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

Ticks


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

Snakes


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.

Friday, May 1, 2020

One lure challenge.


It is the perfect time of the year for fishing. The crappie have left the deep waters, the bream are hot, the bass are hungry, heck, even the trout are being unloaded in the mountain streams. The weather has been nice. That is saying a lot in itself considering we often have a two-week rendition of spring between winter and summer.

Many years ago, my oldest son and I entered a fishing tournament hosted by a former boss. Well, he was my current boss at the time, but now he is my former boss. Now I am my only boss, except for the many clients I go through each year, which means I have way too many bosses, but I digress.
Anyway, we entered a work fishing tournament. There were a number of prizes, as it wasn’t your typical largemouth bass tournament. This one was a catch what you can no matter what bit the hook tournament. There was a prize for the largest fish, the longest fish, the most fish, and even the smallest fish. It consisted of fishing three ponds. They were large ponds, and boats were allowed.
My son and I were in a square stern canoe with a trolling motor. However, there were everything from the normal aluminum john boat to fully rigged bass boats that were backed into the various ponds.

Now, there are times I can act cocky. This usually occurs when around co-workers who like to talk trash. When talking things such as hunting, shooting and fishing, our group tended to talk a lot of trash. In fact, we could probably have made Larry Bird and Michael Jordan feel slightly inadequate to our greatness based on our trash talk game.

This playful cockiness resulted in me stating I could likely win the tournament using just one lure. This would be akin to when Larry Bird told his teammates he was only going to shoot left-handed in one of the games. You see, overwhelming and over-the-top cockiness can lead you to a belief in yourself that you wouldn’t have under normal circumstances, and rather than just playing to win, you end up challenging yourself because you don’t see any real challengers other than yourself.

I have been known to do this several times in my life. Once I was asked exactly how good I was shooting a bow, and I picked up a small washer off the workbench and told the co-worker I could put an arrow through the hole form twenty yards easily. In mere moments I had several co-workers laying money against each other about whether I could or couldn’t. As for me, I didn’t measure the hole and soon realized there was so little clearance between the actual diameter of the arrow shaft and the hole of the washer that you couldn’t even put a piece of tape around the arrow’s shaft without scraping it off as you push it through. Long story short, after work we had about twenty guys and gals lining up my twenty-yard shooting lane, we had a drum roll and lots of hoopla, and I made the shot. The winners of the bets agreed to pass enough of their winnings to me so that I could replace the arrow that was damaged as it passed through the hole though. Again, I digress.

As for the fishing tournament, I went with one lure. Now if I was fishing for largemouth that day, I would have went with a Mister Twister grape worm. It is my favorite. It doesn’t work on everything however. To just catch fish, it is hard to beat either a live nightcrawler or cricket. But again, the issue there is it isn’t one lure. You kind of need to have several worms and crickets if using live baits to catch more than one fish.

What was the go-to lure you may ask? I Beetle Spin in yellow with black stripes. I don’t know that I have ever not caught anything with it. That day didn’t disappoint either. Did I win? Well, I will leave it to your interpretation based on one last fact. The game Larry Bird decided to shoot left-handed to try to even the competition, he scored 47 points and added 14 rebounds and 11 assists.

Friday, April 24, 2020

We are still here.


I watched a YouTube video yesterday from one of my favorite vloggers, Thomas Heaton. He is a landscape photographer and his channel centers around his adventures in capturing great landscapes around the world.

He is based in the UK, and just like the United States, he is under a mandate to self-isolate at home.
This week’s episode had him set up a tent in his garden, which is what they call the backyard there I guess, light a fire using a fire starter, and capturing sunset images with five trees in his neighbor’s yard as the subject of the image.

If you are a consistent reader of this column, I mentioned camping out in the back yard a few weeks ago regarding things to do at home that can keep our sanity while also adding a bit of adventure.
We are limited on things we can do, even outside, at this point in our new dailies. For me, life has continued to be an adventure, and I am grateful for that. It has also meant doing some things I wouldn’t normally do.

