Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Streams, Part 1

Waterfalls and Boulders
I'm not usually in the habit of writing multi-part blog posts, the ones about Oak Island being the exception to the rule. However, I hope you'll forgive me if I take two separate posts to talk about my most recent trout fishing trip. This trip involved two fishermen, two streams, two species of trout, and a whole lot more pictures to share than will comfortably fit into a single blog. Since the number two seemed to be a trend on this trip, I decided to go with two blog posts, one focused on each of the streams I fished.

This trip started with a conversation at church with my uncle Greg, who told me about a couple of new streams that he had recently discovered and wanted to check out. I'm always up for exploring new places, and we made plans to try these streams out. One of the streams Greg had fished briefly once, and the other was one that he had seen from the trail while on a recent hiking trip. Since both of the streams were within a ten minute drive or so of each other, we decided to check them both out.

The Bridge to Brook Trout
The first stream we fished the morning of our trip was completely new to both of us. This was the stream Greg had noticed while on his hike, so we had no idea what we might find. From the road coming in, this stream doesn't look like much to grab a fisherman's attention. However, once we parked and started up the trail and gained some elevation, I saw what had prompted Greg's curiosity. The stream went from a small, flat, and fairly featureless ditch to a beautiful mountain stream full of plunge pools and small waterfalls as it cascaded down the mountain. There were some surprisingly deep pools at the base of a lot of these waterfalls, and it went from looking disappointing to very fishy as soon as we gained a little altitude.

We decided to split up like we usually do when we fish together, especially on these small streams where there just isn't room for two people to fish together. We always agree on a rendezvous place and time just to occasionally check in see how things are going and to make sure nobody has suffered any kind of mishap. There's lots of boulders and slick rocks in a stream like this, and it always helps to ease my mind to know there is someone close by just in case.

Little Native
After a short hike up the trail into the national forest, crossing an old bridge with a few planks missing along the way, we decided to try our luck. All we knew at this point about this stream was that it fell under Wild Trout regulations, just as all the other streams in the national forest do that are not specifically identified otherwise. This stream had the look of one that hasn't been fished very much or very hard, and there were not even the usual diamond shaped regulation signs along the stream. As I climbed down into the first pool, I couldn't help but have a feeling that this looked like the type of stream that might have native brook trout in it. I had no idea if it would or not, but it just had that steep, boulder filled, headwaters look that I tend to associate with places where I've caught brook trout before.

Pretty Pool
After a few casts, my suspicions were confirmed when a pretty little brookie took my dry fly. I was excited to see this, especially because most of the streams I fish contain wild rainbow or brown trout, or a mix of both. I know of another stream that is almost exclusively native brookies, but for the most part I catch an occasional brook trout when I get high into the headwaters of most of the streams I fish. I love to catch brook trout, our only truly native trout species, (and I realize they aren't really "trout" but char instead), mainly for their beauty and willingness to take almost any properly presented fly. They also live in some of the prettiest, most rugged streams that I've ever fished. This only adds to the excitement of chasing them. There's also something special about catching a fish that can trace its ancestors back thousands of years in these mountains.

Native Brook Trout
After that first brook trout, I was curious to see what was farther upstream. I worked my way over, around, and through the pools and boulders, fishing every likely looking spot on the way. Almost any spot that looked deep enough held trout, although I did miss more than my share of strikes. It was a reminder that a trout's reflexes and instincts are perfectly tuned to survival, while mine may have been a little rusty. I managed to fool a few more little mountain jewels along the way, with the best trout of the day being a brightly colored eight inches. It was a perfect day to be in the mountains, escaping the ninety plus degree heat at home, and catching pretty natives. When Greg and I met up and compared notes, I found out that his luck was similar to mine and that we had both caught brook trout exclusively. With our curiosity slightly satisfied, at least as to what this stream held, we decided to spend a few hours exploring another new stream a few miles away. I can't wait to get back and spend more time here exploring farther up into the headwaters and seeing what other secrets this little stream might hold. In the meantime, I'll pick up with this story on the second stream in part two.

To be continued...

- Joseph

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Salty Memories Part 6 - Fishing the Surf, Pier, and Other Places

Three years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts titled Salty Memories about my memories of Oak Island, NC and the good times I enjoyed down there with family and friends. These posts were inspired by a return to Oak Island after being away for a few years. If you haven't had a chance to read these, please take the time to check them out here: Salty Memories Part 1 - The BeginningsSalty Memories Part 2 - The Pier Years, and Salty Memories Part 3 - Time and Tide. These three posts provide the background to this new series of posts about my most recent trip. 

