04/28/12 2:00am
04/28/2012 2:00 AM

Lots of outdoors persons, here and elsewhere, enjoy horses and horseback activities. And so do we. But, as in any exercise involving the outdoors, accidents are part of the game, and working with half-ton animals presents risks that are pretty specific to that activity.

A couple of weeks ago at a field trial held on the historic English Setter Club grounds in Medford, N.J., about a half-hour from Philadelphia, a surprising number of accidents took place over the course of only a few days. Having so many mishaps in such a short time was unusual.

At mid-week, during a fast-paced stake, one experienced handler tried to turn his horse rather sharply; when the animal stumbled, he went over the top and landed on his collarbone, breaking it in the process. Over the weekend, two more riders went down when their horses fell; one bailed off just in time, the other suffered a fractured finger and a few bruises. To round things out, another experienced rider with a newly purchased horse failed to notice how much air the animal had blown out while riding and didn’t cinch up in time. During dismounting, the saddle assembly slipped off, depositing the rider, butt-first, on hard, dry soil. Badly bruised, that rider was also through riding for the weekend.

A couple of wags commented that this had something to do with bad karma, running a big field trial during Holy Week (with Passover in the mix as well), but a very well-known dog trainer, who also spent her youth breaking in quarter horses, confided that she had long ago stopped counting cracked and broken bones accumulated while riding horses!

As we’ve explained in previous essays, most of us get into horseback activities from the periphery. If you go into the Rockies with guides to set up a hunting or fishing trip, you ride in a pack train, horses and burros, or you just don’t go. If you compete seriously with pointing dogs in any trials other than walking trials on grouse and woodcock, sooner or later, you’ll be in the saddle, handling, judging, or simply observing those dogs.

After only a few rides, you get the feeling that there’s more to this game than simply plopping your butt into a comfortable saddle and using reins or legs, especially if you’re called upon to ride off by yourself on a steed from the wrangler’s string. Horses have a terrific sense of who’s a “tenderfoot” or “greenhorn” and who’s not, and “rental” horses are notorious for taking advantage of such situations. Now maybe you’ll want to get serious about riding lessons, and buy proper riding apparel, designed specifically for the riding you’ll do. Riding jeans, proper riding boots, chaps, and certainly a good helmet are starters, and you may quickly find that your very own saddle will serve you well over several seasons.

If you get serious about any horseback-related games, you eventually come to the conclusion that you’ll do a lot better with your own horse. Here the story takes a new turn, similar to the anglers who commit to offshore fishing and progress from skiff to cruiser. Horses (we use the plural form because they need companions) require pasture, barn or boarding, plus trailers and haul vehicles. Now you’re really hooked, and so are your life savings!

But back to the “safety” theme. Even when beginning to ride, you should know about tying lines, adjusting stirrups, saddling and bridling the animals properly in case the wrangler misses something while setting up your rental ride. You’re the person most affected. A loose saddle for a rider is like a poorly tied knot for an angler. Stirrups too long? No control? Too short? Cramps or balance issues? If you begin to work around horses, you realize how much lifting has to be done — everything from dragging heavy bales of hay and six-gallon Jerry cans of water to supporting horses’ feet and cleaning hooves. I’ve never used a lumbar support so often in any other outdoor activity!

But, again, like all outdoor endeavors, when things come together, it’s something else. Late on the Sunday of the Medford, N.J., trial, I was called upon to run a dog in place of one of the injured handlers. While I judge quite a bit and help out handlers as a “scout” when dogs go AWOL, I seldom carry responsibility for steering a wide-ranging field dog around a big course. But the dog knew its mission and, within a few minutes, I found myself watching her two fields ahead, swinging along a long edge, searching for game birds. Then the veteran judge cantered up alongside and asked me to turn at the end of the cast. As I called and swung the horse, the dog spotted me and swung 90 degrees at the far end of the field, just the maneuver we wanted.

And this is why we ride!

