Tuesday, May 22, 2012

At the Lake With My Daughter

Lila turned three this past week. Life is so busy, I hadn't had time to take her fishing yet this spring. It is hard to find a time when I can take just her. My other daughter, Melody, is only 18 months. There is no way I can handle taking them both out with a rod and reel. Just the thought stresses me out!

My wife graciously volunteered to watch the youngest while I took the oldest to one of the local lakes. The "simple" act of taking a three year old fishing is far from simple. Lila is well potty trained, but when she has to go, she has to go! I had to bring her to an area with at least a porta-potty. Also, from past experience I have learned that she needs 100% of my attention. I didn't even bring one of my rods. My gear consisted of a Dora the Explorer fishing rod, a small box of hooks and weights, and some night crawlers.

 For Lila, the most exciting part of going fishing is driving in daddies truck. Of course she pronounces it as "daddies fwuk"!  Sound it out in your head. We are working on that.

Instead of fishing from the bank, I took her to a small peer over a freshwater lake. I never fail to catch fish from this peer. She thought it was awesome. A bridge! It was like we were walking on water!

The first near disaster of the day was when I pulled out a big night crawler. She freaked out. There is no question I am raising a girly girl. Lila did not want to come close to the worm or touch the fishing pole after I hooked a worm onto it.

A totally fake smile purchased with a skittle.

The only way I could get her to hold the pole and smile for a picture was to bribe her with a skittle. After that she had no interest.

The day's trophy

So, daddy caught a few bluegill with a Dora pole while Lila ran to the edge of the peer, grabbed handfuls of gravel, ran back and threw them into the lake. I don't understand what little kids like about throwing rocks into water, but she could have done it all day.

I quickly gave up on fishing and talked Lila into going "exploring" with me, just like Dora! We walked a few trails and found a few "treasures". This ended up the the most fun for her. I might not have a fisherman, but I do have a hiker!

Our most exciting discovery!
At one point I was carrying her on my shoulders and we were slowly walking along the bank, looking into the water for fish. I pointed something out to Lila and was quietly told to "stop talking". She then began to whisper in my ear "be quiet daddy" and "shhhh". When we got back to the truck I asked her why we were being quiet. She mater-of-factly replied "I didn't want to scare away the fish."

If she can be quiet and sneaky, maybe hunting will be more of her thing!

Thirsty and hungry after out hike, but not tired!

Any quality time with Lila is time well spent. So what, fishing didn't go well. All that matters is that I was with her, and bonus, we were outside!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Yellowstone National Park is being invaded!

This is my submission for the Trout UnlimitedSimms, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and the Outdoor Blogger Network – Blogger Tour 2012 contest.

Nothing is more iconic in the west than Yellowstone National Park. Few places in the world match its relatively untouched beauty. Families have visited this Eden for generations, gazing at its majesty and enjoying its wildlife.

Unfortunately, wherever Man goes, change follows.

10% of the plant species in Yellowstone are non-native. We have learned by now that introducing non-native species into an ecosystem can be a disaster. These non-native plants are most commonly found in areas frequented by people. It is unknown how most of these plants got there. Perhaps a seed was stuck in the tread of a boot or in the back of a truck. Most of these plants were not intentionally brought in, but now that they are in Yellowstone, they will never go away. We can do a good job of slowing the spread of invasive species, but eradicating them is virtually impossible. 

Spotted Knapweed - A big problem in Yellowstone
Non-native plants are not the only, or even largest, concern at Yellowstone. There are a number of non-native animals there as well. Some of these invasive species are threatening the existence of the native population.

Of these non-native species the two that do the most damage are the Lake Trout and the Brown Trout.

The amazing Lake Trout
We all know about the problems Lake Trout have caused. Lake Trout were introduced in the late 1800’s to areas of Yellowstone that were devoid of fish. Less than 20 years ago someone moved a few to areas that contain native Cutthroat Trout. They are decimating the local Cutthroat Trout population. Not only are Lake Trout hardier and longer lived than the Cutthroat, they prey on the Cutthroat. An adult Lake Trout can eat 50 Cutthroat a year.

A Cutthroat - Just out of frame: a Lake Trout about to eat it. 
Cutthroat Trout are not the only animal threatened by Lake Trout. Many animals, such as Grizzly, Bald Eagles, and many other birds rely on the Cutthroat for food. Without this food, they are more vulnerable.

