Feb 24, 2010

Northeast Hunting & Fishing Expo

Part of my winter ritual consists of those typical shows like a the RV show, or Boat show or Hunting and Fishing shows.  Unfortunately I haven't made it to any yet this winter but i plan on getting out to the Northeast Hunting and Fishing Expo which is being held at the Connecticut Convention Center Fri Feb 26 thru Sunday Feb. 28 and if we get the storms they are predicting I should have plenty of elbow room.  Bad for the exhibitors but good for me.  There looks to be plenty of vendors, seminars, a trout pond, casting pools and even a fly tying center.  You can get details about the show by visiting the Northeast Hunting and Fishing Expo website.  If you are in the area make it a point to check out the Expo.  I hope to do a review of the Expo and any new products or events I run into.

Feb 23, 2010

Spring is just around the corner – I hope!

This is the time of year that I get real antsy and some might even say I get a little cranky.  As the last days of old man winter continue to fight and hang on I have to deal with those ever so slight hints that spring isn’t far off and it frustrates me to no end.  It’s like trying to reach something stuck underneath an immovable object and your only recourse is to try and squeeze you arm under this object only to find out your fingers are just millimeters to short.  ARGHHHHHH.   Some people call this cabin fever but to me it is just the plain old desire to be outside and doing the things I haven’t done since before winter.  It usually starts with having more daylight, spreads into rumors of Robin’s being spotted in the area, extends to more wildlife movement around like Skunks, bears and turkey and boils over with warmer temperatures.  It is actually just a taste of what’s to come in a few more weeks.

Sure, I get outside during the winter but it’s not the same as standing in the middle of a stream on a spring day tossing some flies and trying to hook that stubborn trout, or chasing turkeys on a spring  morning and that is where the my problem starts.  At this time of year I start to check out river conditions, review the upcoming regulations for turkey and fishing season, finish preparing my hunting and fishing gear, quick trips to see if the fishing waters are opening up and checking the normal haunts for signs of wild turkey and this is how it all starts.  Pure frustration.

This year has been a little more difficult for me than years past and I blame it all on my new found passion – Fly Tying.  About three years ago I picked up Fly fishing, which was actually my second attempt at fly fishing.  My first was about 15 years prior to that and I was still too young and didn’t have enough patience or appreciation for the art and skill of fly fishing to make it stick.  So 3 years ago I had spent the winter getting up to speed with the concept of fly fishing and making my desire to learn how to fly fish known to my lovely wife.  Well, she was obviously listening because for my anniversary that year I got a full day guided fly fishing trip and instruction as a present.  A month after my anniversary I found myself heading toward an old familiar haunt from my childhood in the form of the Farmington River where I would spend the day reacquainting myself with this incredible river where my guide Jack Smola was going to teach me how to cast and present a fly to a fish I couldn’t even see.  Not an easy task for sure but one in which Jack was successful, but we’ll save that day for another entry.  For now let me just say that this day started my newfound passion for fly fishing.  Ofcourse I went about trying to learn as much as I could about fly fishing after that, which actually includes trying to determine what bugs the fish are eating so you can figure out what type of fly to present to them.  Sounds simple doesn’t it?!

The more I learned the more I wanted to take the next step in what I felt was a normal progression and that was fly tying and so the adventure began.  Now maybe it’s the easy access to technology that allowed me to enter this new realm as it offered the opportunity to learn at my own pace and on my time instead of trying to find a tying class nearby. Ofcourse the internet is loaded with videos and tutorials with information from basic tying techniques to tying a specific fly or pattern, but the video is only the visual component.  My new problem was who would I bounce questions off of when I had them and believe me, I have had plenty.    That is where access to fly fishing forums on the internet comes in, especially in the areas where you do not have a local fly fishing shop, Fly fishing organization or a mentor.  These forums are loaded with people just waiting to help out a newbie with all his fly tying and fly fishing questions.   These forums were a major part of my success as was my introduction to a new fly fishing shop that had just opened up minutes from my home.  Now there is an over abundance of information to discuss for someone looking to get into fly tying so I will leave this for another day. 

