughout the world and then visiting what America had to offer were enough for him to desire a protection for such beautiful and ancient creations.
Perhaps I shall visit and hike the Linville Gorge, our eastern Grand Canyon, a little sooner than later.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Grand Canyon Part 1

The outdoors is not all hunting and fishing. It spans exploring, bird watching, mountain biking, and hiking amongst other activities. We have so many great places to see and experience nearby and yet we miss the occasions and opportunities.
Sometimes we miss them due to pure ignorance. Not in the sense that we are too dumb to know, but in the vein of just not knowing such great paces exist. We also do not experience them for the lack of desire, not knowing truly how special they are, or just not making time. All of these reasons are a shame for bettering our lives and life experiences.
Occasionally we have to go to that one special place in order to make us want to see more, closer to home. When money is involved in things such as room, board, and travel, we worry whether something will live up to the hype. We ask ourselves, “is it really that thrilling?”
Unfortunately, there are many places that do not live up to the hype. While the Statue of Liberty is great historically, actually visiting it can leave one with a feeling of disappointment. It is presented as larger than life, yet doesn’t give the sense of awe we were expecting.
There are a few places that do not only meet those expectations, but exceed them. Niagara Falls is an example. Pictures and video do not do it justice. Even our own Linville Gorge can take your breath away. Perhaps it is due more for the under appreciation or even lack of knowledge of such a spectacular creation. I never have been there without losing myself in the beauty and wander of the place.
At the time of writing this column, I am on my way to a job in Nevada. I had turned down one of the clients in the past for work due to the distance. This time, the work made the trip worth tackling. It also afforded me a couple of days’ pause which I excitedly knew exactly what I would do with them.
One of my bucket list items, and hopefully everyone’s, is to visit the Grand Canyon. I feverishly started researching what and where to go.
The North Rim of the canyon was still closed for the winter (it opens May 15th each year), so the South Rim would be my only choice. Two campgrounds are located on the main road along the South Rim, of which I planned on staying at the more primitive of the two that offered only a restroom facility and rationed cold running water.
I have been to Arizona before, in the high desert even. It was one of my more thrilling adventures as I hunted mountain lion by horseback. Even with the absence of a vast canyon created by millions of years of river erosion, the landscape is breathtaking.
As I made my approach to seeing the canyon for the first time, I cried. Yes, a grown man cried at the sight.
It is hard to put into words how big the canyon is. Simple words such as the adjective I just used do not paint the picture correctly, and even more descriptive words such as vast have no effect on what I saw. Perhaps surreal can be used.
Looking down, looking across, looking around; I tried to gather it all in. I guess it can be further explained that the canyon is similar to the universe. There is just no way our minds can capture all of what is there, and that makes it incomparable to anything we try to relate it to.
One saying is ‘you can’t see the forest for the trees’, and the Grand Canyon is the exact opposite. It takes a special talent in order to find the trees for the forest because of its enormity and encompassing peripheral.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Chasing Records

In case you missed the last column, I wrote about an attempt to go after potential record fish during the last weekend. While many of the stories I share involve me getting something that most would not even mention catching or hunting, I am searching for something bigger.

I have experience going after potential records. Sometimes they obscure, sometimes not so much. At some point and time I have held as many as five different bowhunting or bowfishing records for North Carolina. I now have a goal to bring in a record on rod and reel and put the same efforts into the endeavor.

I was hoping for good weather so I could try and put a few days back to back into the quest before leaving on an extended work trip. Mother Nature did not cooperate. I was able to fish for one day, and anticipate going back once again.

I identified the species that has a great potential to not just set a record, but an IGFA world record. The weakfish, or grey trout as the species is also called, is plentiful during this time of year. North Carolina is not known for having the largest of the species feed along our shores, but they are big enough to set an existing record.

I became fond of the grey trout a little over a year ago and have sought the bottom dwellers many times since then. They prefer the deeper water unlike their other coastal cousins, the speckled trout.

