Tag Archives: fishing

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

ONE-YEAR-UNDER-MY-BELT GIVEAWAY

OK folks…the big giveaway is here. I’ve managed to blog my way through a whole year and have had some great support and response. As a thank you, I’m giving away 5 of the new fishingpoet T-shirts. Winner’s choice of color.

O.D. green - for those times you find yourself inexplicably drawn to the outdoors...

...and sport gray for those times you find yourself, inexplicably, in need of workout gear.

The random drawing will be held on Friday November 5th from the Facebook fan-base. Become a fan (if you aren’t already), subscribe to the blog and share this with folks you think would appreciate it. If you aren’t on FB, leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to get you in.

Here’s to many more years to come!

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Filed under In the woods, On the water

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

CALLING FOR SUN

Independence Day weekend was upon us and my wife, three kids and I were staying with friends in their cabin in Old Forge to celebrate. Three bedrooms, an open kitchen/dining/living area, screened porch, big stone fireplace and indoor plumbing. No grand hand-hewn beams, lofts or giant picture windows. Just a simple, comfortable single-story cabin that’s been a lake-side snowmobiling, fishing, swimming and bonfire-ing family get-away for a couple generations–three actually, since our friends now have kids of their own tracking sand and pine-needles into the place.

Twenty-five years ago, I spent a long weekend at the same cabin as a guest of the family and their son. Being one prone to spending every waking minute in pursuit of fish, I had brought with me one rod and my tackle box. Thankfully, my mom had made sure a backpack with things like extra shirts and shorts, clean underwear and a toothbrush made it’s way with me too.

That weekend, I managed to catch a bass that is still talked about amongst their family members–even their Old Forge cabin neighbors speak with great reverence and enthusiasm about it. Its size fluctuates between good-eatin’, pretty dang big and trophy, depending on who you talk to. That’s a story for another time though. I digress.

It just so happened that on this particular Adirondack summer morning, heavy clouds elbowed their way in-between our 4-day vacation and sunny blue sky. Since the plan was for the dads and boys to fish for bass on a remote mountain lake anyhow, I didn’t necessarily mind the clouds, or the light mist-rain that came with it–although I had neglected to bring any wet-weather gear. The 10-day forecast had called for nothing but sun. Fortunately, I now have a wife who is as diligent about packing the practical stuff as my mom was when I was 13. I could count on a warm change of clothes to wear while I my rain-filled tackle box and I dried out. My boys, on the other hand, thought otherwise of the weather and made the 11th-hour call to hang out and watch a movie. A wise choice, as fate would have it.

Chris and I lashed the 14 foot aluminum rowboat into the bed of his pickup and stowed our gear. Harry, Chris’ son, waited patiently in the cab. It should be said that Harry is a born fisherman, like my boys. They all inherited the fin-tuition gene from their fathers. They are as comfortable on the water as they are tormenting their sisters. Thankfully, it’s a condition for which there is no cure…fin-tuition, not tormenting their sisters. They will carry the malady for the rest of their lives. We climbed in the truck and made haste to Little Safford Lake.

Chris had recounted fabulous tales of big bodied largemouth caught right from the shore, before the boat had even been taken off the back of the truck. Eager, hungry and ready for a fight, a morning of Little Safford bass was supposedly enough to make a man wonder if he should’ve spent some time in the weight room before casting a line in that tea-colored water.

I’m telling you, he said, there’s fish in here like swimming pigs.

I must admit, I’ve never seen a pig swim. But I have heard of a diving pig, named Ralph. Used to leap full-on into Aquarena Springs – the head of the San Marcos River in Texas – back in the 60’s and 70’s. Swimming pigs. I was wondering if I had heavy enough line.

We followed miles of dirt roads through the mountain pines – snowmobile trails in the winter, when the snow is deep enough to necessitate directional signs placed 7 – 10 feet up on poles. A few lefts and rights at forks in the road and the road became less a road and more like a wagon trail. Then quite suddenly the trees opened up and the lake appeared.

Now, I’m pretty much a sucker for just about any body of water, but Little Safford, at first glance, looked about the fishiest I could hope a mountain lake to look. We pulled the boat and gear out of the back of the truck and staged it on the shore. By the time Chris had walked the forty-or-so yards back from where he parked the truck, Harry and I had already fought, caught and released a bass each. By the time we decided to actually put the boat in the water, we had managed a dozen between the three of us. No pigs to speak of, but very good fish nonetheless.

Even as we shoved off, the sky looked unhealthy and the misty rain had pulled itself together into respectable drops. A half-hour later and a quarter-mile into the wind, unhealthy gave way to down-right ugly, as if Mother Nature had just woke up with a hangover. Undaunted, we pressed on. We had adopted the tactic of rowing 40 yards up-wind of a likely stretch of bog shoreline and then fishing the 40 yard drift back. And it was working. Even with the worsening weather, fish were still biting in the water along the face of the bog. Then the temperature dropped like a stone. As if to put an actual sound to the falling temperature, a thunder clap shook loose from around the far side of a not-so-distant mountain at the other end of the lake.

An aluminum row-boat. Four or five graphite fishing rods. A good quarter-mile between us and where we put in. And at least 300 yards of bog between us and the safety of the nearest treeline and cover. Now Mother Nature had our full attention. So as to keep from attracting any of her more electrically charged hints, we elected to pull the boat into a small cut-back in the bog, get out onto the bog, and hunker down on the bog as far away from the boat as we could safely tread.

This wasn’t a black, muddy, tractor-pull type bog like you find crowding out a smaller pond. This bog was a 6 to 8 foot thick tangled mat of bramble-like growth that half floats on top of the black, muddy, tractor-pull build-up on the bottom of the lake. Acres of it. Under normal circumstances, most all wildlife avoids these bogs. Well, most wildlife that carries any sort of weight anyhow. False steps and weak spots are met with nature’s equivalent to the carnival dunking booth. And much like the carnival itself, it’s tough to get out once you’re in, and you feel lucky to be alive when you finally do.

We hunkered down and weighed our options–praying the hair on our arms would not stand on end as lightning flung itself like jagged party streamers around the valley. Mother Nature’s own version of fireworks.

Looks like this is going to be around for a while, Chris said.
We should make a run for it, I replied.
In the boat? Chris asked.
Yea. Look for a cloud break, we’ll pace it, I replied.
I’m not rowing, added Harry.

And so we rallied and rooted for Mother Nature to give us a break in the clouds.

Now, I’m not sure if it was an actual break or if our imaginations had fabricated that small window, a blue-sky oasis in the clouds. But we all saw it and piled into the boat with the fervor of hunting dogs after waterfowl. Chris was first up on the oars. The wind refused to cooperate though, blowing at an angle across our three man tub. As we zigged and zagged roughly in the direction of where we put in, rain picking up, I grabbed hold of the oars as well and we rowed with the intensity of Vikings approaching an unsuspecting seaside village.

Reaching our port, we dragged the boat up on the shore and raced to the truck to get out of the rain and get some heat going. No sooner did we get the doors closed, our window in the sky closed as well. Sheets of rain and hail, cracking thunder and flash after flash of lightning made sure we understood just how lucky we were to have arrived when we did. After a while the heat sank in to our wet clothes and backbones and our chattering teeth stopped chattering. Harry scarfed down a snack he never had the chance to eat while in the boat, smiling at his dad as if adventures like these happen every day.

Any idea what the weather’s supposed to be like this afternoon? I asked.
Calling for more sun, Chris said.
Cool, Harry added. I won’t even have to change my clothes.

 

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water

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