So last summer I decided to give fly tying a try and started off with a starter kit that my dad had laying around the house that had never been opened or used which was good for me, but it also meant that dad wouldn’t be much help with my tying endeavors, but it was the kit that made it easy for me to give it a go because I didn’t have to spend loads of money on equipment only to find out I didn’t like it.  So I set out to tie my first fly the ever popular Woolly Bugger.  It was something I fished often, mainly because everything I have heard or read said that it was a fish catching fly and there was no wrong way to fish them and I did try to prove that theory wrong, but I still caught fish.  So I did tie up some woolly buggers and after a couple I started to get the hang of it and actually had tied some that looked good and fishable.  The nest step was to fish with something I just tied.  Well I did and guess what; I actually caught fish…Holy crap!  I can still remember standing in the middle of the Willimantic River with a huge Cheshire cat grin on my face as I brought that trout to hand trying not to fall in from all the pent up energy and emotion that I was overrun with.  Then after thanking that wonderful trout for giving me such joy, I ever so gently put him back to fight another day.  I’m smiling now as a matter of fact.

That day was the day I knew I was hooked, no pun intended, on fly fishing and fly tying.  To actually catch something on a fly that you tied yourself…Man what a feeling.  Anyway where was I? Oh yeah, my yearly bought with my version of cabin fever.  So I spent my winter learning more tying techniques and patterns and I even took a formal class at my local fly shop.  This new found passion of fly tying has forced a much larger than normal urge to get out on the stream and fish and making this time of year even more difficult to control than any of the years past.  The desire to get out and fish the flies that I spent all winter tying with my own hands was getting the best of me.  The good news though, is that I just need to get past this latest group of winter storms and I will be out presenting those flies to a hungry trout and hopefully he will be as inexperienced as I am and easy to fool but for some reason I doubt that will be the case.   That trout is so close I could almost touch it.

Feb 18, 2010

A Little Walk in the Woods

I just finished reading “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson and what an enjoyable read it was.   Mr. Bryson’s book is his tale of his goal to reacquaint himself with his “native country” by hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine.  Not only does Mr. Bryson detail his trip along the AT but he also interjects humor, amazing facts about the AT and the towns surrounding it along with environmental information and editorial comments.  Mr Bryson spends time sharing all the interesting things and people he has encountered along the trail, enlightens you to the trials and tribulations of trying to accomplish something as simple as walking the entire 2,200 plus miles of the AT and how it affects him both physically, emotionally and mentally.  Ofcourse I am joking about it being a “SIMPLE” task because it is in no way shape or form SIMPLE.  From behind my desk 2,200 miles doesn’t seem like much right, heck I can drive 2,200 miles in about 29 hours so what’s the big deal.  Now consider an average daily mileage for a hiker of say 15 miles a day and that means it takes 146 straight days to cover the same distance.  Almost 4 months, now add breaks into the trip for rest and restocking, bad weather, etc and it could easily take someone up to 6 months to complete on a thru hike.  Who the heck in their right mind would spend 6 months walking a trail through the mountains?  Good question but you have to read the book to understand why people choose to do so.

This book has been on my reading list for some time ever since my son Brendan had to read it for school.  Brendan was excited to read a chapter on a familiar section of the AT that runs through the Delaware Water Gap (DWG) along the Kittatinny Mountain range in New Jersey as this was a place where we had and still have personal experience with.  This is where we spend many hours during our many hunting and fishing trips and we have actually spent time on this section of the AT as well as many of the side trails like Douglas, Garvey Springs and the Copper Mine.  You can’t talk about this section of the AT without mentioning Sunfish Pond.   Sunfish Pond is a 44 acre breathtaking glacial lake found on top of the Kitattinny Mountain inside the Worthington State Forest where the AT runs right into the beginning of the lake and then up and around the East side of the lake.   Mr. Bryson never did get to see a bear during his time on the trail, but this part of NJ has plenty.  As a matter of fact, the picture at the top of this page was taken in Oct 2006 by me during a walk in the woods just off Old Mine Rd near the Depew area.

My first introduction to this area was 32 years ago when I was 12 during my first trip to hunting camp and it was just 7 years ago when Brendan was 12 that I took Brendan on his first trip to this area.  Reading this chapter in the book took Brendan back to the day when he first hit the top of the mountain and had his first experience with Sunfish Pond and the AT.   So as I set off to read this book, I too couldn’t wait to read that same chapter.  Well sure enough as I was reading this chapter I struggled to stay focused on the book, because  I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering and thinking back to Brendan’s first trip and then on to my first trip here.   I remember sitting along Sunfish Pond with Brendan and my friend Ray and watching Brendan taking in all this area had to offer and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was thinking and feeling exactly what I had some 37 years ago.  As I began to think back to my first encounter with the AT and Sunfish pond I couldn’t help but realize what  role that day and this place had in building my love and passion for the outdoors and what a part of my life the outdoors has become.

