Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Tasty Legacy

Living in my grandparents' house provides me with memories everywhere I look. On top of the memories, my grandfather also left a legacy in the form of a pear tree, a cherry tree, two apple trees, and seven pecan trees. The apple trees are the final remnant of my grandfather's apple orchard, which once had over fifty trees. This, along with his garden, used to provide my grandparents with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I was able to reap the benefits when I was growing up.
One of the original apple trees

When my wife and I moved in, we decided to try our best to keep these old trees producing, and we also added three additional apple trees, two peach trees, six blueberry bushes, and two muscadine vines. The pear and cherry trees are still healthy and productive, but the apple trees are definitely showing their age. I'm afraid one day soon these trees may have to be removed, but I just can't bring myself to do it yet. Hopefully they can remain for several more years, but only time will tell. 
The old and the new

I can remember sitting in the old swing eating apples off these very trees as a child, and I also remember Pop (my grandfather) drying apples between two sections of window screen to help keep the bugs off. I wish I had asked more questions about caring for fruit trees back then, but as a child my main interest was eating those tasty apples. Golden Delicious were always my favorite, and we made sure to plant one of these when we added new trees to the orchard. It is the only one of our new trees that had any fruit on it this year.
Golden Delicious

I'm still in the process of learning how to keep an orchard and how and when to spray and prune the trees. The young trees we planted are just starting to produce fruit, but I hope to have peaches and apples off of them in another year or two. The muscadine vines are another new experience for me. I have eaten wild muscadines and bought them from other producers, but this is my first try at growing them myself.
Muscadines on the trellis

For anyone who is not familiar with these particular grapes, they grow in the South and produce grapes that are single or in pairs of two or three, rather than the classic bunches that you see in the grocery stores. They have a thick skin and fairly large seeds in them, but they are my absolute favorite of the grapes. They also are supposed to be the easiest grape varieties to grow in the hot and humid South. I love to eat them straight off the vine, but they also make wonderful juice and jelly. If we get enough, we may try to make some jelly this fall.
The muscadines

Sometimes when I'm working in the yard I look around at all the trees my grandparents planted years ago, and I hope that someday when I'm gone someone will still be enjoying the trees we planted. There's nothing quite like getting fresh fruit from the yard, and if I'm going to leave a legacy I would like for it to be a tasty one!

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Archery Season is Almost Here

Archery deer season is just around the corner for us here in NC, and I'm as excited as anyone for it to get here. In my area of the state the season opens on September 10, and I've been trying to get ready for it. There are trail cameras to check, stands to move or put up, and scouting to do. I haven't done any of these things as much as I need to do, and it seems like it's the same old story every year. I have good intentions, but then the fishing is usually good enough during the summer that I focus on it, and before I realize it I'm back teaching and all my extra time seems to disappear. One thing that I try to focus on more than anything before archery season is practicing with my bow. I do believe in the old saying "Practice makes perfect", or in my case it at least lets me feel confident about going into the woods with a bow and taking a shot at a deer. I know that I won't ever achieve perfection shooting a bow, but it never hurts to strive for that goal.
Ready For A Practice Session

 There have been seasons in the past when I didn't bow hunt, mainly because I never got my bow out and practiced. This was due to many different factors, ranging from lack of motivation to lack of time. No matter the reason, I didn't do any hunting during bow season those years because I knew my ability to make a humane and ethical shot was compromised because I hadn't been practicing. I have never been one of those people who can pull their bow out two days before the season, put five arrows into a half inch group at 40 yards, and go hunting. There are lots of people who can do this, and I think that's great, I'm just not one of them.
Shooting at the Backyard Range

I am what I would consider a decent shot with a bow, and I really enjoy archery a lot, but I do know my own personal limitations. It takes some time and effort for me to polish my skills every year, so I try my best to shoot my bow a few times a week starting in the early summer and leading up to deer season. I also try to squeeze in a little practice during the season on those evenings when I don't get home early enough from work to go hunting, but there's still enough daylight left to shoot. 
Those circles can seem tiny!

