Saturday, September 7, 2013

Back to the Basics

Several years ago, I struggled mightily to train my wing-shooting eye. Struggle might be an understatement. I had no shooting eye. I remember going something like 1 for 90 at the range on a box of clay targets, launched in singles with a hand thrower. Fortunately, I had a great teacher that day, and he calmed me down and inspired me to right the ship.  After that first session with my brother, who patiently guided me through the process of securing the fundamentals first and not worrying about hitting and missing, I've committed my time to practice sessions before each hunting season. Now, I probably shoot hundreds of clay targets, launched from my slick foot-pedal thrower all during the late summer months proceeding October's pheasant opener.  My rate of success on the range and in the field has increased dramatically, and while I am not at 100% yet, on some days, I get really close.  My brother, George, was a hundred percent accurate in his lesson however—success in shooting is cemented in fundamentals.

Image from

Today, as I drove to the range on a deliciously cold September morning, my thoughts drifted back to those teachable moments with my brother so many years ago, and while I was really terrible, I will always be thankful that my teacher that day was my brother. He was the salt of the earth, not the salt in the wound, and that in itself was a lesson worth remembering too.  My friend Spencer met me at the range, and before long, I found myself repeating the same words of wisdom my brother had spoken to me. This time, I was playing the role of instructor, and it was satisfying to see an apt pupil instantly improve as he took the lesson to heart.  In late October, we'll surprise a hen or perhaps a rooster, and then, the hours poured into practice will pay great dividends—and the sense of satisfaction will be worth it.

Called Again

In a few short days, I'll be tracing the conduit of the Yellowstone River from Billings to Gardiner, Montana. My thoughts during this upcoming journey will be with those who traveled this way some 200 years ago—those members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. If there ever is a way to "live" the journey, it certainly isn't hurtling along I-90 at eighty miles per hour in a rental car, but I did read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.  I devoured that novel, and in the end, I realized that both Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were at their absolute best, their true finest, during the two-year journey across the continent. I actually felt a degree of sadness while reading the part about their return down the Missouri River to St. Louis, because I knew the journey was over, and I had so much enjoyed being a part of it—vicariously through Ambrose's exceptional prose. 

Lewis departed from Pittsburgh in late August of 1804, drifting down the Ohio River to meet William Clark in St. Louis. He would arrive there in October, meeting Clark and making a winter camp before they would begin the expedition in the spring. From St. Louis, it would take the 30 some member group a year to reach the Pacific Ocean.

I too will be departing from Pittsburgh.  But,  I'll be in Montana just five hours later. Yet, I will be thinking of Lewis, and wondering what thoughts coursed through his mind as he paddled down the Ohio.

Meriwether Lewis (image from

This will be my fifth journey to Yellowstone National Park in the last eight years. Why I am going back again? Simply said, it calls me back. I've never been there in any other month outside of August. And, while all of those trips were magical, I am looking forward to seeing the park in the slightly waning light of Autumn. I will meet up with my good friend Pollarine who has participated in each one of my YNP adventures. I can sense the twinkle in his native Montana eye when he describes the scenes of September in the west. 

The closest memory I have is Yosemite in September, and goodness, was it ever beautiful. Cool nights led to sunny days. The kind of sun that is pleasant to stand in. A warm sun. One that knows winter is coming and tries to make life wonderful while it lasts.

I love the anticipation of reaching some of my favorite mountain streams and discovering new ones.  The overwhelming joy of casting that first imitation of the adventure, and hooking the first cubby char for the campfire.

There are new streams to fish this time: Solfatara, Pebble, and Gibbon. New mountains to climb: Electric Peak. And new memories to be made. Perhaps some will involve the bugle of the fall elk or the howl of wolves on crisp, cold nights.