This post is the start of the current trip: Salty Memories Part 4 - Familiar Places with New Faces. Part five focused on our trip over to the Fort Fisher area and can be found here: Salty Memories Part 5 - Fish Everywhere But No Fishing! This post will be the wrap up of this installment of Salty Memories, and yes, finally, it's time to talk all about the fishing.

- Joseph

I've come to the conclusion that I must be crazy. That's the only explanation that I can come up with for someone who goes on vacation and sets an alarm for 5:00 am or earlier every single day that they are there. There's something wrong with waking up earlier on vacation than you do to go to work, but I did. Every day. However, as crazy as it may sound to some folks, I think anybody who fishes and reads this will understand. I'm not crazy, just crazy about fishing.

Salt Marsh Buck
It had been eight years since I had the opportunity to do any saltwater fishing, and when the opportunity presented itself I was not going to waste a single day. Most of the fishing that I have done over the years at Oak Island has focused on pier fishing for spotted sea trout, or speckled trout as they are commonly known on the island. These aren't to be confused with the other speckled trout in North Carolina, which are what native brook trout are known as in the mountains. Personally, I love fishing for both kinds of speckled trout, and I did make a trip for the mountain variety the other day, but I'll save that for the next blog post. In the meantime, I'll talk about the saltwater variety of speckled trout. 

Our arrival at the island on Saturday, July 1 started with Trent and I going to catch our bait for the next day's fishing. Speckled trout fishing from the piers on the island is mainly a live bait affair, with the bait of choice being live shrimp. There are several places that these can be caught with a cast net and a little effort, but the best time to catch shrimp in most areas is at low tide when the shrimp have fewer areas to hide in. Low tide on Saturday morning was at roughly 8:30, and since Oak Island is a four and a half to five hour ride from home, we left at 4:00 am to be sure of catching the tide. After an hour or so of throwing the nets, we had a bucket full of shrimp ready to go for the next morning. 

Surf Fishing
After we caught our bait, we had time to kill while the rest of the family made their way down to the island, since they weren't too keen on leaving at 4:00 am. I can't say that I blame them either. We made a stop by to see my good friend Luke Horn who had moved to the island a few years ago. Luke and I started fishing for speckled trout together at Oak Island right after we graduated high school. We were trying to decide what to do to celebrate graduation, and both of us have always loved to fish, so we decided to take a trip to the beach to do some fishing. From this trip, we began learning from the veteran pier fishermen about how to rig up live shrimp and catch speckled trout, and this initial trip led to all the following trips that added a few extra friends along the way. Luke now trout fishes year around on and around the island, and has even been featured in this past May's issue of Carolina Sportsman magazine in an article about pier fishing for speckled trout. If you happen to be able to get your hands on a copy, he explains how to fish for speckled trout from the pier. The techniques described in the article are the same ones that we have always used that were taught to us by the fishermen we met on the piers several years ago.

Whiting From The Surf
After stopping by and visiting a while, Trent and I decided to try a little fishing while we were waiting on our rental house to be available and for everyone else to arrive. Luke gave us some tips on a few places where we might try throwing jigs for flounder, so we set out to do a little exploring. We didn't happen to have any luck with the flounder, but we did see a young whitetail buck out in the salt marsh. I also got to see a few new places to fish that I didn't know about before. This was a nice way to waste a few hours, and before long it was time to head over to the house and get settled in for the week.

A lot of the fishing at Oak Island is dependent on the wind. A strong southwest wind had been blowing for a few days before our arrival, and was forecast to continue at least through Tuesday morning. This meant that the water in the ocean was very stirred up and dirty, which usually means that the fishing on the pier will be difficult at best, at least for trout. With this in mind, Trent, Luke, and I decided to do some fishing on the inland side of the island. We started out at daylight throwing topwater lures, but didn't have much interest from the trout. Trent and I switched over to throwing popping corks with artificial shrimp and Trent hooked up with the first trout of the trip. 

The next morning, with the wind still blowing and the ocean still full of sand, Luke and I went back to where we fished Sunday morning. Once again, we tried topwater at first, which Luke has a lot of success with, but the wind was making it difficult to work the lure properly. I decided to give the popping cork another try, and wound up hooking up with a nice trout about 18' long. That was about all the action that morning other than Luke catching a bluefish on his topwater bait. Still, it was nice to get the first fish of the trip out of the way.
First Trout Of The Trip

We fished this area a few more times over the course of the week, and had a little more success with live shrimp fished under corks. Trent hooked a nice black drum fishing shrimp, and we had a few missed strikes and caught a few pinfish as well. However, this was always our Plan B spot, although with the water conditions it became Plan A more mornings than not. However, our luck changed on Monday afternoon when the wind calmed down and became more south-southwest instead of directly out of the southwest. After the wind changed, the high tide brought in cleaner water than we had seen up to that point, and we decided if conditions held it would be an ideal morning to fish the pier on Tuesday.

