Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Stray Mutts and Sunfish: Exploring the Skinny Water of the East Fork of the San Jacinto River

A gorgeous Longear being closely examined by Minnow
                I reached for my rigging phone on the dash of the truck. The bright white light of the screen reflected off the inside of the windshield. For a brief second the dark interior of the cab was illuminated as I glanced down at the phone and saw Alex was calling.
“Hey, where are you?”
“I think I am right behind you,” I replied.
“Well, it doesn’t look like we can get down to the river from this road. It’s blocked with a gate and there are no trespassing signs all over.”
“All right. Just hang-out for a little, I will be there shortly,” I replied, a little frustrated.
I turned down a residential-looking street and saw the back of Alex’s Toyota Tacoma parked in front of a locked gate. We both got out of our trucks and looked at the maps on our phones to try and find another take-out spot for our float.
                We knew where our put-in was, it was several miles north. But finding a take-out spot was proving to be a little difficult. We decided to travel north and checkout another area on the eastern side of the river. But, when we slowly crept down the street towards the river, we ran into more “No Trespassing” signs. We finally decided to drive north and cross the river. We then headed south along the western bank of the East Fork. We finally found a little pull-off that was adjacent to the water. Here we left Alex’s truck. It would be a short float, about a mile long, but we both were excited to explore new water.

Alex aiming his flies for the bank
                The morning was well underway when we finally launched the Flycraft into the murky water. Alex stood at the bow of the Flycraft and began casting to the banks. Minnow, sat in the middle of the boat and looked around eagerly. The foliage of the overhanging trees was fairly thick. Alex kept a watchful eye on his backcast so he wouldn’t snag himself on the low hanging branches. We floated by a beautiful Bald Cypress growing out of the water. Its strong trunk jutted erect from the muddy water.
                It didn’t take long before the river began getting shallow and we finally came across our first obstacle of the day. A large fallen tree blocked a fast moving navigable chute. We had to beach the boat and portage across a pebbly point bar. Little did we know that this would be the first of many portages we would make this day. Before we shoved off again, Alex and I walked the length of the pebble bar casting dry flies. I lobbed a foam ant into a little eddy and a small sunfish rose to the surface to take it. That was the first fish of the day.
A pretty typical sight on our float that day, a lot of lifting, pulling, and dragging the boat around obstacles
                We started climbing back into the boat when something downstream caught my eye. A small, scraggly dog was standing in the middle of the shallow water looking at us. Minnow’s hackle stood on end as she let out a low growl.Keeping my eyes on the dog, I said,  "Alex, look downstream, we have company.”
My eyes caught something moving high on the bank and I watched as two more stray dogs emerged from the tree line. The two dogs plodded into the shallow water to join their companion. There they all stood for a brief minute, looking upstream at us, then they trotted out of the water and climbed the opposite bank. We were relieved that the strays had little interest in us and we climbed back into the boat and shoved off. We had drifted downstream about 10 yards when a fourth stray dog, this one being much larger and wilder looking, came running down the bank and into the water. Its yellow fur was matted with mud in several places. The dog paused for a brief moment as it caught sight of us.
 “Oh boy. That’s a big dog,” Alex said in a low voice. “Let’s hope it has better things to do than mess with us.”
Apparently, the mongrel did have better things to do because it took off running through the stream in the same direction the other dogs had gone. We continued our float uninterrupted by the stray dogs for the remainder of the day.

Another beautiful Longear caught on a small Stimulator
                With precision, Alex was casting a white gurgler to the root-covered bank. He then would make short strips with his fly line and pop the fly along the surface of the muddy water. This technique worked quite well and many Longear Sunfish couldn’t resist. They ferociously attacked the fly, sometimes jumping all the way out of the water. On more than one occasion, a Longear would make a frantic charge for the fly, but because of the haste at which it attacked the fly, the fish would miss its target completely and tumble through the air. Many of the Longears were hooked around cypress trees that were growing out of the water. The knobby roots or “knees” of the cypress offered great habitat for the sunfish.
The Longears were stacked up in the knees of this 
They couldn't resist the white Gurgler

The total length of the float was only about a mile long. But it was taking us considerable time to get anywhere. We often floated from one river bend to the next, only to portage over a pebble bar due to a fallen tree that had had its roots undercut and had toppled into the water. This was only a minor inconvenience to Alex and I because it offered us both an opportunity to wander the point bars and fish the various riffles and cut banks.
                The sun was now high overhead and we were entering the hottest part of the day. We slowly worked our way downstream, floating, pulling, and lifting the boat as we went. We came to a shallow section of the river and pulled the boat through a narrow chute jammed with logs and debris. Alex walked downstream a short distance and made a nice cast under a small bush. He stripped the white gurgler along the surface under the overhanging foliage. WHAM! The first and only bass of the day swam out of its hiding place and hammered the fly. The bass was quite small, but it was still exciting to catch something other than sunfish.

