Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Few Favorite Dry Flies

When I wrote the post Anticipation a few days ago, I didn't realize that I would be writing a second blog post along the same lines. This time however, it's not deer season that I'm anticipating, but rather cold, clear mountain streams and pretty wild trout. It's been a while, (way too long), since I've made a trip up to the mountains to fish some of my favorite wild trout streams. I've decided that there is only one remedy for this, and that's to go trout fishing.

The summer seems to be flying by, and as a school teacher that's the last thing I want to happen. I love what I do, but I also enjoy summer vacation and I'm never quite ready for it to end. In anticipation of a fishing trip, I sat down at my fly tying desk the other day and worked on tying up several summertime essentials to restock my fly box. I was running low on several dry fly patterns that I love to use, and it had been too long since I took the time to tie any flies.

The act of fly tying is similar to checking trail cameras for me. Both activities are fun in their own right, but also serve to remind me of good times to come. Here are a few of the fly patterns I tied the other day, along with the recipes for them. None of these flies are original designs of mine, but they are the dry flies that I use most frequently. These are all flies that I've had good luck with here in North Carolina, and hopefully they will work for you too.

Thunderhead
Thunderhead - This is usually one of the first flies I try during the summer, and often the only one I use during a trip. This fly is a sentimental favorite, because it is the pattern that I caught my first trout on a dry fly on, a pretty little wild brown that hooked me as much as I hooked it.

Hook: TMC 100 or Mustad 94840; 12-16
Thread: 6/0 Black
Tail: Brown Hackle Fibers
Body: Superfine Gray Dubbing
Wing: White Calf Tail
Hackle: Brown and Grizzly Mixed

Rio Grande Trude
Rio Grande Trude - If a Thunderhead isn't working, this is usually my second choice, and sometimes my first. I've had especially good luck with this fly on brook trout.

Hook: TMC 100 or Mustad 94840; 12-16
Thread: 6/0 Black
Tail: Golden Pheasant Tippet
Body: Superfine Black Dubbing
Wing: White Calf Tail
Hackle: Brown

Deer Hair Caddis

Deer Hair Caddis - I've used these a lot over the years. I like to fish this fly in rougher or faster water, since it seems to float well in these conditions. This is just a basic Elk Hair Caddis tied with deer body hair. Both elk and deer hair seem to work about equally well for me for this fly.

Hook: TMC 100 or Mustad 94840; 10-18
Thread: 6/0 Brown
Body: Superfine Tan Dubbing (Sometimes I use hare's mask, olive, or cinnamon dubbing)
Wing: Deer Body Hair
Hackle: Palmered Brown Hackle

Tennessee Wulff
Tennessee Wulff - This is another pattern that I like to use in faster water. I've always heard our wild trout in NC like flies with some yellow on them, and while I don't have any scientific evidence to back this claim up, they do seem to like this fly. Since we have sparse hatches in most of our wild freestone streams, attractor patterns like this will usually do the trick.

Hook: TMC 100 or Mustad 94840; 10-16
Thread: 6/0 Black
Tail: Brown Bucktail
Body: Peacock Herl with a Yellow Floss Band
Wing: White Calf Tail
Hackle: Brown

These are just a few of the patterns that I like to tie and carry in my fly box, but unless there's a visible hatch or I'm fishing a technical stream like the Davidson, one of these four patterns are usually tied on my tippet if I'm dry fly fishing. I can't think of many things more exciting than seeing a wild trout take a dry fly, and I'm planing on giving a few trout the opportunity to see these flies very soon. If you get a chance to give any of these a try, I hope they work as well for you as they have for me.