I have been practicing off and on since the beginning of summer, and I feel fairly confident in my ability to take a shot out to about 40 yards. This is probably going to be my absolute maximum range with a bow, simply because I try to limit myself to shots I feel sure I can make and 40 yards is about the maximum distance that I can practice at regularly. As much as I love to hunt, I would rather pass on a shot than take one I feel is marginal. There will always be another opportunity, and if not it just wasn't meant to be. All the practicing this summer has taught me one thing about my abilities as an archer. No matter how much I shoot my bow, there is always a little room for improvement. My groups have definitely improved over the summer, but Robin Hood I am not. 
Sight pins need adjusting but the group's not bad

In spite of that, I do feel like I'm ready for the fall woods. Bow hunting is one of the most exciting and challenging types of hunting that I do, and I'm ready most of all to have a reason to be in the woods whenever the chance comes up. I'm sure that one way or another, there will be stories from the woods that make it to this blog over the course of the season. They may be happy, sad, or funny, but no matter what they are the memories will all be worth it. 

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Summer's Last Cast

With the start of the new school year just around the corner, I decided to take one last fishing trip in order to close out summer vacation. I hope this one doesn't turn out to be the last fishing trip of the year, but I do know that once I'm back at work teaching time will become a precious commodity. Trips for trout will be left for the weekends, and as the days get shorter my fishing options during the week will be limited to water close to home, if I have time to fish at all. This eventually will mean a couple of farm ponds close to the house, or possibly the local smallmouth river. On top of that, with dove season starting September 1 in NC and our archery deer season opening September 10, I will be forced to make some hard choices about how I use my free time. I love to fish and hunt both, but with fishing season being year-round I tend to give hunting a slightly higher priority when the season is open, especially when cold weather sets in.

Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education at the Davidson River
Without planning it this way, the last two summers one of my last trout trips before the start of school has been to the Davidson River. It looks like this may be becoming a tradition of sorts. I became hooked on this river on my first trip there, when I managed to catch a 17" brown trout. This is the trout that was pictured in the original header for the blog, and is the cover photo on the blog Facebook page. It was the only fish I caught that day, and I'm still not sure whether it was luck or skill, but I was happy to catch it either way. It also gave me reason to want to try fishing this stream again and figure out some of its secrets.
My First Trout from the Davidson - Last Year

This trip marked my 3rd time at the Davidson, and it has always been a challenge. The fish are heavily pressured in the Catch and Release Fly Fishing Only area, and tiny flies and light tippets are the name of the game. To make it even harder, the fish there on average are a lot larger than most of our wild NC trout streams, and every time I hook one the light 6x and 7x tippets add an extra layer to the challenge of landing a fish. I go to the Davidson not to catch large numbers of trout, but for the challenge of the technical fishing and the chance to catch some of the biggest trout in NC.
1st Trout of the Day

2nd Brown of the Day
Friday's trip to the Davidson began with a 5:00am start. Trent (my brother-in-law) and I were out the door and headed west long before the sun began to rise. We arrived at the Davidson around 7:00am, and there were only a couple other fishermen there. We had our choice of spots, even on this notoriously crowded stream. We wound up choosing to fish a pool that was glassy and smooth with a slow current, and soon after we started fishing, trout began rising to midges almost the entire length of the pool! When I saw this, I quickly switched to a dry midge and began casting to the risers.

Brook Trout
 I managed to break off the first two trout that ate my dry fly, probably because I was still used to fishing 5x tippet for 8-10" wild trout. A strong hook set with large trout and 7x tippet doesn't work very well. After the first two I was able to settle down a little bit and over the course of the morning I was able to hook and land 4 nice trout in the 12-14" range. I missed a couple of strikes from bigger trout, and saw several more that seemed impossible to catch. Even though I didn't catch one of the huge trout the Davidson is known for, I couldn't have asked for a better day of fishing. Rising trout eating dry flies are always a thrill, no matter the size, and I will take a 12-14" trout any day!. I was even lucky enough to catch all three species of trout, starting the day with two nice browns, then catching a brook trout and a rainbow.
Rainbow Trout