Croaker From The Surf
Tuesday morning brought calmer winds and clear water, and we were waiting along with the other fishermen when the pier opened at 6:00 am. Once we paid for our pier pass, we rolled my old pier cart out and began fishing. It was a good morning to be on the pier, as everyone was having success. I caught several trout, although all but three were just a little undersized to keep. Speckled trout in NC have a four fish, 14" size limit. Most of mine were in the 13-14" range, but I did catch three nice sized trout that made it into the cooler. Luke and his friend Roger both caught a limit as well, and Trent caught several trout too, although his were like most of mine in that they were just barely undersized. There was action all up and down the pier, with most of the trout fishermen having success. 

We had high hopes that Wednesday would bring more of the same, but although we fished the pier again Wednesday morning the water had begun to dirty again and the trout just weren't willing to bite. However, Trent seemed determined to catch every species of fish in the sea. Over the course of a week he hooked up with black drum, speckled trout, a small blacktip shark, several ladyfish, a ribbon fish, silver perch, pinfish, bluefish, and whiting. Most of these came from the pier during our two days of pier fishing, with the majority being on Wednesday. Once the water dirtied up, we went back to fishing inshore for the rest of the week.

Along with the trout and flounder fishing, we also spent a few evenings surf fishing while the family enjoyed the beach. This brought back memories of some of my earliest fishing trips as a child, using bottom rigs on a surf rod to catch whatever might swim by. The first fish I ever caught actually came from Oak Island while surf fishing, a nice pompano that started a lifelong addiction to all things fishing. We stopped by a local fish marked and picked up some fresh shrimp for our surf fishing. I believe that fresh shrimp is the key to catching more fish in the surf, and to be honest a dozen or so of these local shrimp didn't make it any farther than a pot of boiling water and some Old Bay seasoning. It just seemed a waste to use all of them to feed the fish. I can't say how they taste raw to the fish, but boiled they were excellent. We had some success with our surf fishing, catching mostly whiting, along with a croaker and a small pompano. It also gave my niece a chance to see a fish up close, and judging from her interest in everything we caught it won't surprise me if she starts coming along on our fishing trips when she gets old enough. 
Trout From The Pier

Overall, it was a great trip spent with the family and catching up with one of my oldest and best friends. Even on days when the fish weren't cooperating, there is something special about watching the sun rise over the ocean and being out on the beach before everyone wakes up. This has always been one of my favorite times at the beach, and I'm glad I got the opportunity to go. If you are ever down at Oak Island, my suggestion is set your alarm for 5:00 am and enjoy the sunrise over the water. If you do, you may not think I'm quite so crazy after all. Thanks for coming along with me on this sandy ramble. 

- Joseph

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Salty Memories Part 5 - Fish Everywhere, But No Fishing!

Three years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts titled Salty Memories about my memories of Oak Island, NC and the good times I enjoyed down there with family and friends. These posts were inspired by a return to Oak Island after being away for a few years. If you haven't had a chance to read these, please take the time to check them out here: Salty Memories Part 1 - The BeginningsSalty Memories Part 2 - The Pier Years, and Salty Memories Part 3 - Time and Tide. These three posts provide the background to this new series of posts about my most recent trip. 

This post is the start of the current trip: Salty Memories Part 4 - Familiar Places with New Faces. The following post will pick up where Part 4 left off. 

- Joseph
Trina and I on the Southport-Fort Fisher Ferry

I'm getting closer to talking about the fishing at Oak Island, I promise. This post will definitely contain a lot more fish than the last one, they just won't be on a hook. One of our traditions on almost every visit to Oak Island with my family growing up was to take the ferry from Southport over to Fort Fisher and visit the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. This was always one of the highlights of any trip to the beach for me, because the natural world has always fascinated me. I loved being able to see all the different fish and animals that were around the beach, especially the ones that I had never seen before while fishing. 