  By late afternoon we had made it to our takeout spot. We quickly unloaded our gear into Alex’s truck and then carried the Flycraft up the bank to the truck. Overall, the float required a good deal of work, but it was exciting. When I go again, I'd like to hit this section with a 3 wt and dry flies. That would be a lot of fun. 
Heading home.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Stalking Sus scrofa: A Tale of My First Successful Wild Pig Hunt

In the predawn darkness, the headlights of the Tacoma revealed a substantially washed-out section of dirt road. I switched the truck over to 4-wheel drive, and began driving forward over the unconsolidated sand and washed-out road. I continued on, carefully navigating around large logs and debris that had been deposited onto the road from the periodic flooding. In the past year, the Neches River had flooded much of the low-lying ground around Davy Crockett National Forest. The road abruptly came to a dead end and the headlights from the truck illuminated the moist green leaves of the forest.
After turning the truck off, I quietly opened the door and was immediately inundated with the sounds and smells of the east Texas forest. The dull humming of insects could be heard and there was the smell of the sweet rich earth. Everything wore a thick layer of dew. The air was hot and damp; I thought I could hear a distant roll of thunder over the constant hum of the forest.
After I put on my florescent orange vest and baseball cap, I then loaded my bolt action .204. Shouldering my pack, I found a grown-in trailhead in the light of my headlamp. My goal was to finally harvest a wild pig, Sus scrofa, and although my eyes were bleary from lack of sleep, my heart raced with excited anticipation. I moved quickly yet quietly through the bottom-lands.
The towering trees were now silhouetted against the cloudy gray skies as the first morning light made its way over the horizon. It looked like it was going to rain. Intermittently, a soft breeze worked its way through the bottomlands. I made sure this breeze was directly in my face, that way I wouldn’t be winded by the powerful olfactory gland of a feral hog.
I was making my way to the steep bank of a slough when suddenly there came a sound, like a short guttural grunt. This sound stopped me in my tracks and I strained my ears. There it was again! The sound was coming from the slough just ahead. Slowly I stepped closer, rolling the heel of my boot forward to the ball of my foot. In a crouched position, I moved to the edge of the slough, slowly rising to peer over the edge of the bank. There was nothing there. Then the sound of the low grunt came again and I looked down at the edge of the water, only to see a frog. My lungs released a long breath as I sighed. “Wow,” I thought, “I still have a lot to learn about pig hunting in Texas.”
I made my way across the slough and up onto the opposite bank. After walking along the bank for some ways, I then cut away from the edge of the water. Suddenly there came the sound of a short snort followed by a quick stomp of a whitetail deer. It burst from its bedding area and effortlessly bounded through the forest.
After pushing through some fairly thick brush, a beautiful oak grove opened up in front of me. The trunks of the oak trees were ramrod-straight and the huge heavy boughs were clad in dark green leaves. I sat down on a large log. It was the arboreal skeleton of an oak that had fallen to the forest floor years ago. Perhaps it was a brother or sister of the ancient trees that loomed ominously all around. There I sat for some time, looking about. I sometimes brought the binoculars to my eyes to see across the length of the grove. I took some food and a canteen out of my pack. Glancing up, I noticed a doe had materialized, almost from thin air, and she was standing under the canopy of the tall trees. Her keen senses alerted her to my presence and she stood stark still. Then there came the sound of falling rain through the oak canopy. Looking up into the sky, I felt the soft droplets of rain on my face. When I looked back to where the doe had been standing, she was gone.
The rain was welcomed, it cooled the woods and also helped cover up any noise that I might make while stalking through the bottomlands. I glanced at my GPS. The night before, I had marked a swampy area on the map that was of interest to me. Shouldering my pack, I started for this location.
 Thick shrubs and wet muddy ground told me I had arrived. There was a lot of pig sign. Big furrows were dug in the loose soil by the rooting pigs. In a crouched position, I moved into the thick brush. The ground was slick and it was only getting slicker from the rain.
While moving through the swampy area, I caught sight of movement out of the corner of my eye. There they were! Several young pigs were moving through the thick brush. They were probably only 15 yards away, but the brush was impenetrable and getting a clear shot was impossible. Apparently, the pigs were privy to me; they were moving through the brush in earnest. Hastily, I fumbled over a log in pursuit of the hogs. Then, there came the sound of a deep grunt. There was no mistaking it this time. Looking up, into the brush, I saw a large sow. She stared at me, unflinching. She was about 20 yards away and was standing behind a pile of logs. Just her head poked up from behind the woody pile of debris. She let out another grunt and I raised the rifle. The rain and condensation made it quite difficult to see through the scope and find my target. From a crouched position I found the sow in the scope and made a terrible hasty shot. The bullet hit the log in front of the sow and she dashed away, unscathed, into the thick undergrowth.
Frustration swept over me and I cursed myself for making such a hasty shot. After crawling back out of the thick swampy brush, I began stomping around the woods as the rain came down. I was annoyed at myself for letting “buck fever” get the best of me. In disgust, I decided to start heading back towards the truck. But, I wanted to take a detour and walk along another creek before completely giving up.
The desire to move stealthily through the woods had vanished with the sow. Anger and frustration still hung over me as I came to the creek of interest. While moving along the bank, I took another quick glance at my GPS, just to make sure my trajectory back to the truck was right. Looking up from the GPS screen, I stopped dead in my tracks. There was a pig, no more than 10 yards away and it was rooting along the bank of the creek. The pig was quartering away and was completely occupied with the task at hand. What luck! Quickly, I shouldered the rifle and placed the crosshairs just behind the shoulder blade of the hog. Remembering that a hog’s vitals are positioned further forward than that of a deer, I hugged the shoulder closely with the crosshairs. I squeezed the trigger, and click! A misfire! The pig lifted its head while I quickly worked the bolt and replaced the dud round with a fresh one. I brought the rifle’s crosshairs back onto the alerted hog and squeezed the trigger. The pig frantically ran into the brush out of sight.
I walked forward to examine the ground where the pig had been rooting. Bright red blood on the leaves showed that the bullet had done its job. I was concerned that the blood would wash away because of the rain, making the trailing of the hog impossible. I immediately began following the blood trail meticulously. The little pools of blood led me through the thick undergrowth. Finally, I came to my quarry, my very first wild hog!
I stood over the boar looking down at it in awe. What a strange animal. Its whole body was covered in thick dark hair. Its head was massive and its cutters were protruding from its lower gums. I couldn’t believe I had finally harvested a wild Sus scrofa. After snapping a couple of photos, the field dressing of the animal got underway. Using a tree with a low limb and a rope that I carry in my pack, I hoisted the animal off the ground. After skinning it from the neck down, the animal was quartered and the meat was packed into trash bags. The bags were then loaded into the backpack.
Ready to start field dressing
The freezer packed full of wild boar meat
As I hiked out, I reflected on the day. It was a great excursion even though it had had moments of bitter frustration. Undoubtedly, the rain had covered up the noise I was making and allowed me to get close to my quarry. It all just seemed to come together, and now the freezer would be full of wild pork. I couldn’t have been happier.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Village Creek: A fishing synopsis in the Pineywoods, outside of Silsbee, TX