After the trout stopped rising, I changed from a dry fly and fished a two nymph rig that was suggested to me by fellow blogger and Foothills TU member, Josh from Bows and Browns, with a hare's ear birds nest nymph and a red midge. I missed a few strikes on this rig, but by this time the trout seemed to have slowed down their feeding. We fished until about 12:00pm, then decided to call it a day. We took a lunch break on the tailgate of the truck, and then decided to take a look around the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.
Tailgating on the River
The Pisgah Center also is the home of the Bobby N. Setzer Fish Hatchery, which contributes extra nutrients to the river when the raceways are flushed and allows for the hatches and growth rates seen at the Davidson. It was neat to walk along the raceways and see all the brook trout that were getting close to being stocking size. The Pisgah Center itself was closed, but there were some walking trails and outside exhibits that we were able to see.
Brook Trout at the Hatchery
This is a unique place in several ways. Not only are the trout bigger and a lot tougher to catch, but it is also different than most of the streams I fish because of the crowds. By the time we stopped fishing, it seemed like every pool and run had someone fishing it. I think this might be one of the reasons I don't fish the Davidson more often. I don't mind people, but there is something special about fishing a wild trout stream and feeling like you are the only one that's been there, at least that day. I think maybe I fish the Davidson late in the summer more as a test for myself to see if I am up to the task of hooking a few educated fish. Whatever the reason, I know that I will be back sooner or later to give those big, smart trout another try.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Editor's Note: I have to give credit for the  title of this post to my wife. I was having a hard time deciding what to name it. She said why not call it "Summer's Last Cast?" since it's your last fishing trip of summer vacation? Thanks honey!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Walking in the Woods

I think that it is good for me every now and then to just go for a walk in the woods without any specific purpose in mind other than just being there and observing nature. As a hunter, a lot of my time is spent in a tree stand or trying to find a place to set up to call a turkey. This often means entering the woods before daylight and leaving after dark. In between, there is a lot of sitting and waiting. During deer season I'm always conscious of limiting my travel between the stand and the truck so that I minimize the scent and disturbance factors. I tend to travel the same paths, mainly because I know them well enough to quietly move in and out of the woods. During turkey season, scent isn't an issue but movement definitely is.  Once again, I'm slipping in and out of the woods with as little travelling as possible so I hopefully don't spook any turkeys that may be in the area.
Turkey feather
In the summer months however, in that brief time between the end of turkey season and the beginning of archery deer season, I don't feel quite as worried about traveling through the woods. I still try to be aware of deer bedding areas and turkey roosting areas, because I don't want to feel like I have pushed any animals out of their regular haunts. It's during this time of year, usually in the middle of the day when animals are hopefully not as active, that I like to go for a walk and just take a look at the woods. It is always amazing what is there in plain sight, if only I will take the time to slow down and look. Over the years, I have found shed antlers and even whole skulls of bucks, box turtle shells, turkey feathers galore, other bones of various small animals, rubs and scrapes left by bucks I may never have seen, dusting areas used by turkeys, and tracks and other sign from all kinds of animals.
I also enjoy seeing wildlife that I might otherwise miss if I'm hunting. There are always birds of one species or another in the thickets and brush in the woods. I can identify a few species, but there are many more that I am still learning. Squirrels are almost always out and about, and occasionally I will see a chipmunk or two. If I hang around late in the evening at the family farm, there are a couple of owls that may make themselves known. I have seen both of them at one time or another, gliding on silent wings or perched in a tree. More often I know they are there by their calls right at dusk. There are bullfrogs around the pond, again usually identified by their calls, but sometimes one will jump off the bank into the water if I walk too close. If I'm really lucky, I might see a lizard doing his best tree bark impression.
There is a lizard here somewhere......
I don't necessarily take these walks to scout for deer or turkeys, but it seems like every time I'm in the woods I learn something new. I have found some of my best spots to hunt by not specifically looking for them. Going for a walk after deer season, I tend to find new areas that have rub lines or scrapes where a buck has marked his territory. It is also a good chance to see if areas that were used in previous years are still seeing deer activity. Sometimes I wind up kicking myself for not scouting better before the season when I find a particularly good area or set of rubs, but I file this knowledge away for next season. It's a thrill to find these signposts left behind by the bucks, or to find a tree with feathers and droppings around it that indicates a turkey roost. I'm far from being a great woodsman who can read and interpret every sign, but I do feel like every walk in the woods teaches me a little more about the world around me.