To remedy this, Lake Trout are actively being netted and killed at an astounding rate. Tens of thousands of Lake Trout are destroyed every year.

It will never be enough.

Lake Trout are in Yellowstone to stay. We can, and need to, work at reducing their numbers. But like feral hogs in Texas and the European Starling everywhere, this invasive species is not going anywhere.

Brown Trout, on the other hand, do not have nearly the bad reputation as Lake Trout. This is surprising given that the Brown Trout are responsible for the local extinction of Cutthroat Trout and Arctic Grayling in the Madison and Gallatin river drainages. Most people are surprised to learn that Brown Trout are not native to North America at all. They were brought here from Germany and have hurt local fisheries all over the United States.

The beloved Brown Trout
Why are Brown Trout seen favorably while Lake Trout are considered demons? I believe it is partly due to the fact the Lake Trout do more damage, but it is also due to fishermen who enjoy catching Brown Trout. I could be wrong, but if Brown Trout were ugly, did not taste good, and could not be caught on a fly; they probably would be viewed a villains. Instead, they are a premier game fish.

Don't take what I am saying wrong! There are many places where Brown Trout benefit the ecosystem. I love fishing for Browns on the Smith River in Virginia. We just have to be responsible and honest with ourselves about their effect.

If there is one thing we can learn from the invasive species in Yellowstone it is that Man cannot regulate nature. There is little we can do to make it better. We accidentally kill the native species and cannot kill the non-native. The best we can do is try to maintain natures balance.

Before you go to any new ecosystem, please clean your equipment. It only takes one stray seed to introduce a new species of flora. Never move a fish from one lake to another. Never release a pet exotic species into the wild. Whenever you encounter a known invasive species, do the right thing and destroy it humanely. If we all did these things, we would not have problems with invasive species.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Coleman - Bringing the Family Together

Sponsored by Coleman and hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network, this is my submission for the Coleman Camping Heritage Essay Contest.

Ahhh….. The family camping trip. Memories of large fires, burnt burgers, snuggly Coleman sleeping bags, biting insects, and wild fishing tales, nothing brings a family together like a camping trip. Never lacking in excitement and always guaranteed fun, my family’s camping trips were always a comedy of errors.

I remember one particular trip where we all loaded up into my Dad’s old Dodge pickup and headed out to Fossil, Oregon for a grand adventure. My Dad drove with my two sisters and mom in the cab. I was stuck back in the bed of the truck with the dog. It was only a three hour trip, but it felt like eternity! Being young and dumb, I sat cross-legged with my back against the cab.  This created a perfect sun burn on the insides of my leg!

What a great way to start a week of camping!

When we got to the camp site Dad and I were tasked with setting up the old Coleman tent. My Dad was fiercely loyal to Coleman. All of our gear was from them. Our camp site could have been used as an advertisement for Coleman! Although, they would have had to edit out the squirrely looking boy with the uneven sunburn on his legs.

 That tent was older than I was and still functioned perfectly…. once you got it up.  Dad and I worked feverishly, racing the setting sun, to connect all of the aluminum poles, pound the stakes, and raise the tent. I’m sure I looked funny as I hobbled around, trying to keep the insides of my legs from touching anything! I would have done anything for one of the modern Coleman tents that set up in a matter of minutes!

After the tent was set up, we let the girls get settled in as Dad and I got the camp fire going and the lantern lit. Dad always lit the lantern. It was one of those large Coleman propane deals that used cloth mantles. I always lit the mantles on fire. This is another great modern improvement to camping. Have you seen the new LED lanterns? They are bright, last forever, and almost never catch on fire!

About the time I got a roaring bonfire going, we heard viscous screams coming from the tent. A wasp had flown in and stung my oldest sister. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, but after some speedy first aid (compliments of our Coleman first aid kit, of course) it settled down to some quiet whimpering.

Night had fallen by this time, so Dad handed out the flash lights. This was normally my youngest sisters’ favorite time. She was only four or five and had her own pink flash light! This was before the long lasting LED flashlights of today. This was the only time she was allowed to play with a flash light, and the only time my parents could afford to feed it batteries. Unfortunately, she did not come when called.

Apparently, in the wasp fiasco she had wandered off. We hastily split up. Yelling for her, my Mom ran around waving her flashlight around like she was trying to signal a rescue plane. We found my sister quickly. She had fallen down an embankment into a creek. Muddy, but happy to be found, she was rescued from what is now known as “The Pit” and was sat in front of the now dying fire to dry off.