I was on a two-week excursion that carried me across the country for instance. I decided driving would be best rather than flying considering all that was going on. From Carolina to California. That is a long haul. I also had to take every precaution possible in this business trip, which included using paper towels or gloves at every gas stop, figuring out bathroom scenarios, eating, and of course, make sleeping arrangements.
Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park at sunset. (Photo/Bill Howard)


Since I was headed west, I decided to find every park I could possibly find to be my nightly stops. I could stay in the truck or tent or hammock, and avoid hotels as well as truck stops and Walmarts.
And or the most part, I was very successful in doing so. I stayed in one Walmart parking lot out of 13 nights. Once I stayed outside a convenient store somewhere in the heart of Nevada. The rest of the time I was able to stay in places such as Saguaro National Park, Death Valley National Park, or Great Sand Dunes National Park.

These were places I always wanted to visit anyway, and life just happened so that I could.
It was interesting for many factors as well.

Many parks were either closed prior to my departure or changed their policies and closed while I was in transit. Parks such Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Joshua Tree not only closed facilities, but they didn’t even allow entrance via vehicle, bike or foot. Fortunately, Death Valley remained accessible during the time I was in that particular area.

Arches National Park was closed, but Capital Reef, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Bryce Canyon were open other than for facilities. I got my work done, kept my distance from people and made it throughout the trip without catching anything.

I witnessed some incredible sunrises and sunsets, ate plenty of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee meals under the shade of some fantastic landmasses, and made the most of what I could in such a difficult time.
Despite all of the hardships and tribulations we are going through, God showed me he still rotated the earth and it still orbited the sun.

We should not take that for granted. The world may seem like it is falling apart, but it isn’t. Only our limited view of the world is being affected. The real natural world is still moving along in a real natural path. I remember one night, as the temperature dropped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit while I was sleeping in the back of my pickup inside a zero degree bag, I woke to pull a blanket over my head and arm that were outside of the bag, and gazed through my foggy slumbering vision a bright white streak of light in the sky. I blinked several times and wiped my eyes, and realized the bright white streak wasn’t a cloud in early morning sunlight, but it was the stars in heaven that consisted of the Milky Way.

It was still there, just as it has been since the dawn of time. And it was still as beautiful as those generations that gazed upon it well before such things as electricity and lights hampered our vision and altered our place here.

Everything isn’t in chaos, it is still there. And we should be thankful.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Social distancing.


Just three weeks ago, I headed to a lake that I do well with when targeting crappie. I thought to myself, and explained to my wife before my departure, that one, it was a week day, and secondly, it was supposed to rain, so therefore the pressure would likely be light in regards to other people even being at the lake.

I was wrong. Every parking spot at the ramp was in use. Every single one. And this wasn’t some small launch area; three full sized ramps and parking for roughly 120 trucks with trailers are there for use. If it wasn’t for one spot that was reduced in size due to some fallen tree material that still allowed me to pull in and out of the way, as well as two kayak/canoe ramps separate from the main three boat ramps, I would not have been able to hit the water from there.


Confinement and closures of businesses meant people were looking other opportunities to keep their sanity it seemed.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission recently revealed guidelines regarding outdoors activities in relation to the governor’s executive order on the stay-at-home proclamation. And it is a change to how things usually are, as everything about the COVID-19 fight has been.

While individual activities and seasons have not been banned or closed, social distancing and immediate household members remain the only permissible opportunities to do things with others. At every NCWRC run boat launch area, signs have been placed explaining what you can do and cannot do, for instance.

No tethering boats together. No gathering of people outside the immediate household. Extra avoidance procedures when using the boat launches. I mean, it is simple to understand what you have to do as it is the same in all other life activities of the moment.

The annual coastal river reports detailing creels from wildlife biologists and agents from our four main river flows in regards to American and hickory shad and striped bass, was suspended on March 26. This is when the information gets really handy in detailing how far up the rivers each species have spawned.

Hatchery supported trout waters opened April 4th, but warned some stockings may be delayed or suspended at various times. Warnings were also issued that all things may come to a halt if people do not adhere to the proclamation from the governor regarding social distancing.

