Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A weekend to remember

Ryley taking a moment to reflect on the beauty of his buck.
It’s getting colder and the days are getting shorter. Winter is officially knocking at our door. But that hasn’t stopped us one bit. Two weekends ago Ryley and I set out to accomplish two tasks, go on our first camping trip with his new Boy Scout Troop and get him a deer during our short youth season.

The week leading up to our action packed weekend was filled with the unloading of our fishing gear from our previous adventure and the reloading of the suburban for a weekend camping/hunting trip. Luckily for us we wouldn’t be traveling too far to accomplish either.

Saturday morning came and we found ourselves in a familiar spot. We were sitting in Ryley’s double tree stand at his Aunt and Uncle’s farm. Smack dab in the middle of a cow pasture hunting the wood edge and hedge rows. It was quite cold and within an hour Ryley was confirming with me just how long we intended to stay out hunting. I gently reminded him that we had a camping trip to go on in a few short hours. All of those questions faded away as we caught the glimpse of four does making their way out into the field. We watched them for a good half an hour as they ambled their way closer to us.  As they got close Ryley and I noticed several 4 point bucks about 400 yards off in the distance. As soon as Ryley saw the glint of white that was the small rack he was entranced. But the buck hung back as those first four does got closer and closer to us, finally coming into range about 150 yards out. It was decision time and Ryley kept his eyes on the buck and decided he would take a chance that the does would slip into the woods before the buck decided to move. And that is just what they did. Within a few minutes the buck went the other way as well and there we sat.

But it wasn’t long before we saw even more does come into the field followed by what looked like a nice mature buck. As we watched those deer I saw movement across from us on the hedge row and one of the 4 point bucks had reemerged with a doe by his side. As we sat and waited for things to play out I saw the 4 point stop dead in his tracks as a chocolate racked 7 point stepped up to his doe and lead her away. The 4 point quickly bounded off defeated. But Ryley had his attention on the larger buck that was still a ways off. When I managed to glass the buck it looked like a nice solid 8 point. Ryley was beside himself. Then, as quickly as it started it was all over. The neighbor had driven her car down her driveway and scared the deer off. Now Ryley was asking me if we could stay just a little bit longer. With promises of coming back on Sunday afternoon we packed up and headed home to get ready for our camping trip.

My wife Dawn, joining us for our campfire dinner.
By 2:00 pm that day we had arrived at our campsite in the woods and were welcomed by Troop 270. This wasn’t technically our first campout with the Troop as this is the same troop all my boys have belonged to and even before Ryley became a Tiger Scout we were regularly camping with them. The day was filled with activities to keep Ryley engaged in learning new scout skills and getting to know some of the older scouts who he had not already befriended. 
That evening we had a splendid meal of fried chicken and sides all cooked in cast iron over a roaring fire. The night ended with a flag retirement ceremony and Ryley participating by throwing in the stars on the field of blue.

Ryley participating in our flag retirement ceremony.
The next morning I was up at 6:00 am packing my tent furiously so that we could leave at whatever time Ryley wanted. About an hour later Ryley woke up and decided that instead of hunting the afternoon he wanted to pack up as quickly as he could and head over to the farm that very morning. We said our goodbyes and headed back to the farm. The boy had buck fever, bad!

By the time we go to the farm it was already 8:00 and although we saw a few does running through the cow pasture we didn’t see much signs of life other than the cows. We walked the back hay fields and managed to jump up two does on our way back to the truck. But they ran off before either of us could react. We headed home for some lunch with the intent of coming right back to the farm.

With our stomachs full we again decided to check the back hay fields. To our dismay on the way back we saw a heard of does up by our Suburban as they ambled towards the farm house. By this point Ryley was becoming discouraged thinking he had missed his real good chance at a deer the previous morning. I told him not to worry, we still had a few good hours of hunting light left. I suggested we end our day in the same tree stand we started in the previous morning. Begrudgingly Ryley made his way to the stand and up we went.

Within a half an hour of getting in the stand I saw movement directly across the field from us, near where we saw the 7 pointer the previous day. At first I just saw a couple of does but then quickly realized that the big 8 pointer from the previous day was about 400 yards from us. We sat there for a while trying to will the deer to come out into the field a little closer to us. They just wouldn’t budge. So I asked Ryley if he was willing to take a chance and go after that big buck from the ground. He didn’t even hesitate. We silently crept down the ladder and into the open field. We were lucky in that the ground was sloped so that the deer couldn’t initially see us as we approached out in the middle of the open field. We slowly made our way a hundred yards and stopped. Through my Vortex binoculars I verified the does were still there but I had lost sight of the buck. Ryley said he would be happy with just shooting a doe so we crept a little bit closer, this time hunkering down in the field as we watched the deer in the distance. Then just as we were talking about which doe he wanted to shoot I saw him again, running around the wood line chasing a doe. The buck was still there! But as quickly as he had emerged he was gone again, slipping into the woods. At this point my heart was racing and I know Ryley’s was too. We exchanged looks for a brief minute and silently decided that we would wait the buck out.

We half crawled our way to within 150 yards of the does and slowly stood up. Why hadn’t they seen us by now? It didn’t matter. We were on our feet for only a minute or two, though time seemed to have slowed down at this point, when a doe came running out of the woods. I told Ryley to get ready because the buck would be following her. And out he did come, trotting after her. I honestly don’t remember the next set of events too clearly. Tunnel vision set in and the only thing I was concentrating on was the buck. I don’t think the deer even stopped. BANG. I saw the buck lurch as if it were hit a little far back and then watched him regain his legs and run off into the woods. My heart sank. But then I looked up and the does were just standing there. I asked Ryley if he wanted to shoot a doe, he nodded and she crumpled within 50 yards, from what I would later find out to be a shot to the top of the heart. She had run right to the opening of where the buck had disappeared.