- Joseph 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Anticipation

It's still above 90 degrees outside at 7:00 pm, and I'm swinging a bush ax.  In between wiping sweat out of my eyes, I think that I must be crazy. It's the middle of July, but already I have whitetail deer on my mind. I'm at one of my hunting spots, clearing a trail across a pond dam that had become overgrown with briers and saplings. This dam doubles as a bridge over the creek leading to my deer stand. Once the trail is cleared, I still have to walk up to the top of the ridge and check on the stand, and clear away some dead trees that are blocking the shooting lanes, not to mention trimming the limbs that have began to block my view out of the stand. The old ladder on the homemade stand needs to be replaced, thanks to the work of carpenter bees, but that's a project that will have to wait for another day. I've got a memory card in my pocket, and plan on swapping it out with the one that is in my trail camera close by. I can't wait to see if anything has been visiting the minerals I put out a few weeks ago, and my thoughts turn to cooler weather, changing leaves, and rutting bucks.

That was the scenario the other day as I began preparing for the 2015 deer season. Anticipation is a big part of hunting and fishing to me. I can remember many years where I couldn't sleep the night before opening day of deer or turkey seasons, or even when I had a fishing trip planned for the next morning. That seems to have changed a little as I've gotten older, and I'd like to think that it's just experience helping me to sleep now. I don't feel any less excitement about being outdoors now than I did twenty or more years ago as a child, however I do know now that it's better to sleep in the bed the night before so I don't fall asleep in the stand in the mornings!

One thing that I enjoy now is being able to use trail cameras to see what I would've normally missed by not being in the woods. I'm not sure that these have drastically changed the way I hunt, but they do tend to add fuel to the fire of excitement when a nice deer or big tom turkey shows up on camera. Over the last few years, they've also provided their share of surprises like the time a black bear passed through, or the occasional bobcat, fox, coyote, or raccoon. As I've suffered through the 90+ degree high temperatures these last few weeks, I can't help but think that soon fall will be here, bringing with it cooler weather, football, dove hunting, better trout fishing, and the beginning of our archery deer season. In the meantime, here are a few of the visitors that have shown up on the camera in the last few days. It won't be much longer and these bucks won't be so friendly with each other. I can't wait.

- Joseph

There are a few more pictures below the jump.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Smallmouth Bass and Being Slack

I hate to admit that my blogging seems to  follow a trend of several posts, followed by long, (too long!), periods of neglect and inactivity on the blog. It seems that there's always some excuse for why I don't take the time to sit down and write about the outdoors. I'm not going to promise that this is going to change, although I'd like to become more consistent with my blogging. 

I started this blog a little over three years ago as a place to write about and share my love of hunting and fishing, and for a while I was fairly consistent about writing on here and reading other blogs that I found through comments left here and sites like the Outdoor Blogger Network. I found a lot of great blogs, and "met" some good writers through comments left on here. I was amazed then, (and still am now), that anybody would want to take the time to read my ramblings about trout and turkeys, deer and bass, or the joys of planting a garden.  Before I write about my latest trip for smallmouth bass, I just wanted to take the time to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read these ramblings over the past three years or so, and also to all the online friends I've met through the outdoor blogging community who've taken the time to leave a comment on here or added me to your blog roll. I apologize for being such a slacker at times when it comes to blogging, and even if I've not left a comment on your blog lately I do still enjoy reading every one of them. Now, on with the fishing trip!

It's been a hot, dry summer so far here in western North Carolina. With highs in the 90's almost every day since the middle of June, not to mention several days that saw 100 degree temperatures, fishing trips have been few and far between. Our garden is all but done producing, and I keep thinking about fall and cooler weather. In spite of the heat, fishing has been on my mind. I keep thinking how good a trip up to the high country to chase trout would be, but so far I haven't been able to work out a good time to go. In the meantime, to at least temporarily satisfy my need to cast a fly, I decided to give the local smallmouth river a shot. I knew that water flow had been much lower than normal for several days before, but by watching the USGS gauge I happened to notice that the river had come up close to a normal summer flow when I made the decision to take a spur-of-the-moment trip.

I gave my one of my usual fishing partners, (my brother-in-law), a call to see if he was free, and within 45 minutes I was picking him up on the way to the river. When we arrived, the river looked to be in better shape than the last few times I had been by, with a normal current and decent amount of water. The few times I had seen the river previously, the current was almost nonexistent and there were rocks exposed that are normally never seen. I have tried fishing a time or two under those conditions, but the fish tend to be extremely spooky and sometimes hard to locate because the holes that can be accessed by wading tend to get too shallow to hold fish at extremely low flows.

