06/15/14 9:00am
06/15/2014 9:00 AM
Liam Hansen of Wading River fishes with his father Mark on the town's floating dock during the 15th annual Riverhead Snapper Tournament in 2012. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Liam Hansen of Wading River fishes with his father Mark on the town’s floating dock during the 15th annual Riverhead Snapper Tournament in 2012. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

During the run up to Fathers’ Day, outdoor publications fill up with stories and pieces like “Take a Boy Hunting (Fishing)” or republish old chestnuts such as the “The Old Man and the Boy” tales from Field & Stream. Often essays or short stories deal with the coming of age of a young man and border on fantasy: an adolescent winds up either catching the salmon of a lifetime on the Margaree River (Cape Breton) on an heirloom Hardy Bros. bamboo fly rod or shoots his first pheasant and subsequently receives granddad’s priceless Parker DHE 20-gauge side-by-side.  (more…)

05/25/14 9:00am
05/25/2014 9:00 AM
A tackle box. (Credit: Flickr/Viewoftheworld)

A tackle box. (Credit: Flickr/Viewoftheworld)

A few weeks ago we got a call from an editor to write a piece on scup, our favorite saltwater panfish, maybe our favorite fish, period. But the angle our friend wanted was not the typical one, e.g. porgies in the spring, porgies in the Peconics, etc. No, this was to be all about porgies on ultralight tackle.

What is really meant by “ultralight” tackle? What, in fact, distinguishes “ultralight” tackle from “light” tackle or “heavy” tackle, for that matter?  (more…)

04/13/14 8:05am
04/13/2014 8:05 AM

WaterBottles

In our throwaway world, early spring can be depressing.

When we travel the highways of the Northeast, the snow-covered winter trash emerges in ugly profusion as the snow recedes. Where trash containers are ample, where pickups are frequent, as is the case in many interstate rest areas, you hardly notice the stuff. Where some officials closed rest areas and pulled collection bins out of parking areas along Route 81, by contrast, the scene resembles a Mumbai dumping area from Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers.”  (more…)

08/12/12 4:00am
08/12/2012 4:00 AM

We were going to a restaurant the other night with old friends who trialed field dogs with us over the years and asked for directions. One of them pulled out pen and paper and said, “Here, I’ll draw you a map!” It was a fine document and got us there without difficulty.

Here was an “aha” moment; this sequence is now quite unusual because mapmaking is a lost art for many outdoors persons. In a world of Google Earth, GPS, On Star and computerized voices like Siri, it’s no wonder that the need to sketch or read a detailed map appears old-fashioned, even irrelevant. This observation applies, I suppose, as long as technology works for you. However, if you have no laptop, if you are in an area where wireless signals are poor or non-existent, e.g., some wilderness areas in the Adirondack Park or roads through the mountains of Pennsylvania, then what?

Also, because computer technology from the very beginning was only as good as the early programmers, (i.e., “garbage in equals garbage out”) and because much of today’s software is written by wonks who haven’t a clue about local details, some really crazy situations arise when technology goes awry or androids make decisions for you. Several seasons back, a couple of friends from northern New England with no knowledge of Long Island wanted to get to a trial in Calverton with their horses and set out confidently, using their GPS. Somehow they tracked all the way west to the New York Thruway and the Major Deegan Expressway, then wound up on the Cross Bronx Expressway just in time for Friday evening rush hour — a nightmare!

Our north country home up against the Canadian border lies on a road, Jones Road, which ends next to our house, but there is a track through the woods going north, an old military trail once intended for border protection and later used by bootleggers and locals to get to Canada. It emerges a couple of miles north onto an east-west country road, but the track is really for ATVs or hikers. Still, every so often, we’ll see someone come crashing out of the woods in a 4×4 pickup, looking somewhat dazed. Inevitably, this is a pilgrim following a GPS or a Google Map that clearly shows “Jones Road Extension.”

Live and learn.

The best maps give an overall picture, showing not only roads and landmarks, but accurate distances, too. Looking for a field trial, a hunting camp, or a restaurant — it’s all the same; you’ve got to be precise about how far you’ve come and where you turn. The same holds true for sailors and anglers reading nautical charts. It’s well and good for a skipper to punch in numbers and get precisely onto some patch of bottom or some little wreck where the fish were yesterday. But, we’re spoiled to the point where we have a hard time figuring out new waters for which there is only scant information.