Turkey season begins, and youth-only season began a week prior, but no hunting with someone outside of the household is in effect. No, grandpa won’t be able to call in a gobbler for his little outdoorsy granddaughter unless they live in the same house.

And again, deviation from these rules come with a warning that these activities can and will be suspended not just for those that don’t follow the rules, but for everyone, if enforcement becomes an issue and great task.

Such is the time we are in.  Our actions will dictate our freedoms, even if those freedoms are not quite the freedoms we used to enjoy and take for granted.

As for turkey season, I personally shouldn’t need to worry though. If you have ever read one of my past early to mid-April columns you will know that turkey know how to socially distant themselves from me whenever I go to a turkey blind on a hunt.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Collections.


Do people collect things anymore? And by people, I mean the younger generations.

Collecting things were a huge part of my generation’s childhood and early adulthood. We had some things that were more for play such as collecting Star Wars figures after the original movie came out. We also were very adept at collecting both Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. Every Friday when my mom would go to town to shop for groceries and such, if I was a good boy, I could pick out a new car or Star Wars figure.

My dad had a large collection of marbles. And as any parent would do when their child reached certain ages, the marbles became mine for me to add even more marbles to. We had two one-gallon jugs where we kept the marbles, and when I would play with friends, I always made sure to pick out the ugly ones to play with just in case I lost.

But we had collections for show and not play as well. One of my best friends when I was growing up had a massive collection of beer cans. Don’t worry, the cans were empty of course. One Christmas his parents gave him special hangers to display the cans in his room.

While we all collected baseball and football cards (basketball cards weren’t really a big thing back then), and we would willingly trade to help each other collect the entire sets.

But one of the unusual things I collected, I guess you could say it was unusual, were rocks from each state. My grandfather traveled on hunting trips throughout the country and the world, and would make sure to return with rocks from each state he was in. My grandparents on the other side of the family also traveled, mostly east of the Mississippi River, but they too knew how fascinated I was with my rock collection, and they each kept list of states I did not have yet.

My step-grandmother also collected things. She actually had two very large collections. One collection consisted of a large number of dolls. Some were mass produced. Some were very rare. Some had eyes that would open and shut; some were just painted on the face. She even had some action figure dolls such as the Lee Majors Six Million Dollar Man figurine.

Her other collection was pressed butterflies and moths. She had caught them for years and would press them in a book. Afterwards, they would go side by side in a case for display. I have seen many museum displays over the years that were not much different than her butterfly collection.

One collection that fascinated everyone that saw it was my grandfather’s trophy room. Of course, a proper trophy room is considered a collection, as it has numbers of wild beasts on display representing the best and strongest of their species.

And Papa had just that. There were over 90 trophy animals on display, and it was better than a zoo. You didn’t have to wonder if the creature was napping or behind the scenes in a cage. They were right there, in arm’s length, and you could see every minor detail of the magnificence of the creature.

And that brings me back to my original question. Does the younger generation have collections they focus large amounts of time and research on in order to build it? Not video game collections, but actual display and show type?

Maybe this extra time we have right now would be a good time to get the family together and start one.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Backyard camping.


COVID-19 can cause sore throats, hacking dry coughs, and headaches as some of its symptoms. It can cause anxiety, anger, loneliness, concern, and a bit of stir-craziness, especially if kids are stuck in the home as well.

When I was a wee bit of a young’un, I think around three years old or so, I stayed at my Aunt Sue’s house overnight. I was the oldest of the cousins on that side of the family, and Sue hadn’t sprouted any offspring as of yet, so I was kind of the family novelty. At least, that is the way I like to remember it.

Sue had a train track that ran behind the house, and I was fascinated with the rumble of the ground, the low-pitched horn, and the massive size of the long locomotives hauling various goods. 

That night, Aunt Sue pitched a tent in her back yard. To the best of my memory, and anyone trying to remember just a few weeks back can attest to this, my memory may not have all the details correct, but as said, to the best of it, we had peanut butter sandwiches while sitting in the tent. We probably drank some sort of Kool-Aid, cherry, strawberry or grape in all likelihood.