04/05/12 3:00am
04/05/2012 3:00 AM

Turning a page on the calendar and opening a fishing magazine last weekend brought back memories of seasons past. April was our prime flounder month. Until some 20 years ago, the winter flounder, the “left-handed” “fig leaf” with the rubbery lips and small mouth, was our Peconic staple, our harbinger of spring, and a sure bet for fish on the table until predators arrived in May.

Those days seem a long time ago. With flounder stocks pathetically low and the failure of regulators to put a moratorium on catching what has now become mostly a commercial fish, the recreational angler is lucky to scratch out his or her daily two-fish limit of keepers, 12 inches or better, during a two-month season in April and May. We can argue forever about the cause of the demise (e.g., overfishing, at first by recreational anglers, then by commercials who switched from decreasing yellowtails to “blackbacks,” increased water temperatures, habitat disturbance like scraping clam beds, or increased predation on juveniles by stripers (or seals!), but the fact remains: Finding flounders these days is harder than catching stripers.

The idea of gearing up a small boat — with chum pots, anchors, a couple of outfits per person, cutting boards, and net, then going somewhere to buy worms, mussels, and or clams — just to catch TWO flounder per person sounds like sheer lunacy. But is it any crazier to haul those outfits and ancillary gear aboard a party boat and lay out more than $50 for those same TWO flounder? And we haven’t even added the cost of travel at 50 cents per mile! Would you do the same for TWO scup?

On the other hand, if the water is calm and the sun shines and you’re in good company, what the heck! It’s cheaper than traveling to the Big Apple to take in some Broadway rerun! Besides, for some gourmets, a meal of truly fresh flounder, fish that were properly filleted on a boat’s cutting board, then iced, is worth every bit of the money you’ve paid. (At those prices, though, you’ll want to process the fish heads and fins for stock, and maybe even serve some lightly steamed roe with mayonnaise and crackers, too!). Another tip for the table: the later in the season you go flounder fishing, the more sea robins you’ll catch. Be sure to fillet them, too. Not delicate fare like flounder, they nevertheless stand up for use in chowders and curries. The wings from large skates are also excellent. Steam lightly, remove the skin, then continue to steam until you can remove the delicate meat from the cartilage.

What are the odds of catching in the first place? Spring trips are so weather dependant you have to choose your date with care if you take small craft out. On the other hand, on an open boat on Long Island Sound or the bays (probably Moriches), your skipper has been tracking the action for a while and can zero in on the right spot and the right tide better than the amateur who only sails occasionally. If you have an idea of how many flatties are caught on a typical trip, say 20 to 50, and divide by the number of anglers at the rail when you sail, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect. If the result is much less than one, you had better have a lot of confidence in yourself!

Flounder tackle is almost always light. Even on a party boat, mainlines can be six-pound test with sinkers less than three ounces, provided you tie good knots on your tandem rigs, provided currents are light, and provided waters are shallow. If you’re a sharpie using beads and rubber grubs, bless you, but on most days, the bait’s the thing — small, fresh, and fluttery, mounted on small hooks, 6s to 10s. A swallowed hook? Disgorgers are O.K., but why not cut the leader and re-rig? Most flatties will probably be keepers. Don’t be an idiot; unless you’re certain the fish is undersized, call for the net rather than use the old “swing her aboard” technique.

Any prospects for a return of the beloved flounder? Unfortunately, when the light dims on any slow-growing species like cod or flounder, it’s hard to fill a niche taken by other fish. Still, hope springs eternal for a small miracle, like a couple of good spawning years back to back.

Whether to fish a depleted resource is an individual choice. A couple of fish means nothing while commercial activity continues, I know, but it’s a matter of principle. One flounder fishing “buddy” from years ago still loves the fish, but hasn’t used his skiff at Captain Marty’s for that purpose in years. Currently, he has a home in Howard Beach with small boat access to Jamaica Bay, so I keep hoping for a call from him. So far it hasn’t come.

