Tag Archives: comaraderie

HEADLAMPS & HOMEMADE BOWS

The leaves aren’t the only things that turn in this neck of the woods once Fall arrives. In our barn, upstairs in the hunt/fish lodge, the fishing gear that has been sitting in various states of take-out and put-back for the past four-or-so months has do-si-do’d with my hunting gear. Chest-packs and tackle boxes, rods and kayak paddles have changed places with tree stands and goose blinds, compound bows and camo clothes. A bittersweet swap, this season, leaving one girl at her front door while another waits in the truck honking the horn. Fortunately, my wife is remarkably understanding.

While my annual shift in pastimes is essentially no different than it ever has been, there is one welcome addition to the mix: the boys. Their enthusiasm for all things wild and fishy is not new. I’ve told many a story about their outdoor revelry in previous posts. But this past weekend brought about an outdoor first for them. And a bit of perspective for me.

Saturday morning was windy and cold. Not creep-into-your-backbone-make-you-have-to-pee cold, but cold enough. Like a headlamp with fading batteries, the exactly-half moon cast the woods in a soft light under a cloudless pre-dawn sky. The deer would be moving and, in the dark of ten minutes to six, my gut was telling me that they’d be moving in my direction. At ten to nine a big doe made good on my gut’s intuition.

Broadside at 35 yards, but walking. I drew, put my 30 yard pin juuuust a touch high on her shoulder and let loose an arrow which found the heart of a very big shag-bark hickory behind her. That tree didn’t stand a chance. I lost sight of her at about 80 yards as she headed into a thicket. Figuring my arrow found a twig or branch somewhere between my bow and where she had stood, I counted it a clean miss and hunted for another hour or so. At 11:30 I started my walk out, heading to my trophy hardwood to retrieve my arrow.

When I got there however, the arrow told another story. It had found it’s mark prior to finding the tree. Considering the doe’s unhurried retreat, I figured the shot was probably good but not stellar. I decided I’d better let her be for a little while longer, left the woods and went home to get my blond bloodhounds. No sooner had I told them I had a deer down and needed their help tracking her, every piece of camouflaged clothing they owned was on and they were yahoo-ing their way to the truck. They’ve only ever seen the deer in the back of the truck when we brought them home. This was their first time to actually be a part of the hunt.

Holding his homemade stick-and-string bow, Jonah, told me, Dad, I’m gonna bring my bow in case there’s another one around. Followed by, can I use one of your arrows? I don’t have any.

Cam demonstrated a make-shift karate kick-chop that he would employ if the wild-animal need should arise.

We were off.

My dad met us for the search. I gave the boys the lay of the land.

You’ve got to be quiet and whisper when you talk. If she’s still alive we don’t want to spook her. Make sure you stay behind Papa and me. And if you see something, I added, give me a psssst!

They started right off into the brush ahead of us, jabbering away. In a short while they got the hang of the search. Pointing things out to each other, giving me a pssssst! every now and again to point out a red leaf or show me a cool new stick that was perfect for another bow. We followed the trail for a half-hour before I spotted the doe.

I see her! said Cam, following the direction of my point.
So do I! said Jonah, not really seeing her yet.

After a holy cow and she’s-a-big-one and the obligatory can I touch her eye? I got to work. The next half-hour was full of more anatomy and physiology questions than timeouts in the last 2-minutes of a college basketball game. My guess is that when they get into dissecting frogs or pigs in Biology class, the girls will be scrambling to have them as partners. We got the doe in the truck and took her to get set for the freezer. On the ride home, the boys were both off out the window with their thoughts.

That was cool.
Yea, Dad, that was cool.


The next day was Halloween. After trick-or-treating, I got a text from my dad that he needed my help. He had been out in his stand that afternoon and had shot a big buck around dusk. Dad saw him go down. Thinking the jig was up, he made his way over toward the deer only to have it jump up and bound off in the direction of a 40 acre swale field and thick stand of pines. Night settling in, along with snow-showers, he decided to head home and get a hold of his own bloodhound. Cam wanted to go with me, but bedtime won out.

As I hope they boys and I will, Dad and I have tracked many, many deer together. Our purposeful zig-zags covering acres and acres of fields and woods, day or night, regardless of weather. We strategize and hypothesize about likely directions and how far they might have run before lying down again. We joke and talk about life. We learn more about each other with every deer we find. It’s a big part of why I enjoy hunting as much as I do.

Snow-showers turned into good old fat, wet flakes. I could see from his headlamp, Dad was slogging his way through a stand of cattails. I was working my way back down through the swale field toward him, shining my flashlight back and forth from over my head, when I caught sight of the buck’s antlers.