I also thing we had some type of snack as well. Maybe some Nabs as we called them back then. But whatever it was, it was memorable and exciting enough for me to still think back on it some 47 years later.

We had a flashlight and would shine it around the yard, looking for bears and tigers I am sure. Every now and then a lightning bug would flicker its little yellow/green beacon as if it were responding to our light.

And then I felt the rumble. I heard the metal on metal of the train on the tracks. The horn blasted. Yes, as a three-year-old, I was pretty much in Heaven for toddlers.

I bring this short story up for a reason. We are all mostly in some type of lockdown. Yes, the type of confinement varies county to county and town to town, but we have all been asked to stay put, with little public interaction.

Remember those kids I mentioned in the opening to this column? Now is the time to make some memories such as the one that stuck with me so long.

Take a tent and pitch it in the yard. Boredom for a youngster will go away immediately! Take a coupe of hot dogs and some chips and a lantern or flashlight. Roast the hot dogs over an open flame. East them by hand with no bun. Take the lights and sweep through the tree branches and leaves looking for squirrels, or even bears and tigers.

Don’t have kids? It doesn’t matter. Break the routine. You don’t have to go to some vast wilderness to create your own mini adventure.

And while you are out there, share a few ghost stories, or maybe reminisce about your first-time camping, even if it was in the backyard.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The sucker fish spawn is on. Again. As it always is this time of year.


Every March.

It doesn’t matter if the winter was brutal. It doesn’t matter if the winter was mild. The groundhog could have seen his shadow or not, it doesn’t influence it. It may have rained hard the previous week, or it could be a two-month long drought. Regardless of the weather, this magic, or maybe we can call it madness since that seems to be one of the things we are lacking during this current state of being, happens.

For me and my neck of the woods, it all comes together on a small shallow creek in my hometown.

Every March, more specifically, the middle of March, a golden fish ends its spawn near the base of a dam. Bottlenecked as there is no where else to go, they splish and splash amongst the low water where pebbles and rocks are embedded in the creek bed. By doing so, they handle their mating, bouncing off the top of each other, rubbing side to side, and overall creating havoc in the creek.

The redhorse sucker fish isn’t an overly popular fish to seek. And I have no idea why. There are six main species of redhorse in North America; the shorthead, black, greater, golden, river and silver varieties. The one I am most accustomed to because of this annual pilgrimage is the silver redhorse sucker.

A quick glance from the untrained eye and you would thing this is a carp. The golden scales, and the robust body hints that way. The mouth gives it away though, as underneath a very pronounced snout which gives the fish its name of redhorse, or sometimes called horse fish, the mouth forms what looks like a sucker.

The lips are puffy, enough so that it would make any Hollywood starlet envious, and are perfect for bottom feeding. Primarily feeding on things such as crawfish, worms, and small river clams, they really aren’t as picky as you may think. Perhaps due to the mouth being angled below the head so they can’t really see what they are eating, presentation doesn’t matter much.

Legal to bowfish or fish outright, early on I bowfished a bunch. The shallow water and the tight groups make for easy targets for the most part. Over the last few years I have ventured to catch more using hook and line however.

Being accustomed to fast flowing rapids in creeks, streams and rivers, they are monstrous fighters. They will take your line wherever they wish. Sometimes they will just drop back and ride the flow of the river making the battle long and hard. Sometimes they flip and flap and jump and dive while muscling their way upstream in the currents, stripping line at will in their flight.

And they get big.

In fact, I caught my largest one on this spawn. A little over 10 pounds of muscle and scale. Bright red fins, with a gradient to orange and then gold and then silver. After a strong fight in which the redhorse finally granted me the win, he grunted his disproval.
How did I identify it as a male? Because by natural instinct he released all of his stored fertilizing fluids so that the specie can go on. Not to worry, I let him back in so that he could continue his life’s venture though.

These little quirks of nature in which fish you would never think of as swimming in the shallows that only come around for a couple of weeks each year, on a perfect calendar mind you, is one of the great things about the outdoors. There is so much to discover and experience; this bit of nature’s March Madness.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Disease affects the outdoors also. Should we react to COVID-19 with humans the way we do with diseases for animals?