03/27/12 3:00am
03/27/2012 3:00 AM

The calendar cautions us, but, looking outside at current daytime temperatures in the 60s, we can’t help but turn a couple of pages. And with spring/summer on the mind (until the wind starts blowing in from the Atlantic), one has to think about travel. In fact, Janet and I just finished a 2,000-mile round trip during my school break to pick up a new horse, but more on that later.

When you travel with a horse trailer, there’s no way to avoid mileage costs, and you’re very much aware of gas prices ($3.60 to $4.03) across the eastern third of the country. You realize that, despite all the claims of opportunistic politicians, some 28 percent of per barrel costs (translating to about 56 cents at the pump) are due to speculation, which simply reflects the world we live in. (In fact, increased United States production — up from 8.1 to 10.3 millions of barrels per day — and lessened United States consumption of foreign oil — down from 59 percent of United States consumption to 45 percent — since 2005 have actually driven per barrel costs downwards!) Nevertheless, when gas is four dollars per gallon, the 10-miles-per-gallon haul vehicle costs 40 cents per mile for fuel alone, in stark contrast to the average 30-miles-per-gallon vehicle at 13.3 cents. And $400 per 1,000 miles (compared to $133) runs up quite a credit card bill.

Driving long distances has been part of our lives since childhood, and the basics are always the same. If you have lots of miles to cover, you either travel with multiple drivers and switch often or you limit yourself to what is safe. One acquaintance who drives a lot for a living rolled in at our dog training area recently after driving 17 hours non-stop. Not only had he gone down to Tennessee to run dogs in a national championship once, he had actually done it twice in two weeks, returning home in between to take care of unavoidable business. He insisted there was nothing to it; his wife did some of the daytime driving, and he drove through the night. Then they dropped off a few pieces of gear, cleaned up and came to the training area to show us some videos of the competition.

No way could I ever have done that! Even Trailways and Greyhound drivers are limited by law to single-day drives. They will take one 500-mile trip, but get a long sleep break before turning around for the return.

Maintaining a state of alertness is critical. The monotony of interstate highways can be problematic at the very least, deadly at worst. This is especially true on long, flat stretches, like the ones we encountered recently driving through Ohio and Indiana and western New York. Interestingly, we’ve encountered similar problems driving the Long Island Expressway in the wee hours while returning from a long ocean trip out of Montauk or Captree. If wheels touch the “rumble strips” or you note your eyes starting to close, stop and switch drivers or take a nap before moving on!

For all the help one gets from a GPS unit, nothing beats a co-pilot or navigator when it comes to reading road signs amidst clutter or deciding well in advance where to get off the road for food or lodging. One common fault in long-distance driving is the tendency to “keep going one or two more hours” in order to “make some miles.” The road mesmerizes, so you keep driving, and then, just about the time you really have to get off the road, motels fill up or the desk clerks disappear. Even worse, you drive past the confluence of highways out into the boondocks where there are no more motels at all, not even motels of the “Bates Motel” variety (see Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”) off the exits! This is particularly critical when you’re groggy from pulling a trailer all day and need plenty of help to make those final turns into parking areas. Another advantage of pulling off the road early instead of late is getting a fresh, early start to make up the miles.

If long miles are absolutely critical, nothing beats trimming time off rest stops by packing some sandwiches, particularly for the midday meal. Toasted bagels with spreads and coffee ready-to-go slice time off the front end of the trip. Go easy on the fluids, though, unless you’re absolutely certain of rest areas along the way. With states finding excuses to cut essentials, rest area closures are, unfortunately, not uncommon, especially in our fair Empire State! And not everyone carries port-a-pottys in the tack rooms of their trailers.

The most important thing is to arrive at trip’s end safely in a coherent state. You certainly want to be rested enough to roll out of the car (or bed) and handle the first trail, the first bird, or the first fish of the day.