We both started out throwing various popping bugs, with the hope of some surface action. Neither of us were able to get a strike from a bass, although we each caught some redbreast sunfish on top water. After fooling around with a popper for a little while, I decided to switch to a streamer and get serious about bass fishing. I decided to go with a purple, pink, and white Triple Threat streamer  because the water was slightly stained and the bass down here seem to prefer brighter colored flies. I've had a lot more success here with blue, purple, and pink colored flies than I have with more natural colors.

First Smallmouth of the Year
As I fished my way downstream, I made a cast toward the bank just in front of a submerged rock and felt that familiar resistance when I went to strip in my fly. I set the hook, and before I had time to even process what had happened a pretty little smallmouth bass was jumping on the end of my line. After a few good runs and several more jumps, I had the first smallmouth of the year in hand. He wasn't the biggest bass I've ever caught down here, but I was excited to see him. I was worried about what the high heat and lack of rain would do to the bass, but this bass looked healthy and well fed, and was full of energy.


I was hoping that this would be a sign of good things to come for the day, but as we continued fishing we noticed that the river was dropping once again. There is a small dam at a power plant upstream of where we fish, and evidently the gates at the dam had been closed once again. As the water dropped and continued to clear, the fishing became more and more difficult. That first bass would turn out to be the only one for the day, although each of us did manage a few more redbreast sunfish each. Once again, these came on small poppers in various colors. The sunfish tended to be holding close to the banks, in deeper pockets of fairly calm water, while the bass was holding in a similar area with a little more current.

As I write this today, we've gotten the first significant rainfall in about six weeks. Hopefully, this will help improve conditions down at the river, and it's also got me pondering a return trip to see if the bass will be a little more cooperative. Either way, it's always nice to take a hike down along the river and get away for a while. If time and weather allow, I'll be back soon to give it another try.

- Joseph

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Summer Smallmouth

Once again, I've found myself being way too slack with my writing on this blog. I'm ashamed to say that when I logged in today, I found that I haven't had a new post on here in almost a year. I got inspired to try to resurrect this blog the other day after catching my first smallmouth of the year (2015), and when I logged into Blogger I realized that I had several posts I had written last summer that through my forgetfulness never got published. Hopefully these are still worth putting out on the Internet. This is a post I wrote at the beginning of last summer, and it leads right into what should be my next post about Wednesday's trip to the river. I hope you enjoy, and thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings.

- Joseph

One of my latest addictions in the world of fly fishing is the smallmouth bass. A few years ago, I finally took the time to check out the reports of smallmouth bass being caught in a river not too far from home. At that time I was still primarily a trout fisherman, at least when it came to using a fly rod. I did a fair amount of bass fishing, but I used conventional tackle and fished farm ponds the majority of the time. For some reason, when I decided to finally give the smallmouth a shot, I decided to take an old 6wt Mitchell fly rod I had at the house that my Dad had bought years ago from someone. At the time, this was the heaviest weight fly rod I owned, the others being 4wts and 5wts for trout fishing. I knew just enough about bass fly fishing to know that I would probably be using larger flies and poppers, and that I would appreciate the extra line weight to help me cast these larger offerings. That first trip was a success, at least in the sense that I did catch a small smallmouth, along with several redbreast sunfish. I didn't realize it at the time, but that first little bass hooked me just as much as I hooked him.