We quickly check on her and she was already dead so we looked for some sign of blood on the ground. We walked all the way down the fence line to where I thought the buck was when he was shot. No blood. Not even a speck. Ryley was already commenting that he thought he missed the buck. I wasn't so sure about that so we kept searching for any sign of blood, even the smallest of specks.

As we made our way back to where the doe had fallen I looked up and there on the side of a small sapling was a streak of red. Not just a splatter but a large swatch of blood. Over the fence we went in search of the buck. I usually like to give them time to die but the sun was setting and light would be gone within an hour. Ryley and I tracked the buck through briers and sticker bushes, into bedding areas all the while twisting and turning as we went. We had to stop a few times and backtrack to pick up a drop of blood here or a smear on a leaf there.

The glint off the antler's told us where the buck had fallen.
I was beginning to think we might have lost him and was about to tell Ryley we might have to head back when I saw a glint of white in the fading light. There he was about 50 yards off to the side of us crumpled up in a heap. I pointed the buck out to Ryley and he was speechless. We quickly went over to the deer to make sure he was dead and that’s when Ryley did it. He reached down to stroke the hair on the deer, as if to say "thank you for giving himself up to me". We said a small prayer thanking God for blessing us this day. I snapped a few pictures and then we proceeded to tag the deer and drag him out, only I had forgotten my knife back at the tree stand. On the hoof this deer was well over 200lbs and after much huffing and puffing I had managed to get the buck into the field just as the last rays of light were shining. I quickly staged the buck and doe together and snapped a few more pictures of Ryley before the cavalry arrived in the form of his Uncle Milt with his four-wheeler and wagon.

A quick shot of Ryley and his deer before I had to drag him out.
As I sit back reliving those moments in my head I cannot stop thinking about how much my little boy is growing into the man he will be. He never ceases to amaze me. In the matter of a weekend he learned that patience is a virtue that can pay off when he passed on his chance at a doe early on. Because of that he was rewarded with a beautiful buck. But even after being blessed with such a magnificent animal he was humbled in it's presence and gave thanks to it and to God for allowing him to have a successful hunt. We couldn't have asked for a better ending to our action packed, fun filled weekend. So the next time a few does comes your way, give them a pass. You might just get the buck of your dreams. Ryley did. Until next time keep taking your kids outdoors...

Ryley with his 8 pt buck.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Catching a Tiger by the Tail

The sky as we drive East towards tiger country.
We awake yet again bright and early for yet another adventure. Our only saving grace for the day was that we got to sleep an extra hour due to daylight savings time. We went through the all too familiar steps of dressing in the dark and leaving before the sun rose. Ryley was becoming good at dressing quickly and falling back asleep as I pulled out of the driveway.

This is not how I envisioned I would be spending a Sunday morning in November. But when an opportunity presents itself you grab a hold of it and hold on for dear life, because you never know where you might end up. And so it was no different this Sunday morning, except for the later than normal start. An opportunity had presented itself; an opportunity for redemption. It was literally time to hold on for dear life because today we were going on a hunt; a hunt for a tiger.

Ryley and Mark with their 53 inch muskie.
A few months ago our friend Mark Modoski reached out to me asking if I still had any digital pictures from our muskie trip from last November. I replied by forwarding nearly every picture I had taken that day. He alluded to a story he was doing about fishing in New Jersey and that he might be able to use one of Ryley. About two weeks ago Mark made good on his promise and published an article in On The Water magazine about the awesome fish hatchery they have in New Jersey. At the end of the article was a paragraph or two about our muskie trip last Fall and our quest to fill a vacant IGFA small-fry tiger muskie record. It was humbling to think about all the work the hatchery put into breeding and raising a small muskie which was released into a lake in northern New Jersey that grew into the 53 inch monster Ryley caught.

Little did I know that the failed quest for an IGFA record would lead us on a whirlwind of fishing adventures this past year and bring us full circle back with Mark, nearly a full year later, out on the water in search of our record again. This time we were more prepared for what might come our way. Mark had the weigh-sling, I had an IGFA certified scale, IGFA measuring tape and the necessary paperwork to seal the deal. We were fishing on a different lake, in Pennsylvania, that only had tiger muskies and no pure strains. All we needed to do was find a cooperative tiger muskie; just one.

Our plan was simple. We would through everything, including the kitchen sink, at these muskie in hopes one of them would fall to temptation and find its way into our net. We would again be trolling live rainbow trout, casting large swim baits as well jigging in deep water. The weather conditions were less than ideal but we were confident that we would be able to put the bait and lures in their faces and hopefully get one to bite.

Our less than optimal fishing conditions; bluebird sky and high winds.
Why is it that weatherman can even find a job these days? They are all-too-often completely wrong in their assessment of the weather. During the week leading up to our trip I saw forecasts that said Sunday was going to be overcast with light winds, forecasts that said it was going to be partly clouding with moderate winds and even one that said it was going to be sunny with high winds. With the way our luck ran with our bear hunt I was convinced that we would have the worst weather possible for our trip. Sadly I was right. Despite the weather, which turned out to be bright sunny skies with high winds, we left the boat launch optimistic. We had an arsenal at our disposal and we were prepared to use it all against these tigers.