03/03/12 3:00am
03/03/2012 3:00 AM

Early March is a restless time for anglers in the northeast. On sunny days when temperatures rise and winds drop, it almost feels like spring. The expression that an old German mentor used to use: “Mir juckt es in den Fingern!” (My fingers start to itch!) captures the mood perfectly.

Memories of March trips from years back provide cautionary tales, however. I remember the long haul to Montauk to grab a rail spot on a cod trip out to Block Island, and the winds that came roaring out of the west around mid-morning, putting a damper on an early bite. I recall trying to bait tiny hooks for white perch while fishing the Connetquot below the park and feeling my fingers curl before getting the gloves back on. And my very first March lesson on brown trout with the mentor I mentioned above started well with a couple of fish but concluded with a nasty walk back to the car in a snow squall.

Nowadays one is tempted to fish all winter thanks to better apparel and lots of angler information about winter fishing. Still, the opportunities for an outstanding trip are not the very best. March is a windy month with changeable conditions, as pointed out above, and, for all the wisdom proclaimed by local forecasters today, wind speeds are seldom accurately predicted. This is precisely why many old-timers line up trips in relatively sheltered waters like small lakes or ponds with productive shorelines offering windscreens. But what exactly are you going to fish for in March? Some folks seem to like the catch-and-release seasons for fresh water bass (stripers, too), but we’re sort of old school in this regard. Although largemouth and smallmouth aren’t spawning for another month, the pre-spawn females are heavy with eggs so you always wonder about the effects on any given fish you release.

Many years ago, as a juvenile fisher feeling my way, I found I could fish pre-spawn bass by going “low and slow” with small spoons dressed with pork rind strips and “stinger” hooks wired into the tip of the strips. I caught a number of nice fish without difficulty, but there was a troubling afternoon when I brought a big 23-inch hen fish (she probably weighed over seven pounds!) to the net and noted the stinger well back in her mouth. Fortunately, the hook wasn’t in her throat and it came out really easily, but it certainly made me think hard about accidently killing a fish that had to be released.

When I go freshwater fishing now before the June seasons open (or before the pickerel season opens in May) I try to focus on panfish or trout with small lures or flies that should have more of an appeal to perch or bluegills or cruising trout. You never know, of course, (I had a three-pound largemouth take a size 8 streamer a couple of years back) but at least the odds are in favor of legal game.

The only early season fishing I can’t appreciate anymore is the season-opener on crowded waters. Why would someone go to a crowded river for the trout opener in preference to an off-the beaten-path pond? Obviously it’s the tradition and perhaps the chance to share stories after a long winter off.

Probably the safest bet for the restless angler is a visit to a boat show or sports show, or an afternoon spent with an online or mail-order catalog. For the first five years of my fishing life, I would get together with a couple of older anglers every winter and go through the current catalogs from the American companies that dominated the field: Pfleuger, South Bend, Shakespeare, Creek Chub and, of course, Heddon from Dowagiac, Mich. We always made a point of ordering a few items, mostly lures, and went through the sizes and color patterns with extreme care. Perch finish or pike finish? Black with silver-scale, or pearl finish? How about a natural silver shiner or golden shiner pattern? Interestingly, the old tried and true lures in finishes we hadn’t used before often turned out to be the most effective. Still, we always threw in a couple of dollars for some new concept, e.g., lures that were supposed to behave like frogs, lures that oscillated vertically instead of horizontally. The hope was always that one of those lures would have magical results during the upcoming season. Of course they never did, but they were still less disappointing than my Brooklyn Dodgers.

Last weekend upstate we found ourselves shoveling wind-driven snow in plummeting temperatures. The ground was covered to about a foot after a virtually snow-less February. In fact the roar of snowmobiles was heard for the first time all winter! But the buds don’t lie, and neither does the angle of the noonday sun. I’m going to work on some tackle tonight!

02/19/12 3:00am
02/19/2012 3:00 AM

It’s always interesting for dog owners to visit the Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden. For all the pomp and circumstance, for all the brushes and powder, there are some real dogs in the rings, dogs that perform tasks other than striding on lead and posing with perfect posture. Indeed, for some breeds the Bauhaus creed “form follows function” is still important.