Alex holding a nice Green Sunfish
                While thumbing through an issue of Southwest Fly Fishing, I saw an article about a small creek east of Houston called Village Creek. At the office, the following day, I gave the article to my friend Alex, who read it eagerly. We both decided that this little creek, in the eastern Pineywoods of Texas, absolutely needed its local fish population terrorized by two guys and a dog. Alex and I loaded up the inflatable Flycraft drift boat Friday morning and before the sun had risen over I-10, we headed east.
                We put into the water around 7:00AM where RT 327 runs over the creek. Our take-out was approximately 2.5 miles downstream to a small boat ramp called Baby Galvez Landing. Even in the waking light of the early morning the air was muggy, and it was evident that it would be a hot day. The dog, Minnow, ran frantically around the boat ramp in excited anticipation.
                I took the oars first and Alex sat at the bow of the boat ready to cast his fly line. It didn’t take long before Alex spotted a gar rising to the surface of the water. He threw a quick roll cast to the gar and began stripping his tandem woolly buggers. Suddenly, Alex’s line went taught and he felt a hard tug. He quickly set the hook and a split second later we were both laughing with excitement as the lean body of a gar came rocketing out of the water. The prehistoric-looking fish splashed frantically on the surface of the water and jumped several times before submitting to the pull of the rod. So with that, our day started with a gar in the boat before we even had floated out of sight of the boat ramp. It was going to be a good day.

I was able to quickly put gloves on and hold Alex's gar while he snapped a quick photo.