First Smallmouth of 2014
Moving forward a few years from that first small bass, I find myself taking several trips down to the river each summer to chase these bronze fighters. Along the way, I picked up a new fly rod for heavier bass flies, and learned how to tie streamers like the Clouser and Triple Threat, and also how to tie popping bugs. I watch the USGS river gauge, and start getting excited anytime I see that flows will be good for wading. I think this is only made worse by the fact that in twenty minutes or less I can be standing in the river and casting flies. The one major drawback to this river is that it is wide and deep under the best of conditions, and a few summer thunderstorms in the watershed can make wading dangerous, if not impossible, for several days after. The area we fish is quite a hike from the parking area, and I have never seen anyone else fishing or swimming down there. This is good from a fishing standpoint, but makes me nervous to attempt wading the river without someone else close by in case of an accident because there are many places that the holes are easily eight feet deep or more. This sometimes limits my trips to the river, because while I will trout fish alone, I won't fish this river alone.

Redbreast Sunfish
As the school year came to an end, I found myself thinking more and more about the river and its smallmouth bass. Finally, the Saturday after the students went home for summer, I couldn't stand it any longer. It was time to go to the river and fish. I made plans with my fishing partner and brother-in-law Trent to head out that morning and see if the river would be kind to us. We checked and rechecked the USGS gauge, and almost backed out of going because we saw the river was running at our self-imposed upper limit for wading. Eventually we both decided that we would go take a look and see if we felt comfortable fishing, mainly because neither one of us had been able to do any smallmouth fishing since last fall.

Once we arrived, the water looked clear enough to safely wade, and appeared to be dropping slightly so we decided it was worth rigging up the rods and giving it a try. We headed down the trail to our usual fishing area, a section of river divided by a series of islands. The right side of the islands (looking downstream) contains a narrower channel than the left, but this channel is composed of deeper holes and ledges, with lots of rocky structure for smallmouth to hide around. We have also fished this area enough to have an idea of where and how to wade to avoid a dunking. Some of this knowledge was earned the hard way over the last few years, but we've fished the area enough now to avoid most of the deeper spots.

River Smallmouth
Once we made it to the water, I decided to start out trying one of the poppers that I had tied, while Trent started out with a smaller popper. After several casts, I figured out that the fish wanted some action on the bug, and once I started stripping the popper vigorously I managed to catch a few redbreast sunfish, and Trent missed a strike from a nice bass on his popper. I wasn't having any luck with bass on the popper, so I switched flies to a Triple Threat, one of my favorite patterns for this river. I managed to catch three smallmouth on the streamer, and also picked up a few more redbreast sunfish. Trent went on to catch some redbreast sunfish on his popper, and all in all we declared the day a success. Summer rains have kept the river too high to wade recently, at least when we've had the opportunity to go, but when the weather and Trent's work schedule line up right, I'm sure we'll be back. Those bronze bass have a way of hooking fishermen with their fierce fight and wild jumps, and pursuing them with a fly rod is one of my favorite ways to spend a summer day.

- Joseph

Monday, July 28, 2014

Salty Memories Part 3 - Time and Tide

If you haven't had a chance to read Salty Memories Part 1 - The Beginnings, and Salty Memories Part 2 - The Pier Years, please click the links and give them a read first. This post picks up at the end of Part 2.


Time and tide wait for no man - Unknown

"Old Baldy" The Lighthouse on Bald Head Island
Time has a way of slipping by unnoticed, and when I got a phone call from my Dad asking if my wife and I would like to take a trip to Oak Island and Southport for the Fourth of July, I was shocked to realize that none of us had been down there in four years. For most of my life, a trip down to the island was such a regular part of summer vacation that it seemed I took it for granted. Most years, especially after high school, involved two trips each summer - once for the annual fishing trip and a second trip with the family that also usually included a couple mornings of fishing. I knew that this would be a short trip and that there wouldn't be an opportunity to fish this time, but I was still looking forward to seeing the surf and sand and also seeing how things might have changed on the island.

Trina and I at Oak Island - 2009
The last two trips that I made to Oak Island with my family also were the first two trips that my wife Trina made with us. Our first time at the island together we were able to visit Cape Lookout and see the lighthouse along with some of the wild horses that call the Outer Banks home, and we returned to the beach house that evening just in time to find out that there were some sea turtles hatching just down the beach. We made it down to the water in time to witness the baby turtles making their mad dash to the surf, and that is a memory that I will never forget.


