First Brookie

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First brook trout of the year. A stockie but wily and fun all the same.

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Spot and Stalk in Texas

I’ve just returned from a little corner of northeast Texas hunting hogs for three days on the Wildcat Creek Quail Hunting Resort. After practicing hard with my bow, a PSE Stinger 3G, deadly fast and highly accurate, I was more than a little nervous to be hunting hogs for the first time. We went out twice a day, just before dawn and just before dusk for several hours. Alternating between tree stands, ground blinds and a tripod, I and my fellow hunters spotted quite a few hogs, herds and a few big boars going solo. Spread out over a hundred acres, the terrain was lush and dense with a variety of scrub, alder and cedars, with several-story old growth hardwoods spread about. Before arriving, Texas was hit with nearly five days straight of rain, ending a many-years long drought that turned most of the bottoms into full-fledged swamps. To make matters tougher, I would be hunting with six other guys in the area–creating a lot of pressure. We were there celebrating my brother-in-law’s 40th. Hopes were high, some were serious, some weren’t.

DAY ONE

After tuning my bow on the range,  and a late start, within a half hour of getting into my stand, a big black boar that was probably “bumped” into my area by another hunter getting set-up, made an appearance on a rise just above my baited area near a pond. He gave the air one sniff and trotted off. I saw the same hog in the same area later that evening, but I was ratted-out by a squirrel that went on the alarm behind me. My guide later suggested it was probably sounding off at another hog that I missed spotting coming in from behind. Either way, day one I came up short, but exhilarated by the encounters.

DAY TWO

I decided to switch up and hunt a feeder where one of our party had taken a shot with a crossbow at a big sow, only to have his bolt deflect off the hog’s gristle–a tough armor-like plate on a hogs shoulder. I had seen this before on a hunting show–so I knew it was entirely possible to shot a hog at 10 yards and not get any penetration. I was in the stand before dawn, and was treated to the cacophony of the waking forest. I heard the most beautiful birdsong, but no hogs! An evening move to conduct a spot and stalk was a far more rewarding hunt.

My guide, and the owner of WRC, Ron Parker, decided to take me into the thickest part of the forest. We moved at a steady even pace, with the instruction to walk in his footsteps and stop when he stops. 300 yards away, the other guide, Chico, took another hunter up a parallel path. Even though we had our worries that a passing buggy had ruined our stalk, Chico bumped a herd in our direction. Several large boars circled around us in a complete 360 degrees. We crossed a couple of dirt roads and came across another one of our group in a blind, we got him out and proceed to do another push–but the hogs were too fast and crossed back into the thickest woods many yards ahead of us. Our opportunity was gone. All during the hunt, Ron provided lots of little tips…it was a masterclass and I look forward to doing my own “still hunting” soon.

DAY THREE

I tossed and turned all night, considered bailing on the third morning. I was tired, feeling a little down. I wanted to get out early at 5:30am, but worried about a persistent cough, getting lost in the dark. I knew that in all likelihood it would be just me and my brother-in-law in the forest, the others had fell away, too much partying…but after two hard days of pressure on the hogs, would they even show up? I dithered and got in the stand a little late I realized. I could see the hog-sign, the torn up ground from all the rooting for grubs. The hogs had been up, had breakfast and moved from their bedding area where my groundblind was set up. Chico, the head guide, assured me, they’ll come back around, just be patient.

I waited and waited as the morning air warmed up. I was satisfied by the stillness. At 10:30am, I was ready to pack it in, when I heard the tell-tale whoosh and stomp of hogs running through the forest. They were trotting not 100 yards away heading for their bedding area, ready to go quiet for the warmest part of the day in the cool wallows. I smiled and let my spirits rise, my chance seemed to have finally arrived. Sound became sight as I spotted about twenty-plus animals moving across the road and into the bedding area at a casual, even lazy gait, staying along the treeline. Smaller hogs, brown, and black, ginger. Then, no, no, no, I heard the tell-tale sound of an EV, a buggy coming up the road. The hogs froze in place. One softly grunted, and off they marched right out of the bedding area. Not a single one came out of the treeline until they were out of range of my bow. I was crushed, left longing for a do-over. The finality of the end of the hunt was at hand.