An article in The New York [the other] Times on Feb. 13 by Stephanie Clifford highlighted the dual nature of the Siberian husky, describing one current Siberian, Winnie, Grand Champion Huskavarna’s Destined to Win, and her appearance as a lead dog in a recent race. On Feb. 14 Winnie was awarded a Judges Award of Merit at the Garden in a breed entry of 20. Although the Times story centered on the Nome serum delivery marathon of 1925, the back story of Siberians and their development seemed just as interesting.

The Siberian husky has evolved in conformation over the decades just as most breeds do. If you look at the Times photos of sled dogs from the late 1920s, you see leaner, rangier dogs with different faces than the Sibes of today. Nevertheless, some owners of huskies still passionately compete in sled-dog competition with the same dogs that go into the show rings.

Innisfree Kennels in Ellenburg, N.Y., run by the Kanzler family, has bred and trained generations of Siberians for this dual role; we’ve mixed our Brittanys with their teams and had some terrific times, too. Success has come, not only in sled-dog competition, but also, and impressively so, in shows all over the United States and Canada. Back in 1980 their Siberian Husky actually “won it all” at the Garden and was awarded Best In Show. Moreover, Champion (Ch.) Innisfree’s Sierra Cinnar, owned by Kathleen Kanzler, was handled by Patricia Kanzler, not by a typical professional handler. Suffice it to say, “Cinnar” was no stranger to a dog sled!

Sporting breeds have undergone a substantial transformation, so much so that competitors sometimes despair of bringing form and function back together for dual (show and field) competition. The first sporting dogs to have won Best In Show at the Garden, the Cocker Spaniel, Ch. Midkiff Seductive, in 1921 and the Pointer, Ch. Governor Moscow, in 1925, probably looked like the field dogs of the era, according to photos we’ve seen at the English Setter Club in Medford, N.J., and stories we’ve heard from one of the last cocker field trial competitors.

Today, show cockers, now short-muzzled and long-eared, are all but gone from spaniel field trials, and show pointers (and English setters) tend to be so gawky and narrow-chested, they can hardly compete with the snappy, muscular field dogs which run on the trial circuit. The tendency to accentuate certain characteristics has led to wide splits between “show” dogs and “field” dogs, even if not as extreme as in other, more popular, breeds. For example, compare the slant-backed German shepherd winners of the big shows today with working shepherds used for security duties or with movie star Rin Tin Tin.

To its credit, however, the American Kennel Club has been promoting hunt tests for the sporting breeds in recent years, and these tests give folks who might not otherwise stray from the show rings opportunities for their dogs to perform essential functions in the field. The tests differ from highly competitive field trials where first-place dogs (sometimes in big trials some other highly placed dogs get points, too) in the many braces of the stake get points toward their championships. In hunt tests, scores are awarded to individual competitors, which must “pass” several tests to get certified as Junior, Senior or Master Hunter.

A few AKC breeds still continue to have the gold standard of the Dual Championship, for which the dog has to be both a show and trial winner. We’re lucky enough to compete in one such breed with our Brittanys, but we’ve seen other owners who have braved the odds (in Brittanys there are less than a dozen “duals” a year in a breed with many thousands of annual registrations) to finish dual-champion German shorthaired pointers, Vizslas and Gordon setters.

Two years ago we wanted to breed our Annie, Field Champion Kildee’s Anticipation, and have the possibility of a dual pup. We chose as stud a dual champion, Nitro, Amateur National Gun Dog Champion Triumphant’s To Hot To Handle, who had also been among the top five show Brits in the country at one time. Now our little bitch, Missy, Ch. Windswept’s Ain’t Misbehaving, who finished her show title at 10 months, is getting ready for adult field trials after placing second in a prestigious National Futurity for juvenile dogs, run on horseback.

Responsible breeders try to produce ideal, healthy pups that show well and do the job for which the breed was intended.