Regardless, I hope for a safe journey for all involved, and I hope for a good time to be had. Maybe, just maybe, old Meriwether Lewis had hoped for the same things.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Kettle Creek

The wilderness stream of Pennsylvania is how I often think of Kettle Creek in Potter county. Fortunately, I always seem to have a few chances to fish it every year due to the fact that my in-laws live in northern PA, and any chance I get, I'll escape to its waters when the opportunity presents itself during our visiting trips to "Nan and Papa's house" with our two boys.  I love Kettle because it produces wonderful experiences and terrific trout fishing through May, June, and even July.  Much of the water in our mid-Atlantic state warms up through June, and it can be difficult to find trout though the summer, but the upper reaches of Kettle Creek harbor some of the most brilliantly crimson-colored rainbows I've ever landed along with feisty, undercut bank-hiding browns and an occasional native brook trout. I seem to remember individual trout and evenings on this stream better than any other. 

Years ago, on Memorial Day weekend, I saw the biggest trout I've seen in my life grab an early-morning caddis fly. I had just landed a few cubby trout, and then the torpedo of a fish zipped from the depths and swam right by me.  It was an incredible fish given the size of the stream. Unfortunately, its majesty was not on the end of my line, and I was left to guess of what it was....certainly a monster brookie or perhaps King Brown itself.

A few times my brother and I made it up for some camping at Ole Bull in mid June after the school year ended, and we always got into trout, always.

Did I mention I caught my first ever flyrod trout on Kettle Creek? Again, it was a Memorial Day weekend long ago, and it truly was the first fish I've ever hooked and landed on a flyrod, a beautiful 9-inch native brook trout fooled with a caddis.

Perhaps my best memory to date is when I bolted to Kettle after a family gathering with only one hour of light left in mid-May. Upon reaching my desired spot high upstream, I found myself in a cloud of sulphers carrying tiny orange eggs. The hatch itself was an amazing sight I'll never forget. I quickly switched to a sulpher dun and within seconds landed a beautiful 12-inch native. It was the only fish I caught in the half hour I was on the stream before night collapsed around me, and even through I spent more time in the car driving to the stream than I did on the water, it was all worth it, and this exactly why I love Kettle Creek. It rewards every effort in some natural fashion, whether it be in trout or scenery or solitude. 

Weeks ago, Bek and I took the boys up to Ole Bull for their first-ever camping trip, and there was a fishing derby for children. The boys hauled in some nice brook trout, and I was even able to sneak out in the evening after they crashed in the tent and land a few natives in the midst of a madcap slate drake hatch.

Quinn at Ole Bull SP

And, finally another chapter to my wilderness gem, least I forget. The final weekend of June saw us arriving in Clinton county for a family reunion. After much swimming and picnic fun, the boys were wiped, and I had a chance to hit Kettle for an evening. Thunderstorms rolled through the mountains, and I spent 30 minutes reading in the car before hiking down to one of my favorite stream bends just below the state park. Not much was happening in the way of hatches, so I used a silver spinner to catch two foot-long browns, a native brook, and an outstanding 15-inch rainbow that fought incredibly well. All were returned to the cool waters of the stream, and I hope they are there again if I make it up by summer's end like a pirate recovering buried treasure.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Utah Letter

An excerpt from a letter to my good friend Pollarine in regards to Utah's magical canyon country and high desert...

Utah was spectacular from start to finish. True, we only had about 4 days in state, but Bek and I did the best we could. We loved Arches. I am glad I got the Fiery Furnace tour. I highly recommend it. Ranger Mike was pretty cool. 

The long hike through Devils Garden (including the primitive loop) was totally cool.

Finally, Delicate Arch was the best way to end the day. Loved it. Its magnitude struck me when I rounded the last bend on the trail. I love how it was hidden back there, and I felt nothing but awe. It caught the fading sunlight and framed the Salt Mountains in the background in such a way that I will never forget. 

Delicate Arch

We only really had one day in Canyonlands, but I loved it as well. We did a lot of hikes and scrambled around on the ledges quite a bit.  Seeing the granaries was pretty cool, and on our way out Bek and I checked out some dinosaur bones and pictographs on some trails near Moab. We also stopped and hiked to an awesome waterfall near Orem. And, on the way to the parks on the first day, we did a little walking tour of BYU. 