REASONS TO RETURN

There are so many reasons to return to WRC. The Parker family have created a warm, modern, and very comfortable lodge. Their family-run operation was supposed to be a quiet retirement after a lifetime of traipsing the world building the finest resorts in the Caribbean, Dubai and other exotic locales. Instead, WRC is a labor of love, and each Shinerbock you’re handed across the handbuilt bar, each pan-seared quail or piece of peach cobbler baked by chef David, another Parker son, each generous smile from Chico, makes it easy to imagine returning as soon as possible.

And then there’s the fishing. Ron has stocked several of the ponds and lake with Florida strain bass. He told me, “I love to hunt, but I LOVE fishing.” I had told Ron earlier about a big bass I spotted in a run-off stream off the lake (probably due to the rains). He promptly grabbed his pole and left. Later I spotted him pulling up in an EV as I was fly fishing the banks of the lake behind the lodge. “Did you get it?” I asked. “Yep. I got it.” We spent a good hour together fishing for more bucketmouths before I broke my pole on a snag. Guests routinely pull out 5 even 7 lbers. I took my fairshare on a popper on my 8wt.

One of the guides, Nick, Ron’s son, really wanted to get me a hog, and with only a few hours to catch my flight, offered to take me out for once more, this time with his rifle. I thought long and hard about it. I wanted the encounter. I wanted the meat. I wanted the kill. And yet, I wanted to take the animal under circumstances that met my own conditions. I set out to let nature take its course, aware that though I had modern conveniences, nature had her defenses too. Sure, the owners and guides are skilled enough to take a hog when they apply themselves. Their talent and knowledge would almost assure another opportunity. However, I wanted a “fair chase” opportunity that matched my skill level. I told Nick that no, I’d get my first hog with a bow, when I was ready, when I had earned the chance, and without a doubt, I would return.

David, Chico, Nick of WRC

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Coming Hunt

In a few days, I will pack my new PSE compound bow, my camo, and loads of deet and head to northeast Texas for my first guided hunt in celebration of my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday. The expected conditions at the The Wildcat Creek Hunting Resort, the mid 70s and 80s, sunny. The 1200K acres contain scrub, brush, forest and an 20-acre lake. There’s a 3D archery range, TRAP and a 1000 acres of quail. I’m going armed with a hunter safety certificate, a bowhunting safety certificate, a basic course in deer hunting from Jackson Landers, and a headful of dreams. I’ve only hunted once before, and it was, uneventful, but rewarding in its own way, good practice at being quiet. I’ve spent the last year studying food, how it makes its way to my plate and the ethics of it all. I’ve been reading and studying hunters, both sportsmen and men and women who are just feeding their families. I’ve resolved to become a hunter. According to Torvar Cerulli, I am suffering from or perhaps blessed by a condition called “Adult-Onset Hunting.” I guess it was just a natural step to take from fly fishing, where hunt and stalk sight-fishing is my just about my favorite activity in the world, to hunting larger prey for food.

Like other AOHers (that’s right I’m far from alone), I’ve experienced a variety of reactions from friends and family toward my desire to hunt, but the majority have been quite positive. I think we are living in a more enlightened age, where due to the increase in voices about the sourcing of our food, the protection of our environment, and the explosion of media, most are aware that hunting can be a very ethical, sustainable way to eat. Sure there are plenty of stereotypes, but consider this, its only been a handful of generations since the majority of our food became processed. Though early hunting turned into unreasonable farming of animals which lead to the decimation and extinction of certain animals, today, Americans are relearning how to live in balance with their environment. Its not perfect, not by a longshot, but I see myself as choosing to be on the vanguard here–to believing in this enough to take action.

I’ve field dressed a deer, but will I be able to look into the eyes of my prey and take it’s life? Catch and release fishing this is not. I want to fill my larder with organic meat that I have hunted on my own, but am I just being plonky–you know–a privileged city-dweller with sustainable eating tendencies who reads to many food blogs? I want to hunt ethically, but how ethical is it to travel hundreds of miles to shoot a hog, admittedly a pest, a very delicious pest, when there are wild hogs invading NY state? (The short answer to that one is that I’ll be hunting hogs in NY this year of course).