02/05/12 3:00am
02/05/2012 3:00 AM

February is a relatively quiet month for Long Island anglers. Sure, you can sail somewhere (usually back west or out to Montauk) and find some ling or occasional cod, but the most reliable fishing offshore is probably a month away. Still, what better time is there to read a book or two and contemplate the spring season openers for favorite species — stripers, fluke, and others?

A month ago an outdoor writer and friend, John Skinner of Wading River, sent a copy of his latest soft cover book, “Fishing the Bucktail: Mastering Bucktails from Surf and Boat” (printed and distributed by Surfcasting LLC, P.O. Box 10665, Westbury, N.Y. 11790). This book is fun to read and, no matter what skill level you have as a fisher, particularly if you like the surf and near inshore, you’ll learn a few things and perhaps change your approach next season.

If you had only one type of lure to fish any of the world’s oceans, that lure would probably be the “bucktail [jig]” a lead head on a single hook, dressed with some sort of fiber (traditionally deer hair) and tipped with a piece of bait, often in the form of a strip. Modern variants include soft plastic trailers that vary from short grubs to long, sloppy eel-like critters (“Gulp Baits”), but the common tip in local waters is a strip of pork rind, white, red or yellow. The beauty of this lure is its infinite adaptation to fishing techniques. With the proper weight of leadhead, an angler can fish at any level of the water column. With the proper length of trailing tip, an angler can mimic bait profiles for selective feeders like striped bass. Finally, with the proper retrieve, an angler can simulate attractive forage or arouse the strike instinct of lethargic predators.

The only drawback to the bucktail, as Skinner and many others point out, is the totally blank slate it presents to the inexperienced angler. It sinks until you retrieve it, often hanging up if it sinks too fast, seems to do nothing by itself on a retrieve (you can’t see the undulating strips or hair) and provides little feedback if it’s not provoking strikes. That’s why beginners to the surf game, for example, often start their careers with swimming plugs that wobble or surface lures they can actually see gurgling or popping or lurching along the top. The bucktail doesn’t “talk” to you much; you have to let your imagination work and think about what the fish see.

The very first experiences I had with bucktails occurred not in the northeast at all, but down in Florida. We used tiny (quarter-ounce or smaller) white bucktails to catch “speckled sea trout” (spotted weakfish) on the flats and bars of west coast bays. By retrieving fairly rapidly and “hopping” the “jigs” (as the natives called them) we caught trout that probably were looking for shrimp dinners. When I graduated to bigger game and went out on party boats from the east coast, south of Miami, the jigs were heavier 5/8-ounce or 3/4-ounce versions tied on hooks sized 5/0 or larger, and carried long tips of white pork rind or strips of cut mullet. We let the bucktails sink down to the coral reefs, then jigged or swept them up through the water column. The usual quarry was the abundant king mackerel, but we caught plenty of mutton snapper and grouper as well when we weren’t losing fish and jigs in the coral forests.

By the time we moved out to the Peconics just in time for the great 1970s run of weakfish, we realized the same bucktails that were so popular in Florida were equally effective for Yankee sea trout, provided you trimmed the hair and tipped the jig with either a plastic worm or a strip of squid. Ironically, the last application of bucktails for us was the great striper game described in Skinner’s book. As strange as it seemed, the trick of simply swimming the bucktail with occasional pauses and letting the hair and the trailing tip do the work for you eluded me for a while, until a couple of mentors took me aside and watched my retrieves. Just as Skinner says, when you get “the game” the fish will tell you when you’ve got it — the right lure profile at the right depth moving at the right speed. Bang! Strikes serve as positive reinforcement.

New applications for bucktails keep coming. No one goes fluke fishing anymore without an array of bucktails and appropriate tips. In shallow waters, enterprising anglers recently began tipping leadheads with crab baits to catch more tautog. And maybe, down the line, somebody will put a big strip of herring on a heavyweight bucktail and see how the local cod off the South Shore respond.