The trip to the aquarium always begins with catching the ferry from Southport over to Fort Fisher. This is an adventure in itself, as you never know what you might see while crossing the Cape Fear River. On this last trip, we saw pelicans diving on schools of bait fish, a dolphin jumping, and several species of shore birds. Once we arrived at the dock, it was a short drive to the aquarium itself. Before we entered the main aquarium building, Trina and I decided to check out the new lorikeet exhibit right outside. This was a small extra charge, but we got to enter an aviary with lorikeets and lorries, and also got the opportunity to feed a few with nectar provided by the staff. It was a neat experience to get close to these bright, colorful birds and well worth the few extra bucks for admission. 

Feeding a lorikeet
The aquarium itself has changed over the years since I first started visiting, with the biggest change being the first exhibit area where you enter the aquarium. This area is now set up to represent the freshwater areas and swamps of the Cape Fear River basin, compete with bobwhite quail, box turtles, several species of fish, and alligators! The star of the alligator exhibit is an albino alligator named Luna. Trina and I saw Luna on a visit here about eight years ago, so it was interesting to see how much she had grown. Also, it was fun to see how our niece Addyson reacted to the fish tanks. She would walk up to each one and point at the fish and watch them swimming. I think we may have a future fisherwoman in the making!
She kept saying "Fish!"

Once we went through the Cape Fear exhibit, we came to the part of the aquarium that I can remember from my very young days, where there are all kinds of exhibits of marine animals and fish. We stopped by the touch pool, took a look at a loggerhead sea turtle, and saw many many different varieties of fish, lobsters, jellyfish, and other water dwellers. One thing that has always been interesting to me about this particular aquarium is their focus on species that are found in and around southeastern North Carolina. Just about all of the habitats in the exhibits are designed to simulate habitats found in coastal North Carolina, such as wrecks and artificial reefs or pier pilings. 
Fort Fisher Aquarium

We also took the time to take in a presentation on fishing basics, which covered things like license requirements and regulations along with identifying organisms that are fish versus crustaceans and other water dwellers. I thought it was a well put together introduction to fishing for anybody that wasn't too familiar with fishing but might like to give it a try. Somehow along the way I got talked into trying the hurricane simulator, which exposed you to winds up to about 75 miles an hour. It wasn't too bad, but then again it only lasted for a couple minutes. I can't imagine being in a full force category four or five hurricane, the simulator was as close as I ever hope to get. 

After a full morning at the aquarium, we drove from Fort Fisher up through Kure Beach and Carolina Beach. After a stop for doughnuts at Britt's Doughnuts in Carolina Beach, (a first for us, but highly recommended), it was back to the dock to board the ferry for the return trip to Southport. I did fish early in the morning before we went to the aquarium, but the majority of this day was spent looking at fish that were off limits, even though I have my coastal fishing license. It was a fun trip, and a nice continuation of a tradition that started with my family when I was very young. I have a lot of memories of Southport and Fort Fisher, and this trip only added to the wonderful store of them. I was glad to get to share another special place with family that had never been there, and I think they enjoyed the trip as much as I did. 
I'd like to catch one this size!

Thank you for rambling along with me on this trip. The next post should wrap up this installment of the Salty Memories series, at least until the next time I am able to make it down to the coast. Part six will be all about fish that can actually be fished for. Until then, thanks for stopping by and reading my ramblings!

- Joseph

Salty Memories Part 4 - Familiar Places with New Faces

Three years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts titled Salty Memories about my memories of Oak Island, NC and the good times I enjoyed down there with family and friends. These posts were inspired by a return to Oak Island after being away for a few years. If you haven't had a chance to read these, please take the time to check them out here: Salty Memories Part 1 - The Beginnings, Salty Memories Part 2 - The Pier Years, and Salty Memories Part 3 - Time and Tide. These three posts provide the background to this one, and help explain why Oak Island will always be a special place to me. Thanks for reading, and I appreciate the opportunity to share some new memories with you!

Before I get started talking about our most recent trip, I'm going to ask that you indulge me a little with these blog posts. I promise there will be one all about the fishing, I went fishing every day so there's plenty to talk about. However, it's hard for me to condense a week long trip to one of my favorite places into one short blog post about the fishing. I'll try to keep the other ramblings fairly short, but I think this may become another multi-part blog post. There's just too much to talk about to squeeze it all into one post. I have to give credit to my wife for the majority of the photos. If they're good, they're hers, if not they are probably my pictures. 

As with the earlier Salty Memories posts I wrote, these are also dedicated to the memory of my Mom. This was one of her favorite places in the world.