I got home around 3 a.m. The day was long. I sat patiently for 12 hours making sure to capture the images I needed and properly catalog them with captions and keywords. I was told at 9:30 a.m. I would get further directives on this mission of importance.

After 6 hours of sleep I woke to the tone from my phone indicating I had a message received. I took a peek, and my task was clear. I showered, hustled to the truck and drove the two hours back to my base of operations. With 30 minutes to spare, I arrived and prepped my gear.

Then the unthinkable happened. With just 15 minutes until the moment of importance, it was announced it all had been canceled.

No, this wasn’t a top-secret operative in which I was running reconnaissance for some clandestine organization. Nor was this a seek and find mission of some rare species that only appears during a specific time.

No, this was the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament and I was credentialed photographer/media.
The 2020 ACC Men's Basketball was cancelled prior to the third round of play.

COVID-19, aka the Wuhan flu, aka the coronavirus, had reared its ugliness and may have done something much worse than getting someone sick. It caused fear.

Now, fear is warranted in some situations. This is likely one of them. It spreads quickly, it mutates, and it is deadly to the elderly and infirmed. Have we gone too far in our reactions? That can be debated. And that debate is where I am headed with this column.
As hunters and anglers, this type of thing is one of the many things that makes us valuable as stewards to this planet. We are often the equivalent of both first reporters and first responders in the outdoors.

Fish kill? We often are the ones that notice first and report to the wildlife agencies.
Diseased wildlife? Yes, that would be us as the first on the scene as well, in most cases.

Now, what are the responses to such things? Well, pretty much what we are doing with this coronavirus outbreak.

We have to limit the spread while also determining the cause. Doesn’t matter whether it is dead fish or dead mammals. The way to do those things is slightly different though.
When something such as blue tongue disease or chronic wasting disease (CWD) is detected, in order to limit the spread, animals can be quarantined to a certain area and then killed. Of course, we don’t do that to humans. However, Italy has limited to offering care to those that they deem may survive and not administering care to the elderly. But again, this is regarding the outdoors and not as much the current human situation.

The areas may be targeted by use of hunters, or wildlife agents and paid crews to eradicate any animals that may have a risk of spreading disease. For something like CWD, an equivalent of travel bans exists in order to prevent spread. There are laws set up to prohibit the transfer of body parts across state lines from states or regions that have known cases of CWD, as well as the prohibition of transporting live animals.

The main key here is what we are doing for coronavirus is what we do in nature to protect the greater numbers. And as frustrating as it may be for us to lose revenue, entertainment and experience other inconveniences, it is vitally important in controlling what could be without those measures.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Bob Timberlake. Artist and conservationist.


I was anticipating the morning. I had this planned for a couple of weeks. I was going to meet someone at the top of their field and get to have a one on one with the gentlemen.

The previous day, he was on a quail hunt. His granddaughter happens to be a crack shot herself. I had done some extra studying on his life to add to my already near-fanboy knowledge.
Bob Timberlake holds one of his paintings from the Keep America Beautiful campaign. (Bill Howard)

He owns a very successful studio/gallery and museum. His name is well known throughout the United States. He was instrumental in one of the most successful non-profit campaigns in advertising history.

I met him 30 minutes prior to the gallery opening, and he was sitting inside looking out of the window for when I drove up.

Bob Timberlake unlocked the door and welcomed me in like I was an old friend.

We had never met before, and I had only communicated with his granddaughter through email to arrange the meeting. But he was genuine and friendly. Or perhaps I should say he IS genuine and friendly. We discussed why I was there and what we would be doing.

He gave me a quick tour of the gallery and museum. If you do not recognize the Bob Timberlake name, he is an artist and furniture builder extraordinaire. His art greatly consists of rural style art in a realist approach but with a Norman Rockwell feel. So of course, we saw lots and lots of his paintings.

He was particularly proud of a chest he built when he was 14 years old that was on display, with a matching custom woven rug below, and a letter from Henry Ford congratulating him on an award.