                The creek was pretty slow-moving for the majority of the float, but the banks were high and there weren’t many trees overhanging the water. There was plenty of room for a nice back cast. Evidence of the fairly recent flooding events were all around us as we floated. Huge oak trees that had toppled from the banks into the water were protruding from the depths. Their gnarled limbs jutted from the surface of the calm waters as if they were attempting to grab the high banks and roust their woody frames from the sandy creek bottom. Our inflatable drift boat floated lazily over top of the submerged trees as we attempted to cast our lines among the skeletal forms of the submerged limbs.
Most meanders in the creek offered gorgeous sandy point bars. On numerous occasions throughout our float, we pulled the boat up to these beautiful white sandbars to take a break and let the dog run off some pent-up energy. Once the boat pulled up to the sand bar and Alex and I got out, Minnow, would leap out of the boat with fervor and start racing around the white sandbar in circles. She sent sand flying into the air with every bounding leap she took. After a couple laps around the point bar, she would generally wade into the shallows of the water and lay down. When she was cooled sufficiently, she would then prowl the shallows for a nice stick protruding out of the sand. She would tug on the stick furiously until it was removed from its partial burial. With that she would trot proudly over to a damp patch of sand and begin gnawing happily.
The water itself had a very tannic tint to it. But even with the rusty brown color, there was more visibility than I would have thought. With that being said, sight fishing was out of the question, but it was possible to see into the water about 8 to 10 inches.

A quick picture of a beautiful Longear Sunfish
                In hindsight, it seems like a 5-weight is plenty strong for this creek. Alex and I both brought 7-weight rods and that seemed like too much backbone. We each hooked into species of fish that neither of us had caught before. We hooked into plenty of Longear Sunfish and I caught my first Spotted Bass. It may have just been coincidence, but it seemed like most of the Longear Sunfish were along the banks where there didn’t appear to be much cover. The two bass, one of which was a Largemouth, were found around submerged trees. By far, the Longears were the most fun to catch. They would hit white streamers and dry flies readily, despite their tiny size. The Longears’ coloration was fantastic. Their reddish bellies contrasted with the aqua-blue coloring down the length of their sides.
Alex with his first Longear of the day.

                Overall this creek was a great float. The day was very hot and humid, but the good fishing took our minds off of the hundred-degree temperatures.  Good fishing, a friend, and a dog made it well worth the 2-hour drive. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Minister Creek: A Synopsis of a Brief Fishing Excursion on Summer Solstice Weekend

Minister Creek is a no-kill stream. Only artificial lures or flies can be used.

I haven’t made it out to do any Brook Trout fishing for awhile. However, one of the streams that I did manage to hit this summer was Minister Creek. Ellen and I were camping with some friends over the Summer Solstice weekend and I headed out early in the morning to fish the lower portion of Minister. We were camping close to the confluence of Minister and Tionesta. We had perfect weather for the whole weekend.

I headed upstream crossing Rt.666 and entering into the additional camping sites on the other side. I didn’t want to start fishing next to tents and sleeping campers, so I continued upstream until a came to a open area with an old pump house standing in the middle of a clearing. Just north of the clearing I began to fish. Previously and with success, I had fished the upper portion of Minister, by where the North Country Trail intersects. This was the first time I had tried fishing the down-stream portion.
One of many nice pools just upstream from the clearing with the pump house

Minister has some great looking holes, large boulders, log jams, and undercut banks. The creek is guarded on the east and west by a steep ravine. Large hemlocks and beech trees protect the waters from direct sunlight. I started with a Royal Wulff. I fished a couple of eddies around some large boulders and was able to hook up a couple of times. Some of the pools were fairly deep and as I continued to work upstream I switch my fly over to a small bead-headed wet fly that I tied. After doing this, I seemed to hook up with fish more frequently.

The first and probably the nicest sized Brookie of the day
By mid-morning I made my way back to camp. Everyone had already left to go hike the Minister Trail. I ate a quick breakfast and then fished a little more right around the campsite, which wasn’t but a couple of yards from the confluence of the Tionesta Creek. Close to the bigger creek there still seemed to be a good number of smaller Brookies. Nothing of substantial size was caught that day. Perhaps the largest was the first Brookie taken on a Royal Wulff.

Looking south at camp. The Tionesta creek lies behind the green tent by several yards.

It was a rather quick fishing session, but of course it was still great to feel the tenacity of even the smallest Brook Trout, take a fly like it was a Tiger Shark.

A small Brookie that took my bead-headed wet fly

Monday, June 9, 2014

Little Arnot Run: A Recap of a Native Brook Trout Fishing Trip

A Little Arnot Run Brook Trout
As soon as I realized that the first weekend in June was free from any prior obligations, I immediately called up my two buddies from college. My hope was that they’d have an interest in backpacking into a small freestone stream to fish for native Brook Trout. As I suspected, both were more than happy to make the drive to northwest PA from the Cleveland area.