- Joseph

The Family Under the Pier

View from the Porch
Do you have a place that you enjoy visiting that no matter how long you've been gone, it feels familiar when you get there? Things may have changed in your absence, but there's still that feeling of being somewhere that you know. I love to explore new places and see new things, but there is also something comforting about coming back to a place where even though you may be a visitor and a tourist, you feel almost a sense of home. For me, one of those places has always been Oak Island. Things have changed down there in the thirty-plus years that I've been visiting, but there's still enough familiar places that it seems both old and new at the same time.

This past Fourth of July week, I finally made it back to Oak Island for a week for vacation, although with a lot of new (to Oak Island) people. This trip was made with my wife Trina, who has been to Oak Island with me three times before this trip, and her parents, brother, sister-in-law, and our niece, all of whom had never visited before. This was also our niece Addyson's first trip to the beach, so we were excited to see what she would think about the sand and salt water.
Addyson at the Fourth of July Festival
We had several things planned for our trip, included the NC Fourth of July Festival in Southport, a ride on the Southport-Fort Fisher ferry, a visit to the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, and lots of beach time. Also on my agenda was fishing as much as I possibly could. I'm happy to say that all these things were accomplished on this trip, along with eating lots of good food.
On the Beach

I was excited for this trip, as we had planned and reserved our house a year ago. The anticipation had a whole year to build, and I was looking forward to sharing a special place with more of my family. I was also looking forward to catching up and getting a chance to fish with one of my oldest and best friends, who had moved down to Oak Island a few years ago. The two of us were the original founders of the fishing trip that I talked about in the blog post Salty Memories Part 2 - The Pier Years, and we had kept in touch but hadn't had the chance to fish together since he moved to the island. 
Oak Island Lighthouse

On this trip, we had rented a house on the beach just a few houses down from the Ocean Crest Pier. This would turn out to be a lucky circumstance, as the other pier on the island wound up being badly damaged by Hurricane Matthew and is currently closed until it can be rebuilt. It was nice to be able to walk to the pier on the mornings I fished there, instead of loading up the pier cart and rods and having to drive to the pier. It was also nice to be able to head right out on the beach, and sitting on the back porch and watching the pelicans diving for fish early and late in the day made for a nice way to relax. 

We spent the day on July Fourth in Southport for the festival, and then returned to Oak Island and watched the fireworks from near the Oak Island lighthouse. Trina and I, along with my Dad, had watched the fireworks from the waterfront in Southport the last time we were there, and I think both locations have their advantages and disadvantages. Traffic was definitely much better on the island after the fireworks, but a few of the lower fireworks were hard to see clearly because of bushes blocking the view. Overall though it was a nice place to watch the show. Just look out for ant hills!

Provision Company
When it came time to eat, we had a chance to visit some old favorite places while we were there, and also tried out some new things. We cooked a low country boil one day at the house with some fresh local shrimp, and also tried a few new restaurants that turned out to be a hit. I especially enjoyed one that my friend had told me about that had steamed oysters on special for fifty cents. We also had to make a mandatory stop at the Yacht Basin Provision Company in Southport. No trip down would be complete for me without "Thee Special" - a half pound of steamed shrimp and a crab cake with corn on the cob. Our non-seafood eaters in the group enjoyed the burgers a lot as well. 
Local Shrimp Low Country Boil

We did a lot more than just eat and enjoy the beach while we were there. I highly recommend Southport and the NC Fourth of July Festival. It is a fun experience and there is a lot to see and do during the day while waiting on the fireworks. In the next part, I will either talk about the fishing, or about the fish we saw. I'm not sure yet which one it will be, but I promise there will be fish involved somehow. Until then, thanks for rambling along with me at the beach!

- Joseph

Friday, November 11, 2016

Farmalls and Fishing Lures

I decided to write this today, on Veteran's Day, as a way to say thank you to all those who are currently serving, or have served in our Armed Forces. It's a reflection on the life of two men who meant the world to me, and influenced me in ways that I'm only now beginning to realize the depths of as I get older. Both of these men, my grandfathers, were veterans of World War II. They never talked much about their time in the service, but I do know both men were proud to have been able to serve our country in its time of need. Once again, to all the current members of our military, and to all those who have served in the past, you have my deepest respect and gratitude. Thank you for being willing to put your lives on the line to preserve the freedoms of our great nation.
- Joseph

As I sit here writing this on Veteran's Day, I can't help but feel immense gratitude to be able to live in the Untied States and for the freedoms that we enjoy. My love of the outdoors, and all the hunting and fishing that I spend my free time doing, would be impossible without the sacrifices of our veterans. I absolutely cannot find the words to say how thankful I am for all those who have put their lives on the line for our country. Thank you doesn't begin to be enough, but I hope that it is a start. With that in mind, I decided today to write a few words to reflect on the lives and influence of two men who were not only veterans of World War II, but also my grandfathers.