Canyonlands Overlook

We hit up the SLC capitol building at dusk before we flew home, and that was really great too. We also saw the Mormon temple. Yet, such feats of men pale in comparison to nature's art work (in my opinion).

Salt Lake City Capitol Bldg

Camping in the desert was also very enjoyable. The sun and dry air were comfortable, and I feel like we got very lucky with the weather.

Then, when we got back, we had a snow day. This winter hasn't really let up....the boys and I flew kites today, and it continued to snow.

Glad you enjoyed the jerky, it reminded me of Yellowstone, so I picked some up for you guys. I wish I'd had a chance to see you 'round the old campfire, but there will be opportunities on the horizon I am sure.  It really was a good time, and I am sure it felt like two different trips for Joe. I bet the first week was rather "tame" compared to week two....I'd like to hear the tale of "firewater" of which you speak whenever you have some time to recount it.

In summary, I am very glad we went to Utah. It was worth it. I'd still like to see Bryce, Zion, and Grand someday. But, Arches and Canyonlands were truly beautiful and intimate. March seemed like a great time to go, and the snow capped mountains in the background of most desert scenes was captivating.  I still think of the thrilling expanse of the canyons and the yipping coyotes at night. I also believe these places put "time" in perspective. Geez, we are nothing but a minor blip on the radar.  I feel like I now know quite a secret after seeing the beauty of the high desert country.

Alas, when we were in the confines of the Fiery Furnace, Ranger Mike asked his travelers to name their fav NPs. I found myself thinking of Yellowstone. Not just the trout fishing, but the wildlife, the campfires, and the adventure. 

With Bek at Canyonlands overlook...

Stories in Pictures

While on the subject of fishing with my boys, there are moments you hope to always remember, and visuals certainly help to conjure up the emotions of the day....


The joy of Opening Day.

Quinny is a study in determination...

With his prize...

Passing it on

Here's to hoping my boys will come to enjoy the outdoors as I do. We certainly spend a great deal of time outside engrossed in all sorts of activities. And, so far, both seem to have taken to fishing, or at least, in my older son Kale's case, water. You just can't keep him away from it.  Obviously, vigilance is key, but over the past two seasons, I've realized that stream fishing suits him well. He likes to move and discover, and he'll take the trout that come with it too.  Last year he stream hopped with me on a few occasions and scored six trout in total, some on the flyrod too.  He also has an uncanny ability to keep a trout hooked regardless of how he lands it...reeling it all the way to the eyelet or suspended feet in the air as it is whipped to shore, and once, tangled around my calves as I attempted to scoop it with a creel. We eventually corralled that acrobatic rainbow to possession.

On a sunny Friday afternoon in early May I picked him up from pre-school and asked him if he wanted to go fishing. His positive reply started us off well, and his excitement jumped a notch when he saw the gear piled in the back of the car.  And, so we were off to Standing Stone, my personal favorite stream and the place were Kale had caught his first ever trout a year prior.

We hiked up stream on that sun kissed afternoon and discovered it pretty much abandoned. Slipping down some steep grassy banks, we waded across a pebbly channel and set up just above a deep pool. A few casts later, a nice, fat rainbow zipped his line, and Kale had his first fish of the day.  Soon he landed his second one of similar size, and he declared them both suitable fry for dinner. By six we were in dry clothes again and snacking in the shade.  

Kale all geared up.

Rainbow prize.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Alas, I've never been a great shot. Yet, through consistent practice and repetition, I've been able to train my eye and improve.  The fruits of the labor often emerge when I least expect it. Such was the case on an early November evening last fall.  Swerving into the gravel game land lot, I hopped out of the car fully field dressed, leashed up Daisy, and grabbed my pump action. I spoke with one returning hunter about the possibility of getting into some birds, and fortunately, he shared some information about where he'd seen them.  In quick succession, beagle and man made a bee line for the upper fields in hopes of rousing a rooster.  Of note, it was already beyond daylight savings time, so two hours of light existed before dark. Two hours is nothing. Quite short for hunting.  Yet, it can sometimes force the issue and inspire the pursuer to be efficient as possible, to choose only a select few pieces of cover, and to hope for the best. Birds are moving in the evening, and a lovely crisp fall night sets a beautiful backdrop for the scene.