We looked at several sizes and styles of decoys he made or designed. He carried me to a showcase with a teddy bear that he explained was responsible for over $2 million in donations for a non-profit. Another showcase displayed a rifle owned by Annie Oakley.

I was in awe.

Then we spoke about hunting and fishing. He showed me a recent article about him with some magnificent photos of him fly fishing. Then he showed me another pic with a catch that would make anyone envious.

Bob Timberlake is not just an artist. He is not just a furniture maker. He is not just a gallery owner. He is a spokesman and conservationist. He participates in the outdoors as well as capture the spirit of nature in his paintings and furniture. He has forwarded that passion to his family, including his granddaughter. In fact, she had just come back from a fishing trip in the mountains of North Carolina herself.

For those old enough, you may remember the Keep America Beautiful campaign featuring the ‘crying Indian.’ His art helped that campaign excel. He was already well regarded as an artist. To my generation, those that grew up in the 70s and 80s, it is how we learned his name.

We were in a pollution crisis during those days. While we still have pollution and debris, it is not nearly where we were headed. He made a difference. He continues to make a difference.

I can only hope to get a small fraction to help make a difference in my goal of expanding the numbers of those that enjoy the outdoors. His story gave me hope and inspiration.

Maybe, just maybe, we can get together in a cold-water stream for some casting for trout someday as well.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The first time.


Can you remember the first time you went hunting or fishing? Who took you that first time?

I grew up beside a pond. When I say beside, it was literally within 100 feet of the front door. My dad and grandfather and step-grandmother loved fishing. Once spring rolled around, it was not uncommon at all for Dad to grab a fishing rod and go over to the bank and cast for an hour or so.

My first fish came with my mom. She purchased a plastic rod that had a plastic hook and plastic fish. I was beside the bank one day with her, slamming the plastic hook into the water, yanking it out, and slamming it back in. Remarkably, a bream somehow was in the wrong place at the right time, and it snagged onto that red plastic hook. I was both excited and petrified at the same time.

But as I got older, and by older, I mean like five years old, I would fish nearly every day in which the weather would cooperate. Why? Because I had seen my dad do it day in and day out. It was what you did. If I wasn’t at the pond, I would walk to Silver Lake and fish along the banks there. Sometimes my dad would be with me, sometimes he would be at work if on a weekday. The wildlife club had a building there and Mr. Barnes ran it each day. He was basically a temporary babysitter.

Times were much different then. I guess that is how things work out after half a century. But those times were the influence to get me outdoors to hunt and fish and camp.

This is one of our first challenges if we believe these outdoor activities must continue.

We no longer have the same schedules. Our workplaces are open longer and during more days. Weekends are no longer a time of rest and relaxation. People don’t get off of work at 5pm, and if they do, many may have commutes lasting an hour or longer. We have lost those brief opportunities that once meant so much.

This is where we need to better address our time management skills. Sounds like something you would hear at a meeting at work doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it is true though.

We come home tired. Heck, we often come home beat. I understand. I’m the same way. But where we once couldn’t go by the lake without seeing a dozen people standing along the shore with a cork in the water, we can’t go by the lake now and find anyone fishing. When we go to the park with friends, family, and most of all children, they are not accustomed to that. Instead they only see people walking or sitting. There is no connection to outdoors other than it being a scene, and they can find better scenes graphically created on their game console.

Even if you cannot take someone new to fishing or hunting with you, simply being out there is enough to spark conversation between others. It is what helps bring that little bit of intrigue and inquisition into what you find attractive about it. It is how a small kid that is full of questions may get to the point of asking his or her parent if they can go fishing.

We don’t get many of those opening title sequences from the Andy Griffith show anymore with Andy and Opie walking to the pond with the rods over their shoulders. But I bet you have many fond memories that resemble that form when you first started fishing and hunting.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Duane Raver. A National Treasure.


Several years ago, I ran across an elderly gentleman at the North Carolina fairgrounds. When I heard his name, I knew it was familiar but couldn’t quite place where I knew it from. I talked with him a bit as he led me to his booth that was setup in the Village of Yesteryear. Once there, I immediately realized who he was.