One of Pop's Tackle Boxes
I hope that you will indulge me in borrowing a little from a post I wrote a little over three years ago titled Pop's Lures. In that post I wrote about my maternal grandfather, "Pop", better known to everyone other than his grandchildren as Dick Hamrick. I talked about his love for fishing and how I used to bug him each and every day to go look through his tackle boxes and ask him to tell fishing stories. Pop's influence went deeper than just my love of fishing however. He was one of the gentlest, quietest men I've ever known. As a child, I don't think I ever remember him raising his voice or getting angry. He was as steady as a rock, and all of us grandchildren had no doubt that we were loved. His patience with a four year old who wanted to look at the same fishing lures day after day was an example that I only hope to be able to live up to.

Working the Garden
Both of my grandfathers loved to garden. My paternal grandfather, "Papaw", or Jim Hord to everyone else, raised beef cattle and a large garden every year. Pop had a small apple orchard, and also grew a vegetable garden. I think that its no coincidence that I became interested in agriculture and the FFA in high school, and went on to get my degree in Agricultural Education and become an agriculture teacher. My love for agriculture and farming began at a young age, walking with Pop through the orchard, helping both of them pick their gardens, and driving tractors and feeding cows with Papaw. Now I find myself almost unconsciously borrowing from both of their styles of gardening and even dress. Pop always wore wide brimmed hats while gardening, and Papaw was in overalls unless it was Sunday and he was going to church. The first time I found myself working in the garden with a pair of overalls on and a wide brimmed hat, I had to stop and laugh. I had never even thought about it at the time, but a more perfect example of the two of them combined would be hard to find.

The Farmall Cub
Papaw is the man that, along with my Dad, introduced me to hunting and to beef cattle. My earliest hunts were squirrel hunts with Dad, usually using Papaw's old single shot Remington .22 rifle. Papaw also had two Farmall tractors, along with an Allis Chalmers. I was driving all three of these tractors as soon as I was tall enough to work the clutch pedals. The old Farmall H and Allis Chalmers C are long gone, but I was lucky enough to inherit Papaw's Farmall Cub that he did most of his garden work with. The Cub sat in the barn at my Dad's house for years, not necessarily forgotten but not being used either. This past spring, a friend of mine and me got the old tractor running and brought it up to my house. Now that Farmall is back to plowing the garden, and once again I feel the intersection of my past as I use Papaw's old tractor to plow the garden in the same spot that Pop's garden used to be. My wife also claims she has never seen me smile quite as big as I did the first time that old tractor cranked after sitting for years.

I owe a debt of gratitude that I could never begin to repay to these two men, for what they meant to a younger version of me, and for their continuing influence that I feel even today. They have both long since passed on from this world, but I can't help but feel Papaw riding along when I drive that old Farmall, or sometimes when I'm hoeing the corn I'll look up and can almost see Pop standing at the end of the row. Thank you for indulging me in a look back into my own past, and once again thank you to all the veterans out there, and especially to two very special veterans who I love dearly and miss greatly. Papaw and Pop, I hope Heaven has good fishing and fertile farmland. Maybe someday we can all three drive a tractor or catch a bass together again.

- Joseph

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Slight Change of Plans

Every year it's always the same. Summer vacation is ending, and I'm getting ready to begin a new school year full of new students, new surprises, and old friends. Each summer always seems to end on the same thought for me. What did I do with all my time, and why did it not include more fishing? The beginning of summer always brings high hopes for trout trips, smallmouth stalking, and bream befuddling. It ends up usually being too hot, too wet, or too dry, or some combination of these three, for most of the time I have off. This, along with trying (not always successfully) to be a responsible adult, husband, and homeowner, and catching up on some of the projects and garden chores that seem to get put on the back burner during the school year all work together to eat into my opportunities to go fishing. I know it doesn't sound this way, but I promise I'm not trying to use this blog to complain. I'm just trying to make excuses to explain to myself why I didn't fish more this summer. I'm not real sure that it's working though.