Provision Company
One of the most obvious changes, and one that we all noticed right away was the completion of the Swain's Cut Bridge onto Oak Island. The last time I was in the area, the bridge was under construction and there was still only a two lane bridge serving the entire 14 mile long island. The new bridge is in addition to the old bridge, and is a four lane bridge and road that seemed to help with traffic immensely. After checking into our hotel on Friday, we drove down to Southport for the NC Fourth of July Festival on the waterfront. We somehow found a parking space and spent the afternoon walking around Southport and taking in the festival. Our plans included lunch at the Yacht Basin Provision Company, one of my family's favorite places to eat in the area, but they were closed for the Fourth. I was glad to see that the Provision Company was still there, and we made plans to return on Saturday for some steamed shrimp and crab cakes for Dad and I, and a cheeseburger for Trina. Trina has always said they make one of the best cheeseburgers she's ever had, but I've only eaten one thing from there over the years - "Thee Special" - a half pound of steamed shrimp with a crab cake.

Oak Island Lighthouse from Southport Waterfront
One major change that I did notice was the nice big new houses on the oceanfront that occupied the site of the former Long Beach Pier. The last few years that I had been to the island, the former pier site was just an empty stretch of beach. A developer had bought the pier several years ago and tore it down, with the intentions of building condominiums on the beach, according to what I had been told. This was about the time of the major drop in the real estate market, and those lots sat empty for several years. Personally, looking at it from a fisherman's point of view, I always thought it was a terrible thing to see the pier go, but I guess that business is business. I worried at one time that the old Yaupon pier would suffer the same fate when it came up for sale, but luckily it was purchased by the town of Oak Island, who leased the pier to the former owner of the Long Beach Pier who now runs it.

Surf Fishermen and Old Baldy in the Background on Oak Island
Friday morning we spent time riding around Oak Island, and we took time to stop by Oak Island Pier and take a walk out to the end to see how the fishermen were doing. One major change I first noticed from the pier was the amount of people on the beach, but I chalked that up to it being a holiday weekend. I didn't see anybody catching much on the pier, but then again it was midday and Hurricane Arthur had passed through the night before and had the water stirred up and muddy.  Our best luck fishing was always early in the morning on days with a southeast wind that helped clear the water.

Southport Fireworks
We hung around Southport on Friday afternoon, and were able to see the fireworks display to end our day. The fireworks were launched from a barge out in the waterway, and it was one of the better fireworks shows I have seen. According to a little research I did, this tradition at Southport has its roots in the founding of our nation, when ships anchored in the harbor fired their cannons to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Saturday found us back down in Southport where we got the chance for lunch at the Provision Company and spent a little time walking along the waterfront. Southport didn't seem to have changed much from the last time I was there, although a few of the businesses and restaurants had new names and I'm assuming new owners. There were a few new changes on Oak Island as well, but some of our old favorite places were still there. All in all, it seemed that other than a new bridge and new houses being built in various places on the island, it was much as we left it four years ago. We ate at a few of the same restaurants, and bought some fudge from the same shop that we used to buy it from when I was a child.

Shells and Sand
Sunday morning we went for a walk on the beach before we had to head for home, and standing out on the beach watching the waves are where the inspiration for these blog posts came from. I couldn't help but think about the fish I had caught, the people I had met, and the memories I had of friends and family that were all tied up with this place. I hope that it doesn't take me another four years or more to return, and one day soon I hope to get out all the old pier fishing tackle and take a trip down memory lane while I watch the sun rise over the ocean. They say that time and tide wait for no man, and it is scary how quickly time seems to slip by any more. I only hope I have a chance to make a lot more memories and find more special places like Oak Island before my time on this earth runs out.

- Joseph

Monday, July 14, 2014

Salty Memories Part 2 - The Pier Years

If you haven't had a chance to read Salty Memories Part 1 - The Beginnings, please take the time to click the link and read it. This post picks up where I left off in Part 1.