Fishing from a kayak, the speckled trout gets a lot more interest, as they can be sight fished in the same areas where red drum are found feeding on schools of bait fish. The grey trout hides along the bottom and near structure.

The first test in my search for a big grey would be to isolate where they are schooled. Other fish feed on the same things the grey trout do, and I would have to find something that the greys would be more apt to attack than the other fish in the area.

The weakfish will eat many things, including cut shrimp. Competing with pinfish, hogfish, croaker, spot, puffers, black sea bass and even sharks makes finding them the hardest part.

In my pursuit, I had three rods extended from the Old Town Predator 13 kayak. One rod had a double drop bottom rig with cut shrimp. With it I was looking for the pan fish along the bottom. The second rod was what you would commonly fish for largemouth bass with, dressed with a weighted silver plug.

The Stingsilver is a favorite for targeting grey trout. I had three with me, one silver, one silver with a bucktail around the hook, and one with the top part painted red and bottom painted white. They come with a treble hook attached to the bottom. I removed the treble and installed a single hook to meet IGFA rules just in case I hooked one big enough.

You see, a lot more goes into a record than just catching it. You have to play by the rules also. And just like with any sport, to play by the rules, you have to know the rules. It is much more than just weighing the fish or measuring the fish. You have catch it the proper way. You have to have the proper equipment to measure the fish. You have to get the appropriate paperwork and photographs.

If any of those not done the correct way, then it will not matter how big the fish is as far as official records are concerned.

As for my pursuit, it will continue. The one day I was able to brave the salt water before the storm rolling in I caught as many grey trout as I ever have in one trip. All were released to grow bigger. And the largest one, well, if it was just another one and a half inches, North Carolina would have had a world record on its shores.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Looking for Records

I often mention how the animals I hunt or the fish I catch are always on the small side. Honestly, it is what I come across more often, just as everyone else who hunts or fishes. Today I sent off my application for the third citation sized catch I have caught from my kayak within the twelve months.
There are bigger fish in the sea, and sometimes I can catch them. If you fish enough or hunt enough, you eventually will come across an animal that will give you just a tad bit more excitement when you see it.
Truth is, sometimes we do try to aim for something bigger. Over the next week I will be going for my bigger and better. If things go properly, you will likely read about it in this column. If things do not, you will still likely see the results in this column as well. I have nothing to hide; it is the outdoors after all and you are battling against the wits of wild animals who have two overwhelming purposes in their lives. Those purposes of course are to eat and not be eaten.
This time, the animal happens to be a fish. We will save the species for the column with the results.
Of course you do not just decide you are going after a citation sized fish, a state record, or a world record. No, you have to do research. You have to know a little about the species and their feeding habits and their habitat. You have to know when the best time will be to go after it.
You have to know and learn everything you can about what you are targeting.
This is one reason I respect anglers such as Jeremy Wade of River Monsters, Jakub Vagner, and even Zakk Royce who recently gained notoriety for catching state record catfish on back to back days.
Hunting is a little different. You can provide ideal habitats for extreme growth, manage the property, and scout the results. Fish, well, is a little tougher.
Yes, you can find out where you are more likely to catch big fish. You can rely on the departments of wildlife, natural resources, and marine fisheries to encourage growth by implementing various restrictions and regulations on size limits. But other than that, it is really crapshoot.
Unless you know something the rest of the anglers do not.
Yes, by really studying the species, you can learn what promotes growth and from that you can scout, albeit slightly differently than when scouting for hunting. Scouting for fish is to look for the habitat that is conductive to attracting the big fish.
You find out what the species eats. You find out where the prey of the species lives and thrives. You find out when the prey will be in certain areas.
When that has been accomplished, then you have a chance to find the big ones. But it is just a chance.
The other part of the equation is you actually have to fish. You know, get the hook wet. Keep it in the water.
I think I know where a potential game changer may lurk. The timing is good. And, I get to keep the hook wet for a few days. So maybe, just maybe I can find my fourth fish of recognition. Stay tuned.