Got him! I hollered. Right up here, pop!

ALL RIGHT! was the response, followed by, OK. I’ll be there in a second, bud… I’ve gotta say a little prayer.

He was a beautiful deer. A big 9. Needless to say, we took a few breaks on the drag back out to the truck. On the ride home, we were both off out the window with our thoughts.

Glad I was able to help you find him, pop.
Wouldn’t want to be out there with anyone else, bud.

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Filed under In the woods

MORNING BROWNS WITH DAD, Installment 6, Thesis

* The 6th installment in a series of sections from my Masters thesis, which was (in large part) about fishing.

[20]

Villager Restaurant. 5:30 a.m.
Laminated breakfast menus. Short lived eggs, toast, sausage—coffee-to-go, toothpicks by the register.

We head to the bait shop for sawbellies, a wriggling handful of bump & tick in our aluminum bait bucket. Slight lapping of water against marina-moored boats, footsteps echo quietly on the dock.

Wind & engine, water & shoreline, we nose a white V out onto Canandaigua Lake. Bare Hill a hunched silhouette above black trees under the dawn sky.

5, 10, 15 minutes. The boat slows to an idle, settling into the dark water toward the south end. Ears ringing from sudden silence. I stir my hand into the flipping mass of minnows, lift a chubby sawbelly, its head in my palm, tail wagging from between my thumb & forefinger, mouth gaping a small o. My tackle box holds a snelled double hook & black bait-threading needle.

I cast my line.
Bait & bobber end-over-end then plop onto the surface.

We sit quietly, sipping our coffee. The sawbelly swims random circles three feet below a barely tipping bobber. Shore is now slightly visible. Trees, rocks, cottages through mist clinging to the water’s surface. A loon’s cry drifts across the lake. Another answers, closer.

The bobber disappears for a moment, then follows the bait & fish, trickling, bouncing the surface for thirty yards, forty, fifty, then stops. I wait. The fish flexes its jaw, exhales the stunned bait for a moment, circles to swallow it head first. The idle bobber springs to life again.

The line sings its tense song. Sunrise has cleared Bare Hill.
I reel. Dad waits with net in hand.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water, Poetry

TONY AS MY WITNESS

Like any other fishing morning, Saturday started very early and with a strong pot of coffee. Tony arrived around 5 and we wasted some time talking at the kitchen table, having misjudged first light by about a half hour. By the time we got to the marina, loaded my gear on his boat, untied the ropes and shoved off, it was 5:45. Right on time.

Canandaigua Lake sunrise

Before the sun found its way clear of the hills to the east, we settled into a spot just up from the water treatment plant. It was cold and the breeze couldn’t make up its mind. It pushed us away from shore. We repositioned. It pushed us south along the shore. We repositioned again. We drifted north.

Guess it’d been nice if I remembered the trolling motor, Tony offered.

Fish–possibly trout after minnows–were rising everywhere. After an hour, Tony had fought and landed a scrappy rock bass. I stayed busy pruning weed-beds and exercising most every lure in my tackle box. We decided to head back to the north end of the lake and fish the shallows by Squaw Island.

The Captain

The shallows up near Squaw Island are some of the fishiest-looking water anywhere. 3 – 5 feet deep and gin clear. Weed-beds that all keep an uncanny 10 – 12 inch distance from the surface and hold a buffet of sunnies, bluegill, perch, small and largemouth and pickerel. Tasty, sand-shell-shale-bottomed ambush clearings throughout. Every cast feels fully-loaded…like you’re pitching metal to a lake-full of lightning bolts.

By the time we shut off the engine, the breeze decided to cooperate. As the boat found a nice north/northeasterly drift, the sun continued its climb and the temperature followed. We got back to work.

Some measure success on the water by the size of their catch. Some by the number they landed. Since we had neither size or numbers on our side, we re-tooled our measuring stick. Our morning turned out to be stellar as a result of how many different species we boated and released. We managed a couple perch, more rock bass, a smallie and a pickerel. Four different species in one morning isn’t too shabby considering our slow start.

Get the net

Pretty...and pretty feisty

Sun's up

But our list of species didn’t end at four. As a matter of fact, it even headed into another Kingdom entirely. Within minutes of pulling into the shallows and getting our lines in the water, we had to start thwarting a gull’s best efforts at nabbing our lures.

Yes. I am going there.

I had just made a cast off the back of the boat when I heard from behind me,

Son-of-a…DROP IT, you stupid bird! DROP IT!