First of the Day
Last Monday, with the start of school for teachers being only a few days away, I took a look at the knee high grass in our yard, and decided that I knew what I had to do. Yes, it was time to go fishing. The grass would be there when I got back. The knee high grass was compliments of about a week or more of rainy weather, and I had hopes that this would have the streams in the high country in a little better shape than they had been the last few years in August. It was predicted to be in the mid 90's here at home, so being knee deep in a cold mountain stream sounded like the perfect alternative to riding a mower. Since I knew this would most likely be the last fishing trip of the summer break, I wanted to do something a little different.

I talked to my fishing partner (and brother-in-law) and we decided to fish a tributary to one of the streams that we fish regularly and see if we could catch some brook trout. It had been a few years since I had fished this particular stream, but I have had some success in the past, catching some pretty wild brook trout up to about 9 or 10 inches on my best days up there. We headed out for the mountains with plans to catch some brookies, then possibly drop back down the mountain to the main creek and try for some wild rainbows and browns to see if we could manage to catch all three species in one trip.

"Not Recommended for Trucks"
Our first clue that things might not be going quite like we planned occurred on the way in to the creek. As you enter the road leading up to the creek, there is a sign that says something like "Steep Winding Road - Not Recommended for Trucks". I've seen this sign many times, and never really paid it any attention. The road is paved for a few miles, but then turns into a dirt Forest Service road that follows the main creek all the way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This particular road is the last place I would expect to see an 18 wheeler truck, because I can't think of any reason for them to be traveling through the area. So you can imagine our surprise, when just past the point where the pavement ends we had to stop and wait for a tow truck to move out of the road. Evidently someone had either not paid attention to the sign, or had a very important reason to be using this road, because there was a trailer from an 18 wheeler slid down the bank beside the stream. We eventually were able to get past and on up toward our destination, but we both couldn't figure out what had brought that trucker up this way. The truck itself was not there, and I'm assuming (and hoping) that nobody got injured. It appeared that the trailer had possibly detached from the truck before sliding of the side of the road.
One of Trent's Trout

After we got clear of the accident, we made our way on up toward our destination. The beginning of the public National Forest land is at the end of a dead end dirt road that goes past private homes and posted land. When we arrived at the end of the road, someone was parked in the only pull off. With as small as this stream is, we figured our chances of success would be very limited if we wound up fishing behind someone, so we turned around and headed back to the main creek. The brook trout would have to wait, but at least there was the possibility of wild rainbows and browns waiting back down the mountain. We made our way to the main branch, and started at our usual spot toward the bottom of the public water. The creek was a little lower than I was expecting with all the rain we'd had, but it was running clear and cold so we decided to give it a try.
Wild Rainbow

After fishing a few hundred yards of stream without any strikes other than from the minnows, we came to several fallen trees blocking the way. Knowing that there was a lot of skinny, usually fishless water on the other side, we walked back to the truck and decided to head farther up toward the headwaters where the terrain becomes steeper, and there are more plunge pools and pockets to fish. This turned out to be a good move, because once we got into the pocket water we started seeing and catching more trout. We never did catch a brown on this trip, although there are some in this creek. This time it was all wild rainbows, with most of them being in the 6-8" range and all of them coming on attractor dry flies. We each caught four or five and by this time it was getting time to think about heading back towards home. It wasn't quite the trip we had envisioned when we planned it, but fish were caught and we got to enjoy the beauty of the mountains one more time before summer came to an end.

And in case you were wondering, the grass finally did get mowed the next day.

- Joseph

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Neighbors

We have some strange neighbors around our house. Some of them like to steal the pears and apples from our small backyard orchard. Others are pretty slow at getting around. There's one neighbor that we normally see only after dark. Some are noisy, and others hardly make a sound. Several of the neighbors like to fly, while some love climbing trees. Others are perfectly content to stay on the ground. Some of the neighbors ensure that our garden produces every year, while others help themselves to the harvest without being invited. Some can be a real pain, especially if you make them mad. Another one likes to hang out around our carport and enclosed porch. One of the neighbors even decided to move in and build a house in one of our ferns!

Now I'm sure you've all figured out by now that I didn't decide to write a blog post talking all about our human neighbors, all of whom are fine folks that we are fortunate to live near. No, this post is all about our neighbors from the animal kingdom. For some reason, the past several days have been great ones for wildlife watching around our house. Thanks to modern technology, and the ever-present iPhone, I now have a camera handy and accessible when the opportunity arises to take a picture of one of the neighbors. At the same time, I'll go ahead and apologize if some of the pictures in this post are not of the very best quality. Most of the pictures were taken while I was outside doing something else, and often they were situations where I had to snap a picture quickly or not at all. With that being said, allow me to introduce some of the neighbors.

