Wednesday, October 7

National Fishing and Hunting Day: A Few Good Calls

   Sponsored by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, this year's National Fishing and Hunting Day was a wonderful way to further introduce my children to these outdoor activities. Not only were there many vendors and state agencies represented, but also a multitude of hands-on exhibits and demonstrations.   
   Held on the property of a hunting and shooting lodge, there was something for all ages to participate in. This range of events provided an experience, which my children and I were thankful to the DNR for sponsoring. For example, my son and daughter were able to learn the fundamentals of archery with sized down compound bows. Taught by the capable Maryland Bowhunters Society, they went through safety instruction and three flights later were hitting full body targets.  I was able to try the new Benelli Vinci at the Benelli booth.  While it mounted well, it was light in the stock and did not feel as well balanced as my Super Black Eagle II.  It is a fine shotgun and if you are looking for a right handed semi-auto that takes up to 3" shells, give it a serious look.
   Our favorite exhibit of the day was a gentleman with an early Frontiersman's camp.  Dressed the part in deerskins and working in his hand constructed camp, he casted .50 and .62 caliber balls for a period rifle.  We learned more about the life of a frontiersman in a few minutes than a day at the library. Our knowledgeable guide enlightened us on edible plants (and their Latin names), as well as colonial furntiure building, and how a razor sharp adze would produce a finish so smooth that sanding was not required.
   Walking back to the truck, we stopped in to talk to the folks at Sean Mann Outdoors, makers of well-regarded duck and goose calls.  Within five minutes, I was in the middle of a private lesson and was able to make a few solid highball calls with their Wingnutz Wingmann short reed calls. The Northern Louisiana gentleman who coached me provided excellent instruction. After hours of practicing on the way to work, it was refreshing to know that an iota of my past calling catalyzed in a few good calls.

Friday, September 11

An Independence Day to Remember

"It has always been my private conviction that any man who puts his intelligence up against a fish and loses had it coming." John Steinbeck

Left in our wake from the slip were charter captains readying their boats and rigging rods. Leaving Indian River Inlet before 7:00, we were three on the Bird Dog, a 37 foot deep vee sportfisher. I was excited to go out with Jaime and Stacy, as I had been regaled with their tales from the deep for many years on the beach. Knowing them since I was a boy, it was great to go out fishing with them. We had been fishing many decades before, albeit in the surf. We joked over coffee as we motored toward the sun drenched seas.
A clear day, with a ten to fifteen mile per hour winds and seas of ~ three feet, we chugged under the Indian Inlet Bridge among the small center consoles holding position against the outgoing tide, with their rods awaiting a strike. Settling in, we increased speed to roughly seventeen miles per hour bearing due East for 45 minutes. The Bird Dog powered smoothly through larger rolling swells to the location where we would start our first drift. We passed rows of sea bass pots strung in lines, where the bass congregate on the bottom and the unlucky enter the pots for their last meal. Cutting our engines, we were readying 6' medium action rods with Shimano Calcuttas and braided line. The rig of choice was a hi-lo rig with 2/0 Octupus hooks and a surgeon's knot loop at the bottom to run through a 6 oz bank sinker eyelet. The lower hook was baited with a squid strip and the upper with live minnows lipped. Letting the rigs free fall, it seemed to take forever to hit the bottom eighty feet below. My anticipation for a bite slowed the reel, as I watched the plated reel spin out, then slacken.
Earlier I asked Jaime if I should let the bass gulp the bait, then set the hook, as when a striper strikes. He commented, "This isn't rocket science; you'll know". It was the older brother voice which I am so familiar with; the "ok greenhorn, no more questions, just fish" response. I leaned into the gunnels and waited. Within thirty seconds, there was a sharp tug on the line. Fishing with braided line, there is no stretch, and feeling every twitch of the line I knew this wasn't a crab nibbling on the bait. Reeling up quick, which at eighty feet takes a while, I pulled a nine inch sea bass on board. Stout with a spiny dorsal, you have to handle deftly to avoid the spines, as I did not. He was not at the twelve and a half inch limit and I threw him back, not before he left me a present. "Look", I heard from behind, "you scared the crap of him". We laughed as I washed up. I guess I did, poor fish.
This action continued on two more drift passes: checking bait; dropping the rig in the green-blue deep; catching, measuring, and releasing. The next reel brought in an oddity, which I thought was only in the imagination of Fred Schneider of the B-52's: a sea robin. Wiggling defiantly, with googly eyes and six bright orange feelers under its pectoral fins/spikes, it was a pretty hideous beast. Avoiding the pectoral spikes we got him (or it) back in the water and continued our hunt for a keeper. Always hoping our ruler was not going to be long enough, we also hit into summer flounder. While these do not fight terribly, they put a bend in the rod and you would think you had a monster on the line. A keeper had to be over 19 inches, and Stacy did manage to get one just a hair over the limit.
By this time, I was parched and wish I had taken the Bonine. My partners noticed this and jibed me as the "Silent Killer"…quiet, but reeling them in. After we repositioned for another drift, I fed the fish and rebaited. I felt better. They did their best to brighten my spirits. We finally hit legal tender on the sea bass and I was happy to not hook my hand as my head was swimming. The ride back was jovial and the wheelhouse was filled with the macho banter spoken during such times. The same rivulets of wisdom that flow in duck blinds, dove fields, and bait and tackle shops.
It was a fine day and while I must pay the price of a bruised ego sans Bonine, I did land a legal sea bass, which lightly seasoned and grilled was superb.
On that day, I tip my cap to my partners whose camaraderie made for a great trip. I also recognize and have a solemn respect for those men who risked their lives so that I could enjoy that day in a country that honors the sporting traditions.
And to George Read, a signer from Delaware, who defied a king to better the country he loved.

Friday, July 24

Father’s Day Clay

“Let’s go hunting Dad”. He meant skeet shooting, but his enthusiasm was contagious. Close to a week earlier, I had mentioned that I wanted to shoot a couple of rounds of skeet on Father’s Day, and my son jumped at the chance to ask to join and thrilled when I agreed to it. Getting the gear ready on Father’s Day, I went over the Three Commandments of Firearm Safety: Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction; Assume a firearm is loaded and always check the action; Be sure of your target and what’s behind it and never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy. With yellow shooting glasses, earmuffs and a huge grin he hopped in the truck and we drove to “go hunting” Ten minutes later, we pulled up to the Talbot Rod and Gun Club. A well organized club, the skeet and trap fields are well maintained. I have always found helpful advice, seasoned shooters and gentlemen who go out of their way to make sure you are safe and enjoying the sport. Walking in the clubhouse, a club member remembering my first name, offered salutation and asked if my young sidekick was shooting today. “No”, I replied, “he is just learning today”. “Can he pull for you?, the gentleman inquired. Good question, I thought. I knew he could, but it would keep him from getting immersed in the method and dynamics of skeet. He would be an observer, I offered. As the three of use walked to the skeet field and I thanked the gentlemen for pulling, I could see my young observer taking in all the sounds and motion of the fields. As attentive my focus was on the clays, my son’s was on the action of the field. He would ask insightful questions between stations and was eager to watch trap after my rounds concluded. For all the time I spend reading and researching the shooting sports, I find it rewarding to pass that information to a curious interested observer. It is tough to properly describe how it feels to crush a clay, when all parts of the action (swing, follow through, etc.) are in sync. By taking part, he can begin to understand that exhilaration. I am overjoyed to have him join me when he can. Next time, I think he can pull. I know he will jump at the chance.