I’m not entirely sure if I had explained this previously when I wrote about our first fishing trip with Mark, but he has a rather small boat; a 14ft sea nymph. The conditions on board are quite cramped for two adults and a small child but we manage to make it work. As we left the boat ramp I was slightly concerned with the wind and how it would affect the chop on the water. Luckily the wind wasn’t much of an issue safety wise but it sure did blow us all around that lake!

You can JUST make out the orange bobber we used to troll our trout with.
As we trolled our way around the lake we came upon a spot Mark called “muskie alley”. This was a small sheltered cove at the back on the lake which had a high steep bank but relatively shallow water. The winds weren’t hitting the water as hard hear so we decided to pull out a swim bait and do some casting as we trolled. As we left “muskie alley” for our drift back towards the boat ramp we still felt like we had a chance at catching a muskie. We still hadn’t used all of our weapons and it wasn’t even prime muskie feeding time yet.

Ryley casting a swim bait.
As we drifted we decided to troll a rainbow trout off the bottom (we were already floating on near the surface on a large bobber) in about 25 ft of water and switched out the swim bait for a jigging lure. The jigging lure came up empty like the swim bait had but we saw promise in the erratic behavior of the rainbow trout as we trolled it on the bottom. For a brief few moments it would start to pull line out and it frantically swam in one direction, as if it were being chased by something. We gave it a few minutes each time and then hauled the trout back to the surface to see if it had been hit by a muskie. Each time we were a little more disappointed than before when we saw no signs of a muskie.

Ryley jigging for muskie.
For the next 8 hours we trolled, drifted, jigged and cast our butts off. We saw lots of baitfish and some nice marks on the sonar but we never managed to move a muskie or get one to take one of our rainbow trout. But all was not lost. Mark and I both talked to Ryley and he wasn’t upset at all. Despite the cold the wind and the lack of fish he said he had a good time fishing. He also came out with more prophetic words as we headed back in for the day, “That’s why they don’t call it catching”.

He wasn't real happy with me taking his picture, can you tell?
As we packed up our gear and helped Mark with the boat we talked more about the record that has eluded us for over a year now. It dawned on me then that time was running out on us. By this time next year we would be out of luck. Ryley would need to catch his tiger muskie before he turned 11 next September. As we departed Mark offered up to take Ryley out next May or June and if that didn’t work he would try for early September. It seemed after this trip we were all just a little more committed to getting Ryley that tiger.

So who knows? We might just be able to get him that record after all. Only time will tell. Even if we don’t get him a record I know one thing for sure. He will catch a muskie again in the near future, record or not. He said so himself. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors…

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Successful Hunt

Fresh mountain air.
We awoke bright and early on Monday morning and dressed in silence. The suburban was already packed from the night before so we set out towards our public hunting grounds as quickly as possible. I drove in darkness toward the mountains as Ryley sat asleep in the seat behind me. Excitement and just a little bit of fear flooded my veins. We would be doing something today that hadn’t been done in these mountains for well on 63 years. Today we were going to hunt bear.

In 1972, three years before I was born, the black bear (Ursus americanus) was added to Maryland’s endangered species list. Prior to that listing it had been 19 years since the state allowed its last black bear hunting season in 1953.

Since those dark days, through the efforts of our Department of Natural Resources, black bear populations in Maryland have steadily increased. In 2004, 51 years since it held the last black bear season, Maryland again established a black bear hunting season in its two western most counties. After that first season in 2004 the black bear population has continued to grow and their range has expanded east. This year for the first time in 63 years, hunters were allowed the chance at taking a black bear in Maryland’s Frederick County, where I live. I was lucky enough to draw a tag.

Ryley on the lookout.
As dawn broke we were already making our way to the area where a friend had seen some bears in the previous weeks. There was a slight chill in the crisp autumn air and the only sounds we could hear were the crunching of our boots on the road. As we made our way off the road and onto the well beaten path I could hear a rustling in the leaves. Not the rustling I had expected or wanted to hear but the rustling of the wind as it picked up and began a terrible blow. We hunkered down on a ridge above a small pond in hopes that the wind would die out.

In Maryland you can hunt bear as a group, where I can designate up to two additional hunters on my tag to assist in hunting the bear. This was going to be something totally new for me and by extension for Ryley. I had never hunted bear before and only watched a few shows that even included bear hunting. In Maryland you cannot bait bear or hunt with dogs. So our options were limited.

Nothing like the smell of gunpowder in the morning.
In preparation for our next adventure I headed to the range the week before to sight in my rifle and release a little angst. The proceeding weeks had seen some friends of mine encounter a Sow and four cubs on one occasion and a boar on another. In both instances the bears did not show any fear of man. Even more concerning were two separate videos shared to Facebook during that same time frame that showed two different hunters, in tree stands, having close contact with aggressive bears. I wasn’t really sure I would be able to take Ryley out with me given the circumstances.

There was also the realization that the season opened up for only four days, smack dab in the middle of my work schedule and Ryley’s school calendar. Trying to make the best of a slowly deteriorating situation I decided we would set out in search of a black bear on opening day, Monday October 24th

Someone was tired...
Things weren't quite going as planned. The wind was howling, sending our scent down the mountain, to where I had hoped to find a bear or two. The longer we waited the worse our odds were getting. So, despite the wind overhead I decided we should set out on a spot and stalk.

Not five minutes into our walk and I saw a blur of black out of the corner of my eye. I stopped mid stride and slowly turned to Ryley and whispered that I saw a bear. In the next few moments I tried to set up the rifle and bipod so that Ryley could get a good shot at the bear. Unfortunately because of his small stature and the fact that the mountain laurel was higher than he was, Ryley couldn't even see the bear. By the time I realized this fact the bear had caught wind of us and had bounded over the ridge back down the mountain.