Once you add bucktails to your arsenal, you’ll find the possibilities are endless. Moreover, you’ll catch better, too.

01/26/12 1:00am
01/26/2012 1:00 AM

One of my graduate school roommates had an obsession with snow. Even if the fall only amounted to a couple of inches, he got busy pushing and scaping sidewalks and driveways. Coming from Golden, Colo., as he did, this did seem peculiar to the rest of us, but he was adamant. Snow, left to settle and then stepped or driven on, became ice — layered, thick, and nasty, and he hated ice.

In later years, we’ve come to respect this attitude. Icy splats are no fun; sometimes they’re downright destructive. Unless you’re a ski racer or hockey player, you avoid the slick steeps or the frozen, glassy panes that gleam blue or green in reflected sunlight. Even the great racer Lindsey Vonn spoke with awe recently about the chance to occasionally take a break and ski on real powder in the Rockies while making a living on slopes deliberately iced for added speed. And what Rangers fan can ever forget how one of the stars took the team out of playoff contention years ago by slipping on ice and breaking an ankle while stepping out of a taxi in New York City!

In New York State nowadays, a ditty I learned long ago from a St. Louis veteran of many ice storms is absolutely appropriate:

Our weather in the winter,
How wonderful it is!
First it snew;
Then it thew.
Now, bigawd, it’s friz!

Swings in temperature are often responsible for frozen surfaces. For example, only last week in the North Country we endured a gray all-day fog that turned into a heavy downpour around sunset. The mercury climbed steadily, well into the mid-40s, but began to drop shortly before midnight. Next morning the thermometer stood at minus-five degrees below zero. Our driveway was a skating rink, covered by an inch of ice. Despite the light snowfall arriving on the back side of the front, surfaces were still treacherous underfoot.

Of course, this event couldn’t compare with the “Great Ice Storm” of January 1998, when three inches of icy rain fell over several days and took parts of the Northeast off the power grid for a month! For a week, major roads were closed except for emergency vehicles and the National Guard.

It’s one thing to hunker down temporarily and wait for a thaw, but it’s quite another to deal with the ice and get out and about, e.g. if you have dogs and livestock. One thing you cannot do is get angry and let the frustration get to you, as I did one winter on the prairies of Illinois when I got so tired of seeing my sedan caked in ice that I took a stick and shattered the ice off the sides, doors, and trunk. As soon as the weather warmed up, I took the car into a shop for a repaint job.

Faced with more ice than ever in recent years, I ordered a special family Christmas gift this year from “The Surfcaster” in Guilford, Conn., a pair of “his and hers” Korkers for me and Janet. Korkers, for the uninitiated, are heavy rubber sandals that strap onto boots or waders. They have some 50 sharp carbide spikes fastened securely to each sole, and the spikes are replaceable, too. They’re standard issue for surfcasters who walk moss-covered jetties or salmonid anglers who fish streams with algae-covered boulders.

Heavy? Yes, you know you’re wearing them. Clunky? Yes, you better be out on the porch rug, not the tile floor, when you put them on. Do they work? Yes, and how! For the first time in icy conditions, I could walk naturally and handle a couple of active field dogs on the ends of their leads, even when they surprised me with an occasional simultaneous lunge (“crack the whip”). In fact, my traction was so good the dogs flipped; carbide spikes trumped dog claws!

For those who find themselves walking on ice without hobnails or chains, the rules are simple but important. Proceed slowly the way you would walk the slippery deck of a party boat in a heaving sea. A wide stance works best for stability. Since you don’t have boat rails, use a walking stick or a “trekking pole” (or two, if you have them). Watch exactly where you step and try to find a grassy surface under the ice rather than Macadam.

Most “old-timers” on the East End won’t recall too many ice storms mixed among the major snow events, but all this has changed over recent decades, we think. Warming winter temperatures coupled with larger temperature swings and, often enough, increased moisture content in the snowfall — all these factors contribute to ice. No point in wailing or gnashing teeth. If you have to get out, think of those hardies who get out on winter trails and frozen lakes regularly, and gear up.