Hunting camp for us back then was a tent filled with as many of us as we could fit on a wooded campsite along the Delaware River in the Worthington State Forest.  My dad and his friends had been hunting here and participating in this yearly hunting trip for years prior to my starting and it should come as no surprise that being the new guy I was filled with so much excitement that I couldn’t sleep, while everyone else slept soundly.  Our daily routine started off with a 3:30am wake up to prepare for our daily walk up the mountain so we could reach the top before sunrise.  Once at the top, we would work our way across the top along Sunfish Pond and stop on the AT only long enough to change into our hunting clothes and drop off the other side and into a hollow that we affectionately called “The Hole”.  The Hole is basically a long drawn out V between two tops of the mountain.  The start of the hole where the two mountains tops come together is just north of Sunfish pond and this is where Dunnfield Creek and The Hole start their 4+ mile trip down to the Delaware River and the Dunnfield Creek Parking area along Interstate 80.  According to my father, the fastest way to the hole was straight up the mountain from Old Mine road.  At age 12, who was I to question this so called fact, 32 years later we still go the same way – start at the bottom on old mine road where  the elevation is about 350 feet and proceed to crest the top at an elevation of over 1400 feet.  I don’t remember questioning it back then, but today we often ask ourselves “why do we do this?”.  Mr. Bryson answers this exact question in his book when reflecting on why you keep trudging on when hiking the AT....He said we walk because that is what we do on the AT.  So we start from the bottom and walk up because that is what we do.  Doesn’t matter if there is an easier way, that’s what we do, Right Dad?

I’ve never gave much thought about the amazing history of this trail or the people who participate in hiking the AT until a few years ago when we started staying at a local AMC (Appalachian Mount Club) camp  called The Mohegan Outdoors Center.  During one our trips to the DWG for some spring turkey hunting and shad fishing a few years back.  Billy, one of my friends from CT, and I had rented some bunk space for our 5 night stay where we would use the cabin as our home base of operations, but we would also be sharing this space with many of the hikers that would call this place home for a night.  The cabins offer all the amenities that we take for granted like hot showers, toilets, refrigerators, stoves, comfy chairs, heat and oh yeah, a roof over your head.  For those folks hiking the trail this was a treat.  No sleeping in a tent on the ground and by themselves, as well as an opportunity for a shower and a good night’s rest.  On this trip we met a few hikers that were working their way along the AT, but one hiker will forever be etched in our memories.  It was midday and Billy and I had just woken up from a little nap after being out all morning turkey hunting when we noticed we had company.  We politely introduced ourselves to our new bunkmate who would be joining us for the evening.  She was from British Columbia and was working on a 400+ section of the AT that would give her the accomplishment of hiking every inch of the AT.  Her hike started in Virginia and would take her to Connecticut where should was planning on celebrating her 70th birthday with her Daughter.  Make sure you read that correctly, her 70th Birthday….  oh and hiking by herself.  We sat for hours asking her questions and listening to her tales from her AT hikes as well as her other trips which also included hiking the entire Pacific Coast Trail.  At one point we offered to drive her to CT and she declined saying she wouldn’t know what to do with herself with all that free time in CT.  So we just sat there and continued to ask her questions which she politely and enthusiastically answered.  She was even showing us pictures of her family and was extremely proud to show us one of her son with a caribou he had taken on a recent hunting trip.  We were so engrossed with her that we hadn’t realized that we were late and that we had left my dad waiting for us down by the river.  In the years since this trip we have had the pleasure of meeting many more hikers during our stays at Mohegan and with everyone we meet, we learn more and more about the AT and why people want to hike it….  The answer is simple really….It’s because that’s what they do.

Feb 17, 2010

Winter Trip to the Beach

I’m not one for the beach anymore as I would prefer to spend my time in the woods or on a stream but seeing we are looking to rent a cottage this summer at the shore, we made a winter trip to the Rhode Island Beaches.  As a kid, I loved the beach and my mom would always try to rent a cottage for a week along the CT shoreline, normally in the Niantic area.  Ofcourse we loved to swim, but we always spent time fishing, crabbing, collecting sea shells and anything else we could find to do on the beach or in the water, but as I have gotten older the beach just isn’t my cup of tea anymore.  I do enjoy some saltwater fishing every year but as far as vacation time goes, I would prefer to save my time for the woods.  I just can’t seem to find any enjoyment in lying around on the sand anymore, but I’m sure I can still keep myself occupied exploring the Coastal wildlife.