We arrived at the gated forest road #241 early Saturday morning. The plan was to reach the confluence of Little Arnot Run and Arnot Run. We followed the forest road for several miles carrying our fishing rods and camping gear. Eventually the dirt road came to an end and we could see both the Little Arnot Run valley and the larger Arnot Run valley. We headed down the hill, crossing several lease roads, and found the confluence of the two runs.

After a quick snack, we were hitting Arnot Run with spinners and flies. It wasn’t long until we noticed an abundance of Creek Chubs, but no Brook Trout. Our fishing efforts shifted away from Arnot Run and we honed our efforts on Little Arnot Run. We hiked up Little Arnot for several hundred yards until we came to a nice log jam that had “Brook Trout Inn” written all over it. I drifted a #14 caddis close to the log jam when a small reddish-orange missile came darting out from the woody sanctuary. The small Brookie made a swipe at the caddis but failed to get hooked. The Brook Trout darted back to the confines of the log jam. We all smiled. We were in Brookie habitat now.

We hiked upstream and decided to make camp along a wooded bend in the small rocky stream. After our gear was dumped, we continued to trek upstream while fishing rocky holes and log jams.

We fished our way up Little Arnot Run

The Brookies were voraciously attacking both dry flies and my buddy’s small silver rooster-tail. All of the trout that were brought to hand were small, but they had gorgeous orange and red vibrant underbellies. Their red spots sparkled in the clear water as we carefully held the caught trout in our palms, marveling at their natural color.

The heavy foliage overhead darkened the valley and made for an early night. Once back at our camp, we made a campfire supper of couscous, avocado, tuna, and canned sardines. Afterwards we broke out the cards. 

For a couple of hours we sat around the fire playing cards by fire-light and the lights of our headlamps. The valley cooled as the stream ran on and on over the rocky cascades. Our ears hummed with the crackling of the fire and the gurgling of Little Arnot Run.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spring Is Here!

Well it is certainly feeling like Spring as of late. We have started some seeds in the apartment and they are really taking off. We also acquired some old windows from Ellen's Dad and we built a couple of cold frames from them. We've even filled up two cold frames with soil and moved some of the heartier plants outside. We are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that they can make it through a couple more cold nights and frosts before Spring is in full swing.
The seeds are taking off!
A little over a month ago we found a great blog titled Hunter-Angler-Gardener-Cook (http://honest-food.net/). This blog had a recipe for Goose Prosciutto, and since we still had quite a few goose breasts from this year's waterfowl season, we decided to give the recipe a try.

Goose Prosciutto after the curing process. Try to slice it as thin as possible.

We had a little Spring Equinox soiree at the apartment and we served our goose prosciutto on homemade pizza. It reminded us of a milder tasting anchovy. Our friends seemed to really like it. One of our friends brought over some of his homemade wine. It was fun to hangout and invite the oncoming spring season in, despite the fact that it was snowing outside at the time.Since then, it has been warming up.
The final product. Goose Prosciutto pizza.

 A Red-winged Blackbird at Akeley Swamp.
With the coming warmer weather, we have also seen an influx of migrating birds. It is nice to welcome back the Red-winged Blackbird to the wetlands and marshes in NW PA.
A flock of Tundra Swans flying overhead on the Allgheney River
 For several weeks at the end of February and March we saw a large number of migrating waterfowl too. The Allegheny River was loaded with Tundra Swans for about 3 days, but prior to that we saw several Old Squaw (now call the Long-tailed Duck). Other migrating waterfowl species that we saw in abundance included, Canvasbacks, Ring-necked Ducks, Scaups, Redheads, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Pintails, American Wigeons, and of course the Wood Duck. Hearing the hen Woodie make her high pitched cry as she darts overhead reminds me that the warmer days are on the way. Recently we have seen fewer and fewer migrating waterfowl likely due to the water finally opening up further north.

Earlier in the spring we tapped a couple of Sugar Maples. The sap didn't flow well for the first week or two due to the extremely cold weather. When the sap finally started flowing consistently, we had to boil and collect every other day. We will be removing our spires from the Sugar Maples tomorrow and boiling the remaining sap.
Ellen is hammering a spire into a Sugar Maple
We are anxiously awaiting the warmer weather. It won't be long and we can start wondering the small PA freestone creeks in search of native Brook Trout. I am really looking forward to exploring new streams this year.
Thompson Run, north of Tidioute, PA.