At the end of Salty Memories Part 1, I made mention of a chance encounter on a pier at Oak Island that changed the way I would saltwater fish. This encounter happened at the Long Beach Pier, named for the town of Long Beach that merged with Yaupon Beach in 1999 to form the Town of Oak Island. Dad and I took a walk on the pier early one morning while we were at the island on vacation, and happened to see several people catching some nice fish which we found out were spotted seatrout, or speckled trout as they were sometimes known. These fish were  bigger than anything I had managed to catch in the surf with shrimp and bloodworms, and I wanted to find out more about these fish and how to catch them.

Oak Island Pier
My previous experiences pier fishing had led me to believe that I was just as well off surf fishing, because I caught the same small spot and whiting from the pier that I did in the surf, and didn't have to pay anything to do it. What I didn't know at the time was that the true value of a pier ticket was access to fish that I couldn't catch from the surf as easily, and that it was my choice of tactics and bait that had limited my success on the pier in the past. The fishermen I saw that morning were mainly catching trout, but I also saw the occasional bluefish and Spanish mackerel brought onto the pier. All of these fish were species that I hadn't caught before, and so I began talking to some of the fishermen and asking a few questions to find out what I needed to do to have the kind of success they were having. One gentleman was nice enough to show me that the fish were being caught on live shrimp, and also showed me how to tie a basic rig to fish the shrimp for trout. Armed with this new knowledge, I decided to buy a pier ticket the next morning and try my luck.

Yaupon/Oak Island Pier
I don't remember catching any trout on that first attempt, but some of the local pier fishermen helped me out tremendously by showing me how to hook the shrimp, how to tie my own bottom rigs, and other tips about tackle that would help me out in the future. I was also shocked to learn just how expensive live shrimp were to purchase. If my memory is correct, live shrimp at the time were somewhere around $8 - $10 a dozen, depending on where you bought them, and this was 14 or 15 years ago! I knew that if I did very much trout fishing, I was going to have to find out where to catch my own shrimp like most of the regular fishermen did. Once again, the friendly fishermen that I met on the pier came to my rescue, and shared a few publicly accessible spots on the island where shrimp could be caught with a cast net.

The Crew at Oak Island - 2008
The next summer marked my graduation from high school, and a good friend and I decided that we were going to take a trip down to the coast to do some fishing after graduation. I was fortunate enough to have some relatives that had a mobile home on Oak Island that they used for a vacation home, and they graciously allowed two broke kids to stay there for a week and do some fishing. This was the first time that I had any real success pier fishing, and we caught trout on live shrimp, and bluefish and Spanish mackerel on Gotcha plugs. We ate bologna sandwiches if we couldn't catch enough fish for dinner, and even one day cleaned a bunch of shrimp that we caught in the cast net and made fried shrimp for lunch. All things considered, we lived like kings for the week.

The Homemade Pier Cart
This marked the beginning of a series of trips that would last for several years, and that grew in the number of participants. It started out the first few years just being two of us, but as some of our close friends heard about the success we were having they asked to join in, and the last few years we all made the trip there were five of us that went down to Oak Island for a week to fish. By this time we all were out of college and working, so we started renting a house for the week and were able to afford to eat more than just bologna sandwiches. The trip took on some traditions of its own, such as not buying ice for the fish cooler until the first keeper was landed, and a certain Hardee's restaurant that was the only place on the way down that we would stop for a biscuit for breakfast. We even used a little bit of redneck engineering to turn a lawn cart into a pier cart complete with rod holders for ten rods, thanks to some hose clamps and PVC pipe. It seemed like it weighed a ton, but it did the job for us for several years.