One good thing about an offseason trip to the shore – no crowds.  Our first stop was Charlestown Beach in Charlestown, RI.  My only other previous trips to Rhode Island beaches were day trips made to Misquamicut Beach which is a little south of Charlestown.  Charelstown was your typical beach cottage environment with one nice exception – Access to a couple of Salt Ponds.  One being Green Hill pond and the other being Ninigret Pond.  Ninigret Pond is also home the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge and Ninigret State Conservation area.  Green Hill Pond has approximately 3,420 acres of watershed area of which 470 acres of water area are the pond itself.  Ninigret Pond has over 7,000 acres of watershed area with over 1,500 acres consisting of the actual Pond itself.  Now I have lived within 1.5 hours of this and have NEVER been there.  I actually started to get a little excited about our summer plans for a cottage rental.  Now, I know my kids and they will definitely excel at being beach bums, especially with access to large waves which is the reason the kids want to vacation at Rhode Island beaches and not the CT shoreline.  But me, I will be working at filling my vacation time by exploring both the Green Hill and Ninigret ponds as well as chasing striped bass from the shore and maybe even some clamming.  I already found some spots to rent kayaks and small boats which I can use on the ponds which should help me find some interesting areas of the ponds to enjoy and hopefully take some pictures and maybe some video. 

After our exploration of Charelstown beach, we headed just south to explore the East Beach area and the Quonnie Beach area.  East Beach sits along the RI coast with its back against Ninigret Pond and Quonochontaug Pond just to its south.  Quonnie as the locals refer to it is just less than 3,000 acres of watershed which approx 750 acres is the pond itself.  Quonnie also includes a breachway which provides access to both the pond and Block island Sound and is supposed to be one of the better local fishing spots which I will most certainly be checking out.

One of the things the trip to shore reminded me of is just how much there really is to explore outside as well as how busy our lives have gotten as we grow up.  My late father-in-law used to take regular, sometimes daily trips to the shore where he would just sit, relax and take in the scenery even if for only for minutes at a time.  The shoreline was his place for clearing his head and rejuvenating himself.  The more I think about it the more I am ashamed to admit that with the Atlantic coast less than 1.5 hours from my house that I have spent less than a couple weeks worth of work hours this past year exploring all the great outdoor opportunities that the Coastline has to offer and most of that was fishing on a boat, not chasing crabs in the rocks, not paddling around the tranquil salt ponds and not paying much attention to the incredible outdoor opportunities of our shoreline.

I think it’s time I take a page from my Father-in-law’s retired playbook and get back in touch with the shoreline.   Anyone want to join me?


Feb 11, 2010

MY first Blog post

Well, seeing I mentioned that I decided to start this blog after reading a paper my Son wrote for a College Writing course that referenced Nature Deficit Disorder,  I thought it would be smart to start by providing some information on Nature Deficit Disorder as well as start discussing what the outdoors has meant to me.

Taken from the following Wikipedia  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_deficit_disorder
Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, refers to the alleged trend[1] that children are spending less time outdoors,[2] resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.  He also argues that sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally "scared children straight out of the woods and fields," while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favors "safe" regimented sports over imaginative play.

You have to step back and start to think about this and compare today's parents and children from when we were children.  I grew up in the city in a single parent household where my mother would work multiple jobs to keep a roof over our head and food on the table.  This left plenty of time for my brother and I to basically do what ever we felt like and what we did was get outside.  We'd play sports in the street, climb roofs and trees, hide n seek, flashlight tag, explore the parks, fields, ponds and puddles.  It didn't matter what we did, but we did it outside.  This wasn't just unique to my brother and I, but to many of the kids in the neighborhood.  If we weren't being told to go outside and play, we were begging to go outside and play.  Access to forests, farms, lakes and streams was not around the corner, but I was able to access them thanks to my Mom, my uncles (my mom's brothers) and my dad.  How they influnced my love for the outdoors will be for a later topic.

Today I live in the suburbs with a couple of large sections of state forest minutes from me and access to a public lake within walking distance and a stream nearby.....Man, what a playground.

Looking back I can't help but think that spending all this time outdoors has had a huge effect on who I am today.  It didn't matter if it was 5 degrees and a foot of snow, or 99 and humid... we had to be outside.  Being out side forced us to explore, meet new people and friends, learn communication skills, learn to get around on our own, to be creative and to appreciate everything there is to offer outside.  If you can take some time out of your busy schedule to step back and reflect on your childhood and your experiences with the outdoors and think about how that influenced you as a person today and maybe eve how you interact with your own children. BTW. I just ordered Richard Louv's Book: "Last Child in the Woods" and can't wait to read it.

Some links of interest.
Richard Louv Website
Richard Louv's Blog
CT No child left inside website

Have you enjoyed the outdoors today?