Fresh rub on a pine at the end of last deer season
 On these walks I get that same sense of wonder and discovery that I've always had since I was a child. As a hunter I would love to harvest a Boone & Crockett buck, or take a long spurred tom, but these walks help remind me that this is not the ultimate reason why I hunt. I think it all comes back to the fact that I've never lost the curiosity I had growing up. It's the same reason I turned over rocks in the creek when I was young, or spent time collecting the nymph shucks of cicadas. The natural world has always held a fascination for me, and I hope that it always will.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Summer Can Be A Pain

Let me start off by saying I love summer time. I enjoy getting outdoors, and all the fishing opportunities that come along with warm weather. Being a school teacher, I love summer because I'm fortunate enough to have summers off. Lately though, I've been reminded that summer brings along some added hazards that I don't have to worry about in cold weather.

It seems like everywhere I go in the woods, whether it's walking a trail down by the river or going to check a trail camera, I run into spider webs. Luckily, I'm not scared of spiders at all, but there's nothing quite like getting a face full of web on the way to the fishing hole. On the other hand, spiders and almost all insects have always fascinated me, even when I was little. My family loves to talk about how I would tell everyone that I was going to be an entomologist when I grew up. I used to collect bugs and tried to learn how to identify the insects that lived in our backyard. I still have that interest, although as I got older my focus tended more towards mayflies, caddis flies, stoneflies, and other trout food. With all that being said, I would rather observe spiders at arms length instead of face-to-face.

Nature's Booby Traps
Another summertime hazard involves all the various stinging insects. As a gardener, I love bees because without them, fruits and vegetables wouldn't get pollinated. Our garden is full of bumblebees in the summertime, busily going from one flower to another and spreading pollen along the way. Normally, they won't bother a thing. However, the other week as I was practicing with my bow a bumblebee decided my hat bill would make a good spot to rest. I didn't realize this, and when I grabbed my hat to wipe some sweat off my forehead, I accidentally grabbed the bee along with it. I'm sure you can guess what happened next. After my initial shock, I picked my hat up and decided to call it a day.
Bumblebee on Monkeygrass
That was the first time in a couple of years that I had been stung, because I'm usually careful to give bees plenty of room. It becomes a problem when I don't know they are there. This is what happened to me yesterday, and what prompted me to write this post. I was mowing grass down near the garden, and without realizing it I ran over a yellow jacket nest with the lawnmower. The yellow jackets didn't appreciate this one bit, and before I got 50 feet from the nest they had swarmed me and the lawnmower. I'm sure the neighbors must have thought I had lost my mind if they saw me jump off the mower, sling my hat, and run for the house swatting and dodging the whole way. I will have to say this about yellow jackets, they are persistent! I had one that followed me all the way into the screen porch of our house, where I finally lost him and ran inside.
The "House of Pain" - aka the nest

Seven or eight stings and several minutes later, I went back to get my hat and cell phone, which I had left on the mower. Luckily, I was far enough away from the nest that I was able to get the mower put away without stirring them up again. As I write this, there is still a patch of grass that needs to be cut down near the garden. I'm going to get it mowed, but not until I can get rid of that nest. All things considered, I wouldn't want a world without bees and spiders, no matter how much aggravation they can cause. However, if the yellow jackets wanted to find a new place to live other than my yard that would be fine with me!