01/11/12 3:00am
01/11/2012 3:00 AM

December articles in The Suffolk Times about the Rivera beachfront case brought back lots of personal memories about similar conflicts over land and beach rights. Fishing along beaches and hunting in coverts through our lifetime almost always required access through or around someone’s private property. Exceptions were excursions or expeditions in parks with public access or on lands that we owned ourselves, like lakefront family property or our current “farm” in Clinton County.

That disputes should arise is only natural. That disputes cannot be resolved without bitterness and court battles is a sad consequence of our time and its culture.

It has long been a highlight of state law (the so-called Public Trust Doctrine) that, as Beth Young wrote on Dec. 15, “the beach below the high water mark is public property.” Reaching the beach may be difficult, of course, but every surf jockey rightfully assumes if he or she has access at some spot somewhere, he or she can follow that high water line all the way out to Orient, if desired.

In a bygone era when many beach rats operated in a more stealthy fashion, a few anglers here and there were the norm once the word got out that fish were “in.” Today in a twitter storm of hand-held devices, nothing seems to be “secret,” and mobs build on the very next tidal cycle, so it seems. Suddenly there are cars parked along every access road and there are always a few louts who “mess up” a beach with their leavings, plastics … or worse. (Lack of public rest areas is a subject best left for another column.) It’s little wonder some property owners get defensive, even belligerent, when any “outsider” comes to their doorstep.

Disputes over access to lands for any kind of hunting are worse than disputes over access to water. As rural areas get carved into “exurbs,” open land disappears and every scrap of land without a house or two (or 22) becomes precious for those who can hunt it. Everything everywhere is posted.

When we first hunted the Forks more than 30 years ago, you could walk certain rights of way and either access un-posted property or, better, you would find an adjacent house and ask permission to train dogs or chase quail and rabbits. More often than not, permission was granted. Often, the larger the tract of land, the more reasonable and generous the landowner. On one November opening day years ago, a friend and I found our way onto a big area of weeds and scrub adjacent to some large Calverton potato farms. We had come onto the property off the Long Island Rail Road tracks, so there were no signs facing the tracks; however, with a pair of woodcock and quail in our bags and our Brittanys by our side, we weren’t surprised when the owner of the farms rolled up in an old International Scout. He was annoyed at first, but, when we apologized for not having found his house to ask permission, then offered to leave, he warmed to the conversation. We wound up with permission to hunt that season (and for years afterwards), provided we stopped by to leave word that we were gunning the property. It turned into a wonderful and reliable place to hunt rabbits with beagles, too.

Most times, you’re best off introducing yourself and dressing “presentably” on a day when you’re not engaged in an outdoor activity. One surf sharpie who was a professor at New York Tech always cultivated Soundfront property owners during the off-season, and, through the years, wound up with permission to park in their driveways when he fished beaches, especially on the West End, during odd hours. It goes without saying that you show your gratitude for “property privileges” by sending Christmas cards and dropping off fresh fish or game from a successful outing.

Unfortunately we live at a time when pressure from the 20 million who use our coastal area leads to competition and bitterness over land and water use, especially along Long Island Sound. When it becomes virtually impossible to get permission to gain access to most areas you would like to fish or hunt or walk, much of the pleasure derived from the activities disappears. At that point you either give up the activities entirely or head for the few remote areas of the country (or the world) where you can still enjoy them.

Correction: In our Christmas column we gave the wrong angle for the noon sun during winter solstice. Around Long Island (roughly 41 degrees north), the noon sun is actually about 25.5 degrees above the horizon, not “less than 23 degrees” as we wrote. The latter is the angle for 44 north latitude. To calculate exactly, use: sun angle above the southern horizon at noon = (90 minus (23.5 degrees + Latitude)). The 23.5 degrees come from the tilt of the earth’s axis, of course.