If you rented a livery skiff from the Lorias 40 years back, Captain Marty’s would supply you with a simple map showing shorelines, islands, reefs and buoys. Given the layout and some numbers (like distances from points or time of travel at cruising speed) you could pretty well get to the desirable areas, even if there were no other boats fishing there. If you had a depth recorder, great; otherwise, you dropped a sinker overboard on a fixed line and checked both depth and, by bumping the sinker, the type of bottom. Often you could pick out features on shorelines directly fore and aft as well as off both stern and bow. The intersection of the two lines gave you a triangulated position that you could note. If you needed to drift a bit, you carried a couple of marker buoys — empty plastic milk jugs and heavy sinkers on lines wrapped around the jugs. Toss one overboard and you had the spot marked perfectly (at least until the tide ran so fast that the jug submerged). This also served nicely to mark where a body of bottom hugging flounder might be feeding so you could drift over the hot spot repeatedly. No GPS or Loran numbers required.

This “lost art” itself, like mapmaking, can still come in handy when you find yourself in some little embayment in a borrowed skiff a thousand miles away from home and you want to catch your supper as we did on Cape Breton Island some 20 years back. The winter flounder there were extraordinary, too! Similarly, locating a deep spring in a mountain pond you’ve never fished before usually requires a tip or two, a homemade map, and the skills of triangulation.

If you can make and read simple maps and find your way around new areas, you shouldn’t need to ask yourself, “Where am I?” Or answer, “I dunno!”

08/02/12 1:00am
08/02/2012 1:00 AM

There’s nothing much to say about traffic jams except they’re unavoidable. Anyone who heads from an urban zone for a holiday in “the country”, i.e. the wilderness of Suffolk, Putnam, Fairfield counties or points beyond, is familiar with jams and absolutely hates them. Even worse, of course, is the misery of the daily long-distance auto commuter who lacks transit alternatives.

The agony and the ecstasy of the LIE, Southern State, Northern State or the Bronx River, Sprain and the Hutch are familiar to pretty much all our readers, but the situation always seems most dire in the summer. In truth, when it comes to highways, summer is the third of three distinct seasons, especially farther north: “winter”, “mud”, and “road work!” And, although one can argue about appropriate levels of stimulus for the recovering U.S. economy, there’s lots of evidence for much of the stimulus going to infrastructure — particularly highways — in the summer of 2012.

It’s one thing to wax philosophical about roadwork, sitting at one’s desk, sipping an iced drink, and contemplating travel routes and schedules. It’s quite another to be out on the road, miles from anticipated bottlenecks (and when it comes to bottlenecks, anyone trying to exit Long Island knows full well what the term “island” really means) and have traffic suddenly come to a complete standstill. You haven’t seen any signs of roadwork, the traffic report “on the eights” hasn’t been updated on your road, and even the “twitterati” are not informed about this one.

And if those long haul truckers still carry CBs, you don’t, and you don’t remember the AM setting for highway information. How far ahead is the blockage? Are you temporarily stopped for a minor accident, a gaper’s block, or is it something more serious? Is it going to be three lanes into two, two lanes into one, or all lanes closed for blasting or for road crews to do a complete paving job over 15 miles? In the immortal words of those Apollo astronauts, “Houston, we have a problem!”

If you are aware of road work from previous trips or from weekday traffic reports, you can sometimes plan accordingly, altering schedule or route, but, most often, you are simply stuck, gazing at the dashboard, checking fuel and engine temperature. Better check blood pressure, too. There are really only three approaches at this point. Either you wait it out, force your way to an exit, or check possible alternate routes when you reach the very next exit ramp. Many will tell you that you simply have to tough it out and that you’ll never save any time by trying to escape, but this is a percentage thing. If traffic has come to a complete standstill and shows no sign of moving for 10 minutes or so, percentages in favor of hanging on begin to drop.

Some five years back, we were headed out to Cape Cod for a spring weekend and road work was just getting started on I-90 and I-495 when traffic stopped about 40 minutes from the Bourne Bridge out to Cape Cod. We turned off the AC when the engine temperature began to rise, then we turned off the engine and opened windows enough to breathe; there was enough of a breeze to blow off most of the exhaust fumes. After 15 minutes, we checked a roadside mileage marker and realized that we were about a mile from an exit, so we took the chance and followed some other vehicles onto the shoulder and eventually out the exit onto an old state highway. After more than an hour, we got to the bridge and sailed through to our destination near Falmouth. Later than night we learned from TV news reports that the jam wasn’t due to road work at all, but to a tanker fire that tied up traffic for more than three hours!