We got lucky. Within ten minutes Daisy had locked onto the scent of a bird, and it was already close. We crossed two hedgerows before the panicked rooster lifted its head from the high grass and revealed his presence. After a few hops he sneaked into the brush, but with Daisy so close, he cashed in and took flight. Being able to see him beforehand calmed my nerves, and as the gun boomed, the quarry spiraled downward barely clearing the treetops before rolling up. After a few comical minutes of trying to find him, he was discovered burrowed beneath a logjam.  With one bird accounted for, Daisy and I wasted little time in trouncing toward the backfields.  Daisy worked intently across a span of green, shin high winter wheat.  Soon, her tail began its birdy swag and we were off and running again. This time the bird ran deftly, and in the richness of the cover, I could not spot it. Only Daisy's maze-like path and excited yipping told me that the pheasant was about to bust.  Daisy turned and ran the bird almost to my feet before the hen exploded from the cover just behind my position. It was a quick shot, but the plume of feathers drifting over us was evidence of its accuracy.  The wiley hen proved to be a more noble target, and so, the second and final bird of the hunt proved to be even more rewarding. Forty-five minutes. We were done. It feels pretty good to eject the shells, stare down at just two expended ones, and feel the weight of two birds in the game bag.  Time to go girl. Good job.  Let's walk it out the long way and enjoy this golden November evening, for they are few and far between.

Friday, April 5, 2013

November is for Pheasants

November equals terrific pheasant hunting, and the equation held true this past season.  George and I were able to enjoy nearly two hours afield one evening in the early part of the eleventh month. No sooner had we met, chambered up, and began ascending an old tractor path above Spring Creek, did we spot a mighty rooster standing confidently before us. Daisy's bell clued him in to our purpose, and he turtled into the underbrush.  It didn't take long for our beagle to work into a frenzy, sending the bird airborne. With one shot of my reliable Mossberg, he came crashing down. The shot was sufficient at such close range, though excitement likely got the better of me as it was not perfect, but having one heavy bird in the bag tends to relax one's sole, which makes for calmer nerves and more accurate shooting  anyway.

Soon, we were tromping through the spacious upper fields quite alone, and quite happy at discovering this unshared paradise. Daisy worked birds in and out of cover, and eventually chased another male into a wooded alley, which is never great for uninstructed  shots on a bird taking wing, but we knew the lack of sufficient underbrush would eventually force him up, which it did.  The launch was full of cackling, and George and I both fired in a desperate attempt to score on our target, which we did, simultaneously, and like a helicopter struck in mid flight, he dropped quite abruptly, but in his landing, he rolled and ran. The toughness of these birds and their will to live is admirable. 

Daisy gave chase, and a quarter of a mile later, it became obvious that the bird was crippled such that flying was not an option for him. Instead, he would rely on his better instincts by committing to a death run. Our saving grace was our dog. Daisy stayed on the bird with determination. And, she continued to remind us, like she has a thousand times over, that a good dog is worth its weight in gold. Finally, after scrambling along the steep, rocky ridge lines of the creek canyon, Daisy turned the bird up a dry runoff channel within range of my brother, who took the high ground to prevent an escape into the fields, while I blocked the creek.  Yes, pheasants are also good swimmers.

George's smooth 20 gauge reported once or twice, I can't quite recall as I was just so happy to hear him shooting, and by this point, I was shouting "Did you get him? Did you get him?" I should have known better. After all, my brother is an expert shot and the dog had stopped bawling.  George laughed, "Yeah, I got him." And the three of us  collapsed for a water break while admiring another fine bird.   

As we crested the last hilltop headed due west into the brilliant light of the setting sun, I caught my brother's silhouette. The shot looked more like South Dakota than central Pennsylvania, but I don't think the location would have made a difference to me.  Instead, the deep sense of satisfaction and happiness I felt knowing we were part of this scene took the day.