As we waited for my Dad to cook some burgers on his Coleman grill, my siblings and I sat around the fire nursing our wounds and daydreaming about the adventures we would have tomorrow. Days like that last a lifetime in memories. Nothing brings a family together like a camping trip.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Trout Fishing Weekend in Staunton, VA - Pt 2

Part 1 can be read here.

After a busy morning of exploring a very small portion of George Washington National Forest My dad and I met our guide, Steve, at the local Tasty Freeze. You can read my review of his services here. He gave us a few options of places we could fish. Since he was the guide, we just told him to take us where he thought we would catch the most fish.

He knew of a stream that had been stocked three days ago and also contained native brook trout. We followed him about 30 min up into the national forest. Our stream was picture perfect. Exactly what I had hoped for!

We got geared up and our guide started out by giving us some casting lessons. I am a novice fly fisherman. In the space of 15 minutes he taught me more that I have learned in the last year. I didn't even know what a false cast was until he told me I was doing it wrong! Apparently I was bending my wrist when I cast, so Steve told me to put my rod but in the sleeve of my shirt. Instant improvement!

While I am a novice, my dad was a first time beginner. It was comical to watch him catch himself over and over again! Thankfully, he has a good spirit about those things and we just laughed together. My dad, the ever protector and provider, told Steve to concentrate on helping me. So, I got a disproportional amount of time with our guide.

I caught the first trout of the day within 30 minutes of fishing. It was a beautiful little native brook trout. My very first brook trout!

Trout were not the only fish we were catching. I caught a few large minnows that were actually very pretty. I did not take a picture of the minnows, but just by looking them up from memory I believe they were the Pearl Dace.

At one point my dad and I hooked into a double. A nice stocked brook trout for me and a native for my dad. That was an exciting 30 seconds!

While the stocked fish were two or three time the size of the natives, I preferred catching the natives. They were much prettier!

We caught all of our fish in deep pools with log snags or stump roots. Bead head nymphs were the fly of the day with a bead head Prince nymph being the most productive. The selection of flies in my box got a exclamation of approval from Steve. That made me feel good. I have spent a lot of time and money building up my fly collection.

Speaking of beauty, we turned one bend in the stream just as the sun peaked out from the clouds and shined down on the water. Before our eyes a beautiful mist rose over the water. The mist only formed where the sun's rays were. This alone was worth the price of the trip.

As the light began to fade I was glad our guide messed up our booking and we could not fish with him all day. I was beginning to get tired and Dad was talking about laying down next to the stream and taking a nap. (Yes, he would actually do this.) We had a great time, learned a lot about fly fishing, and even caught a few fish. I was pleased with our catches, considering how poorly we cast! It was a great weekend.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Trout Fishing Weekend in Staunton, VA - Pt 1

Last weekend my dad and I went up to the Staunton, VA area to do some trout fishing. We had been planning the trip for about six months. Our schedules are so busy that a simple trip to the local lake needs to be planned a month in advance, so an overnight trip is a big deal! I made sure to book a guide well in advance. There was only one weekend in the spring that worked for both of us.

A month before our trip, I called our guide to confirm the date and to find out the best place to stay. I reserved a room at the Sleep Inn in Staunton for a hefty $129. The only weekend we could go happened to be graduation weekend at the local college. All room rates were prime.

The day before our trip I called our guide to nail down the details. This is where things got rocky. Our guide had forgotten that his daughter was graduating from the local college the day he was supposed to take us out. He could still take us, but it would only be half a day in the evening. Why I had to call him the day before for him to tell me this is still a mystery.

I was disappointed to say the least. Deciding to make the best of it, my dad and I decided to cancel our hotel reservation and drive to Staunton in the morning. We would do some surf fishing close to home the night before. This would save us a good bit of money.

Problem number 2: Sleep Inn has a 48 hour cancellation policy. My card would be charged whether I came or not. Lesson learned: never make a reservation at Sleep Inn!

Oh well. On to Plan C.

We would drive up like we originally planned and scout out George Washington National Forest in the morning. I've been wanting to do some camping and it is always nice to see a campground before you camp there.

On the way up to Staunton, we stopped at the Aberdeen Barn in Charlottesville. It was supper good! If you are passing through that area and want a $30 steak, make sure you visit them!

We ate our side of cow and spent the night uneventfully at the Sleep Inn.

The morning of our fishing trip was rainy. Not a down pour, or even a steady rain, just a heavy drizzle. We headed up to The George Washington National Forest to check things out.