If you want to get away from bad jams and gamble on side routes, better have some good road maps. This summer for instance, the major north-south interstate in western New York, Route I-81, has lots of projects going, everything from dynamite and asphalt, to shoulder reconstruction. Thanks to heavy truck traffic, it’s all needed. But after braving successive 10-mile single-lane closures and attendant half-hour stalls, I’ve looked at New York and Pennsylvania maps to check alternatives. Sure, if we could hit that nasty 100 miles from Syracuse past Wilkes-Barre in the wee small hours or long after dark, we’d be fine, but we can’t. So at this moment, I’m looking at the ancient route, US 11, as a nice direct way—except that it takes us right through Binghamton and Wilkes Barre-Scranton.

Before I lose my temper, stalled in traffic, and start on that kind of adventure to get around road work, I’ll consult our navigator, Janet. Then we’ll probably change drivers—and flip a coin!


07/19/12 4:00am
07/19/2012 4:00 AM

We had just finished a good morning workout, a training session, really, with three bird dogs when another club member arrived on the grounds. We were the only ones that morning. By the time we packed up to go, the temperature was 85 degrees. It was 8:30 a.m., and the heat wave would push the mercury into triple digits in nearby Philadelphia that afternoon.

Outdoors persons who deal with summer activities during the frequent hot spells learn to be smart. More important than 4 p.m. high temperatures are the 6 a.m. lows, for these dictate what you can do and when. Unless you’re forced to defy Noel Coward’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen [Go Out in the Noonday Sun]” rule because of some scheduled event, you key on the period between first light and breakfast, say 4 a.m. to 8. Unless the morning lows come in above 80 degrees, you can usually accomplish what you want in relative comfort. Why only mornings? Throughout most of our mid-Atlantic region, high humidity levels simply don’t allow temperatures to plunge much at nightfall, and “the cool of the evening” is pretty much a myth.

Where I grew up, fishing the summer nights in Westchester and Putnam counties, my favorite fishing time was “the witching hour” right around dark, until mid-July. Then older mentors showed me how to fish long after dark, and, indeed, the bass often “came alive” around midnight, much to the annoyance of my parents. (I had to learn to refrigerate my catch until at least after breakfast the next day.) A couple of young friends who constantly outfished me wouldn’t get on the lakes until 3 a.m. or so, and they had the advantage of the coolest water temperatures of all. Even a half-degree or so makes a difference in freshwater predator activity.

Many years later when I worked a half-year in New Zealand, I learned that the rainbow/steelhead of the North Island were also best fished in the middle of the night by anglers casting tiny luminous flies from sandbars, fly rodders lined up just like so many northeastern surf fishers. Of course tides are just as important as the cover of darkness for nighttime stripers during the summer doldrums; East End skippers always cherish the new and full-moon periods from now through September for that very reason.

Unfortunately, biorhythms present a problem for most of us landlubbers. Although you’re just as likely to come across “night owls” as you are to encounter “early birds,” very few can go both ways. That’s why charter skippers are not fond of 12-hour sunset-to-sunrise grinds. Those still standing at the rail can be made to look really foolish when the biggest striped bass of the trip opts for a live eel at night’s end.

The only option for the outdoors person who simply hates the graveyard shift and cannot function without a full night’s rest is to fight the heat of the day and do what you need to do to be active: wear protective clothing, slather on sunscreen, drink plenty of fluids, etc. The other afternoon, with temperatures in the 90s, I had to muck out a barn and couldn’t bear long pants. The flies ate me alive while sunscreen dissolved in my sweat and got into my eyes. Humidity and lack of a breeze did me in. But offshore pros often find their targets perfectly well if they can handle some discomfort. That’s why some of the best offshore fishing comes in summertime, for tunas, mahi, or sharks out in the blue water. If you’ve got a shaded cabin to rest in, or even a canopy for shade, and if there’s a whiff of a breeze (not too much of a rolling sea, though!) it’s tolerable.

I used to consider summertime freshwater fishing to be a crazy proposition if I had to go in the daytime until I started fishing streams or rivers with fairly constant temperatures. Although, you had the best trout fishing in low light or at night, it was different with the river smallmouth and especially with the pikes. Given some local shade, some trees or weeds, you could often do pretty well all day. Because the pikes (chain pickerel, northern pike and muskellunge) are binge feeders, you often tease them or anger them to provoke a strike. High water temperatures increase metabolic rates and seem to make pike about as ornery as an overheated angler. We’ve seen some big river muskies come roaring out of weed patches to attack surface lures with open water river temperatures in the 80s!

Just because it’s hot, that’s no excuse not to get out. Whether you rise before the sun or emerge from the house after sundown, the summer outdoors still has a lot to offer. Besides, if the overwhelming majority of climate scientists are right, it won’t be any easier in the future!