Henry
Our first few years, we fished off of the Long Beach Pier, but when the pier was closed due to being sold we moved up the island and spent the last few years of the trip fishing on the former Yaupon Pier, now named the Oak Island Pier after its purchase by the town of Oak Island. There was a year in between the closing of Long Beach Pier and the opening of Oak Island pier where we fished from the other pier on the island, Ocean Crest Pier. We had good luck at all three piers, but wound up at Oak Island because that's where most of the fishermen we had come to know on Long Beach Pier wound up going after it closed. Over the years we got to know several of the locals, not the least of whom was Henry, the unofficial mascot of the Yaupon/Oak Island Pier. Henry was a snowy egret who made the pier home, and was the only egret I've ever seen on the island who didn't seem the slightest bit afraid of people. He would fly over to the pier in the morning, and spend time making the rounds and getting fed by the fishermen. Henry wasn't above helping himself if you happened to leave the lid open on your bait bucket either. We always made sure to give Henry a shrimp or two for good luck.

Trout, Pompano, and Spanish Mackerel
These trips lasted for several summers, and were always the highlight of the summer for us. The last trip we all made together was in 2010, and after that marriages and children and life in general seemed to prevent everyone from being able to get together for a week. We all still keep in close touch and even occasionally fish together, but we've not been to the beach together since. Some of my friends still make it down to the island every year, and I will occasionally get a call or a picture message on my phone of some nice trout or flounder. I'm glad that I was able to share a place that I enjoyed with some good friends, and now some of them take their own families to the island. For several years I was lucky enough to make two trips to the island every summer, once with the fishing crew and usually again in late summer with my family. I hadn't been down to the coast since a family trip in 2010, so when my wife and I got the opportunity to go over the July 4th holiday with my Dad I was looking forward to seeing how things might have changed in four year's time.

To be continued.....

- Joseph

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Fruits of Our Labor

Corn Stalks
It's summertime once again, and I spend at least a part of almost every day working in our garden. It's one of my favorite summer activities, and its always exciting when the vegetables begin to ripen and can be harvested. Soon it will be time to can green beans and make pickles. The corn will be ready to pick and freeze, and ripening tomatoes mean tomato sandwiches for lunch. The garden gives me an outlet for my outdoor energies on the days when fishing is out of the question, and serves to keep me occupied during my summer break from teaching.

Potatoes
This year's garden has so far yielded Georgia sweet onions and Red Pontiac potatoes, along with several cucumbers and a lone squash. Our squash and zucchini vines fell victim to squash bugs, and were wiped out before they had a chance to bear much fruit. I was surprised, because the first few years we had a garden the squash bugs and squash vine borers weren't a problem. I'm going to have to be more diligent in future years to make sure these pests don't become a problem again. The most disappointing thing about losing our squash and zucchini will be the lack of fried squash and homemade zucchini relish in our house this summer. Another loss from the garden earlier this year was our cabbage and broccoli plants. Judging from the tracks left behind, these fell victim to the deer that call the woods behind our house home. I was hoping to attempt homemade sauerkraut this year, but the deer decided that fresh cabbage was on the menu and didn't leave me any to experiment with.
Cucumber

The rest of the garden, minus the onions, potatoes, cabbage, and broccoli, was planted later this year than in years past. Normally I try to plant our garden soon after April 15, our normal frost free date, but some unusually cold weather caused me to delay planting until close to May 1. So far, this hasn't seemed to have a negative affect on our garden since we've been lucky enough to have fairly frequent rain showers. The only difference I've really noticed is that of course planting two weeks later has caused everything to ripen about two weeks later.

Tomatoes
Charleston Gray Watermelon


One thing that has me excited about this year's garden is our watermelon vines. For some reason, my attempts at growing watermelons the past few years have been less than stellar. The watermelons seem to stop growing and ripen while still very small, even though I planted a variety that was supposed to produce large melons. This year I'm trying a couple new things with the melons, planting a different variety  and also changing the location of them in the garden. So far, our watermelon vines seem to be much more vigorous, and the melons are growing at a faster rate than I've seen in previous years. I don't want to declare it a success yet, but I'm hopefully optimistic about this year's crop.

Time will tell what this year's garden will produce for us, but the thoughts of fresh vegetables  make all the hours spend pulling weeds and picking beans worth every minute. This winter, the corn in the freezer and the canned green beans will serve as a taste of the summer gone by, and give me a reason to till the ground and plant more seeds come spring.

- Joseph