I turned around to see Tony in a tug-of-war with the gull. He looked like he was flying an unruly, squawking kite. I reeled in my line so as to not hook up with a bird of my own and went up front to help him. Reeling it down toward the boat slowly, he got it close enough for me to grab the line, coax the bird to fold its wings and sit on the water next to the boat. I must say, Tony played that gull like a pro. Definitely a shoo-in for the BIRD Tour, if there was one.

Tony grabbed the pliers I had in my tackle box and I had him grab my sweatshirt too. I lifted the gull by the line and lure, draped the sweatshirt over it to get those crazy wings under control and grabbed it–carefully and gently–by the neck behind it’s head. The squawks and flapping stopped. Tony removed the hook with one deft, surgeon-like move and, with an underhand toss, I released the bird to the air…and released my sweatshirt into the lake.

Stories like this always seem to belong to somebody else. Always told by someone who was fishing alone, they always seem fantastic and hard to believe. And they usually do not end well for the bird, turtle, muscrat or–occasionally–the fisherman. Not any more. We’d have taken pictures, but our hands were full.

The gull met up with a couple others and flew off, presumably to find another boat with fewer sharp objects being thrown from it. We wrapped up our successful morning with a breakfast fit for a king…or a couple happy fishermen who could corroborate each others story.

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Filed under On the water

THE TRIP. THE VIDEO.

One very cool thing about this blog is the fact that my kids, when they’re old enough to appreciate it, will have a pretty exhaustive chronicle of who their dad is – through writing and pictures. I get the biggest kick out of looking at old photos of my parents when they were young and full of promise (translated: before mom was pregnant with me). The best are the backyard BBQ’s – dad in cut-off jean shorts, no shirt and a kick ass mustache. Mom in a tank-top, long hair and always side-lit by sun. I’m happy that my kids will have the same opportunity to get a kick out of my meandering.

On my trip, I was able to go one further than just snapping pics though. I took some video too…and it needs to be mentioned that all the pics and video I took were on my Droid. Freaking cool. So, over the last few evenings, I spent a little time editing some live-action and a handful of stills. I’m not smelling any Emmys, but it’s as true as it gets to the great time I had on the road, game-trails, boulder fields and water with Josh. Enjoy.

Traveling Riverside Blues from Matt on Vimeo.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water

HOOKY

I love to fish. Early mornings. Late afternoon to dusk. Lake, stream, pond, puddle…I fish for whatever’s swimming. And there are days when I’m just as excited to catch sunfish on a micro-popper with my 3-weight fly rod as I am to set the hook on a smallmouth with a 6″ Texas-rigged rubber worm. Summer is my primary season to fish, since hunting for deer and geese has my Falls spoken for. But the truth is, if I can get out and fish, even once during the “off” season (using that term very loosely), it’s a great bonus.

There were times in my life that I’d have the luxury of spending entire days on the water. But, just like the shape of some streams change under the influence of current and time, my fishing opportunities too have changed. Kids, work, coaching, volunteer boards…no one season is long enough anymore, let alone a weekend or even a day. I am fortunate that my kids are getting to the age though where we can go fishing together rather than me taking them fishing – parents with kids that fish understand the huge distinction in that. But as for “me time” on the water – where I’m able to be as aggressive or slow as I’d like without having to maintain that extra level of kid-vigilance – my love for fishing, a certain personality trait I like to call “ingenuity” and a bit of good-luck has helped maintain a fruitful compromise.

The last two days I’ve been able to close my laptop at noon, announce that I’m heading out for a bit and then sneak off and play hooky from work for about an hour. I now have a co-worker-turned-fishing-partner as an accomplice who joins me too. It’s nice to have the comaraderie. We fore-go lunch. Eating is over-rated when you have a tremendous trout and fall salmon fishery not five minutes (or two miles as the crow flies) from work.

I say tremendous, not because it’s a blue-ribbon stream or because it winds it’s way through wild sweeping vistas – but rather, in spite of the sprawl of suburbia not fifty yards away, it might as well be fifty miles. I’m able to lose myself in the sound of the water, the reflection of the mid-day light on it’s roiling and determined surface. The gentle flight of my fly line finding it’s way silently above the flow. Heron, muskrat, squirrels, blue jays and cardinals busy with their day-to-day. Trees standing stark above the tangle of underbrush along the bank, waiting for winter. Waiting for the possibility of that electric shock when a trout picks my fly unceremoniously from some downward current off the near side of a boulder across and slightly downstream from where I’m standing.

For that brief time, that short respite from my desk and every other thing pulling me in every other direction, I get to breathe deep. I get to be a kid fishing away my summers. I get to recapture perspective and appreciation for what I’ve got. I get to be gone, gone, gone – even if it’s only two miles as the crow flies.

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Filed under On the water