The rest of the afternoon went about how it had went earlier in the morning. We didn't see another bear all day and as the sun began to sink in the sky so too did the realization that Ryley would't be tagging a bear this year. I turned to Ryley and told him I was so sorry that we weren't able to get him his bear. He just smiled and looked at me. He explained that he wasn't upset at all. That he had a great time being out in the woods with me even though we didn't get anything. He was super excited that we got a chance to see a bear and that the thrill of the hunt was enough for him.

As we drove off the mountain and back into the real world I took in everything that had just happened. My newly minted 10 yr old had just taught his Father a very valuable lesson. Sometimes a successful hunt isn't successful because you take an animal. Sometimes it's successful because it grounds you and reconnects you to nature and your loved ones. Sometimes a successful hunt is just to be able to hunt. Until next time keep taking your kids outdoors...

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Another one bites the dust

Ryley and I with his second king salmon of the trip.
We arrived in the dead of night and pitched our tents in the darkness. Bundled up in our sleeping bags we quickly fell asleep, if only for a moment. It felt like as soon as my eyes closed my alarm went off and we were up at 4:45 am for our next fishing adventure.

A few weeks prior, I was standing around shooting the breeze at one of my hunter safety education classes. The talk quickly led to what other instructors were doing for the upcoming Fall season. I gloated that I had finally gotten myself a bear tag and listened intently as everyone else detailed their upcoming plans. As fate would have it Dan, a fellow instructor, started telling everyone how he was going salmon fishing for chinook salmon (aka king salmon) at the beginning of October. He typically went around the same time every year, taking his son and other father/son groups for some fly-fishing fun. Dan saw my eyes perk up when he mentioned the trip and before the end of the night Ryley and I had ourselves an invite and a shopping list of the gear we would need for our last-minute upcoming adventure.

As we fumbled around in the near darkness getting dressed a chill came over my spine. I’m not sure if it was because of the brisk Fall air or from the anticipation of heading to the river to go fishing. We dressed in silence and wiped the sleep from our eyes and quickly jumped in the truck to stop at the Douglaston Salmon Run (DSR) to see if any walk-in passes were available. Our wait there was long but futile; no day passes were available and we would have to check back at 7:00 am for any afternoon passes that might be available. Now wide awake and only semi hungry we headed off for breakfast and fellowship at a local hole-in-the-wall where we would plan out the attack for today.

Ever since we received the invite I read up on everything I could get my hands on in regards to salmon fishing in Pulaski, NY home of the Salmon River. I methodically went about acquiring the gear we would need to make the trip a success. We would be “rolling our own” adventure without the use of a Captain or Guide and would be doing it on a shoe-string budget. First up was to buy the aforementioned day pass to the DSR. Our original plan was to fish the DSR on Sunday and hunt public water on Saturday. But in the weeks leading up to our trip we saw report after report of good fishing. A few days before we left tackle shops were reporting 20 plus hook-ups a day. Our hopes were high but as usual they came crashing down all too quickly. The Thursday before our trip the local power company reduced the water release from the reservoir effectively lowering the cubic flow of the river to a trickle of what it was. Fish which were already in the river continued their journey up stream and for the next day the reports didn’t seem that bad. But there didn’t appear to be many fish entering the river. The run had all but stopped.

Ryley receiving a casting lesson from Dan.
Saturday brought affirmation of our fears. At the first public spot we didn’t see any fish swim by and only saw one king come to hand a little further down the river. We spot hopped and saw a few fish here and there. Most were hunkered down in pools and not moving. Ryley managed to get in some casting practice, but it wasn’t until after lunch time that we actually saw a stretch of river with fish moving through it. It was here that we parked ourselves for a few hours futilely attempting to catch a king. Ryley was a trooper though. He didn’t complain and continued to cast nearly all day in hopes of hooking up with a fish. When I asked him if he was disappointed he said that he was having so much fun just spending time in the river and on the rocks and being out there with me. We drove to a few more spots before we headed back to camp to get changed for dinner but didn’t break out our rods again until Sunday.
Ryley practicing his casting. He ended up doing a lot of that.
After a nice pizza dinner our bellies were full and our hopes renewed as the forecast that night was calling for rain; rain that would hopefully convince a few fish to move upstream to our waiting rods and nets. Our excitement was tempered by the fact that the skies opened up as soon as we pulled into our campsite and we had to make a mad dash for the safety of our tents before we got soaked. Sleep came early that night as our bodies gave out on us quickly after zipping up our tents.

Sunday was a brand new day. We slept in until 5:45 and stopped at a local gas station/mini-mart to have some breakfast and stock up on supplies for lunch on the river. By 7:00 am we were geared up and walking to our spot on the lower end of the DSR. A place Dan had fished for several years which wasn’t too deep and afford us time to see the fish coming up the river through the shallows. Excitement was in the air as we took our spots in the river and began our casting. As the morning moved on we saw a guide behind us leading his clients to fish after fish. It seemed the kings were preferring to stick to their side of the river as the ventured upstream to the safety of deeper water. But the longer we stood there casting the more we saw a fish here and there make its way past us. By this point Ryley was becoming frustrated at not being able to catch one and to add insult to injury a fish, which had been released by an angler upstream, came barreling down the river headed for the lake and ran right into Ryley’s legs. All he could do was stand there, dumbstruck by the fact that he had just been run into by the very thing he was trying to catch!