I’ve caught and killed and consumed fish my whole life, but never a mammal. Fish are alien, they’re not cute, and we’re not related–at least not closely. Hogs aren’t cute either, but they’re smarter than my cat, and that’s strange. I’m excited, nervous, anxious, and I feel worried–am I good enough? I know a couple of things. One, I’m going to learn, to ask lots of questions, to be guided, to practice. I know I won’t take a shot unless I’m sure I can kill the animal. I know I want to experience everything, to field dress my animal if the lodge will let me. I know I want to be a hunter, yes for the sport, but also for the meat, and the connection that hunting will bring in facing the life and death of the food I love to consume. I know that I am already thankful for the opportunity despite not yet having taken a single animal.

Trophy Rainbow on Small Water

Now I know on such storied waters like the Green River, the Sitka, or the Fire Hole, a trophy rainbow is +22, even 30″, but on my little homewaters, a 18″ is indeed a trophy. Yesterday I caught this ‘bow on an unnamed river with about 97 cfs about an hour’s drive from Brooklyn.

Right at dusk in the fading light, in a nice current in a hole right in front of a boulder, I spotted the ‘bow bullying about four browns who kept trying to get into her position. They were feeding on nymphs and couldn’t be raised in the fast water on a stonefly. At first I thought it was a enormous brookie because her fins were flashing white, also a sign of a wild fish. Its stocking season, and sure, she could have been broodstock, but MAN she didn’t fight like one. It wasn’t until after she turned to pursue my conehead brown muddler that I realized what a beast of a fish she was for my little creek.

A couple passes and she lunged at my fly, she then proceeded to take me up and down the pool, my line singing and my 5wt bent over. Saying a myriad of prayers to the fishing gods, I danced around the pool keeping tension on to tire her. Finally she came up and I realized she would barely fit in my net. I snapped a couple of pics and then sat with her in the water reviving the ‘bow until she was strong enough swim away on her own. After giving a barbaric yelp, you wouldn’t believe it, but I spotted another bruiser, this one bigger than the first. The last fish had lockjaw and I knew I had used up my river karma for the day, so I left content.

Coming Soon: Review of The Mindful Carnivore

I just finished The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance by Torvar Cerulli. In short, I couldn’t put it down. It is a riveting, beautiful and provocative book. A new or experienced hunter or anyone interested in finding a more meaningful and healthy connection to their food will be inspired and moved by Torvar’s journey. I’ll be writing a full review when I get back from SXSW. Meanwhile, here’s some insight into the author/hunter in his own words.

 

 

Flyfishing at SXSW

I’m at SXSW right now and looking forward to seeing the debut of Kahil Hudson and Tyler Hughen’s  Low and Clear here in a couple of days. Hudson won the Audience Award for his film “Kumare” last year.

 

Too bad its such foul weather here at SXSW this year or I would try to sneak out for a float down the nearby Guadelupe River for big rainbows. Who knew Austin had trout? In fact, the Guadelupe is the southernmost tailwater with trout, cool huh?

Fly Mag Hotness

There’s a new(ish) crop of fly fishing magazines out there. They are digital, publish on time (yes Drake I’m looking at you), have exquisite art direction, and often feature high definition video and photography. The new breed are rooted in a strong editorial vision, refreshingly untamed by advertisers, but in balance with them. Paid for junketts to Andros are at least well-covered and documented. Advertorial is unconventional. Now, do they make much money at it? No, but I have hopes they will MONETIZE without loosing their spirit. I’m all for paying for a digital subscription.

THIS IS FLY is an online fly fishing magazine published in Brooklyn of all places. A recent article connects punk music and fly fishing connect in the Chicago punk band Pegboy.  Gone are the trophy shots of big bronze browns, every issue features cover art design from an hot new talent in graphic design.

 

SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE FLY is described as fly fishing with a side of grits and published out of Asheville, NC (a sleeper trout mecca actually). With articles and videos with titles like “Trout from the Other Side of the Tracks”, SCOF will take you out of your comfort zone.

 

 

Catch Magazine has a little more of a throw-back vibe with its very fishy photography, but is hardly stuffy. Every issue features up and coming photographers. In fact, the magazine is driven by beautiful imagery that frankly, pops in high-definition in a way that a print magazine couldn’t do just too–at least not without being prohibitively expensive. A recent series focuses on the colors of fly fishing, for example. No print magazine could afford to dabble in images about the colors of fly fishing.