Since the age of twelve years old, Duane Raver has painted wildlife. He primarily dealt with fish species, and early on he knew he had a talent that others didn’t. He recanted a story form an art class in school when he was drawing trees and decided to help a classmate. As he looked over his classmate’s artwork, he scanned the room and took quick glances at everyone’s work. The art did not come close to matching what he was doing.

There are some people that have gifts at certain things, and Raver is definitely one. His work, especially fish related, is the absolute top of the game. His attention to detail with meticulous observance to scales, fin spines, and even colors down to the gradual shading from scale to scale made him the go to person for wildlife organizations and biologists in both creating a standard as well as identification of species.

The remarkable thing is that attention and steady brush has carried on to his current age. Yes, for an astounding eighty years Raver has applied brush to paint and then to paper. He has a book that is now ending its third printing detailing the art and characteristics of 150 species of fish. He told me while visiting with him this week the publisher informed him there were just a handful of that third printing currently left.

If you were to scan websites such as the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission’s, you will find his artwork throughout, including any citation sized fish or special catch certificates decorated with Raver’s art. Even the International Game Fish Association has his art as the identifiers for all to see.

He once shared a studio with his daughter who is a taxidermist. He expanded into drawing and painting various species that were brought into his daughter until he determined his old age prohibited him from making the 100-yard walk uphill to his daughter’s house and studio. Now, he has a spare bedroom in his own home that has been converted to his art studio.

The room has boxes and shelves full of prints of his artwork. Two wooden paddles rest on end against one wall, one with a bream painted on it, the other with a crappie. The bream is so perfect that when I showed my wife a photo, she asked why he had a real fish laying on it.

To the side of his art table rests a canvas depicting a black bear in the woods. Each hair on the body could be seen when viewing closeup, and looking from a few feet away, the blackness of the fur all blended in a smooth looking coat.

On his table, he had a mostly completed commissioned piece of mourning dove flying over farmland. The buyer requested having dove sitting on a wooden fence in the background. His fence was perfect, and the dove on the fence were perfect as well. Of course, the main draw were the two birds flying in the foreground with the sky behind. All were neatly and perfectly placed.

At 92 years of age, Duane Raver continues the path that he was born to do. His passion and expertise has made him not only a respected North Carolinian, but a national treasure.

Monday, March 2, 2020

We are in a crisis. Part 2.


I wrote about the crisis currently going on in the United States with declining hunting and fishing license sales despite a growth in population over the past couple of decades. The dollars generated from license sales goes towards protecting species that are in decline or are in an unstable number.
What can we do other than take someone fishing or hunting and hope they catch the ‘bug’ to continue an outdoors life?
It is easy to find problems. Solutions are much harder. However, as the late Dr. John Dewey once stated, “a problem well stated is a problem half solved.” We know there is more obstacles in the way of converting current generations and recruiting future generations for outdoors activities that include hunting and fishing than ever before.
At one time, it was a necessity to hunt and fish in order to survive. Agriculture became prevalent and efficient to the point that food is plentiful and available to all at low costs both in money and effort. Our world has slowly shifted from a hands-on type of civilization to an efficient digital low mobility existence in which communication can be done in milliseconds at virtually no cost and products and supplies can arrive from thousands of miles away in less than two sunsets.
We have a vociferous minority that can demand results against hunting or fishing that often gets lots of media attention and fear from advertisers marketing to certain activities. Because of this the general population loses exposure to these activities unless on very specific networks.
Older generations either die off or age to the point that the activities become harder to participate in, limiting the passing of the heritage from one generation to the other. The middle generations get wrapped up in work where weekends are no longer the same for everyone as nearly every business is open seven days per week. And the younger generations, who do get off during the weekends from school do not have the parent, family member or other adult mentor that is available to take them out, and instead spend their time at a gaming console or in front of the computer.
Sure, there are some other smaller factors, but in short, we have all become busy with things that take our time away from hunting and fishing. Probably the biggest of the other factors would be cost to get started, as you have to find land to hunt and water to fish, which isn’t always public reserves, as well as the entry costs of gear, ammunition and tackle.
So, what can we do to put a dent in this crisis? We have to do multiple things. My personal take is to expand on something I am doing. Sure, this column gets out to many people over many newspapers. Yet, show me a kid under 18 that reads a newspaper. I used to. Mainly, I would look at the boxscores form the games the night before and read the comics. That isn’t the case any longer. Now, if it isn’t on social media, reddit or YouTube, the 18 and under generation won’t see it.
My goal is to create a YouTube channel that is informative, yet attractive to that generation. Currently there are several big channels, however they lack in appearance for the most part. I am going to create something that is a mixture of River Monsters and Casey Neistat. This won’t be your Outdoors Channel sponsored content. This will be short doses with quick hitting action that at the same time educates.
There are other ways to try to bring in new people, and I think we need a mixture of it all to be successful. This is the way I am going to participate.
If you are interested in helping, whether with ideas, donations or just words of support, I would love to hear from you at billhowardoutdoors@gmail.com. We can do this together.