Dan netting Ryley's first salmon.
Not soon after there was hope though. It came in the form of Dan, as he held up a rod bent over to the point of breaking, calling Ryley over to fight the fish. And fight he did. Ryley managed to maneuver the fish toward Dan’s net but the fish wasn’t about to give up. It thrashed and zigged and zagged dodging Dan’s attempts at capturing it. Then with one final push the fish swam directly through Dan’s legs and broke off the leader. As quickly as it began it was over. Looking at Ryley I expected to see disappointment in his eyes but saw, instead, a smile a mile wide. The tussle with the salmon had renewed his outlook on the day and brightened his mood. Not too long afterward Ryley got his redemption and fought a king into Dan’s waiting net. Ryley was all smiles.

Ryley and his first salmon.
At that point Ryley was content with having caught a fish and just decided to relax for a bit. But the fish were still running and Dan was still fishing and next thing we knew Ryley had an even bigger fish on the end of the line headed for Dan’s net. This fish didn’t pose as much of a battle as the first fish he hooked and Dan had him in the net before too long. Ryley was beside himself at this point. After some more photos Ryley settled in a chair on the island and proceeded to do what boys do outside; find sticks and branches and hit things with them. This pretty much occupied Ryley throughout the afternoon. I would fish for a bit, go back and check on him and his smiling face and then back to the river for me. A few times I did convince Ryley to come back out and cast some more, as the fish started to head up the river on a more regular basis. 

Another shot of Ryley and his first king.

By the time the guides had all left and it was our small group of anglers waiting for our turn. I cast and cast to no avail. After a few fish went buy I heard Dan give a shout that there was a fish upriver that I could cast to with his instruction. I initially asked Ryley if he wanted to do it himself this time but he shook his head and told me it was my turn to catch a fish. After failed attempt after failed attempt I finally connected to the beautiful king and Dan scooped him right up. This fish got a quick photo shoot and was back in the water headed to the lake. At this point I already had Ryley’s two salmon that I was going to have to drag out and I knew I couldn’t handle a third.

Ryley's second fish was nearly as big as he was.
As the sun set the weather took a turn for the worse; thunder echoed in the distance and rain drops began to fall in a steady cadence. As we trudged up out of the river, fish and equipment in hand, I marveled at how things had went to bad to good to great in the matter of a few hours. We had accomplished what we set out to do, Ryley has checked another fish off his bucket list and we were headed back to camp with more fish for the table. I don’t know exactly what our next adventure will be, but I have a good idea this is the last big fishing trip of the year. I still have that bear tag that needs to be filled and I’ve just decided to add Ryley’s name to my permit. Maybe just maybe I will be writing about that next. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors… 

What it's all about, that smile and spending quality time with Ryley.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Trust me...

Ryley trusted me enough to conquer his fear and do the zipline course.
This post is going to veer off topic from my usual posts. It has absolutely nothing to do with Ryley being in the outdoors but it has everything to do with getting your kids outdoors. You see one of the things I have learned through the years is that in order to convince your kids to do something fun, exciting and for them, scary, you need to have them trust you.

You can build that trust in many ways, but one of the simplest ways to gain your child’s trust is to give your trust to them. My wife and I decided to do just that on a recent family game night where my son picked an odd “game” for us to play, Bean Boozled. While it wasn’t the most pleasant experience it turned out to be a fun night of laughing, crying (from laughter) and near vomiting.

Through experiences like theses Ryley has come to trust me in my judgement. He knows that I care enough about him to eat disgusting jelly beans and he knows I won't put him in harms way. So the next time you want to show your kids they can trust you (and that you are the coolest parent around) go play Bean Boozled. You will definitely regret it but it will be something your child will always remember and hopefully strengthen the bond you already have.  Until then keep taking your kids outdoors…

P.S. Check out two other videos Ryley and I made from Summer Camp where we tried not as nearly disgusting tasting things!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Tested Tough: Belmar, New Jersey, USA

Ryley and Kane "twinning" in the OBX, 2015.
Last year, while vacationing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina we were on a hunt, a hunt for clothes and shoes for the kids. It seems I had forgotten to communicate that I was taking the boys out fishing on a boat and my son, Jacob, didn’t have appropriate footwear and Kane and Ryley didn’t have any decent SPF shirts to wear out in the ocean. We searched high and low for shoes but came up empty, much like our trip for cobia would be. But we happened into TW Tackle and found some Columbia PFG long sleeve shirts and swimming trunks on the marked down rack. SCORE! We ended up being able to find both Ryley and Kane matching outfits (much to their dismay). Unfortunately scoring a good deal was about the only good thing to come out of that fishing trip.

Ryley and I holding up his mahi.
Over the last year I have found it increasingly difficult to find any suitable fishing cloths for Ryley. There are only a handful of companies who make active wear for kids his size, Pelagic, AFTCO and Columbia PFG. Pelagic makes some good quality swim trunks and shirts but they are a bit on the pricey side, $50 just for a pair of trunks. AFTCO is not as expensive but still up there in terms of price. But if you pay attention to their website you can find a deal every now and then. That left me with Columbia PFG. The shirt and trunks from last year still fit him fine but we needed to get him at least another outfit for our upcoming trips. It just so happened that we were headed to the Columbia outlet store to pick up some gear for summer camp, so I decided to search for some Columbia PFG (Professional Fishing Gear) gear for Ryley as well. While at the store we settled on another PFG terminal tackle long sleeve shirt, a pair of Solar Stream II Boardshorts and a PFG mesh ball cap.