The Pear Thieves
Doe Under the Pear Tree
 These neighbors are fond of pears, but also green beans, tomatoes, sweet potato vines, and almost anything else that I attempted to grow in the garden this year. The only things that they left me were my peppers, and they even nibbled on the tops of those! Ever since we moved in to our house, we have seen deer fairly frequently. Sometimes we will see them at night in the headlights as we're pulling into the driveway. This time of year however, the old pear and apple trees in the back yard tend to draw them out during daylight hours. They also conducted regular nocturnal raids on our garden this year. In years past we've had a little bit of damage from deer, but this year they wiped the garden out. If anyone has any effective methods for keeping deer out of a garden, I would love to hear them!

The Pollinators
Bumble Bee on Zinnia
This next neighbor is always a welcome sight in the garden. Bumble bees and honey bees are a fairly common sight around our house, and since the garden has past its prime now they have moved from the garden to my wife's flower beds. I'm always happy to see healthy populations of pollinators, even though I do have a healthy respect for their stings. Most of the time, however, we tend to get along pretty well. I try not to disturb them, and they stay busy moving from one bloom to another. 

The Slow Poke
Eastern Box Turtle
This neighbor tends to be fairly slow getting around. Even though he sometimes likes to sample the cantaloupe in the garden, he's a fairly easygoing neighbor. He's also the state reptile of North Carolina, and the only land turtle we have in our state. This eastern box turtle, (or one of his relatives) is a fairly infrequent visitor to our yard. Yesterday was the first time I've seen him this year, but chances are he could have been around when I wasn't there to see him. A quick bit of research showed me that box turtles are extremely long lived reptiles, and this makes me wonder if this is the same turtle I sometimes saw around our house (my grandparents' house then) when I was a young boy. Either way, I don't mind sacrificing the occasional bite from the garden if it'll help keep this slow moving neighbor around.

The Short-Lived Neighbor
Luna Moth
This next neighbor was photographed just by chance. As a young boy, I used to say that I wanted to be an entomologist when I grew up. I wound up an agriculture teacher instead, but somewhere deep down that fascination with bugs stayed with me. Maybe that's why I get such a thrill out of fly fishing for trout? All those stream insects to identify and match! Anyway, back to the subject at hand, I still enjoy seeing and identifying insects, even when they're not potential trout food. I can remember when I was young seeing a luna moth at my other grandparents' house one night, and being thrilled at seeing an insect that I had never seen before. I've only seen a few of these in the years since, possibly because the adults only live about a week and are mainly nocturnal. I was working in the yard yesterday when I just happened to spot this one on one of our pecan trees. They're big, impressive moths and I had to stop and take a picture. Somewhere inside, that little five year old entomologist was smiling from ear to ear!

The Nighttime Noisemakers
Katydid on Hosta
For some reason, I've been seeing a fair number of these nocturnal neighbors during the day. However, every night I go to bed hearing their serenades outside the window. This must be a good year for katydids, because they do seem to be everywhere. These are another insect that reminds me of childhood, spending the night at my grandparents' house and sleeping with the windows open. Without fail, the katydids always provided a concert after the sun went down.

The Home Builder

This next neighbor is a next door neighbor, in this case living right next to our door. I'm not 100% confident on my bird identification, but as near as I can tell this nest belongs to a house sparrow. She is camera shy and doesn't want to hang around long enough to get a picture, but I did very carefully take a picture of the nest and eggs today. She always flies off the nest but only to the nearest perch, a crepe myrtle just a few feet away from our carport. It will be fun watching her and seeing her raise her babies. 

The Short Tempered Neighbors
Wasps on the Nest
These neighbors are the kind of neighbor most people avoid. They tend to build along the underside of our front porch roof, in the carport, and on the window sills. Every summer there are several wasp nests around our house, and as much as I try to have a live and let live attitude when it comes to the neighbors, these usually wind up getting evicted when they get too close to home. The only problem is it seems like when I get rid of a nest, a new one takes its place rather quickly. Evidently our house must be prime real estate for wasps!

The Camera Shy Neighbors
There are several more neighbors that didn't want to have their picture made for this blog post. We have an American toad that hangs out around our driveway at night. There is a five-lined skink that sometimes sneaks into our screen porch, and tends to give my wife a surprise from time to time. The yard is home to several gray squirrels, who love our pecan trees, and the last few days it seems the back yard is where the local crows are holding their morning meeting. With the exception of the damaged garden, I enjoy having all these neighbors around. For the most part, we all get along fairly well. 

- Joseph