Friday, February 28, 2020

I'm back. But I never left. And we are in a crisis.


We are in the midst of a crisis.
I know we hear that a lot. There is a reason. When we are told that something is in such dire circumstances that the scenario is at a tipping point to where only a correction made immediately is the only way to have favorable results or everything is lost, it instills action.
Climate change is an example. We have an entire generation that is being taught blindly that without something changing last week that the earth can only survive for a little over a decade. The sense of urgency is important to create change. That sense is usually brought on by fear of something undesirable.
You can even hear it in sports. If a team isn’t performing well and it is approaching midseason, you will hear mention of the moment being critical, whether it be the second half of an important game, the upcoming game, or the next series of games. Crisis mode has been created to put a sense of urgency and complete focus onto something in order to create the change needed to be successful in the team’s goals.
Well, we are in crisis mode in the hunting and fishing community. This crisis is not only bad for the hunting and fishing community, but for natural resources and wildlife as well.
Two decades ago, North Carolina had 399,045 licensed hunting and fishing individuals that created just under $9 million in gross revenue. South Carolina had 263,045 creating $6.7 million. The United States in whole reported 15.7 million licensed hunters and anglers resulting in $688 million.
These monies are important. License sales go to protecting endangered and threatened species, providing habitat for those species, as well as employing officers that focus strictly on those activities.
By contrast, last year North Carolina had 592,564 licensed hunters and anglers bringing in $10.3 million in revenue to go to those activities. South Carolina had 200,912 licensed individuals resulting in $8.6 million. The US as a whole? 15.5 million with $896.4 million revenue.
While we have seen growth in numbers for both NC and SC in licensed outdoorsmen, the United States has lost numbers. We haven’t even mentioned the cost differences from twenty years ago.
North Carolina also increased population by nearly 3 million people over that same time period. For North Carolina, the licensed individuals (I keep mentioning it this way because looking at only license sales doesn’t give a perfect number as many people have multiple licenses) kept up with the population growth. South Carolina on the other hand, lost 62,000 licensed individuals over twenty years while having a population increase of 1.3 million.
South Carolina is an example of what is happening across the country.
With a loss of 2 million hunters and anglers in the US over the twenty-year period while having a population increase of over 50 million, we are losing the ability to protect these species and habitats as we need to. License sales used to nearly supply all the revenue needed. The outdoors community was a self-funded endeavor. Now, we have bipartisan bills in congress providing monies from the general funds as well as allowing more freedom in the uses of monies from past legislation such as that from the Pittman-Robertson act to both protect the species and encourage and recruit new hunters and anglers.
With a world that has increasingly pulled youth to new activities (specialized sports and training, television and video games to name a few), and an older generation that has increased responsibilities and longer work hours in a faster running world, we will all suffer.
The monies in the past helped turn around the potential losses of species such as whitetail deer and Canadian geese to where they are plentiful and thriving. Now, we may end up seeing species suffer.
And this is a true crisis for everyone.