Mr Columbia PFG himself with his peanut mahi.
The Skinny: We tested out these items on our latest trip 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey chasing Mahi. Ryley stayed in his shirt, trunks and hat (also his PFD- Personal Flotation Device) the entire day and didn’t complain about any of it. We were out on the water for 13 hours in total with sunny weather and a slight breeze. He ended up sleeping, fishing and just hanging out in his Columbia outfit. I considered that fact that he caught fish in them an added bonus!

Ryley taking a nap as we head offshore.
Hits: What can I say except that the Columbia PFG clothes are comfortable? So comfortable that Ryley fell asleep in them wearing a PFD. So comfortable that he wore the PFD for 13 hours and didn’t have any chafing or discomfort. The cloths also protected him from the sun by either completely blocking out the harmful rays (long sleeved shirt) or by shading his body (brim of the hat shading his face). I only applied sunscreen when we first got on the boat and didn’t reapply any the entire day (much to my wife’s dismay if she is reading this). Also the clothing holds up to normal wear. Ryley has worn his older set of PFG clothes for an entire year and they haven’t faded and are still going strong. As stated above another plus is the Columbia PFG cloths for kids are very affordable. If you find that you have a Columbia Outlet near you they are downright cheap with all the markdowns and specials they regularly have. On top of that Columbia has a rewards program (what retailed doesn’t have one these days?) so you can end up getting even more money off at the end of the day.

Misses: Obviously after my glowing review of the Columbia PFG line of cloths for youth I don’t have much to complain about. I honestly would only offer suggestions to improve upon an otherwise great set of products. I would just suggest that Columbia increase its line of fishing related clothing for youth. There is not much variety in terms of the pieces of clothing they offer, but there is variety in the colors they offer for each article of clothing.

In the end Ryley and I have been immensely satisfied with the Columbia PFG gear we bought him. As he continues to grow in the years to come we are going to definitely add to our arsenal of fishing clothing for him and I can say without a doubt the Columbia PFG will make up a bulk of that arsenal. If you are in search of fishing apparel for your young boy or girl give Columbia a shot I don’t think you will regret it. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors… 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Keep Rollin', Rollin', Rollin', Rollin', What?!

Our trolling lines.

Typically I am a planner. I want to have as much advanced notice as I can to plan out my trips so we can get the most out of it or to make sure we are prepared for everything that can come our way. That is why I was so frustrated with our recent vacation in the Outer Banks. I had been planning our fishing trip for over 6 months making sure we were going out for the right fish at the right time in the right location. All that planning was for naught due to circumstances beyond my control. But it left a bad taste in my mouth. A taste I could only get rid of by going back out on the water.

So what did I do as a natural knee jerk reaction to that experience? Well I decided to go on a last minute charter four hours away with my nephew, Ryan. We had a loose idea of what we would be doing, pot hopping insearch of dolphinfish aka mahi-mahi. We really had no idea when we would be leaving, where in the ocean we would be going or when we would be back. Basically we put our faith in the Captain to decide what we should do and just "rolled" with it. 

Life throws you curveballs. Sometimes you swing and miss, as with our two attempts to go inshore fishing in the Outer Banks. But sometimes you swing and connect, which is exactly what happened on our recent trip back up to the lovely state of New Jersey.

The day before we were to head up to NJ we learned from the Captain that since we would be driving such a long way that we didn’t need to get to the dock so early. There would be plenty of time on the water to find some fish. The weather report had slight winds in the morning which were to taper off in the afternoon. Not the ideal situation for fishing off-shore but definitely not the worst.  But just as a precaution everyone took motion-sickness medication. We also learned that the typical trip would have put us between 15 to 20 miles off-shore but because of water quality and clarity we would have to make a run out to about  50 to 60 miles off-shore to get to the good water. This was shaping up to be more than I bargained for but we decided again to just "roll" with it.

Captain Eric and Ryley with his bull mahi.
When we arrived at the boat Ryan gave me a look that said “We are going 60 miles off-shore in THAT boat?!?” to which I shrugged and said the Captain knows what he is doing. Indeed Captain Eric Kerber does know what he is doing. He has run a successful charter operation out of Belmar for a while now and heads down to Florida in the winter to work for another boat. When not out on a charter, Captain Eric is an Assistant Manager at a local tackle shop. Oh and did I mention he is also part of the Field & Stream Hook Shot’s crew which had recently posted a “How to” video for pot hopping mahi? Yeah we were in good hands.

We all climbed on board, got our safety briefing and started to head out of the inlet. Luckily for us Captain Eric had some beanbag chairs on board to make the 2+ hour trip more comfortable. Unfortunately for everyone else, Ryley had confiscated both been bags and was fast asleep. The ride out was a little bumpy but not too bad. When we reached the first few lobster pots 15 miles off-shore we were greeted by green chalky water with horrible visibility. So we kept on truckin’. We found the same water around many more pots the farther we got out, but slowly the water quality improved.

Me holding up Ryley's catch while he threw the horns.
Then all of a sudden, as if by magic, the water went from green to a deep cobalt blue. We were in business. We woke Ryley up and got all excited that we would be slaying mahi momentarily. Then the routine set it. Pull up to a pot, cast cast cast, no one home and off to the next pot. Repeat. It was beginning to get discouraging but we kept at it. Then out of the blue “fish on” and Ryley’s line was screaming drag. I still had my line in the water so Ryan went over to help Ryley as the rod was doubling over from the mahi on his line. I quickly tried to reel in my lure so I could help Ryley and then felt a solid strike on my line and my reel began to sing. We had doubled up! We frantically tried to keep the lines from tangling when my other nephew, Corey, yelled he had a mahi on as well. A triple header! The boat was in absolute chaos. 