Our first stop was at Braley pond. It is a beautiful picnicking area with a small, primitive campground attached. The camping area was a little crowded, but the pond only had one fisherman. He hadn't caught anything all morning.

Onto our next spot.

I should interject that navigating the forest roads was a challenge. I did not have a paper map, choosing to use my iPhone and iPad. Well, the iPhone did not get a cell signal, so it could not display  the map, and the iPad could not acquire GPS signal due to the heavy cloud cover. If you are venturing into this forest, buy a paper map!

We stopped at Elkhorn Lake next. It is another beautiful mountain lake. There were a lot of local fishermen using power bait and worms, but none of them were catching anything. We decided to give it a try. My dad grabbed a spinning rod and some ultralight lures and I broke out my fly rod.

Using a olive woolly bugger I made a cumbersome cast to some structure. BAM! Fish on! All fish seem large when using a fly rod. It was a small largemouth.

I wasn't expecting a bass in a mountain lake, but apparently there are a bunch in this lake. Tons of hungry panfish too.

I could see large bass in the deeper water, but could not attract them to my trout flies. Next time I come I am bringing my bass gear. Every angler I saw was fishing for trout. I think that someone with proper bass gear could do very well on bass.

Dad got board of not catching anything, so we went exploring.

We next discovered North River Campground. Which is a very nice little camp. Then we wandered down to the Staunton Reservoir. Some guys were fishing for crappie off of the dam and were destroying them! Boy I wish I had brought my regular tackle box! The view here was a sight to behold. I even ran into this beautiful flower:

We were getting hungry and it was nearing time to meet our guide, so we headed back down the mountain. Even though the morning did not go as planned, we both had a lot of fun!

Stay tuned...... Next comes the trout!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Guide Review - Wild Mountain Trout Fly Fishing

Note the change in my review at the end. I no longer recommend this guide service.

I firmly believe that some of the best money you can spend when fishing a new location is on a guide. A local guide can put you on the fish faster than anything else. You do not have to waste half, or more, of your trip simply finding a good place to fish. After you have used a guide, you can revisit the area by yourself.

I recently went on a fly fishing trip in the mountains around Staunton, VA. I chose Wild Mountain Trout Fly Fishing as my guide. There is a lot of competition with guide services in the area I visited. I chose Wild Mountain Trout Fly Fishing because it has a very informative web site, could accommodate beginners, and was priced reasonably. I booked the trip about four months in advance. It was a good decision.

A beautiful native Brook Trout

Our trip got off to a rocky start. The day before our trip I called our guide to nail down the details. There was a scheduling problem (his, not mine) and we would not be able to fish with him the entire day. Also, we would have to fish the evening, not the morning. This was annoying, but ended up being OK. I had a great time that morning exploring and fishing a few of the local lakes.

Our guide, Steve, took us to a stream that contained both wild and stocked brook trout. The scenery was beautiful.

Mist rolling down the stream. 
I am a novice fly fisherman. I don't know anyone who fly fishes, so what skill I have is simply from doing. I know my form is bad, but have no one to tell me what I am doing wrong. Steve did a wonderful job of teaching me how to properly cast a fly. His tips were invaluable. For six hours I had a personal fly fishing tutor. As we approached each pool, he carefully explained how to read the water, how I should present the fly, and what obstacles to look out for. He watched each cast, telling me what I did right and what I did wrong. By the time the light began to fade, my casting was noticeably improved. Had I caught no fish, this would have been well worth the price.

A nice stocked trout
I did catch fish. Mostly small, beautiful native trout. Considering how poorly I presented the fly, I think I did very well. I missed more strikes than I hooked. I'm sure a better fly fisherman would have caught twice as many fish or more than I did!

All in all I can confidently recommend Wild Mountain Trout Fly Fishing. See edit below.They will put you on fish and if you are new to fly fishing, they will give you patient instruction in a real fishing environment. Just make sure there are no scheduling conflicts when you want to fish!

Edit: One year after this trip I received a phone call from this guide. He was confirming that we had scheduled a fishing trip with him for the following Saturday. I had not made this reservation. Apparently he had placed my reservation on the wrong year. When I tried to explain this to him, he got quite rude. I had to hang up on him after asking him to not call me back.

I do not recommend this guide. He is disorganized and rude.

Wild Mountain Trout Fly Fishing did not compensate me for this review. It was unsolicited. I paid for the guide service with my own money.

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