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tribal Trout

After our attempt at catching a few smallmouth the other day, Dad and I decided to switch gears a little bit and try for trout. For the past few years, we have talked about fishing the waters on the Qualla Boundry, which is the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian Reservation in western North Carolina. These waters are different than the trout waters I'm used to, first and foremost because my North Carolina fishing license is not required or even accepted. The waters within the reservation require a separate permit from the Cherokee, with a daily permit costing $10.00. These waters are heavily stocked, but also heavily fished from what I understand. There is a ten fish daily limit in all the tribal waters other than the special regulations area on the Raven Fork. This was only my second attempt at fishing in Cherokee, having gone once last year with a friend.
Cherokee Fishing Regulations Book

I was hoping for success, especially since the Cherokee waters are stocked frequently and heavily. We began our fishing trip by stopping by the local fly shop for a few flies, advice, and our fishing permits. In the process, I heard about a new (to me) smallmouth river not too far from Cherokee that will have to be explored in the near future. This is one reason I always try to stop in and give a little business to fly shops, over the years I have been given both advice and instruction that has helped me as a fly fisherman. After stopping for the flies and permits, we decided to try fishing the Oconoluftee River first. This is the biggest of the water in Cherokee, and flows down through the town. We went a little above town, but after fishing for a while we decided a little smaller water (with hopefully easier wading) might be more suitable for us. 
Looking Downstream - Raven Fork

The next stop was along the Raven Fork, above the special Catch and Release Trophy Trout area. This is an area that I'm interested in fishing at some point. It is a fly fishing only, catch and release area that is stocked with large trout. Some of the pictures of the trout I've seen caught here have been impressive! This area does require an extra permit to fish, and since Dad decided to try his luck with spinners we passed on the fly fishing only area. Based on the advice I had received at the fly shop, I rigged up a tandem nymph rig. Fishing two flies, either nymphs in tandem or a dry and dropper, is a technique I have often read about but rarely used. The few times before when I tried this technique, most of the time I wound up giving up and switching to a single fly after a few casts. I decided today would be the day that I gave it a good honest try, even if it did mean untangling flies occasionally. I don't want to say that I finally figured this method out, but I did seem to have a little more success casting this rig today compared to past experiences. I rigged up a golden stonefly nymph with a pink San Juan for a dropper, based on the advice to use something bright for these stocked trout. A few casts later, I was into a nice brown trout.
Cherokee Brown
I thought this might be a good sign, but after this first trout Dad and I both went a couple of hours without a strike. I met a few other fishermen along the river, and it seemed like the same thing all over. They had caught one or two, but that was about all. We stuck with it though, and I think Dad said it best when I said something to him about wishing he could catch a few. He said, "It doesn't matter, this is still a lot of fun!". I have to say I agree with him, fishing is always fun, but I will be honest enough to admit catching a few doesn't hurt either. 
Dad fishing a run
After a lunch break, we went back and fished a while longer. I had switched to a small pheasant tail nymph by this time, hoping something a little more natural looking would be productive. I did manage to hook a small wild rainbow trout, but he decided that he didn't want to be photographed and slipped out of my hand before I could get a picture. That was the extent of the action for the day, but we did get the chance to see some pretty country and fish a new stretch of water together. I was hoping to see an elk, but no such luck. The closest we came was an elk crossing sign on US 19 between Maggie Valley and Cherokee. I will be back at some point to try fishing here again, and that trophy section is still on my list of places to try. It is well worth the trip to see the Smokies and take in the scenery, whether or not the fish are biting.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph

Friday, August 3, 2012

Trail Cam Pictures #2

Here are a few of the latest pictures from my trail camera. I'm glad to see the bucks are still using the mineral site, and it's neat to get to see pictures of the next generation of deer at this farm. Two of the bucks in these pictures were also in pictures that I posted previously on the blog - the 8 point buck was in the In Velvet post, and the one horned buck appeared in the first trail cam pictures post. I was glad these two were still around, and I was excited to see a new buck this time, a nice wide 7 pointer. He is making his first appearance on the blog in this post, but hopefully it won't be his last. It is interesting to me that although I got a lot of pictures at night, they were all does. All of my buck pictures lately have come during the day. Not that I'm complaining!

On with the pictures!
The 7 pointer making his first appearance

Doe and fawn
More pictures below!