Corey with his bull mahi.
Every time Ryley or I would get our fish close to the boat they would just dive down again out of the reach of the gaff. Luckily Corey’s fish decided to give up rather quickly so we still had two more to get aboard. After a brief struggle with my mahi, she got close enough for Captain Eric to get the gaff in her. That’s when I took over helping Ryley so that Ryan could cast out to the one other mahi we saw circling the pot. I got Ryley into a rhythm of lifting the pole and then reeling quickly as he tipped his rod back towards the water. Lift and reel. Lift and reel. But the fish didn’t want to cooperate. He kept peeling line off the reel as soon as we got him close to the boat. He just didn’t want to be caught. Several times he decided to go airborne in an effort to shake the lure. Thank goodness that didn’t work. After what seemed like an eternity Ryley finally managed to get the bull close enough to the boat for Captain Eric to gaff him. 

Ryley with his peanut mahi; more his size.
While I would love to report that we continued to slay the mahi for the rest of the day, we didn’t. We came upon several pots that help mahi, but we just couldn’t get them to bite. Ryan managed to hook up with a nice size almaco jack and at one pot Corey hooked into a decent sized mahi only to have if flop off the gaff. (Thank's Captain Eric!) We even located some floating jetsam, an old mail tub and mylar balloons, on the water and managed to get some follows and Ryley caught a small peanut mahi barely worth keeping. We had a decent day on the water and it was about 3:30 pm when the Captain asked us a question I don’t think we were expecting to hear; we could pack it in and head back to the dock OR we could throw out some lines and troll for tuna for a few hours before heading back in. He made it clear if we chose the second option that we wouldn’t be getting back to the dock until after dark, which meant we wouldn’t be getting back home until the middle of the night. Since it had served us perfectly well in those other instances we decided to "roll" with it again and we started to set out the lines.

The guys with their catch of the day.
I had no idea what to expect. Ryley and I had previously trolled for striped bass, but tuna get a LOT bigger than stripers. We had seen plenty of life already (porpoises, whales, turtles you name it!)  so we were hoping for the best while preparing to get bored out of our minds (trolling entails just driving the boat around with your lines out waiting for a strike). We were pleasantly surprised with tuna trolling though as the trolling part of it had lines splashing lures at the surface making a ruckus. We hadn’t had the lines out long with something struck a line and Ryan jumped on it. He fought the fish but ended up losing it as it got closer to the boat. About ten minutes later that same line got hit again and this time it was my turn. I ended up bringing in a butterball of a skipjack, which is part of the tuna family. That would be the last fish we would catch. Shortly thereafter we reeled in the lines and got ready for our two hour trip back to the dock.

Skipjack Sashimi
Once back at the docks it was time to unpack the boat and repack our vehicle. It was time for Captain Eric to take some last minute pictures and begin to fillet the fish. It was also time for one new thing to “roll” with. Captain Eric asked if we wanted to have dockside sushi in the form of skipjack sashimi. We all eagerly agreed because frankly we were starving. Captain Eric sliced it thin and we marinated it in soy sauce with some wasabi added to it. Now I love sushi. I could eat tune sushi all day long. But the skipjack sashimi was absolutely out of this world. I have had Bluefin and Yellowfin tuna and it never tasted that good. The skipjack was less than 5 hours old and it was glorious. I saw amazed to see that even Ryley joined in and had some of the sashimi, which he liked believe it or not.

Me and Corey with our mahi and Ryley with his.
This was by far one of the best times I have spent out on the water. Part of it had to do with the fact that I've always wanted to chase after mahi.  Part of it also had to do with the fact that we spent over 13 hours on the water relaxing and catching fish. But most of all I think it had to do with the fact that we just "rolled" with it. That kind of attitude made it so much more enjoyable for me and for Ryley. I wasn't worried so much that things had to be perfect and it allowed for me to enjoy those moments with Ryley just a little more. In those "roll" with it moments though it wasn't just me making the decisions, I often looked to Ryley for affirmation on what he wanted to do. That is an important aspect to keeping your kids happy during an activity no matter how long or short it is. They have to be up for it just as much if not more than you do yourself. So the next time you find yourself presented with an opportunity out of the blue just "roll" with it, like I did. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

Monday, August 8, 2016

Going Ga-Ga!

The roaring opening campfire that greeted us to Camp Oest.
Our last Cub Scout Resident Summer Camp. As I type these words the realization is just starting to settle in. My son has completed his last summer camp as a Cub Scout. He is now preparing to enter 5th grade. This time next year he will have completed his first Boy Scout summer camp experience and will be preparing for Middle School. Just yesterday he was a cute little Tiger and now he is a handsome young scout working on his Arrow of Light Award. It all goes by so quickly.

Ryley earning beginner swimmer at the pool.
Luckily for us though, our week didn’t go by that quickly. We had just enough activities to keep us busy with enough free time sprinkled in to keep Ryley happy. This year we decided to attend a week long camp, just for Webelos Scouts, at Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation which is located outside of our National Capital Area Council. This would not only be our first year at Camp Oest, but also our first year attending any camp at Broad Creek. But this wasn’t the first time I had heard about Broad Creek. No, Broad Creek is actually the Scout Camp for the Baltimore Area Council, which I attended in my youth. Even though I stopped going to scouts before I could attend summer camp it was kind of a home coming of sorts.

Ryley and Kane catching catfish
But before we checked into camp Ryley and I decided to head up to my sister’s house to make good on a promise we made earlier this summer. My sister lives about 20 minutes from Broad Creek versus a 2 hour drive from our house. So we headed up on Saturday and spent some time with our favorite 7 yr old, Kane. As I previously wrote about, we had a less than stellar experience fishing in the Outer Banks this year while on vacation. So Ryley and I promised to take Kane fishing before summer camp. We grabbed our rods and headed to Bynum Run Park, located near Bel Air, MD to do a little pond fishing. The skies were growing dark and we didn’t have time to stop for bait, so I decided to use the only thing we had on hand; slim jims. I was expecting to hook a few sunfish on the Slim Jims but to my surprise the only fish the kids caught all afternoon were catfish. Now these were not your average sized catfish, they were all on the small side, less than a pound. But what they lacked in size was made up by the sheer number of fish nibbling at the end of the line. We spent about 30 minutes there and managed to pull in 5 fish and loosing so many others as we were reeling them in. Then the storm rolled in so we headed back to my sister’s house for some pizza. The funny thing about summer thunderstorms is as quickly as they roll in, they roll out. So after pizza the kids still wanted to go fishing. We hopped in the truck and headed back to the pond where we fished until it got dark and they caught way too many catfish for me to count.

Our home away from home for the week.

Once we completed the tour and our swim check we headed back to camp to set up our tent and unpack. This was going to be my big chance to test out a bunch of gear we had purchased specifically for summer camp as well as some other things we would be able to use year round. I quickly pulled out our Outdoor Research Bug Bivies and Ryley and I set them up on our cots. Next we got out our sleeping pads and sleeping bags and made our bivies as comfortable as we could. This year I thought I was going to be ahead of the game by having these bivies on hand to keep the bugs out once and for all. Things didn’t go as planned but you can read the full write up on the bug bivy here. After unpacking we set off for Ryley get meet some of his fellow campers for what would prove to be the activity of the week; Ga-Ga ball.

Ryley playing Ga-Ga ball.
Now if you don’t know what Ga-Ga ball is, you aren’t alone. I had no clue what it was until we got to camp and I saw all the kids playing it, as often as they could, in between activities, in place of activities, in the heat, in the rain; it didn’t matter when, they just wanted to play Ga-Ga ball. For an in depth explanation of what Ga-Ga ball is you can visit Wikipedia here. But essentially it is a variant of dodgeball which some believe is kinder and gentler. They must not have watched 9 and 10 year old scouts play Ga-Ga ball because there is nothing kind and gentle about it. It is quite vicious. But it is a load of fun and keeps the kids exercising without even knowing it. You basically try and hit the ball with your hands into other peoples legs (below the knee) to get them out. It is a pretty fast paces game and it done within 5 minutes or so, then the kids jump back in and play again. Ryley loved it so much he never even made it to the BB or Archery range all week. He cannot wait to get back to school so that he can suggest that they construct a Ga-Ga ball pit on his playground!

Ryley completed several activities towards his advancement during the week but I think he learned the most on his overnight camp out under the stars.... without Dad. This was his big chance to start acting like a Boy Scout. We packed up the minimal equipment he would be taking with him which was basically a sleeping bag, pillow and water bottle (More on how his water bottle performed all week here). Ryley spent that evening bonding with newly made friends around a campfire roasting apples, marshmallows and making memories. 

Ryley and Matt returning from the M.O.O.S.E. Overnighter
(Moving Onward and Outward Scouting Experience)
When I saw him the next morning I swear he had grown an inch overnight. Suddenly my little boy wasn't so little anymore.; he now walked taller and seemed more mature. He also sported somewhat of a "scar" from his overnight experience. He had been branded. Yes the hot-iron-in-the-fire kind of branding. Luckily for me, as my wife would have killed me, it was his hat that was purposefully branded with the Camp Oest brand, OTM (Oest the Most). 

The OTM Brand.

Hopefully he will follow in his older brother's footsteps and find himself receiving another brands in the not-so-distant future; the coveted PS (Philmont Scout Ranch). Although I do not know all of the details of that night, those are memories for him to cherish. I only hope that his first night alone in the woods was a formative experience in his life. One which he will hopefully repeat in the years to come on his trail to Eagle. 

As the week began to wrap up the weather started to take a slight turn for the better. While the week started off sunny and humid it was ending with some cloud cover and rain which made the humidity drop. So too did the scouts start to wrap up their activities, whether it be Ga-Ga ball or earning a STEM award. But the camp staff at Oest had one last trick up their sleeve. Instead of doing the traditional "closing campfire" program on the last night at camp, they opted to hold a "Songfest" celebration the night before we were about to leave. Staff dressed up in costumes and pretended to play fake instruments in front of the kids, all while signing and dancing to music that spanned classic rock (YMCA) to modern pop (Shut up and Dance with Me) and a few songs in between. They staff ended the night by singing the always emotional Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day. I could definitely tell Ryley grew over that week at Scout Camp when he commented to me that hearing that song made him feel happy and sad all at the same time. Happy because he was going to be going home to see his Mom and brother and sad because he was going to miss the new friends he had just made and probably would never see them again. He said that's how it must feel when you graduate from High School. What a wise young man he has become indeed. On that note what better way to end my blog by sharing that song one more time. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

Some other pictures and videos of us from camp...

Pool party was where it was at!
Ryley with the special necklace he earned at Project M.O.O.S.E.

Ryley with our Den Chief Nealan.

A little sing-along fun.

A STEM project; Egg drop.

Mail Call!

Slip & Slide Fun!

Closing Skit

Pucker Up!

Dad's turn!